Skip to content

Feature Article #1: 23 Cures for the Common Song …

June 8, 2017
by

For the Month of June the S.A.C. will be featuring a series of articles by James Linderman.

James @ Berkleemusic

 

James Linderman works at the James Linderman Music Lesson Studio in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada. He teaches guitar, piano, bass and music theory as well as contemporary songwriting and film composition, in studio, as well as over Skype to students all over the world.

 

23 Cures for the Common Song

By James Linderman

As a music journalist specializing primarily in songwriting, I get asked all the time to refine my best advice down to a top 10, or 12, or 20 kind of list. Like most journalists, I have certainly written my share of top 10’s but then when I look back at my rough notes there is always a lot of pretty good stuff that gets left out, beyond the first 10. For this particular list; which includes some general skill building advice mixed in with some specific “nuts and bolts” kinds of rules, I decided to not put a limitation on the number of points I would list and decided to just wing it. If you have ever read my journalism or have ever met me, you will know that “winging it” is not really my thing. However, I felt that it would be great to write something that had a more freewheeling kind of approach and see if it made the piece of journalism seem more natural and conversational and more complete. So with no further ado… here are my top 23 all-time cures for the common song.

1. Keep a journal – you can come up with amazing ideas for songs anytime of the day or night and then… Poof! They are suddenly gone. Keeping a journal allows you to have a great place to store your ideas in and be able to find them again readily and easily. Many of my collaborators use their phone for this but at the risk of seeming old-fashioned I still like to keep a journal that I also use as a day timer and a catchall for everything James Linderman. One of the primary differences between a tourist and an explorer is in the documentation of the journey and so to appear more like a songwriter and less like a person dabbling in songwriting, documentation will be a feature in that distinction.

2. A song has four primary elemental stages to it. Pat Pattison, head of the lyric writing department at Berklee College and author of “Writing Better Lyrics” often says that songwriting is – entrance – focus – energy – exit.

3. Songwriting is said to be show and tell but actually it’s more show to tell. The difference between “From the first time I saw you, when I met you as a teenager, I instantly fell in love with you”, and “Indian Summer, Abilene, you were new in town, I was 19, sparks flew” is that the first version tells without showing in the second one tells by showing. The second version is from the Amanda Marshall hit Dark Horse, written by Dean McTaggart, Dave Tyson and Amanda Marshall.

4. Your title should hold all your songs DNA. Title your song based on what everyone else calls it, when they hear it.

5. The first verse rule. (similar to #3) Use the first verse to provide a physical or emotional setting for your characters to interact within. When you provide a setting for your listeners you take them with you to that location. When you do not provide a setting, you merely tell them about something that happened in a place that they now cannot picture. Even if you are narrating a lyric without characters, you can use a very clever device by providing a setting description to narrate within. Your listener will now see you as a person telling them a story from an interesting location.

6. Stay in character – make each line a clear expression of the character you intend to be communicating that information. Make all shifts in point of view, subject context, setting and even time frame completely clear and purposeful throughout the whole song.

7. Yoda speak….Another quote from Berklee lyric writing professor Pat Pattison is “always preserve the natural shape of the language”. Therefore, no “Yoda speak”. If you write, “this destiny for you, I now see” it is not necessarily grammatically incorrect but it makes a listener have to think backwards while they listen forward and the motivation to write the line in this way is usually to produce an easy or cheap rhyme. if you wouldn’t say it that way, then don’t sing it that way.

8. The second party rule. Don’t tell your second party something they already would know. Yes to, “her hair was golden brown” and no to, “your hair is golden brown”.

9. The “No” free zone…Writing should be a place where no idea is considered useless or inconsequential. Cowriting is a “no” free zone. A great phrase to use when ramping up to a good idea from a collection of less valuable suggestions is “were on the right track, but see if we can find more choices” or “now we’re getting there, but now let’s see if we can find something even better”.

10. Write one song at a time. Write one single song; thematically and have every word in the lyric support that one theme. Don’t create five different intents into your single song in an effort to make it epic and grand. Great songwriting is taking a small idea and making it smaller.

11. Odd and even. An odd number of lines in a section of your song will create an open feel and will pull the listener into the next section. An even number of lines will close a section off and allow you to start a new section that will seem like a more independent lyric entity, like the ideas in each section are more complete unto themselves.

12. A good kind of stress….Place the words in your lyric that you want to have the most impact, on the strongest accented beats and underline them. Yes to, “I’m going to lunch with you” and no to, “I’m going to lunch with you”. Where you place the strong stress syllable almost always affects the specific meaning of the lyric line.

13. 4/4 time and 3/4 time are “architectonic”…. which in plain English means that the first beat of each measure is the strongest. Good to know!

14. Use hyperbole… to create more drama in your lyric. “I nearly died crying” is more dramatic than, “I cried a slightly above average amount for this specific level of disappointment” the second statement might be more accurate in context, but will not have the desired dramatic effect you want your listener to experience. Remember, “I’d walk a million miles for one of your smiles”.

