Songwriting Tips, News & More
USA Songwriting Competition presented a Songwriters Showcase on May 8, 2014 at the famous Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, TN. It was a sold-out packed show. Liz Miller hosted the showcase with the following songwriters, see pictures and videos below:
Johnny Bulford (First Prize Winner, 18th Annual USA Songwriting Competition)
Daisy Mallory (Finalist)
Lauren Lucas (Honorable Mention Winner)
Natalie Howard (Finalist)
Kayliann Lowe (Finalist)
From bottom left to right are Daisy Mallory,Lauren Lucas,Johnny Bulford, Natalie Howard.
From back left to right are Kayliann Lowe & Liz Miller
Johnny Bulford, singing his #1 hit song "A Woman Like You" (recorded by Lee Brice)
Lauren Lucas, performing "Just Haven't Found Him Yet":
Natalie Howard, performing "Hit The Hay":
For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net
The Rhythm of the Melody—more important than ever for “top line” writers
By Harriet Schock
In my book, Becoming Remarkable for Songwriters and Those who Love Songs, I have a chapter devoted to the rhythm of the melody. It’s often overlooked by the beginning songwriter who pays lots of attention to the shape of the melody, the chords under the melody and whether the melody proceeds in steps or leaps. But the rhythm of the melody is equally important, and these days with “top line” writers, it’s vital.
“Top line” writers, as they’re often called, are writers who write melody or lyrics-- or melody andlyrics—over a track provided by the track writer, who’s often the producer, the DJ, whoever is providing it. I won’t get into the disputes that often come up over ownership and who wrote what. The subject I’m tackling is how hard it is to write a melody over a chord progression that never changes. Of course, some tracks have different chords in different sections of the song but many of them have the same chord progression in the verses as in the choruses, etc. So if you’re not paying attention to the rhythm of the melody, you can have trouble getting the melody over the verses to sound different from the chorus melody. Often, the melody that the top line writer comes up with has such rhythmic variation and melody shape, you don’t even notice the chords are the same. And, of course, the track builds. But in traditional songwriting, one of the goals is to have as much difference as possible between the verse and the chorus. And with the same chords, it can really be a challenge.
As I said in the chapter of my book mentioned earlier:
It’s an interesting exercise to spend a week listening only to rhythm of melody. Whenever the radio is on, or a CD, home in on that one facet. See where the melody starts in relation to the count of “one.” See if it’s relatively on the beat or on an “and” or an “oh” as in “3-oh-and-uh”—in other words, syncopated. See if the verse differs from the chorus in this regard. Never mind the shape of the melody or its interaction with the chords right now, we’re just listening for the rhythm of the notes that are sung.
I used to have a friend who would tap out rhythms on my arm and see if I could guess the melody. Sometimes, it would be so distinctive, I could. Try tapping out the melody to “As Time Goes By,” on someone’s arm and see if he/she can guess it. Or “America” from West Side Story. If your friends give up, hum it for them without words and they’ll hit their heads like someone in a V-8 commercial. The truth is, in both of these old songs, the rhythm is very distinctive. But it’s also true of most songs that the rhythm of the melody is as important to its personality as facial features are to a person’s appearance. It just seems to be the part of melody that gets discussed the least.”
The rhythm of the melody has always been important but today for the top line writer, an analogy comes to mind. If an artist is told he can only paint vertically on the canvas—no horizontal lines---he’d better have a complete palette of colors at his disposal. With the same chords over and over, for it not to sound like Chinese water torture, he’d better be well versed in the rhythmic variations to the melody.
Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit for Helen Reddy, "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 two other Jaglom films and starred in “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Jaglom’s current release is “The M Word” for which Harriet wrote the featured song. Harriet has written the songs for “Last of the Bad Girls,” a musical with book by Diane Ladd. 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. Her catalogue musical, “Split” for which she wrote book and songs is currently in production. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and through a popular online course by private email. In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. For her performance schedule, list of credits and samples of her work or information on he rbook (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), her songwriting classes and consultation, go to: www.harrietschock.com
For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net
Tools For The Songwriter: Capture And Craft
By Sven-Erik Seahom
Grab those ideas and turn them into great songs with the right tools
“A song is like a dream, and you try to make it come true.”—Bob Dylan
A song comes to us with a blend of three complementary ingredients: lyrics, melody and harmonic structure (chords). Each of these essentials supports the others, so while the lyrics may often directly refer to a particular feeling or emotion, the melody can actually help to emphasize or even embody that sensation. The chords contextualize things further by defining and establishing major and minor key relationships—the exact same melody can be made to sound either happy or sad, depending on which notes surround and support it.
It all sounds very complicated, and it certainly can be, but the act of songwriting can also be fundamentally broken down into two simple phases: Capture and craft.
Tools at the ready—anywhere, anytime
The first stage begins with allowing all of your ideas and inspirations to flow freely, encouraging them to come into being without judgment or expectation. Each new line or musical phrase may suggest another and then another, until you’ve filled the room with all of these wonderful ‘butterflies’ of invention and creativity. Along the way, you may employ a wide variety of ‘nets’ to gently capture them.
Songs are often like long-lost friends who show up unannounced while you’re in the middle of something else. You’re always very excited to see them, but the timing can be a bit of an issue. The key word here is readiness—having the tools you need at hand when you’re struck by the lightning of creativity. Have a note pad at the ready, and pencils or markers, highlighters—the quicker you write down a good idea, the more likely you are to keep it and to build on it. I usually write on an acoustic guitar. If that’s what you do, too, make sure yours is in tune, with good strings, ready to inspire you.
You won’t always have your best ideas come to you while you’re conveniently sitting at your desk. To capture a musical idea, anywhere, anytime, carry with you a pocket-sized digital recorder. Don’t neglect to check the batteries, the memory card, or the internal memory, so that you can dictate a lyric or hum a melody whenever inspiration comes to you.
If you have a smart phone, load it up with apps to record, apps to take notes... Songwriting is a guerrilla operation—one must be patient, but prepared to act quickly. Having even the most rudimentary record of this moment can make the difference between that tiny creative encouragement becoming the best song you ever wrote, or just another one that got away.
I knew a songwriter several years ago who received a Nikon digital camera as a gift. This particular model included audio recording capabilities. He carried it with him everywhere. To my knowledge, I don’t think he ever took a single picture with it. But it was filled with song ideas, arrangement snippets, found sounds, lyrics and poems…little audio finger-paintings, if you will. The artist finds a way!
The muse comes calling
Sometimes, there’s a nibble. A chord change or a musical vibe might catch my attention or take over. I fall under its spell and delve deeper into it, playing it over and over in an endless loop. I begin singing along and exploring the varying sonorous textures that are suggested by the union of my musical sense and my subconscious mind.
At this point, I try to sing the most beautiful and unique melody I can uncover. Even though I don’t know what all of the chords will be yet, I’m singing over what is there, because the very melody that I’m singing could suggest what the next move is.
Let’s start out, for example, by playing a simple C chord for a measure, followed by an E minor chord for another measure. After a while, you might begin singing a G “Ooooh” over the C chord and rising to a B over the E minor. Return to the G over the C chord, falling to an E over the E minor... Back and forth: “Ooooh, ooooh. Ooooh, ooooh...”
Eventually, a melodic turn may be in conflict with what you’re currently playing, suggesting a new chord. Let’s say you want to hear a G note, followed by a note of G# and then an A. That’s probably not going to work over the present chords, so you search through a variety of combinations until you arrive at the solution that sounds best to you. In this case, it might be a C chord, followed by an E7 and then an A minor. Suddenly, you’re in a whole new place. By simply following our melody, you’ve wandered off the beaten path and are now finding your way instinctively.
