Songwriting Tips, News & More

Songwriting Tip: Writing Words to Music

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Feb 16, 2012 @12:06 PM

Writing Words to Music

by Harriet Schock, hit songwriter, teacher

Harriet Schock, hit songwriter

I write music and lyrics, but when I write with a composer who doesn’t write lyrics, I frequently let him/her write the music first. Some people have asked me how I actually put words to music that already exists. Even when I write the lyric first, I generally write a verse and chorus before I set it to a melody. So the second verse is always written to a melody, no matter how I start the song, with melody or with lyric. I find it amusing that songwriters who write words and music simultaneously sometimes say they could never write to a melody, and yet they write the second and third verses to a melody routinely.

If I’m given a melody with no lyrics at all and no title, I think it’s easiest for me to start with finding the title in the melody. Determine where that is and come up with a title and concept you really love. Then, find where the sections of the song are and find where the music is rhyming. By that I mean, find out which notes are in a repeated sequence, rhythmically, although they may be on different actual notes (Like “yesterday” and “far away” in the first line of the song “Yesterday”) This will determine your rhyme scheme, although it won’t be etched in stone.

Now, before you start pouring the lyric into the melody, be sure you’ve spent some time in your viewpoint and either know WHAT you’re going to say or where you’re coming from as the person who’s speaking. Otherwise, you’ll always sound like you’re “outside” the song and you’ll end up writing lyrics that sound like “lyrics” and draw the attention of the listener away like bad acting draws people out of the movie.

Of course, you also have to make sure the words sing well—that’s probably the most important thing of all. Make sure the syllables that are accented in the music are what would be accented in speaking. You can’t distract the listener with words that don’t flow well with the music. This means that if you’re writing up-tempo songs with lots of 16th notes, you’d better keep the consonants down to a minimum. Find combinations of words that roll off the tongue really easily and naturally with not a lot of stops. We’re not lucky enough to write in a Romance language like Spanish or French. English is a Germanic language and lots of things stop the flow of air. Maybe the reason why lines like “All I really wanna know” appear so often in dance tunes, is that they flow without stops on the air current. On the other side of the coin, “Would he make me stop and ask” in the same melody would give both singer and the listener a nervous tick.

Maybe that’s why we hear that “Ham and Eggs” was the original dummy lyric to “Yesterday.” Working with nonsense syllables can sometimes just get words that sing well into the spaces and break the silence barrier. From there, you can start writing the real lyric. At this point, all the principles of good writing should be applied. I cannot stress enough knowing what you want to say BEFORE you start filling in the melody notes with syllables.

I see songwriting as similar to parenting. No one’s really experienced in or prepared for it when we start. And we all just find our way. By the time we master it, the children are grown and the songs that embarrassed us early in our careers have, hopefully, been replaced by our newer work.

© 2012 Harriet Schock

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 will star in the upcoming movie “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway,“ currently in post-production. Harriet is in the process of writing 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. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and online. In 2007, L.A. Women In Music honored Harriet a Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. For her performance schedule, list of credits and samples of her work or information on book or (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), her songwriting classes and consultation, go to www.harrietschock.com.

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Helen Reddy, Harriet Schock, Writing Words to Music, Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady

Songwriting Tip: The Money Hello

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Feb 15, 2012 @01:00 PM

The Money Hello By Molly-Ann Leikin, Co-writer, Song Marketing Consultant

 

Molly-Ann Leikin, hit songwriter

Your new project is finally finished. Time to switch into marketing mode.

But you don’t know anybody. Sleezeballs, maybe, but no one legit.

First, lose the sleezeballs.

Then, compose a snappy introduction. Use it at every industry function, and in all contact mail.

I call it the money hello. You’ve only got a few seconds to convince busy strangers that taking the time to read or hear your pitch, let alone listen to your work, will lead them to an instant eighteen-wheeler full of unmarked hundreds.

Try something like this:

I’m Jalapeño Pincus. I write and sing New Country, there are ten hit singles on my new CD,

Word is there’s nobody better than you at what you do, so I want us to meet before I sign with someone else.”

The letter you don’t want to write is: “kno job kno fud wiffe run offf w truk n trukker gotta sail mi songs t mak bayl..” Nobody wants to hear your sad story. Or deal with your give-me-strength spelling. So re-read what you write before sending it. And rewrite it, too. Just as if it were a song.

A powerful, short intro is essential to capturing someone’s attention. It’s like getting to the hook quickly in a song. While composing your message, be sure to ask how, and in which format, to submit your work, to whose attention, at which address, the anticipated turn-around time, and how to mark the message/package so it won’t be mistaken for spam.

