Songwriting Tips, News & More

Songwriting Tip: 4 Dos and Don’ts When Writing Songs

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Mar 16, 2015 @12:20 PM

4 Dos and Don’ts When Writing Songs

by Cliff Goldmacher

Songwriting, writing songs
Go with your inspiration, but don’t neglect these other elements that will make your song the best it can be..


“Which do you write first, the music or the words?” This is the classic question that all songwriters get asked. In my experience, there’s no easy - or correct - answer to this one. Sometimes it’s the music, sometimes it’s the lyrics, and, often, it’s some mystical, organic combination of the two. More importantly, there is no one way to write a song. Some of the best - and worst - songs ever written were created using the same techniques. To that end, I’m going to cover four different ways to approach writing a song and some of the “dos” and “don’ts” you’ll want to keep in mind as you go through each one.

1. Writing based on a title idea/lyrical hook

Coming up with a really catchy title or lyrical hook is an art in and of itself. If you’ve got one, congratulations. Now that you’ve got it, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Do remember to make sure that everything in your lyric points to and supports your lyrical hook. Having a catchy hook only works if you build a foundation around it so that when the hook arrives, there’s a sense of drama and release.

Don’t forget to give the song real emotional content. It’s possible to be so focused on the hook and setting it up that you forget to be sincere. While the average listener might not be able to tell you why, the song won’t move them in the way that a song with genuine emotional content would.

2. Writing based on a general idea/lyrical concept

Sometimes you’ve been through an experience or have an idea for a song that feels important enough to write about. That’s as good a place as any to start.

Do capture the feeling and emotion of your concept. You obviously felt strongly enough to want to write about this idea, so immerse yourself in it and really tell the story.

Don’t be too vague. Because you haven’t started with an actual lyrical hook, you’ll need to remember to bring your overall concept to a very sharp point by summarizing it with a phrase or hook line. This hook is something you’ll hopefully come to as you’re developing your lyric around your idea. A story without a summarizing point or hook risks being too unfocused to keep your listeners’ attention.

3. Writing from a melodic idea

If you’re a melodic writer, then you’ve got a different set of challenges. Beautiful, catchy melodies are a rare commodity and should be treated with the appropriate respect.

Do honor your melody and build your song around it. Remember, people will learn your melody long before they learn your lyric, so having a good one is not to be taken lightly.

Don’t let the melody box you into awkward words or watered-down phrases. While a beautiful melody is one part of a song, it’s not the only part. Cramming in words or compromising on your lyrical integrity isn’t an acceptable approach when writing from a melody. Remember, it’s the give and take of a catchy melody and a natural, conversational lyric that makes for a great song.

4. Writing from a chord progression/groove

When you pick up your guitar or sit down at the piano, often it’s a chord progression or groove that comes first. Great!

Do dig in and develop the groove and feel. This can really set the mood of a song and inspire all kinds of interesting melodic and lyrical ideas. Also, a good groove is the very first thing the average listener will notice when they hear your song.

Don’t rely on a chord progression or groove at the expense of your melody and lyric. This is no time to get lazy. A chord progression and groove in and of itself is only - in most genres - an arrangement idea, which doesn’t really constitute a song. Without a strong melody and lyric, it’s entirely possible to have a great sounding track, and, unfortunately, a mediocre song.

As I stated at the top of this article, there isn’t one “right” way to write a song. I’d highly recommend trying every possible songwriting approach you can. Often, as songwriters, we find ourselves in a rut where we go back to the same approach over and over. While this may be comforting and even result in increased productivity, in the long run, it might not provide you with the most inspired or unique songs you’re capable of writing. Why not leave your comfort zone and try a couple of different ways of writing? You never know what you’ll get.

Good luck!


Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, session musician, engineer, author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA. Cliff’s site, http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com, is full of resources for the aspiring songwriter including monthly online webinars. 

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, lyric, Melody, writing songs, songwrite, chord progression, Cliff Goldmacher, title idea, melodic idea, lyrical concept, lyrical hook

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

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

From Demo To Master, A Music Artist's Experience

by Melissa Axel

Songwriting & Editing by Melissa Axel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Songwriting/Collaboration: The Power of Co-writing

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Songwriters Tip: Tearing Down Walls With Your Teeth

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, May 04, 2011 @10:31 AM

Tearing Down Walls With Your Teeth by Molly-Ann Leikin

Molly-Ann Leikin

 

Have you looked at the Billboard charts lately, and wondered – why aren’t I there?

