Songwriting Tips, News & More

The 9-Minute Songwriter Workout

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Aug 20, 2015 @04:07 PM

The 9-Minute Songwriter Workout

by Clay Mills

IMG_1041-2

These three songwriting exercises are designed to get you into the flow of writing without thinking. Your best ideas come from your subconscious—and, you can tap into this with regular practice. Remember to do these exercises quickly, spending three minutes on each in rapid fire succession. I set the timer on my iPhone. Don’t judge or question ANYTHING you write down. This isn’t a test! The sole purpose is to train your creative thinking to respond on command. I find it helps to write with pen and paper, instead of typing. A lot of studies show that your brain responds differently when writing, as opposed to typing.

 

Pen and paper? Timer set? Okay, let’s go!

 

1.Write down every song title that comes to mind without censoring yourself. Work fast. Spit out titles. No judgement. Go wherever your thoughts take you. Note: These are your own original titles, not pre-existing song titles!

 

2.Choose one of your titles to play word association. Write down every word or phrase that relates to your title. Don’t think! Just work as quickly as possible. This will free up your subconscious. Here’s an example of how I free associated with one of my Darius Rucker #1 hits:

 

Title: ”Don't Think I Don't Think About It"

 

Associations: regrets, missing you, could've been, should've been, wrong choices,

mistakes, do I cross your mind?, looking back, rear view mirror, where are you today?

 

3.Choose a word in your title and play poor man’s rhyming dictionary. Write down as many rhymes as you can. Example: My title is “Don't Think I Don't Think About It,” rhyming the word, “it.” Work your way through the alphabet and add consonants to the beginning of the word. B-it, F-it, Gr-it, H-it, S-it, W-it, etc. Not all letters will work, so move quickly to the next. Today, there is less emphasis on perfect rhymes, so don't be afraid to cast a wider net: D-itch, W-itch, S-witch. In the example song, I chose to use the word "regret" as a rhyme with “it.” The meaning of the word, coupled with Darius's delivery, made it work beautifully. This exercise will strengthen your rhyming skills, so that it becomes second nature. Your goal is to spend less time “thinking" of rhymes while writing. 

 

Congratulations, you did it! Repeat daily!

Write On!  

 

Clay Mills is a 11-time ASCAP hit songwriter, producer, and performer. His songs have been recorded by such artist as Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker, Babyface, Reba McEntire, and Kimberly Locke. He has 2 Grammy nominations for “Beautiful Mess” by Diamond Rio and “Heaven Heartache” by Trisha Yearwood. Follow him here: www.songtown.com, at www.claymills.com, and at www.facebook.com/claymillsii

 

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

TellUsWhatYouThink

Tags: songwriter, Song writing, Songwriting, Songwriting Tip, Clay Mills

Songwriting Tips: Oysters and Muses

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Aug 14, 2015 @03:33 PM

Songwriting Tips: Oysters and Muses

By Harriet Schock

Oysters And Muses

An oyster makes a pearl when some foreign piece of matter, like a grain of sand, has entered the oyster and he covers it with layers of nacre (mother of pearl). Basically, he’s sort of spitting at it because it’s an annoyance. I think songwriters are like that. If something is stuck in our craw, so to speak, we spit at it until we get a song. Or if we are longing for someone, unbearably, we write a song to give an outlet for all the feeling we can’t express to the missing or oblivious person. There’s usually an element of “reaching for” or “unfulfilled” or “discontent” before a pearl of a song comes out.

 

This doesn’t mean all songs are going to express anger or longing. Sometimes, there’s a longing to express gratitude or abiding devotion. But there’s a longing there, nevertheless. It’s hard to express these things in day-to-day existence. I just got an assignment from one of my correspondence course students which is going to lead to a very positive song for his wife. I dare say it will have some lovely pearls she has never heard, even over the most romantic dinner. Art has a way of condensing and purging deeper emotions that mere conversation isn’t capable of expressing.

 

So where do we get the piece of sand? I’m sure there are a few things bugging you at the moment, but they would not all be great songs. In looking for a dry and boring subject to illustrate this point, my first thought was that the IRS would not necessarily inspire a good song, but then I remembered Alfred Johnson’s song “W2” and realized that in the hands of a skillful songwriter there are no bad subjects. But is there a rule of thumb? What might work better than what?

 

I’ve been interested for a long time in what brings inspiration. It seems that having a certain distance from that which is inspiring us is essential, even if you have to find a way to get that distance on purpose. It’s no accident that there’s an expression, “Never marry the muse.” A muse is worth its weight in plutonium. I’ve known people who have stayed in totally bogus relationships only because of the songs that person inspired, when in fact, there was no real relationship in the first place. But it was the equivalent of the eggs that Woody Allen mentioned at the end of “Annie Hall.” He did it for the eggs. We do it for the songs. And for some reason, doing anything that will close that distance changes the person from being a muse to being someone too close to serve that purpose.

