Songwriting Tips, News & More

10 Tips: What It Takes to Write a Hit Song

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Jul 17, 2017 @11:19 AM

10 Tips: What It Takes to Write a Hit Song

by Loren Israel

 WhatItTakesToWriteAHitSong.jpg

An industry veteran––a songwriting mentor who has had years of experience grooming and handling multiplatinum-selling talent––gives you specific instructions about the art & craft of hit songwriting.

 

  1. Be up front with your story.

Look at the first two lines of your lyric. Imagine someone came up to you and read just those two lines. How much has the, “who, what, where, why, and how” of the story been communicated? If you’re still lost after hearing those first two lines (i.e., you don’t know what’s happening to the protagonist or have any idea what the song is about), then a record executive, producer, or casual listener will likely be uninterested in hearing more.

  1. Make every line count.

Go to any of your lines. Read just that one out loud. Does it make sense? Could it stand on its own without the support of the preceding and subsequent lines? It should. Every line should present a complete and independent picture for your listeners. Every line should also ultimately speak to the title of your song. Your title is your theme, and good writing never strays from its theme.

  1. Vary the length of your lines.

Type your lyric flush left on a sheet of paper (by the way, if your lyric doesn’t fit on one sheet, you’re in trouble). Can your draw a neat box around your lyric? How about your chorus or bridge? Do most of the lines hit the right side of the box? If this is true, then your song will likely sound monotonous.  You need variety in the lengths of lines and patterns of lyrics. Look for a really ragged right edge as a sign that your lyrics are conversational and rhythmically interesting.

  1. Vary the number of lines between chorus and verse.

Count the number of lines in each of your verses. Now, count the lines in your chorus. If they’re exactly the same (e.g., 4-line verse and a 4-line chorus), then you’re probably not contrasting enough between the two sections. That contrast helps the song feel fresh and exciting when played.

  1. Match the beat between verses.

Count the number of beats in the lyric of verse 1, line 1. Now, count the number of beats in verse 2, line 2. Do they match? What we often see is something like 8 beats in verse 1, line 2, and 13 beats in verse 2, line 2. No way those extra 5 beats are going to fit comfortably on the melody you worked so hard to establish in the first verse.

  1. Give yourself a title of power.

The position of your title tells the listener what your main point is. There are certain power positions in a song, all dependent on the structure you set up. Is it a verse/bridge structure (A,A,B,A)? Then your title will be in the first or last line of the verse. Think of “Yesterday” by the Beatles. Exceptions are rare, and require strong melodic emphasis to counteract the weaker positioning.

For a verse/chorus structure, the power positions are at the beginning or end of the chorus. Pick one for your title. Keep in mind that repetition of the title can work here. Think, “Yellow Submarine,” by the Beatles.

Burying the title in the middle of your song confuses your listener, leading to fewer requests on the radio and fewer purchases at the store.

  1. Establish consistent rhyme schemes but change up your rhyme sounds.

Look at your rhyme scheme. If you have an a, b, a, b, c, c rhyme scheme in verse one, you should do the same for verses 2 and 3. Now, what about the sounds of your rhymes? Is your song just a repetition of the ‘ee’ or ‘o’ sound? The ear gets tired relatively quickly from repetitive sounds like this.

  1. Make sure your pronouns agree with their antecedent.

When you’re listening to a song, and you recognize that “you” has become a “she,” you’ve now entered Pronoun Hell. You, as a songwriter, shouldn’t write “I” three times and have it refer to three different people. This sort of thing needlessly confuses your listener and can totally take away from your song’s story. Pro tip: when you’re using a quote in your song, make sure there’s an audible “he/she/they said,” so the listener understands what’s going on.

  1. Sing your melody a cappella.

Do it into a tape if you have to, but keep an ear out for where the title goes. If that happens to be the best part of your melody, then congrats, you’ve placed the title correctly. If not, fix it. Also, look for emotional dynamics in your song. Do you feel emotion when singing it? Or does it sound repetitive like a nursery rhyme. Make sure you vary the lengths of notes and the intervals between the notes to create a sense of connection to the listener.

  1. Color your melody with chords.

Each chord has an emotional tone that gives shading to your melody. Minor chords tend to express doubt or sorrow. Major chords have a happy, positive feeling. Adding 6ths, 7ths, 9ths, suspensions, and inversions, give the basic chord more feeling. Appropriate use of chords will give you the sound you’re looking for. Being too rapid or complex with chords might be distracting. Not changing enough or having a repetitive strum can be boring.

[Reprint permission by Music Connection magazine]

LOREN ISRAEL is a Songwriting Teacher, Record Producer and A&R Consultant specializing in finding and developing new talent. For over 15 years, Loren was an executive in the Artist & Repertoire department at Capitol Records. He worked with bands such as Coldplay, Less Than Jake, and was the A&R rep for Jimmy Eat World’s multiplatinum Dreamworks album, Bleed American. Lately, Israel has been developing artists through his six-month Songwriting Course, while also recently becoming an A&R Consultant for Sony Music. Bands he’s mentored through his course include: Plain White T’s, Neon Trees and the Unlikely Candidates. His songwriting mentoring has helped his bands earn over $60 million in contracts, promotions and merchandise.

