Songwriting Tips, News & More

How to Write A Hit Song

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, May 16, 2016 @07:22 AM

How to Write a Hit Song

by Shelly Peiken
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I WISH I knew. If I had the answer I would have written a whole lot more. Anybody who tells you there’s a formula...like always have the title in the first line of the hook or always get to the chorus in thirty-seven seconds, is probably describing a winning scenario that works sometimes, but I assure you, no formula will work every time. As for me, as soon as I think I’ve found the perfect cocktail, somebody hides my vodka.
 Having said that...I have picked up some songwriting tips from partners and colleagues that have resonated with me over the years. Such as...

Stay True
—I was on a songwriting panel with Kara (“American Idol”) DioGuardi, and she said something that was quite matter-of-fact. Let me Karaphrase: “If it doesn’t feel inspired going in, it won’t feel inspired coming out.” Sometimes the simplest ideas go under-appreciated. How many times have I been complicit in finishing a song I wasn’t “feeling,” so as not to be the stick-in-the-mud or disappoint my co-writer? The answer is: a lot more than I’d like to admit. Even though sometimes those songs manage to get recorded, more often than not, they don’t, and then I fail with something I didn’t believe in in the first place.

  • Walk Away
—When you’re stuck...take a walk! This can be more visually stimulating in a city; however, there are other ways to clear your head. Here in L.A., we drive to a place where we can walk. Or we sit by a pool; there are so many pools. 


  • Separate
—Dan James, Leah Haywood and I had bits and pieces of a puzzle that we just couldn’t seem to put together. Dan left the studio for a coffee and a smoke and as soon as he came back in, he spewed a whole hook. Just like that—as effortless as a fart. After all that constipation, Leah and I looked at each other—WTF, Dan? And... did somebody get that? 
Songwriter Michelle Lewis excuses herself to “powder her nose.” She always comes back with a clever line; I know it has nothing to do with her nose. She just needs a little space. 


  • Double Down
—When I first worked with Albert Hammond, Sr., he suggested using the same exact line back to back. I said, “Albert...Umm...you just used that line.” And he said, “So what? Did it feel good?” It did. He said, “ Then don’t worry.” 


  • Be Ready
—Though your mobile device with its Voice Memo App is most likely by your side 24/7, sometimes it’s just nice to feel a pen glide around on paper. So keep a pad of Post-it notes on the piano, under your pillow, in your closet, in your sock drawer, in the spice cabinet, by your toothbrush, the kitchen sink, in your man-purse, the glove compartment, the bathroom, your gym locker—you get the idea— because you never know when an idea is going to tap you on the shoulder. You can swear you’ll remember it, but you won’t. 


  • Work It Out
—Get that blood closer to your brain. Good things happen when your heart beats faster. 


  • Leave Room to Pace—
Get out from behind the computer. Staring at a screen can hold you hostage. Release yourself. Your mind is freer when it’s not confined. 


  • Keep Going—even when you feel like you’re filling up pages with meaningless gibberish. Often the golden nugget turns up at the very end of the last page of the stuff you thought was nonsense. 


  • Be Disciplined
—Sit at the piano or with that guitar every morning and noodle... even if nothing comes. Eventually something will. 


  • Word Games
—Crossword puzzles let you practice fitting words into limited or specific spaces...twisting and turning concepts around until some- thing clicks—like writing lyrics. Sometimes, just when you’re certain you can go no further, the next day you’ll be crossing the street and voilà...23 Across (or that missing line) becomes obvious. Your brain is working, even when you’re not. 


  • Listen
—Keep your ears open for snippets of conversation that catch your attention—a slur from a drunk in the checkout line, a blurb about the weather on the news, a lament from a tired two-year-old. We hear things selectively for a reason. 


  • Rhyming—
Soft rhymes or sound-alikes are pleasing. They have texture. They are fresh. Exact rhymes can sound stale. A perfect rhyme that’s “ball- park” is not nearly as interesting as a scrappy one that tells the truth. 


  • The More the Merrier—
If you can’t sing, consider writing with someone who can, especially if you are aiming to pitch the song to an artist with a big voice. A singer with range can take you to melodic places you wouldn’t have ventured yourself, simply because...you can’t sing! 


  • Access Your Madness
—Even the most mentally healthy songwriter harbors a bit of emotional dysfunction. This is no time to be sensible. Unleash it. It will serve you well. 


