Songwriting Tips, News & More

Songwriting Tip: Get Away from It

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Sep 08, 2015 @06:25 PM

Songwriting Tip: Get Away from It

by Harriet Schock

TakeAWalk

Can you see the box better from inside the box or outside the box? Well, you see it two different ways, I guess. But if you’re looking for objectivity and perspective, you might try getting outside.

 

I think the same may be true of songs. I believe most of the writing needs to be done INSIDE the experience. As Natalie Goldberg talks about in Writing Down The Bones, write as much as possible from “First Thoughts.” It’s good to get as much written as you can from that moment of being truly immersed in the original inspiration and desire to communicate. It’s also good to get away from it for a while. Go do something else. It’s going to gnaw at you like a hungry child anyway, so you aren’t going to be in danger of forgetting it entirely.

 

Steve Wagner, a former student and wonderful songwriter, recognizes the wisdom in taking a break. He feels it allows him to come back to the song with the original enthusiasm and vision he once had for it. He wrote me once, “I had to get away from this for a while and I was successful at extricating myself, withdrawing from it so that I am excited to dive back in.” Kahlil Gibran’s advice to lovers would be well taken by songwriters for their songs: “Let there be spaces in your togetherness.” In that space, we might actually gain the understanding we are seeking for what the song needs.

 

That said, I must confess I usually write a song in a few consecutive sittings. I can’t leave it alone. I’ll think that’s all I’m going to do and I turn the keyboard off, leave the room and try to do something else, and I’m right back there like a boomerang within minutes. But with one of my songs, a song I was writing for my sister, I took a four or five month break. I didn’t consider it a break. I thought I wasn’t getting anywhere with the song and I refused to give my only sister a song that was lame, so I put it away. Six months later, I woke up one day and in the twilight between snooze alarms, I got the end of the chorus. The whole song builds to that and the title sits right in the last line of that section. I probably couldn’t have gotten that six months earlier. So if I’d kept after it, I may have gotten something inferior. As often happens in my experience, this little personal song I wrote to my sister to express something to one person, something I felt deeply, has become one of the songs everyone asks for when I perform. I suppose other people have big sisters or brothers also.

 

Then there are the writers who won’t leave a song alone until they ruin it. I have students I want to hog tie to keep their hands off their songs after the songs have reached a certain point.

 

There’s a famous joke about the screenwriter who’s on the desert with a film producer and they’ve been dying of thirst for days until they finally find a pool of water and it turns out not to be a mirage, but the real thing. The writer starts to drink and the producer stops him and starts peeing into the pool. When the writer asks him what he’s doing, the producer replies, “I’m just improving it a little.” Although this joke is more a reflection of how script writers feel about the creative intervention of producers, I tell it to my writers who can’t stop “improving” their songs even after they’re already great. They compulsively rewrite until they are divorced from the original surge of creative power that inspired them in the first place. They’ve perfected the songs right out of all emotional impact.

 

Rather than continue working on something that was first finished weeks earlier, taking a break from the song can help you see it again with new, appreciative eyes. A rather odd example of this last point happened to me recently. I was reading some new reviews of my work on Allmusic.com and my eyes drifted down to the discography section and I found there was a recording of one of my songs I never knew about. It was published by Jobete and they apparently pitched the song and secured the record, never mentioning it to me. When I heard the cover, it was as if the song were someone else’s. I wrote it more than 20 years ago, and the time away from it gave me perspective. It was quite a different experience from hearing the demo I had done right after I wrote it. And fortunately I was impressed with the song.

 

So the next time you’re compulsively rewriting the life out of your song or looking for that key to solve a song’s problem, take a break. Take a walk. Take a vacation. One way or another, get away from it. You’ll benefit from it. And so will the song.

 

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

Tags: songwriter, Songwriting, Songwriting Tip, lyric writing

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 Tip: The NO Free Zone

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Feb 24, 2014 @10:18 AM

CO-WRITING: THE NO FREE ZONE

By Pat Pattison

Pat Pattison, Songwriting Professor from Berklee College of Music

The best advice I ever got on co-writing was from Stan Webb, my first professional co-writer. When Tom Casey, a VP at SESAC in Nashville, set the appointment up for me, he asked Stan to talk to me a bit about the Nashville co-writing process, a process that dominates the songwriting culture there.