So, where can you go next? Continue playing through the progression, still singing along, all the way up to that creative ‘cliff’ where you had left off. This hypnotic, cyclical approach places the song “under your hands”; you become more comfortable playing and singing these inspirations, allowing your mind to roam. This often gives the next solution a better chance to present itself.
Along the way, certain words or images may concurrently begin emerging from seemingly nowhere, giving further shape and focus to your otherwise rudimentary utterances. Vowels are significant: As you sing along, you can try moving from “Ooooh” to “Aaaay” or “Eeee”, for example. Listening to the sonorous quality of these and other vowel shapes can further suggest lyrical snippets or additional melodic ideas... the point is to keep walking down that musical trail and see what else is there to be discovered.
If you’re lucky, you may arrive at a big “Eureka!” moment, or you may just run out of steam... In either case, this is the place to whip out that smart phone and record what you do have so far. Got lyrics? Write those down too! Just a chord and a rhythm? Fine. Hit Record. A bunch of stuff in your DAW? Hit Save and render a rough mix. Like a page with a folded corner, your process can be frozen in place until your next opportunity to return to it.
Neil Young, only one among many artists who feel that way, has long embraced the notion that most of his songs be not only born from but completed in this initial flurry of activity. It obviously doesn’t always happen that way, but his stated intent is that within that early burst of inspiration lies something very special that’s also quite fragile. You can find a great interview online, wherein Young discusses this concept in the writing of his song “Like A Hurricane”.
Singer-songwriter Peter Himmelman once said that as soon as a song idea began to take shape, his goal was to then finish the song before his wife came home, so he could show it to her. In the book Written In My Soul (a collection of interviews with many great songwriters, which I very highly recommend: www.amazon.com/Written-My-Soul-Conversations-Songwriters/dp/0809246503) Himmelman’s father-in-law Bob Dylan says, “All you know is that it’s a mood piece, and you try to hold onto the mood and finish. Or not even finish, but just get it to a place where you can let it go.”
Modern technology affords us the unprecedented ability to pick up right where we left off, to effectively bookmark these works in progress, to subsequently develop them into something even better, stronger and more lasting.
Get it in writing
Now comes the crafting of the song, a stricter yet still passionate process. At this point I fire up my word processor—I use Microsoft Word. Aside from the spell checker, I use its Thesaurus. The internet is full of thesaurus websites and dictionaries of synonyms—pick one and type in ‘ubiquitous’. Word will throw the following alternatives back at you: “ever-present”, “everywhere” and “omnipresent”. It may seem a paltry selection, but I’ll bet it’s a lot easier to rhyme with “everywhere”....
These sorts of synonymic options are the writer’s key accomplice. They can help us to think “outside the box”, by offering unexpected twists in our flow. One fantastic program that helps this process along in a very “musician-oriented” way is MasterWriter (masterwriter.com), which offers a huge selection of writing and reference tools with songs in mind. Check it out if you find working in Word to be a creativity-killer...
Let’s say, for example, that upon revisiting the notepads and audio memos, you take up where you left off, playing through the chords and singing the same wordless melody. Only this time, you start to sing the words “Where were you?” sort of unconsciously, in an almost meditative way. You come to a place where you want to say “You’re Everywhere”, but you don’t want to use such an obvious, almost lackluster word. You look up “everywhere” and the word “ubiquitously” is among the many choices offered. Chuckle at first, but then you hear the word “Ubiquitous” with a melody in your head: D#, D#, F#, G.
After a little more time exploring these new options, you come up with at least the start of a song structure, so go into your word processor, set it to a 20 point font size and make a chord chart for what you have so far, doing your best to line up the chords over the correct syllables, etc.:
Where were you?
Where were you?
C E7 Am B7
Everywhere weren’t you?
You follow that with a quick recording into your phone, and you title both the .doc file and the memo ‘Ubiquitous 02’. Every time you come to what you feel is a point of accomplishment (the melody forms, the structure gels, or a bridge appears), you will continue to leave these sorts of signposts for yourself along the way, so that you can track your progress, or back up if you hit a dead end.
Charting your course
If you’re looking for a dedicated chord chart maker, one that lets you edit chord patterns and do key transposing, the program Song Sheet 5 (from dsbsoft.com) offers a few features that could make their way into your creative process. Within the chord editor, for instance, there is a “preview” function that plays the currently selected chord. If you’re looking for the next chord in your song, you can click and audition chords you suspect might be right, or just see what arrives from clicking through different chords at random. Or try variations on the chords you have and see if they bring any new ideas forward.
Sometimes we just can’t get our hands to play the music in our heads. Perhaps we habitually go to all-too-familiar chord shapes, or just aren’t strong enough on our instrument to accurately realize the music we envision.
Band-in-a-Box (pgmusic.com) is an excellent aid in this more compositionally-oriented method. Band-in-a-Box lifts the chord chart approach up to a whole new level, by not just previewing chords, but performing them from start to finish, complete with drums, bass, guitar, piano, strings and more, in a variety of styles. Type in your chords and away you go, free to experiment with tempo, key, and style. There’s even an automatic melody generator provided, to further provoke your own creativity from unexpected musical places!
A few years ago, I produced an album for singer/comedian Happy Ron, called Terribly Happy (www.cdbaby.com/cd/happyron). He had composed, arranged and demoed the whole record, complete with chord charts, lyric sheets and audio CDs, entirely within the Band-In-A-Box environment. This degree of organization is invaluable in the studio and could be immensely helpful to your songwriting as well.
Now, some or most of these tools are available inside many DAWs, including notation editing; there are also notation-specific programs that you might find inspiring, some of which contain composer-friendly additions like built-in sound libraries and audio recorders. Some famous examples are Sibelius (avid.com), Finale (makemusic.com), and Notion and Progression (notionmusic.com). I won’t say more about them because they’re not products I have experience with, but I’ve worked with a lot of artists who have drawn great inspiration from them, and I expect you’ll see more mention of them in upcoming issues of Recording. I will discuss my DAW of choice below, in the context of a different sort of compositional flow.
Bait & Switch
Band-in-a-Box can also be used to play an existing song, over which you can audition an endless variety of original lyrics and melodies, in a kind of karaoke songwriting approach. Sometimes, we just need to sort of trick ourselves into doing something different, to help break ourselves out of old habits that may have begun bringing diminishing returns. For instance, lyricists can also benefit from the tactic of “hanging it on another song’s structure.”
There is a legend (which may or may not be true) regarding the pop songwriting duo of Chris Difford & Glenn Tilbrook of the band Squeeze. Difford was the lyricist and Tilbrook wrote the music. Allegedly, Difford wanted to try a new approach, just to shake things up a bit. He first compiled the lyrics from a bunch of his favorite Motown songs. Then, he completely rewrote each one, still adhering to the meter and syllable counts of the originals, and subsequently turned them all over to the composer, without letting him in on it. The resulting album was their biggest seller, one many fans cite as one of the best in their catalog.
Another approach: Gimme a beat
Hip-Hop songs require a different method from those illustrated in our previous examples, because in Hip Hop the words almost always come after the music. So first off, you’re going to need a beat.
In this instance, a beat doesn’t just mean a drum loop. The term includes all of the loops, the samples, the chords and the bass, as well as the all important Hook, which is also referred to within other genres as the Chorus. With so many elements involved in the song’s construction, a writer can go from inspired to overwhelmed in a hurry.