  • Dream It
—When you’re searching for an elusive word or an alternative melodic shape, concentrate on it when you go to bed. What we fall asleep thinking about is often what we dream about. If it comes to you in your sleep, document it as soon as you wake up, because we forget 90% of our dreams within ten minutes of waking. It’s been said that the introduction to “Satisfaction” came to Keith Richards in a dream. Makes me want to take a nap. Yawn. 


  • Set the Mood
—If you want a song to have a certain melancholy feel, listen to another song that has a similar melancholy feel, while you’re working on the new song. I’m not suggesting you rip it off...but use it like Viagra, if you will, to get in the mood. (If you remain inspired for more than four hours, be sure to get medical help right away.) 


  • Keep Perspective—
I’m uncomfortable when a co-writer automatically defers to me. He might think I know better just because I once wrote a big hit. I don’t. Conversely, sometimes I’m writing with someone who just had a hit and I start thinking maybe she knows better. She doesn’t. 


  • Stay Clear
—A lot of great songs have been written under the influence, but be careful. While being high may open your mind and let you see things in a different light, sometimes that heady mist of open-mindedness makes it hard to tell whether you’re really brilliant or just imagining you are.

My apologies to everyone who saw the title of this chapter and thought by reading it they’d know how to write a hit song. It’s just not that simple. If I had to come up with one X factor that I could cite as a characteristic most hit songs have in common (and this excludes hit songs that are put forth by an already well-oiled machine...that is, a recording artist who has so much notoriety and momentum that just about anything he or she releases, as long as it’s “pretty good,” will have a decent shot at succeeding), I would say it would be:

A universal sentiment in a unique frame.

ConfessionsOfASerialSongwriter.jpg

Shelly Peiken is a Hit songwriter who is best known for writing #1 hits "What A Girl Wants" and "Come On Over Baby (All I Want Is You)" by Christina Aguilera, #1 hit "Bitch" by Meredith Brooks, and the Top 20 hit "Almost Doesn't Count" by Brandy. She has also written songs that were recorded by some of the biggest names in music: Celine Dion, Britney Spears, Gladys Knight, Cher, Gloria Gaynor, Samantha Fox, Taylor Dayne, Natalie Cole and many more. She wrote the book "Confessions of a Serial Songwriter” published by BackBeat Books, available on Amazon and at Bookstores near you.

 

To enter the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net


 
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Songwriting Radio Podcast, featuring winners of 2015 USA Songwriting Competition

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, May 12, 2016 @02:52 PM

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(Pictured: Distant Cousins, Top winner of the 2015 USA Songwriting Competition)

Songwriters Radio Program, featuring the best new songwriters of today: Distant Cousins, Akon, Brian McKnight, Willie Nelson, Faith Hill. American Authors, etc. Winners of the 2015 USA Songwriting Competition are featured on this podcast.  

To enter the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net


 
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5 Simple Truths I Learned About Songwriting

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, May 10, 2016 @07:00 AM

5 Simple Truths I Learned About Songwriting

by Jessica Brandon & Ron Van Dyke

 songwriter.jpg

I thought I knew a lot about songwriting when I first got involved with co-writing and writing with other songwriters and producers.

I was dead wrong.

I had a transformation of sorts. While helping to write this article together, I discovered the real truth about songwriting. I found out how to write a song without having to feel uncomfortable and feel like I was forcing the issue, plus a heck of a lot more.

Here are five simple truths I learned about songwriting, and myself, after being involved with writing songs with other co-writers.

 

  1. Nobody is a natural songwriter

When I started in songwriting I got three words of advice from my band member “Go get ‘em.” Most musicians and songwriters seem to think that you can go out there and just write. When that doesn’t work, and you come up short too many times, you start thinking you are no good at songwriting.

The simple truth is no one is a natural born songwriter. And songwriting is a learnable skill anyone can master given the right tools, strategies and learning. There are hit songwriters such as Harriet Schrock, Jason Blume, Ralph Murphy who are songwriting teachers that are helping budding songwriters.

 

  1. Rewriting Your Songs

The first draft of your song may not always be the best. Sure, you have heard hit songs written in just 5 minutes. However, rewriting lyrics and music can be a rewarding experience. Especially if you are not satisfied with your first draft, writing songs is like sculpting a sculpture, a piece of art.

Also, when you return to your song an hour or a week later, you’ll have partially forgotten its details—and assuming you documented the draft carefully, that’s a good thing!

