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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

 

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

Songwriting tips: How to Write a Memorable Melody: When in Doubt, Make No Sense

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Aug 12, 2015 @04:39 PM


How to Write a Memorable Melody: When in Doubt, Make No Sense

By Anthony Ceseri

songwriting-1

Your music has to be marketable if your goal is to get it heard by the masses. There are a lot of standard tools you can use to help increase the marketability of your music, but here I want to talk about a pretty simple one.

Before I talk about it, I need to mention that the most important factor in having a marketable song is having a great melody. Hit songwriter Jason Blume says there are three things that make a song a hit. They are melody, melody and melody. Granted, if you’re an independent artist you want your song to be hitting on all levels to give yourself the best chance for success. You want to have great lyrics, instrumentation and all of the other things that go into making a great track. But melody is king.

Great melodies are memorable and singable. As a result, they’re usually fairly simple. Our minds like simple. In terms of music and melody writing, simple is easy to remember, repetitious and easy to sing along to. As songwriters a lot of times we like to overcomplicate our melodies. One of the ways we do this is by writing lyrics that are too wordy. Wordy lyrics can get in the way of your melody and overcomplicate it enough so that it’s barely even melodic anymore.

Think about how much easier it would be if you didn’t have to focus on lyrics, but JUST on the melody. Well, that’s actually an approach used in a lot of hit songs. Think about it. What if you could use simple one-syllable sounds instead of words? Then your wordy lyric problem would go away, and you’d find yourself focusing ONLY on a melody. Plus if your words are just simple sounds, your melodies become simple too, because simple melodies plus simple words/sounds would go hand in hand, right?

For that reason, if you wrote a simple melody where there were no words, but just vocal sounds, it can make your song more marketable. If you don’t believe it, I’m about to prove you wrong. Let’s refer to the hits.

 

Okay, so let’s start by checking out the first few measures of Pink’s song, “So What.” She does the whole intro by repeating “nah.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJfFZqTlWrQ&feature=youtu.be

Pretty catchy, huh? Okay, here’s another one you’re sure to have heard. Check out the first 45 seconds of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” With the exception of the phrase “caught in a bad romance,” the intro is all vocal sounds. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrO4YZeyl0I&feature=youtu.be

And don’t tell me you’ve never had that one stuck in your head. Let’s keep going. This is one I’ve been guilty of singing along to way more times than I’m willing to admit. This is “King of Anything” by Sara Bareilles. Check out the first ten seconds. The melody is sung entirely on the sound “oh.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eR7-AUmiNcA&feature=youtu.be

Now you might be saying “Okay, I get where you’re going with this, but these songs are all really poppy. I want to want be marketable, but I think my music is edgier than the songs you’re presenting.” To that I say, fair enough. Let’s check out some rock songs that use the same concept.

Aerosmith’s “Love in an Elevator” starts its memorable melody entirely on hums. Check out the first few measures: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3Yrhv33Zb8&feature=youtu.be

 

Or how about Alice in Chains’ classic rock hit, “Man in a Box.” The vocal intro has no real words at all:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TAqZb52sgpU&feature=youtu.be

 

Let’s go back even further in time, so you can see this isn’t a new thing. Check out Cream’s “I Feel Free.” There are multiple layers of non-words happening in this intro (with the exception of the phrase “I feel free” that keeps popping in). Check it out: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qb_Uu0eTNWk&feature=youtu.be

 

I think you’re getting the idea, but I’ll give you one more just to really hammer my point home. Because, if the Beatles do it, it has to be a valid songwriting technique, right? Listen to the first few bars of “From Me to You” by the Beatles:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJmXKnttMMQ&feature=youtu.be

 

Oh, and let’s not forget they also wrote “Oh-Bla-Di, Oh-Bla-Da.” The sounds are even in the title on that one. I could keep going, but I think you get the point.

 

Obviously you can’t just have silly sounds repeat throughout your entire song, if you want to keep it marketable. You’ll need some real lyrics. But if you start a song this way, it can rope in your listeners from the very beginning, the same way all of the examples above did. Then you can repeat that melody throughout your song. If you do that, you’re establishing a melodic motif that you can work from when you write the rest of your melody (which will have lyrics). If you write the nonsense lyric part first, the rest of your melody will be easier to write, because you’ll already have a piece of your melody established. Once you have that, the rest will flow easier.

