Songwriting Tips, News & More

How Words Change as a Song Progresses

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, May 01, 2019 @07:00 AM

How Words Change as a Song Progresses


by Gary Ewer

Songwriter2

Over the 4 minutes of a good song, it’s normal for some things to stay the same while other things change. The kinds of things that usually get set up at the beginning and resist change would be the tempo and the basic feel of the song. The kinds of things that change would be the chord progressions, the melodies, and of course the lyrics.

How do they change? Typically, they change depending on the song’s section. A verse melody tends to be lower in pitch than a chorus melody. A verse chord progression tends to be longer and have a more “wandering” quality than a chorus progression, which is usually shorter and tonally stronger.

And you become aware that the kinds of words—the way you’d say something – will be different in a chorus than in a verse. It may not be something you’ve noticed before, but if you struggle with words, and getting your lyric to sound strong and to have an impact, you’ve got to know how words change over the length of a song.

 

Verse Lyrics

Song lyrics can be neatly categorized as being narrative, describing people, situations and circumstances, or emotional, expressing feelings and reactions to whatever the story has been about.

In general, the telling of the story or describing of circumstances happens in a verse. So you’ll want to use your verse to set up a good story, and keep emotion to a minimum.

The verse lyric of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” is a great example. He uses the verse to sing about a situation that is, at its core, quite emotional, but he keeps that emotion controlled and minimal:

Now and then I think of when we were together

Like when you said you felt so happy you could die

Told myself that you were right for me

But felt so lonely in your company

But that was love and it's an ache I still remember.

 

As you can see, there is emotion, but it's controlled and measured.

 

Chorus Lyrics

A good chorus lyric allows the listener to generate and enjoy emotions that come from the story that’s been set up in the verse. That chorus lyric may add to the story, but its chief responsibility is to allow the listener to feel something. So that’s why you so often see exclamations (“Ooooh”, “yeah, yeah, yeah…”, or “whoa.” You’ll also see that a chorus lyric might use a catchy lyrical hook (“Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive”), but in any case, its main responsibility is to have the audience feel something emotional.

The chorus of “Somebody That I Used to Know” shows that the difference between verse and chorus is usually subtle, but it’s important:

But you didn't have to cut me off

Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing

And I don't even need your love

But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough

No, you didn't have to stoop so low

 

Bridge Lyrics

If your song contains a bridge, you’ll notice that those kinds of lyrics are a little different again. Because a bridge (or middle-8) is used to finish the story and to get to the point of the song, it’s common to see bridge lyrics that give a narrative style “then-this-happened” line, and follow it quickly with a “so-then-I-felt-this” kind of responding line. Or it might be a series of lines that, while adding to the story, are filled with emotion.

In the hit song “Just Give Me a Reason” (Pink, Jeff Bhasker, Nate Ruess), the bridge is a perfect demonstrator of what the lyric is supposed to do. We get an important part of the story (our relationship is a bit of a mess, but “nothing is as bad as it seems…”) – a perfect blend of story and emotion:

Oh, tear ducts and rust, I'll fix it for us

We're collecting dust, but our love's enough

You're holding it in, you're pouring a drink

No, nothing is as bad as it seems, we'll come clean

 

Why This Is Important

Whether we’re talking about music, stories, or even just real life, we generate emotions based on what we hear or experience. Emotions don’t just happen without some sort of back story. So if you use your song lyric to basically say “I feel so bad”, but you don’t give any kind of background to why, it becomes an empty emotion, and audiences will feel confused and ultimately bored.

So as you write your next song, do this:

  1. Write your verse lyric on one page and your chorus lyric on another.

  2. Read your verse lyric to yourself, and try to assess it for its story-telling qualities. It doesn’t need to be devoid of emotion, but you should be aware that its main purpose is to tell the audience what’s going on.

  3. Read the chorus to yourself, and try to assess it for the emotions it describes and generates. A good chorus doesn’t need to add to the story as such, but should express emotions that make sense when compared to the story of the verse.

When it works well, a song lyric acts as a kind of musical seesaw, where we feel emotion rising and falling. That kind of change over time is vital to keeping audiences listening and interested.

A couple of years ago I did a video that describes this important issue, using the song “Losing Sleep” by John Newman. You can see that lyric here: https://youtu.be/m4USyNw6-gk

 

Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” blog. Gary Ewer is a music instructor, clinician, conductor and composer. He has been writing about songwriting on his “Essential Secrets of Songwriting” blog for the past 11 years. http://www.secretsofsongwriting.com

 

To enter the 24th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Songwriting, Verse, songwrite, Recording, lyric writing, song demo, bridge, demo recording, Gary Ewer, music writing

5 Tips for Improving Your Song’s Melodic Hooks

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Apr 01, 2019 @07:07 AM

5 Tips for Improving Your Song’s Melodic Hooks

by Jason Blume

 songwriting2015

Melodic hooks can be the heart of a song. These tasty bits of ear candy can make the difference between an “almost” – and a life-changing hit. They can be instrumental or sung and can occur in any section of a song – the intro, verse, chorus, pre-chorus, post-chorus, bridge, or outro. Catchy musical phrases hook in your listeners and keep them on the proverbial line. They can occur in multiple sections of a given song (i.e., a verse, a pre-chorus, and chorus) and although it is not typical, there can be more than one musical and/or vocal hook per section. But they are most frequently found in choruses and post-choruses.

Ideally, unforgettable hooks pop into our heads–or pour out of our keyboards or guitars–spontaneously. But when they don’t, we can apply craft to create these extra-memorable melodic moments and add additional hooks to maximize our songs’ chances for success.

Let’s look at five ways to embellish our melodies and help them burn into listeners’ brains.

