Songwriting Tips, News & More

Songwriting Expert Advice: Writing Songs to Pitch

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Sep 19, 2016 @12:15 PM

Songwriting Expert Advice: Writing Songs to Pitch

by Anika Paris
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Award-winning songwriter and instructor Anika Paris gets right to the bottom line when it comes to setting your sights and crafting your songs to pitch to publishers and film & television music supervisors. Here are some great do’s and don’ts...

1. Defining Your Goals—what kind of songs are you pitching?
It all begins with a song, and a great song should be able to stand on its own. What creates that pure and unexplainable “magic” that resonates with audiences? And how can we get those songs working for us, heard on TV, in ads, in films, on famous artists’ records and over the radio?

There’s no secret ingredient on how to write the perfect song, it’s often timing and luck. But, we do have control over defining our goals when pitching songs. Whether you are writing songs in hopes of a publishing deal, or representing yourself with songs to pitch directly to music supervisors, sync houses and ad agencies, having clarity on the kind of writer you are and where your songs fit is key. You must pick and choose writing styles to match which avenue you decide to take when pitching your music; whether as an artist, a songwriter, writing for TV commercials or for film. Let your contacts know where you envision your songs, and whether you are a one-stop shop. The more prepared you are, the more seriously you’ll be taken.

2. When Writing as the Artist, be current with a twist.
Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” There should always be something definitively unique about your songs, so your voice and style stand out. Everyone is looking for the next craze of music. A “sound-a-like” with non-descript vocals can become dated and get lost in the pile. Be relevant, but hone your own artistic signature.

3. When Writing for Another Artist, uncover something personal.
Listen to the artist you are pitching to, and make sure your song matches their style, their vocal range and timbre. To be clever, read articles, Google them and try to find out what the artist may be going through in their personal life and write about it. Record labels will mention song styles the artist is looking for, but rarely a subject matter or lyrical content. So, touching upon something personal can only help. After all, you are competing with producers and top liners who write directly with that artist.

In addition, make sure to have a great production and write as radio ready as possible.

4. When Writing for TV/Film, familiarize and customize.
Getting a song licensed to television and film is mostly up to a music supervisor. However, a publisher can pitch on your behalf. Pull something from your catalogue that may fit a specific storyline of a show you’re watching, or go ahead and write something for a show to send in. Make sure to identify the current sound they are using before writing something that doesn’t fit. For example: Grey’s Anatomy often features ethereal ballads and love songs, versus something featured on HBO like Bloodline, which gravitates more toward quirky underground songs. When it comes to songs for films, it’s unknown territory. But independent films, versus blockbusters, often choose unknown artists over big names, because the budgets are smaller and the music palettes broader.

5. When Writing for Commercials, investigate products and brands.
There is definitely a formula for big box stores and major brands. Cathy Heller, songwriter and founder of Catch the Moon Music, has a lot of experience and placements. Some of her clients include giants like Walmart, McDonald’s, Kellogg’s and many more.

“It’s all about the vibe,” she says. “80% of the time they want music that is feel good, happy, playful and lyrically about being young, free and on the go. But, be sure to marry that with a hip, indie, fashion forward vibe, so you’re not just writing a jingle but a great standalone song. The other 20% of the time, there will be brands that have a different sonic palette. For example, Subaru gravitates more toward a Boniver and Lexi Murdock sound. Something slow, moody and melancholy. So, be sure to research brands before submitting.”

Furthermore, songs should have variation and dynamics, so there is plenty of room for dialogue if needed, and a production that builds up to the chorus.

6. One-Stop Shop, get everything in the clear.
One-Stop Shop means you’re legally setup to send your songs out without potential complications. You need to complete the following:

• Writers/Publishers Shares: Register all your songs with either ASCAP, BMI or SESAC. Make sure all writers splits are documented and agreed upon.

• Master/Producer Rights: Establish and negotiate Master ownership with your producer.

• Control: Get all creators on your team to give you control for songs to pitch.

7. Getting Past the Gatekeeper, personal relationships are key.
Breaking down the industry wall is overwhelming, and unsolicited emails often go unanswered. But, there’s always six degrees of separation, somebody knows somebody, who knows somebody.

So, exhaust all your resources to find a connection to an in-house person. Because personal relationships are always best. I worked for two celebrities, and I was the “gatekeeper.” I only let people through who bonded with me. I suggest you call before emailing to make sure they are accepting new material, and ask what format of music they prefer. And, whoever answers the phone, get their name, establish a connection.