I was waiting in the SESAC writer's room with my notes and titles, some complete lyrics, song ideas, and I was feeling nervous. I, after all, am a big-time Professor at the biggest time music school in the world - Berklee, where I teach lyric writing. What if I can't come up with anything? What if he thinks all my ideas are dumb? They don't look too good to me right now either... What if he thinks I'm a fraud? Not only would that humiliate me, but it would put my students' credibility in question too, and it'd be all my fault. Why am I here? Maybe I should leave while there's still time. Couldn't I say I have food poisoning?

Too late. The door opened and there stood Stan Webb, my co-writer for the day, a guy with hits. Stan is a burly guy. He looked a bit shaggy, wearing bib overalls, a tattered t-shirt, and work boots, looking like he'd just come off the farm (which, in fact, he had--he owns one, bought with songwriting royalties). He came in and did something curious: he shut the door, re-opened it, shut it again and then pushed hard to make sure it was closed. Hmmmm. Was he worried about folks listening and stealing our good ideas? I was deeply concerned just with having a good idea. It would have been a relief to have an idea good enough that a secret listener would want it.

He sat down opposite me on a couch and seemed to size me up. He grinned and said, "Is that door closed?" Yikes. "Yes it is," I answered carefully, not knowing where he was going with this. Was it a secret initation? "Good, I'm glad it's closed," he said, "because you can probably tell by looking at me that I'm gonna say some of the dumbest things you've ever heard." I stayed quiet. I was more worried about what he thought of me. He went on, "And if you do your job right today, you're gonna say some of the dumbest thing I ever heard, professor or not." "No doubt there," I thought. He grinned again and said, "But, as long as that door is closed, nobody needs to know how dumb both of us are. I won't tell if you don't."

He told me that he hoped I didn't mind, but Tom had asked him to talk to me about the co-writing process in Nashville, so he wanted to tell me just a couple things before we got going on a song. I told him to take his time.

He said, "SAY EVERYTHING that comes to your head. Say it out loud, no matter how dumb it is. Don't censor anything. If you say something really dumb, you might give me an idea that's not quite as dumb. And then I might have a decent one that gives you a better one that gives me a great one. If you'd never said the dumb one, we would never get to the great one."

"So that means that we'll never say "no" to each other. A co-writing room is a "NO" FREE ZONE. If you say something and I don't like it, I just won't say anything. Silence is a request for more, more, more. It says 'just keep throwing stuff out there.' When either one of us likes something, we'll say YES. Otherwise, just keep going."

We had a great writing session. I lost my fear of looking like a fool. I came up with a lot of dumb ideas, and my dumbest idea of all led us to the best part of the song. We really did say everything. And the silences were golden - what a great way to ensure that we always get the best out of each other: nobody has to defend anything, and the only ideas that make it into the song are automatically ones we both like. The "NO" FREE ZONE gets the best out of both writers: there are no arguments, and there never needs to be compromise.

I've always been grateful to Stan for his wise advice that day. It helps me every time I co-write, but also every time I write. My inner critic (most frequent co-writer) has also learned to abide by the "NO" FREE ZONE. And Stan's words still echo in the songwriting classrooms at Berklee College of Music, where literally hundreds of students have worked in the "NO" FREE ZONE and have had great co-writing experiences because of it.

Thanks buddy.

I've added some advice of my own to Stan's, because, in Berklee writing classes, we talk ABOUT writing a lot. Lots of process, lots of techniques. And it really helps their writing, learning about what goes into it - what tools are available. My students learn to talk about writing very well. They are good technicians as well as good writers.

Thus, my advice: never talk about writing in a co-writing room, especially about technique. You're supposed to be writing, not talking about it. Stay inside the song, inside the characters. Don't run away to the intellectual level. Most people are tempted to talk about those wonderful technical effects in their lines - assonance, rhythm, deep thoughts or metaphors-- out of fear -- to cover their bases and try to dress up what they're afraid might be a dumb idea, in academic robes. A dumb idea is still dumb, even with professorial robes on. Just write. And write fearlessly.

One final thought: in terms of SAYING EVERYTHING, I hereby grant you permission to write crap. Lots of it; all the time; the more the better. Remember: crap makes the best fertilizer.

 

Pat Pattison is a professor at the famed Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, USA. 

