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.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Art Of The Pitch

(reprint from The Songwriters Connection E-Tip- go to to receive the newsletter)
By Kim Copeland

In today’s market there are many more artist vying for fewer and fewer artist slots. Record labels are merging, artist rosters are shrinking as labels search for some solution to their financial troubles. While lots of independent artists are going out on their own, many still need the support of a record label to launch or maintain their music career.

It is more important than ever that you present yourself to a label in a way that stands out from the crowd. You need a pitch package that makes them see you as a good business partner and someone they can have business success with.

Think of your pitch package as your initial job interview. It is your first impression on your potential boss/investor. The powers that be will use this package to determine whether they are interested enough to call you in for a live interview/audition. That is the goal of a pitch package; to get you to the next step, the live audition.

There is an ‘expected and accepted’ presentation. A typical pitch package includes a bio, a head shot and an audio sample. Your challenge is to find a way to look professional and polished yet also unique and more interesting than the dozens of other packages they will see that month. Here are a few tips that will help you accomplish this.

First, be sure that your picture/head shot shows you as an artist! Many people submit pictures that would look great on a living room wall as part of a family collection, but what your grandma thinks is a pretty photograph of you is probably not what record labels are looking for in an artist. You need a high quality photograph that makes you look natural, but artistic. (Hint: the cover shots you see on magazines are NEVER a “snapshot”. They are posed, with correct lighting and expression to “sell” them to the audience.) That is what you need in your pitch package; something that makes you bigger than life.

Secondly, the audio piece of your package should be above demo standards. You need a producer who will work with you to bring out your uniqueness as an artist. Singing pretty is not enough. A clean recording of your pretty singing is not enough. You need to work with someone who understands vocal delivery as well as vocal technique and can help you showcase your ARTIST potential, not just your singing ability. You need powerful, original songs, whether you write them yourself or get them from other writer’s catalogs.

I recommend recording five or six songs and choosing the best three of those for your pitch package presentation. You save money by recording five songs at the same time, rather than going back to the studio for a second session to record more at a later time. (Another advantage to recording at least five songs is that you also have a marketable EP to be selling at your shows and on the web. It gives you options so you can customize your pitch package, depending on who you are pitching to. And, should they ask to hear more, you can strike while the iron is hot by following up with the other songs right away, rather than asking them to wait while you find and record more.

Last, your biography should be concise and interesting. Remember that they are not looking for a scrapbook of your favorite childhood memories. They want to know what you have accomplished for yourself with regard to your music career, how ready you are to step into the artist role and your potential to help them with your career so that you both make money. (After all, it is the music BUSINESS!)

I recommend that you keep your bio short; personal, friendly and interesting, but focused. Put yourself you their side of the desk and ask yourself, “What facts would I be interested in knowing about a potential business partner?” It is a good idea to have someone else write your bio for you. It is much easier for someone else to brag on your accomplishments. And, they will have an easier time staying focused on the objective.

A nice addition to the pitch package is a “one sheet”. This is an additional, two sided sheet of paper that may include thumbnail pictures (personality shots, live performance shots, etc), endorsements, and reviews.

And here is the last, and most important piece of advice: Be sure that your contact information is on EVERY piece of your pitch package! Assume that it will get separated and that some piece of it will end up in the hands of someone who wants to contact you. If they have to look for it, you may lose your moment of opportunity.

Remember that you are pitching yourself to professionals who are looking for professionals to work with. They do not care about making your dreams come true. They care about a mutually beneficial working relationship. You will get further by using your pitch package to convince them that you are a)ready and equipped for the job you are asking for, and b) hard working, than that you deserve for them to give you a lot of money and attention because you have a dream.

Hope this helps you aspiring artist out there! Good luck to you all on your creative journeys!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Five Ways to Tell the Truth

By Kim Copeland

As writers, we are always trying to put words in other people’s mouths. We not only have to guess what artists want to say to their audiences, but also how they want to express it.
Every line of lyric contains not only information for the listener, but also emotion. How it is delivered helps to determine the audience’s reaction to it.
As a writer, artist, or producer of your own demos, I challenge you to read each line of your lyric and try saying/singing it at least five different ways before you commit it to a final delivery of it. Below is an example of how the meaning, emotion, attitude can change based on the way a line of lyric is delivered.
1. He couldn’t love her anymore
2. He couldn’t love her anymore
3. He couldn’t love her (anymore)
4. He couldn’t love her anymore
5. He couldn’t love (her anymore)

1. I don’t want to love you tonight
2. I don’t want to love you tonight
3. I don’t want to love you tonight
4. I don’t want to love you (tonight)
5. I don’t want to love (you tonight)
It’s not only important that the accent be placed on the correct syl-a’-ble. It is also important for it to deliver the correct emotion and attitude. Explore every possible delivery before settling on the one that tells the truth in the most believable way.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Quantity AND Quality