15. Save some of your brilliant wisdom for the bridge. Always try and hold back at least a portion of the moral of the story in your song for the bridge which is where your emotional and moral stance is most commonly framed for your listener’s. Songwriters with a lot to teach in their songs tend to often write, what sounds like one very long bridge and call it a song without remembering that their message can be delivered more effectively if it can be connected to characters in a setting in the verses and and then made memorable by the hooks in the chorus.

16. Target practice…..Practice songwriting by taking pre-existing songs that you like and writing answer songs or parallel songs, line by line, borrowing the structure and possibly some other feature such as rhyming pattern or emotional tone from the existing works. This is great target practice for songwriters, at any level.

17. Edit… Edit… Edit. Once you’ve had the initial creative burst that most songwriters begin a song with, cross-examine your lyrics looking for every possible loophole, useless or irrelevant information, unnecessarily repeated content, or anything that might be confusing or alienating to the listener. You also want to remove lines that don’t live up to the quality of the very good writing in your song. Any line that looks like it was just a “place card” lyric should be replaced with something that will increase the value of the line and therefore the value of the song holistically. Get rid of anything that causes LEGO (listener’s eyes gloss over).

18. Relocate any valuable lines that don’t fit into your song thematically, into your journal (remember your journal from #1). Instead of jamming lines into the song where they don’t belong and don’t help the song be great in general, remove these distractions and put them in your journal to perhaps be a launching point for another great song. Never force a lyric line or idea where it does not serve the overall premise of the song. The song always wins.

19. Room test your lyrics. Try reciting your lyrics to a listener across a room and watch how they have impact on that person. Once you get brave enough, try it with your most honest critic or a room full of people.

20. Be an adventurous listener. Get out there and listen to great songwriting, which is not the same thing as listening to what’s on the radio. Get into songwriting events in your area and listen to your peers, visit songwriting websites, and also check out the winning songs in song competitions that you can find online. Make a list of your favourite songwriters much like you would list your favourite entertainers.

21. Reading in = writing out. Read everything you can get your hands on and write anything that you find interesting into your journal. Reading poetry is not for everybody, but it can heighten your ability to think in metaphor and also broaden your sense of meter, rhyme and form. It is also a great place to learn the fine art of brevity.

22. Have a Jam-tastic Time – Turn your song into a mini jam session trying out different chords, melody lines as well as different lyrics to see if there might be a version that is even better than the one you originally settled on when you thought that the song was finished.

23. Remember “fun” – Remember when writing songs was about having fun, expressing ourselves and feeling how cool it was to be writing songs. Remember when writing songs was NOT about target demographics, getting songs into film and tv placements and writing with artists with an audience and influence. I am ambitious too, but the writing room is a great place to remember why we got into this and hopefully it was to have fun being great and not being desperate to be successful.

 
Ad for Book wit Piano and guitar pick
James is the author of the book series titled “Song Forms for Songwriters” that is based on his primary academic discipline known as compositional abstraction. It is a system for creating new songs from shadowing single elemental features extracted from existing work.

 

James Linderman - QrtrPg_Ad_BookRelease1 copy

 

Disclaimer:   Songwriters Association of Canada posts songwriter related news and events as a resource to members.  Publishing these posts does not imply that the S.A.C. endorses the teacher, product, service, or company.

Canadians open for Texas Music Legends Hall of Fame Award Induction Ceremony at the 12th Annual Austin Songwriters Symposium.

May 26, 2017
by

(from Left-Right) Bob McKitrick. Jordan Paul, Ron Beer, Denis Bastarache, Francine Leclair, Lisa Birt, Kait Howard

 

 

The Austin Songwriters Group (ASG) and the Texas Songwriters Association hold an Annual Symposium yearly, in fact, this year saw its 12th symposium. The ASG have recognized Canadian talent and organize a showcase of Canadian music. Canadians have always been given a big Texan welcome and this year the Canadian Showcase was placed on the first night opening for the Texas Music Legends Hall of Fame Awards Induction Ceremony. The showcase followed an “In The Round” format with Ron Beer finishing the showcase off with a full band, a mix of Canadian and Texan artists.
The showcase was then followed by 3 days of pitch session opportunities with the music industry’s top Nashville and LA publishers looking for songs and songwriters. In addition to meeting with publishers, other songwriters and music industry professionals, there were songwriting workshops, panels with music industry professionals and other songwriters, concerts, showcases, and late night pickin’ circles. Ron Beer is the organizer of the Canadian Showcase and showcase participants were selected through the Empty Chairs campaign that was put on by the S.A.C.

 

For more information on next years symposium, see http://austinsongwritersgroup.com/

 

Written by Francine Leclair

Leamington Regional Writer’s Group co-ordinator

Screen Shot 2017-05-26 at 1.49.52 PM

(www.francineleclair.com).

“Music to Inspire” Press Release 170124

January 27, 2017
by

S.A.C. member, Steve London, announces “Music to Inspire,” an album being released in partnership with the UN to raise awareness and funds to combat human trafficking. View press release here, rukus-avenue-un-canada-release.