You can use this concept for writing melodies, even if you don’t keep the nonsense syllables in the song. You might simply find it more freeing to just write an easy melody with vocal sounds, without having to think of any words. Then you can put words to it after, if you want. It’s certainly worth trying, if you’re stuck in a melody writing rut. And if the nonsense syllables work, you can keep them. It certainly worked for all the songs you saw above. But as always, experiment with it and have fun.

For a lot more information about writing memorable melodies, download these 2 free melody writing cheat sheets: http://successforyoursongs.com/go/melody-writing/

The 2 free cheat sheets in this package include:

The Memorable Melodies Cheat Sheet, which shows you the most important things to keep in mind when you’re writing a melody. It’s in an easy-to-follow format, so you can reference it when you’re writing your next song.

The second one is called 5 Hit Song Melody Techniques. It shows you the *exact* melody writing concepts used in 5 different hit songs, since learning from successful melodies is extremely beneficial when it comes to writing your own.

To get started with both of these cheat sheets so you can improve your melodies in your very next song, click here:

http://successforyoursongs.com/go/melody-writing/

.

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

 



 

Tags: Songwriting Tips

4 Songwriting Tips For Scoring Film and TV Placements

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Aug 27, 2012 @11:33 AM

4 Songwriting Tips For SCORING Film and TV Placements

By Jamie Ledger

Songwriting

Many of the traditional income streams for Songwriters and Independent artists have changed along with an evolving New Music Industry landscape.

Today, one of the most substantial and DESIRED income streams is in the licensing and placement of an Artist/Songwriters music in Film, Television, Advertising, and Video Games.

 

These opportunities bring front-end licensing payouts, which can be LARGE, as well as any back-end royalties.

The other glaringly significant benefit is that of the relationship established with the receiving company or publisher, not to mention the credibility of building a reputation through placements and credits in the real world.

 

But how do you know if  YOUR music, a sure-fire SMASH destined for radio play and blockbuster success, is appropriate for Film and TV Placement?

 

Well today we are going to delve into some songwriting tips and optimization concepts to help you take what you have, or, use what you ALREADY know-to write new songs or rewrite existing ones which give yourself a better chance at scoring a sweet placement and handsome paycheck for your hard work.

 

Today, we’ll cover 4 Key Writing Tips For SCORING Film and TV Placements:

 

1) Pay Attention To What’s Working

Wow. This one couldn’t be more obvious. But it’s worth stating over and over again. See one of the GREAT things about the Music Industry is that ALL the information is freely available to listen to and study.

It is a good idea for you to REALLY understand what is being used out there, and WHY. It won’t take long until you have an intuitive grasp for which stuff might work for which opportunity. Once you get to this level, you will be leaps and bounds ahead of those who haphazardly submit any-ol-song to any-ol-opportunity, just HOPING that maybe something will hit.

 

Exercise:

Choose one-to-three prime-time DRAMA Television shows to study for several episodes, or even for a whole season. Place a pillow case, or maybe a bed-sheet if you have a BIG-SCREEN over the TV so you cannot see, but still can hear. Watch, or LISTEN, with a notepad and pencil. Try to describe both the MUSIC, and the scene that the music is placed in.

Try to be AS descriptive as you can, using as much vivid imagery and emotional detail as possible.

 

2) Label and Tag Your Songs Well

Whether one of your songs is selected from a Music Production Library, a hand-selected by a referring 3rd party, or shopped through a song-plugger service or music publisher; Be SMART and label your songs with the person who’ll be “flipping through the pile” in mind.

As Robin Frederick says – by suggesting a character, situation, or action in your title you can make your song a natural for film and tv placement.

Obviously, “Track 3″ is a no-go, but for example, Hot Summer Night, is a title that would give a music supervisor or director a good frame of reference of what the theme of the song is about very easily.

 

Exercise:

While watching/listening to your selected TV shows try to sum up the action, characters involved, or the situation. Also, try to name the emotions felt during a scene, in descriptive words.

 

3) Write Songs With Universal Lyrics

Everyone always harps on universal lyrics and many think that universal means VAGUE or CLICHE. It does not.

Universal lyrics mean that MOST people can relate to it in some way. It’s about expressing and describing the EMOTION underneath a specific afternoon you and your girlfriend spent at the fair on madison avenue while eating cotton candy and talking about your favorite books…

Universal lyrics = Explaining the feelings of a fantastic day and using non-specific imagery and emotion. Which everyone can relate to.

