Friday, August 24, 2012

Identify Yourself!

 Jan 2012
As we begin this New Year I’m sure we’re all making resolutions about where we’d like to be this time next year.  (I have decided the beach sounds good!)
I’m sure all of us would also like to be farther along on the professional path.  With that in mind, I intend to write more articles in the Songwriters Connection that pertain to crafting more marketable,  commercial songs and to utilizing business techniques that will accelerate your rise to success.  I want to begin by putting this idea in your head as you create your plan of attack for 2012.
 Identify yourself!  Create an identity for yourself as a professional in the music industry. 
Some of the ways to identify yourself are obvious (yet surprisingly often overlooked).  They instantly separate the amateurs from the serious songwriters and artists.  Here are a few fundamental ideas to keep in mind for establishing your identity in the coming year.
Identify yourself when pitching your product.  Put your contact information on EVERY piece of material you give to ANYONE!  Give complete contact information; E-mail, phone, snail mail address.  You would be very surprised at the missed opportunities that arise from making yourself too hard to reach.  Give them a chance to contact you. (If they don’t, at least it won’t be your own fault.)
Identify yourself when you have the opportunity to meet someone who might help your career.  I’m certainly not advocating annoying people you hope to work with, but don’t miss an opportunity to be noticed either, by being too shy or too polite to say, “Hello, my name is Bob and I am a songwriter.  I admire your work.”  People love being acknowledged and it could begin a conversation that pays off down the road. Give them a chance to remember you.   (They can love you or hate you, but do not let them ignore you!)
Identify yourself in your writing style.  If you are an artist, you strive to create an original vocal sound that utilizes your unique singing ability.  If you are a songwriter, you should do the same.  Everyone has a unique sense of how they use language, phrasing, rhyme, meter, rhythm and structure.  One style does not fit all.  Use what comes naturally to you.  Identify what makes you unique in your writing style and they showcase it to the world so that it becomes synonymous with your name.
Identify yourself by the sound quality of your recordings.  They are your first impression and will tell the music community where you belong on the ladder of success.  Give your songs the best presentation you can.  Set the bar for what producers, publishers, artists, A&R should expect from you so they are anxious to open the envelope when you mail or drop a new song off to them.
With the opening of my new studio, Ragtop Recording, I have already put my money where my mouth is.  From the vintage Trident console to the latest ProTools and digital outboard gear, it will take every recording I produce to the next level and beyond! The sound quality is amazing and the vibe is warm and relaxed. It will help me to identify myself even further with my unique producer’s voice.  More importantly, it helps me give you and your songs a strong new identity to help them stand out and take you further faster!
Create your identity this year and find your place in the music community that you want to be a part of!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Power of Simplicity in Songwriting

The Power of Simplicity in Songwriting
By Kim Copeland
Reprint from The Songwriters Connection E-Tip

Most up and coming songwriters have been told at least once to “be original”. Try to say something that hasn’t been said before or to say it in a new way. Easier said than done, right?

…Maybe so.

Too often we strangle our creativity by trying to be too profound, too clever, too original. Listen to the radio. Most radio hits contain elements of familiarity combined with a new twist. They aren’t reinventing the wheel. They just give us enough new to make the old sound fresh.

Listeners want to feel engaged and comfortable while listening to songs. They don’t want to think as much as feel. Music is more emotional than intellectual. Complex lyrics and musical structures have their place, but in commercial songwriting, they are rarely the songs that “break” songwriting careers. Those songs are written for the writer, not the audience. If you hope to find commercial success as a songwriter, you owe it to yourself to try to understand what listeners respond to. Why they are drawn to some songs over others. What makes them willing to pay for some songs so they can listen to them over and over again?

Simplicity is a powerful tool in songwriting. If you can wrap a deep message within a catchy, repetitive melody, you’ve got a hit. If you can create a groove that makes the listener immediately feel comfortable wanting to move to it, you’ve got a hit. By combining simple elements that any listener can get involved with easily and quickly, and original elements (whatever you do differently than anyone else), you create a fresh, new product that can attract a mass audience.

When you play to your strengths by doing what comes naturally to you, you make writing songs easier and you write better songs. Keep it simple by identifying elements that work for you and combining them in a way that works for audiences.

