15 questions from "OD"

A friend and client of mine, Mr. Steve Harris, of Columbus Ohio, asked a few questions he wanted to know when he started this songwriter’s journey. I thought his questions summed up what most newbies need to know. Hope they help. Thank you OD. (Steve)

1. I have some poems that my friends think are pretty good and my family thinks are GREAT! What should I do with them?

Everyone has a parent, grandparent. Teacher, friend, who love them and think everything is BETTER THAN THAT CRAP ON THE RADIO! But that is not the best arbiter of things, particularly when it comes to songs. And poetry are NOT SONGS. They are poems. There doesn’t have to be a meter, structure, rhyme scheme, time constraints, melody, or anything. They can just be whatever they are. Songs have to have a structure, verses, choruses, hooks, a cogent story line. Poetry doesn’t.

2. Should I buy books and begin to learn there? If so, what kind?

There are books on the subject, primarily Jason Blume’s Six Steps to Songwriting Success and John Brahany’s “Craft and Business of Songwriting.” Personally, I like reading biographies of artists, writers, actors, to separate fact from theory. At the end of the day, hit songs don’t come out of books. They come from doing. Just like reading source material in High School and College, getting a supply of information and knowledge is always a good thing. But most of songwriting is a contact sport. Have to get into the game. By doing.
3. Should I spend money on workshops and seminars? If so, what kind?
Again, all knowledge is a good thing. Workshops and seminars are good at getting face to face answers to questions. But they have another important element. Getting writers together in one area to meet, share information, and network. And at the end of the day, RELATIONSHIPS account for 85% of a career.

4. Should I join an organization? IF so, what kind? How about online?

NSAI, or Nashville Songwriter’s Association International, is the only Nationwide organization with chapter workshops nearly everywhere. A visit to nashvillesongwriters.com can take you to the information on that. Other organizations like Song U, TAXI, Songwriter’s Guild, have similar and different purposes, from instruction, information, networking opportunities, etc. Some, like Taxi, also are involved in song plugging. But you should do investigation with other writers, to find their experiences first before committing resources.
There are many sites online, www.songramp.com is one of my favorites and the one I participate in most often. It provides talk rooms, opportunities to post songs, and make like- minded friends for life. There are many others. But writers and artists should spend as much time doing research as they do writing.

5. What do they mean by SONG STRUCTURE?

Songs have very distinct patterns to them. There are verses, which usually tell the story of the song, choruses, which are the “sing a long” part that has the “hook” which is the theme or title of the song, bridges, which are the “moral of the story” or the “wrap up”
These can come in different structures. Verse, verse, Chorus, verse, verse, bridge, and many variations. The most popular, particularly in contemporary country music, is “Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, out. The verses also feature a “Channel, pre-chorus, or lift, which are places where the music lifts up the tension into the chorus and melodically lifts the song. These are usually two-four lines and build until the chorus.

6. What are perfect rhymes and sound alike rhymes? Should you avoid one or the other?

Perfect rhymes are just as they say. Perfect. TRUE AND BLUE, EYES AND REALIZE, HEART AND APART.
The problem with these is in this day and age, many can sound sophomoric and Dr. Suess-like. So we use “Near”, or “sound alike” rhymes. HEART and SHORT, TIME and RIGHT, LOVE AND ROUGH”. There are a lot of variations on this and again, many books and online references are offered. But the most essential element of today’s writing is CONVERSATIONAL. Singers sing like they are SPEAKING. So if it sounds forced or contrived, most singers won’t sing it.
7. My songs have three or four verses. Is that bad?

We are in a “30 second attention span” world now. If a song takes much longer to get into the “meat: of the song, close to a chorus, listeners will most assuredly tune out. People are bombarded by information, television, the internet, movies, books, live entertainment, there are images coming in all the time. So our attention spans are very short. Most commercial songs are not much longer than three minutes and thirty seconds. The key is to try and write for a “RADIO” audience. That is what interests publishers and artists. IF you get much past two verses you are going to be getting pretty long. Three can work but they need to be very lean and get to the point. DON’T BORE US, GET TO THE CHORUS!”

8. Not sure if my verses sound different from my chorus. What is a chorus exactly?

The chorus, is the “Sing along” part. It is where the audience gets to sing along, and usually delivers the “hook” of the song. Usually having longer, held out vowel sounds, it should be easily memorable and hum-able. The verses usually have more realistic images, or furniture, and the choruses are more emotion driven. This is not always the case, but most often so. There should be melody, rhythm differences in the two. Or it can get VERY BORING.