It’s simply a matter of getting to the heart of a specific experience or story that you are trying to tell, and telling it so that others can receive the emotional message you are trying to express.

 

Exercise:

Take a song that you’ve written that was both personal and overly specific. Identify the underlying “theme,” and drill down into the emotional message. Rewrite that song with more universal lyrics so that you are focused on translating a feeling or common experience by communicating the “universal aspects” which underlie the specific elements used in the song.

 

4) Express One Clear Emotion

Your music should convey an emotional statement or deliver a vibe that translates to a feeling, atmosphere, or mood.

Using major and minor chords can directly impact the mood of the song. Use this to support and enhance the message and emotion you are delivering so that it is cohesive.

If you are purposefully trying to “break the rules” i.e create an defiant contrast to cheerful lyrics by creating a dark or sullen musical atmosphere, or vice versa, then only do that once you know enough to consciously do it. Until then, try to make everything work together using all the elements of your craft to express ONE cohesive emotional message or communication.

 

Exercise:

For the next song you write, whether you create the chord progression OR the lyric first…

Consciously be aware of, and describe IN WORDS, how the music supports the emotional message of the song.

Remember, it’s ALL about communication.

 

Now go and try these out for yourself, and be sure to tell me what you found, didn’t find… Worked, didn’t work. Let me know if this was helpful or not!

Is there any other tips and ideas you’d like to add or expand on?

 

Jamie Ledger, a expert on Indie Artist Development, Songwriting, and Music Production. He can be reached at: http://www.jamieleger.com/

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


Tags: licensing, Songwriting Tips, Film placement, TV Placement, sync, video games

Songwriting Tips: Your Best Friend Melody

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Mar 14, 2012 @12:00 PM

Songwriting Tips: Your Best Friend Melody

by Ralph Murphy

Ralph Murphy, Songwriter

Ah melody! A songwriters best friend, your beacon in the night, an integral part of only great songs that makes your compositions shine, the signpost that points the way to a hit.

 
Yes, melody is all that and more. Perhaps too much more. As I deal with the affect of melody extensively in "The Book" and USA Songwriting Competition has asked me to be brief...I will be.

 
Unless you are dealing with an audience ready to dance and you are looking at 110 to 135 Beats Per Minute (BPM) at midnight, even then, what probably lures listener to you song is melody. However, what keeps them there is lyric, a simple story well told. I have friends tell me that they love this song or that song but they say they don't know the words. When I play "that song" for them surprisingly they know the lyric! What invites the listener into the song is melody, what keeps them there for a long time is lyric.

 
It is an interesting characteristic of the human animal that we are not very good at auditory multi-functioning.......hearing more than one moving part simultaneously. When that happens, given our preference we always defer to melody. So, where you tell your story and you want the audience to listen, remain linear otherwise you don't lead the listener to the lyric.


To quote my old pal Harlan Howard "Don't change your chord 'till you change your thought"!

 

However, on the other side of the coin, as a "creator of works" if you are called on to write for an artist with a huge vocal range and the ability to soar musically is part of their musical "persona" then you respond accordingly. One syllable words, open vowel sounds, minimal story and a huge melody are your best friends.


Always remember, you the writer must fulfill not only the listeners expectation but also the artists perception of the image they wish to project. When that happens it is a wonderful thing, everyone high fives and celebrates. When it doesn't happen the songwriter gets the blame!


Ralph Murphy is a producer and songwriter. He wrote huge hit songs such as Crystal Gayle "Talking in Your Sleep" and "Half the Way". Murphy has served as President of The Nashville Chapter of the Recording Academy and has been a NARAS National Trustee. Add to that the platinum records as a producer, the widely acclaimed Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting articles used as part of curriculum at colleges, universities, and by songwriter organizations, his success as the publisher and co-owner of the extremely successful Picalic Group of Companies and you see a pattern of achievement based on more than luck. For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Melody, Ralph Murphy, Crystal Gayle, Songwriting Tips, Harlan Howard, Talking in Your Sleep, Half the Way

On Being A Professional Songwriter

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Feb 09, 2012 @12:00 PM

On Being A Professional Songwriter by Danny Arena 

Almost Famous? Money For Nothing And Your Chicks For Free? I received an email this week from a songwriter who thought writing a hit song would lead them to financial independence. This is not the first time I have received such an email. In fact they come regularly, this was the second email on the topic I received this week (I'm staring at another one right now). I still had to shake my head and wonder. Is there really that much misinformation out there about the business of being a songwriter? If so, I really need to find out who's doing the PR for the entire songwriting profession and congratulate them on a job well done. 


