Listen To The Beatles
I blog all things for the unsigned songwriters, and artists!
Whether it’s to a recording artist, a publisher, or a bus driver, at some point you’ll have to pitch your songs to someone. Most songwriters focus on pitching to publishers in hopes of getting a staff deal that they think will be the end of their pitching days. A staff deal can be a wonderful thing, but many hit songwriters still participate in pitching their own songs. Who wouldn’t buy a car from Henry Ford?
How to Get a Publisher to Listen
Have you ever called, e-mailed, or written to a publisher and asked for an appointment or permission to send a CD? Most publishers, caught on the right day and not pressured too much, will make an appointment to listen to a couple of your songs. Get a copy of Songwriter’s Market (it’s a big book that lists a lot of publishers and their submission policies) and start making connections. Most of the listings show some credits for publishers who actually have cuts.
Have you ever gone to Nashville, New York, or LA and looked in the phone book under music publishers? Try it sometime. Start making calls. Tell the person who answers the phone that you’re a songwriter and you’d like to either send some material or come in and play a few songs for someone. You might only get one positive response for every ten calls, but it only takes one “Yes.” If you want a publisher to listen to your CD, you have to be patient. Don’t come across as desperate; be self-assured without being cocky.
Persistence is the key. If someone says, “No,” call back in six months. If someone says, “Yes,” follow up ASAP. After someone listens, ask if you can submit more material in the future. If you are fortunate enough to get a “Yes,” then send more songs and/or schedule another meeting every one to three months, depending on the publisher’s schedule. At this point, you are finally in the game. You may allow yourself a little victory dance, replete with hoots and hollers, as soon as you are in a private place.
What to Present
When someone says he or she will listen, don’t inundate your new contact with every song in your catalog. Present your best three or four songs, on CD, with lyric sheets. Most publishers prefer lyric sheets in all capital letters, in Times New Roman font and twelve-point type or larger, with black lettering on white paper. Try to keep each song to one sheet and don’t put two songs on the same sheet.
Never explain your songs unless asked; if you have to explain a song, it’s not written clearly enough. Be polite, be on time, and don’t be alarmed if the person you meet isn’t — publishers are busy people. This person is doing you a huge favor by listening. Last-minute things pop up all the time in the music business. Don’t be surprised if your meeting gets pre-empted in favor of a last-minute pitch to an artist or producer. Reschedule and move on to the next goal.
Even if you play live, have a CD ready. Remember, your hope is that this publisher will want to keep some of your songs to play for someone else. This may require repeated listening, and he or she may also wish to play your songs for other people in the company before making any decisions. Don’t ask for a deal or a contract. If a publisher wants to offer you one, he or she will not hesitate to say so. Ask for feedback.
Pitching by Mail
If there’s just no way that you can get to a music hub to pitch in person, you can try mailing your songs to publishers. This works better if you’ve already had at least one previous meeting in person. Call or write first and get permission to send your work, or your songs will be thrown away unheard. Ask for the name and/or title of the person to whose attention you should send your package.
Don’t put clever slogans like “Open Carefully, contents HOT!” The publishing staff has seen them all a million times. It won’t score you any points. Likewise, fancy labeling and embossed lyric pages just tell a publisher that you like to waste money and remind him or her that you’re “not from around here.” Don’t expect to hear anything back on mail-ins. Even if a publisher likes your songs, you won’t usually get a response unless there’s something that he or she wishes to place under contract. Wait at least a month before a follow-up call after a mailing. When you call, ask for feedback and see if you can send three or four more songs. Repeat as necessary.
1) The cornerstone: a unique title, a dramatic situation.
The title is the emotional center of the song. Come up with as suggestive a title as you can, one that conjures up a strong emotional situation. If the title itself isn’t very dramatic, plot out the most evocative story and situation you can to bring fresh attention to an old title concept.
2) The foundation: a well-defined structure.
The structure gives the song shape and is key to making a song memorable. Know the two main forms of song structure: verse/bridge and verse/chorus and make a clear choice as to which one you are using. That will tell you where the title will be placed in the song.
3) The building materials: associative words.
Before writing a lyric line, brainstorm without judgment to come up with associative, provocative words and phrases that all lead to the title concept.
4) The paint: visuals aid.