 

  1. Don’t wing it, learn song structures

When I first started songwriting many years ago I had no form. I didn’t know what AABA form or verse, chorus, bridge was. I had no idea what a verse refrain structure was. There was no preparing in advance and no real order to what I would say or how the melody or chords would be. I knew what I wanted to say in the song well enough and could wing it. But since I didn’t have a set way to write, it was hard to learn the various structures for writing a song. I was leaving my songs to chance and letting the many songs go incomplete. Learning structures of various songs is important – it lets you control the songwriting process so you can steer your lyrics, melody, chord progression, and have a better chance of completing the song.

 

  1. Songwriting should come naturally

If you learn structures of songwriting, the momentum you build and the objections you eliminate will make your audience eager to hear your song, which makes the songwriting a pleasant and rewarding experience.

Also, listening to new songs on the radio can provide sources of inspiration. There were times where I had the dreaded “Songwriters Block” where no music or lyrics were coming from my head. I took a 15 minute break by turning on the radio and Voilà – I had a hook for the chorus! My ideas for the verse, pre-chorus and bridge came quickly and my song was completed within an hour.  

 

  1. Co-writing credits can sometimes be misinterpreted

If you look at the Billboard charts you’ll notice that many of the songs have more than one writer credited. This may not always be as it 1st seems as some of the co-writer’s listed may not have written a single word or a note. In these cases it could be a producer, an A & R manager or an artist who worked a writing credit into the deal with the songwriter. The more famous or well known an artist or producer is, the greater the chance of having a hit song and, therefore, the more leverage they have in getting these kinds of "co-write" deals especially with hungry songwriters. A famous example of this was Elvis Presley who indicated that he wanted to cover Dolly Parton’s song “I Will Always Love You”. Parton was interested until she realized that Presley’s manager expected her to sign over half of the publishing rights. She declined and the rest is history.  The song went on to be one of the best selling hits of all time when it was covered by Whitney Houston with Parton keeping all of her royalties.

Many of the great songs out there have been written by more than one writer, which goes to show that co-writing can be a fruitful and wonderful thing. If you are looking for co-writing opportunities it’s important to know your strengths. Are you better at the music side of things or are you stronger with the lyrics? Knowing this can help you identify co-writers who have strengths that you may not have, therefore, making it a potentially better match and hopefully avoiding disappointments. If you are able to hook up with writers who are better and more experienced than you, even better. Collaborating with other songwriter’s is a cool thing and definitely worth trying. This is just one of the many fascinating topics that are covered in our past blogs posts.

 

Enter your songs in the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, enter online or by mail. Enter now... But you must enter by midnight, May 27, 2016. Go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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Songwriting Tip: Use Other Keys Than Major & Minor

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, May 03, 2016 @07:00 AM

 

Songwriting Tip: Use Other Keys Than Major & Minor!

by Johan Wåhlander & Jan Sparby
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This book excerpt explores the opportunities for communicating differens emotions presented by the less used diatonic scales, and looks at what flavor their character tones bring in (each scale has one tone that stands out).

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Guest Post excerpted from the newly released e-book Songwriting: Get Your Black Belt In Music & Lyrics


Use Other Keys Than Major & Minor!

Try other flavors than the ones you get from the major keys or the natural minor keys (with variations). There are five additional diatonic scales that can be used for basing your songs on. Four of them can be used for making songs with chord sequences, and the fifth is great for songs without chord sequences (modal music). Here they are:

Dorian (white keys from the note d) sample song: Mad World by Roland Orzabal (Tears For Fears). The raised sixth scale degree makes it less gloomy than a Natural minor key.

Phrygian (white keys from the note e) sample song: Down With the Sickness by Disturbed. The lowered second degree brings in quite a lot of attitude.

Lydian (white keys from the note f) sample song: Dreams by Stevie Nicks (Fleatwood Mac). The raised fourth degree creates a dreamlike yet restless atmosphere.

Mixolydian (white keys from the note g) sample song: Belfast Child by Jim Kerr (Simple Minds). The lowered seventh degree makes it considerably less cheerful than a Major key. Also, as you can hear in this song, it blends well with the blues scale.

Locrian (white keys from the note b) sample song: The Evil Has Landed by Testament (deviates from the scale at 1:03). The locrian scale has the most potential for sadness/gloom when used in a low energy setting, and fury/rage when used together with fast a tempo and furious drumming. Due to its lowered fifth degree, The Locrian scale is a bit difficult to handle though. This you’ll notice as soon as you try using your regular chord sequences. If you stick with the first scale degree as the tonal center you’ll be fine! Make use of riffs, ostinatos, melodic lines and harmonies. Read more about this topic and how to apply various techniques in the e-book ”Songwriting: Get Your Black Belt In Music & Lyrics”.

