Showing posts with label songwriting advice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label songwriting advice. Show all posts

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Make Your Own Luck

I've never been a lucky person. Games of chance? Forget it. Slots? No. Prize drawings at work? I've stopped even entering. "Buy a raffle ticket for just one dollar!" Here, I'll just GIVE you a dollar. Go out and have yourself a good time.

I guess that's why I prefer games of skill. You know, I'd rather play video poker than slot machines. That way, at least, if I lose, I can blame my poor decision-making, as opposed to that arbitrary LUCK, which apparently shuns me and is ashamed to be seen in my company. Yes, I'd rather be known as a poor decider than an unlucky person. Being unlucky somehow makes people glance sideways at you, with a look of pity in their eyes. "Oh, such a shame about Gertie. She's UNLUCKY, you know."

So, what does all this have to do with music?

As an independent artist, striking gold is, in essence, impossible. For one thing, there are approximately (and I'm just making up this number) 45,000,000 independent artists out there hawking their wares.

Music licensing (you know, for TV and movies and commercials and I don't know, bathroom Muzak) once seemed like the savior of independent artists. I'm unfortunately, or fortunately, skeptical. We're hooked up with a multitude of licensing companies, from YouLicense to Music Supervisor to License Me For God's Sake. The companies run the gamut.

I get the emails. Sometimes I open them; sometimes they sit in my in-box, unopened for a week or two. The emails don't really care, mind you. They could just as well be titled, "Here Are Some Opportunities. You Don't Have a Chance in Hell of Qualifying For Them, So Read Them If You Feel Like It. If Not, Eh. We Just Send Them Out Because We're Obligated".

Sometimes, these companies send "Success Stories" emails. I bet they think these are "inspirational". They're not. All they do is make people like me feel like losers. I could just have a bad attitude; I don't know. I suppose it's great that the Shadow Sisters from Albuquerque, New Mexico got their latest quirky song picked up for an episode of "Fringe" (I hope that's an actual show).

And now, let's read an interview with the Shadow Sisters!

Q: How does it feel to have your song included in Fringe?
A: I don't know; all right, I guess.
Q: Have you had success with your music prior to this whole Fringe business?
A: Oh, this is our only song, to be honest. We just did it as sort of a joke.
Q: So, you've not been out there, pounding the pavement?
A: What does that mean?
Q: You know, promoting your music; trying to get heard.
A: Um, my boyfriend just told us, put on these short dresses and stand against that wall over there, and I'll take your picture. Oh, and take off your shoes. He said, try to look bored, and we said, hey, no problem. I guess that's what did it.
Q: Where does your songwriting inspiration come from?
A: I really was just humming.
Q: That's it?
A: Kinda.
Q: What advice would you have for aspiring artists who want to get their music licensed for television?
A: Take off your shoes? I don't know. Ask my boyfriend. I'm bored. Can I go home now?

So, you see? Luck. And a bad attitude, apparently.

Oh, don't get me wrong. The Shadow Sisters notwithstanding, there are (again, making this up) 43,000,000 great musicians and/or songwriters floating around out there in Cyberland (that leaves two million bad musicians and/or songwriters, if you're keeping score).

Those are bad odds. And don't even get me started on demographics.

So, what does an independent artist do?

Play a game of skill; not a game of luck.

Look for hidden opportunities. Be more clever than the other guy. Think local, for one. What's available out there in your stratosphere; something that will lower those 43,000,000 to 1 odds considerably? A television station? A local website looking for a theme song? A business needing a jingle? How about a local or regional contest that wants you to submit your best song about _______? How about trying to win a free vacation? (Okay, rather obscure, but more about that in a future post.)

Google is your friend. Use it. Explore the local and regional options that are available.

Think of the occasions that your song would fit. Did you write a song that would be appropriate for a wedding? Did you write something topical; something that's happenin' now? Take one of your songs; examine it; turn it upside down. Think about what its uses could be. If you don't find a matching opportunity, approach an entity and make an offer!

Honestly, you have to do it yourself. Uploading music to a licensing site is such a loooong longshot. Unless you're the Shadow Sisters.

Make your own luck.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Six Lines

One of the many nuggets of advice a songwriter often receives is to go away from a song for awhile. Come back later, and voila! Inspiration arrives!

I've never been a proponent of leaving a song alone. It's usually there or it isn't.

Sure, it doesn't come out fully formed! Unless you're some kind of idiot savant. But, I mean, the basic song is "there". You need to mess with some lines and switch things around, and bang your head against the desk a few times, but there it is!

