Why Listen To Songwriters
Established songwriter's have grown into the understanding of what it takes to be a professional writer. Remember the journey that I talk about in the pages of this site? Well these are parts and pieces of a songwriter's journey. I picked this group of writers for their friendship, wisdom, experience, spiritual guidance and expertise in the music industry.
My wish is that you will take these experiences from the article's and look for commonality between you and them. Use their words of wisdom. These writers are generous with their knowledge as well as their hearts.
Each month you will see a new article in the series to help shape and guide you on your journey.
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"SELL OUT"… to become a pro
The only difference between you as an artist or singer/songwriter etc. and the pro music business, is that you think of making and playing music, and in the pro industry we think about making and selling it.
THINK ABOUT THAT!
Seriously! That’s the only difference! In two words…, marketing and promotion.
I’ll say it again in hopes that it sinks in for you, “Artists play music labels sell music.” If you can get that in your head and start handling your music career, with say a fifty-fifty mentality of making it half the time and spending time on selling it half the time, You’ll be closer to the “BIG TIME” than you realize.
The music business is just that, a business. We are in it to make money. To do that, we have to have something to sell, be it CDS, downloads, tickets to concerts, merchandise or whatever. We don’t care who makes it, just so long as we can sell it.
So, to sum it up…: If you spend as much time marketing and promoting yourself, and your music, as you do making and playing it; you’ll be on your own road to success. You might even grab the pro industry's attention because of the numbers you are doing. It’s just that simple. It’s a business.
Think of it and treat it, as such and you’ll be doing exactly the same things we do on a daily basis only on a larger scale. Who’s to say you can’t eventually catch up to us in numbers?
So there you have it. I hope you realize the enormity of this little tid bit. It’s the only thing standing between you and serious stardom.
Jim Femino, aka Uncle Sexy is a Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter and is President of Songstarters, Inc., a provider of hit songs and hit song ideas to Billboard charting recording artists. He’s a member, and/or past Board Member of the CMA, NARAS, SESAC, ASCAP, BMI and various other trade organizations. His song “JUST GOT STARTED LOVIN’ YOU”, as recorded by Warner Bros. artist James Otto stands as the 2008 Billboard Most Played Country Song Of The Year and his associations with other Country superstars such as Toby Keith, John Michael Montgomery, Ronnie Milsap, Craig Morgan, Steve Azar, Jamie O’Neal and a host of others have garnered Songstarters, his co-writers and himself numerous Gold and Platinum Sales Awards.
On Vacation – will be back in August with new additions
How Vocal Lessons Help Lyricists
As a songwriter, I’ve co-written songs with talented lyricists, some who felt intimidated by “musicians,” and others who struggled with getting their musical ideas across to their collaborators.
One way for lyricists to be on a more musically level playing field with the musicians they write with is by taking vocal lessons. As a vocal instructor and songwriter, I can make a case for the benefits lyricists gain by doing so.
The good news is that you don’t have to be a great singer to get these benefits.
What Vocal Training Provides
1. Better understanding of musical concepts, terms and theory
2. Pitch and ear training for singing and writing melodies
3. Song structure, arrangement, and what makes lyrics “singable”
With vocal lessons, lyricists are better equipped to get their musical ideas across to the musicians they write with by using the “instrument” at their command — the voice!
Along with training on how to use the vocal instrument effectively, vocal lessons also offer an opportunity to hone skills for writing lyrics and melody. A vocal teacher can offer guidance in singing and creating melodies. As you gain confidence, it becomes easier to think in musical terms and to express your ideas through singing.
Vocal lessons also get the singer on the “inside” of a song’s structure – its form, arrangement, chord changes, timing, musical contrast, melody, how lyrics form the rhythmical foundation of a song, and emotional feeling. And it’s fun singing songs in the style and genre that inspire and influence your own writing. Additionally, you’ll become more sensitive to the sing-ability of lyrics. All of this leads to growth in the craft of songwriting and greater ability to communicate musical ideas for lyrics you write the way you hear it in your “head”.
Another benefit of vocal lessons is learning (or brushing up on) piano basics. In fact, this can be part of vocal training, as many vocal teachers also play and teach piano. It makes a good case for dusting off and tuning the “old” piano, borrowing or purchasing a keyboard (within your budget)! A piano or keyboard is a good tool to have for both vocal practice and songwriting.
With all this in mind, the ideal teacher is one who is also a songwriter and who would be sensitive to the lyricist’s specific goals for taking lessons. Before signing-up for lessons, find out! Non-songwriting teachers work with performance-oriented students. The lyricist’s needs are different, where performance is not necessarily the main objective, though it could develop into that if there’s interest in performing original songs as a singer-songwriter.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of vocal lessons for lyricists is overall musical confidence. No more statements like, “I’m only a lyricist.” Vocal lessons can be part of your lyric writing arsenal, putting you on a more even playing field with musicians, making you a better communicator with musician co-writers, and strengthening your overall songwriting craft.