 

Information on the 22nd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Verse, songwrite, song demo, writing lyrics, hook, bridge, Co-Writing Songs, Songwriting Process, Rhyming

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Song Lyrics

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Jun 06, 2017 @09:59 AM

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Song Lyrics

by Natalie Wilson

 songwritingpic.jpg

Writing the perfect song is a difficult task. What is “perfect”, anyway? What is it that the most popular songs all have in common? If you’re hoping to write the next big hit, you’ve come to the right place. The best songs in history have incorporated lyrics that uses clever rhyming schemes and syllabic patterns, a story-like progression, personal but relatable topics, and a catchy hook. Writing the next big hit can seem impossible, but there are a few tricks you can use to increase your chances of success.

Here are five mistakes to avoid when writing lyrics:

#1) Too Much Rhyming

While rhyming is one of the most common writing tools used to create popular songs, too much of it can sound childish. If you consider some of the best lyrics in history, rhyming is used subtly and doesn’t detract from the main message of a song. For example, take a look at these lyrics from ”Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey:

 

Some will win, some will lose

Some were born to sing the blues

Oh the movie never ends,

It goes on and on and on and on

 

These lyrics rhyme the words “lose” and “blues” together, but refrain from rhyming any words together in the next two lines. The use of rhyming should be a strategic way to draw attention to certain words, rather than used simply for the sake of rhyming. The combination of the strategic rhyming scheme, catchy melody, and raw talent of the members of Journey has made “Don’t Stop Believin’” a classic few will forget.

#2) No Coherent Story

Just like an essay, novel, or poem, your song lyrics should tell some sort of story. As the song progresses, your ideas need to unfold in a way that will make sense to your listeners. If you’re struggling to write a song with a clear message, try answering the following questions:

 

  • What story do I want to tell?
  • How do I want my listeners to feel after listening to the song

 

Rather than singing about your recent trip to France and then jumping to an unrelated topic, such as your childhood friend, try sticking to the same idea throughout the song. This will allow the song to resonate with your listeners more easily.

 

#3) Writing Disingenuous Lyrics

So many songs on the radio feel like they’ve been created by a machine simply to generate an income. If you’re a true songwriter, you know that music is about so much more than that. While tuning into recent trends and incorporating them into your songs will most likely help you gain some extra popularity, being disingenuous with your lyrics will set you up for failure. We all know how hard it is too warm up to someone we feel is being untruthful or two-faced. Likewise, your listeners will have a hard time warming up to your song if they don’t feel the lyrics are a reflection of your true personality.

When you’re not a romantic, when you’re not political, and so on, do not try to sound like one. Disingenuous lyrics very easily and quickly will sound like that, and that’s a fantastic way to lose your audience. Regardless of your song’s theme or idea, your lyrics must in some way be connected with you if you want them to stand out and come across as genuine. If you don’t, your lyrics will lack conviction which will make them feel stale.

 

#4) Mismatched Syllables

The proper use of syllables is an important part of poetry and song lyrics. The number of syllables combined with the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables will set the tone and flow of your song. Take a look at the syllables used by Hozier below:

 

Take me to church

I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies

I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife

Offer me that deathless death

Good God, let me give you my life

 

The second and third lines in this song both use a total of twelve syllables each. The song wouldn’t have the same momentum if the pattern of twelve syllables was broken between lines two and three. In addition to the number of syllables, the last few words of these lines alternate between stressed and unstressed syllables in the same pattern. “Shrine of your lies” follows a stressed, unstressed, unstressed, stressed pattern, which you can see from the bolded words. Similarly, “sharpen your knife” follows the same rhythmic pattern. This creates coherence in the lyrics that wouldn’t be evident if you use different numbers and patterns of syllables in every line of your song.

#5) There’s No Hook

Every popular song needs a hook. Not only does a song need to have a hook, a good song needs to place that hook in a strategic spot. Just like a commercial you’d see on television, the hook should be at the beginning. Similar to how colorful ads are used to catch a viewer’s eye, catchy melodies are used to grab hold of our ears. Once you’ve established your melody, you’ll need to make sure the content of what you’re saying also acts as a hook. If you’re writing a love song and you use a cliche statement involving “your heart” and how hard it is to be “apart”, you won’t come across as the cutting-edge artist you’re hoping to be. Remember not to rush the development of your hook, as it will be what draws your listeners in more than anything else.

Enjoy these tips!

 

About Natalie Wilson

Natalie Wilson started a music blog to share her knowledge to enhance your skills as a musician . You’ll find a wide range of topics on my blog, including reviews, tutorials, and tips for musicians. Check out: https://musicaladvisors.com/

 

Information on the 22nd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Verse, songwrite, song demo, writing lyrics, hook, bridge, Co-Writing Songs, Songwriting Process, Lyric Writing Mistakes, Coherent, Disingenuous Lyrics, Mismatched Syllables, Rhyming

One of the Biggest Lyric Writing Mistakes Songwriters Make

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, May 24, 2017 @10:16 AM

One of the Biggest Lyric Writing Mistakes Songwriters Make

by Anthony Ceseri

 Dave-Songwriter.jpg

A lot of times when writing, songwriters will get too focused on forcing their lyrics into their songs because they like the specific words they've chosen and how they've arranged them. But if you're not music-minded when you’re writing lyrics your song can sound wordy. Wordy lyrics can negatively affect your melody. For that reason, I want to address how you can write lyrics that can easily being sung in a melody. 