So, here I am. I haven't written a song since February (during FAWM), when I wrote 14, thank you very much.

Long weekends are great opportunities for me to get some "me time" (ha ha), meaning, time to work on something other than laundry and housecleaning, so I thought, geez, I really should write a song.

Therefore, I sat down with my acoustic, dusted it off (literally), and waited to see what would come out. And then I waited.

I always like A minor, so I tried some chord progressions around that. (Okay, truth be told, most of my songs are written in the key of G. Most? How about 96%? It's some kind of weird compulsion I have, I think. Plus, it fits my voice. Okay, we'll go with that).

And A minor isn't that far away, vocally, from G. But I really wasn't looking to write a "happy" song (therefore, not "G"). I wanted something a bit...I don't know, wistful. We'd just returned from a trip to the North Shore, where we'd spent a foggy rainy weekend, with the waves of Lake Superior crashing against the rocks. Ahh, heaven. So, since I had absolutely no inspiration on which to base a song, I thought, how about something foggy and rainy, with waves crashing? And make it a song about lost love (duh).

I got a bit of melody going (Was it a verse or a chorus? Don't know!) Then I tried writing some words to go with it.

I got SIX LINES! Six! Then I was done for the night. As the title of one of my FAWM songs says, "I Got Nothin'". (That song, by the way, came about because I really did have nothing; nothing to write about. It was number 13, and thus quite late in the game. Turns out, I had somethin', because that song turned into a nice, quirky little bit of somethin'/nothin').

I just tonight opened up Audacity to listen to what I'd done. All six lines. And you know what? I don't like it.

The measly six lines of lyrics, okay. The chord progression, no. All wrong. I don't know what I was thinking. The song needs to be restarted. Am I inspired to restart it? No. I'm not inspired, period.

Writers always want to credit the "muse" for their inspiration. Well, I'll tell you what. I can honestly say that the muse maybe visited me ONCE, but as I recall, she made me put a whole lot of work into the damn song, so apparently the muse is a practical joker. And as I've mentioned in the past, only three people even LIKE that song, and I'm one of the three! So, she's cruel, too.

So, muse shmuze. Call it what you will. In my experience, writing songs is having an idea or a chord progression, and sitting down and WORKING. I prefer to call it Imagination. When songwriters are talking about some magical "muse" that happened to visit them, I think I'll say, oh, I know exactly what you mean! My IMAGINATION visited me today! Why the heck do I want to give someone else credit for my work anyway? SHE didn't sit down and hammer out the chords. SHE didn't play around with and move lines and try to come up with stupid rhymes, changing a line I liked for something else, because I couldn't find a good rhyme for "praying". I did that. She just sat on my window sill, chain smoking, and throwing out little cynical insults every now and then. "Boy, it's sure taking you a long time to get that chorus right", "Maybe you should just give up, loser". Muse is really worthless, and just an annoyance. I should have pushed her out the window, really.

Songwriting isn't "magical" anyway. Ideas are. Well, good ideas.

I wonder if it's only songwriters who depend upon the muse. Do other types of artists talk about her endlessly, in hushed tones, as if she gets all pissy about loud talking? "Oh, you know, I was going to write that chapter of my book today, but THE MUSE didn't visit me. I think she was down at the corner convenience store, buying lottery tickets or something. Damn! And I have a deadline!"

Which leads me back to this most recent pseudo-song. I can, without a doubt, state that the muse did not visit me on this one, and I think she's just bored by the whole thing, as am I. In fact, I don't even think she's around right now, or else she'd be sitting here, flicking her ashes at me. But I've noticed she only tends to do that on the songs that could actually turn into something. She's callous.

So, the song isn't written, and maybe won't be. But songs are like blog posts, or something. Sometimes you sit down and find that you have something to say. Sometimes you just sit down.

Since this tends to be a "video blog", I looked for some videos of songwriting advice, and found this one by Tony Arata, who wrote "The Dance" for Garth Brooks. What I like about what he says is, and this is really key: ENJOY THE PROCESS. Because really, if you don't like what you're doing, why even bother? The fact is, you'd damn well better like it, because it's probably going nowhere, but tucked away in your hard drive, and the only person who will listen to it is YOU, and you really should revel in the fact that YOU like it. Because YOU (not the muse) put a bunch of work into it, and you're the only one who knows and appreciates that.