Use imagery, metaphors and similes, to show us, not tell us, what the singer is experiencing. A song is really a mini aural movie. Again, every image and word of lyric suggests the central concept.
5) Interior design: balance and contrasts.
When writing lyrics, consider changing phrasing patterns from section to section. This will permit the music writer to create more interesting melodies. Once you have established a pattern, match it each time that section comes around so that strong melodic moments can be repeated.
6) Architecture: harmonizing emotion.
You want the melody to match the lyric (prosody). The melody of a song helps interpret the emotional intention of the lyric, so experiment to come up with the most emotional intervals and rhythms to set the words.
7) Inner spaces: how does it feel?
The feel of the music has a lot to do with how we respond to a song. Is it aggressive, tender, angry, good time, etc.? Don’t just accept the first groove you come up with. Experiment, imitate feels of songs off the radio, ‘till you come up with the best one. Too fast or too slow tempo also affects the impact of the song; is it dragging, is it too fast for the words to be sung, enunciated well?
8) The columns: the chords that bind.
Use chords that support the message and the emotion of the melody. Stylistically keep chords in the tone of the genre you’re writing in (country, r&b, jazz, etc.). Also consider the frequency of chord changes line to line, section to section, as energy or intensity builds.
9) The floor plan: varying spaces.
Contrasting phrasing from section to section helps keep musical interest up. Maybe the verse is rapid fire, and the chorus spreads out with fewer words to let the singer wail heroically away. Think about this also when you’re writing melody without existing lyric.
10) Design details: little things mean a lot.
Look for catchy melodic and phrasing “moments” in every section and, when you find them, make sure you repeat them when that same section comes around.
If you really love your instrument, you won’t be content with just knowing barre and open chords, or even sevenths and the other more common chords sounded in blues, rock and country. Delve deeper. Think in terms of triads, extended chords, partial chords and even dissonant notes like that “D” Keith Richards likes to drop into his open G chord progressions. “Wrong” can be right if it serves a song, and if you can create a series of chords that is also a melody – like Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird” – you’ll be on to something beautiful.
Don’t settle for what’s “standard.” Sure, it’s hard to beat standard tuning for versatility and the joy of writing songs with campfire chords, but open tunings can kick a new door wide. Consider John Fogerty. Some of his coolest tunes, including “Proud Mary,” are in open D, which is why your standard tuning version of that song doesn’t sound as nasty, deep, dark and dirty as Creedence Clearwater Revival’s. And consider Keith Richards again. From “Brown Sugar” to “Start Me Up” to many of the songs on classic Stones albums like Exile on Main St., the impetus for those riffs and textures is Keith’s open G tuning.
Think in Circles
The “fifths up” or “circle of fifths” chord progression is always a comfortable entry point when trying to set narrative lyrics to music. It’s a staple of Bob Dylan’s songwriting, is the crux of Pink Floyd’s elegant “Wish You Were Here” and anchors Jimi Hendrix’s recording of “Hey Joe.” Essentially, the key is this: the movement of chords of the same type in a repeating cycle always sounds pleasing to the ear and the chords lend themselves to easy vocal melodies as well. In “Hey Joe,” for example, all the chords are major triads that move up by a fifth as they circle around. Throwing in a consonant chord for drama to perhaps introduce a bridge or chorus change can spice things up.
Guitar players often write from riffs or chord progressions. Change that up. Try writing lyrics first. Pen a story or a poem, or, maybe as the blues great Fred McDowell put it, “a few of your lines.” Then read or sing them aloud. That might suggests guitar sounds – chords or single notes – that can best propel your tale forward in song and snap you out of chasing down the same old progressions and other tune construction habits.
Tension and release plays big in the brainpan of listeners. This can generally be done two ways: dynamics and simple arranging. Suddenly holding a single chord within a song while maintaining or breaking away from the vocal melody is a great way to get listeners to pay attention through arranging. A superb example is the finale of XTC’s 1986 radio hit “Dear God,” when these superb pop-rock tunesmiths take a sharp turn away from the number’s beguiling melody to make their point. And listen to Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix to really master dynamics. Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” with its quiet verses and loud choruses, is raw, nagging perfection. The volume leap to the choruses adds nearly heart-stopping excitement. The Pixies, who influenced Cobain, were also masters of the loud/soft dynamic. And check out “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” to hear one of Jimi’s best displays of dynamics. His verses eventually drop down to an actual stage whisper, inviting the listener into the song’s dark universe.