 

I recently read a poem by Wislawa Szymborska, a Nobel prize winner and one of my favorite poets. It’s called “I am too close,” and one of lines, and the recurring theme, is: “I am too close for him to dream of me.” She writes about having her arm under her lover’s head as he is dreaming of an usherette he saw once. She nails this concept better than I’ve ever heard it discussed. We frequently write (and dream) about fantasies and longings, much more than we dream of those closest to us.

 

On the other hand, those of us who want to have it all try to find a way to long for what we have. Goldie Hawn once said in an interview that she fantasizes about Kurt Russell, her long-term partner. This keeps the dream alive and is something I consider very good advice. There is a rampant viewpoint that the thrill of the chase is the only thrill there is. After the “prize” is “won,” the game is over. This is patently an unevolved viewpoint, but it’s so ingrained and reinforced by films and novels and songs, that we sometimes forget we have a choice. The reason I mention this in a songwriting article is that it affects the way we write. It’s not just ruining our love lives; it’s ruining our songs. It’s also helpful to know the difference between something you’re writing about and something you want to curl up with for a lifetime.

 

Some people try to harness the muse and get it to go in an “appropriate” direction. The catch-22 of this is that only when you know yourself very well can you get this to work. And most people who know themselves very well have given up trying to steer the muse. They just let it be where it is.

 

I have lots of students who are happily married who write about some old relationship they never quite felt complete about. That’s where the juices are. They don’t want to be back there in that relationship. But that’s where the muse is perched. So that’s where they go for the characters and the songs. I think this is fine. I once asked my producer, Nik Venet, why a particular couple (both very creative, great songwriters) couldn’t make it together in life when they were obviously so much in love and they wrote such powerful songs about each other. He answered with a succinct wisdom he was known for: “Fire needs more than fire. It needs wood.”

 

So back to our oyster analogy. It used to require a search of over 1000 oysters to find one pearl. Now, cultured pearls are made by putting a bead in an oyster and putting him back into the water. Then the pearls are collected. The cultured pearls are made the same way as naturally occurring pearls, except that some enterprising person decided to help nature irritate more oysters into making pearls. I realized while thinking this through that I do that on a daily basis with songwriters. I don’t have to insert the grain of sand like the person making a cultured pearl does. The songwriter already has one. They just don’t know where to look until I direct them. Once they get the knack of it, they’re off and writing.

 

Take a look at your own life. See where your beads are, and I don’t mean the perspiration on your forehead when you’re trying to pull a song out of nothing. There are plenty of sources of inspiration. Get out your radar and find that muse. She may be perched on the question mark of an old relationship. She may be looking out from the eyes of your present beloved. Or she could be leaping from the pages of an editorial that gets you crazy. Muses love to hide. But you’re a songwriter. It’s your job to find 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

 

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

 

TellUsWhatYouThink

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, lyric, lyric writing, Songwriting Tips, Harriet Schock, lyrical concept, lyrical hook

Songwriting Tip : Songs Are Small Things

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Jul 07, 2015 @07:05 PM

by Harriet Schock

 Songwriting

I tell my songwriting students this often. I tell myself this often. Songs are small things. Unlike a play or screenplay, songs can’t have a large cast or a bunch of subplots. If the idea of the song is “You are so beautiful to me…” then you simply say that and very little else. In fact, you should check out the lyric to that song. It’s astonishingly concise. Of course, I’m not saying every song has to be that truncated, although if it has a melody that good and that much emotion in the lyric with a vocal by Joe Cocker or Ray Charles, who needs more?

 

One of my favorite songs is “The Song Remembers When” by Hugh Prestwood. He simply writes vignettes of what the “I” in the song is doing—standing at the counter, rolling through the Rockies—when a song comes on and makes him (or when Trisha Yearwood sings it “her”) remember the relationship because the song brings it back. Now he doesn’t go into a dissertation on the time space continuum, he merely states that no matter how long a time has transpired, and no matter that he doesn’t even remember what went wrong in the relationship, when he hears that song, he’s right back with her. And he gives examples of how it happens, as well as making philosophical observations that are eloquent with the ring of truth. Consider this phrase about looking back on the old relationship, “But that’s just a lot of water underneath a bridge I’ve burned.” I use this as an example of brilliant craft that once you’ve broken the code of what he’s doing there, you can do it too. And you’d better be brilliant and eloquent because you don’t have much time to tell your story. It has to be a whole love story, or a whole life, or a whole movie with a plot even if no subplots—and it has to all happen in around 3 ½ minutes. So we don’t have time for non sequiturs and flowery language that doesn’t communicate.

