by: Jordan Howard
First of all, songwriters are the back bone of the musical landscape on this planet so thank you for your passion, your drive and your talent.
This challenge was a decent look into what my job is like almost every single day. Most of the time I will receive a “call out” such as the one that I sent to you guys but I will usually not have any more information than what is given to me in that one email. Often I receive very broad requests for music so I understand how difficult it probably is to write something in less than a week when you don’t really know what the scene is or what exactly the directors and editors are looking for.
This weeks winner is Holes by Sean Bertram
I love the groove of this song. Great tempo and the chorus is very strong lyrically and melodically. I would like to see of the lyrics in the verse’s be flushed out a little but you really nailed the Black Keys thing. Elevate the production quality and I would definitely pitch this.
Pat Canavan – Bury Me
Cool song. If I had to guess, I would say that someone is a Pink Floyd fan? The song does seem to drag a little and feels like one giant chorus. Normally this would be a problem however in the context of the challenge it actually works. The more hooky the better. Better production and this could definitely work.
Scott MacKay – A Good Impression
I dig this. Would love to see some more instrumentation come in the second verse (right at “you can tell”) maybe a snare and acoustic, then let the violin come in after but that’s just production. The song also needs a chorus but the melody also acts as a hook so it could attract the supervisors attention in a different way.The lyrics are broad and thus excellent for film/tv. I think this song would work great with a female voice in the last verse which would give the film/tv people a little more variety in the song. It would also be cool to have a girl sing the words “Better lock yer windows. Double-check Now she’s got her fingers round your neck”
Glen MacNeil – Dangerous
The feel of this song is exactly what I was looking for. Minor key!!I would like to see some progression in the guitar line to differentiate between the chorus and the verse’s. Lyrically the song is very strong and is really akin to what I had originally requested.
Donald Delano – Blood Red Rose
I love the feel of this song. Very “True Blood-esque” if you get the reference. I also really like the mood change when the chorus kicks in and its a great tempo for film/tv placement
Adri Anne Ralph – So Easy
The vocals are excellent. I’m not 100% sure that it works for the type of show that we are looking at but it definitely has placement possibilities. I would suggest moving the beat up in the song as the first 90 sec or so does seem to drag a bit.
Tea Petrovic – Begging For More
This is exactly what I was looking for. A little production to be done in the chorus to really create that “Umph” but overall this is really great. Strong vocals, cool instrumentation and the song ties together really well. Excellent job.
Katy Carswell – Sweet Hell
Excellent vocals and a strong melody. I would love to see the kick drum from the chorus continue and pick up through the 2nd verse to create a build.
The 2015 S.A.C. Blogging and Songwriting Challenge was the first of its kind. Every week industry professionals issued challenges that allowed our 121 participants a taste of life as a professional songwriter. Those who committed themselves 100% to the task found that songwriting took over their lives, consuming their thoughts and time. For many it was a taste of the life they aspire to live.
We are grateful to each of our professional mentors, Rob Wells, Heather Gardner, Ron Irving, Jordan Howard, Vincent Degiorgio and Cara Heath, who not only issued challenges but also provided personal feedback to a handful of submissions vetted by our songwriting coaches. The response from the industry was so positive we were able to give participants a choice of taking on two challenges in the final week. It is generous of them to have taken the time to nurture the next generation of songwriters.
We are also grateful to our songwriting coaches, Debra Alexander and James Linderman who lived in the trenches with our songwriters. Our coaches shared advice on lyrics, chord structures and collaboration, going far above and beyond what was expected, fuelled by their genuine desire to see our participants succeed. For many of our songwriters, the help these coaches provided defined their experience of this challenge, opening up new tools and techniques to apply to their craft.
We would also like to thank Barb Sedun for arranging a real life pitch to Matt Dusk (to be posted below), along with Matt himself and his management team for their willingness to give our emerging songwriters a chance to present him songs that would expand his sound for his next album. Having a real opportunity like this has been a game-changer, increasing the intensity in a way no other challenge could.