Debra Lee is a vocal and piano instructor based in Ambler, PA. As a vocal teacher, she has students at all levels and ages, from beginner to pro, and coaches singer-songwriters and recording artists. She’s also an award winning songwriter and recording artist, sings professionally, and teaches songwriting. Debra serves as co-coordinator of the Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter of Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), and facilitates regional songwriting workshops.
To learn more or to contact, please visit: www.debralee.com
Bands and Lyrics
So, your band is all practiced up, the songs are all finished and you’ve spent endless hours and thousands of dollars in the studio laying down the tracks (without a producer). Your project is mixed and mastered, has been pressed to CD (maybe 1,000 to 5,000 copies).
After much anticipation you get a copy in your hands, unwrap and insert it in your car deck and realize, “It doesn’t sound like it did in the studio”!
Not Believing Your Ears
Anyone ever have this happen?
First thing that starts to roll through your mind is, what the hell did the recording engineer do to our songs?
After all, the band was rocking and we didn’t sound like this when we listened back. Where the hell are the hooks?
Why isn’t this song holding my attention? Why am I thinking about last night’s show before the second verse starts playing?
NEWSFLASH!! The engineer recorded exactly what you gave him to work with!
Here is some of what’s going on with you, the band and your songs.
You spent thousands on your guitar lessons along with an unimaginable amount of hours on rehearsals. One thing that never crossed your mind was, ”How much time you spent on your songwriting lessons”, making sure your writing skills were equal to your playing skills?
Now I’ve heard quite a few musicians say they didn’t need songwriting lessons, their fans love their songs! That may be true, but writing for radio or moving further up the chain requires better crafted material. I still hear in the same breathe these musicians say, “Why do your songs sound different than ours”?
Some of the reasons my songs sound different than yours:
I’ve honed skills in knowing how to open a song.
First lines are critical! You have to follow the first line with a line that is of interest to the listener and you. You then hook that third line to pull the listener into your story line. Your fourth line should guide you into the chorus. Shocker, in fact, the entire verse should lead into the chorus.
Without this your beginning doesn’t grab and pull your listener in.
The chorus needs to hook the listener!
There needs to be a hook that is memorable and easy to sing, this should continue to stay on the listener’s mind after the song is over.
To make this more complex, your lyric writing should be done as naturally as breathing. Just a band sitting around drinking a beer and having a conversation.
But wait, for the advanced group reading this article, who owns the song after it is written? Does the band have songwriters? Are the writers in agreement to pass each band member a percentage? Are the band members in agreement to do studio work on the writers songs as a work for hire? Who owns the name of the band? How is the merch money divided? Oh, you never thought of this? Now is the time to think about these issues!
Coming from a family of performers and musicians, Ron Russell was strongly inspired by the music that flowed through his home. In the early 80’s he performed in several projects throughout central, PA. In 1989, while performing and writing with local group, Psycho, Russell and his fellow members were offered their first professional writing/recording break from Atlantic Records, NY. Then in 1999 Ron Russell released his first solo CD, “Walk Away Girl.” The “Walk Away Girl” CD won him both the Entertainment Indi-Associations Golden and Sliver Writer/Artist of the Year 2002.
It's a New Day
Hello and welcome. My name is P.M. Eaton and I would love to share with you what I have learned over the past few years about songwriting, the creative process, teaching adults and children, and even a bit of recording in this series of BLOGS.
I have been performing as a vocalist/guitarist internationally for nearly 35 years in a vast number of performing arts organizations including The Philadelphia Boys Choir and Chorale, Bo Diddley, Kelis, Dawn Robinson, my band Phunkyman and many, many more. I teach privately at the Classical Guitar Store in downtown Philly, and I am Fine Arts Department Chair, Band and Choir director for both the lower and upper school of Girard College, a 1st-12th grade boarding school in Philly. I have interpreted and created music in most musical genres; enjoying each one as I have come to an understanding of how to communicate the message within the music, which is truly the whole point of creating and performing – communicating.
It doesn’t matter if I am teaching, performing, creating, interpreting, worshiping, or listening, I get the opportunity to do it every day and thoroughly enjoy every experience. My dad always said “son, do what you love no matter what it is, even collecting garbage. If you love it then you will never work a day in your life.” Teaching has proven to be the most rewarding part of what I do outside of performing. When I teach, I teach through music, I don’t just teach “music”. Remember music is communicating.
The messages that I communicate change depending on the audience. For the children of Girard College my message is focused on the core values of the school: respect, responsibility, compassion, self-discipline, and integrity. By connecting theory, practice ethic, performance, interpretation, and many other aspects of learning music and teaching to core values it helps the students connect and also drives them forward to success in all other aspects of their lives. Giving a more holistic experience to what they have participated in creates an expressive and dedicated artist.