  
To enter the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 
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What Is A Music Publishing Deal?

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 26, 2016 @07:00 AM

Songwriting Tip: What Is A Music Publishing Deal?
by Wallace Collins, Esq

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What Is A Music Publishing Deal? - and Do I Really Need One?
    The term "publishing", most simply, means the business of song copyrights.  A songwriter owns 100% of his song copyright and all the related publishing rights until the writer signs those rights away. Under the law, copyright (literally, the right to make and sell copies) automatically vests in the author or creator the moment the expression of an idea is "fixed in a tangible medium." (i.e., the moment it is written down or recorded on tape.)  With respect to recorded music, there are really two copyrights: a copyright in the musical composition owned by the songwriter and a copyright in the sound of the recording owned by the recording artist (but usually transferred to the record company when a record deal is signed).

     A writer owns the copyright in his work the moment he writes it down or records it, and by law can only transfer those rights by signing a written agreement to transfer them. Therefore, a songwriter must be wary of any agreement he or she is asked to sign. Although it is not necessary, it is advisable to place a notice of copyright on all copies of the work. This consists of the symbol "c" or the word "copyright", the author's name, and the year in which the work was created, for example: " (c) John Doe 2014."

     The filing of a copyright registration form in Washington D.C. gives additional protection in so far as it establishes a record of the existence of such copyright and gives the creator the presumption of validity in the event of a lawsuit. Registration also allows for lawsuits to be commenced in Federal court and, under Federal law, allows an award of attorneys fees to the prevailing party.  To order forms and for additional information on copyright registration call (202) 707-9100 or go to www.loc.gov\copyrights. These days a songwriter can even register on line.

     As defined by the copyright law, the word "publish" most simply means "distribution of copies of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental lease, or lending". As a practical matter, music publishing consists primarily of all administrative duties, exploitation of copyrights, and collection of monies generated from the exploitation of those copyrights. If a writer makes a publishing deal and a publisher takes on these responsibilities then it "administers" the compositions. Administrative duties range from filing all the necessary registrations (i.e., copyright forms) to answering inquiries regarding the musical compositions.

     One important function of a music publisher is exploitation of a composition or "plugging" a song. Exploitation simply means seeking out different uses for musical compositions. Sometimes a music publisher will have professional quality demos prepared and send them to artists and producers to try to secure recordings. They also use these tapes to secure usage in the television, film and advertising industries.

     Equally important as exploitation is the collection of monies earned by these musical usages. Particularly in in the digital age, when transactions amount to billions and payments to fractions of pennies, the administration of song copyrights and the collection of revenues can be a complicated and massive undertaking. There are two primary sources of income for a music publisher: earnings that come from record sales (i.e., mechanical royalties from both physical and digital copies) and revenues that come from broadcast performances (i.e., performance royalties).  Mechanical royalties are collected directly from the record companies and paid to the publisher. Performance royalties are collected by performing rights organizations (e.g., ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC in the United States and different entities in each other country) and then distributed proportionably to the publisher and to the songwriter. In addition to plugging and administrative functions, it is also important to know that there is a creative side to music publishing. Since producing hit songs is in the best interest of both the writer and the publisher, good music publishers have whole departments devoted to helping writers grow and develop. The creative staff finds and signs new writers, works with them to improve their songs, pairs them up creatively with co-writers and hopes the outcome will be hit records.

     A publishing deal concerns rights and revenues. If a writer decides to do a publishing deal then the main issue for negotiation is going to be the language pertaining to the calculation and division of the rights in the copyright and division of the monies earned. In the old days, most deals were 100% copyright to the publisher and 50/50 share of the revenues because there was a concept that the "writer's share" was 50% and the "publisher's share" was 50%. This, of course, was an invention of the publishers. Legally, these terms have no such inherent meaning but their calculation is defined in each individual agreement. Most modern publishing deals, however, are referred to as "co-publishing" deals where the copyrights are co-owned 50/50 and the monies are usually calculated at around 75/25 meaning the writer gets 100% of the 50% writer's share and 50% of the publisher's 50% share for a total of 75%. It is best for the writer to insist that all calculations be made "at source" so that there are not too many charges and fees deducted off-the-top before the 75% calculation is made. Keep in mind, however, that the advance paid to the writer by the publisher is later recouped by the publisher out of the writer's share of income from the song. So, the net business effect is that the publisher pays the writer with the writer's own money to buy a share of the copyright (and the right to future income) from the writer.