Study what people respond to about your songs. Once you have identified it, let that be the unique factor that you showcase in all of your writing. It could be your language; the way you express yourself or your ideas. It might be your musical gift; the chord voicings you use or the particular texture and tone of your instrument, be it guitar or voice. Perhaps you feel grooves and phrasing that is different and hooks people into your songs.

Study hit songs from several genres, and try to determine what about the song is infectious to listeners. Is it the groove, the hooky message, the musical riff, the sing along melody? Next, choose one element from each of two or three different hit songs, and combine them with one of your lyrical ideas. Maybe a repetitive chord structure from one song combined with the groove of another. Now add your original lyric to it and see if it gives you a presentation for your song that now contains some proven elements with some fresh new ones. Almost every hit song has something that is familiar hidden within it, either by design or accident.

I am certainly NOT encouraging you to plagiarize anyone’s work; but studying it, learning from it and using that knowledge to help you break through the wall of commercial songwriting is encouraged. We are all conglomerates of what we have seen, heard, felt, and absorbed. By using your experiences, talents and personal musical tastes you will create an original voice for yourself as a songwriter. Hopefully, one that will help you stand out as original while attracting a mass audience.

When you hear “be original” and “this is a little TOO different – I don’t know what to do with it” in the same conversation, perhaps you are trying too hard. Try being original within the structure of familiarity and see if not only makes your songwriting life easier, but also elevates your standing in the commercial market.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Condense It!

by Kim Copeland

One of my production and critique clients recently had an epiphany regarding song structure in today’s market that I’d like to share with you here, as it reaffirms some of my most frequently dispensed songwriting advice…less is more!

Approximately ninety percent of the songs currently airing on CMT have four lines of lyric before they hit the chorus. Of the remaining ten percent, I’d say that nine have a four line verse and a two line channel, and only one percent have eight lines of verse preceding the chorus.

If you are using lengthy verses to explain your story to the listener, you may be losing them before you get to the punch line (chorus). Try evaluating some of your eight line verses to see if they can be condensed into four lines. Determine which information contained there is truly relevant to the listener’s understanding of the story. Be sure to give only the important factual and emotional information without any superfluous words or lines that may confuse your audience or lose their attention.

It is very important to learn what is selling in the market you are competing in, if you want to succeed. The old adage, “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus” still rings true in today’s song market. With this one tool of learning to say more with fewer words you can take your songwriting to a new, more commercial level.

The Christopher Columbus Approach To Songwriting

by Kim Copeland

In the writing process: Explore every angle for the idea; every possible character perspective; every scenery option and every timeline. When the muse sends you a full song, write it and say thank you. But before you spend money on the demo or put it in your finished file, explore these elements to make sure that you have exploited that idea to the fullest. If your goals are commercial songwriting, “uniqueness” is your best friend. You can practice what has been written before to hone your skills, but exploring until you discover the uniqueness of an idea will be your key to success.

In the pre-production process: Explore every possible groove, chord voicing, instrumentation and arrangement idea. It costs nothing but your time and is immensely valuable. If you are working with a producer you trust, they will help with a lot of this exploration. That is their job and talent. Participate to the best of your abilities and be willing to learn from what others can offer.

In production: Surround yourself with creative musicians, producer and vocalists and let them explore with you and for you. Hire people you admire and trust and then turn them loose to see where your song leads them. If you don’t like the results, you can always reel them back in, but you may miss something great if you tie their hands.

Ultimately, writing a great song is a wonderful journey. Enjoy the journey. Rather than rushing to the finish line, listen to the idea and let it lead you where it wants to go.

“It’s all in HOW you say WHAT you’ve got to say”

By Kim Copeland

We all know that it is best to write what you know. It’s even better to write what you know in a way that makes people want to hear it.

I have production and critique clients constantly asking me to explain songs that make it onto the radio with lyrics that are less than profound or melodies that are seemingly mundane. There are many factors in play when it comes to getting songs on the radio. Few have to do with the quality of the material.

However, songs that become classics, that remain in our hearts and minds and create the soundtrack of our lives, those I can explain. Those songs are written with grooves, melodies and words (not just lyrics, but words) that invite the listener to participate. They are fun to sing, or cry to or make love to or laugh with. They are messages that are presented in such a way that the listener can’t help but feel a specific emotion while listening to them.