Create a good email signature with a picture, keep it brief and specify why you’re sending your music. Don’t send 30 songs! Send your top three, and let them know there’s more. Michael Eames of PEN Music Group says: “I get so many emails with attachments. I prefer streaming links. I usually write back that I’m very busy, and that they should follow up with me in a couple of weeks. That eliminates those who are not serious. Most don’t write back. But those that do, I will listen to their work.”

Remember, it’s still a two-way street—music publishers, supervisors and ad agencies need music as much as songwriters need them.
 
(Permission reprint by Music Connection magazine)
 
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ANIKA PARIS is a published songwriter with Universal/Polygram and has had songs featured in major motion pictures via Miramax, Century Fox 21, Lionsgate, Universal Pictures and on HBO's Sex in the City,Desperate Housewives,American Idol, MTV, Oprah's OWN and many more. She is a coauthor of the book Five Star Music Makeover published by Hal Leonard Inc. See: www.anikaparismusic.com

Information on the USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, pitching songs, songwrite, song demo, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs

Songwriting Tip: Melody Is Like A Fingerprint or Signature

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Jun 21, 2016 @07:00 AM

Songwriting Tip: Melody Is Like A Fingerprint or Signature

by Harriet Schock

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In my songwriting course, I cover melody and chords as well as lyrics. I’ve learned so much about songwriters this way. Melodies don’t always reflect the actual personality of the composer the way handwriting might, but it certainly stays within a certain box with his or her name on it. Some songwriters in their melodies stay very step-wise, using notes that are close to each other most of the time and with a lot of rhythmic repetition. Some love leaps of a particular nature leading to an unexpected chord. Some composers write the melody over the chords but think of the chords before the melody. Some add chords after the melody is written. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out one’s on chronology since the chords and melody affect each other so intimately. One thing I’ve noticed for sure: If a writer can’t hear chords and pick out other people’s chords by ear, his/her chords will sound arbitrary and will have to be “thought out” rather than “heard” when he or she is composing a melody.

There are signature sounds to certain songwriters. I’ve discussed before the way Richard Rogers used non-chordal tones, often outside the scale, referred to as “the Rogers wrong note.” It’s what we wait for. Non-chordal tones in melodies are frequently the best part, but it still has to have an inevitability to it in its entirety, not sound like the chord was pulled out of a bag or placed there because it had a note in common with the melody.

Now let’s take the example of collaborations. I used to think that when part of a lyric was written first and the composer was brought in to write the melody afterward, that the lyricist had dictated the rhythm of that melody. But I’ve noticed that so many different rhythms of melody can result from the very same lyric, I no longer think that. I do believe, though, that the second verse should be written to the melody the composer writes. Counting syllables never works well because it’s really beats that must be counted and accents followed for the prosody to be right. It’s just much easier to write the second (and third) verses to the melody. That’s what we do when we start a song writing melody and lyrics together. It always amuses me when a songwriter will say “I just write melody and lyrics at the same time, so I can’t write lyrics to an existing melody.” I always remind them that yes, they write the 2nd verse lyric to an existing melody. They have to admit that it’s true.

Try discovering the melodic fingerprint of certain composers. Some are quite versatile and it might be hard to know, especially in the beginning when they’re still searching for their styles. But after a few decades of writing, it’s interesting to listen to a lot of one great composer’s melodies and discovering his or her fingerprint or signature. And if you’re still looking for your style, it might be advisable to play their songs by ear. It could beneficially affect your own compositions in the future and one of those swirls you become known for might have come from some great composer’s thumb.

 

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 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 towww.harrietschock.com

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

 
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Songwriting in Nashville

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Jun 14, 2016 @07:00 AM


Songwriting in Nashville

By Jason Blume

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When I first came to Nashville, the joke at demo sessions used to be, “Which melody do y’all want? Number 3 or number 4?” The implication was that country melodies were all alike -- and only the lyric mattered. Now, the lyrics still have to overflow with details, pictures, and unique angles--but that won’t matter if they’re not attached to a killer, fresh, instantly memorable, hook-laden MELODY!

As part of my most recent webinar (in addition to the song critiques) I identified the melodic tools used in some of the biggest current hits. It really hammered home for me that “outside” songs (not written by the artist or co-producer) have to have EXCEPTIONAL melodies and rhythms.

