As we begin a new year, it’s a good time to revisit some of the advice shared in the year that has passed. I hope these tips will help you achieve your songwriting goals!
Excerpt from “How to Stretch Yourself Melodically”
A common pitfall for non-performing songwriters is writing melodies limited to the notes and rhythms the writers are comfortable singing. Unless the writer is also a terrific singer, it is unlikely that he or she has as wide a vocal range as the vocalists whom they are targeting. For example, while a non-performing songwriter might have a vocal range of an octave-and-a-third, a hit vocalist is likely to be able to sing an octave-and-a-half, and in some cases, two full octaves, or even more.
To maximize our chances of songwriting success, we need to write the strongest, most compelling melodies we are capable of imagining, whether we can sing them—or not.
Let’s look at ways to convey your melodies to the demo vocalists if you unable to sing the melodies you write.
- Those with access to a recording program that alters pitch can use that program to change the notes they sing to the notes they would like them to be.
- You can play the correct melody on an instrument while speaking the corresponding words in rhythm.
- You might sing the highest notes in falsetto. If it sounds terrible, remind yourself that only the demo singer will ever hear it.
- Sing the low and high notes you are unable to hit in a higher or lower octave. Let the demo singer know that these notes are to be sung an octave higher or lower than where you sang them.
- If you are unable to hold out a note as long as you would like, let the vocalist know that this note is to be extended.
Our vocal limitations do not need to be reflected in the melodies we write. By using these tools, we can create melodies that compel exceptional singers to say, “I’ve got to record this song!”
Excerpt from “What Makes the Perfect Demo”
Remember that demos are not only the vehicle to present your songs to industry pros, but they also have another equally important job—they express your vision for your songs. In most cases demo recordings are our only opportunity to give our input about the instrumentation and production. In thirty-five years of having my songs recorded by artists other than myself, I have yet to be consulted by a record producer or artist seeking suggestions about the instrumentation or arrangement. I make my “suggestions” by recording the musical and vocal arrangements as I imagine them. My demo essentially says, “This is the guitar lick I hear in the verses”; “This is where I hear the background vocals coming in”; “This is the bass line and drum pattern I envision for the final recording,” and more.
With only a handful of exceptions, the finished recordings of my songs have sounded almost indistinguishable from the demos I submitted, except for the vocalist and the improved sonic quality. For example, when I’ve introduced a cello in my demo’s second verse, a similar cello line has almost always been included in the same spot on the master recording. Similarly, background vocals, guitar licks, and other critical elements included on my demos have almost always been reflected in hit artists’ versions.
After you have determined the mood elicited by the track, think about words and phrases that encapsulate that emotion. If you stockpile potential song titles and phrases (and you should), browse through them while listening to the track. Hopefully, one of them will seem like a perfect fit. If not, leave your internal censor outside the room and keep listening to the track until the title reveals itself. Sometimes, I find my titles by listening to a track while driving or walking.
When interviewed for my book 6 Steps to Songwriting Success (Billboard Books) Keith Urban shared, “Don’t underestimate stream of consciousness. Get on a microphone and make some vowel movements; you’ll be amazed at how much of the final lyric is in that gibberish.” This technique can help you find your title, as well as additional lines of lyrics.
Do Not Provide an Explanation
Songwriting is an art of communication. We do not get to provide an explanation when our songs are played on the radio or are streamed. If publishers—or any other listeners—do not understand what our songs mean, or they fail to feel the emotions we intended to convey, we have not effectively done our job. Similarly, we should not need to share the backstory or inspiration for our songs. Let your songs speak for themselves.
Keep Expectations Realistic
No matter how good your songs are, it is extremely unlikely that you will be offered a contract on the spot. If a publisher is interested, he or she will likely want to re-listen to your material and possibly share it to get feedback from others in the company. Your primary goal for your meeting should be to initiate a professional relationship and maintain an open door so that you can play additional songs in the future.
Don’t Overstay Your Welcome
When a publisher signals that the meeting is concluding, don’t ask to play additional songs. If he or she wants to hear more of your material, it will be requested. Thank the publisher for taking the time to meet with you.
None of my early meetings with publishers brought me the life-changing contracts I hoped for. But I learned something from each publisher, and every meeting brought me one step closer to the one meeting that brought me the success I hoped for.
Excerpt from “The 3 ‘P’s’ of Songwriting Success”
Push the Creative Envelope
Studies show that people tend to prefer newness, variety, and surprises in music. So, be fearless. Experiment with grooves, melodies, rhythms, lyric themes, instrumentation. Be innovative, fresh, and exciting. Create the next big thing.
Publishers’ jobs have shifted. In order to get their writers’ songs recorded, in most instances they are tasked with setting up collaborations between the writers they represent and recording artists who are seeking collaborators. Few non-performing songwriters have the connections to write with successful artists unless they have already established a track record of hits.
There are only a handful of instances of non-performing songwriters attaining—and sustaining—chart success without being aligned to an effective music publisher. My best advice for aspiring songwriters is to write the kinds of songs that will make a publisher take notice—then put yourself in the places where your songs can be heard by publishers and those with access to them.
It can take years to master the deceptively simple task of writing songs with melodies and lyrics that connect with listeners, and many more years before the stars line up and deliver those songs to the top of the charts. The inevitable rejections and disappointments inherent in the business of songwriting can be brutal. The roller coaster ups and downs can be especially tough for creative people. But in a business that comes with few guarantees we can be assured that only those who persist, believe in themselves, and find joy in the writing have a shot at success.
Maximize your chances of attaining your goals by writing songs that push the creative envelope—songs that demand attention. Seek to align with effective publishers, and mostly importantly, keep on keepin’ on!
Excerpt from “How Hard Would You Work for a Hit?”
Sometimes we get a “gift”—a song that pours out of us effortlessly. My first life-changing song, “Change My Mind,” (written with A.J. Masters and recorded by John Berry and the Oak Ridge Boys) was finished in forty-five minutes. Other times, we need to rework and rewrite our songs to make them the very strongest they can be. For example, my song “Dear Diary” (written with Britney Spears and Eugene Wilde, and recorded by Britney) went through seven iterations before being included on Britney’s GRAMMY-nominated Oops, I Did it Again album, which sold more than 24 million copies worldwide.
Every song is an opportunity to change our lives. We cannot know which song will hold the key that unlocks the door to our dreams. Put one hundred percent into every song, and then one hundred percent more. Write every song as if it is the one that will change your life. One of them just might.
Success is not guaranteed, but by following the advice in these tips you can maximize your chances of attaining it. Best of luck achieving your goals in the coming year!
Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting (all published by Billboard Books). His songs are on Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies. A guest lecturer at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and at the Berklee School of Music, he has been interviewed as a songwriting expert for CNN, NPR, the BBC, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times. To receive his free video, “3 Things You MUST Do for Success,” and weekly tips to inspire creativity, click on https://tinyurl.com/yckat6fc. For information about his workshops, webinars, more than 120 additional articles, and more, visit www.jasonblume.com.