     Although a writer can be his own publisher and retain 100% of the money, the larger publishers in the music business usually pay substantial advance payments to writers in order to induce them to sign a portion of their publishing rights to the publisher - and this can be a good thing for the writer. Although a deal for a single song may be done with little or no advance payment (provided there is a reversion of the song to the writer if no recording is released within a year or two), there should be a substantial advance paid ($5,000-$100,000+) to a writer for any publishing deal with a longer term (e.g., 3-5 years or more). Moreover, sometimes the length of an agreement is more than just a function of time, it might also be determined based on the number of songs delivered by the writer or, even more difficult to calculate, based on the number of songs that get recorded and released on a major label (something neither the writer nor the publisher may have any control over).

     Publishing deals have to do with more than just the money though. Since every music publisher is different, it is important for the songwriter to assess both the business and the creative sides of a music publisher before signing any deal. Ultimately, the songwriter is trading a share of something the writer already owns 100% of (the copyright) so it is important to be mindful of what it is exchanged for by way of services and money.


Wallace Collins is an entertainment lawyer and intellectual property attorney with more     than 30 years of experience. He was a songwriter and recording artist for Epic Records before receiving his law degree from Fordham Law School. T: (212) 661-3656; www.wallacecollins.com


  
To enter the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 
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Songwriting Tip: Don't Explain Too Much

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 19, 2016 @07:00 AM

Songwriting Tip: Don't Explain Too Much
 

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This book excerpt explores the challenge of properly communicating feelings and emotions with listeners through one's lyrics, and looks at how a songwriter can structure their work in such a way as to clearly get their intended message across without excessive exposition.

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Guest Post excerpted from the newly released e-book Songwriting: Get Your Black Belt In Music & Lyrics

Don’t Explain Too Much

tricky situation:

In order to communicate a feeling, you could take the quickest path and just tell listeners what you’re feeling, but that usually doesn’t create the best results. 

Key Word: PORTRAY

One result of merely telling the listeners what you’re feeling is that your story won’t leave anything open to their imagination. You’re placing the listeners off to the side of your lyric, since you’re not inviting them in to think for themselves, draw their own conclusions and read between the lines. Try not to tell so much — open the lyric up to people’s interpretations by portraying emotions instead.

Consider this:

There are two important ways to portray: 1) Portray by using imagery: Instead of saying I’m so in love with you Shawn Colvin says ”I never saw blue like that before, across the sky, around the world” in her song Never Saw Blue Like That. 2) Portray by letting something happen as a consequence of the emotion. Let’s say that you want to convey how much someone is missing someone else. Missing someone who has just died. Someone who has committed suicide by jumping of a bridge, to be more precise. Like in Bobby Gentry’s song Ode To Billie Joe (1967). In the end of the song you could let the main character (a girl) explain how much she misses, and longs for, the person that no longer exist. Another, and much more efficient, way of letting us understand, and drawing us into the story, is to portray her feelings by letting her do something:

“And me, I spend a lot of time pickin' flowers up on Choctaw Ridge,

and drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge.”

–  excerpt from “Ode To Bille Joe” by Bobby Gentry

  
To enter the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 
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Songwriting Tip: Walking that Line

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 12, 2016 @07:00 AM

Songwriting Tip: Walking that Line
by Harriet Schock


Walk-the-Line.jpg

There’s a line between art and commerce and for some people, it’s wide enough to walk. Finding a way to do it is an art in itself.

I know some of the best songwriters walking the earth but you might not know their names. That doesn’t mean they’re not great. And I know some really successful ones who are also exceptionally good. Today, even in a city as known for songs as Nashville, there’s a feeling that “formula” is taking over. And the pervading attitude is that merit doesn’t necessarily accompany success, and certainly vice versa.

When I was in Nashville one of my meetings was with a former promoter from the record label I recorded three albums for in the seventies, in L.A. He’s been very successful in Music City since then and when I recorded my last two CDs, I sent them to him. When he heard the newer songs, he announced that he was still a fan. This was my opening to ask him a question I didn’t dare ask the strangers I’d been meeting with all week. “Could co-writing here actually hurt my writing?” He gave me a candid “yes.” I thought about it long and hard. I took “could” to mean if I wrote with the wrong attitude, it “could” harm me but I would make sure that didn’t happen. Some of the greatest songwriting I’ve ever heard is coming out of Nashville, in my opinion. So I decided to adopt the attitude that I could learn from anyone or anything I admire. But I wouldn’t let it dilute the style I’d become known for in my own writing. I had found another thin line to walk.