Lastly, we must thank all of our passionate participants. Everyday the Facebook group was full of positive feedback and constructive criticism as many songwriters shared their work in progress, often times in genres far outside their comfort zones. So much zeal. So much love. By the end of the first week, the group began to feel like a summer camp of sorts, with new friendships forming that we hope will continue long after this challenge is history.
So, we end with where we began. It is time to submit your song for Challenge No. 1 issued by Matt Dusk. Please post the following below by Tuesday, March 24 at 11:59pm:
1. Your Name
2. What was the hardest challenge or hardest part of the challenge for you and why?
3. What did you enjoy most about participating in this experience?
4. What is something significant that you learned from taking on this challenge? (It can be about yourself or about the challenge)
5. Would you do this type of challenge again? Why or why not?
6. Your link to your Matt Dusk submission. Please include lyrics on your SoundCloud page. If one of your collaborating partners is submitting the link to your song, you can refer to their posting (ie. See link from ____________).
Here is feedback for Week 4 of the 2015 S.A.C. Songwriting & Blogging Challenge provided by Ron Irving. Participants were asked to write an edgy country pop song for a male artist, early 20s. No mention of marriage or kids. No references to “partying at the lake”, “trucks and tailgates” and no “bro country” vibe.
Katy Carswell – Don’t Go
First of all, the challenge was to write an edgy Country song for a young male artist – this song is for a female artist. The other part of the challenge was that if you normally write solo, to try writing with a co-writer or if you always co-write, then write solo.
The song has a very nice melody, but the lyrics are confusing. The first verse is written in the present tense, talking about how the guy is looking at another woman. The bridge indicates that the guy has already left town. Listener is confused. One of the benefits of co-writing is the editing and clarification process. Your vocal is captivating! You have a very good talent for writing which may be enhanced by working with a co-writer.
Rosanne Baker Thornley – Do Not Disturb
Really like this! Very edgy, very Jason Aldean, right on the money! The bad news is the lyrics don’t paint the artist in a very good light which may be the thing that prevents it from getting recorded. On the other hand, a courageous artist might just do it. One suggestion would be to shorten the bridge and just use the first 2 lines. Great song & feel!!
Heather Meori – It’s a Free Country
Good rockin’ edgy groove! Nice to hear a full song demo. Demo really drives the song. However, the song feels long because you have two verses and then an 8 line chorus. One thing to consider is if you have long verses, have a short chorus and the opposite also applies. Musically, the verse & the chorus are very similar. It is really important to make the chorus stand out melodically from the verses. It helps hold the listener’s attention. The lyric is definitely edgy, but perhaps a little too risqué for country radio.
Scott MacKay – Viper in a Velvet Dress
The first 4 lines draw the listener in – very visual. However, it’s very unclear after that which part of the song is verse and which part is the chorus. Those first 4 lines get over used. Throughout the song, you are repeating the lyrics but not introducing any new ideas/visuals to keep the listener engaged. You also repeat a 2 line refrain, which confuses the listener further as to what the title is. Have a look at the structure of a few top 10 hit country songs.
Allister Bradley – Goodbye to a Great Friend
Amazing job!! Extremely heartfelt, very visual and very well written. The Van Morrison type of vocal really suits the song and demo well. This is kind of song that an artist would record for an album cut, but might not be released as a single due to the subject matter. However it could be a great placement in a film.(i.e. Bruce Springsteen’s song “Philadelphia”)
Sean Bertram – The Closest Thing
Demo and vocal has a nice Bruce Cockburn easy to listen to vibe, but not edgy country. Song structure and particularly the rhyme scheme are important components in crafting a hit song. If you like to write story songs, consider next time using and A B C B rhyme scheme in your verses instead of A A A A (which you have in verse 1). Then be consistent in all verses and change up the rhyme scheme for the chorus.
Judy Marshak and Braeden Taylor-Mitchell – Somewhere Loving Me
From your blog it appears you are familiar with co-writing. However, part of the “challenge” was to change it up and write solo.