Well, let's shed some light on this and talk about some of these reasons why you might consider becoming a songwriter:

  • Fame? Ummm, actually no. The songwriter usually remains unknown unless they are also the artist singing the song. How many non-songwriters out there know who Joe Leathers is? Did you know that Tim McGraw sang a song Joe co-wrote called, "Still" recently on the ACM Awards on national TV? How about Georgia Middleman? Keith Urban sang a song she co-wrote, "I'm In" , on the ACM Awards. Both songs are likely to be big hits, yet not many people will know the writers behind the songs. Dave Berg was ASCAP Songwriter of The Year a couple years ago. This is considered one of the highest awards a songwriter can receive...does his name ring any bells? Probably not unless you're in the music business. And those rare times when the songwriter is mentioned or acknowledged, it's not uncommon to find incomplete or missing relevant information. I read in the newspaper the day after the ACM's the following blurb: "For his latest single, Keith Urban looked toward one of his favorite writers, Radney Foster, for a rockin number called, "I'm In". The author of the article managed to leave out the name of Radney's co-writer on the song, Georgia Middleman (Radney is a former major label artist, hence the extra recognition he has). No, fame and glory are definitely not included in the benefits package for the professional songwriter. Sure, you might get a "that's cool" at your high-school reunion when they find out what you do for a living. But the truth is that even the most successful songwriters are only well-known in a relatively small circle.
  • Make Lots of Money? Yes, surely, you should consider becoming a songwriter if money's tight and you need to make a few bucks quickly. Uh, no. Do you know the difference between a large pizza and a songwriter? One of them can feed a family of four (the other delivers the pizza for a living). Know how to make a million dollars as a songwriter? Start with 1.2 million. There's a reason why jokes like this exist. It's because there's a grain of truth in them. Very, very few songwriters actually make a living from writing songs full time. Those that do usually have been working steadily at it for a very long time. It might take a good 7-15 years working at it full time before you actually start seeing any money from your hard work. And yes, if you are one of the few songwriters who catches lightning in a bottle and lands a big hit song, you might make $300,000 in one year (before taxes). But as any financial advisor would tell you, when you average that big windfall over the 10 years prior when you've made next to nothing, it turns out you would have done better financially working at the local Lowe's Hardware. Plus you'd get health benefits (something that's not part of the deal when you're a professional songwriter). So, if you're looking for a sound financial plan, landing a gig as a professional or hit songwriter probably isn't the best career path for you.
  • Job Stability? Sorry, no. The couple hundred songwriters who are lucky enough to land a steady gig writing songs usually sign a 1-5 year contract with a publishing company that has an option at the end of each year. That option is for the publishing company to decide whether or not they want to keep you around for another year. In other words, every year you're "on the bubble". So if you go a couple of years without some significant action on your songs, you're likely to be out on the streets looking for another writing deal. I might also add that the job itself is inherently fraught with highs and lows. Having lived this life now for a number of years, I most definitely would not call it a "smooth ride". One day you might get a call from the head of the record label on his airplane saying that they're going to cut one of your songs on a well-known group. But a month later, the group breaks up or declares bankruptcy. You might find out you have the next single on an established artist on a major label. But then out of nowhere, the record label shuts its doors and your single is dead in the water. You could attend opening night on Broadway and see your songs performed on stage but come back to the hotel to an email that informs you that your publishing company is closing so they can't pick up your option. Signing on for a career in songwriting is definitely signing up for a roller coaster ride [author's note: yes, as you've probably guessed, those are all real examples from the life of real songwriters, myself included]. 
    Ok, so why become a songwriter then if it's such an incredibly difficult, unstable and financially unwise lifestyle? Well, Well, every once in a while all the stars line up in the universe and it's magic. You hear your song on the radio or you watch Tim McGraw singing your song on TV or Raul Esparza belting your song on Broadway. And it's that one brief moment that you always dream about as a songwriter...it's the thing that keeps you going through the days when you're out of a job, or people criticize your work and tell you that it's impossible to make it as a songwriter. You work your butt off for 10-12 years to get that one brief second where you feel like it's all worth it. And when it happens, it's truly a magical moment. My wife, Sara Light and I, have been lucky enough during our years as songwriters to catch lightning in a bottle a few times. I was actually nominated for a Tony Award the same year as three of my childhood idols who I always wanted to be like -- Elton John, Billy Joel and Michel Legrand (you may not recognize this last name...see point #1 above about fame). It was an unbelievable dream come true for me.