1. Use a Stutter

A stutter in a song occurs when melody is crafted so that part of a word—typically the first syllable—is repeated one or more times by the vocalist. A perfect example of a song with a st-st-st-stutter is Carrie Underwood’s smash hit, “Undo It” (written by Underwood with Kara DioGuardi, Marti Fredericksen, and Luke Laird). The title is sung “Uh-Uh-Uh-Uh-Uh-Uh-Uh-Undo It,” turning the stutter into the primary hook in the chorus. For another example, listen to Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” (written by Sir Elton John and Bernie Taupin). It’s hard to imagine that #1 song without its signature stutter, the “Buh-Buh-Buh” that precedes the name “Bennie.”

2. Repeat a Rhythm

Write a melody that includes a unique, instantly memorable rhythm in the vocal melody of a given section of your song (i.e., verse, chorus …). Then repeat this rhythm multiple times within the same part of the song. In order to accomplish this, each line that has the same rhythm needs to have the same—or approximately the same—number of syllables in the lyric that accompanies it.

This technique resulted in a powerhouse hook in GRAMMY winning Best Rock Song, “When I’m Gone” (recorded by 3 Doors Down and written by band members Brad Arnold, Todd Harrell, Matt Roberts, and Chris Henderson). Note how the last note of each line of the chorus is emphasized, and that every line of the chorus melody repeats almost the same rhythm, creating a melody that delivered it to the top of Billboard’s Top 40 Mainstream and Hot Mainstream Rock charts.

To hear another great example of the power of this technique, listen to the quirky rhythms in the melodic phrases that repeat in the verses of Old Dominion’s “No Such Thing as a Broken Heart” (written by Jesse Frasure, BMI’s reigning Country Songwriter of the Year, with Matthew Ramsey, Trevor Rosen, and Brad Tursi). Also note the musical phrase that repeats in the choruses.

3. Include a “Nonsense Syllable”

In this context, a nonsense syllable refers to a sound that is sung but has no meaning. These include: “Ooh,” Oh,” Yo,” “Ay,” “Ahh,” “Ooh,” and “I.” These (and other sounds) can be joined together to create vocal hooks that combine melodies with sounds such as, “Oh-I, Oh-I, Oh,” “Ooh, Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh,” and “Ay-Ay-Ay-Ay-Oh-Ay-Oh.”

Camila Cabello’s breakthrough smash, “Havana” (featuring Young Thug, and written by Cabello with Jeffrey Williams, Frank Dukes, Brittany Hazzard, Ali Tamposi, Brian Lee, Andrew Watt, Pharrell Williams, Kaan Gunesberk, and Louis Bell) added the sound “ooh-na-na (ay, ay)” to the title to create an unforgettable hook.

Similarly, Sugarland used “Whoa-oh, whoa-oh” to take their song, “Stuck Like Glue” (written by Jennifer Nettles, Kristian Bush, Kevin Griffin, and Shy Carter) to the #1 slot on Billboard’s Country Digital Songs Chart, racking up more than 2.6 millions digital sales along the way.

4. Add a catchy post-chorus

A post-chorus can be defined as a part of a song that occurs after the chorus, providing an additional hook that typically includes vocals. It introduces melody that is not heard in the chorus or elsewhere in the song, and in many instances, it has few lyrics that have not previously been heard in the song. It often reiterates the title and incorporates nonsense syllables.

Examples of strong post-choruses include Keith Urban’s “Wasted Time” (written by Urban with James Abrahart and William Wells). For more information about post-chorus references, check out “The Power of Post-Choruses.”

5. Include a Catchy Instrumental Lick

A musical motif, sometimes referred to as a signature lick, is a melodic phrase that is typically introduced in a song’s intro and recurs throughout the song. Some hit songs, such as Vanessa Carlton’s “Thousand Miles” and Jason Derulo's "Talk Dirty" have multiple instrumental phrases that serve as hooks. Carlton’s #1 hit includes a motif that is played on piano during the intro and in the verses, as well as the instrumental hook played by the strings in the second half of the verses.

One of my favorite instrumental hooks is the guitar lick that introduces Rascal Flatts’ recording of “What Hurts the Most” (written by Jeffrey Steele and Steve Robson). This version of the song reached #1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs and Adult Contemporary charts and received a Country Song of the Year GRAMMY nomination. The same lick can be heard (with slight variations) played on a synthesizer in Cascada’s pop/dance recording of the same song.

At a recent songwriting workshop, I led my students through an exercise during which they applied each of these techniques to one of their songs. They explored including a stutter, repeating hooky rhythms, adding nonsense syllables, writing a post-chorus, and incorporating a catchy musical lick.

One unforgettable hook can be your song’s ticket to the top of the charts. But why stop at one, when multiple hooks can maximize your chances of success?

Try these tools in your own songs. Not every song will be benefit from each of these techniques; the decision needs to be made on a song-by-song basis. But you won’t know whether one or more of these melodic tools might take your song to the next level unless you try.
 

(Reprint Permission granted by BMI)

 Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting (Billboard Books). His songs are on Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies. He has been a guest lecturer at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and at the Berklee College of Music. For information about his workshops, webinars, additional articles, and more, visit www.jasonblume.com

To enter the 24th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Recording, lyric writing, song demo, Jason Blume, demo recording, Instrumental Hooks, Catchy Rhythm, syllables, music writing, Instrumental Lick, Melodic Hooks, Stutter, post-chorus

[Songwriting Advice] Size Matters: A Study in Prosody

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Mar 01, 2019 @07:00 AM

[Songwriting Advice] Size Matters: A Study in Prosody

by Pat Pattison

 LanaDelRay

Lana Del Ray’s single, Ride, creates a picturesque and surreal journey down an open road, leading us through a landscape that fuses relationships, mental turmoil and escape. The song is about motion, about the instability of a physical circumstance and mental state that causes her to lean into the future, to slide away from the confines of her past. Or something like that.

