Archive | Articles

Songmine: Message Songs Part 2 by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine: Message Songs Part 2 by John Braheny

Accession Number: C000000137-023-002 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: For the non-writing artist: Where do you find original material by John Braheny”, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

OCTOBER 11— OCTOBER 24

Songmine by John Braheny

Message Songs Part II

In my last column I talked about how not to write a message song. Now, let’s look at what works. It’s true that some people respond to the sledge-hammer, preachy You’ve got to…. You’d better…. Don’t ever school of message song, but I like to think more of us would rather be led gently than driven to enlightenment with a whip. I like songs to involve me in a scene I recognize I’m a part of, or one I feel is cut so realistically from the fabric of life that I could be a part of it. Parables are the best example of that kind of approach. Jesus, Buddha and all the great religious leaders used this type of approach. They were trying to get a message to masses of people and they knew they had to relate those messages to peoples’ real lives. The Good Samaritan was one of Jesus’ best. Wouldn’t you feel great if you wrote a song that 2,000 years later still taught the same message as strongly as it did when it was written?

In contemporary music, one of the best examples of this type of message song comes from Harry Chapin. The message is that we should all try to spend more time with our parents and children. This message is very important in this time when all of us have so many activities that keep us away from each other. Chapin could have written a song that said, “You’d better hand out with your families or your family will die.” Sledge-hammer! No poetry, too general, impersonal and pompous. Instead he wrote Cat’s Cradle.

The song starts out talking about the little boy, who, like most of us, wants to grow up to be like his dad. He wants some attention, which his dad is too busy making a living to give him. By the time the kid’s in high school and Dad has a little time, the kid has his own social life going and just wants to borrow the car. He gets married and has a son of his own and the old man, who finally longs for some companion-ship, finds that his son has, indeed, grown up to be just like him and doesn’t have time to see his dad. Chapin doesn’t give us any “You should” here. He doesn’t have to. He held a mirror to my life that made me call my father. He did it with real-life dialog and situations we’ve all been in. He also did it from a first-person point-of-view.

The point-of-view is very im-portant in message songs. I think it’s effective to describe a situation in terms of your own personal involvement. If you’re offering a message, you’re really being a kind of salesman. Testimonials are al-ways very effective sales devices. A good approach is to let people in on your own discovery. What got you so excited that you wanted to tell us about it. The idea is that perhaps your enthusiasm will motivate us without your having to preach to us.

Another effective thing about the first person (I, we) approach is that, assuming that put the song together in a way that makes people want to sing along with you, you’ll have them internalizing the message by saying “I” or “we” with you. Another effective point-of-view is that of the seemingly uninvolved storyteller who doesn’t moralize because, if the story is told well, there’s no need for it. One of the most powerful I’ve heard is Dylan’s Ballad of Hollis Brown, about a man who kills his family and himself rather than see them starve to death because he can’t find a job. Dylan wrote many other powerful songs in this way. Stevie Wonder’s Living For The City is another good ex-ample.

I don’t mean to imply that there are only a few approaches to writing effective message songs. What I’m focusing on here is ways to write for mass audiences who don’t necessarily share your point-of-view. You can use a “sledge-hammer” approach as a rallying song for people who are already on your side. You can use humor, satire, anything that works. And don’t forget that the music is also very important in helping people to hear the message, and remember it.

Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.


0

Songmine: Message Songs Part 1 by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

http://johnbraheny.com/2016/05/26/songmine-rhyme-by-john-braheny/

Accession Number: C000000137-023-001 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: For the non-writing artist: Where do you find original material by John Braheny”, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

Songmine by John Braheny

Message Songs Part 1

It seems most songwriters, particularly in the early stages of their development, are motivated primarily by the need to express some kind of emotional turmoil. Most often it’s “my baby left me,” or “I’m so lonely,” or “he/she’s cheatin’ on me” — all negative downers. At the time the exper-ience always feels unique, as though you’re the only one able to feel such pain. But intellectually, we know how common this situation really is. It just seems that in times of heavy stress, our ability to think rationally is temporarily on vac-ation. 

