Songwriting Tips, News & More

Songwriting Tip: Secrets for Writing the Best Songs for Sync Licensing

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Jan 11, 2016 @07:00 AM

Secrets for Writing the Best Songs for Sync Licensing

by Dave Kusek

The Best Songs for Sync Licensing

In the past three years, all the top winning songs of the USA Songwriting Competition were placed in Box Office Hit Movies. The current winning song was also featured on the first episode of the hit TV show "American Idol" last Wednesday (January 6th). Music industry expert Dave Kusek talks about the secrets behind the lucrative sync licensing.

As a songwriter, you’re totally ahead of the pack when it comes to scoring sync license opportunities. You know how to create emotion with your melodies, how to convey a story with your lyrics, and how to set the mood with a few notes. But, because the music in TV and film is used to support the action rather than be the main event, you need to think about the songs you submit for sync opportunities a little differently.

To help you out, I created a free video lesson going through the easiest way for indie artists to break into the world of licensing. But first, check out these 4 tips that will help you start figuring out what songs you should focus your efforts on when it comes to licensing.  

Keep in mind that even weird or niche songs that don’t fit with these guidelines can get licensed given the right opportunity. But it will definitely take a little more research on your part to find productions that are looking for music off the mainstream path.

Also, you shouldn’t feel like you need to change your art to adapt to licensing situations. These tips and guidelines are to help you choose the songs to focus your sync licensing efforts on, not an instruction manual to songwriting for film and TV.

 

1. Vague Lyrics Work Best

As a songwriter, you probably use specific lyrics to help the listeners visualize and connect with a song. But this can sometimes backfire with sync licensing. In film and TV, the music is there to reinforce and support the scene. And that means your lyrics need to be relevant to what’s going on.

Think about it like this. If you write a song about a man named Francis who feels lost in life and packs up to move to Tokyo Japan only to find the love of his life in Harajuku station, it can only be used in a scene where the character feels lost, moves to Japan and finds their soul mate in a train station. And the chance that a movie with that exact scenario comes along is slim to none.

On the other hand, a song about feeling lost, self-exploration, and finding love in unexpected places would definitely fit in a ton of movies or TV shows. As you can see, the vagueness can make a song more adaptable and more licensable.

 

2. Stick with Common Themes

Take a minute to think about all the movies and shows you see on TV. More likely than not, they’re all based on a few common themes. Love, heartbreak, break ups, triumph over a struggle, suspense, and revenge are all plot lines you see popping up over and over again.

Filmmakers and TV producers always come back to these themes, because they work. It may seem cliché, but there will always be a market for music that supports these themes, so break out your cheesiest break up song and get it out there!

 

3. Stay Away from Explicit Content

As you surely know, film and TV have to stick to pretty strict age ratings. So what does that mean for you? Well if your song has too much swearing or explicit content, you’ve just seriously cut down your options to just R rated movies.

For sure, more adult themes can be a very important part of your art and the message you’re trying to get across, and you should have to compromise on that with your fans. But if you’re serious about going after sync, you could create clean versions of your songs and submit those PG versions to sync opportunities.

Explicit content aside, if you’re going after opportunities with companies like Disney, definitely take the time to also submit written out lyrics. Supervisors have to be very careful about the music they choose when working on content for a younger audience, and helping them out like this will definitely make you stand out from the crowd.

 

4. Don’t Forget Your Back Catalog

Most of the mainstream music industry is ruled by the newest and latest releases. But the world of sync licensing knows no time period. It’s not really about finding songs that are popular. Music supervisors are looking for the best song to support the scene, and this means you can and should submit songs from your back catalog.


If you want to learn more about music licensing, check out this short free video lesson. If you watch the whole lesson, you’ll get a secret free ebook with even more insider information on what music supervisors look for in music they license.

 

Dave Kusek is a digital strategist, consultant, entrepreneur, digital music pioneer, author, speaker, educator and Senior Partner and Chief Digital Officer at Digital Cowboys. Dave was Vice President at Berklee College of Music in Boston and the founder and CEO of Berkleemusic.com. Prior to that, Kusek helped develop the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI), was co-inventor of the first electronic drums “Synare”, and co-founder of Passport Designs, the first music software company. In 2005 he co-authored the best selling music business book “The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution”.