Anyway, it currently has over 62 million views on youtube, so lotsa folks like it.

Here are the first four sections:

(Insert Ride (unedited) here)

 

I've been out on that open road

You can be my full time daddy,

White and gold

Singing blues has been getting old

You can be my full time baby,

Hot or cold

 

Don't break me down

I've been travelin' too long

I've been trying too hard

With one pretty song

 

I hear the birds on the summer breeze,

I drive fast, I am alone in midnight

Been tryin' hard not to get into trouble,

But I, I've got a war in my mind

 

So, I just ride,

Just ride,

I just ride,

Just ride

 

Again, the song is all about moving. Yet, at the end of the last section, I didn’t feel the urge to move. I should have, but I didn’t. Why not?

First, let’s take a minute to talk about the concept of Prosody.

 

Prosody

Aristotle said that every great work of art contains the same feature – unity. Everything in the work belongs –supports every other element. Another word for unity is prosody – the “appropriate relationship between elements, whatever they may be.” Some examples of prosody in songs might be:

Prosody between words and music: a minor key could create, a feeling of sadness to support or even create sadness in an idea.

Prosody between syllables and notes: appropriate relationship between stressed syllables and stressed notes – a really big deal in songwriting. When they are lined up properly, the shape of the melody matches the natural shape of the language.

Prosody between rhythm and meaning: obvious examples like

 

“you gotta stop!.......(pause).................look and listen.”

 

Or writing a song about galloping horses in a triplet feel.

 

The elements of the song must all join together to support the central intent, idea and emotion of the work. Everything fits. Prosody is the appropriate relationship between elements.

Stable vs. Unstable

Stable vs. unstable is an effective window into prosody – a practical tool for creating prosody because it covers every aspect of a song: from the idea, to the melody, the rhythm, the chords, the lyric structure --everything. It governs the choices you make. Ask yourself, is the emotion in this section stable or unstable? Once you answer that question, you have a standard for making all your other choices.

 

Number of Lines

Every section you’ll ever write – verses, choruses, pre-choruses, bridges—will have (here it comes, get ready) some number of lines or other! OK, not much of a revelation. Even more specifically, every section you’ll ever write will have either an even number of lines, or an odd number of lines. Wow. Even more of an, um, revelation…

Now let’s talk a bit about an odd number of lines. An odd number of lines feels, er, odd -- off balance, unresolved, incomplete UNSTABLE. Let’s say you’re writing a verse where the idea is something like: “Baby, since you left me I’ve been feeling lost, odd -- off balance, unresolved, incomplete, UNSTABLE. Just theoretically, do you think this verse would be better with an even number of lines or an odd number of lines? Right. An odd number of lines.

This changes everything. You’ve recognized, maybe for the first time, that there can be a relationship between what you say and how many lines you use to say it. You’re feeling UNSTABLE, and the odd or UNSTABLE number of lines supports that feeling. Prosody. Your structure (in this case, your number of lines) can support meaning.

An even number of lines tends to feel, well, even -- solid, resolved, balanced, STABLE. Let’s say that your message is something like: “Baby, you’re the answer to all my prayers. I’ll be with you forever. I’m your rock. You can count on me.” How many lines should you use? Odd or even? Right. Even. You want a solid feeling in the structure to support the emotion you’re trying to communicate. “I mean it. You can trust me.” Prosody.

On the other hand, an odd number of lines feels, er, odd. Like it’s missing something. It creates a feeling of leaning forward. It feels unstable.

With this in mind, let’s take another look at these sections of Ride:

(Insert Ride (unedited) here)

 

I've been out on that open road

You can be my full time daddy,

White and gold

Singing blues has been getting old

You can be my full time baby,

Hot or cold

 

Don't break me down

I've been travelin' too long

I've been trying too hard

With one pretty song

 

I hear the birds on the summer breeze,

I drive fast, I am alone in midnight

Been tryin' hard not to get into trouble,

But I, I've got a war in my mind

 

So, I just ride,

Just ride,

I just ride,

Just ride

 

All four sections have an even number of lines. At least in this regard, all four feel stable. They don’t move. Let me repeat that: they don’t move.

Though the song is all about moving, all four sections stop. All four sections balance. That may not be an issue in the first section, where she’s stating facts. No drama, no motion, just facts.

 

I've been out on that open road

You can be my full time daddy,

White and gold

Singing blues has been getting old

You can be my full time baby,

Hot or cold

 

The even-numbered six-line section supports the facts nicely. Even the second section, where she’s giving commands, seems appropriate for an even number of lines:

 

Don't break me down

I've been travelin' too long

I've been trying too hard

With one pretty song

 

But it seems to me that sections three and four might profit from some instability, especially the title lines, the emotional centerpiece of the whole song:

 

So, I just ride,

Just ride,

I just ride,

Just ride

 

I’m an obsessive tinkerer, so I wondered what this might sound as a three lines section. It’s easy enough to toss the song into Garageband and do a little chopping, so I did. Here’s what it sounds like, omitting the third line:

(Insert Ride Edit 1 Chorus here)

So, I just ride,

Just ride,

Just ride

 

Nice. Can you feel the motion? The longing? The instability? Yup, the number of lines actually creates a feeling all by itself. It comments on the words like a film score comments on the images on the screen. It tells you how to feel about what you’re hearing, simply by applying the concept of Prosody, in this case, working with the number of lines in the section. The section moves forward, supporting the idea, Ride.

Listen to it in the context of all four sections.

