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Feature Article #2: Notes from an Interview with Diane Warren

June 14, 2017

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.

Notes from an Interview with Diane Warren

by James Linderman

James A. Lovell once wrote, “There are people who make things happen, there are people who watch things happen and there are people who wonder what happened… and the most successful people are the ones who make things happen.” Diane Warren is a songwriter that makes things happen. Wikipedia can provide you with a rundown of all of the things she has made happen to date and a google search will lead you to a list of the details…a fairly complete and almost up to date list of songs she has had cut. It’s a long list of the “A” list of contemporary popular singers in the world and it spans almost every genre, almost every kind of song (not just the American romantic conversation) and many decades.

There are successful writers who love to talk about the process of writing and about their work and others who look like they would rather be doing the work rather than just talking about it and Diane Warren impressed me as that second kind of writer. Because of that she has outworked every other songwriter in her draft class and continues to dominate the contemporary music market. She has created a legacy of success in a business where most writers and many publishers are still not certain what a pop song should even sound like.

One of Diane Warrens mantras, that came up again and again during our interview was that she “shows up” to write. She puts in the time and does the work.

She often writes from a concept. She wants her songs to tell a story, she works a lot on the lyrics and she has completely mastered the single intent lyric; she gives her songs a single unified emotion giving that emotion the greatest chance to be powerful. However, in almost every other craft element of writing she is pointedly and intentionally, unintentional. She is a natural organic talent, able to write songs that sound natural and conversational, probubly because, in her case, the process does not need to be over analyzed and overworked.

Diane has her own ear for knowing when a song is great but she also has a small network of friends that she can “test drive” a song with. During our time together she laughed that she had taught her trainer at the gym how to critique a song and he was eventually able to discuss the merits of a particular verse concept or chorus hook of her newest song with a fair amount of confidence.

She is very excited right now about the song “Only Love Can Hurt Like This” that she wrote for Poloma Faith. It has a lot of the swagger and groove of some of my favourite Motown classics but is also very fresh and “of today”. Like many of her songs it is completely comfortable and evocative at the same time.

As great as it is…and it is great, this will probably not be Diane Warrens best song ever, since she continues to work at writing more songs and better songs everyday… it may not even end up being her best song this year.

Since I usually write about process and craft I thought it would be interesting to look under the hood of “Only Love Can Hurt Like This” and see what writing elements help make it great.

In an analysis of the lyric of this song, it is interesting right away. She uses an odd number of lines in verse one to create an uneasy feel that matches perfectly with the emotion expressed in the lyric. She uses an internal subtractive rhyme (mean/me) , an offset line and then a perfect rhyme (much/touch) to close off the section.

In the chorus she ends 3 lines with the word “this” in a balanced 4 line section but varies the 3rd line with the perfect rhyme word “kiss” which makes the chorus very sing-a-long friendly as well as super catchy. She adheres to the rule of 3; not having more than 3 lines say the same thing to break it up and make it more interesting for the listener. Not all songs follow that rule but it helps the chorus in the case.

Verse 2 opens with a perfect rhyme (away/stay) , has the same offset line in the 5 line unbalanced matching form and ends with an additive rhyme (go/soul). The 3rd verse features an assonance rhyme of “skin” and “this” (matching vowel sound but not related consonants), an additive rhyme (go/soul) and moves the offset line to the bottom making it unbalanced but the line then does double duty as a tag.

In the final chorus, the form shifts from a single 4 line form to 3 groups of 3 lines with the last line of each group being perfect (this/kiss), assonance (this/skin) and then perfect again (this/kiss).

What makes this form and rhyme scheme work so well is that it is consistent in the same way a conversation or story has continuity but there are shifts and variances that stretch the listeners perception of what to expect which makes the song sound fresh and not predictable as you listen through…also like a conversation. A great balance of comfort and challenge for a listener; who will require a balance of those elements to enjoy the song through repeated listens.

The analytical concepts used here in the study of the lyric form of “Only Love Can Hurt Like This” are derived from the book “Writing Better Lyrics” by Pat Pattison (

A question I get asked by songwriters all of the time is whether successful songwriters make these decisions knowingly or intuitively and in many respects the answer to that is of little use to the songwriter asking it. If any songwriter has the natural organic ability to write great songs or, on the other hand has a more clinical approach, it will not change the outcome of the writing, or help anyone else improve. I believe that if you can just write you should just write and if craft ends up being more of a help and not just a distraction to making writing happen then go learn some craft.

What can be learned from Diane Warrens approach to writing songs is simply that when you are a person that shows up and makes things happen….great things can happen.

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.

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

June 8, 2017

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

(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


Written by Francine Leclair

Leamington Regional Writer’s Group co-ordinator

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“Music to Inspire” Press Release 170124

January 27, 2017

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.


December 13, 2016

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 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

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


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.