A hook can be a vocal or instrument line, but as a guitar player, it’s wise to think of “hooks” as riffs. And a great riff pulls a listener right into a tune. Remember the first time you heard Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love?” Of course you do. And getting back to Jimi, “Manic Depression” and “Purple Haze” are perfect examples of heavy riff stompers. All three of those songs also deliver a priceless message to songwriters: if you’ve got a great riff, don’t bury it. Put it up front, and – like voting for your brother-in-law – do it early and often.
Find inspiration in other instruments. Lay the guitar down for a bit and bang on a drum or blow a harmonica when seeking riffs and melodies for new songs. The sheer physical difference of playing other instruments, no matter how badly, will give you new ideas to take back to the guitar. This is guaranteed. Remember when Eddie fell in love with synthesizers and wrote “Jump”? Well, I’m still not happy about that, either, but it did open up new frontiers for him as a composer and anyone who has heard him play recently knows he’s going in bold directions again.
Tempo and Phrasing
Don’t be afraid to speed up in a song, especially if you change your picking technique at the same time. This is a trick that now defunct punk-blues band the Gun Club employed magnificently on tunes like “For the Love of Ivy” and their version of the blues classic “Preaching the Blues.” The relatively open and lazily picked verses yield to choruses of hammering downbeats.
I choose a now relatively obscure but wonderful band like the Gun Club, who cut those tracks on 1981’s Fire of Love, to make the point that it doesn’t take heavy chops to execute moves like this to high effect. The Gun Club was not a skilled outfit when his disc was cut. Their relationship to music was similar to early man’s relationship to fire. But the conflagration they raised was spectacular.
Make yourself write as often as possible, even if it’s only for five or 10 minutes day. It’s the same with playing. Picking up the guitar in short bursts preserves and builds muscle memory, and songwriting a little bit with frequency makes the craft creep into your psyche. Soon you’ll be coming up with ideas while waiting in line at the coffee shop or doing the laundry.
If you don’t feel like you’ve got what it takes to create the kind of songs you want to hear, find a friend or acquaintance who you believe does and write together. And if you’re meeting somebody to write, try to arrive with a musical or lyric idea or two, or a theme you’d like to explore in song, just to get the ball rolling. If there’s any chemistry, it will.
The Single Song Contract is probably the most basic publishing agreement a songwriter can enter into. If a songwriter has written a song, and a publisher thinks it can be placed on an artist’s album, or perhaps in a film or TV program, the two parties can sign a single song agreement.
An example of this would be if a publisher thinks a specific song could be placed with an artist such as Celine Dion or Whitney Houston. Both publisher and songwriter can then work out the terms of this single song deal.
Under this contract, the songwriter usually assigns 50% (or in some cases, 100%) of the publishing rights of a song to the publisher for a certain period of time, usually between 12 and 24 months. If the publisher secures a placement with an artist during this period (it doesn’t necessarily have to be Celine or Whitney), then the publisher becomes a permanent copyright owner of the song. The contract could also stipulate whether the securing of a film or TV usage for the song (instead of a record placement) is sufficient for the publisher to retain a permancent copyright interest.
If after the 12-24 month period the publisher hasn’t placed the song, then the agreement is terminated, and all rights to the song revert back to the songwriter.
Sometimes a single song deal, if the song is placed, can lead to a full-fledged staff writer offer from the publisher. It is not uncommon for a songwriter to be offered a $20,000 deal (or much larger) if the publisher now believes that this songwriter is a potential “hitmaker.” But even if there is no further offer, it is often surprising how much money can be made from having just one song placed.
If the song becomes a major hit, of course, there will be tremendous royalties earned. But even if the song is not a hit, but is on a big-selling album, the income can be substantial. I once signed a single song deal with a writer, and placed the songs on the Pointer Sisters multi-platinum Breakout album back in 1984. Sixteen years later, royalties are still being generated on this song.
Single song contracts for placement in film and TV are becoming increasingly common. There are a growing number of independent publishers who specialize in placing songs in film and TV shows. In these cases, the songwriter would sign a single song deal with this publisher, with the specific purpose of placing the song in film and TV, not for a record placement. Often, the writer’s demo becomes a master that is also being pitched for the film and TV usage. The licensing of the demo is often included in this type of single song agreement.