(Insert Ride Edit 1 Complete here)

Still, the third section feels like it balances and stops motion with its even number of lines, making the last section have to do all the emotional work. What if the third section,

 

I hear the birds on the summer breeze,

I drive fast, I am alone in midnight

Been tryin' hard not to get into trouble,

But I, I've got a war in my mind

 

could push forward too? After all, it’s drenched with longing:

 

Back to Garageband for another edit, deleting the third line. Listen:

(Insert Ride Edit 2 Pre-Chorus here)

 

I hear the birds on the summer breeze,

I drive fast, I am alone in midnight

But I, I've got a war in my mind

 

Now, combined with the unstable fourth section, you can feel even more motion:

I hear the birds on the summer breeze,

I drive fast, I am alone in midnight

But I, I've got a war in my mind

 

So, I just ride,

Just ride,

Just ride

Now all four sections create prosody – their structures support their meaning, and, in the process, create a nice contrast between stable and unstable sections, making the third and fourth section’s forward motion seem even more dramatic:

(Insert Ride Edit 2 Complete here)

 

I've been out on that open road

You can be my full time daddy,

White and gold

Singing blues has been getting old

You can be my full time baby,

Hot or cold

 

Don't break me down

I've been travelin' too long

I've been trying too hard

With one pretty song

 

I hear the birds on the summer breeze,

I drive fast, I am alone in midnight

But I, I've got a war in my mind

 

So, I just ride,

Just ride,

Just ride

 

The structure of each section helps support the idea, using number of lines to make them move or stop.

Number of lines: one of the many tools affecting how your song creates an extra level of feeling. Don’t be afraid to use it.

Take a look at a few more applications of the use of an odd number of lines. Here are the first verses and chorus to Yes’s 1983 hit, Owner of a Lonely Heart:

(Insert Owner of a Lonely Heart (unedited) here)

 

Move yourself,

you always live your life

Never thinking of the future

Prove yourself

You are the move you make

Take your chances win or loser

 

See yourself,

you are the steps you take

You and you and that's the only way

Shake, shake yourself

You are every move you make

So the story goes

 

Owner of a lonely heart

Owner of a lonely heart

Owner of a broken heart

Owner of a lonely heart

 

If I had a lonely heart, I’d feel a sense of longing, of something missing. Try this:

(Insert Owner of a Lonely Heart Edit here)

 

Move yourself,

you always live your life

Never thinking of the future

Prove yourself

You are the move you make

Take your chances win or loser

 

See yourself,

you are the steps you take

You and you and that's the only way

Shake, shake yourself

You are every move you make

So the story goes

 

Owner of a lonely heart

Owner of a broken heart

Owner of a lonely heart

 

Now you can feel it. The odd number of lines makes a huge difference.

John Mayer did it right the first time in his Grammy-winning “Your Body is a Wonderland.” His three-line chorus creates a sense of longing, a desire for more:

(Insert Your Body Is A Wonderland unedited here)

 

We got the afternoon

You got this room for two

One thing I've left to do

Discover me

Discovering you

 

One mile to every inch of

Your skin like porcelain

One pair of candy lips and

Your bubblegum tongue

 

Cause if you want love

We'll make it

Swim in a deep sea

Of blankets

Take all your big plans

And break 'em

This is bound to be awhile

 

Your body is a wonderland

Your body is a wonder (I'll use my hands)

Your body is a wonderland

 

Without the sense of longing created by the odd number of lines, I doubt the song would have been John’s first Grammy. Judge for yourself. Listen to my Garageband edit, where I inserted an extra line into the chorus:

(Insert Wonderland Edit here)

 

We got the afternoon

You got this room for two

One thing I've left to do

Discover me

Discovering you

 

One mile to every inch of

Your skin like porcelain

One pair of candy lips and

Your bubblegum tongue

 

Cause if you want love

We'll make it

Swim in a deep sea

Of blankets

Take all your big plans

And break 'em

This is bound to be awhile

 

Your body is a wonderland

Your body is a wonderland

Your body is a wonder (I'll use my hands)

Your body is a wonderland

 

The even number of lines in the chorus stops motion and erases the sense of longing completely.

The Beatles supported the surrealism of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds effectively with this three-line chorus:

(Insert Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds unedited here)

 

Picture yourself in a boat on a river

With tangerine trees and marmalade skies

Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly

A girl with kaleidoscope eyes

 

Cellophane flowers of yellow and green

Towering over your head

Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes

And she's gone

 

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

 

Again, I’ve inserted an extra line in the chorus. Listen to the song now as it grinds to a dull halt with my Garageband-balanced chorus:

(Insert Lucy (edit) here)

 

Picture yourself in a boat on a river

With tangerine trees and marmalade skies

Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly

A girl with kaleidoscope eyes

 

Cellophane flowers of yellow and green

Towering over your head

Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes

And she's gone

 

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

 

It changes the feeling of the song completely.

Every section you write WILL have some number of lines, either odd or even. Ask yourself the simple question, “How do I feel in this section, stable or unstable?” Your number of lines, one of the many structural tools in your tool-belt, can help you gain even more emotion by supporting and enhancing your intent.

Prosody. It’s not rocket surgery. It’s simply having tools in your tool-belt and knowing how to use them. Prosody gives you an efficient window into effective composition.

Size matters.

 

 

 

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 (Writer’s Digest Books), Writing Better Lyrics (Writer’s Digest Books), The Essential Guide to Lyric Form and Structure (Berklee Press), and The Essential Guide to Rhyming (Berklee Press), Pat has developed five online courses for Berklee Online: three on lyric writing, one on poetry, and one on creative writing, all available through online.berklee.edu. His filmed series of lectures for Coursera.org has over 1,600,000 students enrolled to date. Pat has written over fifty articles for various magazines and blogs and has chapters in both The Poetics of American Song Lyrics (University Press of Mississippi) and the Handbook on Creative Writing (Edinburgh University Press). He
continues to present songwriting clinics across the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe. Pat’s students include multiple Grammy-winner Gillian Welch, John Mayer, AND Tom Hambridge, Karmin, American Authors, Liz Longley, Greg Becker, Charlie Worsham, and many more.

