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.