In reading your verses, verse 2 & 3 are more visual than the first verse. Remember that the opening line(s) and first verse are the only chance we have to get the lisetener engaged and in the picture. Musically, the melody needs to be more dynamic to support the passionate lyric and to ensure the chorus stands out from the verse.
Michael Holland – Outlaw Songs
Your note says “this is not and edgy Country song but I like it”. You’re right, but I like it too – I think it’s clever. It harkens back to Waylon & Willie. The other part of the challenge was to co-write if you don’t usually do that and I think that your considerable lyrical ability could be a great asset to a co-writer who is a strong melody writer.
Stacey Dowswell – Memphis City Lights
This is a very nice moody Pop song. However the only thing remotely country about it, is the title.
Shauna Specht – Black Coffee
This is a good effort, nice punchy feel on the demo! First verse hangs together quite well but chorus needs work both lyrically and musically. Just repeating BLACK COFFEE will not hold the listeners interest, the other chorus lines need to offer something more about the guy’s life. Musically/ rhythmically the chorus and the verse are too similar. Another small point to keep in mind , it is very effective to change the rhyme sound from verse to verse. Eg. if verse one has AY sounds then verse two should change to another vowel sound EE or OO, etc.
Tea Petrovic – This Is Our House
Nice feel, sounds kinda southern. Not sure a guy could sing this and in fact before anyone sings it I think the song needs some clarification. Who is saying what to who? Verse one is “SHE “ so singer is telling a story about someone else, but in the chorus it becomes “OUR” the pre chorus lyric does not quite connect the dots.
Chorus sounds pretty good BUT try not to throw in curves musically or lyrically that detract from the main theme. Eg. the line about “2 cents in your pocket” comes out of left field and the music behind it interrupts the flow.
DC James – Best of the Worst
Excellent job DC! All the moving parts of the song work just fine, liked the triple A rhyme in the pre. Good hook, good song. Maybe the Bridge could have been half as long, just a personal thing but I like short Bridges, seems radio does as well. Speaking of radio, when it comes to country a good amigo of mine, a hit writer/publisher in Nashville says “it’s all about the woman, make the woman feel good” This song does not paint the woman in a very good light, that might not be helpful in placing it, go easy on the blame factor. Just sayin’ cause you are dang close. Well done!
The Winners of Week 4:
Thanks to Ron Irving for taking the time to provide this insightful feedback to our participants. He selected two winners: GOODBYE TO A GREAT FRIEND by Allister Bradley and DO NOT DISTURB by Roseanne Baker Thornley. Great work guys!
His global reach and career has included many facets, from writing for European superstar Caro Emerald to being the man who signed N Sync in America. He continues to write for artists around the world, with dozens of gold and platinum records to show for his work for artists ranging from Japanese pop stars Lead to Canadians Meaghan Smith and Julie Crochitiere. His Cymba Music Publishing company houses hitmakers like Aileen de la Cruz, Ian Smith, Davor Vulama and his newest signing, Edmonton’s Olivia Wik.
Here is Vince’s songwriting challenge:
Write the next great holiday song.
The timing is perfect for your quest to deliver the next great Christmas song, or one to be celebrated during the holidays. Aside one new song on the globally loved Michael Buble Christmas album, new songs that have transcend the holidays are few and far between. Songs that challenge the system like Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” and N Sync’s “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” are few and far between. Your challenge is to lyrically and melodically enter the creative stratosphere of great songs like “The Christmas Song”, a timeless masterpiece, and songs like “Let It Snow”, both of which were written in a California heatwave. While the former speaks of the setting of the perfect Christmas, the latter evokes all of the settings of a holiday celebration without mentioning Christmas itself. Remember, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” was a fisherman’s lament. What I am looking for is a song of any tempo in any style, that speaks of your personal imagery and memories of the holiday season. Pour yourself into the idea that you do not have to be culturally specific, but you do have to deliver the message what this December past time means to you. Songs should be no longer than 3:30 long.
Many of the most beloved holiday classics were once written for movies. Use that imagery when you write your song. Rather than be jealous of yet another cover version of “White Christmas”, change the landscape for me and anyone listening with your song.