Kusek is a founding faculty member at Berkleemusic and has been featured in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Billboard, Wired, Christian Science Monitor, Huffington Post, Associated Press, Boston Business Journal, MTV, CNBC, SF Chronicle, Forbes, NBC-TV, Nightly Business Report, NPR, Financial Times, Guardian, Midem, Music Hack Day, Digital Music Forum, NAMM, AES, IEBA, MacWorld, Comdex, SXSW and Digital Hollywood.

To enter the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

   

   

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, Writing songs for film and TV, Writing Songs for Sync Licensing, Sync Licensing, Writing Music for Sync Licensing, Writing Music for film and TV

How To Write A Hit Song

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Jan 08, 2016 @09:48 AM

How To Write A Hit Song

by Mark Cawley

 songwriting

If chart success is your songwriting goal, then you need to pay attention to how today’s hits are actually written. MARK CAWLEY of iDoCoach.com shares some thoughts on breaking into a very competitive field..

Even as I sit down to write this, I can hear the groans. “Who is this guy? How can he claim to know how to write a hit? And if he knows, how come he hasn’t written a ton of them?”

So let me back up. No one can guarantee a hit. No label, no producer, no artist, and no songwriter. Max Martin misses, Diane Warren misses, Ryan Tedder misses. They all miss more often than they hit! There is no formula. But there are things you can do to up the odds of your song getting heard, cut, and (if all the stars align) becoming a hit.

 

Look Around You

Start by doing your homework. Listen to the hits and look for patterns. Are you hearing lots of songs about affirmation? Songs that say ‘I wanna see you be brave, stronger, beautiful, happy’? Songwriters have long understood that one of the quickest ways to a listener’s heart is to lift them up with your song. There’s a fancy term for this called ‘second person positive,’ which basically means writing lyrics that make someone else feel great about themselves. A classic example of this it would be the Joe Cocker standard, “You Are So Beautiful.”

I’m in Nashville and every publisher, artist and producer right now is asking for ‘uptempo positive’. The reason for this is the sheer volume of ballads and midtempo songs they get: for some reason, when a writer gets in the room with an acoustic guitar or a piano they turn into Ed Sheeran or James Taylor. It can be hard to create the energy required unless you plan for it, but again, your chances of getting that hit improve by giving the powers that be what they’re asking for.

One of the very best ways I know is to get in the habit of deconstructing recent hits. Go beyond just learning to play them: write down the structure, print out the lyric, make notes about the production. I’m always amazed at the songwriting clients I get who will say they want to write a huge song, but who pay absolutely no attention to the current hits. If you’re writing pop or even new country and still creating long intros, lots of verses, using only one hook, and aren’t familiar with terms like ‘post-chorus’, you might have a harder road.

Try going one step beyond deconstructing and create a playlist with a couple of hits along with a song of your own. Try to pick ones that might have a bit in common with yours, but the idea is to be objective. Does your song hold up to the two hits? If not, why? Go back to your notes. What’s different? The point is not to clone, just get this info into your subconscious so the next song you write is at least informed by structural ideas that are more current.

 

Do It Yourself

A bit of a disclaimer here. Even though you’re listening to the radio and learning the structural and lyrical as well as musical content, the songs you’re hearing were probably written and recorded as much as a year ago. If you set out to write something exactly like what you’re hearing, you’re likely already too late! So what can you do now?

Try and take it all in and then add yourself to the mix. What makes you different as a songwriter? Can you bring something fresh to your songwriting? You could argue there’s nothing new under the Sun, but I would disagree. Music goes in cycles, styles change, old becomes new every once in a while. Our job is to tap into a listener’s head and create something that a whole lot of people are gonna love at the same time.

It’s not easy, but the chances get better by not only honing your craft, but learning what came before (even if it’s only a month back). It all goes into your toolbox as a songwriter and gives you the best chance of writing a hit.

 

Team Up

Finally, I want to talk about the biggest obstacle to writing that hit on your own. This is something that comes up in my sessions all the time: people say to me, “I look at the writing credits on a Beyoncé song and see six writers! How can I hope to be heard, if I’m not part of one of these writing crews?” It’s a tough one. But keep in mind, not every song is a hit by committee!

