S.A.C. Challenge – Week 6 – Choice No. 1 – Issued by Cara Heath – Writing for Radio

Image by Tom Godber used with Creative Commons License.
Image by Tom Godber used with Creative Commons License.

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 **

Connect with Cara:
www.withabullet.ca /www.twitter.com/withabullet / www.facebook.com/withabulletpromo

Please submit the following by Monday, March 23, 11:59 EST.
1.  Link to a blog post about your experience with this challenge.
2.  Link to your song (preferably on SoundCloud) with lyrics posted in SoundCloud.

Writing for a childlike ad spot – Week 3 Challenge – Feedback from Heather Gardner

Image used with Creative Commons license by Lisa M Photography.
Image used with Creative Commons license by Lisa M Photography.

by Heather Gardner

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
https://soundcloud.com/scottmackay/scott-mackay-shooting-star/s-GygZ1

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.

In Conclusion
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.

S.A.C. Challenge – Week 5 – Issued by Jordan Howard – Write for a pitch for a new TV Series

JordanHowardJordan 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.

Please submit the following in the comments below:
1.  Link to a blog post about your experience with this challenge.
2.  Link to your song (preferably on SoundCloud) with lyrics posted in SoundCloud.
Good luck!

Who Wrote a Pop Hit? – Week 2 Challenge Feedback by Rob Wells

Rob-WellsBased on Hit Songwriter/Producer Rob Well’s songwriting challenge issued in Week 2 – over 100 tracks were submitted and vetted by our coaches to a handful submitted to Rob himself for feedback.  

Braeden Mitchell – Music on my Body
https://soundcloud.com/braeden-taylor-mitchell/music-on-my-body-work-tape/s-wTDLs
Rob’s Feedback
Hey Braeden – great job on this song – very catchy with lots of hooks.  My two comments would be that it’s a little sexual… there’s always a fine line as to how far you can go… it just feels a little out of the age range I’m going for.  Second comment is that the chorus should introduce something else other than “Music on my body”… lines 1, 2, and 4 are great for that, but line 3 should have something new introduced with a catchy melody.  Other than that, this is a great song and a great performance from you!  Looking forward to hearing more…. thank you, Rob.

Kathryn Berry – Kiss my Lips
https://soundcloud.com/kathrynberry/kiss-my-lips/s-NuPeI
Rob’s Feedback
I really really like this!  Great job!  I can hear this with killer production already – you’ve really painted a great picture of youth and young love.  My only comment is that the 2nd verse is a little awkwardly written.  The part where you’re alone again… could be better… feels a little sad… maybe work on that part to make it 100%!  Other than that, great work!!!

Katy Carswell – Should Have Known
https://soundcloud.com/katycarswell/should-have-known
Rob’s Feedback
WOW… blown away… great song… great voice… great vibe… EXACTLY what I’m looking for.  I want to hear more of what you have!  I’d go to town on the production on this song… it’s a winner!

Tea Petrovic – Couldn’t Let You Walk Away
https://soundcloud.com/teapetrovicmusic/couldnt-let-u-walk-away-sac-challenge-2/s-NBLKu
Rob’s Feedback
Ummmmm…. holy crap!  I LOVE THIS SONG.  Great job on all aspects!!!  This is a great great song and I’d love to hear it fully produced.  Wow… kinda blown away!  Sorry that I have no comments to make this song any better, because it’s already perfect.

Bernadette Saquibal – Life Education
https://soundcloud.com/bernadette-saquibal/life-education
Rob’s Feedback
Hey Bernadette – thank you for submitting this song – I think this song has amazing legs in a Synch setting… meaning I think this would go great on a show like Degrassi or any other Nickelodeon type show… maybe even a younger kids movie… something that goes along with a story line.  Is it a global universal smash?  I don’t think so, because, it’s very specifically about being in school, and the frustration of being there.  Will a 40 year old office worker be able to get into this song?  Probably not… the trick is to write something that is great for a 15 year old girl to associate with, but also make it so that the entire population will be able to get into it as well… hope that makes sense??  Thank you for sending!!!  I would LOVE to hear more!  Sincerely, Rob.

Gordon Wong –  Sour Taste
https://hookmachinemusic.wordpress.com/2015/02/24/challenge-2-pop-goes-the-world/
Rob’s Feedback
Hey Gordon – cool song!!  I think it’s got a really unique vibe – I have a couple of comments – I think the 2nd half of Verse1 should be the 1st half… switch them around to make it stronger.  Also, the chorus doesn’t hit me as hard as it should… think Gwen Stefani for the chorus… maybe take the words you have and the same timing, but rather than singing the words, why not chant/shout them out a la “Hollaback Girl” – but then sing the 4th line.  So, three lines chant, 4th line sung.  I love how this song just sits nicely on the border of edgy… it’s a great place to ride in this vibe that we’re going for.  Great job!  Let me know if you do more with it!  Thanks, Rob

And the winner is…
It’s a tie between Katy Carswell and Tea Petrovic.  Those submissions have BLOWN ME AWAY!!!