9. I don’t play an instrument. Is that necessary?

While there are people who are primarily LYRICISTS, it is very difficult to crawl inside someone’s head to hear what they are thinking when it comes to music and melody. So being able to at least play a few chords is very helpful when it comes to writing. And the lack of doing so can make it much harder than it needs to be. Since an instrument like guitar can be fairly easy and pretty inexpensive, having some abilities can make a huge difference in writing abilities.

10. I’m pretty shy and would never play onstage. How do I find someone to do my songs?

While not all writers have to be performing artists, again, it can make things much easier if they can at least perform a little bit. Writer’s nights and open mics are ways to get known by others quickly. It is somewhat akin to “pledging the fraternity” Being able to overcome stage fright, and do what everyone else has to do is part of the process. But if you absolutely CAN NOT perform, you need to attend writers nights or open mics, to support others and meet people. If you have decent recordings of songs, you can have a CD or direct someone to a web site. NEVER give a CD to someone without first asking permission. That can lead to enormous legal issues and has a name called “GHERMING” which is trying to move too fast in a relationship. Be polite and things usually come your way.

11. I write from the heart sharing my feelings. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?

Emotions have to be in songs. It is what separates things for music. But there are only so many emotions available. And people have heard them over and over again. So we have to “illustrate” emotions by “showing” not “telling.” You could say “He loved her forever” or “He Said “I’ll Love You Till I DIE.” The word “DIE” is so much more final and real. And in George Jones, immortal, “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, it is the entire point of the song. He does DIE in the end.

12. I write alone and never had a co-writer. Why would I want a co-writer?

Solo writing is fine and some people only want to do that. But if you want to participate in the music business, you will have to bring other people into your world. Co-writing is the way to not only do that, but to increase your abilities, working with a more experienced writer is THE way to go. And even the greatest of solo writers usually learn at the “feet of the masters.” There were LENNON AND McCartney, Rogers AND Hammerstein,
Elton John AND Bernie Taupin.
But it doesn’t mean you can’t write by yourself. You always can do that. But co-writing can lead to artists, publishers, producers, labels. Solo writing almost never does that.

13. I’ve gotten all my songs copy written. I also have gotten a lot of letters from people claiming to want to help me pitch my songs and agencies wanting to help me. WOW! How do I pick which one to go with and which one will be worth the money they want?

The Library of Congress is fertile ground for people wanting to offer scams and schemes. There are many services and web sites that are going to pitch songs, record songs, and MAKE YOU A STAR. In reality they usually over promise and under deliver. They are mostly studios looking for business or someone who USED to be in the business trying to stay in the business. Until you really get to know someone personally, it is best to take it very slow and methodical. Everyone in this business knows other people. Not hard to get references or complaints. Be careful.

14. I have a friend of a friend who does his own recording. But he is not a very good singer. Will that be okay with the labels?

Today with the higher and higher quality of recordings and expectations of the average listeners, it is harder and harder to be able to “hear through” a poor quality demo. Songs go in many areas now. Web sites, CD’s, I Tunes, Reverbnation, they pitch everything, from the singer, to the studio, to the musicians. If you get weak on a singer, it can very poorly represent your song. WE can no longer take chances. It is your baby. Give it every chance to live. Always ask for a “track mix: which is the music with no vocals. That way if you need to re-record with another, more appropriate vocalist, you can do so without having to re-record the entire song.

15. Once I get my songs recorded, do I mail my songs to everyone in Nashville? What is the next step?

You never “mail in” anything unless it is asked for. IT will all be passed on. Right into the garbage can. There are legal issues and until you know people inside the business, they are not going to take a chance on a lawsuit by listening to something from someone they don’t know.
You would be better served, to meet other writers, other artists, writer’s nights, seminars, workshops, and making a focused, Nashville trip. It is a very friendly city with a lot of all of it on display. Come on down!
A Marc-Alan Barnette customized songwriter or artist “TOUR” of Nashville can answer all of these questions and more.

16. I am so excited about my new life as a songwriter. Should I quit my job and move to Nashville?

Or, equally exciting would to be to take your life savings, cash it from the bank in $100 bills, go to your toilet and flush it all down. IT would have about the same effect.
The music business is expensive, tricky, challenging and a lot of fun. But very few will ever make enough money to even support themselves, much less get rich, It is not to be taken lightly. Before even considering moving, some advanuce trips should be made, meeting other people, sharing experiences, scoutng locations, making plans, and getting a realistic approach to the town. Again, an MAB tour can help in many of this. Several trips should be made before any considerations to moving are done. For now, many things can be done outside of Nashville. Do that first.

Good luck and have a good time.