 

There are two ways to go to access this route. One is to create your own team. If you’re a writer but have no aspirations to produce, find someone who’s interested in production and work with them. If you’re a writer but not the artist, look for local talent; find someone with star potential and hitch your wagon to them. Hit songwriter Liz Rose co-write with Taylor Swift when no one else really wanted to know, and that worked out rather well for her…

 

The other route is to join an existing team. I just read an interview with Dr Luke in which he talked about signing writers to his publishing company, usually for their unique talent. Anything from track-builders to vibe masters that know how to get the most out of co-writing with an artist. The point was they gained entry to the writing process, and some have moved from being the fourth writer on a song to producing artists and co-writing with them. I did this for a few years, working with Eliot Kennedy and his hit machine Steelworks in the UK. By getting access to the artists he was working with, I got cuts on many of them, including the No 1 single Day & Night by Billie Piper.

 

Again, there’s no magic bullet for writing a hit... but you can definitely educate yourself to get your best shot. Good luck!

 

[Reprinted by permission from Songwriter Magazine]

 

ABOUT MARK CAWLEY

Born in Syracuse, NEW YORK, Mark has LIVED in Nashville FOR the last 20 years. His songs have been recorded by Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Chaka Khan, Diana Ross, The Spice Girls and many more. These days, he mentors WRITERS AND ARTISTS around the globe via iDoCoach.

To enter the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, hit song, Lyrics, Writing Music, writing lyrics, Song writers, writing hit melodies

Songwriting Tip: Defaulting to the Nearest Cliché

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Nov 25, 2015 @03:12 PM

Defaulting to the Nearest Cliché

by Harriet Schock

 CLICHE2

Computer language is replete with analogies. For instance, I think metaphors are like icons which can be dragged across the screen containing loads of information under them. And I think when we give in to using cliches, it’s like we’re using a default setting in our creative psyches.

Clichés can be musical or lyrical. They can be patterns created by our predecessors or patterns we have set, ourselves. I had a student recently who had written the phrase “tenderly kiss” and I asked him why he needed the “tenderly.” He said he’d heard it in about 30 songs and thought it should be in his. Eventually he saw that as the reason why it should not be in his. But like the old pair of shoes that’s ruining our feet, cliches are so comfortable. They slide on so easily. But they generally look worn-out.

Leaving the play, Julius Caesar, I overheard an audience member complain that Shakespeare was riddled with cliches. I had to laugh. I suppose it never occurred to this person that the lines became famous after he wrote them. We could all hope for that. But for the most part, the cliches in songwriting are just things we default to when we’re lazy or temporarily forgetful. It takes constant vigilance to avoid them.

What’s so bad about clichés? The world is full of them, right? In my opinion, the danger of cliches is that they allow the listener to escape. As long as you’re communicating with impact, the listener will be there, interested. But have you ever said a word over and over and over and suddenly it has no meaning? As a child, did you ever say “January, January, January, January…” until you started laughing because it sounded so odd? It no longer communicated “January.” I often marvel that 80-year-old Roman Catholic Priests can have said the same service every week for over half a century and still understand what the words mean. Overuse often robs individual words and word groups of their meaning. So what do we do to avoid them?

One way around clichés is to be as specific as possible. The pictures you pull out to tell your story with are the real tools of your lyric writing. And the more specific those pictures are, the more unique to your experience, the less likely they are to be cliches. No one else has had the exact experience you have, so if you describe it in detail, it will be uniquely yours. These details can be visual, aural, tactile and olfactory; I just use the word “picture” to cover all the senses.

So far we’ve been talking about lyrical clichés, and those which were created by our predecessors, but what about musical ones and ones we create, ourselves? Often we create our own musical clichés by defaulting to comfortable chord changes and melodic patterns. It’s good to have a recognizable style, but not to the point that all your songs sound alike. One way to get away from this type of cliché is to write away from the instrument you usually write on. Your ear may not go to those patterns your hands are slaves to. So if you write as long as you can, away from the instrument, you can sometimes break through those musical default cliches. Another way to avoid them is by playing in a key that’s unfamiliar. Sometimes you’ll hit a chord, not knowing what you’re playing and it’ll be great. It’s like the old joke: What does a jazzer do when he plays a wrong note? He plays it again. Carlos Olmeda wrote a song called “Dear Ana” which I love. There’s one particular chord I wait for with great anticipation. One night I asked him how he got that chord and he admitted it was a mistake that he loved when he heard it so he kept it. It’s so unsuspected. It’s thrilling when it happens that way.

Decades ago, in 1988, once Bobby Brown had used that unexpected diminished chord in “My Prerogative,” it seemed like everyone was using it.  It’s delightful to find something original, musically, because the pull to default to the nearest cliché in chord progressions is as strong as gravity. Melody also falls victim to it as people color within the lines by avoiding those non-chordal tones which can create such nice tension and interest.