 

Let me know how you do.

© 2012 Molly-Ann Leikin

 

Molly-Ann Leikin is an Emmy nominee. The author of “How to Write A Hit Song” and “How to Be A Hit Songwriter”, she has written themes and songs for over five dozen TV shows and movies, including “Violet” that won an Oscar. Through co-writing and song marketing consultations, four of Molly’s clients have Grammy nominations, another won an Emmy, and so far, with Molly’s help, over 6000 of her other lyricist and composer protégées have placed their work in TV shows, movies, on CD’s and in commercials. Molly would be happy to discuss a co-write or consultation with you: 800-851-6588 songmd@songmd.com www.songmd.com

 

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Molly-Ann Leikin, Song Marketing Consultant, Co-writer, The Money Hello

Songwriting: Top 10 Best Love Songs of All Time

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Feb 14, 2012 @01:51 PM

Top 10 Best Love Songs of All Time by Jessica Brandon


Today being Valentine's day, I thought it would be most appropriate to release the list of the Top 10 best love songs of all time. These love songs are some of the biggest hits of all time. Not surprisingly, big voiced pop Divas such as Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and Barbara Streisand are all on this list that have recorded these pop standards. All of the songs listed have hit #1 on the Billboard 100 charts. 


10. Woman In Love - Barbra Streisand (3)
"Woman in Love" is performed by Barbra Streisand and taken from her 1980 album, Guilty. The song was written by Barry and Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees. "Woman in Love", as the lead single, became one of the most successful songs of Streisand's music career. It spent a total of 3 weeks at the number-one position on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, Streisand's fifth (and last to date) number one on this chart. It also spent five weeks atop the adult contemporary chart, her sixth number one on that tally. The song also proved very popular internationally, reaching number one in many countries, including the United Kingdom.

9. I Just Called To Say I Love You - Stevie Wonder (3)
"I Just Called to Say I Love You" is a song, produced, written and performed by Stevie Wonder. It was one of Wonder's most commercially successful singles. The song was first featured in the 1984 comedy “The Woman in Red”, along with two other songs by Wonder, and scored number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for 3 weeks from October 13, 1984, and also became Wonder's only solo UK number-one success, staying at the top for six weeks.

8. Nothing Compares 2 U - Sinead O'Connor (4)
"Nothing Compares 2 U" is a song by Irish recording artist Sinéad O'Connor, released as the second single from her second studio album, I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got. It was written by Prince for one of his side-projects, The Family. However, it wasn't until O'Connor recorded and produced the version along with Nellee Hooper when it became a worldwide hit. An iconic music video was shot and received heavy rotation on MTV. This son spent 4 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, in addition it was a number-one in Billboard Alternative Songs chart.

7. The Power of Love - Celine Dion (4)
Gunther Mende, Candy DeRouge, Jennifer Rush and Mary Susan Applegate wrote this song. "The Power of Love " is the second single from Céline Dion's 1993 album, The Color of My Love. It topped the Billboard Hot 100 for 4 weeks, the first Céline Dion single to do so. Originally recorded by Jennifer Rush (#1 in UK for 5 weeks), it has also been recorded by many other artists such as Laura Branigan, Air Supply, and translated into several languages, becoming a pop standard.

6. (Everything I Do) I Do It For You - Bryan Adams (7)
"(Everything I Do) I Do It for You" is a power ballad performed by Bryan Adams and co-written with Michael Kamen and Robert John "Mutt" Lange, featured on the soundtrack album from the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and on Adams' album “Waking Up the Neighbors.” It was an enormous chart success internationally, particularly in the United Kingdom, where it spent 17 consecutive weeks at number one on the UK Singles Chart (the longest in British chart history), 7 weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, and nine weeks atop the RPM singles chart in Canada. It was a number one hit on several charts, making it Bryan Adams' most successful song.

5. Endless Love - Lionel Richie & Diana Ross (9)
"Endless Love" is a song written by Lionel Richie and originally recorded as a duet between Richie and fellow soul singer Diana Ross, used in the movie of the same title. Billboard has named it the greatest song duet of all time. This song became the biggest-selling single of Diana Ross' career, topping the Billboard Hot 100 charts for 9 weeks. The song was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song for Richie, and was the second song with which Ross was involved that was nominated for an Oscar. It also won a 1982 American Music Award for Favorite Pop/Rock Single.