My first writing session was with someone who also teaches songwriting and that was really fascinating. It was like speaking “shorthand.” I just sat in the library where we’d found an available grand piano and played endlessly to a drum track until we found a melody for the chorus. We discussed the lyric direction and he wrote the lyric to the verse with my minimal participation. I took the tape home and wrote the verse melody which I sent him.

This particular collaborator also helped me learn some of the unwritten rules of Nashville collaboration: The B writer (the one with fewer hits) brings the concept to the A writer (the one with more hits).

Therefore, in my next songwriting session, I brought the concept. I had no sooner said the last syllable of the title than my new co-writer had the guitar up, playing and singing a melody that made me feel totally at home and enraptured. I began to realize the reason this multi-hit-writer was so successful was that he’s really good. Melody and harmony fell out of this playful creature like a fountain overflowing.

This brings to mind another kind of thin line, one mentioned by Irving Berlin, who spoke of the thin line between familiarity and plagiarism. Berlin walked this line deftly and attributed his success to it, and my collaborator was walking it like a trained gymnast. When I heard the melody and chord changes, it was nothing I’d heard before and yet it felt completely familiar. Every note went where I wanted it to, like when someone finds that place on your back that itches.

Another interesting line I encountered that trip was between hanging out and becoming a drinker. I noticed a lot of networking going on at songwriters’ hangouts, which happen to be bars in many cases. I don’t know how they spend day after day there without liver damage, but the “whiskey flows and the beer chases their blues away.” And since I was drinking water and trying to say in “The Zone,” it didn’t have much effect on me except as an observer. I understand legal sobriety is now determined by Breathalyzer tests, for which I understand Listerine can cause a false positive. So it’s not easy to find where demarcation is sometimes. But I still try to walk the line. All of them.

 


Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit, "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 three other Jaglom films and starred in “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Jaglom’s most recent film, “The M Word,” features Harriet’s song “Bein’ a Girl,” performed on camera at the end of the film. 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. In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and a popular online course by private email. For her performance schedule, list of credits and samples of her work or information on her book (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), and her new up coming book, her songwriting classes, online courses and consultation, go to: www.harrietschock.com
  
To enter the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 
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Songwriting Tip: Legal Issues With Songwriter Collaborations

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 05, 2016 @07:00 AM

Songwriting Tip: Legal Issues With Songwriter Collaborations
by Wallace Collins, Esq

MusicianArt-1

Under the US copyright law, an author or creator owns a copyright in his or her work the moment it is “fixed in a tangible medium” (i.e., the moment the expression of an idea is written down or recorded in some manner). When it comes to the recorded music business there are two primary copyrights of interest: one in the musical composition or song; another in the sound recording of that song. A copyright extends for the life of an author plus 70 years, and in the case of collaborators on a copyright it extends for the life of the last surviving collaborator plus 70 years.

This article will focus on the collaboration between and among the co-writers of the musical composition or song which is generally comprised of the music (e.g., melody, harmony, chords, rhythm, etc.) and the lyrics (i.e., the words). The essence of collaboration is working together to create a single work regardless of how or what each party contributes. Collaborators may work together in the same room at the same time, or not. The creative contribution of each co-author may be equal in quality or quantity, or not. Both authors may work together on the music and lyrics or one might write just music and the other lyrics. The long history of collaboration has shown that there are endless combinations. Co-authors do not need to have a written agreement concerning their joint work, but it is probably a good idea to do so given the myriad issues that can arise and become a problem under such circumstances.

             Co-writers can divide copyright ownership in whatever proportion they determine, and that ownership concerns both rights (ownership and control) and revenues (income generated). In the absence of a written agreement, under current case law concerning both copyright and partnership law two or more collaborators are generally deemed to share equally on a pro rata basis. This might be so even if it is clear that the contributions of the authors were not equal since the Courts generally prefer not to make decisions about the value of each author’s contribution to a copyright and simply divide it by the number of authors (and we probably prefer that Courts not be making decisions about whether the hook or chorus lyric has more or less value than the chorus melody, etc.). Therefore, without a written agreement two songwriters would be deemed to own the song fifty-fifty, three songwriters one-third each, etc. A typical music business guideline for dividing ownership has been to designate the music as 50% and the lyric 50% of the song copyright. Under this scenario, if one person creates the music and two others write the lyrics, they may agree to divide the ownership 50% to the music creator and 25% to each of the lyricists. However, this concept does not have any legal significance so if there is no written collaboration agreement then under this scenario each author would own 1/3rd of the song copyright.