There are a lot of DAWs out there that all do an amazing job, but when it comes to simplifying the process so that you can be free to create, I’ve found for my own purposes that PreSonus’s Studio One (presonus.com/
studioone) offers a great workflow.
Studio One’s intuitive, tempo-sync based environment keeps all of your loops, MIDI, audio and effects in sync with the song’s meter, saving lots of setup and ‘tweaking’ time. Its easy ‘drag and drop’ interface almost seems to fade into the background as you create and discover. Loops can be performed and edited with incredible ease and speed, then quickly exported by simply dragging them to the browser. Studio One is not unique in this capability—nowadays most DAWs offer such tools. But it’s the one I’m most familiar with.
Whichever DAW you’re using, gather a palette of loops and other sounds, and you can begin building a structural framework. Start by a laying down 4 minutes of a two- measure drum loop. Adjust the tempo until you’re “feelin’ it”. Words may already begin tumbling out of you from this humble start. If so, let ‘em flow! The rhythms, accents and other forms of cadence that spill forth can influence every aspect of the arrangement that supports your lyric.
Since you’re already in a recording environment, there’s no better time to get those rhymes down than in the heat of the moment, so reach for a mic. Choose a decent one that suits your voice, in case you end up with keeper tracks.
As before, just lay down what comes out. A great exercise is to loop 16 bars and record numerous passes. Maybe each ‘take’ brings you closer to what you want, or you can try out a bunch of stuff and go back through and edit it later.
Grab that Ubiquitous chorus we were working on earlier and follow your verses with it for 12 measures. Using E minor as your key, you can begin building the rest of your ‘beat’ by adding bass, keys and other instrumental loops, or perform them via MIDI on one of the virtual instruments in your DAW.
Much like a sculptor, chiseling away in an effort to reveal the image that lies underneath, you can add and subtract these elements in an endless number of combinations. Structurally, you can shuffle song sections, re-order lyric lines and verses, add breakdowns and bridges, try out intros, etc. In this way, the studio becomes your willing accomplice, rather than one more adversary you need to contend with.
Now that you’re ready to flesh out your song and take it to the next level, you might want to look for realistic sounds that can inspire you. Guitarists can get that big-stage sound for styles like Rock, Punk, Metal, etc. from amp modeling plug-ins; your DAW probably came with a few already, and many more are out there. Even the free Apple GarageBand (apple.com/mac/garageband) has sounds that are perfectly suitable for commercial releases. Plus, you can get some of the hugest, gnarliest tones imaginable, riffing and wailing to your heart’s delight... without your neighbors ever knowing.
Guitar slingers with iOS mobile devices are also presented with some great writing options, via guitar interfaces like the Sonoma Wire Works GuitarJack (sonomawireworks.com) or the Apogee JAM (apogeedigital.com). These new interfaces connect via the dock connector on your iPhone or iPad, rather than older products that go through the headset minijack and frankly don’t sound very good.
Once you’re connected, you can open a multi-effect processor app like Positive Grid’s JamUp Pro and BIAS (positive
grid.com) and get to rockin’! In addition to being able to play through its faithful recreations of many different amps and effects, you can also dial in your own tones, and when inspiration strikes, you can capture it with the built-in 8-track recorder and export your audio via email or file sharing. This could even be imported back into the hook of your hip-hop production, bringing you full circle!
Getting there in the end
Don’t beat yourself up on days when none of these tools work for you. There are times when creativity is calling a time-out. My mother is a painter. She once told me, “Sometimes you paint, sometimes you clean your brushes.” So when it’s not happening, go for a walk, do house chores, tidy up your studio and your computer’s desktop, back up some hard drives, play Scrabble (it will give you ideas for lyrics!)—even though you won’t be actually writing a song, you’ll still be working at it, just on a different level.
Over time you’ll go back to each almost-finished song, listening with fresh ears, tweaking a detail here and there, until you know it’s ready to meet its audience. When an audience trusts a song, they can begin to believe that it has a place in their own lives. They will let down their guard and allow you the chance to get inside their hearts. To move them. This is the sacred covenant that makes our efforts as songwriters worthwhile. This is the importance of capture and craft.
(Reprinted with permission by Recording Magazine)
Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer, singer and songwriter. His latest release is Seaholm Mackintosh’s Monarchs. Check out his website at www.kaspro.com.
For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net
Songwriting Tip: To Demo Or Not To Demo
What to consider before pushing record...
By James Piekarski
It's disheartening—you spent hundreds upon hundreds of dollars and countless hours on a demo, only to have industry professionals reject it.
There are many reasons for rejection—why not sort them out and eliminate as many of them as you can?
It’s all about the song
Almost anyone on a modest budget can create great-sounding demos. But the songs themselves have to be not just good songs, but rather great songs, to capture and hold a listener’s attention. Your competition is not the band down the block, but rather what’s on the radio and in the CD racks at the retailer. That’s the level you need to be aiming at.
A brief visit to unsigned-talent websites should give you an idea of how vast a pool of competitors you have. The Internet downloading phenomenon indicates that listeners want to cherry-pick their favorite songs. Like it or not, more focus than ever will be on solid songwriting.
Universal A&R veteran Reen Nalli, who has signed such artists as INXS and india.arie, says, “Why do we have to have CDs that have 10 to 15 tracks? I think you’re going to start seeing fewer and stronger tracks.”
Mike Doyle, former Writer Relations Representative at ASCAP and now in Creative at Major Bob Music,Nashville, says, “You can spend a lot of money on songs that sound great. But do your homework and make sure the song itself is where it needs to be before you ever set foot in a demo studio.”
Avoid the friends and family plan
Family members and friends are probably the worst people from which to solicit honest feedback. Your mom will love all your songs no matter how good or bad they are. Where then is one to get a really honest critique of one’s music before going through all the time and expense of creating a full-blown demo?
There are professional organizations of interest to unsigned artists who need to solicit that kind of creative input. For one, Nashville Songwriter’s Association International (NSAI) has chapters throughout theUnited States,Canada, andEurope. Typically, NSAI critique sessions are offered once a month. The sessions are refereed by an NSAI representative and feature an industry A&R or music publishing professional to offer advice.
Dave Rivers, National Workshops Director of NSAI, comments, “The NSAI critique sessions give people an opportunity to get feedback from a pro writer who is out there writing for the market every day. We have a mail-in evaluation service as part of membership as well. And it’s heartbreaking to hear a $600 demo of a song that is pretty good, but the chorus is twice as long as it needs to be. NSAI is an organization for all genres, not just country. Having a song that is competitive is important in all genres of music.”
Songwriters Guild of America (SGA) offers similar feedback sessions on a bi-monthly basis along with other writers’ workshop opportunities. SGA also offers mail-in critique services. Performance rights organizations such as ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC, also offer a variety of workshops where participants can have their songs critiqued, bolster their songwriting skills, and learn about the inner workings of the music business. Check their websites for their calendar of events. Many of the new web-based music services such as Broadjam, and of course the well-established on- and offline TAXI network, offer critiques as part of their membership services.
How about starting your own critique group? Groups of about six to eight members work quite well. And try to work up. That is, work with others who are at least equal to if not a bit better than you. Have all the participants bring a rough work tape, or be prepared for a live performance (acoustic guitar and vocal, for example) and enough lyric sheets to go around to all the other participants. Set ground rules on how many minutes can be spent on each song.