4. You Light Up My Life - Debbie Boone (11)
"You Light Up My Life" is a ballad written by Joe Brooks, and originally recorded by Kasey Cisyk for the soundtrack to the film of the same name. Debby Boone, was recruited to record the single, which became a massive success, topping the Billboard Hot 100 chart for a record-setting ten consecutive weeks (at that time). It easily became the most successful single of the 1970s in the United States, and set a new Hot 100 record for longest reign at No.1 (at that time).

3. We Belong Together - Mariah Carey (14)
This song is a multi-way co-write by Mariah Carey, Jermaine Dupri, Manuel Seal, Johntá Austin, Kenneth Edmonds, Darnell Bristol, Bobby Womack, Patrick Moten, Sandra Sully. This became Mariah Carey second most successful song in her career so far. Billboard listed it as the "song of the decade" and the ninth most popular song of all time. Besides its chart success, the song broke several airplay records.

2. I'll Make Love to You - Boyz II Men (14)
1994 number-one hit single by R&B group Boyz II Men for the Motown label. The song, which was written by Babyface, was the lead single from their second album II. The single spent 14 weeks at the top of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The song ties “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston and “We Belong Together” by Mariah Carey as the song that spent the second most weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.

1. I Will Always Love You - Whitney Houston (14)

Whitney Houston, singing "I Will Always Love You" in her video of the same name
Originally written by Dolly Parton, released in November 3, 1992, the single spent 14 weeks at the top of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, which at the time was a record, recorded by the late great pop diva, Whitney Houston, used in the movie “The Bodyguard”, this is Whitney Houston most successful song in her career. This song ties with “I'll Make Love to You” Boyz II Men and “We Belong Together” by Mariah Carey as the song that spent the second most weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, behind Carey's 1995 collaboration with Boyz II Men, "One Sweet Day" (which spent 15 weeks at number 1).

 

Do you think any other love songs should be on the list? Please write your comments below, we would love to hear from you!

 

This is brought to you by USA Songwriting Competition. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, visit: http://www.songwriting.net

 

Tags: Songwriting, Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, Top 10 Best Love Songs of All Time, Whitney Houston, Boyz II Men, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion

Songwriting Tips: From Demo To Master, A Music Artist's Experience

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Feb 01, 2012 @01:55 PM

From Demo To Master, A Music Artist's Experience

by Melissa Axel

Songwriting & Editing by Melissa Axel

After my last article Demo vs. Master Recordings, I was asked to share how one of my own songs moved through the demo stage to completion. That and this post are both written from the recording artist perspective (rather than songwriter pitching songs for other singers to record). This is the evolution of "Golden Rule," from my album LOVE . HUMANITY . METAMORPHOSIS …

"THIS IS IT!" The rush of adrenaline, hard work rewarded, that magical feeling of inspiration successfully translated into a complete, singable tune … You know the feeling you get when you've just finished writing a new song. Eureka, you've done it! But, you're not done with it.

At least, I wasn't done when I shouted from our piano in mid-afternoon triumph for all the neighborhood cats to hear. Even after the editing stage, "Golden Rule" went through several major revisions—the kind best made by sitting down with a trusted musical advisor (in this case, our producer) to carefully analyze a basic recording of the song. The changes made in this pre-production stage turned a pleasant but complex tune into an engaging song with a clear message of love and self-acceptance.

One thing we noticed in the first piano/vocal demo was that there seemed to be two different pre-choruses in the song—and each one appeared twice. This took power away from the composition by creating several different build-ups that never fully paid off. It felt great to play and sing those sections, but as a listener, even I got lost when I heard my initial recording. Where was the peak of the song?

Another issue was how the perspective of the song progressed. It began in third person about a struggling little girl, shifted to the girl's voice questioning her situation, and then to mine, empathizing with everyone who'd gone through the same thing. It seemed like an interesting story arc at the time, but I had admittedly come up with a narrative that was too confusing to clearly deliver its point. What was the punchline … and whose line was it, anyway?

After a hard look at each section of the song, we decided to stick with the first pre-chorus. I let go of lyrics I was originally attached to when I saw how much more powerful the song became without them. We also cut down the instrumental parts, keeping just a short vocal vamp and a quick instrumental build-up to the "bookend" outro. With so many lyrics on the cutting room floor, we no longer needed to give the listener as much musical "buffer" to process what was being said.

Still, I adored that other section, whatever it was. Those chords just felt like they belonged, and the statement "but everyone is special, everybody's unique / that's what they say, and I'd like to believe it" was only the key point of the whole song. A-ha—that was no second pre-chorus, it was the end of the bridge—the climax! Those words now mark the shift from third to first person as we continue into the chorus, "so I sing, soft but strong, 'there is nothing wrong with you.'" Sure enough, these few lines had also functioned as a pre-chorus, because the chords lead back up to the final chorus, only even stronger this time.