To enter the 24th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Prosody, Berklee, songwrite, Recording, lyric writing, song demo, Pat Pattison, demo recording, Catchy Rhythm, music writing, Instrumental Lick, Lana Del Ray, ride

6 Benefits of Collaboration in Songwriting

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Feb 04, 2019 @07:00 AM

6 Benefits of Collaboration in Songwriting

by Pam Sheyne

melissaaxelandywhitebyjamesejacoby

If you glance at the songwriter credits on any music charts these days, you’ll notice that most hit songs are written by more than one writer. In fact, the 1 or 2 people it used to take to write a song, is on the wane, it now takes a village. Six out of seven of the past seven years top winners were multi-way collaborations.

Collaboration has become the new workplace in many creative industries and it’s the combination of talent, skill-set, chemistry and how connected you are, that all add up to the recipe of success.

I myself, have been a collaborator for over 25 years and what I wanted to share with those of you who have never ventured out to write with others, is that the benefits of collaboration far outweigh the negatives. It might take a while to find “your people” and the right partners, but just like a marriage, when you find the one or few you have chemistry with, it will be much more fun than writing songs on your own.

So, what are some of the benefits of collaboration? Here are 6 for starters:

  • Working with people who compliment your skillset, lightens the load and increases productivity.   Few people are masters at everything, so know what you are good at and master that to the best of your ability.  Find collaborators that mirror your skills and bring something else to the table. If you’re not a whizz at Pro-tools you may want to leave that to someone who is experienced and faster at it.  In the long run, it will save you many hours in the studio and mean you can concentrate on writing more songs.

  • Working with people who are more experienced than you, helps you fine tune your skills and elevates you and your craft.  You can’t get to the top of the ladder without climbing all of the steps and putting the work in, (well, for most people that is the case).  Make the effort to go out to songwriter gigs, and open mic’s in your area.  Search for songwriting camps, music events and extend your network beyond your city or country. You will meet successful songwriters and business professionals at these events who might be able and willing to help connect you with the right people. Becoming a part of a music community is key to meeting and finding new collaborators, offer your help and get involved.

  • Extend your network and you will find “your people” and the ones you have the best chemistry with.  When I first started out, I wrote with anyone would write with me. I eventually traveled to other countries to write with other songwriters and built a network of co-writers and friends around the world that I love working with. Songwriting is such a unique and social craft and you will find it’s much more fun working with your friends and people you enjoy hanging with. Side note: you will learn something from every co-writer you work with, even if it’s not to go back and write with them again!

  • Enhances your professional and personal development.  Us creative types can be sensitive people but if you challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone, you will grow into a better writer and develop your “people skills”. Collaboration means you will have to learn to be a politician and your ability to debate, will help you figure out which ideas to fight for and which ones to let go of. Ultimately you are all working for the same goal at the end of the day, aiming high to write the best possible song.

  • More people marketing the song and finding a home for it can only enhance your strike rate.  Ideally, you want to work with people who are connected, the ones who are published, managed and have close connections with artists and record companies. Getting your song out to the right people is key so once you finish your song, you need someone to find a home for it. The more collaborators who are connected, the better the chance of finding opportunities for your songs. It isn’t over when the song is written, now the fun begins. Your songs are like your children, you want to give them the best chance in life so take care in deciding which home they go to.

  • Different minds bring different perspectives and a mix of styles.  The best part about collaborating is mixing perspectives, styles and cultures. You might never have tried such an idea on your own or written from this perspective. I love it when a co-writer challenges me to see something from another angle. Some collaborations are not easy, in fact sometimes it can be a difficult birth, but in the end when the song is done and you and your new friends are punching the air with excitement, the buzz is knowing the journey was worth every minute.



Pam Sheyne is a multi-platinum selling songwriter, vocal producer, singer and mentor.  Her song writing career has achieved success on a global scale and includes international hit records and song placements in numerous films and TV shows around the world.  With 50+ million record sales, 100+ platinum sales, she is also a prestigious Ivor Novello Award winning songwriter and a 7 times BMI Radio Play Award recipient.  Pam, and her business partner Richard Harris, started SongWriterCamps, (www.songwritercamps) and offer camps, workshops and one to one mentoring sessions for aspiring songwriters and artists.

Pam is also a founding member and executive committee member of SONA (Songwriters of North America) a grass roots advocacy group based in LA that actively fights for songwriter rights in the digital age. In 2018 SONA was instrumental in helping the Music Modernisation Act pass as a law.

 

To enter the 24th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Recording, lyric writing, song demo, demo recording, fantasy sports, Pam Sheyne, music writing, chemistry

The Real Stuff Is The Good Stuff – How to Write A Song

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Fri, Feb 01, 2019 @07:07 AM

[Expert Songwriting Advice] The Real Stuff Is The Good Stuff – How to Write A Song

by Mark Cawley

rsz_markcawley-songwriter

 

There is no one way to write a song. You may write melody first or mix it up but for our purposes, lets start with writing your lyric.

Whats a good place to start once you have a title or an idea of what youre going to write about? Prose. Think about the title, say it out loud ... a bunch. What does it bring to mind? Got something? Take a few minutes and write the idea in prose. Dont rhyme, dont worry about being clever, just write a couple of lines describing what youre going to write about. Lennon and McCartney could have written, “” Penny Laneis about the images of everyday people on the street in my town and what they mean to me.

Prose serves a couple of purposes. As you write your lyric, check your prose to see if youre still writing about one thing. Is everything supporting your idea? As you try to write, prose may reveal there's really nothing there. This has happened to me more than once, and Im usually grateful I was saved from spending all day on a non-starter of an idea.