Stephen King talks about writing to one imaginary reader. The next time you write a song, maybe you could write it for an imaginary listener. And when you do, and you feel like defaulting to the nearest cliché, ask yourself if your imaginary listener would still be listening. If not, then try one of the solutions I’ve mentioned above. Or make up one of your own! And if it works, let me know what it is.

 

Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit, "Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady" plus many songs for other artists, TV shows and films. She co-wrote the theme for “Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks,” currently showing in 30 countries. She and her band were featured in Henry Jaglom’s film “Irene In Time” performing 4 of Harriet’s songs. She also scored three other Jaglom films and starred in “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Jaglom’s most recent film, “The M Word,” features Harriet’s song “Bein’ a Girl,” performed on camera at the end of the film. Karen Black wrote the play, “Missouri Waltz,” around five of Harriet’s songs, which ran for 6 weeks at the Blank Theatre in Hollywood as well as in Macon, Georgia. In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and a popular online course by private email. For her performance schedule, list of credits and samples of her work or information on her book (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), and her new up coming book, her songwriting classes, online courses and consultation, go to: www.harrietschock.com

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Songwriting, Helen Reddy, lyric writing, cliche

Hit Songwriter's Undisclosed Secret to Collaboration

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Nov 24, 2015 @10:28 PM

Hit Songwriter's Undisclosed Secret to Collaboration

by Jason Blume

collaboration-JasonBlume

At the time this article was written every song in the top-10 on Billboard’s Pop, Country, Christian, and R & B/Hip-Hip charts was the result of collaboration. Out of forty top-10 hits, zero were created by a solo writer. I’m not insinuating that successful songs are never written by one writer; BMI Icon Dolly Parton wrote the majority of her songs by herself, Michael Jackson was the sole writer of “Beat It” and Billie Jean,” and more recently Hozier was the sole writer of his GRAMMY-nominated “Take Me to Church.” But these are not typical.

Some of the most successful songs of the modern era were the result of collaborations. Husband and wife writing team Felice and Boudleaux Bryant’s songs include Tennessee’s state song “Rocky Top,” and the hits “Bye, Bye Love,” “Wake Up Little Susie,” and “All I Have to Do is Dream” (recorded by the Everly Brothers), and resulted in a total of an astounding half billion copies sold. It was a collaboration between Mae Axton and Tommy Durden (with Elvis listed as a cowriter) that led to “Heartbreak Hotel,” and 3-way collaborations between Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland resulted in twenty-five #1 singles for artists including the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops, and Martha and the Vandellas.

Hits aside, there’s work to be done behind the scenes to make the most out of your writing collaboration. Here are some of the basics to keep in mind.

Why Do So Many Writers Choose to Collaborate?
There are both creative and business considerations when co-writing. Some writers collaborate because their expertise is limited to composing melodies, producing backing tracks, or writing lyrics. Therefore, they need a co-writer to contribute the other element(s). Other writers, who are capable of writing both melodies and lyrics, subscribe to the adage that “two heads are better than one.”

In ideal collaborations, writers bring out the very best in each other, sparking concepts, melodies and lyrics that neither writer would generate on their own. They bounce ideas off each other, stimulate each other creatively, and receive instant feedback. Those who co-write are often rewarded with the added benefit of expanding their network of musicians, vocalists, studios, and other writers.

Many writers like the discipline of having designated writing appointments. Knowing they are expected to show up at a specific time and place increases their creative output. For non-performing songwriters, collaboration also increases the number of people who are pitching their material.

There are obvious advantages to writing with a recording artist or record producer. In addition to the financial incentive for artists to record songs they co-wrote, being involved in the creative process allows them to produce material that reflects and expresses their unique artistic identity. Obviously, it’s easier to get an up-and-coming artist to agree to co-write than it is to get an appointment with an established superstar. So many nonperforming songwriters seek out aspiring recording artists whom they believe have potential for success.

Liz Rose states that when she began writing songs with an unknown 14-year-old, her job was primarily to help her young co-writer to express herself. Liz envisioned her primary task as editing—moving things around and suggesting different ways for her young co-writer to say things. Their collaborations resulted in twenty Taylor Swift cuts including the hit singles “Tim McGraw,” “Teardrops on My Guitar,” “White Horse,” and “You Belong With Me” (GRAMMY nominated for Song of the Year).