For me, transforming our demo in pre-production was the most crucial part of the recording process. Between tightening the form, upping the tempo, and putting unnecessary bits on the chopping block, we cut over two minutes from the song, clarified its structure, and made its core message crystal clear. Having settled on these essentials, we gave a revised piano/vocal demo to the string arranger and other musicians as we prepared to take "Golden Rule" into the studio.

Melissa Axel is an Artist Relations representative of USA Songwriting Competition. At just eight years of age, she was writing songs about the bittersweet journey of life, love, struggle, and inspiration. The piano-driven singer/songwriter studied at Boston's renowned Berklee College of Music and went on to earn her master's degree in Interdisciplinary Arts from Nova Southeastern University. Axel's new album LOVE . HUMANITY . METAMORPHOSIS is reminiscent of Regina Spektor, Norah Jones, and Tori Amos. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Berklee, demo, writing songs, songwrite, Master Recordings, singer songwriter, Regina Spektor, editing, Norah Jones, Tori Amos

Top 10 Christmas Songs of All Time

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Dec 26, 2011 @11:46 AM

Top 10 Christmas Songs of All Time

 

By Jessica Brandon

 

Are you enjoying the holiday season so far? Here are the list of the top 10 Best Christmas songs of all time:

Bing Crosby

1. White Christmas - Bing Crosby

Written by Irving Berlin. This ultimate festive song that remains one of the world's biggest selling singles of all time. Bing first sang this classic in the movie “Holiday Inn”. This song has been covered by countless of music artists worldwide.

 

2. The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire) - Mel Torme

This annual Christmas crowd pleaser has been recorded over and over but Nat King Cole's 1946 original recording of Mel Torme's tune is still the ultimate version of this old favourite with his hot chocolate voice. You just want to wrap up warm, hold your loved ones in your arms and sip eggnog and gobble chestnuts. The tune is already the most-recorded holiday tune of the 21st century.

 

3. Do They Know It's Christmas Time - Band Aid

Phil Collins, Sting, George Michael, Boy George, Bono, the all-star list goes on and on. This charity classic has become a festive anthem and yet still serves up poignant lyrics about a world many of us know little about, and people we should champion and consider every year at this time.

 

4. Blue Christmas - Elvis Presley

The King crooned this Billy Hayes tune up a storm for his Christmas With Elvis EP in 1958 and it has been a chilly reminder of lonely yules ever since. The track has been recorded by 150 different artists but Elvis gives it an achingly cool twist.

 

5. All I Want Is Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey

It was released by Columbia Records onNovember 1, 1994as the lead single from her fourth studio album, Merry Christmas. The song was written by Carey and Walter Afanasieff, both of whom were also the producers. This song peaked at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay chart

 

 6. Winter Wonderland - Doris Day

This holiday classic has been recorded by over 1,000 different artists but only Doris Day takes you off to the imaginary lanes and meadows in this festive favourite, where young lovers build snowmen, fall in love and warm their frozen bits by the fire.

 

7. Last Christmas - Wham!

George Michael's smooth tones and those Christmas bells offer us another festive heartbreaker as the British pop star recalls a romance gone bad.

 

8. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow - Dean Martin

There's something about Dean Martin that just says Christmas to me - whether it's those lovely sweaters he used to wear, his love for a festive brew or the fact he's the eternal merry maker, I'm not sure but this jolly tune about keeping your loved one loved up as the storm bears down is a lovely romantic pop ditty.

 

9. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Various Artists

Another Christmas favourite that joins the one thousand club - for the amount of times it has been performed by different artists, this dreamy ballad conjures up all that is good and right about Christmas time. Tony Bennett, Toni Braxton and The Carpenters have all recorded terrific versions of this winter warmer but the late Rosemary Clooney nailed it.

 

10.  Peace On Earth - Bing Crosby + David Bowie

This makes the list just because it was such an odd but wonderful pairing - spacemanBowieand old timer Bing, the voice of Christmas. The odd couple teamed up to record this hit in the late 1970s for a TV Crosby Christmas Special and Bowie swears to this day he has no recollection of the performance.

 

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Best Christmas Songs of All Time, Bing Crosby, White Christmas, The Christmas Song, Mel Torme, Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire

Songwriter Joan Baez still loves the stage after 50 years

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Dec 12, 2011 @06:03 PM

 

Written by Bill Nutt

(Scource: NJ Press Media)

Joan Baez, Singer-Songwriter

This past January, Joan Baez turned 70. And like a number of her fellow septuagenarians (such as Bob Dylan, Judy Collins and Paul Simon), she still tours and performs.