The next step is a biggie and usually a big mistake. You begin to write.I mean write in a bad way. You dont want to sound like just anybody, so you try to sound like a “writer.” I always think of the famous Saturday Night Live skit with Jon Lovitz as the Master Thespian. Just search YouTube for a few moments and youll get the idea. You dont want to feel the sweat in your lyric.

Instead of jumping right in, try closing your eyes, think about your idea, and then write what you see. Dont rhyme, dont worry about cadence or how cool it looks on the page, just write. If youre writing a song about meeting the love of your life talk about the time of day, name the place you met, what was the weather like? Color of her hair? Even the smallest detail can make the difference between a generic lyric and one that comes to life. If its a car whats the make? These details make up the real stuff. Write the real stuff because its the good stuff. You can make it pretty later.

Remember the editor? Still dead. What do I mean? If you begin to self-edit in the moment its toxic. Ive mentored songwriters who have found themselves stuck simply because they were focusing on a line or an idea way too early. Before they had enough on the page to even begin to think about the editing process. Write first, edit later. Much later.

Hopefully youre filling up that page now but once in a while, take a look at the prose you wrote earlier. Does everything in your lyric still support your prose? Does your third verse introduce a cat into the story of two people falling in lust? Hard choices, but the cat probably has to go. Again, most lyrics are about one thing. Prose can help you remember what that thing actually is.

 

Mark Cawley is a hit songwriter who coaches other songwriters around the globe through his one-on-one, online service iDocoach.com. His songs have been on more than 16 million records with cuts ranging from Tina Turner, Joe Cocker and Diana Ross to Wynonna Judd, Chaka Khan and The Spice Girls. Mark is a judge for Nashville Rising Star, Belmont University’s Commercial Music program, and West Coast Songwriter events. He’s also a contributing author to USA Songwriting Competition and Songwriter Magazine, a sponsor for the Australian Songwriting Association, and a mentor for The Songwriting Academy UK. His first book , “Song Journey”, based on his coaching and adventures in songwriting, will be released in April 2019. Born and raised in Syracuse, New York, Mark now resides in Nashville, Tennessee. http://www.idocoach.com/

 

To enter the 24th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, lyric, songwrite, Recording, lyric writing, Mark Cawley, song demo, demo recording, music writing, cadence, edit, Lennon and McCartney

7 Beatles Secrets about Songwriting I wish I'd Discovered Decades Sooner

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 10, 2018 @08:00 AM

7 Beatles Secrets about Songwriting I wish I'd Discovered Decades Sooner (Part 2)

by Jessica Brandon
Beatles.jpg

The song writing styles of John Lennon and Paul McCartney not only differ from each other fundamentally, but also change over time, affected and influenced by each other.  The songwriting partnership between Lennon and McCartney is extremely legendary. They employed so many tricks that anyone can add to their songwriting arsenal. Here are some secrets and tricks of the Beatles:
 
 
1. Change up your chorus
This shows up in their hit "She Loves You". Unusually, the song starts with the hook right away, instead of introducing it after a verse or two. "She Loves You" does not include a bridge, instead using the refrain to join the various verses. The chords tend to change every two measures, and the harmonic scheme is mostly static.
 
 
2. All Blues to Your Melody
When recording “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, On Track 3, McCartney played bass while Harrison played the Bass VI, sometimes doubling McCartney's bass line and sometimes playing full chords. (This capability was one of the benefits of the Bass VI; it could be played as a bass or as a regular 6-string guitar.)
 
 
3. Mode mixture & Delay The Root Chord
"Eleanor Rigby" is played mainly in staccato chords with melodic embellishments.
 
The song is a prominent example of mode mixture, specifically between the Aeolian mode, also known as natural minor, and the Dorian mode. Set in E minor, the song is based on the chord progression Em-C, typical of the Aeolian mode and utilising notes ♭3, ♭6, and ♭7 in this scale. The verse melody is written in Dorian mode, a minor scale with the natural sixth degree. "Eleanor Rigby" opens with a C-major vocal harmony ("Aah, look at all ..."), before shifting to E-minor (on "lonely people"). The Aeolian C-natural note returns later in the verse on the word "dre-eam" (C-B) as the C chord resolves to the tonic Em, giving an urgency to the melody's mood.
 
The Dorian mode appears with the C# note (6 in the Em scale) at the beginning of the phrase "in the church". The chorus beginning "All the lonely people" involves the viola in a chromatic descent to the 5th; from 7 (D natural on "All the lonely peo-") to 6 (C♯ on "-ple") to ♭6 (C on "they) to 5 (B on "from"). This is said to "add an air of inevitability to the flow of the music (and perhaps to the plight of the characters in the song)".
 
 
4. Use non-diatonic chords and secondary dominants & Utilise The Outside Chord
"Strawberry Fields Forever" was originally written on acoustic guitar in the key of C major. The recorded version is approximately in B♭ major; owing to manipulation of the recording speed, the finished version is not in standard pitch (some, for instance, consider that the tonic is A). The introduction is played on a Mellotron, and involves a I–ii–I–♭VII–IV progression. The vocals enter with the chorus instead of a verse. In fact we are not "taken down" to the tonic key, but to "non-diatonic chords and secondary dominants" combining with "chromatic melodic tension intensified through outrageous harmonization and root movement".
 
“I Want To Hold Your Hand’ ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ Voice leading in the Plagal cadence Here is a summary of the action in a IV–I change (in the key of C), highlighting the important ‘inner’ voice leading.”
 
 
5. Restate Your Lyrics
Lennon's lyrics "A Day in the Life" were inspired by contemporary newspaper articles, including a report on the death of Guinness heir Tara Browne. John Lennon wrote the melody and most of the lyrics to the verses of "A Day in the Life" in mid January 1967. Soon afterwards, he presented the song to Paul McCartney, who contributed a middle-eight section.
 