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, collaborator, Songwriting Tip, co-writing, Berklee Pat Pattison

Songwriting Tip: Tying the Mood of Your Song to Your Lyrics

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Jul 22, 2013 @12:00 PM

 

Tying the Mood of Your Song to Your Lyrics for a Better Listening Experience

By Anthony Ceseri

Anthony Ceseri, songwriter

Songs are usually the most effective when the lyrics tie into the mood of the music. You may have heard a simplistic example of this by being taught that songs about happy things should be played in a major key, while more depressing songs are more appropriate to be in a minor key. This is certainly a valid thought, but tying your words to your music doesn’t have to be limited to that. There’s a whole world of opportunity for creating prosody in your music by marrying your song’s mood to its lyrics and overall idea.

There’s a great example of this in the song “Walking on Broken Glass” by Annie Lennox. The title of this song is a cool visual that relates the idea of heartbreak to walking on broken glass. In itself it’s a nice lyric because not only is the idea of walking on broken glass easy to visualize, but it’s something you can feel when you hear it described. The sensation of hard glass against your bare feet is easy to imagine, so it’s good imagery. It does a good job of bringing you into the scene of the story.

On the other hand, underneath those lyrics is a musical bed (or the arrangement of musical instruments being played under the melody) that has a very staccato feel to it, for a lot of the song. The synthesizer and piano is played in a very chopped up and broken fashion. If you’re not familiar with the song, or need a refresher, you can hear it here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y25stK5ymlA

The connection that’s made between the lyrics and the music is that while the lyrics are discussing someone walking on broken glass, the music has a melody that sits on a broken up, staccato musical arrangement underneath it. You can almost think of the melody as the lead character while the musical bed underneath is the broken glass, if you wanted to think of this connection in terms of an analogy.

Sure, there are moments in this song where the music isn’t staccato and broken. But most of the times when the phrase “Walking on broken glass” is sung, it’s attached to a “broken” musical bed underneath. This is a nice gesture and sets an appropriate mood for the song. So not only are the descriptive lyrics helping to pull us into the story, but so is the feel of the musical accompaniment.

The only critique I can make here about how to music ties to the meaning of the song, is that this song is in a major key. You can hear it in the “happy” sound of the music. However, the lyrics are about heartbreak, so perhaps this song could have benefited from music that sounded a bit more melancholy.

But that aside, this song shows us a good lesson in prosody and tying our songs mood to what the words are saying through the use of a staccato sound attached to the concept of “broken glass.” I recommend trying to create moves like this in your own music whenever possible. It’ll help create a fulfilling listening experience for your audience.

For a lot more useful songwriting information, grab my free EBook here: http://successforyoursongs.com/freeoffer/

 

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, mood, Songwriting Tip, Lyrics, Anthony Ceseri

Songwriting Tip: How Does Your Song Stack Up?

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, May 02, 2012 @11:40 AM

HOW DOES YOUR SONG STACK UP?

Danny Arena, Songwriter

Every now and then, I like to tape the entire country top 40 and analyze the songs in terms of song structure and various timing considerations. In this column, I wanted to share with you the results of my most recent survey.

1. Song Form. Everyone says write your song in a song form. Maybe you've wondered just how important that is to making the top 40? Well as usual, out of forty songs on this particular week when I analyzed them, every one was written in one of the well established song forms. 

Form Number of Songs in the Top 40
AAA none
AABA 9
Verse/Chorus 15
Verse/Chorus/Bridge 7
Verse/Lift/Chorus 7
Verse/Lift/Chorus/Bridge 2

As has been the case the past three years, the majority of songs in the top 40 used the simple verse/chorus structure (though some included instrumental sections). Second place was very close, with the AABA's getting the nod by a slim margin, followed closely by the V/C/B structure and the V/L/C structure. As you might expect, there were no AAA songs, although one or two a year usually make their way into the top 40.

II. Length Of Introduction. How long should an introduction to a song be? The introduction should be long enough to establish the feel and tempo of the song, and possibly introduce a motif. Anything longer, and your introduction is simply taking up valuable space in the song and probably hurting the song. 

Length of Introduction # of Songs in the Top 40
< 10 seconds 8
11 - 15 seconds 25
16 - 17 seconds 7
> 17 seconds none

Average length = 12 seconds

The fascinating statistic here is that twenty-five of the forty songs fell into the second category and no songs had introductions longer than seventeen seconds. 

III. Time To Get To The Chorus (including the introduction). Okay, so we've all heard the expression, "don't bore us, get to the chorus". Let's see how the songs in the top 40 compared on this very important timing issue.