My songs, production chops, my voice, my performance – I’m as talented as anybody out there, and then some. So why is someone else having the hits, and not me?

Often, the difference between you and the guy in the front row at the Grammys holding the award, is one more phone call.

As sensitive people, we don’t have built-in hustle muscles. The irony is, we need them more than ever. Truthfully, no matter how talented, if you’re not willing to tear down walls with your teeth, stay out of the music business. The race is to the hungry, not necessarily the best.

The odds are against somebody swooping down and discovering you while you stay home singing to the squirrels. But, if you are brave enough to make one call a day, every day, to one new music contact, at the end of a year, you’ll have 365 new people in your business life. If only 10% of them ever listen to a note, that’s still 36. And all it takes is one.

Remember: the difference between you and the guy in the first row at the Grammys with the award in his hand, is one more phone call.

Make that call.

 

© 2011 Molly-Ann Leikin

Molly-Ann Leikin is a Career Mastery Coach and Songwriting Consultant.  An Emmy nominee, Molly has 14 gold and platinum records, plus four ASCAP Country Music Awards.  She's the author of "How To Write A Hit Song" and "How To Be A Hit Songwriter" and has written themes and songs for over four dozen TV shows and movies, including "Violet” that won an Oscar.  

Molly has helped launch the careers of thousands of singers and songwriters, three of whom have Grammy nominations. She can be reached at: www.songmd.com or 800-851-6588.

Tags: song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, writing songs, Billboard Charts, Molly-Ann Leikin, Grammy Awards, writing lyrics, music career, musician, Music Career Coach, How To Write A Hit Song

Songwriter Opinion: Whose Career Would You Kill to Have

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 05, 2011 @12:24 PM

Whose Career Would You Kill to Have(and what is stopping you from having it?) by Molly-Ann Leikin

 

Molly-Ann Leikin, Hit Songwriter


Yesterday, when no one was returning my calls and my lunch date bailed after I paid for valet parking in Beverly Hills, I tore into my secret stash of peanut M & M’s and made a list of everyone, in every field, whose career I’d like to have instead of mine.  

l. Mary Oliver – the poet’s poet.  Her first collection was published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich when I was an intern there during my New York City Jingle Days.   

2.Whoopie Goldberg- the funniest woman in America, if not the world.  

3. Lois Capps – the member of Congress from Santa Barbara, CA.  Think of the changes me, my chutzpah and galloping Jewish guilt could make in the U.S. House of Representatives.    

4. Michelle Kwan – the epitome of grace and strength and miracles in a small blue dress.  She often skated to one of my songs, “An American Hymn”, and I’ve always wished we could change places.  (This comes from growing up in freezing Canada where little girls were sent out in storms to amuse themselves. ) 

5. Lady Gaga

The trouble with wanting to be any of the gifted people I listed above is we already have one of each.  We don’t need two.  What our world could really use is you and your unique contribution. By trying to imitate the success of somebody else, you will miss yourself completely.

Do you well, learn how to get your name in the papers, and maybe someday, you’ll be an even bigger star than Lady Gaga, who, y’never know, could be sitting on the edge of her egg, gobbling peanut M & M’s, shushing the cattle from which she derives her wardrobe, so she can hear your new song.


© 2011 Molly-Ann Leikin www.songmd.com
Molly-Ann Leikin is a Career Mastery Coach and Songwriting Consultant.  An Emmy nominee, Molly has 14 gold and platinum records, plus four ASCAP Country Music Awards.  She's the author of "How To Write A Hit Song" and "How To Be A Hit Songwriter" and has written themes and songs for over four dozen TV shows and movies, including "Violet” that won an Oscar.   Molly has helped launch the careers of thousands of singers and songwriters, three of whom have Grammy nominations.  She can be reached at: www.songmd.com or 800-851-6588.