 

The Spoken Rhythm
The rhythm of a line happens as a result of a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables within a phrase. I’ll indicate the unstressed syllables with “ba” and the stressed syllables with “BUM.” For example, the phrase “Lonely and waiting” has this rhythm: BUM ba ba BUM ba. Hear that? The syllables “Lone-“ and “Wait-“ are stressed in their respective words, while “-ly,” and “-ing” are unstressed in those same words. The word “and” is also unstressed. If you say the phrase out loud, you’ll hear it. The accented syllables are longer, louder and have a higher pitch. That’s what makes them stressed. The combination of stressed and unstressed syllables in the phrase “Lonely and waiting” (or in any phrase) create its natural sonic shape.

If you need to figure out the stresses in a word with more than one syllable, you can usually hear them by sounding them out. For a word with two or more syllables, like “lonely” it’s usually best to listen for the accented syllable, and assume the remainder of the syllables are unaccented.

 

However, if you need help with this, you can always check a dictionary. It defines which syllables are stressed and which aren’t when you look up a word with more than one syllable. For example, when I look up the word “loving,” I’m presented with this pronunciation: luhv-ing. The stressed syllable is given in bold.

Single syllable words aren’t as easy. Some of them are stressed and some are not. Again, it’s best to listen to them within a phrase to determine which are accented and which aren’t, but if you get stuck you can reference this rule of thumb: Assume single syllable nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs are stressed. In other words, words that carry meaning are accented. Other words are not. You won’t find the answer in a dictionary for single syllable words.

 

Writing in Rhythms
As you know, music has a rhythm to it. A lot of times the words and phrases we speak aren’t very rhythmic. But since you know that your music will have a rhythm, you can write your lyrics to a rhythm, even if you don’t have any music yet. If you take this approach, you’ll know that what you’re writing will more easily fit into a song.

Let’s look at an example. Let’s say I write two lines of lyric that say this:

 

Looking out into the sky
The night is so beautiful

 

If I write those lines out into their rhythmic patterns, I’d end up with this:

 

LOOK-ing OUT IN-to the SKY
This NIGHT is so BEAU-ti-ful

 

I highlighting the stressed syllables in bold. We could also take the words out and isolate the patterns:

 

BUM ba BUM BUM ba ba BUM
ba BUM ba ba BUM ba ba

 

The first line doesn’t really have a consistent rhythm. It has a strong stress, then a weak stress, then two of each before ending on a strong stress. The second line is better and more organized rhythmically (by having two weak stresses between each strong stress), but it doesn’t match the first line. That’s not a requirement, but it tends to make things easier, depending on how your melody will go.

So things might get a little chaotic when we start to put these lines to music, because their rhythms are random. What if instead we started with a rhythmic pattern, and then matched our words to that pattern. Writing out your stresses first lends itself well to writing catchy melodic motifs.

The rhythm of the second line was pretty good, so let’s stick with that and use it twice. Let’s say we want our lyrics and melody to have this rhythm:

 

ba BUM ba ba BUM ba ba
ba BUM ba ba BUM ba ba

 

You can see that looks better already. Now we just have to find words that fit that pattern. We know the second line from our previous example worked, so we’ll keep that. Since we want to stay with the same lyrical idea, we can try a first line that’s something like this:

 

The sky is so magical

 

Which rhythmically works out to be:

The SKY is so MAG-i-cal,

or

ba BUM ba ba BUM ba ba

 

Now we have two lines with a good, consistent rhythm that match each other. So we shouldn’t have much of a problem fitting these words to music:

 

The sky is so magical
The night is so beautiful,     or

ba BUM ba ba BUM ba ba
ba BUM ba ba BUM ba ba

 

You can hear the consistency in the rhythm of these lyrics, just by speaking them aloud. They have a good rhythm that’s the same from line to line, which will make them pretty easy to put them to a melody.

 

Last Note
This is an approach you can take whether you have a melody and you want to match your words to the music, or if you’re writing lyrics first, and you want them to be written rhythmically before you even develop your melodies. Either way, this approach will help you organize the stresses of your words to be more rhythmic, and lend themselves to being placed in music. It may be a little trickier to find the right lyrical phrases you’re looking for, but your melodies will drastically benefit from this approach.

 

About Anthony Ceseri

AnthonyCeseri.jpg

Anthony Ceseri is a songwriter and performer who has traveled the country in pursuit of the best songwriting advice and information available. From classes and workshops at Berklee College of Music in Boston, to Taxi’s Road Rally in Los Angeles, Anthony has learned from the most well-respected professional songwriters, producers and performers in the industry.

For much more information on improving your lyric writing (especially if your audiences aren't consistently emotionally connecting to your songs), download our 2 free lyric writing cheat sheets here, while they’re still available: http://successforyoursongs.com/go/writing-lyrics/

 

Information on the 22nd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Verse, songwrite, song demo, writing lyrics, bridge, Co-Writing Songs, Songwriting Process, Lyric Writing Mistakes

5 Innovative Ways to Change Up Your Songwriting Process

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, May 22, 2017 @08:00 AM

[EXPERT ADVICE] 5 Innovative Ways to Change Up Your Songwriting Process
by Gary Ewer
 Innovative-Songwriting-Process.jpg
One of the main reasons songwriters get stuck in a creative rut is an overused songwriting process. If you find that you’re always approaching songwriting the same old way, and using the same structural design and chords over and over again, just changing how you approach writing can quickly break you out of a creative block.