As far as songwriting is concerned, the mantra is the same: The most important thing I have learned is that communication is the key. You must be able to communicate your message and every aspect of your compositions should reflect that message in order to really connect with your audience. From the lyrics (cryptic or direct, serious or humorous), tonality, key, tempo, instrument selection, vocal timbre, and environment (with regards to the recording process as in sounding like you’re in a concert hall, the woods, a small room, under water etc.…) each aspect of your creative process can greatly enhance the strength of the message you are communicating.
When figuring out how to best communicate your message, finding the proper song form will take your process from maybe creating cool poems and rhymes to creating effective and everlasting compositions that transcend time (good luck!).
When I was a child in the 70’s, most of the songs on the radio contained a form like this:
Introduction, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, solo (guitar or sax), chorus (modulated- meaning the key of the song was raised either a ½ step, step, or fourth above the original key) then the song faded out.
If you listen to a lot of Hip-hop or Rap from the early 2000’s on, the hook or chorus became the first thing you heard. If you are listening to dance or Hip-Hop/ R&B today, singing and rapping weave in and out with a rapping introduction, the hooks or choruses being sung and instrumental solos are now “guest” appearances by some 3rd party rapper. There is also the basic blues form, AAB, which contains the name of the song in the first phrase and is a poetic form all it’s own, as well as a number of other cool sequences, which can help a story to be told.
Other factors, which shape your composition vary from songwriter to songwriter and are what comes first in your process. Some find a melody first and harmonize chords then write lyrics, some create a chord sequence then find a melody then write words, and still others create lyrical content first.
All of these topics factor into your personal journey. I have had the pleasure of creating by myself and with others through each of these processes. Each process resulted in vastly different results, especially if I created with the aid of a piano instead of the guitar.
Since this is the first in a series of BLOGS I look forward to hearing from you as to what matters most or what is most confusing or frustrating to you in your creative process. In the meantime if you are not a super expressive wordy person with awesome rhyming skills then you will need the following tools: a rhyming dictionary and maybe a short self exploratory course in poetry so you can practice your skills at writing sonnets, haiku, couplets, limericks, quatrains, and many more (check out www.thewordshop.tripod.com/forms.html).
Feel free to check out some projects that I have been part of:
Dream Chasin – Video
Summer camp project where children learn the songwriting process, including drum programing instrumental accompaniment, the recording process, and storyboarding for video.
Dream Chasin – Video
Save The World – Video
My Girard College Elementary School student’s results from studying the songwriting techniques used by Motown Records during the Hitsville era. It began with a basic chord progression, an ABA form, then they developed a horn line and played it all down live in the same room together. Together in groups each was responsible for writing a verse or hook and then they recorded the vocals. The video was recorded last over a 2day period and edited by me. This was an awesome collaborative effort and fun class.
Save The World – Video
How’s That Go – Video
A personal song of love and loss of our son Hunter Gabriel brought to life by Plasma Dance Theater. One of many efforts of my wife Dora and I to tell our story, facilitate love for children and to support parents who have lost a baby.
How’s That Go – Video
Here Come De’ Funk – Video
A silly and fun crowd response song from my band Phunkyman.
Here Come De’ Funk – Video
P.M. Eaton – P.M. is a musical communicator, motivator,and educator. P.M. aka "Phunkyman" will continue to celebrate life through music and teaching. He is looking at another 30 years of performing and celebrating through music.
Is your brain constantly turning over song ideas? Do you flip words around and come up with crazy titles? Do your non songwriter friends ever tell you, "Everything is NOT a song, just stop"? Congrats, you have the gift of songwriting!
As a kid, I remember the joy of picking up my guitar and writing what was in my heart. As years passed, it was awesome to play my songs with the bands I was in. People would say "You wrote that? How cool!" Of course my friends loved everything I wrote. I must have mastered the art of writing, right?
Fast forward to the beginning of my commercial writing career, in order to write for the market I went to seminars. I got my songs critiqued by publishers and hit writers. I had to learn dirty words like "structure", "focus" and "conversational". Suddenly my gift felt like a burden. Did I ever write one good song before I learned all that stuff?
The answer is yes! The songs were real and coming out of my heart, so they were "good". In time I realized the pros were giving me tools to help me build better songs. They were not trying to tear me down (but honestly some things needed tearing down!). Some of the best songs I write today are the ones when I grab my guitar, sit on the edge of my bed and write from my heart. I shape them up with my tools later.
I believe God has given me this gift, I can't NOT write, it's impossible. I must nurture and be responsible with it. I want people to take away a laugh, a tear or a good feeling from my songs. I don't want it to be about me and how "brilliant" I am. It is a blessing. Blessings aren't made to be hoarded. They are made to bless others.
Most importantly, I think God wants me to ENJOY the gift. I don’t ever want to turn His beautiful gift into a burden!
Bill DiLuigi has had close to a hundred songs recorded worldwide. Artists include Richie McDonald from Lonestar and Amber Hayes. His songs have been in major movies and TV, including Hart of Dixie ,CBS Sports and Access Hollywood.