Time To Get To The Chorus # of Songs in the Top 40
< 30 seconds 4
30 - 40 seconds 10
41 - 50 seconds 11 
51 - 60 seconds 10
61 - 75 seconds 5
> 75 seconds none

Average time = 45 seconds

There were only five songs in the top 40 that took longer than a minute to get to the chorus. Out of those five songs, three were written or co-written by the artist. Take a tip from the top 40 and get to the chorus in under a minute.

IV. Length Of Song (including the introduction). Finally, let's take a look at song length. 

Length of Song # of Songs in the Top 40
< 2:30 none
2:30 - 3:00 11
3:00 - 3:30 25 
3:30 - 4:00 4
> 4:00 none

Average time = 3:17 seconds

This category changed the most from last year. Last year, the average time for a song was right around the three minute mark. This year, the majority of songs were in the 3:00-3:30 category. It will be interesting to see whether this trend continues.

V. What It All Means. So what do all these statistics mean? While I don't recommend putting your song under a microscope during the writing of it, it is interesting after your song is written to see whether or not it falls into the "pocket". If you notice that your song takes over a minute to get to the chorus, you may want to consider getting there quicker. If your song is in an obscure song form (like one you made up yourself), be aware that not many of those make it to the top 40. In the end, there are always exceptions to the rule and knowing the above information should not be a guiding factor in compromising the writing of a song. But it can help give you a healthy perspective after the writing of the song. Most of all, just keep writing the best songs you possibly can.

Hope to see you on the charts.

-Danny

About Danny Arena:
Danny Arena is a Tony Award nominated composer and professional songwriter. He holds degrees from Rutgers University in both computer science and music composition, and serves as an Associate Professor at Volunteer State Community College in Nashville, and an adjunct member of the faculty at Vanderbilt University. In addition, he has been invited to teach songwriting workshops throughout the U.S. and abroad, and performs his original songs regularly in Nashville at venues like the Bluebird Café. As a staff songwriter for Curb Magnatone Music Publishing, he composed several songs for the musical "Urban Cowboy" which opened on Broadway in March 2003 and was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and a Tony Award for Best Original Score. He is also the co-founder, CEO, and one of the main site developers of www.SongU.com, which provides over 70 multi-level courses developed by award-winning songwriters in addition to online coaching, co-writing, industry connections, and pitching opportunities. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting Tip, Danny Arena, Song Form, Song Intro, Song Length

Songwriting Tip: Sharpen Your Music With The Flat Seven Chord

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Apr 02, 2012 @01:18 PM

SHARPEN YOUR MUSIC WITH THE FLAT SEVEN CHORD by Danny Arena

Danny Arena, Songwriter
There are seven standard chords that are part of every key in which you may be writing a song. In traditional theory, these are known as the "diatonic chords", but you can simply think of them as the chords we tend to gravitate towards first when writing music. The reason is simple - they are the ones we hear the most. However there are also some commonly used chords that are called non-diatonic that turn up in many hit songs. One of these so-called non-diatonic chords is called the flat seven (or flatted seventh) chord. It can be a valuable tool to have in your composer's toolbox.

Formation of the Flat Seven Chord 
The flat seven chord is formed by first determining the seventh note of the scale of the key in which you are writing your song. Lower this note by a half-step (also known as "flatting" the note) and you have the flat seven. For example, in the key of C, the flat seven would be a Bb chord. In the key of G, the flat seven chord would be an F major chord. 

How It's Used 
The flat seven is generally used in one of two ways. First, the flat seven chord can also be used as a "surprise" chord, where you set the listener up to hear a certain chord, but give them the flat seven chord instead as a "surprise". This is how Jimmy Webb first popularized the use of the flat seven chord (in fact, the flat seven chord is also known as the Jimmy Webb 7th). The bridge in the Grammy winning song "Beauty and the Beast" (songwriter - Menken/Ashman) uses the flat seven as a surprise chord as does the Faith Hill classic hit "This Kiss" (songwriter - R. Lerner/B. Chapman/A. Roboff) which incorporates the flat seven chord in the verse chord progression. 

An Example 
Let's say you are writing a song in the key of C and have the following chord progression for the verse (1 chord per measure): 

C F C F
Em Am F G

One way to surprise the listener would be to play a flat seven chord (Bb) instead of the F chord in the seventh measure. Another way to surprise the listener would be to play the Bb chord in the 8th measure after the F chord, and use an extra measure for the G chord.