I have had the pleasure to work with some amazing artists and songwriters in my career. Sometimes I work on projects where the singer’s delivery carries the song. Sometimes a song is so creative and original that many singers could sell t equally well. In every situation, the goal is the same. To create an infectious recording that cannot be ignored by the listener.

If you want to say “I love you” in a song, you have to find a new way to say it to get noticed. It may be the melody. Try singing that phrase at least five different ways before you settle on one. (Put the accent on a different syllable. Take the melody up on different syllables to see which expresses the emotion best. Start the melody high and cascade down on the phrase. Start the melody low and soar on the “you”, etc.

Now explore rhythm. Try five different grooves, tempos, attitudes for the message. (Yes, “I love you” can be expressed with anger, sadness, fear or surprise!)

Next, think about the presentation for your message. Different instrumentation can express different emotion. The same way a singer uses dynamics to sell the emotion of a song, a songwriter can use instrumentation.

There are probably still some totally unique ideas left for songwriters to discover. There are way more unique ways to use old ideas. There will always be common emotions to write about. Love will always have an audience.

Perhaps the way to songwriting success is less about WHAT to say, and more about HOW to say it. Clever alliteration will sometimes get you a lot further down the path to success than thought provoking brilliance (“Achey, Breaky Heart”, “Itsy, Bitsy, Teeny, Weeny, Yellow, Polka, Dot Bikini”). A beautiful melody that can make you cry or dance or remember, even without the lyric present (“Can you Feel the Love Tonight”, “Imagine”) will keep people humming it far beyond the life of radio. A groove that makes you want to move creates its own life (“I Feel Good”, “Poker Face”, “Twist and Shout”).

As you are learning and practicing the “rules” of songwriting and stressing over what to say during your upcoming writing sessions, take a moment to think about how to say something. Think about how you can you use language, rhythm, melody and instrumentation to “hook” your audience. See if the how can lead you to the what. And when you end up writing your most popular song ever, don’t apologize for it or overanalyze it. Just appreciate the fact that you have become a well rounded, commercial songwriter with more ways to reach a mass audience.

I am working on an album project right now with an amazingly talented young songwriter/artist. Do her songs break some songwriting rules? Yes. (She’s young.) Do I care about that when I am listening to them and taping my foot and feeling the emotion of them? NO! (She’s great!) Because music is an exchange of emotion and at the end of the proverbial day, it doesn’t matter what you say. It only matters how your audience feels about it.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Creative Communities

Last night in Nashville I witnessed the highest form of inspirational motivation!

My heroes, Carole King and James Taylor, two humble, average looking people (though we know they are giants!) climbed the steps and took the stage about ten feet in front of me and spent the next three hours reminding me why I write, perform and produce music.

They didn’t do what they do to inspire me. They didn’t do it to impress the star-studded audience that turned out for them. They did it because they love singing, playing, writing and performing together! And in the simple pleasure of sharing their songs and energy with each other, they transformed us.

We see a lot of talent here in Nashville. We are blessed with many options, on any given day of any given week, to hear great singing and songwriting. But this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to have two creative beings of this caliber in our midst, sharing stories and intimate moments.

We all grow together when we share our collective creative spirit. These two legends did not become legends by clawing their way to the top. They arrived at that status accidentally, as a by-product of living their lives in the most creative way they could. They established lives for themselves that allowed room for creativity. They were brave enough to follow the muse where it led them. They honored their gift; and continue to. That is why we show up to bask in their light; because it is a rare sight to see two people so in tune with their creative spirit and so honest in their love of the journey.

So many of us list Carole King and James Taylor among our musical influences. I encourage you to allow them to influence you now; not only musically, but spiritually. Whether you are familiar with their musical work or not, research it today. Read about the scene they grew up in, musically. Study the structure of their songs, lyrics, melody and music. Understand the musical freedom they nurture in themselves and those around them. I promise you will grow from the experience
When the business side of songwriting threatens the creative side; when you can’t rise to one more co-writing appointment; when your guitar refuses to speak to you - go back to your roots! Remember the first time you felt inspired to play your piano or guitar or write a poem or hum an original melody? That feeling is the one you need to nurture. Find your creative community and make a habit of sharing and appreciating all of the talent and spiritual energy in that community.