So while watching the ACM Awards on TV the other night, the first thing I did when I saw Tim McGraw singing Joe Leathers song was to email Joe a note to congratulate him. Right after that, I phoned Georgia Middleman and did the same...because when you get down to it, here's the thing. Songwriting is a calling - not a career choice. Those who succeed as songwriters didn't pick it as a lifestyle. Songwriting picked them. If I could give this up and choose another career and be happy doing it, I'd do it in a heartbeat. But I can't. This is what I do. It's what I've always wanted to do. It's what fills my soul. And given the choice, I'd do it all over again. Every professional songwriter I know is the same way. We can't not write songs. That business stuff -- just comes along for the ride, good and bad...and if you're still reading this and I haven't managed to convince you to not become a songwriter by this point, then welcome to the hood. You're a songwriter.


Songwriter Danny Arena Danny Arena 
is a Tony-Award nominated songwriter and co-founder of www.SongU.com. SongU.com provides multi-level song writing courses developed by award-winning songwriters, song feedback, 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, Songwriting Tips, Danny Arena, Tony Award, professional

Songwriting Tip: Creating in a Group, The Collaborating Game

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Jul 14, 2011 @10:39 AM

Creating in a Group – The Collaborating Game

 Pat & Pete Luboff

Here’s a fun way to get your creative juices flowing. Get two or three, or more people in a room to play the collaboration game. The rules are simple:

 

1. NO NOES!

 

You can point to your nose and shake your head to emphasize this rule! This means anything goes! Ignore all your self-imposed limitations and barriers. Utterances such as “I can’t sing,” “That won’t work,” “I’m not good at lyrics,” “That’s stupid,” and all the variations on that theme are NOT ALLOWED. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to eliminate the negative if everyone agrees to this rule.

 

2. NO EVALUATIONS

 

If you judge your ideas before you express them or simultaneously with expressing them, you stop the flow of your ideas. When working in a group, each person has the responsibility to say WHATEVER IDEAS ARE TRIGGERED IN THE PROCESS. If you think to yourself, (trying to avoid Rule 1 by not saying it out loud) “That’s stupid,” and stop yourself from saying it, you have eliminated the stimulus that might have inspired the next person’s thought. Our rule of thumb is, if you really think it’s stupid, you are OBLIGATED to say it out loud. In the early stages of creating, all ideas are good ideas! The time for judging them comes much later in the process. Leave your judge outside the door for now.

 

3. STAY POSITIVE

 

No noes means all yeses! Every idea can be greeted with a “yes.” Every idea will inspire new ideas in other members of the group. Here are some positive phrases that can be used to build on ideas:

 

Yes, and…. Suppose…. Another idea….

Or…. Also…. How about….

What if…. And…. Let’s….

 

These phrases are indispensable tools for expressing respect for all the ideas that flow in a collaboration.

 

 

4. HAVE FUN!

 

Be silly. Make jokes. Say the wildest thing you can think of. Laugh! Aren’t we lucky to be writing songs?

 

Let’s play the collaboration game:

 

You can use any photo as the stimulus for the game. For example, use a photograph of two people kissing.

 

There’s one at http://www.masters-of-photography.com/D/doisneau/doisneau_kiss.html Double-click the photo and it will be large enough to fill one page, which you can print out. Each person in the room takes a turn saying a sentence or two about the story of the picture.

 

The idea is to say anything that comes to mind very quickly and then pass the picture to the next person. Keep going round and round until you really feel you’ve dug that kissing well as deep as you can! Here are a couple of examples:

- She just told him she’s pregnant.

- Their braces are stuck together and they’re going to an orthodontist to get unstuck.

- He doesn’t know her at all. He’s kissing her to distract her while he picks her pocket.