Here are 5 ways you can change up your songwriting process, and the results may put your sense of creativity back on the fast track:

    1. Break out of the same old verse-chorus-bridge design. If every song you write starts with an intro, then moves on to a couple of verse-chorus sections, followed by a bridge and ending with a couple of chorus repeats… no wonder you feel devoid of creativity. What else can you try? How about starting with the chorus, like this: Chorus-verse-chorus-verse-bridge-verse-chorus. Or how about: Solo-verse-solo-verse-chorus-solo-verse-chorus.
    
    2. Change rooms. Songwriters are creatures of habit, and we all usually like to do our writing in the same location. So change it up once in a while. Ever try writing in the park? On a bus? In the attic of your house? It will surprise you what a new location does for your musical imagination. So grab your smartphone or digital recording device, and get creative.
    
    3. Change genres. You may not like, let’s say, country music. But have you ever tried writing it? You’ll find that early in the process of writing your first country tune, you’ll gain an appreciation and respect for it. You’ll find that you tap into a different part of your creative soul every time you change genres. The payoff often comes when you switch back to your favourite genre. You find that you’ve got a new vocabulary of musical ideas that you can use, ideas that make your songs unique and fresh.
    
    4. Try a melody-first songwriting process. You may think that creating melodies without a chord progression underneath might be difficult, but it’s likely easier than you think. Try this process: Take your smartphone and go for a walk. Start singing random melodies into your phone. You’ll find that your ability to improvise melodies in this way is better than you think. Get as much of a melody working as you can this way. Don’t worry about lyrics yet. When you get home, create a chord progression that can accompany the tune you’ve written. Even if all you have is 4 bars to show for your efforts, it will serve as the idea for the rest of the song’s melodies.
    
    5. Write a song on an instrument you’ve never (or rarely) played before. You don’t need too be very good on an instrument to use it in this way. If you play guitar, you’ll find that many of your songs tend toward a “sameness.” So even if you don’t play keyboards, sit down at a piano and plunk out a tune or find some chords. The benefit of playing a different instrument when you write is that you don’t succumb to “muscle memory.” You’ll find that the melodic shapes you find will differ from the ones you tend to always default to on your normal instrument of choice.

The moral of the story here is this: the sooner in your songwriting process you change things up, the greater the chance that your song will sound innovative and fresh. The more you change things up, the more creative you’ll feel.
 
Read more in Gary Ewer’s book, Beating Songwriter’s Block. Visit beatingsongwritersblock.halleonardbooks.com and enter the discount code AP2 at checkout to receive 20% off the list price and free domestic shipping (least expensive method)!

 

Information on the 22nd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Verse, Melody, songwrite, song demo, writing lyrics, bridge, Co-Writing Songs, Songwriting Process

Songwriting Tip: The Missing Link

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Jun 23, 2014 @03:04 PM

THE MISSING LINK

by John Capek

 songwriting

Popular songs as we know them today perhaps found their shape and form with one of the seminal founders of American popular music, Stephen Foster. Stephen Foster is often credited as "America's First Composer" and widely regarded as one of the first who made professional songwriting profitable. Foster wrote songs that we often mistakenly think of as folk songs. His songs include:

“OH! SUSANNA”, “OLD FOLKS AT HOME” (SWANEERIVER)”, “MY OLD KENTUCKY HOME” “BEAUTIFUL DREAMER” “DE CAMTON RACES” (CAMPTOWN RACES, DOO DAH) and “JEANNIE WITH THE LIGHT BROWN HAIR”

 

The form and nature of these songs are significant in their connection to everything that followed. These songs were short, had verses and chorus’s or refrains, they were easy to learn and repeat and they tapped into the popular culture of their time. It is profoundly significant that we still know these songs now, about one hundred and fifty years after the time that they were written.

 

Stephen spent much of his life in Pittsburgh where he worked consistently at his songwriting,.  As a professional songwriter he had made it his business to listen to the various styles of music circulating in the immigrant populations of the newUnited States.  He used images and a musical vocabulary that would be widely understood by everyone.  Foster worked very hard at writing, sometimes taking several months to craft and polish the words, melody, and accompaniment of a song before sending it off to a publisher.  His sketchbook shows that he often labored over the smallest details, the right prepositions, even where to include or remove a comma from his lyrics.

 

It is also important and significant to know that Foster kept his own account books, documenting in detail how much his publishers paid him for each song, He also estimated his probable future earnings on each piece.  His contracts were written out in his own hand.  These contracts are the earliest written agreements that  we know of between American music publishers and individual songwriters.

 

Within twenty years of Foster’s death, the concept which he had a large part in creating, that of writing songs for publishers for money, developed into what came to be called Tin Pan Alley, named for a street in New York City (West 28th StreetbetweenBroadway and Sixth Avenuewhere all the music publishers had their offices.) By 1890, sheet music sales of popular songs was a thriving multimillion dollar business.

Had Stephen Foster survived for another twenty years, it is possible that his catalogue of songs would have been worth hundreds of million dollars.