Sorry for the poor quality of this video, but Garth, like Prince, is apparently afraid that....gasp!.....someone might actually want to WATCH his videos, and we just can't have that! So, I grabbed this one, after much searching, from some obscure site, and this was the best I could do. But I figured, after Tony Arata's advice, it might be nice to actually see the song performed.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Okay, Lyric-Only Writers, You Can Flog Me Now

I've said some harsh, I guess you could say, things about lyric-only writers in previous blogs. However, I still stand by my statement: Lyrics are not songs. I think I said, unless you can strum them on a guitar, or plink them out on a keyboard, they're not songs. True!

I will, though, say that just sitting and writing lyrics is not as easy as it seems at first glance.

Not that hard, but not necessarily easy.

What brings me to this enlightenment? Simply, it's February, and that means it's time for FAWM, or more specifically, February Album Writing Month.

If you're familiar with my blog, FAWM means, in essence, write 14 songs in 28 days.

I still shudder in horror when I think about FAWM, 2010. Okay, horror isn't quite the right word. More like shudder in "exhaustion". I pushed myself really, really hard last year, to accomplish FAWM's goal, and I did it!

This year, however, I just didn't feel that I had the stamina to do what I did in 2010; yet I couldn't bring myself to NOT participate in FAWM (Once you've done it, you're hooked; really.)

So, the compromise? Write 14 lyrics.

I'm still part of the FAWM community; still an active participant; just not with the crushing commitment of not only writing the songs, but recording stupid demos of them as well.

So, all is good, right?

Sort of.

I find that I, in essence, do write the songs, at least in my head, while I conjure up the lyrics. It's the only way I know. And yea, I've got the chord progressions rattling around up there, too.

I, frankly, don't know how someone who doesn't know music can write a coherent lyric. It's not a matter of doing syllable counts, for God's sake. I mean, when you sing it, it's going to be totally different anyway. I wonder if lyric-only writers get bogged down in the minutia of making sure each line is exactly the same length as the one before it. Nobody sings that way!

So, okay, this does sound condescending, and I don't mean it to. But, on the other hand, since I've done, let's see, six lyrics now (and it's only February 4), I'm really itching to pick up the guitar and play the damn things. Having something echoing in your head is all well and good, but it's the same as fantasizing that Johnny Depp is going to swashbuckle on your doorstep and sweep you away (is "swashbuckle" a verb?) It's not reality; it's a fantasy.

Lyrics are NOT songs. You need a MELODY. You need somebody to SING them.

But anyway, if you want to know how to write songs, I did find this:

Have you ever wanted to write a song? (YES!) And maybe have it recorded by a famous singer? (SURE!) Maybe it could even hit the "top ten" chart? (WHY NOT?)

While this actually happens to some lyricists and songwriters, the chances are slim for a person to reach that height of success. But, what the heck! If you have an idea for a song, you might as well write it down and organize it into a song. Even if it never enters the front door of a recording studio, you will still have the bragging rights to your family and friends that you are a lyricist! (WOO-HOO!)

There is no set way to write the lyrics to a song, but there are a few basics that you will need to know in order to reach your goal. In this article, you will learn about organizing your own personal thoughts and turning them into song lyrics.

The first step is to write down who your audience is (NO ONE!). You will need to keep this in mind while writing the lyrics so you can target them (THE NON-EXISTENT AUDIENCE). After all, if you were writing a song for children you would certainly avoid adult material of any kind (HMMM....DEPENDS).

Next, write down the subject of the song ("JOHN BOUGHT A TRACTOR"), the idea or the message you want to convey ("I'M WRITING A SONG!), and the story the song will tell. The subject of the song might be falling in love; the message might be that there is someone for everyone; the story might tell of a man and a woman who meet and fall madly in love with each other (OKAY!).

This is a good time to write down the words to the chorus of the song. The chorus is a bridge or connection from one verse to the next (WELL, TECHNICALLY A "BRIDGE" IS A "BRIDGE", AND A CHORUS IS SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT FROM A "BRIDGE", BUT WHY QUIBBLE, I GUESS?). It must make sense to sing the words of the chorus in between the verses. From the chorus, you will also need to make-up a catchy title for your song ("JOHN BOUGHT A TRACTOR").

The next step is to write a rough draft of the first verse of your song. This verse should draw attention to your song and make your audience want to listen. Don't worry about it being perfect at this point; you will refine all the verses and the chorus later (BELIEVE ME!).

Now, of course, you will need to write the second verse (UNLESS YOU WANT A REALLY SHORT SONG!). In this part you will need to continue to tell the story and explain what the action is. Don't be too detailed; this is a three minute song, not an opera (HOWEVER, DON'T BE TOO VAGUE, OR NO ONE WILL HAVE A CLUE WHAT IN THE HELL YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT; BELIEVE ME; I KNOW).