Liz, who does not play an instrument, has also written for artists including Little Big Town (including their #1 “Girl Crush”), the Eli Young Band, Gary Allan, and Bonnie Raitt.

What Constitutes Collaboration?
It might seem obvious that two or more individuals contributing to a song constitutes collaboration. But what if one of those writers’ sole contribution consists of suggesting a different chord, altering the groove, revising the arrangement, or playing a hooky bass line or guitar lick that becomes an integral part of the song?

Whether these scenarios are deemed collaboration depends on the writers’ agreements with the musicians, the genre of music, and the location where the song is written and recorded. When a demo is recorded in Nashville with professional musicians and vocalists, the players typically listen to a rough recording (guitar/vocal or keyboard/vocal), read a chord chart, and create their own parts. In this milieu, the radio-friendly licks and grooves the musicians contribute—and the harmonies and background vocal parts the singers add to demos and master recordings—are not deemed part of the underlying songs. They are considered part of the arrangement, and while these elements might become integral parts of hit records, the Nashville session musicians and vocalists are not credited as writers and do not share in ownership of the copyright.

However, when songs are recorded outside of Nashville, this typically is not the case. In Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, and other music centers, it is not unusual for musicians to be credited as writers when they contribute licks, chord changes, and/or grooves in R&B/Hip-Hop and pop songs. The key—regardless of the location where you are recording or the particular style of music being produced—is communication. It is crucial to clarify whether your musicians’ contributions constitute collaboration or a work for hire. If the understanding is that the musicians are “hired guns,” it is best to state this in writing and have it signed by the players and singers.

Determining Percentages of Ownership
In Nashville it is customary for each writer to receive an equal share of the writer’s credit and ownership of the copyright. For example, if two writers sit down to write a song in Music City, the expectation is that each writer will own 50% of the resulting song—50% of the writer’s share and 50% of the publisher’s share (unless they have assigned the publisher’s portion to a publisher). Similarly, three writers split ownership three ways.

Splits are not based on the writers’ contributions. It is not appropriate to say, “I wrote 80% of the lyric (including the best lines) and half the melody so I get 65% of the song.”

Outside of Nashville, when a song is written to an existing music track (sometimes referred to as a “bed” or a “backing track”), the producer(s) of the track typically own 50% of the writers’ share. The writer(s) of the topline (the melody and words the vocalist sings) earn the remaining 50%. In the event that multiple writers contribute to the track they split the 50% allotted for creation of the track. A guitarist might be granted 5% ownership as compensation for creating a hooky lick; a bass player might be given the same amount. These percentages would be carved out of the 50% percent allotted to the track producer because the guitar lick is considered part of the backing track.

Similarly, if several writers contribute to the topline, they split 50%. For example, if one composer creates the track, two writers collaborate on the lyric, and two different writers compose the vocal melody, the split would typically be:

  • Track producer: 50 %
  • Lyric writer #1: 12.5%
  • Lyric writer #2: 12.5%
  • Melody writer #1: 12.5%
  • Melody writer #2: 12.5%

While these numbers are typical, they are not carved in stone. Co-writers need to discuss and agree upon percentages of ownership. Some writers sign a collaborators’ agreement. This agreement establishes the song’s title, each writer’s contribution (i.e., music, lyrics, music and lyrics, musical backing track), the percentages of ownership, the titles of any sampled works (and if applicable, the artist, label and publishing company of each sampled work), as well as each writer’s publishing information and PRO affiliation.

As previously stated, it is customary for each writer to retain a percentage of the publishing income equal to the percentage of their writers’ share. For example, if a writer is granted 25% of the writing credit he or she will typically also own 25% of the publishers’ share. However, it is always best to clarify this with your co-writers.

Collaboration Etiquette
Show up on time and have fun. Be someone people look forward to writing with. It’s a good idea to come armed with ideas—“song starts.” Song starts might be titles, lyric phrases, concepts, chord progressions, grooves, melodies, or a backing track.

Create an environment where your collaborators feel safe to share their melodies and lyrics without fear of ridicule. Encourage your collaborators not to censor themselves because a line that doesn’t work might spark one that does.

Discuss how the song will be demoed and be sure all writers are in agreement. One writer might assume that a guitar/vocal demo, produced in his or her home studio, will be sufficient. The other writer might expect that they will spend $1,000 on a recording that will be fully produced in a professional studio. Be sure you are on the same proverbial page.