 

The immediate successors to Stephen Foster’s legacy were numerous well known songwriters who’s work has survived them. Irving Berlin had his first significant hit with Alexander’s Ragtime band in 1911. Show Boat, with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein, was the first hugely popular musical comedy in 1927.  "Ol'ManRiver" and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" are songs that have become standards in the “great American songbook George Gershwin's folk opera Porgy and Bess premiered in 1935. Summertime is an all time standard song from that show

 

The electric guitar was first seen around 1936. Alan Freed invented the term Rock and Roll in 1951. Berry Gordy formed Motown records in 1959

The Beatles had their first major hit with I want to Hold Your Hand in 1964

Hip hop, a blend of rock, jazz, and soul with African drumming,  was born in theSouth Bronxin 1978 or perhaps in Kingston Jamaica with dub DJ’s earlier than that.

 

Tin Pan Alley, the center and focal point of American popular music can be directly linked to another New York institution and landmark. That landmark, the Brill Building at 1619 Broadway became the very definition of pop music in the 1950’s and 1960’s

 

By 1962 the Brill Building contained 165 music businesses: a musician could find a publisher and printer, cut a demo, promote the record, and cut a deal with radio promoters, all within this one building. Some of the better known songwriters associated with the Brill building include:

 

   * Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller

   * Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman

   * Gerry Goffin and Carole King

   * Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry

   * Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil

   * Burt Bacharach and Hal David

   * Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield

   * Hugo & Luigi

   * Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart

   * Paul Anka

   * Jim Croce

   * Bobby Darin

   * John Denver

   * Neil Diamond

   * David Gates

   * Billy Joel

   * Kris Kristofferson

   * Roger McGuinn

   * Joni Mitchell

   * Carly Simon

   * Paul Simon

   * Phil Spector

   * ChipTaylor

   * James Taylor

   * Gene Pitney

   * Artie Kornfeld

 

I believe that there are two seminal key ingredients that link the various stages of unfolding of popular music. The first is the dedication of the writer to his art and craft. The second is the economic factor.

 

In describing the writer’s dedication to his art and craft, I have discussed how meticulous Stephen Foster was in fine tuning and perfecting his tunes.

 

On a similar note it is useful to read Rennold Wolf’s account of how he, Irving Berlin, Vincent Bryan, and Channing Pollock worked together on a show song inAtlantic City:

 

     “We assembled in Mr.Berlin's imposing suite of parlors, where there was a piano.... Seated at the instrument, he was not long in conceiving a melody, which immediately he began to pound out. All night, until dawn was breaking, he sat on the stool, playing that same melody over and over and over again, while two fagged and dejected lyric writers struggled and heaved to fit it with words.... One cigarette replaced another as he pegged away; a pitcher of beer, stationed at one end of the keyboard, was replenished frequently; and there he sat, trying patiently to suggest, to two minds that were completely worn out by long rehearsals and over-work, a lyric that would fit his melody. Mr. Pollock and I paced the floor; we sat, in turn, in every chair and on every divan in the rooms; we tore at our hair; we fumed, we spluttered, and probably we cursed”..

 

These examples of work ethic continue as the songwriters process to this day. I personally have spent six months fine tuning a song, where the first draft or sketch took a few minutes to unfold. My peers work in the same way.

 

In discussing the second important link, the economic factor, it is significant to know that most of the successful songwriters who’s work has transcended time and genre were also very aggressive entrepreneurs.

By the age of 15, George Gershwin had quit school and was a pianist and "song plugger" for a Tin Pan Alley publisher.

One of the first "popular" music publishers in Tin Pan Alley  was T.B. Harms. T.B. Harms started out as a songwriter. His company ultimately became George Gershwin’s publisher.

 

At the time, songwriters were also "songpluggers," a term that is still used today. Instead of waiting for the market to come to the publisher, the publisher would use songpluggers to take songs to the market. A songplugger's main job was to place songs with performers. Songpluggers were aggressive and influential, singing to passing crowds, going to department stores and sports events, and just about anywhere they could find an audience.

 

As I have suggested, I believe that the two major ingredients involved in success as a songwriter are:

 

1  Serious and meticulous attention to detail of craft.

2.. A dedicated investment of time and energy into the business of songwriting.

 

In recent months there has been a lot of hand wringing, whining and complaining about the state of the record industry. InCanada, there has been the biggest decline in CD sales in the history of the world. Similar situations are occurring everywhere. Industry think tanks are focussed on how to monetize the new paradigm.

 

No-one anywhere has suggested that perhaps the reason that CD sales are about to die is that the songs suck.

 

There was a time where singers and bands were not the writers of the songs that they performed. Songwriters and artists were two separate entities. In our current environment, artists write their own songs. This has repercussions. I believe that rather than blaming the intrusion of a new technology on the demise of the record industry, I would point to the fact that there are no great songs being written that will last for 150 years or more like the songs of Stephen Foster, Irving Berlin or Cole Porter.

 

Perhaps the cycle will bring back the art and the craft of songwriting when the attention to detail and art and craft become a priority again. At that point i believe that the audience, the market will respond and be willing to spend money for music of quality.