Our Nashville music community now includes many songwriters and artists from every genre. (One look around the inner circle at last night’s show is proof of that!) And we are richer for it. How pleasant it was to take a break from analyzing performances and songs or looking to see who’s looking, and be reminded of the beautiful, healing force of song.

In the wake of recent floods and devastation in Nashville, this show (the first in the arena since the floods) was such a lift for our spirits. Carole King even wrote a special verse on ‘you’ve Got a Friend’ just for us!

I think I am safe in saying that all of us left this show with our souls rejuvenated. Thank you Carole and James! Please come back soon.

I wish you all inspiration and a sense of creative community. If you can’t find it where you are, build it. Or come to Nashville. We always have room for one more.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Creative Responsibility

(reprint from the Songwriters Connection E-Tip. to sign up)
By Kim Copeland

We are all in a different place on our songwriting journey. Some of us are great musicians, some beginners. Some of us are great singers, some can’t carry a tune. Some of us have natural rhythm, some struggle to keep a steady tempo. Some of us are poets while others of us ramble aimlessly, confusing the listener as we go.
The beauty of this ever shrinking world we live in is that you are never far away from someone whose strengths compliment your weaknesses. As you identify and own your strengths and weaknesses you can, and should, seek out fellow creative beings that can fill in the gaps for you and improve your chances of songwriting success and fulfillment. In doing so, you will become more self sufficient and better able to take responsibility for your songs.

“Songwriting” means something different to each of us. We all use the gifts we have and try to find some basic understanding of those we aren’t blessed with in hopes of improving our songwriting experience. This process can be fulfilling or frustrating; often times both. It should help to know that you do not have to be a great musician or singer to be a great songwriter. If you can feel or hear your idea, you can find a way to express it and present it to the world. It isn’t hard to cast a creative team to fill the roles you can’t.

Here are some key elements to creating a good, commercial song and where the creative responsibility lies for each.

1. Rhyme scheme - Songwriter

2 . Song Structure – Songwriter/Producer (You should have the basic structure down, but be flexible in case musicians or producer come up with some creative modifications in the studio that you had not thought of.)

3. Attitude – Songwriter/Producer (Production should enhance it, but you should know what attitude you are going for before you get into the studio. If you cannot express it, use other commercial songs as examples to illustrate this to musicians, vocalists, producer, etc.)

4. Emotion – Songwriter/Producer (Though production should enhance and showcase the emotional impact of the song, it is the writer’s responsibility to create the emotion in the lyric and melody.)

5. Range – Songwriter/Producer (You should have the range of the melody written to showcase the lyrical emotion. The producer and/or singer may embellish it somewhat to match the musical track.)

6. Phrasing – Producer/Songwriter (Though you should have the melodic and lyrical phrasing written into your song, you should also give the musicians, producer and vocalist some latitude with them to allow the song to evolve in the creative process of recording it.)

7. Melody ad lib – Producer/Vocalist/Songwriter (Whether you are singing your own demo or hiring a professional demo singer, be open to exploring ad libs that can enhance the emotional impact of your song.)

8. Instrumentation (chord voicings) – Producer/Musicians/ Songwriter (You may have chord voicings that work great with one guitar, but not with a full band. Sustained chords, sevenths, etc should be used as coloring. Trust the producer to find the compromise that brings out the flavoring you like without letting it interfere with the vocal and musical theme of your song.)

9. Musical signature lick, groove, arrangement, vocal harmonies and background vocals, vocal and musical phrasing – Producer/Songwriter/Musicians (You may have a signature lick written into your song, If so, let the producer build it into the full production to fit the groove and attitude of your song. If you have ideas on harmony and background vocals, that is great. But if you don’t hear these things, the producer will. This is not something that you have to provide as the songwriter. All of this falls under the umbrella of production. Your producer should work with you to incorporate your ideas into the big picture in the way that best serves your song and your goals for the recording.)

Whether or not you are a great musician, singer, or linguist, your responsibility as a songwriter is to present your idea in a clear way that the audience can easily follow and be drawn into, and to move the listener emotionally. Few of us can do it all. Focus on the elements that you can do well and seek out others to help with the rest. By learning where to put your energy to good use and where not to waste it, you can relax and focus and make better use of your creative time and energy.