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Songwriting Tip: Obscurity vs Clarity

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Jan 29, 2014 @11:03 AM

Obscurity vs Clarity

By Harriet Schock

Harriet Schock, Hit songwriter

I believe that there’s an invisible line that goes from the mouth of the singer to the ears and heart of the listener and if that line is broken by a lyric that makes no sense, the listener’s attention leaves.

Of course, there are many examples of songs that make no sense and have been hits, but when you cite these as examples, I would ask: 1) Was the melody and harmony so killer that people loved it in spite of the lack of clarity? 2) Was it sung by someone so famous that anything they put out will become a hit? 3) Was the audience chemically altered so that each song and bite was better than the one before, no matter what they were hearing or eating?

I have taught songwriting since 1986 and occasionally I’ll have a student who announces he wants to write an obscure song. And granted sometimes songs in films can be a bit generic so that the story takes place on the screen, not in the lyric. But even there the lyrics need to make sense.  I find that thetwo most common reasons for someone’s wanting to write an obscure, ambiguous lyric are: 1) His craft is limited and he thinks he’s being clear when he’s not or 2) He’s not willing for the real story to come out for personal reasons.

There’s a vast difference between writing on two levels and being ambiguous. I believe songs should make sense when you first hear them. Then upon second and third listening, deeper meaning can be discovered. Ambiguity generally leaves the listener wondering what you actually meant.

All of this has been about the lyric. But needless to say, the melody and harmony (chords) are vitally important. They are the wavelengths that carry the lyric along that invisible line I mentioned earlier. Obscurity breaks the line, but a weak melody completely dissolves it.

As performers we can tell when we have a strong melody, compelling harmony and a lyric that moves the listener. That’s when the audience is very quiet and attentive. Sometimes they cry, and we like that too.

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 is starring in the current movie “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.“ 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 a popular online course by private email. In 2007, Los Angeles Women In Music honored Harriet with their Career Achievement and Industry Contribution award. For her performance schedule, list of credits and samples of her work or information on herbook (Becoming Remarkable, for Songwriters and Those Who Love Songs), her songwriting classes and consultation, go to: www.harrietschock.com.

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, hit songwriter, songwrite, Harriet Schock, Songwriters Tip, singer songwriter, top 40

Singer Songwriter Barry Manilow Fears Songwriting Is History

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Sep 28, 2011 @02:32 PM

Singer Songwriter Barry Manilow Fears Songwriting Is History

Barry Manilow, singer songwriter

Veteran singer Barry Manilow fears the art of songwriting has been lost amid the mass of modern technology used by young musicians.

The Mandy hitmaker loves listening to new music created using computers and drum machines, but he is adamant the devices are replacing the craft of penning simple tracks that can be performed on any instrument.

He tells Fox411's Pop Tarts column, "I'm very involved in the machinery and the technical ways of making music these days, and it is exciting for young people, writing music on their computers with loops and drum machines and making gorgeous, exciting sounding records.

"But what I miss is well-written songs with great ideas, wonderful lyrics, beautiful rhymes and wonderful melodies. I don't hear that anymore, I feel very angry about that. People are making great records because of all the technical abilities, but what I try to do is turn all that stuff off. Do you have a song when you're done?

"I tell these young people to turn off the drums and all that stuff, and ask themselves is there a melody and lyrics there? Can you just sing it there with a guitar or are you locked into all these machines? I don't think they do. If there is one thing I miss in music these days it is great songwriting. I think we've lost it."

(Source: FOX411’s Pop Tarts)

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

Tags: Billboard Charts, singer songwriter, top 40, Billboard #1 Hit, Grammy, Grammy Awards, Billboard, Barry Manilow, Songwriting Fears, modern technology, music computer, loops, drum machines