 

Rod Stewart leads the list of popular music icons who have recorded John Capek compositions. Others include Bonnie Raitt, Cher, Diana Ross, Joe Cocker, Toto, Chicago, Olivia Newton John, Little River Band, Heart, Manhattan Transfer, Isaac Hayes and Amanda Marshall. John Capek’s most performed award winning songs include : “Rhythm of My Heart”, ”This”, ”Soul on Soul” and “Carmelia”.  Capek’s most performed productions include Dan Hill’s Billboard hit duet with Vonda Sheppard, “Can’t We Try” as well as work with Ken Tobias, Gene McLellan, Good Brothers and Downchild. As a keyboard player, John has recorded with Diana Ross, Olivia Newton John, Ian Thomas, Marc Jordan, Dan Hill, Kermit, The Chipmunks, The Simpsons and countless other international performers. John’s songs are heard in the feature films, “A Perfect Storm”, “Cocktail”, “Blown Away” and many others. For more information go to www.johncapek.com

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

 

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Verse, tip, Stephen Foster, craft

Songwriting Tip: A Three-Stage Rocket to Lyric Writing

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, May 01, 2014 @10:37 AM

A Three-Stage Rocket to Lyric Writing

When NASA blasted a rocket into orbit, they did it in stages: The big lift-off, a second stage to get the payload into orbit and a third to fine tune the direction. So, what’s this got to do with writing lyrics? You can think of the lyric writing process in three stages:

  •  1. Getting started. (Lift off)
  •  2. Developing your idea. (Getting into orbit)
  •  3. Rewriting (Fine tune it)

=> STAGE ONE: GETTING STARTED
Beginning the lyric writing process with a title can give you a central beacon that will keep your song lyric focused – very important if you want to keep listeners involved. Any short phrase you find emotionally intriguing – or simply an honest statement of how you feel – can work as a title. Make it something you want to write about.

Then make a list of questions the phrase suggests. These are the questions you’re going to answer in your song. Try questions like: What does this mean? Why do I need to say it? How does it feel? How did it happen?  What do I think the consequences will be? Every phrase suggests different questions. And every songwriter will find different ones to ask. 

OR… you can start writing the first line of your song and work from that. Let’s say you overhear a line in conversation that sounds interesting or a line occurs to you that triggers a whole string of thoughts. Write everything down, then go back and look it over. Do you know what this song is about? Can you put the lines in some kind of order that develops an overall idea? By the time you write the second line of your first verse, you should have an idea where your song is headed.

=> STAGE TWO: DEVELOP YOUR IDEA
Decide on your song structure. For most songs, it’s a good idea to write in a form that has a chorus section, such as…
VERSE / CHORUS
VERSE / CHORUS
BRIDGE / CHORUS. (Read more about song structure.)

Feature your title in your chorus section; make it the first line or last line, or use it in both places. It will provide an anchor for your listeners, a focal point, so a little repetition is a good thing.  Surround your title with lines that support it. For example, you might choose to answer the question you feel is the most important. Or describe the emotions that are going on.

Remember, the chorus sums up the heart of your song. Be sure to keep it focused on a peak emotional moment. Don’t try to explain too many specific ideas in the chorus. Save that for the verses.

Lay out your verses around the chorus. Choose at least one of the questions from your list to answer in each verse and the bridge. By laying out your song instead of just writing whatever comes to you, you’ll stay focused on a single idea in each verse and you won’t wonder what you’re going to write about when you get to the bridge!

FILM & TV SONG TIP: If you’re writing songs for the film & TV market, keep the focus solely on a peak emotional moment and try to avoid a specific storyline. The script will take care of the story details. Also, for film & TV, the VRS / VRS / BRIDGE / VRS song form can work well. Try using your title in the last line of each verse. If you repeat that last line each time the verse comes around, it will add weight and create a chorus-like feel.

Find out more about writing songs for Film and TV.

=> STAGE THREE: REWRITE AND POLISH
Fill in more lines around the ones you’ve written. Simple, conversational phrases are fine but you might want to mix these with images, comparisons, and physical expressions of emotion to make your listeners really feel it! Don’t just tell them what you experienced; make them experience it, too.

Replace a cliché with a fresh idea. If you’ve written a line that listeners have heard a thousand times, try adding a twist, end the phrase in a different way than we expect.

Punch up your language. If you wrote “I need…” try “I hunger…” or “I crave…” Make your action words work harder, too. Instead of “you walked away,” use “you slipped away” or “you  danced away.” These words tell us more about the emotions that accompanied the action.

Go through your lyric and make certain you’ve answered the important questions about the situation. Did you say something in your lyric that raised more questions or hinted at something else? You’ve got to deal with that—either answer the question or change that line. You don’t want to leave the listener feeling unfulfilled.

This is the time to “encourage” some rhymes. Don’t force them; never change the natural word order of speech to accommodate a rhyme – you’re likely to lose the  believability of the lyric. Look for a rhyme that feels easy and natural. if you use “vowel rhymes” you have a huge selection to choose from. Like the name implies “vowel rhymes” merely rhyme the vowel sound.  Fine/time, now/house, love/stuff are all vowel rhymes. Check out www.B-Rhymes.com for lists of near rhymes. (Read more about rhyming.)

ONE LAST THOUGHT…
At times during this process, there’s likely to be a strong line that “just occurs to you,” a line you reeeeally want to use. If you laid out your song as a rough sketch first, take a look to see where the line might belong and put it there. If it doesn’t seem to belong to any section, then it might provide the germ of a new song. Write it on a separate sheet of paper and put it to one side. You can come back to it later to see where it leads. In songwriting, no good line is wasted – you just have to find the right place for it.

by Robin Frederick

Robin Frederick has written more than 500 songs for television, records, theater, and audio products. She is a former Director of A&R for Rhino Records, Executive Producer of 60 albums, and the author of “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” and “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV” available at Amazon.com. Visit Robin's websites for more songwriting tips and inspiration: www.RobinFrederick.com  and www.MySongCoach.com.