 

Speaking of language that communicates, I have my students read Charles Bukowski’s free verse poetry for 4 things:

1) He says a lot in a few words

2) He uses conversational language

3) He writes very visually and

4) He uses irony in just about every poem.

I find that irony can’t be taught but it can be caught, like a cold. Somehow Bukowski’s irony is simply more contagious than other poets’ irony.

 

Sometimes at an open mic when I’d swear I’m hearing the plot of “War and Peace” crammed into someone’s original song, I want to suggest to them, loudly, that songs are small things. But when they’re written really well, we remember that diamonds are small things too.

 

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), her songwriting classes, online courses and consultation, go to: www.harrietschock.com

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

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Helen Reddy, demo, hit song, Harriet Schock, co-writing

Songwriters: How to Demo Your Songs for Maximum Effect

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Jun 24, 2015 @09:24 PM

 

Expert Advice: Songwriters: How to Demo Your Songs for Maximum Effect

 

By Holly Knight

 

 Holly Knight, songwriter

 

There are many things that come into play when deciding what kind of demo you want to make. You will need to:

 

 

 

Decide who you want to pitch the song to.
• Determine what kind of sound you’re going for i.e. production.
• Figure out your budget (what you want and what you can afford aren’t always the same, but this is one of the biggest factors).
• Decide who plays on your demo: Is it you, or a combination of you and a hired vocalist? If you don’t play at all, you’ll need to hire musicians. If you’re not a great singer, hire one. Trust me, getting a good singer to sell your song is very important.

 

 

 

These days it is remarkably cheaper and much more convenient to record out of your own place, even your bedroom. If you’re serious about songwriting, you should have, at the very least, a simple, inexpensive program such as Logic, or GarageBand, both now a part of the Apple startup package. There are countless free tutorials on YouTube to learn them and they are pretty user-friendly.

 

 

 

1. If you are not already set up to record at home, then do so! Set yourself up with a digital home recording system. I use Pro Tools, the industry standard, used by almost every music producer. It’s more expensive, but there are different versions with a startup one being more affordable.

 

 

 

2. Learn how to program and engineer on a basic level. Engineering yourself saves money and time. Another advantage is that any time you feel inspired, you can work on your demo. You have the freedom to keep trying lots of different things without looking at the clock and worrying about emptying your bank account. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone in my studio at 2:00 a.m. in just my underwear and Ugg Boots and recorded something really cool, without having to worry about dealing with someone else.

 

 

 

3. Use a male vocalist for a demo if you’re going to pitch it to a female rock singer (or any kind of edgy female singer like P!nk). Usually those kinds of female singers are a bit tomboyish, and they want to sing like a guy, so it’s easier for them to imagine singing it.

 

 

 

4. Do not make the mistake of getting a singer to sing like the artist you’re pitching to. Obviously, stylistically you want them to sell the song, but you don’t want to be off-putting to the artist either. I never gave a demo to Pat Benatar or Tina Turner where the vocalist sounded just like them. Sometimes they even feel like they’re being parodied. Not a good thing.

 

 

 

5. There are two kinds of demos these days. Either highly polished and practically a master unto themselves, or a very simple and real sounding demo, something like a piano and vocal, or an acoustic/vocal version. One of the advantages of submitting a high-end demo is that sometimes, if the producer loves your tracks—especially if it’s programmed synths and drum beats—they’ll want to use them on the master they’re recording with the artist. If this happens, you can negotiate a credit for either coproduction or programming.

 

You should also work out payment, which is usually in the form of points (a percentage). Sometimes, but very rarely, they will use the entire session or even hire you to produce the master with the artist. This almost only happens when you are known as a producer, and probably is not applicable to this article.

 

 

 

The disadvantage to putting too much into a well-produced demo is that often a producer, A&R guy or the artist can’t hear enough of the song on its own merits, and you haven’t left enough room for their imaginations. Sometimes that turns people off.

 

Another disadvantage is it can cost a lot more money once you’ve hired an engineer, and various musicians.

 

 

 

6. In my personal experience, a truly good song often sells itself better when it’s a simpler demo. If it sounds great in a simple form, then an artist can imagine how they would do it and “make it their own.” A great production of a weak song will get you nada, but a great song, even with a simple demo will stand a better chance of getting cut.