 
6. Take Risks
Example: Here There and Everywhere(1966)
In many ways, the opposite of Eleanor Rigby in that it is rich and complex harmonically speaking.  The first time Paul really spreads his compositional wings and takes bigger risks with ascending major chord sequence.
 
The introduction beginning "To lead a better life" opens in the key of G and involves a I–iii–♭III–ii–V7 chord progression. The ♭III (B♭ chord) on "I need my love to be here" (arpeggiated in the melody line) is a dissonant substitute for the more predictable VI (E7) that would normally lead to the ii (Am) chord.
 
 
7. Change of Keys from Minor to Major
The song as originally issued by the Beatles is in the key of A minor, changing to A major over the bridges. Aside from the intro, the composition is structured into two rounds of verse and bridge, with an instrumental passage extending the second of these verse sections, followed by a final verse and a long instrumental passage that fades out on the released recording. All the sections consist of an even sixteen bars or measures, which are divided into four phrases.
 
The chord progression over the verses includes a shift to a ♭7 (Am/G) on "all" (bass note G) and a 6 (D9 (major 3rd F♯)) after "love" (bass note F♯) to a ♭6 (Fmaj7) on "sleeping" (bass note F). According to musicologist Dominic Pedler, the 8–♭7–6–♭6 progression represents a hybrid of the Aeolian and Dorian modes. The change to the parallel major key is heralded by a C chord as the verse's penultimate chord (replacing the D used in the second phrase of each verse) before the E that leads into the bridge. Musicologist Alan Pollack views this combination of C and E as representing a sense of "arrival", after which the bridge contains "upward [harmonic] gestures" that contrast with the bass descents that dominate the verse. Such contrasts are limited by the inclusion of minor triads (III, VI and II) played over the E chord that ends the bridge's second and fourth phrases.

 

Information on the 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, lyric, songwrite, lyric writing, song demo, The Beatles, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs, hooks, Re-writing, syllables, key change, non-diatonic chords, Mode mixture

[Songwriting Advice] Some Tips on Editing and Re-writing A Lyric

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 03, 2018 @08:18 AM

[Songwriting Advice] Some Tips on Editing and Re-writing A Lyric
by Cliff Goldmacher

TomKimmel.jpg
I’d like to introduce you to Tom Kimmel. Along with releasing several major label albums as an artist himself, Tom has written songs covered by Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt and Randy Travis among others. Tom’s insights into the lyric-writing process are well worth a good read. Enjoy!

Re-writing A Lyric.jpg

For some of us, a lyric rushes out into the world before we can think much about it and sometimes it’s a fine lyric, just as it is. Other times, even if we feel a strong personal connection with the lyric, it could be strengthened with a little work.

On the other hand, often a lyric comes in dribs and drabs, and once we have a complete draft we might be so relieved that we declare it finished prematurely.

In both cases, a lyric might benefit from a fresh perspective and a willingness to tinker a little.Songwriting Tips

Ted Kooser, one of my favorite poets, says that even when one of his poems comes out in one piece he still plays with it a bit to see if it might be improved. He hastens to add, however, that no matter how much or how little re-writing the poem requires, he wants it to read as if it flowed from the pen.

We songwriters have a similar goal. We want our songs to slide by easily without calling too much attention to themselves even if the lyric has real content and depth. To that end, there are a couple of references I return to.

When I’m re-writing a lyric I first ask myself if the song has what I call a strong through the door factor. In other words, I want the words to sound good and to sing well so well, in fact, that if someone heard the song through the door they’d enjoy it!

In order to achieve that, I may record a working version of the song-in-progress and listen to it softly or from a distance not analyzing the words, but listening for the sound and flow of the words. Do the words seem to roll off the tongue or do I stumble over certain sounds, words or phrases?

Chances are that if a lyric doesn’t sound good from the other side of the door, it won’t sound good up close either. So, in my book, it’s very important that a lyric sound and feel good. If it doesn’t, I can begin my re-write by asking these questions:

1. Do the syllables I emphasize when singing my lyric coincide with the notes emphasized in my melody? If not, I’ll try to adjust.

2. Do the number or words or syllables I’m placing in my lines and phrases make it easy for me to sing the song? If I’m cramming in too many syllables in a line or phrase, I can experiment with simplifying by making my phrasing less busy.

3. Likewise, I may need to add words or syllables to more closely coincide with notes of melody that I’m emphasizing.

4. Are most of the vowel sounds in my words easy to sing? For example, I’m probably going to avoid placing the words hat or it over a very high note!

Of course, strong lyrical content is extremely important to most songwriters, so the second way I approach a re-write or edit is by examining how the lyric unfolds as the song develops. I may ask myself, “Does my lyric and song unfold in a way that is satisfying, that holds the listener’s attention as well as my own?”

To consider this when I coach songwriters and lead workshops, I suggest that a song is very much like a three act play. Some of the story – be it a literal tale or an emotional or spiritual narrative – is revealed in the first act, which most often is the song’s first verse and chorus. The second act usually the second verse and chorus is a new beginning; more of the story is introduced and then summed up in the second chorus. The remainder of the story is then told in the third act often the bridge and final chorus.

In my own work, if I then see that I reveal too much, too soon in my songI make changes. One technique espoused by a friend of mine is to take the first verse and make it the second verse… and to write a new first verse that is more of a prologue… so that the story has somewhere to go! Likewise if the song is slow to develop, I have the option of trying my second verse as the first verse. Experiment!

Bottom line: a song is not a painting. It doesn’t exist all at once. It has a beginning, middle and end, and it needs to flow, rise and fall throughout its lifespan. (In filmmaking they call this advancing the narrative.)

