Archive for June, 2008

Collaboration – a powerful tool

June 30, 2008

Collaborating or co-writing is another trick you can add to your songwriting arsenal. Writing alone may be the only method you’re familiar with up to this point, but in some cases two heads are better than one.

We are often so wrapped up in our own songs, that a second set of ears is helpful, whether they belong to your co-writer, manager, producer, bandmate, song circle member, spouse or friend.

That second/third set of ears can often pick up weaknesses in our songs, weaknesses that we’ve completely overlooked. It’s always better to find and fix these glitches early in the songwriting process, than to be dealing with them later, in the recording studio, for example.

When you’re having a case of writer’s block or just a bad day, your co-writer can take the reins and get the ball rolling and vice versa.

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Five things that are still true about music

June 27, 2008

If you caught yesterday’s blog post, you know about Andrew Dubber and his New Music Strategies blog. His free e-book is my new bible. It’s called 20 Things You Must Know About Music Online.

I can’t wait for his full book, 100 Questions I Keep Getting Asked about Music Online, but frankly, I’ve got my plate full just implementing the advice in the 20 Things book for my own band.

I just noticed he has a new pamphlet called Five things that are still true about music. It’s a short pdf booklet and it’s free to distribute. Get it here.

Making money with your music

June 26, 2008

Today I digress from the topic of songwriting to talk about money.

If you’re like me, you’ve spent way too much time scouring the web for a way to promote your band and make money with your music. I’ve read articles and e-books, joined social networks, created web sites, submitted to contests, and on and on. Some were very useful, others were marginally helpful. And nothing really stood out as a comprehensive solution.

Recently, I ran across the most direct, helpful, up-to-date and seemingly complete source of nuts and bolts information and advice and it’s completely free. I have nothing to gain from mentioning it, and I don’t know the person, but I couldn’t, in good conscience, keep it to myself.

I suspect if you follow all his advice…you will be using the web to your best advantage.

The resource is a blog called New Music Strategies and the free e-book called The 20 Things You Must Know about Music Online by Andrew Dubber. You may already know about it, but for me, it was a real eye-opener. The book is spot on and to the point. The advice is not too general and not too techie.

I suspect if you follow all his advice and extrapolate it to apply to your specific situation, then you will be using the web to your best advantage.

So for myself, I took a few immediate action steps. First, I got my bandmate to read it, and I read it through once again (96 pages, but with big print and lots of white space, so it’s a quick read), and then we started to implement the ideas, one by one. I’ll report back to let you know our progress and our results.

Get your copy here.

How to write a song and other mysteries

June 25, 2008

Measure for measure, the songwriting blog from the New York Times has a new entry. This one is called Catch and Release by Peter Holsapple.

He talks about his process of writing a song, which includes watching TV with the sound off. Included in his post are a couple samples of his work. I didn’t find it all that helpful.

However, if you scroll down to the entry by Suzanne Vega, two posts earlier, you’ll find a much deeper discussion, about being a two hit wonder, her song Luka and much more.

What can I do for you?

June 24, 2008

I like to attend songwriting workshops, seminars and conventions. I can often get more out of a weekend seminar that it could take all year to learn otherwise.

Half of what you learn at these things is from peers, people who may not be as experienced as the paid presenters, but who often have that one bit of info, that missing piece that is just what you needed to learn. Likewise, you share what you know with them.

So it pays to network. Some people say they aren’t good at networking. Don’t think of networking as schmoozing over drinks with strangers, although that works for some. My definition of networking is nothing more than meeting people like yourself, who also may think they’re no good at networking.

Networking starts as idle conversation. Don’t start with ‘what can you do for me?’ In fact, it’s more effective to ask, ‘what can I do for you?’ But to start, it’s just anything that gets you into a conversation.

We all have to eat, so never eat alone at a music conference. Tag along with a group and keep your ears open. Nod your head, take notes. Ask questions. Now you’re networking. If appropriate, get a business card and/or demo from everyone at the table and give yours to them.

The hardest networking conversation for me to start is one-on-one. But you can break the ice by asking ‘what type of music do you write?’ That should be enough to get any songwriter talking.

Most of us can’t afford to go to a songwriting conference more than once or twice a year. What can you do to network the rest of the time? That’s where the Songwriter’s Tip Jar Forum shines. It’s like a songwriter convention 365 days a year.

Brush up your networking skills by connecting online. Get invaluable tips and advice from your STJ peers and those anonymous members who happen to be industry heavies. And don’t forget to give back.