You’ll find that critique groups are a great way to get to know other musicians’ music. And you’re sure to learn from what they are doing right and wrong. Besides, you may be able to develop some new co-writing opportunities. About co-writing, hit songwriter Gary Burr says “You’ve got a 100 percent better chance that someone in the room is going to have a good idea. It picks up the slack a little bit if you’re having an off day.”
Full production demo or guitar/vocal?
One of the most often asked questions at music industry workshops is “How full does my demo have to be?” The answers to this are all over the map and depend on the style of music and whether the track is an artist demo or a song demo.
If the song is a pop or rock demo that showcases the sound of the band, then it really does have to sound like it’s ready for radio. Unlike country or folk, or other more song lyric-oriented styles, the overall sound, attitude, choice of drum loops, cool and crunchy guitars, and wicked groove are of equal importance to the raw, underlying song itself.
This is not to say that a great lyric won’t help, but lyrics in pop and rock often tend to be more metaphorical, personal for the artist, artsy/poetic, or just plain open for interpretation as opposed to folk, country and rap. For solo artists with a unique vocal styling, maybe a less elaborate demo might be OK. If you marry a great song to a great, fresh sounding track, you’ve got a “can’t miss” combination.
For non-artist songwriters, very high-quality guitar (or piano) and vocal demos are entirely suitable for presentation to a publisher. It’s not uncommon to hear, “Great sounding track, but too bad the song just isn’t there yet.” Focusing your efforts on a professional sounding, well performed guitar-vocal demo will be time well spent. If you plan ahead correctly, you can always go back and add more tracks at a later date. If you can swing the time and expense of a full demo, great. Presenting your song as it might sound on radio will not work against you. But again, if the song (lyric, melody, basic harmony, form) is not there…
Assuming the instrumental performance is 100 percent there, vocals sell songs. Great vocals sell more songs! Great vocals with a unique vibe and special sound sell yet more songs. It’s money well spent to have the best singer possible on your tracks. If you can do this yourself, great. If you can’t, consider trying a pro vocalist on a track and see what a difference it makes. If you’re recording your own vocal tracks, Joe Albano has a lot more to offer on this subject in his article on page 40.
The Nashville game
Nashvillehas in recent years become more than just a source of country and bluegrass music.Nashville, which has always had a strong Gospel music industry, has also become a center for rock and rap-oriented Contemporary Christian music.
Song demos targeted at the Nashville market are lyric-driven styles, period. If the story or main idea of the song is not clear, game over. Songwriting pros inNashvilleare primarily focused on lyric and melody rather than relying on a signature synth part, drum loop, or certain guitar sound to get the song across.
If you want to play the game inNashvillefor any style of music, your lyric craft will play a major role in your success. The song needs to stay on message. You can’t be secretly wishing the listener will pick up on the meaning of the song. You really can’t be in denial in this area. There will seldom be alternative interpretations of meaning of a country, folk, or gospel song. It is not uncommon to hear pros from the East and West Coasts comment how a visit toNashvillereally “tightens up” one’s writing skills.
The majority of Recording’s readers have at least a modest recording studio of some kind. And if you’re in a band, you already have your talent pool ready to go. However, you may have a need for professional session players, either because not all of your band members are up to the task, or because you don’t play with a band and need additional instruments on your tracks.
Organizing a demo derby is one way to save money on session players: A bunch of songwriters pool their resources and hire musicians for a preset period of time (usually 4-hour blocks).
Let’s say that you and several songwriters want to add some saxophone or flute to a number of tracks. Most professional session saxophonists own tenor, alto, soprano saxes, and double on flute (and sometimes clarinet and even oboe). Given that, set up the mics, levels, and compression once, have the charts ready and run as many tracks as possible in the session. Since some instrumentalists are accustomed to charging by the song, be sure to work out the payment details in advance. Surprises on the session, especially regarding money, are never a good thing.
Many demo studios offer per-song pricing which includes all instrumentalists. Some studios may be able to set up demo-derby package pricing in 4- or 8-hour blocks so many writers can share the same instrumentalists on a number of songs.
Repeat chorus and fade
Art and commerce do mix. Trying to be competitive in the marketplace is not selling out. If you were to go into business for yourself, wouldn’t you explore the competition and see how you could offer something better? Why then would you not want to treat your musical career and all that plays into it in the same dogged, determined, and calculated way?
Chances are that you’ll come away from the critique process with a better understanding of the craft and mechanics of songwriting, and perhaps with some insight into how others are hearing your music. Go write a hit!
(Article Reprinted with Permission from Recording Magazine)
James Piekarski is a composer, songwriter, producer, and recording engineer. He’s also a faculty member in The Department of Recording Industry at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN.
A Three-Stage Rocket to Lyric Writing
When NASA blasted a rocket into orbit, they did it in stages: The big lift-off, a second stage to get the payload into orbit and a third to fine tune the direction. So, what’s this got to do with writing lyrics? You can think of the lyric writing process in three stages:
- 1. Getting started. (Lift off)
- 2. Developing your idea. (Getting into orbit)
- 3. Rewriting (Fine tune it)
=> STAGE ONE: GETTING STARTED
Beginning the lyric writing process with a title can give you a central beacon that will keep your song lyric focused – very important if you want to keep listeners involved. Any short phrase you find emotionally intriguing – or simply an honest statement of how you feel – can work as a title. Make it something you want to write about.
Then make a list of questions the phrase suggests. These are the questions you’re going to answer in your song. Try questions like: What does this mean? Why do I need to say it? How does it feel? How did it happen? What do I think the consequences will be? Every phrase suggests different questions. And every songwriter will find different ones to ask.
OR… you can start writing the first line of your song and work from that. Let’s say you overhear a line in conversation that sounds interesting or a line occurs to you that triggers a whole string of thoughts. Write everything down, then go back and look it over. Do you know what this song is about? Can you put the lines in some kind of order that develops an overall idea? By the time you write the second line of your first verse, you should have an idea where your song is headed.
=> STAGE TWO: DEVELOP YOUR IDEA
Decide on your song structure. For most songs, it’s a good idea to write in a form that has a chorus section, such as…
VERSE / CHORUS
VERSE / CHORUS
BRIDGE / CHORUS. (Read more about song structure.)
Feature your title in your chorus section; make it the first line or last line, or use it in both places. It will provide an anchor for your listeners, a focal point, so a little repetition is a good thing. Surround your title with lines that support it. For example, you might choose to answer the question you feel is the most important. Or describe the emotions that are going on.
Remember, the chorus sums up the heart of your song. Be sure to keep it focused on a peak emotional moment. Don’t try to explain too many specific ideas in the chorus. Save that for the verses.
Lay out your verses around the chorus. Choose at least one of the questions from your list to answer in each verse and the bridge. By laying out your song instead of just writing whatever comes to you, you’ll stay focused on a single idea in each verse and you won’t wonder what you’re going to write about when you get to the bridge!
FILM & TV SONG TIP: If you’re writing songs for the film & TV market, keep the focus solely on a peak emotional moment and try to avoid a specific storyline. The script will take care of the story details. Also, for film & TV, the VRS / VRS / BRIDGE / VRS song form can work well. Try using your title in the last line of each verse. If you repeat that last line each time the verse comes around, it will add weight and create a chorus-like feel.
=> STAGE THREE: REWRITE AND POLISH
Fill in more lines around the ones you’ve written. Simple, conversational phrases are fine but you might want to mix these with images, comparisons, and physical expressions of emotion to make your listeners really feel it! Don’t just tell them what you experienced; make them experience it, too.
Replace a cliché with a fresh idea. If you’ve written a line that listeners have heard a thousand times, try adding a twist, end the phrase in a different way than we expect.