So the next time you're looking for a little different twist on an old progression or just a different chord to start that chorus or bridge on, don't overlook the flat seven chord - it's really pretty sharp (sorry for the pun there...I couldn't resist). 

Hope to see you on the charts. 

-Danny

About Danny Arena

Danny Arena is a Tony Award nominated composer who has worked as a staff songwriter for Warner/Chappell Music and Curb Magnatone Music Publishing. He holds degrees from Rutgers University in both computer science and music composition. He is currently an Associate Professor at Volunteer State Community College in Nashville and has been a member of the faculty at Vanderbilt University as well as a guest lecturer at the Berklee College of Music and Belmont University. Together Danny and Sara collaborated on composing songs for the Broadway show "Urban Cowboy: The Musical" which was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and a Tony Award for Best Original Score. He is also the co-founders of the online educational website www.SongU.com which provides multi-level songwriting courses developed and taught by award-winning songwriters, song feedback and mentoring, one-on-one song coaching, co-writing, unscreened pitching opportunities and more. For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, visit:http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting Tip, songwrite, Flat Seven Chord

Songwriting Tip: The Prosody of Mystery in Mystery Train

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Feb 17, 2012 @01:00 PM

The Prosody of Mystery in Mystery Train

By Pat Pattison, songwriting professor

 Pat Pattison, songwriting professor

Ok, so who still cares about the young Elvis and his Sun Records recordings? Simple stuff, right? Sure. Scotty Moore and Bill Black are just rock-a-billy hicks thumping away the best they can, them good ol’ southern boys.

 

So why does Elvis’ Mystery Train still feel like a mystery to be unraveled, fresh on every listening? Have you heard it recently? C’mon, download it and check it out. Then come back.

 

So? Did you try to count it out? Go back and simply tap out the downbeats. See how you do. I’ll wait.

 

It can be a little confusing. Simplify it a bit. Forget the intro and start counting downbeats one beat before Elvis comes in with “train arrive.” It’s a pretty brisk tempo.

 

How many bars do you count before he starts line 2?

 

Right. Ten bars:

 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

| / / / / | / / / / | / / / /| / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / |

 

Train ar-ri--------------ive sixteen coaches long

 

Then another ten bars:

 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

| / / / / | / / / / | / / / /| / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / |

 

Train ar-ri--------------ive sixteen coaches long

 

Pretty neat. It throws you off balance, both the ambiguous entry (did you expect it there?) and the unusual ten bar phrase. Maybe, um, mysterious, eh?

 

But made even more mysterious because of the introduction. Now count it. I’ll wait.

 

Yup, six bars, but with a wrinkle. The first downbeat is pretty foggy, with the guitar starting in the half bar and playing its figure on & 3 &, making it even harder to find the downbeat. So it’s an unusual six-bar intro.

 

Then the vocal starts back-heavy (after the downbeat) in bar seven – the actual first bar of the ten-bar verse. Even more mysterious.

 

Only when you get to the “chorus,” the conclusion of the sequence, do you get to a stable 8-bar section, where he slams the door, letting you know what the mystery train has done to him:

 

Well that long black train got my baby and gone

 

Note, however, that the front-heavy (starting on the downbeat) “chorus” picks up in the tenth (weak) bar of the verse “Well that…,” making even the stable 8-bar sequence a tad ambiguous. Then the long/gone rhyme puts the finishing touches on the section.

 

There’s prosody galore in this treatment. The verse is unstable and mysterious – even spooky – while the “chorus” leaves no hope for our hero. It’s a nifty use of a third level of phrasing – how many you have bars in a section.

 

Either Scotty and crew had no idea what they were doing, or they really did. I’d opt for the latter explanation. Even if they didn’t think of it in terms of prosody, you can. And you can use it in your songwriting.

 

Go get ‘em.

 

© 2012 Pat Pattison 

Pat Pattison is a Professor at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Songwriting. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Prosody, Songwriting Tip, lyric writing, expert

Songwriting Tip: 6 Traits of A Badly Written Song

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Jan 10, 2012 @12:00 AM

6 Traits of A Badly Written Song

(source: Music Connection magazine)

By Bobby Owsinski

songwriting

Although we’ve all heard the stories about a great song that was written in 10 minutes, most well-written songs are actually finally crafted by many rounds of re-writes. Many inexperienced songwriters don’t take enough time to hone a song, and as a result, their songs may display a number of undesirable traits. Keep in mind that regardless of the genre of music, from rock to country to goth to rockabilly to alien space music, there are common elements that keep a song interesting to your particular audience, and also characteristics that rear their head when a song doesn’t hold the listener’s attention as well.
Here are 6 traits commonly found in badly written songs that were culled from two of my books, The Music Producer’s Handbook and How To Make Your Band Sound Great. My apologies for using song examples that might seem a little dated, but I wanted to chose ones that most people are familiar with after years of airplay.