Tags: songwriter, song writer, Song writing, Songwriting, writing songs, Molly-Ann Leikin, writing lyrics, music career, musician, Mary Oliver, Whoopie Goldberg, Lois Capps, Michelle Kwan, Lady Gaga

Kate Voegele Talks About Songwriting

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Aug 24, 2010 @09:59 AM

Kate Voegele won first prize in the Pop category of the USA Songwriting Competition in 2005 and became the youngest winner at that time at just 18 years old as a teen phenom.

She went on to perform at USA Songwriting Competition showcase at SXSW (see picture below) and was signed to Interscope Records shortly after. Her winning song "Only Fooling Myself" went on to hit top 40 on the Billboard charts that year. Her 2nd album hit the Billboard 200 Album charts at #10. She has appeared on major TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", acted in "One Tree Hill" and toured with American Idol winner Jordin Sparks. 

Kate Voegele Performing at USA Songwriting Competition showcase at SXSW

 

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

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, lyric, Kate Voegele, how to write a song, American Idol, writing songs, Lyrics, lyric writing, USA Songwriting Competition, Billboard Charts, One Tree Hill, Billboard Album Charts, Hits, hit song writer, tips on how to write a song, Conan O'Brien

USA Songwriting Competition Winning Songs On The Charts

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Jun 24, 2009 @09:46 PM

Thanks to those that have e-mailed us and asked for our other winning songs that have hit the charts. Many that have won were cut by other major artists, placed on film & TV. Here are some of the winning songs that have hit the charts:

Kate Voegele (2005 USA Songwriting Competition 1st Prize winner, Pop category) had her winning song "Only Fooling Myself" peak at #37 on the Billboard AC Charts

Ari Gold (2007 USA Songwriting Competition Overall Grand Prize Winner) has his winning song "Where The Music Takes You" currently peak at #10 (Billboard HOT DANCE/CLUB PLAY Charts). The song hit #1 on Sirius OutQ and #1 video on Logo TV channel.

Aruna Sutra's song "Break You Open" which won first prize in the Pop category in 2004, hit the US Pop charts with a peak at #45 on the R&R® (Radio & Records) CHR/Pop Top 50 chart. R&R, like Billboard, is a national publication which tracks and monitors the most prominent airplay nationwide (CHR stands for Contemporary Hit Radio).

Darryl Zerro (1999, 2000 & 2001 first Prize winner - Dance category, 1999- 1st Prize - Pop, 2000 1st Prize - Latin Category, 2000 Honorable mention award) has his winning song "Let The Joy Rise" cut by Dance diva - Abigail. It hit #1 on the Dance charts and went #9 in the Billboard Dance charts. His winning song in 2000 (First Prize - Latin category) "Chiquita Mi Senorita" was recorded by Top 10 artist - Paulina Rubio. Darryl has won a record 6 awards - five 1st prizes and one honorable mention award in a period of 3 years (1999 to 2001)

 


 

Tags: Songwriting, writing songs, USA Songwriting Competition, Billboard Charts, Hits, songwriting success

How Songwriters Can Create a Winning Song

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, May 08, 2009 @12:25 PM

~written by Ira Greenfield

Many songwriters have asked me what makes a winning song. As VP of development at USA Songwriting Competition for the past 14 years and I have heard winning years through the years, a winning song should be creative in both music composition aspect as well as the lyric composition. A good example is the top winning song of 2008 competition "Home" written by Jordan Zevon, Jordan Summers and Morty Coyle. Musically, it displays surprises in Chord changes and the lyrics about coming home are not the clichés of what you hear on radio. It didn't hurt the song that chorus is  catchy.

Another example is the winning song of the country category in 2007 "I Can Live Without You", written by Mary Danna and Troy Verges. One would think the song is about someone who doesn't want to live with another. However, there is a twist at the end of the sentence in the chorus "But I just don't want to". They have taken a love and heartache song and given a "surprising twist" in the end. Also, the bridge was short, surprising and also emotionally high (with the melody hitting a high note at the end of the melodic line) and yet sad. That song still remains a favorite at the USA Songwriting Competition.

I have heard submissions where songwriters try to write the derivative songs that were number one on the charts at one time and end up being awkward. One case was a songwriter who took the entire track of Jennifer Lopez song "If You Had My Love" and wrote a similar melody to the background music, even the melodic line's rhythm was so similar. The chorus even copied the melody of the original song. Our judges thought the song has been plagiarized, let alone not being creative as the judges left the room singing to Jennifer Lopez song instead. Needless to say, that song didn't win.