The term “writing up” refers to collaborating with a writer who is higher up the professional ladder. The best way to entice someone who is more successful to work with you is to let him or her know that you have something terrific to bring to the writing session. It is customary when writing up for the writer on the lower rung of the ladder to bring in a strong idea. If you have not yet achieved significant success it is not realistic to expect someone with hits to bring their best ideas to someone who does not yet have a track record.

When collaborators throw titles and concepts back and forth it is understood that any ideas not used in a song they co-write, revert solely to the writer who suggested them. Respect that, and if a writer suggests a title or a concept that you have previously written, let them know so there can be no accusation later that you took their idea. While titles and concepts cannot be copyrighted, you don’t want to earn a reputation as someone who steals from other writers.

What if one co-writer is unhappy with the resulting song and wants to take his or her contribution back? A commonly used analogy is that you can’t unscramble the egg once it’s been scrambled—meaning that in the eyes of copyright law, unless all writers have agreed in writing prior to the creation of the song, the resulting work cannot be disassembled.

In some instances the producer of a musical backing track might send that recording to several topliners, with the understanding that only one of the resulting songs will be used. In these situations it is critical to clarify upfront what rights the topliner retains. For example, if the track producer does not choose your melody and lyric, and you want to create a new, original track to accompany your topline, will the creator of the original track be credited as a co-writer?

Track creators might contend that the vocal melody was inspired by their chord changes, melodic lines, bass lines, and rhythms, and that they have earned a percentage of ownership—even if a new track is created to accompany the melody and lyric the topliner created. There is no standard way that this is handled, so it is important to establish how this eventuality will be addressed before writing to a track that will be sent to multiple topliners.

After working through these details, co-writing can provide many creative and business benefits. You might need to kiss a lot of frogs before you find the collaborator who brings out the very best in you, but when you find that chemistry, it can be magic.

[Courtesy of BMI]

Jason Blume is the author of This Business of Songwriting and 6 Steps to Songwriting Success (Billboard Books). His songs are on three Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies. One of only a few writers to ever have singles on the pop, country, and R&B charts, all at the same time—his songs have been recorded by artists including Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, the Gipsy Kings, Jesse McCartney, and country stars including Collin Raye (6 cuts), the Oak Ridge Boys, Steve Azar, and John Berry (“Change My Mind,” a top 5 single that earned a BMI “Million-Aire” Award for garnering more than one million airplays). Jason’s song “Can’t Take Back the Bullet” is on Hey Violet’s new EP that debuted in the top-10 in twenty-two countries and reached #1 throughout Scandinavia and Asia. He’s had three top-10 singles in the past two years and a “Gold” record in Europe by Dutch star, BYentl, including a #1 on the Dutch R&B iTunes chart.

After twelve years as a staff-writer for Zomba Music, Blume now runs Moondream Music Group. For additional information about Jason’s latest books, online classes, instructional audio CDs, and workshops visit www.jasonblume.com.

For more information on the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 



 

Tags: Songwriting, Recording

A Survival Guide to Cowriting Songs

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Sep 30, 2015 @02:51 AM


A Survival Guide to Cowriting Songs:

by Judy Stakee
songwriting2

Judy Stakee

Judy Stakee has decades of experience helping the world's finest music creators find their true creative voices. In her new book The Songwriter's Survival Guide, Judy offers her philosophy and wisdom on the craft and business of writing songs. She graciously allowed us to share this chapter from her book.

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COWRITING: Playing Well with Others

Politeness is the poison of collaboration.
— Edwin Land

Cowriting is when two or more songwriters collaborate to create a song.

I can hear melodies in my head and love writing lyrics, but it’s been a few years since I’ve played piano, so I like to collaborate with musicians to bring songs to life. I am always in awe of the writers who can do it all by themselves. If you do need someone to help you out, however, then I suggest finding a cowriter.

In my years of experience in the music industry, I have come across many writers who would benefit from collaborating, but who strongly resisted it. Fear, pride, selfishness and distrust are all obstacles that stand in the way of a writer being willing to cowrite.

However, I strongly believe that collaboration can be crucial to your career. Think of it as an investment strategy that will help propel you towards accomplishing your dreams. Cowriting helps shed light on exactly where you are in the development of your craft.