1. The Song Is Too Long
Many songs have sections that are way too long. Two-minute intros, three-minute guitar solos and five-minute outros are almost always boring. You are always better off to have a section too short rather than too long. The only exception is if you can actually make a long section interesting, which usually takes a lot of arranging skill and even then still might not keep the audience’s attention. One really long outro that does work, for example, is on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s classic “Free Bird” (don’t laugh––it’s one of the most played songs ever), where slight arrangement changes, kicks and accents every 16 bars really holds the listener’s attention.

2. The Song Has No Focus
Beginner songwriters often have no focus to their songs, which means that the song meanders from chord to chord without a clear distinction between sections. This is usually the result of not honing the song enough and thinking it’s finished way before it’s time. Sometimes there’s really a song in there if you peel it back a bit, but usually the only way to fix it is to go back to the drawing board for a major rewrite.

3. The Song Has A Weak Chorus
Sometimes it’s hard to tell when the verse stops and the chorus starts because they’re basically the same. An interesting chorus usually has something different about it from the verse. It may be just a little different, like adding background vocals or another instrument, or an accent or anticipation to the same chord changes and melody (like Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Crossfire” with the horn hits and guitar fill). Or it can be a lot different with different set of chord changes or melody combined with the arrangement changes like “Vertigo” by U2, “This Kiss” by Faith Hill or the Eagles’ classic “Hotel California.” Either way, something has to change in the chorus to lift the energy and keep the song memorable.

4. The Song Has No Bridge
Another common songwriting mistake is no bridge. A bridge is an interlude that connects two parts of that song, building a harmonic connection between those parts. Normally you should have heard the verse at least twice. The bridge may then replace the third verse or precede it. In the latter case, it delays an expected chorus. The chorus after the bridge is usually the last one and is often repeated in order to stress that it is final. If and when you expect a verse or a chorus and you get something that is musically and lyrically different from both verse and chorus, it is most likely the bridge.
A bridge is sometimes the peak of the song where it’s at its loudest and most intense (check out the bridge of the Police’s “Every Breath You Take”), or it could be its quietest and least intense point (the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” where Pete Townsend sings “...It’s only teenage wasteland,” or the Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water”).
Almost every great song has a bridge, but there are the occasional exceptions. Songs that are based on the straight 12-bar blues frequently don’t have bridges but might use dynamics or arrangement to provide the tension and release. An example would be the ZZ Top classic “Tush.” There’s no bridge in the song, but the snare fill by itself––after the last verse into the outro guitar solo––supplies the release. Another would be the Guess Who/Lenny Kravitz song “American Woman” where there are just four bars of a different guitar and bass rhythm and a stop that performs that same function as a bridge.

5. The Song Suffers From A Poor Arrangement
Even with great songwriters, this is the most common mistake. Usually this means that the guitar or keyboard will play the same lick, chords or rhythm throughout the entire song. This can work perfectly well and might even be a great arrangement choice if another instrument plays a counter-line or rhythm, but usually it just means that the arrangement will be boring. You’ve got to make sure that the song stays interesting, and that means the addition of lines and fills. An example where a structure like this does work is “American Woman” again.

6. The Song Has No Intro/Outro Hook
If we’re talking about modern popular music (not jazz or classical), most of the songs have an instrumental line (or hook) that you’ll hear at the beginning of the song, maybe again in the chorus, and any time the intro repeats in the song. A great example would be the opening guitar riff to the Rolling Stone’s “Satisfaction” or the piano in Coldplay’s “Clocks.” If you want to make your producer happy, develop your hooks before you do your demos or hit the studio.

• BONUS Tip: They’re not “Originals”
A sure sign of an amateur writer who doesn’t take writing songs seriously is to refer to one’s songs as “originals.” A tape that says “originals” really has “club band” written all over it. Nothing against club bands, but no one is going to take your writing seriously when you refer to your songs using that word. It’s much better to say, “Here are some songs that we wrote” or “Here’s one of our songs.” You will be taken a lot more seriously by the very people that you want listening.