Next comes the third verse (SERIOUSLY? I'M FINE WITH TWO, THANK YOU). Tell more about your story here, and add relevant information to your story (SORT OF A LAUNDRY LIST, IF YOU WILL). You really want to enhance the story line from verses one and two, because the next verse will close the song (NEXT VERSE?? FOUR VERSES?? WHAT IS THIS, AMERICAN PIE??).

It's time to close the song (THANK GOD!) by writing the fourth verse and bring it all together like the last chapter of a book (I, PERSONALLY, WOULD SKIP THE FOURTH VERSE; AND THE THIRD, FOR THAT MATTER).

Finally, read over your lyrics and change your sentences into lines. After you have lines, you will need to go back and change the ending words so they will rhyme (OH, COME ON). Do this with the chorus too. Every lyric should be of relatively-equal length so the song will glide along and not be choppy (AND BE ROTE; LIKE A ROBOT).

After you have completed writing your song, you may decide to write the music for it too (YOU MAY!). Or, if composing is not your thing, you could work with someone who does compose and complete your song! (GOOD LUCK THERE, PAL!)

So, there you have it. How to write a lyric; all FOUR verses of it! You can thank me later.

Meanwhile, I guess, against my wishes, I'm going to have to take the acoustic out of mothballs, and whip up a few of my 2011 lyrics, or else I'm just going to be really mad at myself. And I've probably got enough people mad at me already; I don't need to pile on.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Danger Of Critiquing Lyrics

There are tons of songwriting forums on the net. Trust me ~ Try doing a Google search sometime. I'm not saying there are tons of good songwriting forums. (By the way, if anyone knows of a really good one, please let me know.)

These forums are places where folks get together to mingle. Someone will post their lyrics for review, and the rest of the folks proceed to rip them to shreds:

"Oh, it would be so much better if you used 'the' instead of 'a'."

Or, someone will have a nice turn of phrase, and someone will respond, "That doesn't make sense. Can't you just say, 'Jane went to the store'?"

I rarely read posted lyrics. Frankly, it's about as much fun as drinking a can of Diet Coke that's lost its fizz.

I guess the main problem I have with reading lyrics is, they just tend to drone on and on. I'm sure, with music added, the experience would be much more enjoyable. And I'm not criticizing other writers. I don't like reading my own lyrics.

That's not to say that I
never like lyrics. If someone is a really good writer, it certainly makes me want to hear the song.

But, aye, there's the rub. There'd better be a song to go with it. Otherwise, it's just a poem. And I'm not a poetry fan. Most of that stuff is just too precious for me.

But I have digressed once again.

The problem with critiquing lyrics is that they're out of context. I bet there are a million hit songs with words that either don't make any sense, or really say nothing at all. But the songs were still hits!

As a lyricist, I hate to say this, but the words are generally the
least important component of a song. There are obvious exceptions to this rule. Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Kris Kristofferson, Don Henley are a few exceptions that readily come to mind.

But most songwriters aren't poets (and in this instance, I mean "poets" in a good way).

Imagine if someone on one of those songwriting sites posted lyrics like this:

You see I’ve been through the desert
On a horse with no name

It felt good to be out of the rain

In the desert you can remember your name

’Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain

La la la la la la la

Or this:

I am, I said

To no one there
And no one heard at all
Not even the chair

People would be like, "Ohh-KAY! Have you ever thought of taking up a different hobby?"

(My theory on that last one is, it was late; Neil just wanted to go to bed, but he had to come up with a last line first. "Okay, dammit. 'Not even the
chair'! Good enough!")

So, while I still think it's important to at least write words that make sense, don't limit yourself.

Don't write, "Jane went to the store", unless that's the vibe you're going for. It's okay to dress up your words, even if the "experts" don't get it.

And the words have to fit the music! Didja ever try to put music to something that was the length of a novel? Edit, people! And Don McLean, I'm talking directly to you! Yes, I know it was a big hit song, but eight and a half minutes??

Don't be so in love with your words that you can't bear to part with any of them. There's nothing wrong with short, concise lines. In fact, they're easier to put to music.

Lastly, if you insist on posting lyrics on a songwriting forum, take the feedback for what it's worth. Consider the source. If these guys were hit songwriters, they wouldn't be hanging out on internet forums.