No one is more surprised by that fact than Baez herself.

“Sometimes, I’m up on the stage, and I think that it’s crazy that I’m still doing this,” she says.

With a laugh, she adds, “And it’s crazy that you’re still coming to see me.”

Crazy or not, Baez continues to make music and continues to promote political and social activism. Her current tour brings her to the Mayo Performing Arts Center on Wednesday (Nov. 16).

The combination of social causes and music has been part of Baez’s public image since she started performing in coffeehouses in Cambridge, MA in the late 1950s. Only 17 years, she had already developed a social consciousness, in part because of her parents.

Her musical career began almost by accident, according to Baez. Her first instrument was the ukulele, followed by the guitar.

“I didn’t take (music) seriously,” she says. “My idea of the future was the following Wednesday. Planning was not my strong point.”

Nonetheless, Baez’s undeniably powerful soprano voice soon became familiar to aficionados of folk music, and her first three albums went gold. She championed other performers, including a young Bob Dylan. Gradually, she went from recording traditional folk songs to more politically tinged material.

In the 50 years since her debut album, Baez has occasionally had significant commercial success, notably her cover of the Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and the self-penned title track from her 1975 album “Diamonds and Rust.” But arguably her greatest strength has been covering material by singer-songwriters from Dylan to Mary-Chapin Carpenter and making it her own.

For example, her 2008 album “Day After Tomorrow” was produced by Steve Earle, who contributed three songs. She also covers songs by Tom Waits, Elvis Costello and T Bone Burnett.

“It sounds corny, but the song really finds me,” says Baez. “With the song ‘Day After Tomorrow’ (written by Waits), I really thought, ‘Oh, he wrote it for me.’ ”


With so much material from which to choose, planning her setlist is a challenge.

“It’s dicey business doing a concert,” she says. “If it’s a new song, it has to be one that catches the people’s attention right away.”

However, Baez also understands that some older songs can take on a deeper resonance. For example, inspired by Occupy Wall Street and related movements, she has resurrected her version of the Rolling Stones’ “Salt of the Earth” on her current tour.

“I think that Occupy Wall Street is one of the biggest surprises,” she says. “I don’t know if this would have happened without (uprisings) in Egypt and Tunisia, that showed how much power people can have.”

Still, Baez does not see herself as a starry-eyed optimist.

“I was always a realist,” she says. “Most things that are unpleasant don’t surprise. And I’m not discouraged, because I know newspapers and TV don’t always cover the good things that are happening.”

For her own part, Baez sees no reason to slow down either as an activist or as a performer.

“It’s true that I’ve lost some of my upper register,” she says. “But it’s made up by the fact that my voice contains 50 years of living.”

 

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Joan Baez, folk music

Vince Gill Showcases Songwriting Strengths

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Oct 25, 2011 @05:29 PM

By Michael McCall (Edited by Jessica Brandon)

Vince Gill, Singer-Songwriter

(Source: Associated Press) The title of Vince Gill’s new album focuses on his instrumental skills. But the music more intently highlights another talent: songwriting. On “Guitar Slinger,” Gill concentrates on lyrics about friends and issues, turning out stories that are sometimes entertaining and often touching.

Some draw on his sense of humor: The title is a roadhouse rocker inspired by Gill’s catastrophic loss of musical equipment in Nashville’s 2010 flood. Others confront tragedy: “Bread and Water” is based on the death of Gill’s older brother, who struggled with daily existence after suffering a severe head injury. “Billy Paul” questions why a close friend took such a deadly turn, while “Buttermilk John” honors the late steel guitarist John Hughey, who worked with Gill for many years.

As usual, Gill’s guitar playing adds color to his songs, and he balances the difficult stories with those of love and faith: “Who Wouldn’t Fall In Love With You” is a beautiful love song to his wife Amy Grant, and “Threaten Me With Heaven” explores his religious beliefs.

Altogether, “Guitar Slinger” shows Gill utilizing a veteran’s craft to delve into truths essential to who he is. It shows how a superstar can age gracefully while continuing to sharpen his talents.

CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: “If I Die,” written with Ashley Monroe of the Pistol Annies, is an emotionally resonant prayer that balances sin and salvation in beautiful terms.