Punch up your language. If you wrote “I need…” try “I hunger…” or “I crave…” Make your action words work harder, too. Instead of “you walked away,” use “you slipped away” or “you danced away.” These words tell us more about the emotions that accompanied the action.
Go through your lyric and make certain you’ve answered the important questions about the situation. Did you say something in your lyric that raised more questions or hinted at something else? You’ve got to deal with that—either answer the question or change that line. You don’t want to leave the listener feeling unfulfilled.
This is the time to “encourage” some rhymes. Don’t force them; never change the natural word order of speech to accommodate a rhyme – you’re likely to lose the believability of the lyric. Look for a rhyme that feels easy and natural. if you use “vowel rhymes” you have a huge selection to choose from. Like the name implies “vowel rhymes” merely rhyme the vowel sound. Fine/time, now/house, love/stuff are all vowel rhymes. Check out www.B-Rhymes.com for lists of near rhymes. (Read more about rhyming.)
ONE LAST THOUGHT…
At times during this process, there’s likely to be a strong line that “just occurs to you,” a line you reeeeally want to use. If you laid out your song as a rough sketch first, take a look to see where the line might belong and put it there. If it doesn’t seem to belong to any section, then it might provide the germ of a new song. Write it on a separate sheet of paper and put it to one side. You can come back to it later to see where it leads. In songwriting, no good line is wasted – you just have to find the right place for it.
by Robin Frederick
Robin Frederick has written more than 500 songs for television, records, theater, and audio products. She is a former Director of A&R for Rhino Records, Executive Producer of 60 albums, and the author of “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” and “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV” available at Amazon.com. Visit Robin's websites for more songwriting tips and inspiration: www.RobinFrederick.com and www.MySongCoach.com.
Tools For The Songwriter: Audio In The Land Of The Free
By Eleanor Goldfield
Get your songwriting rig started for nothing
There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but believe it or not, there is such a thing as free audio software. For those of you looking to get into demoing, writing, or simply laying down ideas in your own studio setup, this land of the free has some cool tools to get you going.
It’s the (wo)man, not the machine...
It’s tempting to spend big money on audio gear; much of it is expensive, and money can seem insignificant when you’re passionate about something like audio. It’s not like having a passion for collecting seashells.
That being said, the amount of expensive gear you have is not indicative of your abilities. This point was made starkly clear to me one day when I asked Ed Cherney (Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt, Iggy and the Stooges, etc.) what his thoughts were on home studios. He spun around in his Aeron chair, a Neve 8048 console behind him and an iPhone in his hand. “Got one of these?” he asked, pointing to his phone. I nodded. “Give it to me and I’ll make you a hit record. It’s who’s behind the tools, not the tools,” he said with his contagious grin.
Not all great gear is expensive, some of it is even free (read on!), and you can build your rig one piece at a time. I can’t tell you how many great producers and engineers I’ve spoken to that started their stories with “All I had was...”
What follows—the breakdown
I’m breaking this up into two sections. The first section is for those of you who already have a DAW such as Pro Tools, and a MIDI controller. This section will focus on how to make sounds from within those programs, with tools other than what you use to simply record your own voice or instrument through a mic.
The second section is for those of you who don’t have a studio setup. There I focus on software programs for simple recording and for some synth use, as well as tools other than a DAW and MIDI controller, tools that will still allow you to create and demo.
Pro Tools pre-loaded
This is about free stuff, so I won’t tell anyone to go buy Pro Tools. But if you have Pro Tools or an equivalent DAW, then you can make use of many free plug-ins and add-ons, and we’ll mention some right here. I’ll stick to virtual instruments and simulators—compressors, delays and such processors can wait for another day.
All the major DAWs come with numerous synth sounds and virtual instruments; you should explore yours exhaustively before you spend money on add-ons and third-party libraries. I won’t go to the length of listing all those DAWs with their included sounds—but I do encourage you to get to know whatever is waiting to be discovered in your own DAW.
As I work primarily in Pro Tools, an industry standard, I’ll start by mentioning the virtual instrument plug-ins that you get for free when you first install and open the program. Many of you are likely to purchase it sooner or later, and as with any new purchase, it’s nice to know the full range.
Xpand, now Xpand 2, is one package that I’ve used a lot, not only on demos but in finished recordings. From soft, hard and action pads to ambience, percussive and polysynths, Xpand allows for an infinite amount of experimenting and layering. There are four separate MIDI inputs, each instance housing 4 channels, to be used discretely or blended; for example, setting all four to channel 1 will layer all four sounds together. Alternatively, you can choose to turn on and off different inputs, switching between sounds. Each input has two effects sends, level controls and timbre adjustment parameters such as envelope depth, cutoff, release, arpeggiation and modulation.
The ethereal sounds in Xpand are my favorites. I consider the simulations of real instruments to fall short, but they can be interesting pieces in a more abstract synth ensemble. For a large part of a score I did for an alternative psychological thriller, I pulled eerie and freaky sounds from Xpand.
Structure Free is another one that I’ve had fun experimenting with. It’s a sample player that allows you to import your own samples and effect them. As you can imagine, there is a paid version of Structure that allows for even more creative depth, but as a jumping-off point, the free version can really set the mind spinning with all sorts of possibilities. As in Xpand, you can have up to four instruments or patches at one time, from your own library or from Structure’s built-in library. There are two edit windows in which to effect your patches, including filters, filter envelope, velocity, pitch, key range and more.
Vacuum looks really really cool in its “post-apocalyptic” graphic design. This monophonic tube synth has only a single sound, but lots of parameters to play with. Spending some time with the knobs and switches can give you a really interesting layered piece.
Boom, a drum machine and sequencer, works great as a quick and easy way to set up some sequencing ideas that you can later replace with either real drums or with a more advanced, true-to-life drum program.
DB-33 is a tonewheel organ with a rotating speaker, as in B3 and Leslie. Simple and straightforward in design, no bells, no whistles. And Mini Grand is an acoustic grand piano, no explanation needed there.
Eleven is an amp simulator. Pro Tools comes with a free version of Eleven. [If the name Eleven doesn’t ring a bell, then we suggest you watch This Is Spinal Tap—Ed.] Like Boom, this can serve as a jumping-off point, a way to lay down ideas that will then be augmented by another program—or, in my case, the full version of Eleven. Two cabs and two heads may sound like an overly stripped-down version, but it’s about a million times better than attempting electric guitar direct without a simulator.
In addition to what Pro Tools includes already, there are companies that offer free demo versions of their plug-ins—not as advanced or in-depth as the full versions, but still allowing for experimentation, demoing and recording.
Some demo versions will cut out or make irritating sounds as you use them. Since I have the patience of a 2-year old on caffeine, particularly when creating, I steer clear of these. Also, I’m sure there are many more than what I’m covering here [kvraudio.com is a good place to start looking—Ed.], but here is a glimpse into the wonderful world of free third-party plugs.
Native Instruments offers some of the best free virtual instruments that I’ve used. For free, you can download Reaktor 5 Player, Guitar Rig 5 Player and Kontakt 5 Player, which include libraries of more than 300 sounds and effects. Here, the sound quality is really the highlight. These free players offer a sprinkling of the company’s acclaimed and varied sounds, from drums to synths to keys. Supported formats include stand-alone, VST, RTAS (Pro Tools 9 and 10), AAX Native, 64-bit AAX, and Audio Units. They’ll run on Windows 7/8 and Mac OS 10.7+ and require 3 GB of disc space.