I realized an interesting fact that the top winning songs of the past two years have been a three-way collaboration. The winning song last year was written by three songwriters and so was the year before ("Where the Music Takes You", written by Ari Gold, Joe Hogue "JOJOHO" and Sean Petersen). That song also hit top 10 on the Billboard Charts after winning the competition. "Where the Music Takes You" was unique, it had no intro, the vocals start as soon as the music plays. The chorus was so catchy that the judges left the song singing to it.

Speaking of catchy, the winning song in 2004 was written by five songwriters ("My Three Wishes", written by Patrice Pike, Wayne Sutton, Sean Phillips and Darrell Phillips). The opening hook in the chorus of the Alternative song "My Three Wishes" was accented in an off beat way that would draw the listener to want to hear more. You can tell that the song took extra effort and creativity.

A song may sound nice to listen to but please note that a lot of work is being done to the song: musically, lyrically, artistically and more. Cher's biggest hit "Believe" was written not by one but six songwriters! Paul Barry, Matt Gray, Brian Higgins, Stuart McLellan, Timothy Powell, and Steven Torch wrote that hit number one in 23 different countries. Where would Cher be without this great hit song like this? Could you be creative enough write a song better as good as this or even better? Write one and submit it to us in the USA Songwriting Competition.

Information:

http://www.songwriting.net/enter


Tags: Song writing, Songwriting, lyric, hit song, hit songwriter, song contest, songwriting competition, songwriting contest, songwriting partner, collaborator, Melody, writing songs, song writing showcase, composing songs, music composition, lyric writing

Muscle Music Marketing For Your Songwriting

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Thu, Apr 16, 2009 @04:16 PM

Muscle Music Marketing For Your Songwriting
By Molly-Ann Leikin

Most creative people are terrible at business. We're all very, very sensitive and take it personally when someone is abrupt or rude as we nervously try to promote our uncertain selves.

The guy who makes one more phone call, one more time, gets the meeting. The most persistent musicians are the ones with the deals.

We hate hearing that because we're all looking for fairy godmothers to rescue and discover us, but Toto, there is no fairy godmother. No matter how much we want or need one, it's on each of us to switch gears and become the cool-headed champions of our own art.

Nobody will ever love our work more than we do. Not our mothers, dads, wives, husbands, ex-husbands, ex-husbands twice removed, significant or insignificant others.

The good news is that in my book, "How To Be A Hit Songwriter", there are three whole chapters devoted to the creative marketing your music and lyrics. And in the Fifth Edition of "How To Write A Hit Song", just published, there are two.

One of the best recommendations I can make is to call, speak to and/or meet one new music person every day. Not just when you feel like it. Every day. Keep a list with phone numbers and email addresses. At the end of the year, you'll have 365 contacts. Sure, it's easier staying home under the bed, hoping hoping hoping to just mail it in, unsolicited, but you have to leave the comfort of your creative space and get out into the world where the people are you need to meet. The chances are good that the next Sony CEO won't knock on your door desperate to go potty, hoping for a diet Coke, with shaved Bavarian ice, in the bargain.

Don't you owe it to your music to learn to be as good at business as you are at writing, singing and performing? When you are, you'll have the whole package. Then nobody can stop you.

© 2009 Molly-Ann Leikin

Molly-Ann Leikin (rhymes with bacon) is a songwriting consultant in L.A. with a house full of gold and platinum records plus an Emmy nomination. She is also a Eurovision finalist (American Idol in Europe). Three of her clients have Grammy nominations, another won an Emmy and so far, 5041 others have placed their work, with Molly's help, in movies, TV, on CD's and in commercials.
The author of "How To Write A Hit Song" and "How To Be A Hit Songwriter", Molly's website is www.songmd.com and her toll-free number for the USA and Canada is 800-851-6588. You can also reach her at songmd@songmd.com


Tags: Songwriting, how to write a song, hit song, hit songwriter, song contest, songwriting competition, songwriting contest, songwriting partner, writing partner, collaborator, American Idol, Melody, Melodies, writing songs