Vince Gill has recorded more than twenty studio albums, charted over forty singles on the U.S. Billboard charts as Hot Country Songs, and has sold more than 22 million albums. He has been honored by the Country Music Association with 18 CMA Awards, including two Entertainer of the Year awards and five Male Vocalist Awards. Gill has also earned 20 Grammy Awards, more than any other male Country music artist. In 2007, Gill was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to:

http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, hit songwriter, singer songwriter, Grammy Awards, Vince Gill, CMA Awards

Every Place Is Home: A Magical Songwriting Co-write

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Oct 06, 2011 @01:22 PM

Every Place Is Home: A Magical Co-write by Melissa Axel

Songwriters Melissa Axel and Andy White, photo by James Jacoby

After my last blog article about the power of co-writing, I was asked to share an experience of how one successful co-write came together. This is the story of "Every Place Is Home," a song from my new album LOVE . HUMANITY . METAMORPHOSIS …

A few years ago, my husband James Jacoby and I were awarded scholarships to participate in a songwriting workshop held in the United Kingdom by the WOMAD Foundation. Short for "World of Music, Arts and Dance," WOMAD was co-founded by Peter Gabriel in 1980 to create awareness of the potential of a multicultural society through festivals and educational projects. It was at one of these programs that we met Irish singer-songwriter Andy White, who was leading the songwriting workshop. A year later we attended again, and there Andy, James, and I co-wrote the song "Every Place Is Home" in a flurry of inspiration.

Each day of the workshop, the songwriters gathered in a small 14th century castle tower to share their original songs and team up to create new ones. Co-writing began with a lyric brainstorming session, a process we've affectionately nicknamed "songstorming." Andy placed huge sheets of paper on a big group of tables, and in the center of each sheet was an art image. Ten songwriters walked around the tables examining the artwork and doodling bits of lyrics near any image that sparked an idea, later copying down favorite phrases into the notebooks Andy had given us. The first image of a single chair by a table in an empty room immediately caught my eye.

Words came first, but almost immediately a melody started to form along with them: "if I play for one, I play for all / from this truth I cannot stray" and then, "fill this empty space with what my soul creates / let this mind just fall away." As James and I walked around the tables, each piece of art drew out more lyric ideas: "sweeping landscape, surreal sunscape, urban faire and country rain" and "in the shadow of our big dreams, we built a love that will sustain." We had driven through Iceland for several days before arriving in the UK, so the more scenic images on the table reminded us of the trip, as well as the English countryside on our train ride from London to Bath.

After the "songstorming" session, James and I compared notes in a practice room. We had both written about our journey: traveling the world, connecting through music and creativity, always feeling at home with each other and the friends we met along the way. We quickly worked out a chorus together: "we don't need to find one way to go / all we need is love, open sea and road / we don't need a place to call our own / when every place is home." By this point, I knew that this would not be one of my typical piano songs.

Even though I've never played guitar, in my head I was hearing a steady picking rhythm. Andy opened our door to check on us, 12-string guitar in tow, and we quickly brought him into the fold. I told him we needed a guitar pattern that would evoke the feeling of riding along on a train. Imagine my euphoria when he immediately played what I was hearing in my head! Forty minutes later, the three of us had fine-tuned the melody, written a bridge (or as they say across the pond, the "middle eight" bars), and were rehearsing away, ready to make a demo recording.

Sometimes a song just comes magically, without warning or even very much effort. Who knows how or why certain words, ideas, and notes come to us to put life's experiences together in a poetic and relatable way that will hopefully touch people for years to come. Yes, we spent a little time honing the lyrics and melody a bit, making adjustments to the chord progression as we went. But in this case, we can truly say that the muse spoke, and we all just happened to be in the right place at the right time to help capture her magic.

Melissa Axel is an Artist Relations representative of USA Songwriting Competition. At just eight years of age, she was writing songs about the bittersweet journey of life, love, struggle, and inspiration. The piano-driven singer/songwriter studied at Boston's renowned Berklee College of Music and went on to earn her master's degree in Interdisciplinary Arts from Nova Southeastern University. Axel's new album LOVE . HUMANITY . METAMORPHOSIS is reminiscent of Regina Spektor, Norah Jones, and Tori Amos. For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, USA Songwriting Competition, WOMAD, Peter Gabriel, Melissa Axel, co-write, Andy White

Songwriting Tip: How To Write A Song

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Sep 23, 2011 @09:49 AM

How To Write A Song by Toby Gad

The songwriter behind hits by Fergie, Beyoncé, Colbie Caillat, and more, opens up his box of secrets...

 Toby Gad, professional songwriter

I’ve written songs for quite a while now, over two decades, and I still get a kick out of it. I used to write eighty to a hundred songs a year but it seems like success has only made me work harder—last year I wrote and recorded a hundred and eighty songs, and this year probably just as many.