 

There is no end to the ideas that you can come up with. What did s/he he say just before this photo was taken? What are the fellow behind them and the woman next to them thinking? What’s going to happen next? These are the questions you will be asking about the people in your songs, so you are practicing the art of characterization.

 

This game of getting the creative flow going without boundaries can be played with any photograph or curious item. You will have to remind yourself to return to the fun, open attitude of this game whenever you feel yourself getting bogged down creatively.

 

Collaboration business tip: We think it’s best if everyone agrees up front that the song will be shared equally by all the writers who are participating in the collaboration. Mathematics can kill a collaboration. That’s why they call it division!

 

Write On!

 

Pat & Pete Luboff have recordings by Snoop Dogg ("Trust Me," the first single from the platinum-selling album "Top Dogg") Patti LaBelle (gold album and the title song for "Body Language: the Musical"), Bobby Womack (No. 2 on Billboard's Black Music chart), "Hometown, USA" from the John Travolta movie "Experts," on Michael Peterson's new CD, recently charting Miko Marks, and more.  They've been teaching songwriting workshops together since 1979. The Luboffs are the authors of the Writer's Digest new book "101 Songwriting Wrongs and How to Right Them" and "12 Steps to Building Better Songs," which they self-publish. For more information, visit http://www.writesongs.com

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Songwriting Tips: Jonathan George Songwriter/Producer

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Oct 19, 2010 @02:42 PM

Jonathan George, Songwriter/Producer speaks about songwriting and collaborating with music artists, songwriters and bands. He won overall grand prize in the 2009 USA Songwriting Competition with Sarah Lonsert and Jami Templeton:

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Sarah Lonsert, American Idol, producer, USA Songwriting Competition, Songwriting Tips, Jonathan George, Jami Templeton. interview

Five Steps To Improve Your Songwriting

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Apr 14, 2010 @12:43 PM

by Ira Greenfield

I have been asked so many times how do you write a good song. Here are five main ways you can use to your advantage:

1. Song Structure
We have received many songs at the USA Songwriting Competition. Many songs received are free-formed and hard to follow. Every good song has a good structure such as AABA or Verse/Refrain. Structure such as: verse leads to the chorus back to the verse and then chorus, bridge and lastly chorus is probably the most popular. Let’s stick to what works and then break the rules once you are good at it.

2. Compose Good Lyrics
I like songs with a good story or lyrics that actually say something. Avoid cliches such as “I’ll never break your heart, I’ll never tear you apart”, words like that has been done before and you want to say it in a different angle. Write lyrics that would bring imagery to the listener as well as a hook to it. You want a theme to begin with it. A good idea is “Unbreak My Heart”, this shows great sense of craft and artistry even in the title itself. In this case, the writer “created” a word “Unbreak”. If it was “Don’t Break My Heart”, it would have been quite ordinary and would not have the same effect.

3. Compose Good Melodies
Many songs we received sound more improvisational than actual composition. You have to sit down to sculpt out a melody for the verse and a melody or hook for the chorus. You want to make the melody chorus sound memorable and sound a little different from the verse. Good melodies are found in the current hit “Need You Now” by Lady Antebellum. The bang on chorus is catchy and well thought out.

4. Developing good chord structure and background music.
You need a good chord progression to go with your melody. It doesn’t matter which come first and it doesn’t matter if you collaborate with someone who is a keyboardist, guitarist or producer who writes a great chord progression or produces a music “bed” for you to write your melody. There is no secret many hit songwriters/artists do it this way: Jason Derülo, Beyoncé, Mariah Carey have all written songs this way by going over a piece of background music.

5. Artistry And Intangibles
This is probably the hardest to come by. Iconic songs such as “Boom Boom Pow” by Black Eye Peas, “Poker Face” by Lady Ga Ga, “Californication” by Red Hot Chilli Peppers, “Believe” by Cher, “Angie” by Rolling Stones, “My Way” by Paul Anka are examples of songs that have been composed and re-composed over many times before the song can be recorded. Love them or hate them, there is a sense of artistry in each an every one of these songs. I would suggest focus on what you are good at: If you are good at say writing music but not so good at writing lyrics, I would suggest hooking up with a lyricist, someone who can write good lyrics.

Ira Greenfield works in business development at USA Songwriting Competition. For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, please visit: http://www.songwriting.net.

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