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Polishing songs, Verse, compose, songwrite, lyric writing, Robin Frederick

Songwriting Tip: Polishing the Silver Bowl

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Jan 17, 2013 @02:56 PM

Polishing the Silver Bowl

By Pat Pattison

SilverBowl 

I found a silver punch bowl in my cellar. I vaguely remembered it being a gift (from one of my weddings). It was completely covered with tarnish (an interesting symbol), and, since I was Feng Shui-ing, the required move was to toss it. As I was about to, I was interrupted by the little Midwestern voice inside my head: “IT’S SILVER!! You can’t throw it away!”

I’ve gotten pretty good at ignoring that Midwestern voice, or at least sidestepping it. I tried, but as I was about to slip the bowl into the trash bag, it got louder, sounding a lot like my mom: “Nooooo! It’s SIIILVER!” “OK,” I bargained, “if I have any silver polish under the kitchen sink (where all that stuff languishes), I’ll shine up the bowl to see if it’s worth keeping.” Why would I have silver polish? I figured it was an easy escape from The Voice.

Who knew? To my surprise, I did have a jar of silver polish under the sink, (apparently another remnant from one of my weddings). Alas, let the cleaning begin.

I covered the bowl with the grey goop and, as per instruction, allowed it to dry. Wiping it off (with a clean cloth—another surprise under the sink), I discovered that, once the tarnish was rubbed away, the bowl was pretty snazzy. “I’m gonna keep this,” I said, as The Voice basked in the warm glow of its little victory.

Once I’d made the decision to keep it, I looked at the bowl more carefully, noticing the spots I’d missed. I applied more grey goop on the offending areas, waited, then rubbed it off—a bit harder this time. Ah, nice and shiny, both outside and in.

Um, except for the silver leafing all around the rim and on the four curved, leafed legs, still tarnished, with excess polish sticking in all those little crevasses. I tried rubbing with the cloth, but there was no way to get into all those places. I thought, “I’ll use my toothbrush. I can always rinse it off afterwards…”

More polish, and now the scrubbing took longer, not to mention the occasional spray from the toothbrush bristles, requiring goggles. (Silver polish stings the eyes.) The work was more localized and focused, taking longer to cover smaller areas. But finally, after rinsing with warm water, the rim and the legs were sparkling. “Good work,” I cooed to myself.

Oops. For the first time I noticed the thin etched lines swirling both on the interior and the exterior of the bowl. They were still tarnished, not an eyesore, but still not shining like they could. My impulse was to ignore them, but now The Voice reared up again. “Finish what you started. Quit being lazy.” Urrgh!

Q-tips. Again, the work was much more localized and painstaking. Following those swirls wasn’t easy, but after some close attention, a little bad language and a sore wrist, the silver bowl was finished. It glistened. Everything Midwestern in me shone with the glow of a job well done. I filled my gleaming silver bowl with apples and set it in the center of the coffee-table. Voilá!

The moral of this little tale?

It’s not like, when I found the bowl, I immediately saw that the leafing or the etchings were tarnished and needed work. I had plenty to do before I was able to notice those smaller details.

Move from bigger to smaller. Don’t sweat the small stuff until the big stuff is cleaned up.

Intent is the biggest: What’s your song about? Try to say it in one phrase.

Prosody is huge: Is this idea stable or unstable? All your decisions about structure will depend on how you answer this question.

Very, very big: The three questions every song must answer:

1. Who is talking?

2. To whom?

3. Why?

These three questions establish the Point of View of your song: 3rd Person Narrative (he, she, they), 1st Person Narrative (I, we, he, she, they), 2nd Person Narrative (you, he, she, it, they), or Direct Address (I, you). They also ask why you’re saying what you’re saying. What’s the point of the song?

Verse development is big: how can you develop your verse ideas so your chorus (or refrain, in an AABA form) gains more meaning, more emotional weight, each time we hear it.

Song form is middle-sized: Verse/Chorus or Verse/Refrain?

Deciding on things like rhyme scheme, line lengths, number of lines, is small.

Changing a line or a word is really small. Don’t spend too much time up front searching for the perfect word when you’re still working on the bigger decisions. Everything could change.

Don’t sweat the small stuff until the big stuff is cleaned up.

Gather tools. Obsessively. You’ll need them for all the different jobs you have to do. Keep them under your kitchen sink.

Happy polishing.

Pat Pattison, songwriting professor

Pat Pattison is a Professor at Berklee College of Music, where he teaches Lyric Writing and Poetry. In addition to his four books, Songwriting Without Boundaries, Writing Better Lyrics, The Essential Guide to Lyric Form and Structure, and The Essential Guide to Rhyming, Pat has developed three online lyric writing courses, one on poetry, and one on creative writing available through Berkleemusic.com. He has written over 50 articles for various magazines and blogs and has also filmed a free 6-week online songwriting course for coursera.org, available March 1st, 2012.  



Pat continues to present songwriting clinics across the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Several of his students have won Grammys, including John Mayer and Gillian Welch.