Now take a long, hard listen to your songs. Do any of them have any of the above traits? If so, it’s time for at least one more rewrite.
------------------------

This article is used by permission from Music Connection magazine's November 2011 issue. Bobby Owsinski is a producer, author and music consultant who has written 15 books on music, recording and the music business. Read some excerpts at bobbyowsinski.com or read his popular production blog at bobbyowsinski.blogspot.com or his music business blog at music3point0.blogspot.com.

For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, visit: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Verse, Songwriting Tip, songwrite, inexperienced songwriters, Badly Written Song, hook, refrian

Songwriting Tip: How to Write a Song Using Other Songs

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Nov 03, 2011 @04:53 PM

By Kari Kiddle, Yahoo! Contributor Network

(Source: Yahoo! Contributor Network)

Songwriting
I know what you're thinking: I can't write a song if my pen depended on it. (A little joke). But you can! I started writing a few years ago, and now I can't stop. It takes practice, thought, and most of all patience. By reading this, you'll learn how to write a song in 5 easy steps.

1.) Start by brainstorming what type of music you want to write. What's your favorite band? I find it easier to write music that I like to listen to.

2.) Next, grab a pen and paper. I like to pull my inspiration from songs that I've fallen in love with. Like a phrase that your favorite artist used? Find a way to re-write it. For example, in Sara Bareilles' "Love Song", she talks about going against what's decided for her. I used her angry inspiration to write my song Take You Down.

3.) If you can play an instrument fairly well, I suggest using chords from songs that you love to start. Go to a site like ultimate-guitar.com that provides tabs as well as chords.

4.) The hardest part is deciding whether to start with the music, or the melody. It varies for me. Sometimes I'll be playing around on my keyboard and start humming/babbling along to the chords. This eventually turns into a song. Other times I'm in the shower or car and a melody just randomly comes to my head.

For beginners, I suggest the first one. If you can't play an instrument, look online for backtracks that you could hum along to. You're not going to be able to freestyle words right away, so don't be afraid to sound like a three year old.

5.) Finally, it's time to put them all together. Take your clever words, melodies, and chords and sing/play your heart away.


Kari Kiddle is a singer-songwriter. Through the process of writing songs, playing gigs, and self-promotion, she has learned a lot of things that she would like to share with the world.

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

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting Tip, Write Song Using Other People's Songs

Songwriting Tip: You Can Write Better Lyrics

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Apr 14, 2011 @01:08 PM

You Can Write Better Lyrics by Mark Winkler

 paper

I’ve been writing songs for over 30 years. I’ve had 150 of them cut by famous singers like Liza Minnelli and Dianne Reeves, and written songs for a hit off Broadway musical and have had tunes on the soul, pop, county, dance and jazz charts. But when I started teaching songwriting about seven years ago, I was still surprised to find out that there were simple things my students weren’t doing that could have made their songs a whole lot better.

 

1. Come Up with a 
Great Title

Dianne Warren, who has written more hit songs than anybody writing today, could have replaced the title to her No. 1 song by Toni Braxton, Un-Break My Heart, with the title Please Mend My Heart. It means the same thing. But, it wouldn’t have had one-tenth of the commercial impact. Un-Break My Heart is unique and catchy; you’ve never quite heard that thought expressed that way. But I can’t tell you how many students come to me with the most boring, pedestrian titles on their songs. A great title is more than half the battle; it tells you what to write, it attracts the listener and gets them hooked. Don’t even write word one without a great title!

 

 

2. Be Specific

New lyricists inevitably tend to be vague and non-descriptive with their words.
The best way I know how to illustrate “being specific” is through a song written by one of the greatest lyricists of all time, Johnny Mercer. In the movie Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Audrey Hepburn, playing a country girl who’s come to the big, bad city, is having a moment of doubt on a Manhattan fire escape, when she sings these lyrics from the Academy Award winning song Moon River: “We’re after the same rainbow’s end Waiting ’round the bend My _____ friend, Moon River and me.”

Now, she didn’t sing “good old country” friend or “gee you’re such a” friend, although both fit the line and are correct descriptions of her friend. No, Johnny Mercer had her sing “Huckleberry” friend. He couldn’t have been more specific. Huckleberries grow by the river, a country girl would know that, and it also has literary echoes of Huckleberry Finn, who was a country boy who ran away from home. So here we have one word that lifts the whole song up to another level.