SampleTank FREE by IK Multimedia is another expandable version of the full SampleTank. It comes with 58 sample-based sounds and 146 preset sounds, ranging from modular Moog to female choirs and acoustic guitar. Supported formats are standalone, Audio Units, RTAS and VST, on Windows XP/Vista/7/8 or Mac OS X 10.5+.
Symptohm Melohman PE (Performer Edition) by Ohm Force comes with more than 1200 presets, and lets you throw in your own samples, toggle between 7 different MIDI controller modes, and augment and bend the sound with built-in parameters. It offers two different graphical skins: a clear classic layout, and one that “embodies the true spirit of Ohm Force” (see the screenshot and rejoice). It’s available for Mac and Windows in VST, Audio Units, and RTAS (some bugs have been reported when used in Pro Tools 10).
Addictive Drums (XLN Audio), BFD (FXpansion) and DrumCore (Sonoma Wire Works) can be had in free, stripped-down versions of their full drum programs.
Addictive Drums is a fully functional demo with kick drum, snare, hi-hat and cymbal. Windows 7/8 and Mac 10.6+ in VST, Audio Units, RTAS, AAX and stand-alone.
BFD2 demo will only run as a standalone on Windows XP/Vista/7/8 or Mac. It won’t let you import any samples, you just use the 9-piece kit that comes with it. You can’t save or export anything but the demo will run forever and has no expiration date.
DrumCore also doesn’t time out and supports VST, Audio Units and RTAS for Mac 10.4+ and Windows XP/Vista/7/8. It comes with two kits, as opposed to 100 in the full version, a basic grooves library, and no standalone capability.
Zero-dollars recording software
Let’s say that Pro Tools, Logic or another paid DAW isn’t in your studio setup but you want software on your computer to record demos and ideas. Well, fret not. There are free recording software programs out there. I have used a few of these myself and the others come suggested by students and friends. I’m sure a Google search could unearth even more.
GarageBand from Apple comes free on new Macs and has an incredibly user-friendly platform. Simple controls, simple navigation, all while delivering thousands of built-in synth sounds and virtual instruments as well as loops. A “Windows version” is supposedly out there, but I can’t speak for its legality or its stability—it’s not offered by Apple.
Audacity is a fairly well-known program that I’ve used primarily for editing and exporting OGG files. It has high-fidelity capabilities (up to 32-bit float) and is simple and streamlined. Although it only supports VST or coded (via LADSPA or Nyquist) versions of plug-ins, it has built-in EQ, compression, pitch shift, noise canceling, echo, reverb and fun little tricks like “voice cancellation” which removes center-panned audio through inversion. It is available for Mac OS 10.4+, Windows XP/Vista/7/8, and Linux.
Ardour offers pay-per-month software DAWs but also has a free version that simply doesn’t allow for plug-in settings to be saved. For me, this was never a big pain as I learned on analog gear where I had to handwrite all the settings for later recall anyway. Ardour is an incredibly versatile platform that allows for unlimited track count (CPU dependent), internal and external routing (to other software and hardware), AU plug-in use, Pro Tools-like transport recording, and access to any of your sample libraries without compatibility issues. You do have to download the Jack Audio Connection kit which essentially allows for Ardour to communicate with audio interfaces and connect various applications, such as Ardour, to external hardware. Ardour runs on Mac OS 10.4+ (not tested on 10.6+ however) and Linux.
Wavesurfer and Traverso DAW are two free programs that seem to be more for the computer-savvy and tech-interested. I have used neither. Traverso seems to have much of the functionality of the above software programs, including multi-track capabilities, importing, editing, effects, and automation. Both run on Mac OSX, Windows and Linux.
And finally, let’s talk about iOS apps. Even more so than plug-ins and DAWs, the number of apps available for the audio world is astronomical. I won’t list them all here, obviously, but again I will list those that I can vouch for, either personally or through human contacts (like my Editor). My list is mostly for the iPhone; be aware that iPads offer different and expanded possibilities.
If you’re like me, you don’t always get great ideas when you’re conveniently seated in front of your DAW. You get ideas in the car, on the bus, in the grocery store, at dinner, and so on. In these imperfect situations, you know you just have to hum that melody or lay down that riff idea or you’ll lose it and never write the most amazing song ever! I feel your pain.
But I’m not a fan of the iPhone’s voice memo recorder. I can’t label or organize notes besides an arbitrary date and time stamp, and it has a finite record time, but it won’t tell you what that is.
QuickVoice, however, is something that I use for everything from interviews to guitar-riff ideas and vocal melodies. You can record upwards of an hour of audio, title it and send up to 5 MB of information (around 3 minutes) as a CAF file or ringtone. It also offers different recording-quality settings, allowing you to choose smaller file size or higher-quality audio.
Tape from Focusrite is a cool little iPad recorder with good basic features and great organizational options for files.
Pocket Wavepad, another free app that allows you to record and then effect audio, lets you get a bit more in depth, even to start editing.
Hokusai Audio Editor is a free multi-track recording app, even more of a heavyweight, allowing for several audio tracks to run simultaneously, imported or recorded. You can then effect, edit and export your finished product as a WAV, MP4 or transfer to your computer via USB or Dropbox.
SampleTank, the aforementioned synth, also comes in app form. Much like the plug-in, the app has hundreds of instruments and patches for you to choose from, layer, and record. With a 4-track MIDI recorder and drum pads, you have access to over 120 user presets, more than 600 instruments and built in-insert effects.
Alchemy Synth Mobile Studio from Camel Audio is another free app that delivers a powerhouse of creativity in a user-friendly interface. It delivers high-quality audio in everything from guitars and basses to synths and drum kits. Much like SampleTank, it has a 4-track sequencer and drum pad window, with added fun and functional tidbits like tilt and inertia to physically control sounds.
Groovemaker is skewed towards the DJ realm but still a great tool for electronic creations. It comes with over 120 loops that you can mix, remix, edit and layer in real time to create a unique blend of your own style and ideas.
easyBeats LE is a free 808-style drum machine app. If drums are your forte, this app can combine your own generated rhythms with built-in samples to create a beat on the go—easily.
Guitar Free and Piano Free, as well as Real Guitar Free are apps that let you play the instrument on your phone, but not record. However, with features that allow hammer ons, strumming, and plucking, you can work that riff out on the go and make a note of the tab or arrangement until you get a chance to record it.
Clearly, whatever it is that you’re looking to create, there is no shortage of free software to assist you in your musical endeavors. I’ll just throw in one last audio geek musing: Take heed that there’s always a paid upgrade (or, on iOS, an in-app purchase) to be had; some are worth it, some aren’t. As with most things in life, this paid vs. free gear is a balance. Have fun in the land of the free!
(Reprinted with permission by Recording Magazine)
Eleanor Goldfield is a Los Angeles-based writer, musician and freelance tech and studio consultant. She is lead singer in the hard rock band, Rooftop Revolutionaries, and works with several studios and pro audio professionals in management and consulting capacities. For more info, check out eleanor-swede.com.
For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition: http://www.songwriting.net/enter
25 Mistakes Music Artists Make
By Eric Alexandrakis
A rogues’ gallery of slipups every recording songwriter should avoid!
They’re everywhere, like cheap wine in a crinkly brown Mini-mart bag. Some think they look cool walking around drinking out of it, but in the end, it shows no control... no discipline... no clue. Yes, you know what I’m talking about. Or do you?
I see them every day: those constant mistakes that artists make without thinking. Some are minute, some are grand, some are just so incredibly dumb—but all can be avoided with some simple logic, and restraint from laziness.
