Songwriting Tips, News & More

Songwriting Tip: Obscurity vs Clarity

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Jan 29, 2014 @11:03 AM

Obscurity vs Clarity

By Harriet Schock

Harriet Schock, Hit songwriter

I believe that there’s an invisible line that goes from the mouth of the singer to the ears and heart of the listener and if that line is broken by a lyric that makes no sense, the listener’s attention leaves.

Of course, there are many examples of songs that make no sense and have been hits, but when you cite these as examples, I would ask: 1) Was the melody and harmony so killer that people loved it in spite of the lack of clarity? 2) Was it sung by someone so famous that anything they put out will become a hit? 3) Was the audience chemically altered so that each song and bite was better than the one before, no matter what they were hearing or eating?

I have taught songwriting since 1986 and occasionally I’ll have a student who announces he wants to write an obscure song. And granted sometimes songs in films can be a bit generic so that the story takes place on the screen, not in the lyric. But even there the lyrics need to make sense.  I find that thetwo most common reasons for someone’s wanting to write an obscure, ambiguous lyric are: 1) His craft is limited and he thinks he’s being clear when he’s not or 2) He’s not willing for the real story to come out for personal reasons.

There’s a vast difference between writing on two levels and being ambiguous. I believe songs should make sense when you first hear them. Then upon second and third listening, deeper meaning can be discovered. Ambiguity generally leaves the listener wondering what you actually meant.

All of this has been about the lyric. But needless to say, the melody and harmony (chords) are vitally important. They are the wavelengths that carry the lyric along that invisible line I mentioned earlier. Obscurity breaks the line, but a weak melody completely dissolves it.

As performers we can tell when we have a strong melody, compelling harmony and a lyric that moves the listener. That’s when the audience is very quiet and attentive. Sometimes they cry, and we like that too.

Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit for Helen Reddy, "Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady" plus many songs for other artists, TV shows and films. She co-wrote the theme for “Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks,” currently showing in 30 countries. She and her band were featured in Henry Jaglom’s film “Irene In Time” performing 4 of Harriet’s songs. She also scored two other Jaglom films and is starring in the current movie “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Harriet is in the process of writing the songs for “Last of the Bad Girls,” a musical with book by Diane Ladd. Karen Black wrote the play, “Missouri Waltz,” around five of Harriet’s songs, which ran for 6 weeks at the Blank Theatre in Hollywood as well as in Macon, Georgia. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and a popular online course by private email. In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. For her performance schedule, list of credits and samples of her work or information on herbook (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), her songwriting classes and consultation, go to: www.harrietschock.com.

For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, hit songwriter, songwrite, Harriet Schock, Songwriters Tip, singer songwriter, top 40

Songwriters Tip: Presenting Yourself as a Pro

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Mar 02, 2011 @05:25 PM

Presenting Yourself as a Pro

(By Molly-Ann Leikin)

Molly-Ann Leikin
In Nashville, one of the most successful songwriters of all time writes on Mondays and Wednesdays, then spends the rest of the week wearing another hat altogether.  The man is not a tunesmith on Tuesday, Thursday or Friday.  He is in business.  That’s when he pitches his songs.


Business people make professional-sounding phone calls, write professional-looking mail email, texts, and check their spelling. They arrive on time, look solid and immediately gain the respect of the person on the other side of the desk – in our case, the guy with the contract and the money.      


Recently, while interviewing candidates for a job in my company, people I’d spoken to at length on the phone who sounded like great possibilities, showed up late and stoned in flip flops.  They texted during our conversation, spelled songwriting with two t’s and didn’t know who David Foster was.  Folks - that’s not it.
If you looked at yourself in the mirror, would you hire you?  Would you want to do business with the person you’re looking at?  Do you appear to be a solid investment?  And most important, do you know what the guy on the other side of the desk needs - not just what you want him to want?    


It would help if you consider yourself a potential business partner, not somebody begging for a shot.  That sure changes the dynamic, doesn’t it?       


Do you have a business card?  If not, get one.  A clever one.  Make it as original as your music.  After all, nobody can stuff a CD in his wallet.  At least not yet.        Always remember this:  you have something to contribute to the literature of music that nobody else but you can, because nobody else but you is you.  
Present it in a professional manner, and you’re half way home.

© 2011 Molly-Ann Leikin
Molly-Ann Leikin is a Career Mastery Coach and Songwriting Consultant.  An Emmy nominee, Molly has 14 gold and platinum records, plus four ASCAP Country Music Awards.  She's the author of "How To Write A Hit Song" and "How To Be A Hit Songwriter" and has written themes and songs for over four dozen TV shows and movies, including "Violet” that won an Oscar.   Molly has helped launch the careers of thousands of singers and songwriters, three of whom have Grammy nominations.  She can be reached at: www.songmd.com or 800-851-6588.    

Tags: Songwriting, American Idol, Molly-Ann Leikin, Songwriters Tip, Presenting Yourself as a Pro, song writing. song writer, The Carpenters, Emmy Awards, Country Music Awards