I already wrote songs when I was seven years old, very basic but useful songs that I would chant on the bicycle on my way back from school in the brutal German winter, songs that would warm my freezing hands, songs about pretty much anything that came to mind. Over the years my songs got better, but even today before most writing sessions I have moments when I think, “I really don’t know how to write a song.”

Chemistry

I have long ago given up trying to write a song by myself. I tried a few times, but mostly got insecure about it halfway through the writing process and tossed it before long. For me it’s really the chemistry with an artist that provides the fertile ground for a seed to sprout. I also find that different collaborators inspire in different ways. Last year I wrote songs with over a hundred different collaborators, some of them superstars and some of then complete unknowns. Some of them were established writers or artists I had worked with before, and some of them were upcoming artists that seemed to have something intriguing about their talent that made me want to write a song with them.

I couldn’t say that superstars are more inspiring than some unknown artists, but I certainly put more pressure on myself in A-list sessions, since the labels and managements have high expectations, and stars can spare only a little of their valuable time. I’m not sure if the pressure makes the songs better. Some good songs just happen, and I couldn’t say why on this particular day this song came about. As random as all this now sounds, I do know a few things that I have learned over the years that I can share.

Let’s start with the most basic and yet most profound:

A song is a feeling

A good song makes you feel something, often so intensely that you keep thinking about it for days, so intensely that it makes you cry, or laugh, or it can make you want to dance, or it helps you vent your anger... A bad song is a song that doesn’t make you feel anything. Often it is that simple. If you have a hit, then it is usually a song that makes a lot of people feel a lot. That’s why many listeners want to hear such a song over and over and—you hope—they also want to buy it. So it helps to trust your feelings when you write a song.

When I first meet an artist or writer, we feel each other out, talk about life, and often that leads to interesting subjects to write about. On my first session with Colbie Caillat she said, ten minutes into our conversation, that she loves singing and making records, but really what means the most to her right now is the love she gets from her boyfriend. I loved that thought and we wrote our first song “What means the most.” The song wrote itself in two hours, and every word in the lyric reflects how she feels about him. On our second writing day she was still the hopeless romantic and said she could even imagine saying “I do” to him one day. So we wrote “I Do,” which became the hit single of her current album.

These songs have a genuine urgency and authenticity to me. They feel honest and spontaneous and they really make me feel something every time I listen to them. That is my personal reward for making music.

Lyrics matter

To me the lyric has become increasingly important. I used to run around with a dictaphone and record melodies all day long. Lately I just jot down words and lyrics. The music often comes naturally, later in the writing process. Sometimes I still jam in a session and let music and lyric flow together, from scratch, but that’s more the exception now.

Maybe it’s just me, and I don’t even consider myself a lyricist, but I do listen mainly to the words in a song, and if a lyric feels out of place then even the best beat and melody can’t save it... but a great lyric with a mediocre melody can still make a great song. By “great” I don’t mean academically legitimate. To me, “great” means believable, conversational, from the heart, conclusive, unique, urgent, creative, honest, and with a purpose.

Listen

I get my best inspiration by really listening to my artists and writers. The good ideas are often between the lines, and some of my questions can feel like I’m the shrink, but by getting into the mind of the artists I make sure the song is authentic and the artist will identify with it later on.

Even when I don’t write, one ear is always listening for words that could provide good starting points for a future writing session. I collect such fragments on long lists that I browse through before writing sessions. This way I have a Plan B in case the conversation with the artist doesn’t lead to anything song-worthy.

Songwriting is a ball game

We bounce ideas back and forth, kick them around, smack them on the ground, throw them high up in the air, and during the process we assemble the elements that feel good to everyone involved. If one player doesn’t feel like playing one game then we start another game. Some games are so much fun that no-one wants to stop playing. Those are the songs that write themselves.

By bouncing ideas back and forth the good ones come together, bad ones naturally get weeded out, one sentence leads to another, and suddenly there is an unexpected great line that may never have surfaced in a different context. That’s why I’m not a fan of “closet writers” who get a track and then write everything in their own headspace. Some writers function well that way, and it drives me crazy to sit in a room with someone who doesn’t share their thoughts. I like to be part of every lyric and I want to share my melodies and ideas as they come to light and evolve. I feel only then can I be great in my capacity as an “incubator”.