             Beyond the issue of just dividing the income there arises the issue of copyright ownership and control (sometimes referred to as the administration right). Many songwriters prefer that there be separate administration among the various writers and their respective publishing companies, if any. In other words, each author retains control over its respective share of the copyright. In this way each writer retains some control over what happens with the song, the scope of the licenses and how much is charged. Under US copyright law, each joint copyright owner can exploit the song and also grant non-exclusive licenses to third parties subject to the duty to account to the co-writers for any money that is generated. Each writer could also transfer some or all of their respective share of the copyright (e.g., to a publishing company) without affecting the ownership interests of the any other co-writer’s share in the copyright (although no one writer can grant an exclusive license nor transfer copyright ownership in the entire song without the written permission of each co-writer).

             All of these issues can be addressed in a written collaboration agreement. There are endless variations depending on the circumstances. Each author may retain his or her share of revenues and ownership but grant the administration rights to one party (e.g., the artist/co-writer and/or its label) so that the artist would have the right to record and exploit the song and grant third party licenses. Particularly in the world of synchronization licenses (i.e., using the audio with visual images such as in film, television or video games), it is usually more convenient for one party to have the right to grant licenses and to collect and divide all the income. Licensing can become complicated when a licensee has to seek the approval of, and document permission from, multiple writers and their respective publishers. However, each different scenario and the co-writers involved will need to determine and negotiate what arrangement works best for themselves in that particular situation.

             A collaboration agreement can be as simple as a pie chart drawing made on a napkin at the dinner after the writing session or as complicated as a writer’s publishing company dictates that it be. Over the years there have been many stories of writers agreeing, however reluctantly, to acknowledge a “co-writer” who did not even make a contribution to a song (e.g., featured artists, producers, record executives, band members, etc.). The exact contribution to a song is always a somewhat subjective measurement and if the price of getting a song on the record of a multi-platinum artist is to share writing credit then this pressure can be difficult, if not impossible, to resist. However, keep in mind that once a “co-writer” is acknowledged in writing it can be very difficult to undo. Most successful songwriters rarely, if ever, share credit in this context and every writer should try to follow this practice.

            At the end of the day, if you believe in yourself and your talents, give yourself the benefit of the doubt, and invest in good legal representation - all the successful songwriters do. Your lawyer can create a fair collaboration agreement for you to use or “translate” the documentation presented to you and explain its terms and then help negotiate more favorable terms for you as appropriate. My advice: never sign anything - other than an autograph - without having your entertainment lawyer review it first.

[Article used by permission from Wallace Collins]

Wallace Collins is an entertainment lawyer and intellectual property attorney with more     than 30 years of experience. He was a songwriter and recording artist for Epic Records before receiving his law degree from Fordham Law School. T: (212) 661-3656; www.wallacecollins.com


  
To enter the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 
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Songwriting Tip: Why You Still Should Register A "Copyrighted" Work

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Mar 29, 2016 @07:00 AM

Songwriting Tip: Why You Still Should Register A "Copyrighted" Work
by Justin M. Jacobson, Esq., The Jacobson Firm, P.C.

copyright_stamp

While many creatives in the entertainment industry believe (and are partly correct) that a work is copyrighted as soon as it is fixed in a tangible medium it still pays, often literally, to formally register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office, particularly where legal issues are concerned.

A common misconception in the entertainment industry is that an author has a “copyright registration” in the work upon completion and the publication of the created work. However, this is not true. Although the Berne Convention, which the United States is a signatory to, creates a “universal copyright” or copyright upon creation and publication of a work, the work is not “registered” until it has, in fact, been registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Truth be told, all of the benefits of copyright ownership are not available in America until the Copyright has been registered.

Registering a copyright is as easy as preparing and submitting an application to the United States Copyright Office with the appropriate filing fee and a copy of the copyrighted material. Once the work is registered and the certification is issued, the benefits of the registration begin immediately and are retroactive to the original filing date of these elements.

While it is established that a copyright is automatically created in a work upon the completion of the original work of authorship, when it is fixed in a tangible medium of expression; a formal registration of the creative materials with the U.S. Copyright Office within three months of public release provides additional, valuable benefits to the creator of the work. Some of these benefits include that the work now becomes a matter of public record and is available for search within the U.S. Copyright Office and the Library of Congress. This makes it easy to search and verify the ownership and extent of an existing, copyrighted work. This permits an individual to quickly find and contact the creator in the event that the individual desires to use or license the copyrighted material.