Everything we are about in this life is in relation to someone or something else. For example, I am small compared to a building and huge compared to a flower; where you are weak, someone else is strong. If you are talented at writing lyrics and melodies, you can benefit from a partner who is an excellent producer or multi-instrumentalist with a working knowledge of music theory and chord structures. You both win and help each other at the same time.

Building relationships (whether it’s through cowriting a song or otherwise) directly builds your network. As a songwriter, you want to have a network of people in place who know who you are (your character) and what you do (your skills). This network of people can open up opportunities you never would have come across otherwise. For instance, your cowriter may know someone whose friend or relative is a record executive at a big music label. You never know what possibilities are waiting for you!

One of my favorite quotes is this African proverb: "It takes a village to raise a child." I don’t know anyone who can achieve greatness all on their own. We all need others to help guide, educate, and inspire us. Here’s some advice for your next cowriting project:

Be intentional.

You are always faced with a choice when you find yourself in the room with another writer; you can guide, follow, or meet head on. How you navigate depends on your wants, needs and desires. Do you feel like leading the songwriting? Or would you rather sit back and see what transpires? What happens if both you and your cowriter want to lead today?

Being aware of how you work best, how much you are willing to bend, and how much you want to be challenged is your ticket to a cowrite you feel confident about and can learn and grow from.

Part of my purpose in writing this book is to help you know yourself better and become more conscious of your genuine potential.

Play well with others.

The better you are with relationships, the easier the cowrite will be. Are you agreeable or difficult? Are you flexible or unchangeable?

Remember that you are part of a team the moment you involve someone else in the songwriting process. Team-building results in self-development, positive communication, leadership skills, and the ability to work closely together to solve problems.

One evening, while I was guiding cowrites in my weekly workshop, I noticed one participant was badgering her cowriter rather than clearly expressing what she wanted. Not surprisingly, her partner got defensive and shut down communication. He was reacting negatively to her tone of voice and behavior. If she had simply expressed herself more clearly and directly, her cowriter would have most likely been more open to her suggestions. She did not realize that she needed to ask him to come to the workshop prepared with musical ideas so that she could focus on the lyrics, and the cowrite was suffering as a result of this.

The way we use our words and how we communicate can make or break a cowriting relationship — and ultimately the end product.

Protect yourself.

When you cowrite, you agree to create a product together, which can result in a music placement of some type (cover, cut, license, etc.) that has the potential to pay royalties. Before you leave the room, it is important that you and your cowriter have an agreement in place about song splits (who owns what percentage of the song). At the end of this section, you will find a form to assist you in this process.

Pay attention to the chemistry.

Cowriting songs is like co-owning a startup company. You are partnering with another individual to create a product that combines both of your perspectives and experiences. The right combination creates magic.

Pick cowriters who complement your skill set, are pleasant to be around, have good character and have synergy with you. Good chemistry is so important.

True story: I heard Keith Urban for the first time when he performed at the Academy of Country Music Awards show in 2001. His voice was rich, his songwriting was clever, and when he played that guitar of his— well, there were just no words.

I had just signed songwriter John Shanks, who was coming off producing the Michelle Branch album The Spirit Room, and was guiding him to integrate more country into his repertoire. From the get go, I knew that John and Keith would be great together. They were both talented guitarists who would inevitably bond over their shared respect for their instruments.

I called Keith’s manager to pitch John as a possible cowrite and before I knew it, they had spent their first day together. Keith walked in with an opening riff, and the rest is history.

Their hit song “Somebody Like You” spent six weeks at the top of the Billboard charts. In December 2009, Billboard named it the number one country song of the first decade of the 21st century. It was John’s first and Keith’s second number one hit. Now, that was a successful cowrite.

Judy’s Must-Read: Victor Wooten’s book The Music Lesson is an absolute must read.

Use a cowriter initiation form.

Each time you finish a writing session, fill out this form with your partner in the room. That way, you can establish right then and there on paper who wrote what and what the splits will be. Nothing is worse than putting this process off and having trouble remembering the details later on. I have included a template here that you can copy. I recommend keeping a dozen forms printed out to have at your fingertips. It shouldn't be awkward to talk about splits—it’s just good business!

This form will come in handy when you start cowriting.