When I was the A&R person for N Sync, I put together an album I am very proud of for five great singers. It was tailored after the Johnny Mathis album “Merry Christmas” – to provide a timeless, or timely representation of the talent at the time. Today, one is considered “The King Of Pop”. The other a timeless icon, who is the undisputed king of holiday albums.
Show me your talent with your song. Because for music supervisors and publishers, the holiday season for movies actually starts in April, not November.
Cara Heath is the owner of With A Bullet, a radio promotion company based in Canada that has proudly been taking great music to radio since 2008. We have worked with The Pack A.D, The Gaslight Anthem, Born Ruffians, Heart, Leonard Cohen, In-Flight Safety, Fortunate Ones, and more…
Here is her challenge:
For this week’s challenge I want you to get into the mindset of self-editing. This is all about the radio edit. I want you to create a new song that would work currently at either Pop (Hot AC or CHR) or Rock (Alternative or Active Rock) Radio formats – your pick – but, I want you to write this song to be around 4 mins in length. Then I want you to edit it down to no more than 3:30 mins while still retaining the essence, dynamics, and structure of the song. If your original length is shorter than 4 mins still cut 30 secs out somewhere and if it’s longer than 4 mins you still need to get it down to 3:30. Things to help in the editing process: think about shortened intros, time to first vocals, time to first chorus, shortening / removing instrumental parts, shortening outros, etc. Get the point across quickly, grab your potential listener’s attention and have them singing along by the end of it! **These aren’t hard and fast rules when it comes to radio, but it’s always a great exercise for songwriters to practice the art and discipline of self-editing **
Thank you all for your fantastic songs that you wrote for our “Writing for Advertising” Childlike challenge! The songs submitted captured a wide range of styles and emotions and show how subjective the act of trying to describe a song through words and a brief can be. The eight finalists all wrote great songs, and all have potential in the world of advertising.
For the real-life version of this particular brief, we ended up choosing a (then) unreleased song by singer/songwriter Anya Marina called “Apple of My Eye”. You can see the finished spot here (if you didn’t see it on TV back in the fall!): http://www.vapormusic.com/licensing#wind-mobile-backseat-browser
This song was a favourite for the client because it was simultaneously sweet but a little bit sassy, it was quirky without feeling forced, and captured the spirit of a young girl having fun being a kid.
I’ve provided some feedback on the eight finalist songs below. I can nearly guarantee that after reading my comments, you will be tempted to think “well, if I had *seen* the spot I would have done X, Y or Z differently,” and I agree. In advertising, often we’re given a brief and a musical direction before seeing footage, or even before reading a script or seeing a storyboard. You may think that something written or selected will be absolutely perfect — until you see the rough footage. For that reason, I didn’t want to give too much information from the get go, as a large part of the challenge is working with very little knowledge of the final product.
That being said, huge congrats to all songwriters involved in this challenge!
“Shooting Star” – by Scott MacKay
Instrumentation and feel is great – upbeat without being too fast or poppy. The simplicity of the acoustic guitar and added whistle works well to capture a childhood essence. I love the lyrics and the non-worded vocal hook, which is always helpful in creating different edits and providing a vocal element even if lyrics end up being too distracting.
For this particular spot, I think the feel may be slightly too relaxed, and a cleaner production on the vocals would help them pop in a busy ad mix. However, the song has definite potential for use in advertising and beyond.
“Oh I Love You” – by Gordon Wong & Kathryn Berry
I really like the instrumentation and vocals in the track – the sweet female vocals works really well to capture childhood, and the instrumentation feels both quirky but modern at the same time, which is a hard thing to achieve.
A few of the lyric lines are a bit wordy for advertising with lots of syllables, but the “Oh I love you / Yes I really do” and the “oh oh oh oh oh” sections do enough to contrast that nicely so there would be lots of options to choose from in a mix.