T-SHIRT SALES SUPPORT FAIR TRADE MUSIC CAMPAIGN

December 13, 2016
by
ftmi-shirt-promo2

Exclusive Offer

As you may be aware Fair Trade Music has been a focus and priority of the Songwriters Association of Canada for the last several years. In the spirit of the season, we are asking our members to consider buying a t-shirt (or two!) as a great Holiday season gift that will help us build Fair Trade Music (FTM). All proceeds will go to furthering FTM’s mission to achieve a fair, transparent and equitable music value chain for songwriters, artists and everyone in the music value chain.

In the future, the goal of Fair Trade Music is to certify anyone in the music value chain, including digital steaming services, record labels, ticket sellers, and anyone else in the music value chain between those who create the music and the millions of people who enjoy it everyday. Fair Trade certification will inform consumers who pays and who plays “fair,” so they can make better choices when streaming and purchasing music.

As a valued member of the Songwriters Association of Canada, we ask you to show your support for the Fair Trade Music by purchasing a t-shirt (or two!).

Email info@fairtrademusicinternational.org to add your name to the Fair Trade Music campaign mailing list.

Visit the new Fair Trade Music International website now in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

From all of us at the Songwriters Association of Canada and Fair Trade Music International, Happy Holidays and Happy Songwriting!

Thank you.

Isabel Crack
Managing Director, Songwriters Association of Canada

Greg Johnston
President, Songwriters Association of Canada

Eddie Schwartz
Chair, Fair Trade Music International

indieep Press Release 161125

November 25, 2016
by

S.A.C. congratulates all the artist who are indieep finalists: Mickey Blue, Paint, Témi, Nathalie Kraemer, Pictures of Richard, Shopé.  View full press release:pr-s-a-c-spotlight-postevent 161125

epc-zwc-sac-nov-18-indieep_2bwVIP sisters Zoe & Elizabeth attend indieep Spotlight November 19 2016

Producing a Successful Demo

September 19, 2016
by

chris-birkett

Songwriters Association of Canada posts songwriter related news and events as a resource to members. Publishing these posts does not imply that the S.A.C. endorses the teacher, product, service, or company.

Producing a Successful Demo by Talia Wooldridge, guest blogger.  Originally published September 13, 2016 by SongCat.

The Benefits Of Collaboration For Songwriters

September 8, 2016
by

Songwriters Association of Canada posts songwriter related news and events as a resource to members. Publishing these posts does not imply that the S.A.C. endorses the teacher, product, service, or company.

mglogo800

Written by: Christopher Smith

Sponsored Content by Music Gateway Guest Blogger

When I think of songwriting. I think of Creativity. Words, Experiences, Storytelling, A good catchy melody over a good beat.

Collaboration is beneficial for songwriters for a number of reasons.

#1 You increase your chances for the song being successful. If you look at the songs in the charts at the moment, you’ll notice that 99% if not all of them are collaborations. Each collaborator you work with has their own network, friend circles, previous collaborations, the motivation for success. If each person is happy with the final demo, then they will work just as hard as you to get it heard, noticed, published etc. Because it’s in their best interest to, also.

#2 You have access to your collaborator’s life, experiences, thoughts, ups, and downs. This can make your songs more relatable.

#3 You can bring your strengths to the process and allow the other person to bring their own. If you’re a top-liner and are good at melodies then you can leave space for the others to use their strengths. (Instruments, production etc.)

#4 You don’t have time or room to be self-critical, objective or a perfectionist. In a collaborative setting, writing sessions usually have a limit of 2-3 hours before it starts to get monotonous and boring.

#5 It’s fun, you might just enjoy it. Please don’t forget songwriting is a creative process and should be enjoyed, especially in a collaborative setting. Open a bottle of wine, or buy some beers or cakes to the session. It’ll help to break the ice and remind you to keep the fun element about things. Coffee is good too. Checkout our top pointers on growing as a songwriter here.

Extra Tip 1- Change your setting…

I dare you to write somewhere different, a change of scenery is good for creativity, and being outside with fresh air is better than being restricted by the 4 walls of the studio.

Extra Tip 2. – Splits.

Splits are something that is important to every songwriter but is sometimes fearful to be discussed. My advice is to remove the elephant in the room from the beginning. Enter the collaboration with a blank/template of a contract so that you only need to fill out names and percentages, or send it in an email after. An easy way to do this is to split everything equally between the people in the session. This eliminates all anxieties about not being paid enough for your contribution. Another way is to discuss it before you even meet, (planning stages) for example in an email, text or call.

Check out the countless collaboration projects we have coming into the site daily and connect to a like-minded industry professional today. From collaborating with budding songwriters or hungry producers, you’re bound to find something relevant to you. You can sign up to Music Gateway and pitch to opportunities for free however an exclusive offer to S.A.C. members only, (to click through you must be logged into songwriters.ca Members V.I.P. Area) special 30% off Music Gateway premium annual account memberships (Pro and Business Annual) which gives you a variety more benefits. For regular Music Gateway pricing sign up today.