Whatever you want to do…you must do it! If you want to be a songwriter, you must write songs.
There is much to be said for studying your craft, learning your business and networking with your peers, but, ultimately, the way to become a successful songwriter is to write songs. The most common characteristic I find among successful songwriters is that they write.
They write often. They write good songs and bad songs, with others and by themselves, on days when they are inspired and on days when they really would rather be playing golf or should be fixing the toilet. They are willing to write the bad stuff to get to the good stuff. And that is how hits are created; by wading through the muck.
I have been known to write four or five songs on the same subject matter before I am satisfied that I have a good song that accurately expresses my idea. None of that writing time is wasted. It is all necessary to help focus the idea and hone my craft. The important thing is that I keep writing a worthwhile idea until I get to the point that I feel a million people can understand it and care about it.
I recommend that you rewrite a SONG until you have a complete, well structured song. Rewrite an IDEA until you feel satisfied that you have said what you meant to say about it in a way that clearly expresses the action and emotion of it, no matter how many songs it takes.
Don’t be afraid of quantity. It can often lead to quality.

Monday, March 15, 2010

So You Want to Get Session Work?

I have had several inquiries lately about session work, both for vocalists and musicians, so I thought I would address it here. If you are looking to break into session work, there are two very important things to keep in mind.

STUDIO performance is very different from LIVE performance!
In the studio, you do not have the benefit of a visual performance to sell the emotion of the song or to hide behind. Studio musicianship requires great technical skill as well as on the spot creativity. There is no rehearsal; no learning parts that someone else created. Even though the song is written, and maybe even arranged, prior to walking into the studio, it is the job of the players and singers recording the songs to bring them to life!

Time is Money! As an independent producer, I have total control over the musicians and vocalists I work with in the studio. I also have access to an amazing array of talent. I will always hire singers and players who can make me look good and save me money. That means those who: a) show up on time and come prepared; b) take direction well and have a large “bag of tricks” ; and, c) can understand and communicate musical ideas and emotion.

Music is an exchange of emotion. It is not enough to sing or play on pitch and in rhythm; you must also be able to make the listener feel something while listening to your performance. (That is what separates the singers from the artists!)

Here is my advice to those of you wanting to break into studio work.

1. Learn to read charts.
2. become fluent in as many different styles of music as you can.
3. Learn to play well with others.
4. Learn to communicate your ideas and participate in the creative process.
5. Get experience however you can. Play for free. Ask for copies of your session work to study to improve your game and showcase your work.

1. Learn your instrument. Figure out what you do best (vocal “tricks”, “sweet spot” of your range, stylistic phrasing, etc that makes you unique).
2. Learn to “key” songs.
3. Practice not just singing songs, but interpreting them.
4. Learn to sing harmony parts.
5. Learn to read charts (not necessary, but helpful)

1. Learn to show up ON TIME. Again, time is money.
2. Learn to play well with others. In the studio you must be a part of the team. You are not the star of the show. Even if you’re having a bad day, the songs still need to sound great.
3. Every song and every client is important. (You can’t sing or play on only the good songs. Well, I guess you can, but you won’t make much money at it.)
4. Have fun! There are a lot worse ways to make money, spend your time, and hone your craft!

It is hard to break in to session work, even if you are talented. You must be willing to stand on the sidelines observing until you get your chance to get in the game. I suggest that you hang out at sessions every chance you get. Go to songwriter’s nights and let them know you are available for demo work. Get to know musicians, engineers, studio owners, and songwriters. Offer to work free if you get the chance just to show what you can do. Record a sampler to showcase your talent. People are always looking for new voices, yet always lazy about changing what is not broken, so you just have to ask and keep your place in line until you get a chance to prove yourself.

Lastly, get realistic and honest feedback from someone who knows about whether or not you actually have the talent to be a demo singer or a studio musician. I promise you – not everyone who sings or plays an instrument can.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Are We Having Fun Yet?

by Kim Copeland

Why do we creative beings take ourselves so seriously? While I am an absolute advocate of studying your craft, I think there is a risk of becoming so technically advanced as to lose sight of the real reason for making music - it’s fun!

I always find it amusing when a live audience goes crazy over a song that a publisher has just ripped to shreds. Audiences don’t listen with analytical ears. Their response is based solely on whether or not they enjoy the song.

There is a time for analyzing and a time for enjoyment. Songwriting, at its best, satisfies both sets of ears. Here are a few suggestions for helping your listeners enjoy your songs as much as you do.

First, remember that audiences are always asking two questions: “Then what?” and “So what?” The first question challenges us to make sure that they understand what we are talking about. The second question challenges us to make them care what we are talking about. To make them care, you must make them relate.

There are several ways to involve listeners in your songs. One is to find the universal message that everybody can identify with. Another is to wrap the message in an emotion that most people have felt, or would like to feel.

Secondly, whenever possible, make the song a one on one experience between “You” and “I”. The most effective presentation for your message, story, or emotion is first person. You may have a wonderful message about your beautiful outlook on life, which you are just dying to share with the world. But, as the Toby Keith song says, “…Occasionally, I want to talk about me”.

Conversations are much more interesting than speeches. Singers know this. That’s why it is much easier to get a love song cut than a message or anthem song. If you can begin by talking about yourself (“I”) and relate that to the listener (“You”), they will be much more involved.