I would love to see the track build somewhat more as it works its way through – whether it’s a contrasting bridge or something to use alongside the “Oh I love you” lyric. I would expect that to happen in the “oh oh oh oh oh” section, but the instrumentation actually simplifies there instead of builds, and so there’s no real musical difference between that and the “Oh I love you” section, which would be nice to hear.
“Rainbows & Butterflies” – by Tea Petrovic
I think the lyrics for this are great. It captures the essence of childhood wonder without being explicitly “kiddie”, where a lot of songs that try and capture childhood often sound more like nursery rhymes. This song still appeals to an adult audience, who are the ones buying products and the ones that the spot is targeted towards!
For this particular use, I don’t think the instrumentation on the song is quite quirky enough — it’s slightly too large of a sound to feel child-like in this particular context.
“One Two Three Four” – by Judy Marshak and Gordon Wong
I love the tempo and movement of this song. It moves forward without rushing and has a great energy. The lyrics are also wonderful.
Contrastingly to “Rainbows and Butterflies”, “One Two Three Four” is slightly too quirky – the use of the tuba and kazoo definitely ups the comedy factor, which works in one aspect, but it takes away from the sincerity slightly.
“Home For Dinner” – by Allister Bradley and Sean Bertram
I love the “whole world at my fingertips” sentiment of this song – it works really well for advertising as brands love the idea of their product opening up new possibilities for the user. I think the “gotta be home for dinner” sentiment would be better suited for a food product than this particular commercial, but this song has great potential for an advertising use. The whistling hook is a great contrast from the verses, and would allow an editor plenty of opportunities to work to picture.
“Incredible Places” – by Heather Meori
I absolutely love the lyrics on this song – they’re spot on and mixed with the “Yai dai dai dai” and whistled sections, capture childhood beautifully. The slower tempo of the song makes it not quite as playful as we would need in this particular spot — speeding it up a bit may be enough to counteract that. The guitar tone doesn’t feel quite as clean in production as we would need to go to air.
“Long Long Way” – by DC James
This song also works perfectly lyrically, I love the “long long way to go” sentiment. It’s playful and kid-like without feeling forcefully quirky. I like the piano riff between verses as well – it’s a great contrast with the acoustic guitar. The biggest challenge this song would face in advertising is its country vibe — country is one of the few divisive genres in music, and generally does not do well in advertising as it still alienates a large audience that does not listen to the genre. I think the instrumentation for the most part feels more folk than country, but with the vocals it definitely has a bit of a country feel. Toning that down would certainly give the song a more mainstream appeal for advertising and licensing purposes.
“Fine With Wasting Time” – by North Easton
Overall, the song feels a bit too dense for this light-hearted advertisement — there’s a lot of depth to the vocals, and mixed with the warm guitar tone and the slightly slower tempo, the song loses the playfulness that we’re looking for on this particular brief. However, those elements could also be exactly what someone is looking for on another spot, so I wouldn’t consider them detriments to the song, they just create a slightly more nostalgic or “tugging on the heart strings” feel to the song that is just a bit much for this particular spot.
If I were the client and choosing between these eight songs for this particular spot, my pick would be “Oh I Love You”. It captures that bit of sassiness that the young girl in the spot exudes, is playful, and has lyrics that speak to both the “relationship status” joke at the end of the spot and the kid having fun with her dad’s phone. It’s a fun song and has a great overall vibe that works with the ad.
Jordan Howard is Creative Director at CCS Rights Management. The company provides Music IP Management Publishing. Their roster of services includes sync licensing. Here is his challenge:
Challenge: I am looking for songs to pitch for a new series on Lifetime that stars Christina Ricci. The series can be best described as a 19th Century “Dexter.” Series centers around a female anti-hero, lots of emotions. Love, Lust, Hate, Danger. Musically I am looking for songs in the vain of: Black Keys, Bon Iver, Band of Skulls, Carolina Chocolate Drops, James Vincent McMorrow. For one episode, I am looking for a replacement for Hozier’s “To Be Alone.” As long as the song is in a similar wheelhouse and is lyrically similar, that is what is most important.
Deadline: March 16, 11:59pm EST.
1. Link to a blog post about your experience with this challenge.