Feature Article #5: The Thrill is Gone

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.

The Thrill is Gone

By James Linderman

There is a story I love to tell to my songwriting clients. It goes like this….

BB King had a massive hit song called “The Thrill is Gone”.

It launched his national and then international career to make him the most widely recognized ambassador of the blues.

He recording the song in 1969, with a string section and a production palate that would appeal to a mainstream (read “white” into the word mainstream) audience. The song took him from being a national, somewhat marginal blues artist to an international superstar. He opened for The Rolling Stones US tour that year as well, which certainly helped.What many people don’t know is that he did not write this song. His signature hit was written in the 1950’s by 2 writers, Roy Hawkins and Rick Darnell.

The other interesting fact is that BB King was born in 1925 making him almost 50 years old when his mainstream international career began.

Some would argue that “3 O’Clock Blues” or the song “Everyday I have the Blues” or his deal in the 1940’s with a major label or his songs recorded with Sam Philips, before “The Thrill is Gone” was recorded, were indications of a steady ascension to stardom but they would be mistaken to think that.

I remember hearing BB King in 1970 and for mainstream listeners, outside of blues fans in the US particularly, this was a new artist with a new song, period.

BB King was 50 years old playing a 20 year old song and taking the world by storm.

Today you would probably hear from music industry insiders that this could not happen today and they are correct…if by today you mean the business that they used to work in.

It is hard for me to imagine still taking anything they have to say seriously when Youtube and Spotify are the new reality and the internet is so far beyond the control of any of these industry insiders that I hear speaking on panels at music conferences and workshops.

It reminds me of what it might sound like to hear a group of dinosaurs discuss the ice age, as if we were still in it, just because it’s wintertime.

What can happen, outside of these music pundits limited perception is actually where this story becomes valuable to the rest of us.

BB King brought a marginalized genre to a mainstream audience by blending a traditional established piece of writing with a production element not normally found in that genres music but really valued by mainstream listeners.

Orchestrations were what mades a piece of music sound like it belonged in the public ear. It showed investment, made the piece sound like it should be taken seriously.

That trick, in a variety of applications, has been done thousands of times now…but we don’t seem to add it to the narrative for some reason….

For example, Eric Clapton put Bob Marley (and reggae as a style of music) on the map by recording “I Shot the Sheriff”.

Paul McCartney used elements of a Scott Joplin ragtime piece to build the piano performance for “Lady Madonna.

The intro to “Stairway to Heaven” is constructed from the intro of lots of previous compositions using a compositional technique called voice lead. Particularly, Baden Powell’s “Samba Triste” written in 1959 when Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin was 15 years old…..”Samba Triste” is definitely a jazz piece and Page took this compositional convention to a rock audience with great success.

All of these recordings display risk, all are synergies of style and production or genre and presentation.

When artists ask me what they should do today to stand out to become famous and get some hits, all I can think about is Justin Beiber joining forces with Skrillex and rebuilding his career and it is the same story…

 

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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.
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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.
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Feature Article #4: The Questions Your Listener Wants Your Song to Answer …and Ask

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.

 

 

The Questions Your Listener Wants Your Song to Answer …and Ask

by James Linderman

 

Picture the beginning of the film.

The camera pans down from the sky across a hillside, past a statue of Jesus Christ; arms outstretched. Many of us know instantly we are in Rio. The camera continues down the hillside and into the busy city streets where we see modern cars and we know that the film is set in the present era.

We then follow the camera into a coffee shop where a man is siting at a table holding a newspaper up; it covers most of his face but as the camera rises above it, we see, behind dark sunglasses the face of film actor; Denzel Washington. At this point we now know that we are watching a film where a number of people are going to lose their life; primarily because they’ve done something horrendous to someone innocent. In the scene, there are lots of people scurrying about, but one other person stands out and as he enters the coffee shop and sits down across from the star, we realize that this person will feature in the storyline.

If we trace the stages of the opening of this film, we can see that it answers questions in a pattern that allows the audience to feel like they are right there with the characters; not being told the story, but being shown it, as it unfolds.This distinction, in art, is a huge one because the difference between being told something and being shown something is not only a fundamental difference that ignites our senses of both sight and sound but also inspires a greater amount of care for the characters involved. It also helps if everyone involved in producing the art, have worked hard to make it seem as real, or at least as relatable, as possible.

If we follow the storyline written above we can see that, even in the opening scene, a number of important questions have been answered. The first question that is answered is “where”. The filmmaker has made sure that we know the story is taking place in Rio and the famous statue of Jesus Christ does that job. The question of “when” is the next one that is answered. We see the contemporary looking automobiles and instantly know the timeframe that the story is set in. Some smaller time questions may also be answered by it appearing to be morning, afternoon or evening as well and we may even be able to tell it is a weekday or weekend, that sort of thing.

The audience may not even be aware that they are being informed when they are shown, and not directly told, this information, but that is part of the experience of discovery, for an audience enjoying a work of art.