 

 

3. It’s the Music, Stupid

I’ve learned no matter how good the lyric is, if the music is bad the lyric can’t save it. So you need to find yourself a great melody writer. But here’s the catchРРyou won’t find one unless you’re a wonderful lyric writer. And most professional melody writers know a good lyricist faster than you can say “prosody!” Al Kasha, my first lyric writing teacher and winner of two Academy Awards, said: “A great melody can take you into the Top 10, but a great lyric coupled with a great melody will allow you to stay there.”

 

 

4. Writing is Re-Writing

Ask any professional songwriter what sep-arates him from an amateur and he’ll say it’s his ability to rewrite. But so many of my students come in with their “precious” first drafts thinking every word is gold. They think this because it came to them during a moment of “inspiration.” I’m all for inspiration, but “perspiration” is much better. Keep coming back to the lyric until it’s as close to perfect as you can make it. Remember, it’s not the quantity of songs you write, but the quality.

 

 

5. What You Say Counts

Anyone can learn the techniques it takes to write a song. But not everyone has something truly unique to say. When I started out in songwriting, for some reason the teacher really liked my songs. Looking back on those days, I realize that it must have been because of my “content,” because back then my songs didn’t have much technique. While other people were bringing in their latest, perfectly rhymed, yet anonymous odes to love and dreams and sunshine, I was bringing in my roughly written songs about The Great Gatsby and moonlight cruises and my mother who was a singer with a big band. Unconsciously, I was doing something right. I was writing about what I knew and things nobody else had written about.

 

 

6. Step Away from Your Piano or Guitar

Burt Bacharach, who writes some of the most complex and sophisticated melodies of all time, says that when he’s writing a new melody he purposely writes it away from his piano. His thought is that if the melody stands up being sung a cappella, the chords and arrangement will only make it sound that much better. Too many writers get mesmerized by their chord selection and think they can fix anything with fancy arrangement ideas.

 

 

7. A Song is Not a Poem

One of the easiest ways I can tell if a lyricist is an amateur is if the person asks me to read their poetry. Lyrics are not poems. Though they share many things in commonРРcadence (the rhythm of the line), rhyme, etc.РРthere are in fact many differences. Songs are meant to be sung, so avoid hard-to-pronounce words and incompatible consonants. Songs are meant to be understood quickly; popular songs generally use only two distinct formsРРverse/chorus and aaba.

 

 

8. Your Lyrics Must Sing

This would seem to be a no-brainer. But the longer I teach songwriting the more I realize that the way the lyricist sets the words to the melody is as important as the content of the song. Your lyric must strive to be conversational. If you hit a high note, it should be on an open vowel. And if your melody goes down, don’t ever say the phrase “pick myself up.”

 

 

9. Need I Repeat—Repetition Works

One of the big differences in Top 40 pop and hip-hop music today is the number of “hooks” that are in each song. In the past, perhaps a pop song would have the title repeat any number of times (from one to four) in the chorus and that’s it. But in today’s era of producers Dr. Luke and Max Martin, from the time the song starts there are any number of repetitive hooks. They range from the repetition of the title to melodic hooks played instrumentally, to “nonsense syllables” to secondary hooks in the chorus.

 

 

10. Know Your Genre

As a songwriter, you have the luxury of writing in more than one format. Diane Warren has had hits in pop, AC, country and dance. But, each genre has its own strict rules and you must know them to succeed. For example, you can get away with imperfect rhyming in pop and hip-hop, but in musical theatre and cabaret you can’t. In country you must be very clear in what your saying, while if you’re writing songs for a rock group a la Coldplay or Kings of Leon you can be more metaphorical and artsy.

 

 

With over 150 of his songs recorded by artists in many genres of music, Mark Winkler is a sought-after songwriter and lyricist who has taught his highly rated “Craft of Lyric Writing” course at UCLA for five years. Winkler has developed a unique songwriting method and has successfully offered it to his students in any genre, including pop, rock, country, R&B and jazz, helping them to craft unique, professional songs and lyrics. He offers private lessons in person at his studio or via online Skype classes. Contact him at mwink@aol.com

 

This article is reprinted with permission from the April 2011 issue of Music Connection magazine.Music Connection logo 72

Tags: Songwriting Tip, Burt Bacharach, Write Better Lyrics, Music Connection Magazine, Liza Minnelli, Dianne Reeves, Toni Braxton, Dianne Warren