For the people who complain that country music today is crap and that it ain’t country anymore … I have two things to say:

1) Music in every genre changes and evolves (thankfully!). Motown, the Beatles, Aretha, Sinatra, are all amazing and have all had their time of ruling the radio airwaves--but we can’t get those kinds of songs recorded by today’s artists. So, why should country music stay frozen in time? I LOVE the old country standards, but if I want a successful career, I can’t write songs that would have been appropriate for Hank, Patsy, Jones, Johnny, or anybody else who is dead, and expect today’s artists to record them; and

2) If you think today’s songs are poorly written or just cranked out crap, try writing “I Drive Your Truck,” “Drink a Beer” or “The House That Built Me,” or melodies as fresh and instantly memorable as those in “Came Here to Forget” (Blake Shelton); “Somewhere On a Beach” (Dierks Bentley); and “Church Bells” (Carrie Underwood) -- ALL OF WHICH WERE WRITTEN BY OUTSIDE WRITERS -- NOT THE ARTISTS.

Another issue came up during the webinar …

When I critique songs I frequently ask, “Who do you hear this song for?” You should always be prepared to answer that. A publisher will almost definitely ask that question. If you cannot come up with a list of artists who are currently having hits and do not write their own material exclusively, then you are probably not writing material that targets the current market. This is a business, and part of our job is to be aware of the kind of material being recorded by artists who are currently on the radio--and do not write all of their own songs. We need to write for those artists’ future albums – – not rehash what they’ve already done. Our ticket to success is to give them material that will deliver them to the next level.

Sometimes, I hear songs that are truly terrific--songs that I love--but they are not the kinds of songs publishers can pitch and earn money from. In some cases, it’s because these are “singer/songwriter” songs--the kinds of songs that performing writers write for themselves. In other instances, they might sound like they’re from a different era. I spent years writing both of those kinds of songs and bitterly complaining (while working hideous temp jobs) that my songs were “better than the crap on the radio.” I desperately wanted a publishing deal, but I wasn’t writing the kind of songs a publisher could place. The turning point came when I accepted that if I wanted to write for catharsis that was fine. But if I wanted to earn a living as a songwriter, I needed to write songs with lyrics and melodies that would compel an artist (or publisher or record label exec) to choose my song over a thousand others (including those written by the current hit-makers, as well as the artist and the producer). I still needed to write from my heart--but I needed to also target my listeners’ hearts.

It takes EXCEPTIONAL songs to break through--and those songs must have outlets in the current market. Publishers and other music industry pros are starving for those songs, but they have no need for perfectly crafted, predictable ones. One of the things I love so much about teaching songwriting is that so many of the skills we need to take our songs to that next level are learnable--and that amazing songs really can change lives.

 

Now, time for the sales pitch. July dates for interactive song critique webinars are now posted on my website. The webinars combine in-depth critiques of a song from every participant, lessons, and topics such as “what publishers want”; “how to take a lyric to the next level”; and “how to pitch songs,” as well as Q&A. Note: Every session has filled up--and half the attendees are “repeat offenders.”

http://www.jasonblume.com/song-critique-webinars.html



Jason Blume is the author of This Business of Songwriting and 6 Steps to Songwriting Success (Billboard Books). His songs are on three Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies. One of only a few writers to ever have singles on the pop, country, and R&B charts, all at the same time—his songs have been recorded by artists including Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, the Gipsy Kings, Jesse McCartney, and country stars including Collin Raye (6 cuts), the Oak Ridge Boys, etc. Jason’s songs have been included in films and TV shows including “Scrubs,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Assassination Games,”, etc. A regular contributor to BMI’s MusicWorld magazine, he presented a master class at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and teaches songwriting throughout the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland, the U.K., Canada, Bermuda, and Jamaica. After twelve years as a staff-writer for Zomba Music, Blume now runs Moondream Music Group. For additional information about Jason’s latest books, online classes, instructional audio CDs, and workshops visit www.jasonblume.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, Nashville, songwrite, Recording, song demo, Jason Blume, song structure, demo recording, writing hit songs, Honing Your Craft, demo sessions

Songwriting Tip: You Signed a Deal You Shouldn’t Have. Now What?

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

Songwriting Tip: You Signed a Deal You Shouldn’t Have. Now What?

by Erin M. Jacobson

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You signed a deal without having a lawyer review it or you didn’t listen to your lawyer’s music industry advice when (s)he told you not to sign. Several months later, you realize that you probably shouldn’t have signed that deal. Maybe you find that your vision isn’t quite in sync with the other party, maybe they haven’t followed through on the promises they made you or maybe they just turned out to be bad people. Now that you have already committed yourself to this agreement, what are your options?