In a deal geared toward film and TV placement, the publisher might insist on 100% of the publishing of the song (or 50% of the gross earnings), because this song might be considered obscure or less commercial, and therefore more difficult to place. In these instances, the songwriter still receives the writer’s share of income (the remaining 50%).
There is one other type of single song deal. This is when a song has already become a hit (or is on a hit album), and the writer is in need of immediate funds. Then, the writer can simply sell part or all of the publishing rights for a fair price based on the projected income of the song. Most major publishing companies are happy to purchase a hit song in this manner, since they know it is already a hit, with a guaranteed income.
This type of deal is the definite exception to the “single song” concept. What it usually comes down to is a publisher loving one song, and trying to make something happen that would transform this song into a valuable copyright.
You have a much better chance of getting your song heard past the first few notes if it’s obviously a professionally recorded production. We suggest recording your demos in Nashville when possible. There are excellent “mail-in” studios available, and the quality here is unsurpassed when you want a great demo.
Get the best singer you can find (and afford) to sing your song. It’s fun to sing your own songs, but unless you’re an excellent singer looking for an artist/songwriter deal, hire professional singers to record your song.
MP3 or CD
Don’t assume that you can submit your songs online in mp3 format. Always check first and if you’re required to submit a CD be sure that it has a professional appearance. Never submit handwritten labels to music industry professionals.
First impressions are important! For success, spend the extra time and money to be sure that your demo submission sounds good and looks good, too.
Limit instrumental leads in your demos. Industry professionals are more likely to listen to lyrics than to a lead or riff. Leave it to the professionals when your song gets cut to add a lead here or there if they want.
"The Law" in many Nashville recording studios is that the piano player takes the instrumental fills in Verse 2. Most often, this arrangement makes a nice production. And it’s a good rule to follow if you are recording your demo outside of Music City, U.S.A.
Before submitting material to a publisher, record company, artist, or A & R rep, always first get permission to submit — don’t waste your time or money sending songs for consideration unless you’ve gotten permission to send them.
Now that you’ve got that great song written and demoed, it deserves to be
recorded so you can start earning the compensation you so richly deserve.
In the broad scheme of things, there are two ways to get your songs recorded. You either become your own publisher or sign a contract with a publisher in which the publisher finds users for your song, negotiates fees for their use, then collects the money and splits it with you on a 50/50 basis.
The following are some ways that can take place with or without a publisher.
Without a publisher, the negotiation and collection still has to take place
but you hire a copyright administrator or an attorney with that expertise to
do it for you. You just take on the task of “selling” the song and experiencing the rejection yourself.
Here are some strategies:
Find a Music Publisher to represent your songs
If you have no inclination to be on the phones making cold calls and
researching recording, TV and film projects and negotiating deals and you
have no existing contacts in the industry you’ll want to go this route.
If you have internet access, search the data-bases of ascap.com, bmi.com,
sesac.com, in the U.S.A. or the performing rights organization in your
Search for song titles and writers in your style and find out who publishes them. Call for permission to submit your songs. There are also other resources for the names of publishers.
Go to your library, find Billboard Magazine, look up songs on the Hot 100, R&B or Country charts in the style of your songs and see the accompanying list of publishers. You may also be able to also get referrals from your performing rights representative if your songs are exceptionally good.
Pitch songs directly to recording artists
If there are artists you truly believe should record your song (Not “they’d
really sound great singing it”) and it fits their image, attitudes, style, vocal range, go after them in any way you can.
If they’re playing in your town, try to get back stage or run into them in the hotel lobby. Tell them you have a song you feel is right for them and ask if it’s all right to give it to them. Often, to protect them from future lawsuits, their attorneys will have advised them not to accept tapes. In that case, ask if you may present it to their manager or record company A&R (Artist and Repertoire) representative. (See also: Casting)
Have an entertainment attorney submit your music
Entertainment attorneys have industry contacts and if they feel your songs
merit referral, they’ll shop them for their usual fee (roughly $100-$300 per
hour) or may do it on spec. Not all attorneys will shop tapes, however.
Submit your songs or music into film, TV, production music libraries or multimedia productions
There are increasing opportunities in these industries for not only songwriters but for composers of instrumental music who have master-quality recordings.