The next question that follows is “who” and we are shown the actor without being told, just yet, what he will be doing and why. We also get to see another character and by his proximity to the star of the film, the audience instantly attaches greater importance to this person as the rest of the actors (waiters, other patrons of the shop, passers by on the street) fade into the background as if they are human props. The longer someone stays on screen and the more they say or do, the more we are led to believe that they will be essential to the successful continuance of the storyline.

“What” is a question that will now be answered, as in, “what will happen next?” and the question “how” will also unfold. Some of these questions can be answered in dialogue or narrative explanation in a film and in that regard they are certainly told and not always shown but shown is the dominant and preferred mode of expression for the movie goer.

As songwriters we can be tricked into believing that because we are expressing our ideas in a song, with the words in our lyric, and not with a camera, as with a film, that our job is to tell and not show, and more pointedly to explain and not describe. It is generally understood that there is language that tells and language that shows. A lyric like, “I loved you from the moment I saw you” is a statement of explanation whereby the lyric, “Indian summer, Abaline, you were new in town, I was 19, sparks flew” written by Dave Tyson, Dean McTaggert and Amanda Marshall from the Amanda Marshall hit song Dark Horse uses imagery and descriptive language to take the listener right there and show them.

If we look at the progression of description in this short piece of writing we can see that it opens with when -“Indian summer”, where – “Abeline”, who #1– “You were new in town”, who #2 – “I was 19” and we get a little hint of what– “sparks flew”. Now that our listener has been taken to the scene and shown the scenario the writer can then get away with some “telling” and start a bit of narrative but mixed with more imagery to keep the listener at the scene.

Often, however a song lyric does not need to provide a setting and is written mostly to explain some aspect of life, some feature that is just the right balance of unique and universally relatable. Having clever and non obvious imagery can be key to making this work and writing consistent to a form is also very important to this kind of song. The song may just answer one single question.Therefore, analyzing a template of an existing song, line by line, can be a great way to grow this skill faster. Certainly much faster than if we just wrote songs till we got this quality of pattern and pacing right.

A song written by Gary Burr, Joel Feeney and Kylie Stackley that was a country single for Lee Ann Rymes called “Nothing About Love Makes Sense”  displays a pattern for the type of application. Look up the lyric to this song online and match it up with this line by line form template. The song asks the listener, “Is love as confounding as it seems, since the world in general also has some puzzling features?

Verse #1

Line #1 – Example of contradiction in the world

Line #2 – Example of contradiction in the world

Line #3 – Example of contradiction in romantic love

Line #4 – Refrain line – Title.

Verse #2

 Line #1 – Example of contradiction in the world

Line #2 – Example of contradiction in the world

Line #3 – Example of  contradiction in romantic love

Line #4 – Refrain line – Title.

Chorus

Line #1 – Statement of wonder concerning contradictions of love

Line #2 – Example of contradiction in romantic love

Line #3 – Example of contradiction of romantic love

Line #4 – Statement of wonder concerning contradictions of love

Line #5 – Statement of wonder concerning contradictions of love

Line #6 – Statement of wonder concerning contradictions of love

Line #7 – Statement of wonder concerning contradictions of love

Line #8 – Statement of wonder concerning contradictions of love

Verse #3

Line #1 – Examples of features of romantic love

Line #2 – Example of contradiction in the world

Line #3 – Example of contradiction in romantic love

Line #4 – Refrain line – Title.

Chorus

Verse#4

Line #1 – Example of contradiction in the world

Line #2 – Example of contradiction in the world

Line #3 – Example of contradiction in romantic love

Line #4 – Refrain line – Title.

Outro

Title repeat.

You could now just pour your own creative ideas into this pattern, knowing that the form will help measure out your lyric message, helping your listener to comprehend it and feel it’s emotional implications to produce the greatest impact.

As mentioned earlier, in this example the lyric sends the listener one unified message, “love is confounding” and asks the listener, (without coming right out and asking them) if they experience love the same way. Due to the universality of loves confusing nature, it is a relatable song to every honest listener.

That certainly seems to appear to be what we want, a relationship with our listener whereby we answer our own questions about life…and love, and we inspire listeners to weigh the value of the evidence our song provides. In great songs it is a terrific conversation.

 

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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.
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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 #3: The Long Distance Co-Writer

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.

 

 

The Long Distance Co-Writer

By James Linderman

As songwriters we live a fairly solitary existence.

If we are any good at it, we have unquestionably practiced an entire lifetime away and have gotten pretty good at being alone.

Certainly every skilled songwriter I know has done the now emblematic 10,000 hours of alone time drilling chords, strumming strums, singing and writing lyrics over and over…and over!

For me, this is added to the hours that have gone into being an agile notational reader on the guitar, piano and bass most of my life.

One of the reasons I started to love collaboration was simply for the company, and not just that it was “people time” but more that it was my kind of people time.