 

 

 

7. Make sure the vocals are loud. You’re not making your own record. You want the listener to hear the words.

 

 

 

8. Make sure you can understand the words when the vocalist sings, so that A&R peeps never need to look at a lyric sheet. Don’t overdo the effects, like delay and reverb, to the point that the singer sounds far away and hard to understand.

 

 

 

9. Don’t go crazy with guitar or other instrumental solos if your objective is to get a song cut. No one CARES. Unless your demos are also intended to sell you as an artist, then you can throw in some dazzling musicianship; but even then, I would keep those moments minimal. No one CARES. They want to hear great songs they can market.

 

 

 

10. Back everything up, every few minutes that you’re working— you can set your program to do that automatically—and label your sessions clearly. I can’t tell you how many sessions I used to label as “Friday night, USE THIS ONE.”

 

 

 

11. Usually an MP3 will suffice. It’s easy to send around, and easy for the listener to open up and listen to. I’ve often gone to the trouble of sending a higher res file, such as Wave or AiFF via Dropbox, and no one seems to appreciate the difference. You want the demo to be as easy as possible for the listener to access. If they have to go to yet another site and download a song you’re submitting to them, sometimes they won’t even bother to listen.

 

 

 

Ah now, submitting your songs....that’s a whole ‘nother subject, y’all... I hope this has helped you! Rock on!

 

 (Reprinted by permission, Music Connection magazine) 

 

About the Author:

 

HOLLY KNIGHT is a three-time Grammy winner, the recipient of 13 ASCAP Awards and a 2013 inductee to The Songwriters Hall of Fame. For a complete discography of her work, and to learn about her intensive, limited-enrollment Master Songwriting Classes, go to hollyknight.com, Twitter: @HollyKnightlife

 

 

 

For for information on the 20th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter

 

 

 

 

 

 


Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Nashville, demo, hit song, co-writing

Songwriting Tip: Gotta Love That Wrong Note

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Jun 10, 2015 @10:59 AM

GOTTA LOVE THAT WRONG NOTE  
by Harriet Schock

 Gotta love that wrong note - songwriting
There’s a lot to say about “wrong notes” but I’m going to concentrate here on the good ones—the ones that you wait for in a song. They’re not really wrong, but they’re unexpected and give a color to the music that is rather magical. Some occur from simply non-chordal tones called appoggiatura, and we’ve all made lots of use of these. Otherwise, the melody is too diatonic, like coloring inside the lines.
 
But let’s talk about wrong notes as in “that note is not in the scale” sort of wrong notes. Those are the really fun ones. My current songwriting student, a wonderful composer/songwriter, Robert Intriligator turned me on to the phrase “The Rodgers patented wrong note,” which was coined by Deems Taylor, a biographer of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Richard Rodgers was arguably one of the greatest popular composers of all time. His body of work is vast and in a huge variety of styles. But there is a characteristic he became so known for, they coined a phrase for it. I asked Robert Intriligator to find a bunch of examples for me, and I went to the piano and noticed that these are some of my favorite places in his music. For example in “Something Good” from “The Sound of Music” that raised fourth on the word “childhood” is what we wait for. In “No Other Love” (from “Me and Juliet”) he uses a raised 2nd on the word “you” in the phrase “only my love for you.” In “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin' ” the “morn” of “mornin'” is on a flat seventh of the scale or raised sixth, depending upon your viewpoint. In looking over most of his “wrong note” examples, though, Robert concluded that most of them are a raised second or fourth.
 
Of course, in “Maria,” commonly known as “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria,” he uses a raised fourth as well as a raised second in the first line; but because they’re not held or accented, they simply seem like passing tones and aren’t as remarkable.
 
In order to create a bit of dissonance, the note has to stay there for a while. All consonance in a song is like a plot in a play or movie with no conflict. It’s just not interesting enough to hold our attention. I remember when I first heard “When We Dance” by Sting I waited for that note on the word “love” in the line “like I love you.” Yeah! Of course, these dissonances, wrong notes or whatever you want to call them are everywhere. They’re not just in Richard Rodgers and Sting. It might be fun for you to look for them in the music you listen to and pick out by ear what the composer is doing. Where is the “wrong note” and which scale degree did he/she augment or flat? Anyway, studying Richard Rodgers can only help a songwriter/composer since there’s so much to learn from his music.
 
There’s an old expression in jazz that goes something like “If you hit a wrong note, go back and hit it again in the same phrase. That way it will seem to have been done on purpose.” The trick is to find out when and where to do it on purpose the first time.
 