Here’s some music industry advice: your first step is to contact an attorney. If you did not previously have an attorney review the deal, you need to have an experienced music attorney review it to assess the obligations of each party and whether there are any provisions that would allow you to get out of the contract. If you previously had an attorney review the deal, have that person review it again for the same reasons. It is possible the situation may be remedied by one of the following options:

  1. Contract Termination
    Sometimes contracts have clauses in them that allow for the parties to terminate the contract. These provisions are often tied to certain circumstances, which may be beneficial to you or may complicate matters depending on whether those circumstances have been met.

Another option is having a conversation with the other party where hopefully both of you can come to a mutual agreement to go separate ways. In the alternative, the parties may agree to terminate the contract albeit on not so amicable terms. In this case there will probably be some sort of termination and settlement agreement, where the terminating party might be subject to a penalty or payment to get out of the deal.

  1. Renegotiation
    If you still want to work with the other party but under changed circumstances, another option is seeing if the other party is open to renegotiating some terms of the contract. In reality, a renegotiation in this situation should only be to correct or improve the current problems, not to try to get better terms just because you want more than to what you previously agreed.

Your relationship with the other party and status in the industry both greatly affect a potential renegotiation. If you are a new artist without a proven track record or previously established track record, you are really at the mercy of the company as to whether they will agree to a renegotiation.

Having greater leverage and/or a good relationship with the company will greatly help you here.

  1. Litigation
    If you’ve tried both of the above options and neither have worked, you may want to consider litigation––i.e. suing the other party to get out of the contract. Although you may be prepared to or actually file a lawsuit, many of these matters do settle out of court, usually saving you a lot of time and expense. Once again, this scenario will probably be subject to a termination and settlement agreement and may come with penalties. However, this is sometimes much easier and faster than litigation, which can be lengthy and very expensive.

 

If you decide to pursue the litigation route, you should make an informed decision based on the time and expense involved.

Further, while some attorneys will take a case on contingency (meaning that they only get paid if they win your case) and get a percentage of your recovery from the case, most attorneys do not and will require an hourly rate and an upfront retainer.

Be respectful of the attorney’s policies and don’t try to persuade him or her to take the case.

The moral of the story is to always have an attorney review a contract before you sign it and carefully consider your attorney’s music industry advice.

The ultimate decision whether to sign is yours, but it is much more difficult to change or terminate a contract after signature than negotiate or walk away from a deal before it is signed.

Don’t sign any deal just because you are excited to have been offered one. Careful consideration of whether this is the right deal for you may save you a lot of future grief.

 

Disclaimer: The content contained in this article is not legal music industry advice and does not constitute or create an attorney-client relationship between Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. and you. You should not rely on, act, or fail to act, upon this information without seeking the professional counsel of an attorney licensed in your state. If this article is considered an advertisement, it is general in nature and not directed towards any particular person or entity.

 

[Reprint Permission granted by Music Connection magazine]

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ERIN M. JACOBSON
 (themusicindustrylawyer.com) is a practicing music attorney, experienced deal negotiator and seasoned advisor of intellectual property rights who protects Grammy and Emmy Award winners to independent artists and music companies. Jacobson also owns Indie Artist Resource (indieartistresource.com), the independent musician’s resource for legal and business protection offering template contracts and other services meeting the unique needs of independent musicians.

  

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


 
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How To Overcome The Fear Of Sharing Your Musical Creations

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, May 31, 2016 @07:00 AM

How To Overcome The Fear Of Sharing Your Musical Creations
by Robert Menne
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Whether you are interested in writing songs as a hobby or want to turn it into a career, you will need to share your work with others. While this may seem daunting, using tricks that have worked for countless others provides a great foundation for facing your fear. Otherwise, your creations will sit tucked away in a drawer, silent.

Building confidence is essential if you are going to have success. Even if you have no desire nor intent to make a career from your songwriting, there are many avenues available to you for enjoying your tunes and sharing them with your friends, family and even people online. As an added bonus, learning to walk through your fears is a valuable tool that can be useful in virtually every aspect of your life.

Confidence-building exercises and workshops are a great method for strengthening your self-esteem. After all, even if a person does not like your song, it does not mean they don't like you or that you are unworthy in any way. Know, deep in your being, that your self-worth is not dependent on others and you will have the confidence you need to prevent negative remarks from ripping at your heart.

When introducing your songs to others, consider the source when they provide feedback. Ask listeners to be honest and to give you constructive criticism. Realize though that people closest to you may have a difficult time finding fault or things they don't like about a song.

One of the best ways to grow your songwriting skills and find others who can give you more accurate criticism is to join a songwriting group or workshop in your area. Interacting with others who enjoy the same craft can be a source of inspiration and you can learn more about the creative process behind professional songwriting.