For more information on the 18th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Prosody, Berklee, Polishing songs, Narrative, Verse, compose

Songwriting Tip: 6 Traits of A Badly Written Song

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Jan 10, 2012 @12:00 AM

6 Traits of A Badly Written Song

(source: Music Connection magazine)

By Bobby Owsinski

songwriting

Although we’ve all heard the stories about a great song that was written in 10 minutes, most well-written songs are actually finally crafted by many rounds of re-writes. Many inexperienced songwriters don’t take enough time to hone a song, and as a result, their songs may display a number of undesirable traits. Keep in mind that regardless of the genre of music, from rock to country to goth to rockabilly to alien space music, there are common elements that keep a song interesting to your particular audience, and also characteristics that rear their head when a song doesn’t hold the listener’s attention as well.
Here are 6 traits commonly found in badly written songs that were culled from two of my books, The Music Producer’s Handbook and How To Make Your Band Sound Great. My apologies for using song examples that might seem a little dated, but I wanted to chose ones that most people are familiar with after years of airplay.


1. The Song Is Too Long
Many songs have sections that are way too long. Two-minute intros, three-minute guitar solos and five-minute outros are almost always boring. You are always better off to have a section too short rather than too long. The only exception is if you can actually make a long section interesting, which usually takes a lot of arranging skill and even then still might not keep the audience’s attention. One really long outro that does work, for example, is on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s classic “Free Bird” (don’t laugh––it’s one of the most played songs ever), where slight arrangement changes, kicks and accents every 16 bars really holds the listener’s attention.

2. The Song Has No Focus
Beginner songwriters often have no focus to their songs, which means that the song meanders from chord to chord without a clear distinction between sections. This is usually the result of not honing the song enough and thinking it’s finished way before it’s time. Sometimes there’s really a song in there if you peel it back a bit, but usually the only way to fix it is to go back to the drawing board for a major rewrite.

3. The Song Has A Weak Chorus
Sometimes it’s hard to tell when the verse stops and the chorus starts because they’re basically the same. An interesting chorus usually has something different about it from the verse. It may be just a little different, like adding background vocals or another instrument, or an accent or anticipation to the same chord changes and melody (like Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Crossfire” with the horn hits and guitar fill). Or it can be a lot different with different set of chord changes or melody combined with the arrangement changes like “Vertigo” by U2, “This Kiss” by Faith Hill or the Eagles’ classic “Hotel California.” Either way, something has to change in the chorus to lift the energy and keep the song memorable.

4. The Song Has No Bridge
Another common songwriting mistake is no bridge. A bridge is an interlude that connects two parts of that song, building a harmonic connection between those parts. Normally you should have heard the verse at least twice. The bridge may then replace the third verse or precede it. In the latter case, it delays an expected chorus. The chorus after the bridge is usually the last one and is often repeated in order to stress that it is final. If and when you expect a verse or a chorus and you get something that is musically and lyrically different from both verse and chorus, it is most likely the bridge.
A bridge is sometimes the peak of the song where it’s at its loudest and most intense (check out the bridge of the Police’s “Every Breath You Take”), or it could be its quietest and least intense point (the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” where Pete Townsend sings “...It’s only teenage wasteland,” or the Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water”).
Almost every great song has a bridge, but there are the occasional exceptions. Songs that are based on the straight 12-bar blues frequently don’t have bridges but might use dynamics or arrangement to provide the tension and release. An example would be the ZZ Top classic “Tush.” There’s no bridge in the song, but the snare fill by itself––after the last verse into the outro guitar solo––supplies the release. Another would be the Guess Who/Lenny Kravitz song “American Woman” where there are just four bars of a different guitar and bass rhythm and a stop that performs that same function as a bridge.

5. The Song Suffers From A Poor Arrangement
Even with great songwriters, this is the most common mistake. Usually this means that the guitar or keyboard will play the same lick, chords or rhythm throughout the entire song. This can work perfectly well and might even be a great arrangement choice if another instrument plays a counter-line or rhythm, but usually it just means that the arrangement will be boring. You’ve got to make sure that the song stays interesting, and that means the addition of lines and fills. An example where a structure like this does work is “American Woman” again.

6. The Song Has No Intro/Outro Hook
If we’re talking about modern popular music (not jazz or classical), most of the songs have an instrumental line (or hook) that you’ll hear at the beginning of the song, maybe again in the chorus, and any time the intro repeats in the song. A great example would be the opening guitar riff to the Rolling Stone’s “Satisfaction” or the piano in Coldplay’s “Clocks.” If you want to make your producer happy, develop your hooks before you do your demos or hit the studio.

• BONUS Tip: They’re not “Originals”
A sure sign of an amateur writer who doesn’t take writing songs seriously is to refer to one’s songs as “originals.” A tape that says “originals” really has “club band” written all over it. Nothing against club bands, but no one is going to take your writing seriously when you refer to your songs using that word. It’s much better to say, “Here are some songs that we wrote” or “Here’s one of our songs.” You will be taken a lot more seriously by the very people that you want listening.

Now take a long, hard listen to your songs. Do any of them have any of the above traits? If so, it’s time for at least one more rewrite.
------------------------

This article is used by permission from Music Connection magazine's November 2011 issue. Bobby Owsinski is a producer, author and music consultant who has written 15 books on music, recording and the music business. Read some excerpts at bobbyowsinski.com or read his popular production blog at bobbyowsinski.blogspot.com or his music business blog at music3point0.blogspot.com.

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Verse, Songwriting Tip, songwrite, inexperienced songwriters, Badly Written Song, hook, refrian