Start your research in the phone book and ask the companies if they use original music in their productions. Some will use music from production music libraries or services that supply prerecorded music to film and video productions. Ask them for the names and phone numbers of those whose services they use and follow up to submit your music.
If they like what they hear they’ll usually do a contract exclusively
for visual use which means you’ll still be free to use it on your own audio
recordings. You’ll be paid as the music is used and you’ll also receive
royalties through your performing rights organization, after your music
appears on television. How much you’ll receive depends on a variety of
factors including the terms of your contract.
Offer a percent of the income from publishing royalties to anyone
associated with the artist
This time-honored sales incentive can work if those contacts aren’t prevented by their employers from participating in that type of transaction. Contacts may include, limo drivers, hairdressers, road managers, touring musicians and crew, recording engineers, relatives.
How much? 5-10% of the publishing half of the song’s “mechanical” income (from sales of CDs and tapes). Only offer the percentage of income from that
specific recording. Do not offer the percentage of ownership of the
copyright, which will last the life of the copyright and include income from
other recordings of the song.
Produce an artist/band and write for or with them
If you have developed some production skills and have access to a good
studio, find an exceptional local group with a great singer or singers and
write for them, creating a style with the songs you write for or with them.
The Glen Ballard /Alanis Morrisette collaboration is a good example of this
strategy. Shop the masters to record companies.
Be your own artist, produce your own CD and sell it at your gigs
This is a good route if you have a working band with a following, a database
of fan addresses and somebody in the band with a good business head. (Read “How to Make and Sell Your Own Recording” by Diane Rapaport)
Find a local group to write with
If you’re a good lyricist, whether or not you can write melodies, find a
group with a great lead singer and write with him or her. That way, the
singer can infuse the song with an individual style and also be motivated by
participation in the writing royalties.
Submit songs via a respected service organization
The best one I know is TAXI (www.taxi.com), an innovative
tip-sheet/independent A&R service. Members, world-wide, receive listings
every two weeks by major and independent labels, film music supervisors and
publishers looking for writers, writer/artists, bands. All submissions are
pre-screened and critiqued by industry pros. All styles including
Another service worth looking into is SongCatalog.com where, for a fee,
you can post your songs online and, by way of entering specific search
criteria, potential users can find your song and contact you or your
Attend seminars and meetings of songwriting and music industry
These events and organizations invite record company representatives, music
publishers, record producers and managers to speak and screen songs at their meetings. You can meet them and hopefully begin to form ongoing relationships with them and continue to submit songs.
It’s not that inspiration is useless, as we all have inspirational people, events, moments, and other occurrences that inspire us to tap into our creative juices. But almost by definition, inspiration is fleeting. Creative inspiration usually comes from an event that is either unexpected (the death of a loved-one), or expected-but-powerful (the birth of a child), and everything in-between.
There is an intensity of emotion that accompanies inspiration, such that once the power of the emotion fades, inspiration fades as well.
So how does motivation differ from inspiration? Motivation can still come from intense events in our life, but makes a different kind of impact: something longer-lasting and more powerful in the longterm.
So while the death of a much beloved grandmother might inspire you to sit down and write a song to her memory, you might find that there is a more longterm possibility. For example, if your grandmother was always the one who encouraged you to write, you may find that her death serves as a reminder, each and every time you sit down to write, that you possess a powerful and rare gift that the world deserves to experience.
In that way, motivation is a more valuable tool for songwriters. Motivation is less likely to flare up and fade. Motivation may not provide you with that initial intensity of emotion that inspirational events are famous for. But that is, in fact, its power. Motivation is more likely to positively affect your writing over the course of your life.
Is motivation playing an important role in your songwriting? If not, it is worth the time to put your guitar and pencil down, and think about what provides you with your creative spark. In that regard, it is vital as a songwriter to not just ask yourself, “What motivates me”, but to write those motivations down.
So do that for yourself right now: ask yourself, “What motivates me?” at the top of a sheet of paper. Write down some one- or two-word answers, and tape it up somewhere that will get your attention every time you sit down to write.
Your longterm viability as a composer of music will need those answers.