Of course, confidence without the skill to back it up is not beneficial. You can learn some of the tools you need at your local musician's workshop, depending on what is offered in your community. However, the greater your understanding of the song creating process, the better your work will be, and you will generate confidence at the same time.

Learning music theory is a good start. Many songwriters also learn how to play the piano, which is quite useful when writing a song. Basic music theory is essential for many reasons. You will learn which keys are good for uplifting tunes and the ones you can use to create an emotional and sad song.

Additionally, a good theory course will teach you about melody, choruses and much more. You can take courses at your local community college to gain these skills. Alternatively, you can find a free or fee-based online class though you will need to research the quality and reputation of the site to ensure the lessons are accurate.

Everyone has a creative nature and you can express yours through music whether you want to focus on pop love ballads, heavy metal or techno tunes. When you ask other musicians for constructive feedback, pay attention to their comments. Rather than feeling defensive or tossing the piece, think about the validity of their response and whether or not you need to alter the song. Even professionals with years of experience edit their songs repeatedly before finalizing them. You can certainly do the same.

If you plan to perform the piece, either live or on video, make sure you know it well enough to recite in your sleep. The words and melody should roll naturally from your mouth, drawing listeners into the story your song tells. You will be more at ease and the music can shine for itself.

All artists have a fear of people negatively judging their works, you are not alone! However, if you learn the basics of songwriting and esteem building techniques, you can overcome the fear of sharing. The more you share your tunes and learn about your craft, the easier it will be. Eventually, the butterflies in your stomach will be just another part of sharing a new song and not the debilitating monsters they are now!

Robert Menne writes and plays music in his spare time. He runs a site freesongs.us that shares the latest tips and advice about guitars and guitar playing, as well as the best video guitar lessons to help you learn to play guitar.

  

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, collaborations, Building confidence, Fear Of Sharing Your Music

5 Things I’ve Learned About Making Music For Film

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, May 24, 2016 @07:00 AM

5 Things I’ve Learned About Making Music For Film
By Ed Gerrard

EdGerrard.jpg

A film music supervisor wears many hats. The job involves working with the director and producers to secure numerous legal music licenses needed for music placement. You’re also involved with picking and creating new songs for use in key moments of a film. Perhaps my favorite job as a music supervisor is working with the composer on the film score that, in many cases, can make or break a film’s success and enhance the audience’s experience. Here are five things I’ve learned about making music for film.

1. Listen
Before you write a note of music, pay attention. A director will describe the feeling of the journey for the characters and the emotion of the film that they want the audience to experience. It’s the music’s job to take people there. Listen closely and take direction. That’s why they are called directors!

2. Know Your Audience
There are many different styles of films, from romantic comedies to super herofilled action epics. The audiences that these films are made for vary from middle-aged couples to teenagers and even young children. Each audience reacts differently and at different times to what they are seeing and hearing on the screen. Remember that the music must reflect this.

3. Create and Connect Themes
Several themes are required within any single movie, potentially including ones for love, hero, villain, chase, tension, and more. Sometimes you need to “sell” these themes in as little as 30 seconds or less. Linking themes together and making them connect is the key to an effective score.

4. More Is Less
The last thing a director wants is a score that competes with a film’s dialog. Whether a movie calls for a big orchestral score or a simple piano melody, the music must support the dialog and not overwhelm it. It must appear that the words are floating over the music, not drowning in it.

5. Enjoy the Process
Too many movies these days have sterile, boring scores. It often seems like composers are disinterested and simply going through the motions of making music for film. (And sometimes it is the movies themselves that are not very good)! Remember that music is the one thing that can make a horrible movie watchable. So create and have fun with the challenge of putting music to picture. Learning your craft is the first step toward winning that Oscar!

[Reprint permission by Keyboard Magazine]


In a career spanning more than a quarter century, Ed Gerrard has managed numerous Grammy winning artists and supervised the music for 20-plus films and television series, including the new Miles Davis biopic Miles Ahead, which stars Don Cheadle and features a score by Robert Glasper. Ed Gerrard is known for his music work in Scream (1996), Scream 2 (1997) and Scream 3 (2000). Find out more at
www.impactartist.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, music supervisor, collaborations, Writing Music for film and TV, film scoring

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

DistantCousins-3.jpg

(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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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, song demo, collaborations

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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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, song demo, song structures, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs, Music Publishing Deal, Music Publishing Contract, Record Contract, Rewriting

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
portray_emotions.jpg

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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