ABOUT JUDY STAKEE
Judy believes in the new age of music. You, as a songwriter and artist, can carve out your own path to success. Your perspective is something to be celebrated. With over 30 years of experience as an executive in the music industry, Judy equips her students with the insight and tools to fully develop their careers. As Senior VP of Creative at Warner/Chappell Music for 20 years, she signed and worked closely with many of today's most acclaimed artists: Grammy-award winner Sheryl Crow, Katy Perry, Michelle Branch, Gavin DeGraw, Jewel and Joy Williams of The Civil Wars, among others. Judy's experience with developing producers and multi-platinum songwriters (John Shanks, Wayne Kirkpatrick, Scott Cutler, Anne Previn, Kevin Kadish, Franne Golde, Jamie Houston, Matthew Gerrard, Robbie Nevil, Tim James and Ben Glover) spans all areas of the industry. She is a true champion of the songwriter who recognizes talent with both ears and eyes.

Get Judy's book The Songwriter's Survival Guide now: bit.ly/buyjudysbook

  

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

 


 

Tags: song writer, Songwriting

Songwriting Tip: Get Away from It

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

Songwriting Tip: Get Away from It

by Harriet Schock

TakeAWalk

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit, "Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady" plus many songs for other artists, TV shows and films. She co-wrote the theme for “Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks,” currently showing in 30 countries. She and her band were featured in Henry Jaglom’s film “Irene In Time” performing 4 of Harriet’s songs. She also scored three other Jaglom films and starred in “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Jaglom’s most recent film, “The M Word,” features Harriet’s song “Bein’ a Girl,” performed on camera at the end of the film. Karen Black wrote the play, “Missouri Waltz,” around five of Harriet’s songs, which ran for 6 weeks at the Blank Theatre in Hollywood as well as in Macon, Georgia. In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and a popular online course by private email. For her performance schedule, list of credits and samples of her work or information on her book (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), and her new up coming book, her songwriting classes, online courses and consultation, go to: www.harrietschock.com

 

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

Tags: songwriter, Songwriting, Songwriting Tip, lyric writing

The 9-Minute Songwriter Workout

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

The 9-Minute Songwriter Workout

by Clay Mills

IMG_1041-2

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Congratulations, you did it! Repeat daily!

Write On!  

 

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

 

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

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

Songwriting Tips: Oysters and Muses

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

Songwriting Tips: Oysters and Muses

By Harriet Schock

Oysters And Muses

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit, "Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady" plus many songs for other artists, TV shows and films. She co-wrote the theme for “Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks,” currently showing in 30 countries. She and her band were featured in Henry Jaglom’s film “Irene In Time” performing 4 of Harriet’s songs. She also scored three other Jaglom films and starred in “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Jaglom’s most recent film, “The M Word,” features Harriet’s song “Bein’ a Girl,” performed on camera at the end of the film. Karen Black wrote the play, “Missouri Waltz,” around five of Harriet’s songs, which ran for 6 weeks at the Blank Theatre in Hollywood as well as in Macon, Georgia. In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and a popular online course by private email. For her performance schedule, list of credits and samples of her work or information on her book (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), and her new up coming book, her songwriting classes, online courses and consultation, go to: www.harrietschock.com

 

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

 

TellUsWhatYouThink

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

Songwriting Tip : Songs Are Small Things

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

by Harriet Schock

 Songwriting

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

 

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

 

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

1) He says a lot in a few words

2) He uses conversational language

3) He writes very visually and

4) He uses irony in just about every poem.

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

 

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

 

Harriet Schock wrote the words and music to the Grammy-nominated #1 hit, "Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady" plus many songs for other artists, TV shows and films. She co-wrote the theme for “Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks,” currently showing in 30 countries. She and her band were featured in Henry Jaglom’s film “Irene In Time” performing 4 of Harriet’s songs. She also scored three other Jaglom films and starred in “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ Jaglom’s most recent film, “The M Word,” features Harriet’s song “Bein’ a Girl,” performed on camera at the end of the film. Karen Black wrote the play, “Missouri Waltz,” around five of Harriet’s songs, which ran for 6 weeks at the Blank Theatre in Hollywood as well as in Macon, Georgia. In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. Harriet teaches songwriting privately, in classes and a popular online course by private email. For her performance schedule, list of credits and samples of her work or information on her book (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), her songwriting classes, online courses and consultation, go to: www.harrietschock.com

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

 

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

Songwriters: How to Demo Your Songs for Maximum Effect

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

 

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

 

By Holly Knight

 

 Holly Knight, songwriter

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 (Reprinted by permission, Music Connection magazine) 

 

About the Author:

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 


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