The computer-based DAW route is a bit more complex than the stand-alone option because you have to combine several components that have to function together seamlessly in order for the recording experience to be fruitful and enjoyable. The last thing you need when trying to be creative is hardware or software compatibility. problems. Having said that, the industry is definitely moving towards music production PC’s as the flexibility, expandability (via plug-ins) and upgradability offered versus stand-alone DAW’s is unmatched. MusicXPC and Rain offer computers specifically designed for audio production with choices of operating system, hard drive capacity, audio interface and DAW software.. Taking this option can go a long way to avoiding compatibility issues but is usually quite expensive.
Building your own music production computer is something to consider because putting together a desktop computer is one of the easiest things in the world to do. You can definitely save a good bit of money and have some pride in your handicraft. One important thing is use highly rated motherboards and components as they seem to have fewer compatibility problems. I have a computer I built myself with an Intel motherboard and processor that has functioned nearly flawlessly for a couple of years now. In any case, please do your homework and if something doesn’t feel right, make sure you get all your questions answered—it can save you tons of heartache and buyer’s remorse later. There are several articles in the articles section concerning just this subject. One other important consideration is your computer monitor. Buy the largest screen size you can with your budget, it will reward you later with fewer trips to the eye doctor.
Other than the computer, the next most important thing to consider is recording software. There are several companies that specialize in this type of product and they all have very similar basic features such as recording audio, editing audio, applying effects, etc. The real difference in the packages is how much they integrate with other software packages such as synthesizes and samplers and how easily they integrate with other hardware via MIDI. I have been very loyal to Cakewalk products since starting with their MIDI-only products and then migrating ultimately to their Sonar 4 product (I’ll upgrade to latest version when I build a machine to run it). Sonar includes unlimited midi recording, unlimited audio tracks (dependent on your computer’s capabilities), built-n software synths, video sync capabilities, a whole range of midi and audio effects and mix-down options including .wav, .wma, .mp3, etc. Do your homework and determine what your needs are before you buy a software package, you’re going to be using it quite a bit and if you’re not happy with it, you can get frustrated quickly. Most software companies have entry level programs that are upgradable to the full featured version and that way you can play around with something relatively inexpensive before jumping in with both feet.
After the software issues have been solved, the audio interface is the next item on the menu. There are easily as many audio interfaces out there as there are stand-alone DAWs and they come in 3 different flavors, Firewire, USB 2.0 and PCI. Firewire and USB 2.0 allow you to use either desktops or notebooks whereas PCI audio interfaces are installed inside your desktop computer. Firewire seems to be the industry darling but USB 2.0 has some fans as well. These interfaces will allow you to record from 2 –24 channels at a time and have a multitude of input and output configurations such as AES/EBU, SPDIF, TOSlink, ADAT, TRS and XLR. Some even include mixing stations such as Tascam’s FW-1884 (list $1,599.00). This can eliminate the need for an external mixer. The FW-1884 also has a 8 channel expander that brings the total number of inputs to 26 (analog and digital). Entry level audio interfaces such as M-audio’s MobilePre USB (list $179.95) offer 2 microphone preamps, and true portability.
Again, determine you current and future needs and don’t skimp here—invest in the products that will grow with you. You’ll be much happier and more productive if you don’t have to constantly change your working pace to accommodate your gear
What is a hook?
Think of any song that was a hit back when you were a kid and start singing it. Chances are, the first thing you think of is its hook.
A hook is a brief, memorable, irresistible bit of music, lyric, or both, that the listener will remember even after hearing your song only once. It’s the part that gets a song on the radio and sells records. It’s the part you can still remember and sing twenty years later.
A song’s hook is often, but not always, a musical setting of its title. In the verse-chorus format of most of today’s pop songs, it is often found in the chorus.
No matter what style of music you’re writing, if you have a great hook, you have a shot at a great song. Here are some ideas to consider when you’re trying to reel one in.
The military has a rule of thumb for planning successful operations. It goes by the acronym “KISS,” for “Keep it Simple, Stupid.” I have a variation of this rule I follow when writing hooks. It’s “KIRSS” (sounds like “curse”): Keep it Repetitive, Simple (and) Singable.
It sounds like the quest for the Holy Grail, but recording professional quality records at home is not only possible, it should be expected. The truth is, absolutely any multitrack recording software that is available can more than adequately handle the task of release-quality recording.
