Archive for December, 2008

Happy New Year

December 31, 2008

As part of your New Year’s resolutions, consider what you would be willing to do in 2009 to improve your songwriting. Is this the year you take your first songwriting workshop or attend a songwriting camp? Will you submit a song to a contest or join Taxi? Is it time to finally crack open that songwriting book you bought last year?

The end of the year/beginning of a new year is a good time to give yourself the credit you deserve for accomplishments over the past 12 months. Maybe you didn’t get that recording contract, but you did make some progress in that direction. What’s the next thing you can do to continue? It’s time to celebrate your successes, even the little ones. It’s also a good time to plan your 2009 goals and commit to doing what it takes to achieve them.

Face-morphing viral site

December 24, 2008

Here’s a fun, face-morphing site. Like a Mr. Potato Head with real people.

There are 759,375 possible faces. They also offer a free screensaver for PC or Mac.

Merry Christmas.

Notes from songwriting camp

December 24, 2008

Random notes after attending a week long intensive songwriting camp.

One cool thing about learning side by side with other songwriters, is that we learn a lot from each other. Besides hearing personal tips and stories, I came away with an understanding that we’re all on the path together and it behooves us to support each other.

Songwriting is not a competition or a media spectacle like sports (except maybe American Idol). A quick story to illustrate.

A famous guitarist tells of a collaborative CD project he was working on with another extremely famous world class instrumentalist. This musician was always cutting down the guitarist’s playing abilities, just constant ragging on him about it.

When the project was over and the two parted ways, the guitarist noticed his playing improved 1,000% overnight. Why? He no longer heard those debilitating negative messages all the time.

If I put you down, it doesn’t build me up. Instead, let’s support each other and become strong together.

Dummy lyrics

December 23, 2008


Do you have trouble remembering your melody when the melody comes before the lyrics? To fix that, write a set of dummy lyrics, words that fit the melody but that don’t necessarily make any sense. They don’t even need to rhyme. It will help you remember the correct flow of syllables and accents.

Did you know that Paul McCartney’s original title for the song Yesterday was Scrambled Eggs? — a dummy title to go along with dummy lyrics. Apparently he had the melody, but until he got the right lyrics, he substituted the nonsense phrase scrambled eggs.

Searching for a metaphor?

December 22, 2008

Take a sheet of 8.5 x 11 lined paper and fold it in half length-wise (that’s like a hotdog bun). Write your topic at the top of the page. Write as many nouns relating to your topic as you can, one on each line.

Then turn the folded paper over and write a list of topic related gerunds (verbs ending with ing) such that when you unfold the paper your two lists will be side by side. In addition to gerunds you can use nouns, adjectives, etc.

Unfold the paper and see what kind of combinations you’ve got. Many will be useless, but fool with them, reverse the order, tweak them and see if you don’t find one new way of saying something you’re trying to say about your topic.

Tip contributed by Dhruva

The elves take over the workshop

December 22, 2008

David Crosby

“Very often ideas come to me when I’m falling asleep – when the busy mind gets out of the way, and the intuitive, imaginative mind gets a shot at the steering wheel. My friend, writer William Gibson, told me, ‘It’s an established phenomenon. The elves take over the workshop.’ That’s why all writers keep a pen and paper by their beds.”

— David Crosby

Derek Sivers is my new guru

December 17, 2008


I read another amazing post by Derek Sivers. Reminder, Derek founded CD Baby.

This one is about how to get the most out of a music conference. It’s like a primer on how to network (I know that’s a bad word, and personally, I hate to schmooze).

But he has a very simple way to accomplish the task of networking and get what you want, even if (especially if) you are an introvert like me.

Song writing focus sheet

December 16, 2008

Songwriter’s Tip Jar Forums are free online message boards for songwriters (our sister site). If you haven’t seen them, I invite you to take a look. Every day more and more insightful songwriters are helping each other out.

People are getting help finishing their lyrics and music. Others post lyrics or mp3s and get critiques. Still others ask questions and get answers about the business of music.

One very interesting post is called *Song Writing Focus Sheet.* It’s a list of questions or ‘focus’ points aimed at helping you think about a song, to organize your thoughts before writing the lyrics. Too often we just charge ahead with a half-baked idea or riff or nothing but a title.

These focus points can guide you through a process of fleshing out your ideas, so that when you write the lyrics, you’ll have something more to draw on (you won’t be shooting in the dark).

Here a just a few examples, and I’m paraphrasing.