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), her songwriting classes, online courses and consultation, go to: www.harrietschock.com

For more information on the 20th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go: http://www.songwriting.net

 

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Helen Reddy, Lyrics, Harriet Schock, Grammy Award, love song

Radio Podcast, featuring USA Songwriting Competition 2014 Winners

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, May 12, 2015 @07:24 PM

Radio Podcast, featuring USA Songwriting Competition Winners such as: Justine & Kerris Dorsey, Luz Rios, Lawson Rollins and a few surprises... Click below to listen to the Radio Podcast...

 

 **For more information on the 20th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go: http://www.songwriting.net/enter

Tags: Song writing, Songwriting, Radio Podcast, Kerris Dorsey, Lawson Rollins, Justine Dorsey, Luz Rios

Songwriting Tip : Where's The Chorus

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, May 11, 2015 @05:41 PM

WHERE’S THE CHORUS?

by Harriet Schock

 songwriting

As a panelist at a songwriting conference recently, I wandered into a nearby panel after mine was over. I heard an absolutely gorgeous song with the hook at the end of each verse. The panelist interrogated the writer harshly, “Where’s the chorus?!” I desperately wanted to scream at her that not all songs have choruses and despite our culture’s wide-spread short term memory loss, some stories are better told without them. Even though we’re dealing with a society whose art is often dictated by Nielsen ratings and whose attention span is a nanosecond, sometimes a repeated chorus is not only undesirable—it’s unnecessary.

Let’s review a little history, even though there are conflicting stories about how choruses emerged. Back in the day of the “standards,” “The American Songbook,” these songs were ALL pretty much AABA. Verse, verse, bridge, verse with the title in the first line of each verse or the last line. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” for instance, would not have been improved by a repeating chorus starting with the title. Think about it for a minute. And even into the time of the Beatles, would “Yesterday” have been a better song if McCartney and Lennon and created a big sing-along chorus with the same words each time that started with “Yesterday”?

So historically the title was frequently in the last line of the verse. I believe it sort of grew into a two-line refrain and split off like a pseudopod into a chorus around the late fifties or early sixties. This is actually conjecture but it makes sense to me that it could have happened this way. I mean the central idea of the song was contained in the one line, then in the refrain, then it grew into too many lines to be a refrain at the end of a section so it split off and became a chorus. And for most chorus songs, this works well. But some songs are much better with the title coming in by itself at the end of each verse. Country radio is full of these songs even today. And Billy Joel’s “I Love You Just the Way You Are” would not have been better, in fact it would have been made weaker by a repeating chorus. In many story songs—songs that follow one story all the way through—a repeating chorus is simply “wasted real estate” as I call it…wasting space in the song, that could have given us more story, for the sake of lyric repetition. Of course, it’s becoming more conventional than it used to be to change some of the lyrics in the chorus to advance the story a bit or give the listener some variation, while keeping part of the chorus lyrics the same, usually the first and last line at least. But when we’re following a story as we are in Bill Berry’s “Piano Tuner with the Lazy Eye” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ixrOEXezXw), the last thing we want is to be interrupted by a repeating chorus.

I realize that the “hit formula” is to have a chorus that drives the title home and the beats the melodic hook into the listener’s brain so that by the second time he hears it, it “sounds” like a hit because it’s so incredibly familiar to him. And far be it from me to kick an ear worm out of bed. I’ve made a living off of them for over 30 years. But there have been plenty of hits without choruses. Once we realize that we can write a big melodic hook chorus song whenever we want, then we move on to what is best for the song we’re writing. And sometimes the song just cries out to be AABA. Yes, even in 2015.

 

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), her songwriting classes, online courses and consultation, go to: www.harrietschock.com

For more information on the 20th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Helen Reddy, Harriet Schock, Grammy

Show—Don’t Tell: 3 Steps to Writing Better Lyrics

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Apr 27, 2015 @05:33 PM

Show—Don’t Tell: 3 Steps to Writing Better Lyrics

by Jason Blume      

 Songwriting

 

Our goal, when we share a song, is to evoke emotion in our listeners—to have them not only know what the singer is feeling, but to empathize—to feel the emotion. One of the most effective ways to achieve this is by bringing your audience inside the world of your song—showing them a scene unfolding—instead of simply telling them how the singer feels.

Writing lyrics that “show—don’t tell” is one of the basics of songwriting, and is one of the first things taught in almost every songwriting class. But for many songwriters, it’s easier to write lyrics that state how the singer feels. For example: “My heart is filled with happiness”; or, “I’m lonely and my heart is broken.” But while these statements clearly express what the singer is feeling, these types of statements don’t typically evoke emotion in the listener.

By incorporating three elements—action, imagery, and detail—into your verse lyrics, you can write lyrics that tell a story. Note that this tool is primarily intended for verse lyrics. In songs containing choruses, the chorus lyrics tend to be more general. Their function is to be a summation of the concept and to hammer home the title. Telling the story is the domain of the verses.