Sounds like a new angle

June 23, 2008

Fender Rhodes stage piano

I’m a keyboard player, and I remember back in the 70’s when I got a brand new Fender Rhodes stage piano with the Satellite speakers (that had the cool stereo effect). It sounded so good to me that the sound alone made me want to play it, and explore what kind of great noises I could make. Many a tune was written because I loved, and was inspired by the way it sounded. And to this day, I actually believe that I play better when I use a Rhodes sound!

Flash forward to the current decade.

Here’s the deal. Go to your favorite music store and check out the new guitars if you play guitar, keyboards if you play keys, etc. Make friends with the sales people, and have them show you what’s new and hot. This can only enhance your relationship with the store, while providing you with some fresh ideas.

In the case of a guitar or other non-keyboard instrument, check out the new effects/processor boxes. Effects like reverb, echo, distortion, or whatever can add such a fresh, new dimension to your playing that you will literally get ideas right there in the store. With keyboards/synths, try layering your melodies by adding together two different voices.

If you can spend a couple of hours at this occasionally, there are limitless things you can try out. It’s sort of like surfing the web; you can get lost in a sea of sounds, but I’m guessing you will love it.

Now do whatever you need to do to remember your ideas, and use them when you get back to your own ax. You may even come home with some new equipment.

The goal is to approach songwriting from a new angle. Any new angle like this can help you break out of old habits, especially the habit called writer’s block.

Let us know if you find this helpful. If you’re thinking about writing us, give in to the temptation and sound off with positive or negative feedback at the end of this post.

— Submitted by Robert Coté

Is a Truly Original Melody Possible?

June 20, 2008

Question: How is it possible to write an interesting melody without inadvertently ‘borrowing’ a few similar notes from somebody else’s composition?

Answer: It may be literally impossible to create a melody that does not contain a short phrase from an earlier composition (given the millions of songs and musical pieces ever written).

There are only a limited, finite number of notes in western music. So with a limited number of notes to choose from, there would mathematically be a limited number of different melodies or phrases that exist. Every composer is stuck with this same limitation.

sheet music

My advice: don’t sweat it. Chances are you are not the first person to borrow this same fragment of a phrase. Also, just because you use the same 4 or 5 notes in a row (maybe even with the same note durations), you probably are not using the same chords in the same places.

Clearly, if you are a professional songwriter and you have identified a phrase in one of your songs as coming from somebody else’s song, you should run it by your lawyer. I’m not a lawyer and you should not take my comments as legal advice.

Acting ‘as if’

June 19, 2008

These days, many people have heard the not-so-old adage: “Fake it ’til you make it.” Why mention it here? Does this apply to writing songs? You bet it does — here’s how:

More than just pretending to be something you’re not, ‘acting as if’ is a powerful tool to help create a reality for you. Hopefully you can be conscious enough to create something desirable over something undesirable — but that’s part of the process. You must see yourself succeeding at what you want to create, instead of falling into the mind trap of seeing only failure. (Think about it for a minute — do you do that?)

Suppose you want to provide a song publisher in Nashville with hit after hit. So imagine yourself getting a phone message from your contact with this publisher: “Hey Mary! This is Jim at Hitmakers. I’m just calling to tell you you’re on a roll! The tunes you’re submitting are dynamite, so keep ’em coming! By the way, your monthly check is on its way. Talk to you soon!”

Think that’s hokey? How’s your current process working out? Do you even have one?

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Distracting Gadgets

June 18, 2008

electrical storm
Here’s a quick tip, brought to mind during a recent power outage. Before the storm hit, I had planned to spend some time working in Sonar and eVirtualStudio. I was also hoping to experiment with a digital delay unit and burn a CD. Needless to say, with no electricity, all these tasks had to be postponed. So instead, I got out my pencil and wrote a song the old-fashioned way.

Sometimes the gadgets only serve to distract us from our primary goal of writing songs. Don’t get so caught up in them that you neglect your passion.

An Unsingable Song

June 17, 2008

We recommend hiring a singer for your demo recordings and not sing on the demos yourself, unless you happen to be a professional singer and you have the perfect voice for this particular song. But that’s a whole ‘nuther post.

Whoever sings on your demo is going to have the power to make or break your song. The singer can deliver it with feeling and really sell it, or can do a so-so, half-fast job. One of your jobs as a songwriter (if you’re writing songs for others to sing) is to write a melody that enables the singer to give their best performance.

It is easy to write melodies that are virtually unsingable. It’s especially easy to do if you are not a singer or if you write melodies outside your own vocal range.

If you write an extremely challenging melody (very high or low notes, difficult intervals, etc.) your singer may not be inspired to give 110%. However, if you put yourself in the singer’s shoes and write a reasonably singable melody, your demo will have a much better chance of getting heard.