Additionally, in order to bring a copyright infringement lawsuit when an author believes that one of their copyrighted works has been infringed upon, the work must be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office prior to instituting a lawsuit. A valid registration certificate constitutes prima facie evidence of valid copyright ownership in the work after five years. Also, if the owner has filed for registration prior to the infringement or within three months of publication of the work, the author may be entitled to recover actual damages incurred, statutory damages as well as attorney’s fees. These fees can exceed the actual damages incurred by the copyright owner.

A valid registration also defeats a defendant’s defense of being an “innocent infringer” and provides increased statutory damages for infringements found to be “willful.” It also allows for the owner to easily license and catalog the various rights in the works.

Therefore, while there is no requirement to register a work to receive a “copyright” in the creative work, the existence of a valid copyright registration certificate provides numerous benefits to protect the work as well as provides monetary and licensing benefits that would not exist without the certificate.


[Article used by permission from Justin Jacobson]

Justin M. Jacobson has helped bring in numerous new high-profile clients, including Celebrity DJ/Producer Joshua “Zeke” Thomas and his Gorilla Records label; international live art competition, ArtBattles; G-Unit Records recording artist, Precious Paris; former NY Jet Donald Strickland; Warner-Chappell producer, J-Dens; celebrity jewelry designer, Laurel DeWitt; and BMI Latin award-winning producer, Carlos Escalona. He also spoke at Cardozo School of Law as part of “Beyond The Billboard: Advertising Law in the Fashion Industry” presented by their SELSA & IPLS Fashion Law Committees. He is a lawyer at The Jacobson Firm, P.C.: http://www.thejacobsonfirmpc.com/
  
To enter the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, song demo, copyright a song, Registering a copyright, U.S. Copyright Office, Co-Writing Songs

Songwriting Tip: Does your Latest Song Sound Similar to Ones Before?

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Mar 22, 2016 @07:00 AM

Songwriting Tip: Does your Latest Song Sound Similar to Ones Before?

by Mylène Besançon

 

rsz_sound_like

For many songwriters, one of the biggest challenges is ensuring that their songs are unique. With music lovers tending to have very discriminating hearing and short attention spans, picking up on similar patterns, lyrics or recurring themes between two or more of your songs could easily turn them off, regardless of how subtle the similarities are.

In a saturated music market, it’s not uncommon for different songs from different songwriters to sound similar, especially in genres such as pop. Listeners, though, are less likely to be forgiving when they are from the same songwriter.

So, how do you avoid plagiarizing your own music (or anybody else’s for that matter?) Whether you’re a known songwriter or still in obscurity, there are a number of ways to ensure that all of your songs sound different from each other.

  1. Have friends and family review your songs: If you have a large catalog, you may not have the time to go through all your previous songs to see if a new one sounds similar. But, you can ask people who are close to you and are familiar with your music to read through your lyrics and listen to the song to determine if it’s noticeably similar to anything you’ve done before.

  2. Invest in a low cost music production company: This really depends on what you can afford as a songwriter who is trying to make a career out of your writing talent. However, if you’re out of writing ideas and in danger of using the same melodies in new songs, you should contemplate investing some money into an affordable music production house that can bring fresh ideas to the table to match your style or even help you revamp songs you’ve already written so that they sound totally different.

  3. Expand your repertoire: If you’re already well-known for writing songs based on certain themes, rhyme schemes and genres, you may want to broaden your horizons without totally alienating your fan base. This may be a balancing act but music history is littered with singers and songwriters who successfully crossed genres and strayed from the prevailing themes of their song collections, earning new fans and expanding their markets in the process.

  4. Collaborate with another writer: People co-write songs all the time and, while this may cut into your royalties, it is better to share than risk losing listeners due to unoriginality. However, be sure to work with someone who is a good writer and can bring fresh ideas to the table.

  5. Learn an instrument: Some of the best songwriters are those who also play an instrument, such as the guitar or piano. Adding an instrument to your skillset can serve as inspiration and as a guide in your head when trying to write fresh lyrics.

As a songwriter who intends to make a life and living from your talent, having a steady stream of songs under your belt is the only way to keep going. However, continuously writing songs may eventually take a toll on the imagination, making it harder to compose a song that has its own identity when compared with all those you did in the past. The preceding tips could help you to survive such trying periods whenever they arise.

Mylène Besançon is the CMO of SongCat LLC, a top-rated online recording studio. We believe that by making professional music production financially accessible to anyone with a dream and a voice, we have the potential to change the musical landscape forever. Visit http://songcat.biz to learn more.

  
To enter the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, song demo, copyright a song, Registering a copyright, U.S. Copyright Office, Co-Writing Songs