So let’s say I’ve got my song sounding good and I’ve got my story unfolding in a nice way. There’s still one question I ask about my lyric and that is, “Are all the lines in my lyric relevant to my theme?” In other words, does my whole lyric support the point or theme of my song? If I have some filler lines or phrases I’ll probably want to work on the song a bit more.

Finally, I have found that considering the above questions gives me a context for my writing. There are numerous details I can attend to, but if I don’t place the work of re-writing into this larger context, then all my work on the details likely won’t bring about the hoped for result.

In closing, I’ll share a technique I use over and over in the process of finishing or re-writing. If I’ve come to feel that I’ve been trying too hard to complete something that I’m using too much mental muscle because I’ve lost the creative thread then it’s important that I step away from the song, let it rest and come back to it fresh.

The single most helpful way I know to do this is to make a rough recording of the song, singing only the words I’m happy with and humming in places that might need a stronger lyric. It’s important that I don’t force words that don’t sound right or make sufficient sense. Then and this is keyI listen to my rough recording at bedtime. (And by that I mean listen last thing before I turn off the light.)

It’s amazing how often the right words will bubble up from the subconscious the next day… or soon thereafter.
 

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.

 

Information on the 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net/enter


 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, lyric, songwrite, lyric writing, song demo, Cliff Goldmacher, collaborations, Co-Writing Songs, hooks, Re-writing, Tom Kimmel, syllables

Songwriting Tip: Dealing With Song Critiques

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Feb 23, 2016 @07:00 AM

Songwriting Tip: Dealing With Song Critiques

by Harriet Schock

In my opinion, bad song critiquing has gotten more writers in trouble than bad songwriting. A bad song is simply a bad song. But bad song critiquing can hurt a good song. It's frequently done by publishers, A&R people, music supervisors, song pluggers...in short, business people. It's even done routinely by songwriters who don't write as well as you can, who've never had a cut. I don't understand that practice, but it's out there. Even professional songwriters will critique in a dangerous way, crippling the requesting writer in an attempt to help him, by pointing out weaknesses at the exclusion of the strengths of the song. I will frequently inherit the victim of some sort of brutal or idiotic critique. I will invariably hear from a new student, "So-and-so said such-and-such about this song and I don't know what to do about it."

I frequently get asked to critique songs and it is a frustrating process. It was so frustrating, in fact, that when I started teaching years ago, I came up a step-by-step method of starting from scratch that streamlines the process and helps create better songwriters.

Someone recently sent me a song to critique. He lives in Nashville and he has excellent taste in songs. He knew the difference between good and great and he wanted to be great. In my head I kept hearing the lyric from "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair," which says "You can't fix an egg when it ain't quite good and you can't fix a man when he's wrong..."

Well, I wouldn't say you can't fix a song when it's wrong, but I will say you can fix a song only up to a point. I'm constantly being asked, however, to "fix" songs that should have simply been started differently, developed differently and crafted better. Here's the analogy that springs to mind and I shared it with the songwriter from Nashville: You are at sea level. You’re building a house. Your house will be built at sea level. But when it's done, you go to the builder and say "I'd like that house to be at 1000-ft. elevation." His answer is, "No, but I can take you to another town which is 1000 feet above sea level and build that house there."

All the years that I was asked to critique songs brought me two things: heartbreak and a realization. Heartbreak came when I had to tell the person there was a serious problem with a song he had demoed for a thousand dollars. The realization was that if you give the person a way to write songs in the first place, he will not have to "fix" every song he writes. The sad truth is that he will not be able to "fix" many of them. He took too many wrong turns and ended up with a song that is simply not his best effort.

Imagine you're in a shopping mall. You're trying to get to Bloomingdale's but you don't have a map that says "you are here." So you take one corridor and then another and you may end up in the food court, or at Macy's but you will not end up at Bloomingdale's every time. Maybe every once in a while you'll happen upon it. But your song took a wrong turn at the title, then you took a wrong turn at the first picture or plot point you used to tell the story, then you decided on an ending for THAT story, which wasn't the story you should have told in the first place. Melodically, you settled for a melody that came easily but that doesn't move anyone and "fixing" a melody is even harder than "fixing" a lyric. You can make it stronger by changing some steps to some leaps or going to some less predictable chords. You can even change the rhythmic groove it sits on. But why do all that? Why not just get the best song in the first place?

Now don't get me wrong. Some songs are a perfect face with a big wart on the end of the nose. Everyone can see the wart except the writer and it's easy to say "remove the wart" and the song is great. At other times, there's an unexpressed great idea jumping from the page to any experienced songwriter and simply giving the author that suggestion is all that's needed to take the song to the next level. Tweaking is a way of life for songwriters and I'm certainly not saying it's ill-advised or impossible. What I'm referring to is trying to make a song that's a 5 into a song that's is a 10.

I used to have a mentor who said he could tell the minute someone walked into the room if he had talent. I used to be suspicious of that comment. But now I know what he meant. Even though this is a bit different from what he said, I can tell immediately, at an open mike, if the writer has the goods. I don't need to wait until the third song, or the third measure, for that matter, although I usually do. Sure, there may be a hole in the second verse you could drive an SUV through, but that song is still sitting on solid ground and can be rebuilt.

Sometimes a writer will confess to me that his songs are not made of the same stuff as the great songs--the ones you listen to and say "I wish I'd written that." There's a kind of depth to a great song that a good song just doesn't have. If you aspire to write great songs that will live on after you have no more teeth to gnash over your bridge (no pun intended), then stop asking people to "fix" your songs. Simply become a better songwriter by either studying the work of great songwriters or finding a mentor or book. Then you won't have to put up with all the inane critiquing on the part of "industry guests" who are not songwriters and should restrict their comments to "I can use it" or "I can't use it." Even car dealerships don't let the salesmen work under the hood.  



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

 

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

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

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