A: Action

You might recall from elementary school that verbs are figures of speech that convey action or doing. By incorporating action words you ensure that you are avoiding simply stating feelings.

An easy way to include action is to identify the emotion you are hoping to evoke then ask yourself, “What would a person do if he or she were feeling this?”

Instead of saying, “I’m missing you and my heart is broken,” you might write lines that show what missing someone and being heartbroken looks like.

For example:

  • I hug the pillow where you used to lay your head
  • I clutch a tear-stained picture of you
  • I drove to the club where we used to hang, but I couldn’t walk through that door
  • I wipe the tears that keep running down my face

Note the action words—the verbs in the examples above: “hug,” “clutch,” “drove,” “walk,” and “wipe.”

Similarly, instead of saying, “I’m in love,” show what a person in love does by writing lyrics such as:

  • I wrote your name and mine inside a heart
  • I keep singing your name like a favorite song
  • I read your text that said “I love you” at least a hundred times

The action words—the verbs in this example are: “wrote,” “singing,” and “read.”

Note that the first lyric examples never actually stated, “I miss you,” or “My heart is broken.” Nor did the second examples say, “I’m in love,” or “I’m happy.” They didn’t need to—because by “seeing” what the person in the song is doing the listeners are able to surmise how he or she feels.

To master the tool of incorporating action it can help to imagine you’re writing the script for a video, and the actors’ actions will be based solely on the words of your lyric. If you write, “my heart is breaking,” you have not told the actress what she is supposed to do to show this.

A listener cannot “see” what it looks like when a heart breaks. But if you write, “She fell to her knees as he packed his bag, and tears ran down her face”—this is something a listener can visualize. The actress knows that she is supposed to fall to her knees and cry.

I: Imagery

Imagery refers to things that be can seen. Words that convey images are nouns. Note that some nouns—such as “heartache,” “sadness,” “happiness,” and “joy”—do not represent things that are tangible. They are descriptions of emotional states. Effective use of imagery entails including words that describe things that can be seen or touched.

While you cannot see “heartbroken,” you can see the images and actions that convey that a person is heartbroken. For instance:

  • He falls to his knees and lays flowers on her grave
  • She sits in his chair and wipes her tears with a tissue
  • He kisses her photo

The images in the examples above include: “knees,” flowers,” and “grave”; “tears” and “tissue”; “photo” and “lips.”

The inclusion of these images help to show that the character in the song is heartbroken. The listeners are better able to empathize with the character’s emotional state because the lyric allows them to envision the character and the items around them, as well as the action taking place.

By including tangible items in your lyrics—things such as: furniture, clothing, a car, a house, a specific place, food, and other concrete nouns, you enable your audience to enter your song.

D: DETAIL:

Detail is the third component that will help you to show what is occurring—instead of telling how the singer or character in the song feels. By including adjectives and adverbs—or adjectival and adverbial phrases—you further describe the scene, allowing your listener to visualize it more clearly. The inclusion of detail also contributes to making your lyric unique and distinctive.

By adding detail to the examples above we can further engage listeners.

  • He falls to his knees and lays flowers on her grave – or – He falls to his knees on the cold, muddy ground and lays white lilies from her garden on her grave
  • She sits in his chair and wipes her tears with a tissue – or – She sits in his old rocking chair and wipes bitter tears with a wet, crumpled Kleenex
  • He kisses her photo – or – He kisses the photo he took of her laughing that weekend they went camping at Reelfoot Lake

Instead of using words like “pretty” or “beautiful,” provide a description. What interests you more?

She could turn every head when she walked in the room
She was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen
More beautiful than any words could ever say Like she’d stepped right out of my wildest dream

or

She had a jet-black ponytail
That curled around a butterfly tattoo
Black stilletto heels, white string bikini top And eyes that could make a sky turn blue

Incorporating Brand Names

Incorporating brand names (i.e., Ray-Ban,Levis, Calvin Klein) and the names of businesses (i.e., McDonald’s, Walmart, Dairy Queen) can be an excellent way to infuse details into your lyrics. For example, countless songs have mentioned brands of cars such as Chevy, Ford, Mercury, Cadillac, and Mercedes-Benz——but is it legal? No—but you won’t be sued as long as you present the product or business in a positive light. Your song essentially becomes a free commercial.

Additional Hot Tips: Establish a Time and Location

Specifying a time when the action is taking place can help you to tell a story—instead of telling how the singer feels. A line of lyric such as, “It was3 AMon a rainy winter night” almost demands that you continue the story—to describe what happened next.