Please do not be discouraged if your song was not listed.  Our Challenge Mentors are extremely busy and cannot provide feedback on all tunes submitted – which is not necessarily a reflection on the quality of your songwriting.

S.A.C. Challenge – Week 4 – Issued by Ron Irving – Write an EDGY country pop song

Ron IrvingRon Irving is no stranger to writing hits for the stars.  His songs have been recorded by over 100 artists worldwide in seven languages including cuts with Anne Murray, Michael Buble, Jennifer Rush, Asian stars Jacky Cheung and MINK, One More Girl, Lisa Brokop, Terri Clark, Lee Greenwood and many others with awards for Song of the Year from both SOCAN and the CMPA.  Here is his challenge to you:

Write an EDGY Country Pop Song
Target:  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.
Method:  If you have been collaborating for the previous 3 challenges, change it up and write this one by yourself.  If you have been writing alone for the most of the past 3 challenges, write this one with a co-writer or two.
Tempo:  Stretch yourself by writing opposite of your comfort zone.  If you usually stay with up-tempo tracks – chill out and write a ballad.  If you usually write ballads, set the tempo for at least 120 on this one.
Please submit the following by Monday, March 9, 11:59 EST.
1.  Link to a blog post about your experience with this challenge.
2.  Link to your song (preferably on SoundCloud) with lyrics posted in SoundCloud.

S.A.C. Challenge – Week 3 – Issued by Heather Gardner – Writing for Advertising

Heather Gardner
Writing a song specifically for advertising is a unique beast — a songwriter needs to find the delicate balance between being authentic, but yet appealing to a variety of demographics, musical tastes and, ultimately, products to sell. Additionally, songs written for advertising need to be more than great songs — they also need to be cleanly produced and quickly ready to be heard on air at a high production value (in most cases, there is simply not enough time to allow for re-recording a song, or making major changes before the ad’s audio mix!).
My challenge to you is to write a song based on the below advertising brief (a real brief that we did late last year) — it includes musical and lyrical references, but (as is often the case in the ad world), without seeing a rough edit of the specific commercial. I’m looking forward to hearing what you come up with!
Creative Brief:
The spot features a child so we’re looking for something child-like, light and playful, fun, capturing the moment and that captures the spirit of a child. However, we don’t want to be emotional or heart-stringy — we’re looking for something that’s purely fun. You can definitely be somewhat quirky, while appealing to a mainstream TV audience.
A few references they’ve given us in terms of tone are The White Stripes’ “We Are Gonna Be Friends”, “On The Radio” by Regina Spektor, Sheryl Crow’s cover of “Sweet Child O Mine”, “Big Yellow Taxi” or “Mushaboom” by Feist. We also like something along the lines of Karen O’s tunes for ‘Where The Wild Things Are’. We’re open to different instrumentations.
Lyrics don’t have to be perfectly on spot on thematically, but speaking to childhood (in a fun way, not in a nostalgic or longing way) is great. Female or male vocals are A-OK.
The spot is 60 seconds in length, with 30 and 15 second cutdowns, so your submissions need to be at least 60 seconds long, but be able to capture the same sentiment even if only 15 seconds was being used. Including the full length track is always best as it allows the editor the maximum flexibility in hitting the right points in an ad with specific lyrics or musical moments.
Instructions to participants:
Post a link to your song and blog in the comments section below by midnight (11:59pm EST), March 2, 2015.
Music Supervisors always need the right music yesterday.  This is your chance to show Heather you can respond to a creative brief and turnover something quickly that meets the request.  Good luck!

S.A.C. Challenge – Week 2 – Issued by Rob Wells – Write an explosive pop hit!

Rob Wells has a challenge for you!
Rob Wells has a challenge for you!

Rob Wells is a multi-platinum, award-winning producer/songwriter based in Toronto & Los Angeles. He has worked with numerous multi-platinum selling artists, with songs landing on millions of award winning records. His work has appeared in major release films, network TV shows and video games worldwide.  Awards include first place in numerous songwriting competitions, SOCAN #1 awards, gold, platinum & multi-platinum certifications.

Our week 2 challenge is as follows:

I’m looking for strong female based Pop/Top 40 songs.  Think Selena Gomez.  Think Demi Lovato.  Think big.  Think hits.  Think target audience of 13-18 years old.  If you’re writing a global, universal, and (a little bit) quirky smash song with an interesting title, I’m interested.  If you can sing your explosive chorus a thousand times and not be sick of it, I’m interested.  Trim the fat.  No unnecessary sections or long intros.  Take me on a journey.  Make every lyric count and funnel towards a great chorus payoff.  Maximum 3:30 in length.  Good luck!

Your song is due February 23 by midnight. Share a link to your song and a link to your blog post in the comments below.