It was also great to have other artists make good use of my education and training and to turn our work into something greater than the sum of its parts. I did however find that there were certainly limitations to having to meet with other songwriters face to face. Schedules and distance would be in direct conflict with skill and status.

If someone was further along than I was in terms of success or skill then it was understood that I would have to travel to where they were at. That was not always possible and certainly never easy, since I always lived in the suburbs and most of the heavyweight songwriters were certainly not in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada. Yes, really!

There is also the fact that I have never been a performing songwriter and so everyone writing with me would have to carry that part of the songs future completely on their own shoulders. I found that really narrowed the field of opportunity as well.

Very early in the development of the internet I started trying to figure out how I might write with collaborators online and I started reaching out to some writers I already knew right away.

My first long distance co-writes were top lines and bottom lines. I would send out tracks and get writers to write a melody and lyrics on them. Sometimes they were just a single rhythm guitar track or a piano performance, and other times it was full band, or small form orchestral tracks I would record here as instrumentals with my first DAW.

Sometimes writers would ignore these e-mails with the mp3 attached of my track and delete them as if they were spam and never return my e-mail. Some writers would politely e-mail me back and let me know that this was not the kind of music they were interested in writing, or not the kind of collaboration that they were “into” but would often thank me for sending the track and respectfully decline.

Occasionally, this would be the start of an actual collaboration and the other writer would often get started right away. They would usually get part way in and we would schedule a phone conversation (in the pre-Skype days) and see where the song was at and often work a little bit together over the phone to get on the same page before all the ink was dry.

If outside musicians were needed to do up a good demo we would split the cost of hiring who we might need but for the most part I would do most of the playing and my collaborators were almost always singers who would then take the tracks into a studio (or their own home studio) and add the vocal.

We would then work together to promote the songs, doubling our chances of placing our work and had some reasonable successes with that approach.

Bottom lining is the same approach but I would send potential collaborators a completed lyric with the suggested stress syllables underlined and they would create a melody and send it back for me to write the accompaniment to. One of us would then add everything from chords strummed on the guitar or comped on the piano to full band or orchestrated tracks.

Another outcome would be that they would take the lyric and write all of the rest of the song and complete it to a finished recording.

It was not always essential that the song ended up to be “my kind of music” or my idea of what a great song would be, since I felt like there were lots of “kinds” of listeners and our songs would attract fans of that kind of music. I was aware, pretty early into this, that I was not the only valuable target market and I also trusted the judgement of my co-writers.

A destructive collaborator is the one that needs to be right, even when they are unsure. The most destructive collaborator is the one that has to be right even when they know they are wrong. I have written with both of those kinds…only one time! …And I WAS that collaborator…but only one time!

Anyway, back to bottom lining……

Writers who found it challenging to write a complete lyric would be very enthusiastic about being handed a complete lyric since the “struggle” part would be handed to them and all that remained was the part they actually found to be fun and easily inspired.

Skype has also become a valuable tool to the long distance collaboration as it allows songwriters to write together almost as if in the same room face to face. There is often a slight time delay with Skype and FaceTime but this will get better soon and long distance writing will have almost all of the advantages that having a co writer in the room has.

The question I get asked all of the time is where to find potential collaborators. The first thing I did when I started out was to make a list of all of the songwriters I already knew and ranked them, not based on any metric of value, but based on overlap of skill and if I liked the idea of spending time with them as people as well.

I did not actually contact some of the songwriters on my list simply because most, or sometimes even all of their skills overlapped with mine and I determined that they did not actually need to write with someone like me. I wanted to start with writers who would most benefit from my skill set. Most of the writers I tried to collaborate with were singers since I am not a “great” vocalist. I also looked for good song starters because at the time I was slowly getting to be known to be a good editor and so was thought of as a song “finisher” in those terms… and it was becoming legend that I was not a brilliant singer.

I got good at describing my strengths and weaknesses to my potential co writers which helped them understand their role in the collaboration and I ALWAYS let them know how grateful I was that they would consider writing songs with me. I also eventually found co writers on sites like Indaba Music, Hit Licence and even DAW forums but mostly someone would show me a Youtube video of someone that they were “into”, and if I liked their writing, I would go to their website and contact them.

When you ask someone to co-write with you it is helpful to have something prepared that is a good fit for them and it is helpful to let them know how you discovered them and why the collaboration will benefit them…as well as you. There are only 2 answers to the question, “Will you write this song with me?” One is “yes” and the other, these days, is silence and if you get silence back then fill that void by sending another request to another writer till you find a good fit; someone who values your song and values you as a person.

There are a LOT of people out there in the world writing songs so go find the ones that will want to write some of those songs with you.

 

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 #2: Notes from an Interview with Diane Warren

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 (www.patpattison.com).

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 …

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.

 
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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.

 

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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.

(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

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(www.francineleclair.com).