A time doesn’t have to be exact. It could be:

  • The hottest day of summer
  • The September sun was right above my head
  • It was the middle of the longest night of my life

Placing the character in a specific location is an additional tool that can help you to tell a story. Knowing where the action is taking place can also make it easier to include detail. Is the character in his or her bed? On a roller coaster? In a supermarket? At a nightclub? In an airport? At a restaurant? In a cabin in the woods?

Examples:

  • I was sitting in my truck
    Underneath a streetlight
    Outside the house that used to be ours
  • The sun peeked above the ocean
    As I woke up on a beach inWaikiki

To view some lyrics that include exceptional use of details check out:

  • I Drive Your Truck (recorded by Lee Brice; written by Jimmy Yeary, Connie Harrington, and Jessi Alexander)
  • Last Friday Night (recorded by Katy Perry; written by Max Martin/Dr. Luke/Bonnie McKee/Katy Perry)
  • Terms of My Surrender (recorded and written by John Hiatt)
  • Irreplaceable (recorded by Beyoncé; written by Amund Bjoerklund/Mikkel Eriksen/Tor Hermansen/Beyoncé Knowles/ Espen Lind/Shaffer Smith)
  • Night Changes (recorded by One Direction; written by Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Harry Styles, Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson, along with Jamie Scott, Julian Bunetta and John Ryan)

There are no rules in songwriting, and I’m not implying that you should never tell how you feel in a lyric. Countless songs have become hits without the benefit of this tool. But it’s an important tool to have in your proverbial toolbox.

Detailed stories filled with “pictures” are the cornerstone of the lyrics ofNashville’s current hits—but as you can see from the lyrics referenced above, this tool can help set your songs apart in every genre. Infusing your lyrics with A: action, I: imagery, and D: detail can be the ticket to deliver your lyrics to your listeners’ hearts—and your career to the next level.


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, Steve Azar, and John Berry (“Change My Mind,” a top 5 single that earned a BMI “Million-Aire” Award for garnering more than one million airplays). In the past eighteen months he’s had three top-10 singles and a “Gold” record in Europe by Dutch star, BYentl, including a #1 on the Dutch R&B iTunes chart. He was also a former winner of the USA Songwriting Competition. After twelve years as a staff-writer for Zomba Music, Blume now runs Moondream Music Group. For additional information about Jason’s latest books, instructional audio CDs, and workshops visit www.jasonblume.com

For more information on the 20th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Lyrics, Jason Blume, writing lyrics

Songwriting Tip: Julianne Moore is Right

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 14, 2015 @09:11 PM

by Harriet Schock

Songwriting

A long-time student of mine, Michelle Krell, brought me a quote from Julianne Moore, winner of the Oscar this year for best actress:

“I’m looking for the truth. The audience doesn’t come to see you, they come to see themselves.”

This is certainly true of acting, but it’s also true of writing. The truth will hold up a mirror to the listener. This idea may be hard to sell in a business and a world that is rampantly narcissistic, but maybe it will appeal to people’s ambition. It simply works.

When you’re writing a song about yourself which is no doubt infinitely interesting to you, look for the pictures in the lyric that will draw the listeners into the story and help them see their own lives. And look for the universality of the truth. And I don’t mean vagueness. Some writers try to be general and not specific because they think more people will relate to it. That never works, unless it’s a special piece for a film where it can’t be specific. But if you start singing vague generalities in a show or an open mic, watch the audience start talking among themselves. Make sure the melody also communicates the message in a compelling way. See if it makes your own hair stand on end and play it for friends and strangers before you demo it to see if it does the same to others.
I have a chapter in my book called “Truth vs. Fact in Songwriting.” We should feel free to change the facts to tell the truth. That’s one of the best things about being a songwriter. We can change ALL the facts. And we’ve probably tried to change the truth a few times too. But that simply doesn’t work as well… not if it’s a real truth we’ve got in our sights.

I’ve come to the conclusion that excellent creative work on a subject people are not interested in can go pretty much unnoticed whereas bad work on a subject people ARE interested in can become quite well known. Just go to the movies sometime. But back to songwriting, that’s why there are so many songs (spanning the whole spectrum between excellent and mediocre) about people falling in love or people nursing a heartache. But if you want to write a song about an interesting character like “Mr. Bojangles” or “Fancy,” you had better put the listener at the movies, filling the lyric with visuals. “Try,” written by Colbie Caillat, Babyface and Jason Reeves, pulls off the difficult task of attempting to change behavior. But it does so with a lot of visuals, a universal theme, a melody with more hooks than a tackle box and a light touch on the preaching. (The video didn’t hurt either.) So if you want to write something about a subject that isn’t going to attract only teenagers in love or broken-hearted drunk people, then you’re going to have to try harder. You’re going to need to put some extra craft into it, some visuals that draw the listener into their own lives. Give them some indisputable truth that will give the listener an “aha!” moment, because even though you may be the one up there singing and their eyes are on you, it’s themselves they’re thinking of. It’s their lives they’re trying to understand better. And aren’t we lucky that we get to help them do that?