All we have to do is give the multitrack software what it most needs:
• High quality sound
• High quality “capture”
• High quality input
• High quality output
The items above are the 4 pillars of a great multitrack recording. The good news, each item is achievable with minimal financial outlay and minimal technical knowledge.
Let’s look at each item and define how we will achieve it.
High quality sound:
High quality sound broadly refers to supplying either a good performance, on a good quality acoustic or electric instrument, or good quality electronic instrument and/or device, or some combination of the above. In other words, well played with no buzzing and hissing.
Achievable affordably and simply? Yes.
High quality capture
High quality “capture” refers to using a good quality microphone for voice and acoustic instruments and good quality cables for connecting electric and electronic instruments and devices. In other words, avoiding immediate loss of quality and injury to the original sound due to poor quality mics and insecure cables.
Achievable affordably and simply? Yes.
High quality input
High quality input when multitrack digital recording, refers to using a high quality in/out device, also known as a digital audio interface. The first step to having high quality input is to avoid using your computer’s built in sound card for recording purposes.
Simple pro quality external audio devices are available whose sole purpose is to funnel your sounds from the outside of your computer to the inside of your computer without degrading the sound’s quality.
Achievable affordably and simply? Yes.
High quality output
Although our in/out device is also supplying the output signal, our ability to complete a professional sounding mix is dependent the final stage of output which is our speakers (monitors.) There are excellent and reasonably priced home recording studio monitors available, but this is one area where we will have to make a moderate investment to achieve professional recordings at home.
Powered studio monitors (with built in power amps) are a good choice and save the expense of separate power amps and also make good use of limited space in most home studios.
A song’s melody is perhaps the most important element of the song. Writing a good melody should not be difficult. However the songwriter must understand certain principles associated with writing a good melody.
The bedrock of music belongs to the melody. One of the most important aspects that make a great song lies in the melody. Melody is what makes a song memorable.
A melody is a sequence of single notes that is musically satisfying. Any series of single tone creates a melody. The human voice, the flute, horn,—all instruments capable of emitting but one tone at a time. Each of these instruments produces a melody. Melody constitutes, then, a line of tones. The quality of the melody depends upon the choice and duration of each successive tone.
A good melody is one that appeals to the music lover as tuneful, pleasing, and intelligible. It is one where each successive tone and each successive group of tones stands in a rational harmonic relation to the one before it, and even, usually, to several preceding tones or groups. To say it another way, the tones are not arranged haphazard, but with reference to their harmonious agreement with each other.
The melody needs to be simple. This makes it easy for the listener to remember. A complicated melody may alienate the average listener. Make melodies simple in a way that even a child could sing or hum the melody.
The key to writing a great song means making a memorable impact on the listener. There are certain aspects that go into composing a melody. Including these elements is the job of the composer and helps make the listener remember the song.
1. Get up early in the morning, take a shower, get dressed, have a good breakfast. Take breaks to move around. Have lunch, perhaps a chat by the watercooler (facebook, phone, neighbor, etc), go for a walk. Then get back to work. If you have to follow the muse into the night… then go for it if that is your time, but regular sleep is crucial. Naps work for me.
2. Take care of family and friends and your own personal needs, balance your creative work and the more mundane aspects of life. If you have to keep a “day job” find the balance for that too. Hopefully your day job, regardless of what it is, feeds your muse in some way. The muse should, ideally, hover calmly at your center in turn fueling everything you do. The other stuff should swirl around it at a pretty regular pace. Balance around. Balance within. I believe the muse is there to help us find meaning, process feelings, regain balance when the outer world goes careening out of orbit due to circumstances beyond our control! So, take good care of it too. Give yourself appreciation even for incremental accomplishments.
3. Pace the day (week/month/year) into blocks for specific activities, such as… writing, reading, researching, listening, practicing (for us songwriters), networking, business, etc. Then… write when it’s time to write and don’t let those other things edge in. Keep a running “to do” list for each block and write down attracting urges on that list…to get back to later.
4. Take some time to make a strategic plan and revisit it formally… yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly, daily, etc. Try to stay on track. Use the “data” to see where you veer, or decide if a change of course is warranted. A dose of objectivity is usually helpful.
5. Have all the nuts and bolts in place… such as… a bank account for income and expenses related only to your writing (music/art, etc.). Build a team of people behind you, or in tandem. More detail on that would take me into another blog. So back to that later.