WARNING: The things you are about to read are real. They have been taken from real examples of bad promo campaigns and bad career decisions. If you happen to recognize yourself in any of these examples, I apologize, but... No I don’t. If you haven’t fixed what you’re reading about yet, here’s hoping you’re now embarrassed enough to do so!
1. I’m going to make a living from music and be rich and famous... and the best part is, I don’t have to do real work!
You know how you go to college to train, work toward a major in order to get a full-time job to support yourself, and work for years to build your profession to make a better living and to improve, blah blah blah? Yeah, guess what!
Making music a profession requires the same attention to detail. It’s a full-time job which requires daily investment, generally until the day you die, or until you have enough niche success to sustain you so that you don’t have to work anymore. Don’t read past this line until you come to grips with this scary reality.
How cool, you kept the crinkly brown bag from the Mini-mart, I’m glad. Now keep breathing into it... that’s right... sloooowly... don’t pop it, because you’ll need it for the rest of your life. Or for the rest of your musical career. Or both.
2. Who needs a plan? I’m just getting started here, I can wing it...
Start with a two-year plan with monthly goals. Design it like a business plan. If you have to make a bar chart with pictures of girls stacked on top of each other for measurement, so be it. Without a plan, you’re spinning your wheels and I’m wasting my time writing this.
3. A bio? I can handle that, I just have to tell everyone I’m a genius!
No, you can’t write it yourself, and neither can your English major cousin Miri. Yes, yes, Auntie Grizelda is always raving at family get-togethers about Miri’s wonderful grades... as her department-head boyfriend 20 years her senior sits next to her looking posh in his bowtie, asking you to pass the yams.
Sorry, I got carried away... No I didn’t—get a proper bio written. Comparing yourself to every major rock star and hit album in a bio does not make you relevant. I see this all the time. “With a voice like Bono and a stage presence like Michael and a political awareness reminiscent of Lennon...” Yeah, and just a hint of cinnamon. You have to leave it up to the critics to call you the next Kevin Federline. (Assuming that’s what you want.)
If you need help with your bio and absolutely don’t know where to turn, I’ll let you in on someone I’ve personally worked with successfully. Have a look at the website for Katy Krassner, www.katykrassner.com, and if you like what you see, commission her to write you a bio. She writes bios and press releases for major artists, actors, brands, and indie labels.
4. Website? You’re kidding, right? Everybody just uses Facebook!
I’m a bit of a hypocrite on this one, as for the last few years I’ve been using Facebook as my hub, but I am now constructing a proper site. FB has worked well with a lot of EDM artists and labels, for example, but ultimately it’s a trend. What if it went away tomorrow? Do you really want all of your content to live only on Facebook? It’s just best to be able to have your own separate hub, where you can control your content entirely, and not be subject to weird rules where suddenly a picture of you taking a bath is owned by some corporation and ends up on a billboard on I-95.
By a “proper” site, I don’t mean use a free template from some random business site or whatever. Hire a reputable company via word-of-mouth/research (yes, even this takes effort), and do it right. If you must use a service that offers template sites, at least use one like HostBaby, one that understands what musicians really need in their web content and won’t leave you with a site that doesn’t deliver.
5. The world will recognize the genius in my every note.
Just because you can make music, doesn’t mean it’s good. I know a guy (one of many, actually) who has all the right intentions, but his ego is out of control. He has money and thinks that just because he has the means, his music is good. It’s average, and worst of all, he can’t sing, but thinks he can sing and doesn’t take criticism.
Take the criticism, it’ll save you money in the long run, but don’t take it from Auntie Em. She’ll always love your singing. My Aunt Pauline loves my piano playing and tells everyone about it, but she’s never heard me play.
6. I’m on Internet Radio!
No one cares if some random internet radio station inIndianais playing you. Your mother might, but she already got her copy of the album for free. Focus on the greatest audience, with the most practical and realistic means.
7. We’re growing our brand organically!
Organic food rots faster because it lacks those evil preservatives. Remember that. Do it right.
8. My music’s available on iTunes!
Don’t sell your music on iTunes, unless you have a good cover or can get into the “New Releases” section. What’s the point of creating a middleman? Why invest in a publicist, radio promoter, etc. so that iTunes can prosper? Just direct everyone to your site and sell direct from there.
9. Singles are the new Albums!
Why are you selling singles? If you can’t write a decent album, you have no purpose. Don’t listen to this nonsense about the album being dead. Make a good one, and sell it as such. If you’re going to put marketing efforts and dollars into one song, sell an album as a whole and make $10 instead of 99 cents. Just don’t stop promoting it after two months. 10 songs = 10 months of promo possibilities. Duh!
10. I’m looking for a label and manager...
How nice. Have you sold 20,000 copies on your own? Because if not, they aren’t looking for you. If you’re not willing to do the work, no one of value or credibility will either.
11. On social networks, posting the same posts promoting the same songs over and over again will eventually get people to buy the music.
No, people will start deleting you, and you will look desperate and lame.
12. I can tell folks I’ve sold 2 million albums even though the RIAA says I haven’t. Who’ll know?
Don’t think people won’t check riaa.com. I always do.
13. I’m too cool to pay bills on time... or at all.
If you couldn’t afford it, you shouldn’t have ordered it. Don’t blame it on the fake accountant.
14. What do you mean, that’s not what the contract says? That’s not how I read it!
Read and understand your agreements, and blame yourself for not getting what you thought you were getting. If you paid for one month of promotion, don’t ask to Skype with the promoter every month for 4 months, after your month has expired.
15. My new producer had two Grammies and a platinum album... in 1985!
Just because a producer has some decent credits...from 20 years ago, doesn’t mean they are worth your hard-earned cash. I’ve seen some ridiculous deal points in my day. Everything from $10K/song production costs, to 3 points + 10% of all placement fees on top. Stay away from this nonsense. I’ll hook you up with a great and affordable mixer. Just ask.
16. There’s nothing wrong with my image!
Yes, well. We can tell you’re really 50 and not 25, Madame. Dude, about that beard—ZZ Top was cool 20 years ago. Even a poor musician can afford $3 for a razor and shaving cream. I don’t care if it’s part of your vibe, what would you say if your mother saw you?
Tattoos are overdone and usually done badly, and you can’t take them off if you decide you hate them. And unless you’re in the iTunes top 10, you shouldn’t be wearing leather pants.
17. Wait. Image? What’s that? Do I need one?
And please don’t dress like a bank teller and pose with a guitar looking vaguely dissatisfied. I’m mystified at how imageless some artists can be. Did you not have posters of your favorite musicians on your walls when you were younger? Like, ever?
18. Faking people out is edgy, folks like to be fooled.
Deception is not a marketing tool. If you lie, it will always come back to bite you. You don’t have to disclose your debit card PIN, just be realistic.
19. I’m too cool to have a budget!
Pretending you have money when you don’t is beyond idiotic. Have more confidence in yourself and write a good song.
20. I got straight to the secretary of this big guy inHollywood, piece of cake!
Good for you, bub. When’s the premiere?
21. Yeah, I post more pictures than songs, so what? It’s all about image, right?
We get it, you’re in love with yourself, but if you spend more time posing for pictures than writing and releasing music, people will notice just that.
22. Meh, who cares what I tweet, as long as I do it a lot?
It’s called “social” networking for a reason. Be social, entertaining, charming, interesting and most of all, engaging.