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), her songwriting classes, online courses and consultation, go to: www.harrietschock.com

For more information on the 20th Annual USA Songwriting Competition: http://www.songwriting.net  

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Helen Reddy, Lyrics, Harriet Schock, Grammy Award, love song

Songwriting Tip: 4 Dos and Don’ts When Writing Songs

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Mar 16, 2015 @12:20 PM

4 Dos and Don’ts When Writing Songs

by Cliff Goldmacher

Songwriting, writing songs
Go with your inspiration, but don’t neglect these other elements that will make your song the best it can be..


“Which do you write first, the music or the words?” This is the classic question that all songwriters get asked. In my experience, there’s no easy - or correct - answer to this one. Sometimes it’s the music, sometimes it’s the lyrics, and, often, it’s some mystical, organic combination of the two. More importantly, there is no one way to write a song. Some of the best - and worst - songs ever written were created using the same techniques. To that end, I’m going to cover four different ways to approach writing a song and some of the “dos” and “don’ts” you’ll want to keep in mind as you go through each one.

1. Writing based on a title idea/lyrical hook

Coming up with a really catchy title or lyrical hook is an art in and of itself. If you’ve got one, congratulations. Now that you’ve got it, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Do remember to make sure that everything in your lyric points to and supports your lyrical hook. Having a catchy hook only works if you build a foundation around it so that when the hook arrives, there’s a sense of drama and release.

Don’t forget to give the song real emotional content. It’s possible to be so focused on the hook and setting it up that you forget to be sincere. While the average listener might not be able to tell you why, the song won’t move them in the way that a song with genuine emotional content would.

2. Writing based on a general idea/lyrical concept

Sometimes you’ve been through an experience or have an idea for a song that feels important enough to write about. That’s as good a place as any to start.

Do capture the feeling and emotion of your concept. You obviously felt strongly enough to want to write about this idea, so immerse yourself in it and really tell the story.

Don’t be too vague. Because you haven’t started with an actual lyrical hook, you’ll need to remember to bring your overall concept to a very sharp point by summarizing it with a phrase or hook line. This hook is something you’ll hopefully come to as you’re developing your lyric around your idea. A story without a summarizing point or hook risks being too unfocused to keep your listeners’ attention.

3. Writing from a melodic idea

If you’re a melodic writer, then you’ve got a different set of challenges. Beautiful, catchy melodies are a rare commodity and should be treated with the appropriate respect.

Do honor your melody and build your song around it. Remember, people will learn your melody long before they learn your lyric, so having a good one is not to be taken lightly.

Don’t let the melody box you into awkward words or watered-down phrases. While a beautiful melody is one part of a song, it’s not the only part. Cramming in words or compromising on your lyrical integrity isn’t an acceptable approach when writing from a melody. Remember, it’s the give and take of a catchy melody and a natural, conversational lyric that makes for a great song.

4. Writing from a chord progression/groove

When you pick up your guitar or sit down at the piano, often it’s a chord progression or groove that comes first. Great!

Do dig in and develop the groove and feel. This can really set the mood of a song and inspire all kinds of interesting melodic and lyrical ideas. Also, a good groove is the very first thing the average listener will notice when they hear your song.

Don’t rely on a chord progression or groove at the expense of your melody and lyric. This is no time to get lazy. A chord progression and groove in and of itself is only - in most genres - an arrangement idea, which doesn’t really constitute a song. Without a strong melody and lyric, it’s entirely possible to have a great sounding track, and, unfortunately, a mediocre song.

As I stated at the top of this article, there isn’t one “right” way to write a song. I’d highly recommend trying every possible songwriting approach you can. Often, as songwriters, we find ourselves in a rut where we go back to the same approach over and over. While this may be comforting and even result in increased productivity, in the long run, it might not provide you with the most inspired or unique songs you’re capable of writing. Why not leave your comfort zone and try a couple of different ways of writing? You never know what you’ll get.

Good luck!


Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, session musician, engineer, author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Cliff’s site, http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com, is full of resources for the aspiring songwriter including monthly online webinars. 

For more information on the 20th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, lyric, Melody, writing songs, songwrite, chord progression, Cliff Goldmacher, title idea, melodic idea, lyrical concept, lyrical hook