I am, I said
To no one there

And no one heard at all

Not even the chair

Friday, May 9, 2008

Songs Are Funny Things

I was opening up a new word document last night, and I happened to notice an old title that I never finished, called, "I Hate Everybody". Ha ha! Must have been a bad day at work!

Sort of like yesterday was. Funny how you come across those types of things just at the opportune time.

Everybody has bad days at work, as far as I know. But it got me to thinking about how I come up with ideas for songs. A lot of times, it's just a mood thing. But I try to go the opposite way, generally. If I've had a really bad day, I actually try to write something that's more upbeat, or at least up-tempo, to drive those demons away. I don't like dwelling on the negative. Cuz it puts me in an even worse mood, and why put myself through that? Life's too short.

I was also thinking about how I sometimes spend way too much time working on a song that will probably go nowhere in the end. Sort of like tonight. There's something about this certain song that I can't let go, but I sort of doubt that anyone else will like it. So, I'm devoting a lot of energy to something that may never see the light of day. And yet, knowing that, I still can't let it go. Weird.

I think sometimes I'm too enthralled with my own words. If I like the words, then the song must be good, right? Wrong. Maybe I'd be better off just writing poetry. But, face it, the market is ZERO for that. And the thought of that kind of brings to mind some wispy hippie chick, lying on a hillside with her poetry book, gleaning great meaning from some words that somebody wrote, and using her ribbon bookmark to crease the page that holds her new cosmic truth. I HATE stuff like that.

At least songs have a melody.

Except that, in my case, calling them "melodies" is a bit of a stretch.

Nevertheless, I've been on a productive streak lately. With me, it's either feast or famine. Either I can't write a song to save my soul, or I'm working on three at a time.

Advice I would give songwriters - just write. Of course, I don't take my own advice, but it's still worthwhile!

The more I write, the more ideas I have. On the flip side, if I'm sitting, staring at a blank Word document, I can't come up with anything.

I figure, just write it down (or type it, as in my case). Save it. It could be just a verse, or even half of a verse. Or just a chorus. I've got a bunch of those saved. Sometimes I go back to them, after six months, or a year, or a couple of years, and think, hey! I could make something out of this!

Or, if it's just a melody, get it recorded (Audacity is free). Save it. Or use a hand-held digital recorder. Although I tend to tape over things, and then they're gone forever.

If you're really stuck, listen to the radio. Just don't listen to Today's Country! (sorry, I let a bit of my bias slip in there.) I was driving home yesterday, after doing an errand, and I had the oldies station on. You know that song, "Under The Boardwalk"? I thought, that's a good rhythm. Kind of a calypso thing. It got me to record a basic melody last night - no words yet really, but something that may go somewhere eventually.

Another benefit of listening to the radio is that you can make fun of bad lyrics. Take, for example, today, when I heard that song, "Walk Away Renee". You know, we've heard these songs so many times that we don't even really pay attention to what they're singing. But I had to laugh at the line, "Now as the rain beats down upon my weary eyes". I thought, why not just close your eyes? Then you won't get rain in them. Pop songs can get away with stuff like that, because it's the melody that's important. You can just write some nonsense lines and string 'em together, and people don't care. I'm not making fun of "Walk Away Renee", because I happen to like that song. It's just an observation.

Anyway, I'm working on these songs right now:

"Heartview" - the one that no one will like, but I did try to say something in it.

"Hello Dear Heartache" - it was a welcome respite from the above heavy song. It's just a throwaway, really. I didn't want to call it "Hello Dear Heartache", but there's that Dixie Chicks song called "Hello Mister Heartache", so I couldn't call it that.

"Leaving Rockford" - I started writing that as an exercise. There was a song challenge on line, where you were supposed to write about a town. It's sort of funny, but most likely only to me. That seems to be how those things go.

"Down To The River" (working title) - that's the one with the semi-calypso beat.

"The High Cost Of Living" - this is still in its infancy stage.

I'm still hammering away at "The Late Great Me". That's an oldie. I dreamed that title, so I've been laboring to come up with a song to match it.

So, that's six songs! Wow, I didn't even realize that!

My prediction is that, at the most, two of them will ever get recorded. And I bet they'll be the "throwaway" ones.

But that's show biz. Even a song that never gets recorded is still worthwhile. It teaches you something about writing.

I've stopped being so possessive about my songs anyway. I'm well aware that most of them aren't good, so I don't get my feelings hurt if my producer doesn't want to record them.

So, that's my songwriting advice for today. And if anyone would like to reciprocate, I could definitely use some melody-writing advice! But keep it simple! I'm kind of a moron in that regard.