Make it memorable

Back in the days of the musicals, the writers had to make songs so memorable that the audience would walk out of the theatre and still sing the songs, after hearing them only once. The movie musical Mary Poppins has a good example of “memorable”... maybe annoyingly so, but so much fun that even the most serious audience member walks out singing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. I adore how shamelessly creative this word is... creative license!

Let go

If something doesn’t feel right while you’re writing it, then maybe it’s time to try something else. In some sessions we write for three hours and suddenly one of us doesn’t feel good about the concept anymore. Then it is really important not to be afraid to toss everything and start over. Usually that leads to a better idea.

Last year I also had a few sessions that ended with no song. That can be very frustrating, especially if it is with an important artist. But I find it better not to record anything if it doesn’t feel right. Otherwise I record something I don’t like, only to find myself having to arrange that bad song, mix it, play it to my curious publishers and managers and the artist’s record label, and spread a meaningless idea that I’m not proud of.

The big question I ask myself is this: Can songwriting ever become boring? After several thousand songs, will I run out of song ideas one day, or just write bad songs after all the good ones have been written? But so far every writing day still feels like a safari. I get better at spotting the leopards, I’m less afraid of rhinos, and I still find new surprises all the time.

 

This article is reprinted by permission by Recording magazine. Toby Gad’s writing credits include Beyoncé’s “If I Were A Boy,” Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” Colbie Caillat’s “I Do,” Nicole Scherzinger’s “Don’t Hold Your Breath,” The Veronicas’ “Untouched,” Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper” and Selena Gomez’ “Year Without Rain”, to name a few. Photos courtesy Toby Gad. For more information on Recording Magazine, go to: http://www.recordingmag.com

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Toby Gad, Fergie, Beyonce, Colbie Cailat

Songwriting/Collaboration: The Power of Co-writing

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Aug 08, 2011 @05:21 PM

Creative Collaboration: The Power of Co-writing by Melissa Axel

 

Melissa Axel (Artist Relations, USA Songwriting Competition) & Andy White, photo by James E. Jacoby

Everybody knows the three keys to a successful business are "location, location, location!" For successful songwriters, there is another mantra: "co-write, co-write, co-write!"

Still, many of us have grown accustomed to making music alone in our creative caves and may be nervous about teaming up with other writers. Let's take a look at some of the benefits of creative collaboration, whether it takes place in the same room or online with a co-writer many miles away …

Different minds bring fresh perspectives. Unless you've been deliberately writing about a variety of subjects, it's likely (and natural) that your songs tend to focus on the same handful of topics you know best or care about most. Pairing with someone else brings a second lifetime of experiences to the writing table, challenging you to try on new shoes and see what another person's ideas might look like told through your eyes.

Variation opens up new melodic and harmonic possibilities. If you tend to favor the same keys and chord progressions, writing with someone whose first instrument is different from yours can lead you down fresh musical paths. Guitarists could try writing with a pianist, violinist, cellist, mandolin player, etc. (and vice versa). Also, look for people who share some of your influences and lyrical interests but are into other musical styles or approaches to songwriting as well. Always wanted to explore African grooves or incorporate bluegrass elements into a pop song? Find an artist/writer comfortable in territory that's new to you, and give it a try!

Two heads really are better than one. It's easy to beat our heads against the wall or even put a song aside for years when we get stuck on a section of lyrics or melody that just doesn't feel "right." Or perhaps you have some choruses that need verses or a song that's missing a bridge. Trusted writing partners not only bounce ideas off of each other but also can become a great for completing unfinished songs and making sure each word and note is the strongest possible choice.

So where do you find people to co-write with? They might be performing artists in your local music community, writers you know from songwriting websites and social network groups, composers who usually write instrumental music, or producers who create tracks for artists who only sing or rap. Be open to meeting songwriting partners if you travel to perform or attend songwriting conferences, too. It's easy to write across the miles with online audio/video chat programs or even by sending MP3s and lyrics back and forth via email.

If you're ready to broaden your songwriting horizons, take your time and get to know potential co-writers and their writing styles. As your songwriting becomes more plentiful, diverse, and enriching, you'll be glad you reached out and found creative collaborators who are a really great fit.

 

Melissa Axel is an Artist Relations representative of USA Songwriting Competition. At just eight years of age, she was writing songs about the bittersweet journey of life, love, struggle, and inspiration. The piano-driven singer/songwriter studied at Boston's renowned Berklee College of Music and went on to earn her master's degree in Interdisciplinary Arts from Nova Southeastern University. Axel's new album love . humanity . metamorphosis will be released September 20, 2011. For more information on USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Berklee, writing songs, Co-writer, writing lyrics, Creating in a Group, collaboration, co-writing