– Who is doing the singing and to whom? Be specific.
– Where (location) is this conversation taking place?
– When in time is the action or conversation, past, future?
– What is the viewpoint, 1st person (I)? 2nd, 3rd?
– What is the general tone of the lyric – romantic, sarcastic, tongue in cheek, reflective, self-assertive?
– What is the relationship between the singer and the singee?

To see many more examples in the original post, click here. If you are not a forum member, you will need to register first (it’s free). Register here (click register).

Debunking myths

December 15, 2008

Myth 1: Overnight Success. We always hear and repeat our favorite musician success stories, like so and so who was discovered playing in a dive bar and 6 months later was famous and had a record contract. What about the ten years leading up to the night he was ‘discovered,’ when he was playing his heart out at the same dive bar? He prepared for 10 years for his ‘overnight’ success.

Don’t get me wrong. I love those success stories. But I’m just as interested in what kept that person playing night after night for ten years as I am in the rest of the story.

My intent is not to burst anyone’s bubble. I just want to remind you that 99.9% of the time, there is no such thing as overnight stardom, overnight fame or overnight riches.

Myth 2: Get Rich Quick! How many times have you seen these words in the subject of a spam email, in a junk mail letter or in the back pages of a tabloid magazine?

When you see these words, run the other way! The only legal ways I know of to get rich quickly are 1) win the lottery or some other gamble, like horse racing, or 2) inherit money.

Myth 3: Songwriting is Easy. The corollary to this one is ‘the best songs are the ones that fall into your lap from the sky/muse/in a dream and write themselves effortlessly.’

I don’t dispute that great melodies fall out of the sky once in a while, as do great lyrics. Even then, your effort is needed, little details like editing, arranging, filling in the missing verses, etc.

And even if songwriting is easy for you, and I hope it is, there’s the work to be done after the song is complete: demoing it, pitching it, promoting it, recording it, marketing it, etc.

Maybe that part is easy for you, too. However, many creative types get a huge headache thinking about the business side of songwriting. Anyway, that’s not really songwriting, you say. Fair enough. But if you aim to do this for a living, thinking about and working on business is unavoidable. And until you’re famous, you probably won’t have anyone to do it for you. You’ll have to do it yourself.

So instead of calling the myth ‘songwriting is easy,’ perhaps it should be ‘making a career of songwriting is easy.’

So, am I saying that it’s gonna be hard and it has to be that way and that hard work is the only way to get ahead? Not at all. To me, songwriting is a joy most of the time, including some of the business stuff. Does that mean it’s easy most of the time? No. But I enjoy the process even when it’s not easy.

Hard isn’t the same as bad. I don’t even think about ‘hard’ or ‘easy’ when I’m focused on the song. For most of us, whether it’s hard or easy is irrelevant.

Myth 4: Writing songs will make you famous. Does anybody know who wrote Celine Dion’s hits? How about the name of the songwriters who wrote hit songs for Norah Jones, Cher or Bonnie Raitt? To give the men equal time, do you know who wrote Eric Clapton’s hits? How about Rod Stewart, Michael Bolton or Justin Timberlake?

You can have a successful career as a songwriter and never have your face on the cover of the Rolling Stone (or any other tabloid magazine for that matter). So if you want to be a star and make your name a household word, maybe songwriting isn’t the right vehicle for you. Of course, if you’re a performing songwriter, that’s a different story.


December 11, 2008

There are many elements to a song. Within each of them, a
little variation, a little contrast is helpful.

Let’s take the element of melody as an example. One common way to use contrast is having the verses in a lower or middle range, with some high notes in the chorus. In rock you often hear a verse sung an octave higher than the previous verse. This not only contrasts pitch, but the intensity of the vocal.

An example using melody and rhythm can be found in a song like Johnny B. Goode or almost any of Chuck Berry’s hits (Nadine, Promised Land, Roll Over Beethoven). If you don’t know his music, think of the Billy Joel song ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire.’ The verses consist of rapid fire syllables, almost one syllable per beat. That makes a strong rhythmic statement.

But to carry that on throughout the entire song would be monotonous. So in Johnny B. Goode he throws in a little contrast in the chorus: not so many syllables, a little more room to breathe for the singer and the listener.

You can use contrast to add interest in your lyrics, for example, intimate, specific, personal lyrics in the verses and a more philosophical chorus.

So far, we shown examples where verses contrast with choruses, but you can use contrast anywhere. For example, the beginning of every verse can be somber and maudlin while by the end of the verse it can be more hopeful.

Or you can use contrast across different elements. An extreme example would be a bouncy, happy musical accompaniment for lyrics that are serious or depressing. This is a little tricky. If you can make it work for you, it can be very effective.