As you strive to make your music fun for you, remember to make it fun for your audience too. It ain’t rocket science or brain surgery! Nobody dies; nothing explodes if we don’t write a good song. So relax. Have fun with your creative gifts. Just try to remember that you’ll go farther if your audience has fun too.

Are we having fun yet?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Getting The Most Out of Your Demo Singer

I know that I have already told you that hiring the right demo singer is the smartest demo money you can spend. I stand by that. There is a huge difference between someone singing your song on pitch and someone delivering, interpreting and selling your song to the listening audience.

Though you have every right to expect a demo singer to stick to the melody you have written, I encourage you allow them some latitude to use their instincts to sell your song. This is especially good advice if you are a male songwriter who has written a female song or visa-versa. The Mars/Venus rule applies here. Vocal tricks and techniques that work well with the male delivery may sound contrived and unbelievable coming from a female vocalist.

Cast a vocalist who you believe can reach the pitch market you are aiming for, give them some guidance about the attitude and emotion you are going for and then sit back, at least on the first run through, and see how they interpret your song and directions. You may be very pleasantly surprised. They will almost surely come up with embellishments that are new to you. If you like them, your song is all the better for allowing the exploration. If you don’t, you can have them stick more closely to what you sang on your work tape.

As songwriters, most of us will lay our songs at the alter of artists, asking them to interpret them in a way that will sell them to their audience. Try allowing your demo singer the same trust and see if it breaths new life into your song demos.

The Power of Contrast

Songwriting Tip #79: Use contrast between your verses and chorus to establish a distinctive and memorable structure for your song.

It doesn’t matter if you begin writing your song with a verse or a chorus. It doesn‘t matter what rhyme scheme you begin with, what lyrical phrasing, what musical phrasing and groove, or what chord structure, as long as you alter it when you change sections.

There should be no question in the listener’s mind what the chorus of your song is after the first listen. If your phrasing is short and choppy (rhythmic or staccato) in your verses, try elongating it in the chorus. If your melody is low and less rangy in the verses, make it soaring in the chorus.

If your verse has eight lines of lyric and thirty two bars of music, try to keep your chorus to four lines of lyric and sixteen bars of music.

It is very important to partner your musical and melodic hook with your lyrical hook, but it is equally important to use the first line of your chorus to establish a change. This will grab the listener’s ear and keep them focused.

When recording your song, be sure to change the musical feel of the chorus. If the drums are playing half time on your verses, go to full time on the choruses to give it more energy. If the drummer is using a rim shot in the verses, going to a full snare in the chorus will make it sound bigger.

Most of you are familiar with the melody and music of “Thriller”, by Michael Jackson. You know that the melody climbs higher in the chorus. There are also fewer words in each line of the chorus and fewer lines than in the verses. Some of us may not be able to sing the verses unprompted by the recording, but most of us can sing a chorus from memory. That is because the music, melody and lyrics differ from the verses and make it memorable.

Thriller lyrics
Songwriters: Temperton, Rod;

It's close to midnight and something evil's lurking in the dark
Under the moonlight, you see a sight that almost stops your heart
You try to scream but terror takes the sound before you make it
You start to freeze as horror looks you right between the eyes
You're paralyzed

'Cause this is thriller, thriller night
And no one's gonna save you from the beast about strike
You know it's thriller, thriller night
You're fighting for your life inside a killer, thriller tonight

Remember to use all of the tools available to you to make your songs as memorable
If you are trying to write commercial songs; songs that will move millions of listeners, contrast is a valuable, and often overlooked, tool that can take your songwriting to a new level.

Hard Times/Good Times

“Do what you love, not what you’re taught.” David Foster

The message in this statement is twofold. First, many of us let our professions in life choose us instead of us choosing them. Secondly, many of us spend too much time learning and not enough time doing.
In these hard economic times, most of us are evaluating and reprioritizing our lives. For some, it is scary. For others, it’s exciting.

It is important to remember that the number of hours in each day has not changed. YOU may have more time available than you used to, but you have the same amount of time each day as everyone around you. You can spend it worrying about what you’ve lost or use it preparing for what you want your future to be.

Being a “glass half full” kind of person, I think it is a great time to get out of line and chart your own path. There are opportunities to pursue goals that heretofore may have been pushed to the back of your bucket list. If you’ve always wanted to be a songwriter, maybe this forced change in routine is your chance to do it. No doubt, these hard times are going to thin the herd in most businesses. But it will also open up some new positions for those brave enough to fill them and leave fewer to share in the spoils.

If you buy into the “invest in yourself” mentality, and have been dreaming about becoming a serious songwriter, this is your time to put up or shut up. If you want the big payoff in the business of songwriting, invest your time to write your best songs, your money to record your best demos and your energy to find good placement for your songs.

If you are already a committed songwriter, I urge you to forget everything you’ve been taught about songwriting and write songs that you love. What have you got to lose? If you’ve been writing formulaic, safe songs trying to be “commercial”, they’re probably not your best work and won’t get you noticed anyway. You may as well use your unique voice and see what attention it brings to you.

Dreams live through hard times and will always find a way to survive. They will also respond to the attention you give them.

Do what you love, not what you’re taught. The result will be your greatest work and your most fulfilling life.