23. I’ve got 100,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter!
Yeah, but between 0 and 10 impressions per post. No sucker will believe you really have that many people interested in you with those numbers. Social networking is an art and a science, and it seems that brands are finally starting to realize its importance. A great example of how social networking is supposed to work is at facebook.com/DuranDuran. The aforementioned and wonderfully talented Ms. Katy Krassner runs it.
24. This is serious stuff, man! Don’t you dare laugh at me!
Martin Solveig is a really cool electronic artist fromFrance, and he has a really fun sense of humor and is willing to laugh at himself. Have a look at some of his videos on YouTube. It’s about music and entertainment, not about trying to show off the fake jewelry or Bugatti you borrowed for the shoot.
25. Play every day? Why?
That’s what you’re supposed to do, remember? And don’t just play. Be a music student, not a rockstar wannabe. Learn everything you can, because ultimately it will come down to how good the music is, not how much of a poser you can be.
(Reprinted by permission from Recording Magazine)
Eric Alexandrakis is a highly successful songwriter, producer, and recording musician. He has had several Top 40 hits on the Adult Contemporary charts, has licensed hundreds of songs for film and video, and recently completed a remix of Depeche Mode’s new single “Should Be Higher”. Learn more at www.ericalexandrakis.com. And he’s recommending Katy Krassner because he likes her work, and thinks you will too.
For more information on the 19th Annual USA Songwriting Competition: http://www.songwriting.net/enter
How to Keep Your Publisher, Manger, Agent, Producer and Label Happy
By Molly-Ann Leikin, Song Marketing Consultant
You’ve heard of the running of the bulls in Pampola? When you’re famous, that’s exactly how people will stampede, tripping over themselves and killing their young, desperate to give you whatever you want. They’ll take all of your calls before you even make them, answer your texts instantly, come to your parties, early, with cases of Cristal, and help your kids with their pre-school entrance essays.
Until then, while you’re still on your way up, and determined to catch someone’s life-changing ear, the job of making the population of your business entourage happy is all on you. Period.
The good news: your Publisher, Manager, Agent, Publicist, Label (PMAPL) can only make money when you do. The bad news: with sixteen hours in a work day, the bulk of their time is spent on The Guarantee. If they represent artists who are making 18-wheelers stashed with cash right now, chances are good they won’t drop everything to put their team on your standby gig at Starbucks, North Eastern Outer Mongolia. Know that. Deal with it. Don’t call and leave hate messages or deliver dead fish wrapped in the L.A. Times to their offices. (Please note: no fish, no newspapers. That goes for all other dead protein, and periodicals, too.)
There are millions of talented people out there vying for your PMAPL’s time. At this point, the person on the other side of the desk has all the power in your life. Period. Here’s how to keep your career moving forward, and eventually turn that all around in your favor.
l. Set the ground rules with your PMAPL as to who will contact whom, and when. Try to get a timeline commitment up front, so you don’t have to send the noodge mail, “R U shining me on or did U really die?” Instead, suggest setting up a call once a month. That’s fair and reasonable.
2. Respect those ground rules. When PMAPL’s start getting the “Where’s My Money” messages, they will quickly lose interest and reassign your project to the back burner or the shredder altogether, preferring to work with professionals who respect other people’s time and priorities.
3. Don’t dump your drama on your PMAPL. “Dude, my pick-up was booted, had to blow off my probation officer again, plus the kidlet is starting to look exactly like Arnold Schwartzenneger.” You wouldn’t want anyone to lay that on you, right? So only do and say what you would want to hear if you were on the PMAPL’s side of the desk. Keep everything professional.
4. Don’t try to get your PMAPL’s attention with ostentatious gifts. You can’t afford the Bentleys they want. At least not yet. When you can, they’ll steal the needed funds, in plain sight, from your royalties.
5. Remember that your PMAPL’s are your business partners. They can only make money when you do. Let them do their jobs for you. Yours is to write/sing/perform, and attend every industry function, shaking hands, smiling, gathering business cards, asking when it would be convenient for you to call.
6. Hang this on your fridge.
Molly-Ann Leikin (rhymes with bacon) created the Songwriting Consultation industry. In the past five years, 6 of her clients have won Grammys. Eleven more are Grammy nominees. The author of “How To Write a Hit Song, Fifth Edition” and “How to Be a Hit Songwriter”, Molly is an Emmy nominee, has 15 gold and platinum records, taught songwriting at UCLA, and works by private consultation only. She practices yoga, takes long, brisk walks and flosses, daily.
Contact Molly for your Hit Song Marketing Consultation/Evaluation at firstname.lastname@example.org
MAKE Your Song a Hit
by Dave Kusek
It’s one thing to write a hit song, but getting people to hear it is another story. There are thousands of “hit-worthy” songs out there that most people never even hear. It’s unfortunate, but you can start changing that trend by taking a more proactive role in the marketing of your song. This is an active business. Chance are you won’t randomly get found and thrust into the spotlight. You need to MAKE your song a hit. You’ll have to start small, but starting at all will put you ahead of the pack.
Make your song a Hit
Marketing the Process
The process of songwriting is one of the best opportunities to connect with an audience. Of course, if you’re writing songs with hopes they are used by another artist, this strategy may not be useful to you. Keep in mind though that unless you have a publisher with connections on your side, your song may never get to that high profile recording artist. Try your best to get that connection, but don’t make waiting a habit. Sitting on an unreleased song forever isn’t going to get you very far.
People love the process. Try posting “rough-drafts” of your song on YouTube or make Vine clips for Instagram or Twitter with short lyrical sections.
People love a story. I’m sure you’ve listened to lyrics and found yourself speculating about their meaning or what drove the songwriter to put those thoughts and emotions into song. Try writing blogs about the inspirations you’re feeling as you write. Stories give you the opportunity to connect with people on a level that goes beyond music. Maybe you experienced a profound event or a death. Maybe you have a passion for hiking and were inspired by that feeling of accomplishment you get at the top of a mountain. Whatever it is, people can connect with those stories. Tell yours. We want to hear it.
Stories that go beyond music also allow you to shine in a much less crowded space. In the music industry you’re just another songwriter in the crowd, but in the world of hiking you can be the star. Take this concept a step further and use those stories to get coverage for your song outside the music space. Eileen Quinn draws her inspiration from sailing and, as a result, was able to get coverage from sailing magazines and blogs.
These updates throughout the entire process keep you in the front of your fans minds.
Songwriters can sometimes feel isolated from the rest of the music industry. Recording and touring artists have to be out there interacting with people. You don’t have to stay behind the scenes - this year, make it a goal to get out there and meet people. Remember that this is a personal business. Emails aren’t going to cut it. Call people up, invite them to your show, meet them for coffee.
You don’t have to go on a full-blown tour, but try playing some smaller, singer-songwriter type gigs in more intimate environments where people can really connect with your song. Connect and collaborate with local bands. Maybe they’d be interested in covering one of your songs. Or, even better, maybe they know someone who could get your music in front of a publisher.
Try to get connections to people outside the traditional music industry. YouTube personalities, bloggers, and amateur photographers are just some of the options available to you. Many people who run YouTube channels are always looking for new music to use in the background of their videos. These people are tastemakers - their following really trusts their opinion - and just having your music there is enough to get their followers to check you out.
The key with everything is to start small. It takes time to get the opportunities that will really make your career. But writing a great song and just waiting for your big break won’t make a hit. Get out there, be proactive, and start taking the first steps towards the songwriting career you deserve.
About Dave Kusek:
If you’re ready to take a more active role in your own songwriting career, check out the New Artist Model online course. Sign up for the mailing list and get access to 5 free lessons.