6. Write in your head. Imagine it. Think it through. Keep it elastic as you play with the possibilities. Look at it from many angles. Write the story under the story (even if all you end up using is a four line verse). You will have the “motivation” for the character. This will build consistency across the work and often leads to better ideas and new directions.
7. Be prepared for the long haul. Work your life around it and enjoy the process. Even when you get to “product” stage, enjoy the new levels of process each phase brings. Be flexible with your goals and aspirations but hard set on your determination to do it.
The first thing you need is a subject to write about. It can be an observation you’ve done about the community, how you don’t like to be messed with, about a past girlfriend etc.
You then need to make shore you have a solid rhyme scheme. A good thing to do is to analyse your favorite rap artist and see which rhyme scheme he or she uses. Then you can build your song around the same rhyme scheme.
Analyze how your favorite artists uses rhymes and multi rhymes. If you’re all new to this. Try to use some of the same rhymes so you get an feel for the genre and style.
Make shore your chorus turns out really strong. This is the part where you’re going to hook the listener and make them want to hear your song over and over again. Most of the information in the song often comes in the verse. The job for the chorus, is to make the song stick to the listeners brain. Therefor,use a lot of repetition in the chorus, and Words that ”sounds” good.
Let the lyrics rest for a couple of days. Then read it again With ”fresh eyes” and make the changes you now see needs to be done. Let also someone else read it, and hear what they think about it.
Now it’s time to get your lyrics placed. If you are an artist yourself, you need to make a demo recording. If you’re not and don’t know any artist you may want to contact a publisher.
“Achy Breaky Heart”, written by Don Von Tress and made most famous (or perhaps infamous) by Billy Ray Cyrus in 1992, is an enormously successful song in terms of sales and chart placement. Topping the charts in many countries, it made its impact on both the Billboard Hot 100 (no. 4), and the Billboard Country Songs Chart (no. 1), and was at or near the top of the charts in most countries in the western world.
Not so paradoxically, “Achy Breaky Heart” also makes it to most “worst songs ever” lists. In pop music genres, corny lyrics are eventually a death sentence.
When the musical conversation comes around to “What were we thinking?”, that song is usually mentioned along with “Macarena” and other notables. The thing is, you can’t call them notable “flops”, because these songs did not flop. Part of what makes a song “the worst” is the uncomfortable knowledge that we initially welcomed it with open arms.
Those horrid songs have three great characteristics: 1) they are catchy; 2) they are memorable; and 3) they are simple.
But catchy, memorable songs don’t necessarily make for great songs. If there is an important lesson for songwriters in these bad songs, it is this: a song does not need to be good to be memorable. Like the smell of a rotting carcass, bad songs can stick around in the memory for all the wrong reasons.
So how do you write a song that is both good and memorable? How can you be sure that the songs you’re writing are going to live long and prosper, and stay off the worst songs ever lists? Here are some tips:
1) Avoid corny, overly clever lyrics. There is a dangerously thin line between clever and overly-clever when it comes to lyrics. “I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me” (“Norwegian Wood”- John Lennon) is clever. “The girl is mine/ the doggone girl is mine” is not. (Sorry MJ, but doggone it, you should have known better.) Clever lyrics stick in the mind due to a mixture of humour and meaning. It helps songs and their lyrics become memorable in the best way possible.
2) Create melodies that make abundant use of repeated melodic shapes. Look at most of the songs that grace the top of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and you will see songs that use repeated melodic ideas strung together to make a longer melody. “Like a Rolling Stone”, “Imagine”, “What’s Goin’ On” – the most memorable parts of those songs are the parts that take a short melodic phrase and repeat it.
3) Use chord progressions in the chorus that are short and tonally strong. A tonally strong progression is one that clearly points to the I-chord as most important. So songs in G major should use progressions in the chorus that make G an important start and finish: G D7 G; or G Am D7 G; or G C G D7; and so on. They may seem short and unimaginative, but that’s their strength. They are easy to remember, and that’s going to go a lot further than being imaginative.
Especially with regard to the 3rd point above, the verse and bridge are great places to be more imaginative if you feel it’s necessary. But if you really want to write a song that listeners keep wanting to come back to, keep this simple formula in mind: good lyrics, repetitious melodies and strong progressions.