Consequently, when the pro-fessional songwriter in us looks back on those songs after we’ve cooled out, we’re amazed at how trite and unimaginative those “agony” songs are. Not that the state doesn’t occasionally spawn something profound; but most of-ten, it just spawns self-indulgence. Nothing wrong with that as therapy. J ust don’t get the idea that because you wrote a song in a heavy emotional state, it’s automatically going to turn out fantastic. 

Another genre of song that grows out of a strong emotional state, though often a more positive one, is the message song. Even though it’s positive, it usually has similar results. You’ve just had a religious experience, or your first acid trip, or both, and you must tell the world about your great revel-ation. The spirits, in their infinite variety, have laid a great truth on you and as a musician and song-writer, you’re uniquely qualified to spread the word. 

“Oh wow,” you say, “God is love, love is God, we are all one! If we all, at this exact moment, think about love and peace, the wars would all stop and we could save the world. Hey, if I write a song about it, maybe it’ll really happen.” So you dash off the song. After all, this is a very important message, and you don’t want to bother with all those crass commercial techniques like rhyme and metre. They seem so unimportant next to the innate power of the message. You just know that when you sing it, everyone within earshot will auto-matically share your feelings. 

Wrong! Suddenly, as you play the song for a publisher, or even for someone on the street, reality becomes a new revelation. You realize this person a) doesn’t care, b)has heard it all before and it doesn’t make any more sense now than it ever did, or c) he already shares your belief and is bored by the way you stated it. You’ve told it the way you felt it, but failed to communicate it to someone who needs the message, or failed to move someone who .already knows it by not presenting it in a fresh, new way. 

As a listener, I have one demand: Don’t preach to me! If I want to be preached at, I’ll go to church. If I need guidance, I’ll look for someone with credentials, and your acid trip or religious exper-ience doesn’t necessarily qualify you. 

As a person who listens to thousands of new songs, I’ll say that very few “message” songs actually communicate their message. If the lyric is weak, the music has to be doubly strong to make up for it. The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love is one of the tritest lyrics on paper, but it works, thanks to the Beatles’ fame, an interesting melody, a 7/4 time signature and a great production. Without a power-ful musical vehicle, the words have to stand on their own. 

Len Chandler and I have a code for a particularly preachy kind of stance. We call it M.O.M., for man on mountain: “I, at my tender age, have glimpsed the secret of the universe, and I’m going to tell all you peons how to live your lives.” 

I hope it doesn’t sound as _though I’m anti message songs. On the contrary, I don’t think there are enough effective ones around. I’d just like people to take their mess-ages seriously enough to devote some time and craft to ensuring 1 receive it. 

Next week — message songs that work. 

Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.

0

Songmine: Rhyme by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine: Rhyme by John Braheny

Accession Number: C000000137-022-002 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: For the non-writing artist: Where do you find original material by John Braheny”, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

SEPTEMBER 13—SEPTEMBER 26
Songmine by John Braheny

RHYME
I’d guess that 98 percent of all commercially successful songs use rhyme. Why is it so important? What rhymes do or don’t work?

There’s a reason why people still remember nursery rhymes they learned when they were four years old. The rhymes are strong and predictable, the metre is solid and consistent. Together, rhyme and metre act as an effective trigger to the memory. How many lyrics do you think you’d remember if noth-ing rhymed?

Rhyme is a tool you can’t afford to ignore. To deliberately drop it just to be different isn’t a sensible attitude for someone trying to be a successful songwriter. Not that there aren’t exceptions to the rule, but why buck the odds?

The constant creative challenge is to find the best rhymes possible and still retain the flow of natural speech patterns, while at the same time not compromising content and mood. If you read the lines aloud they should feel as natural as conversation. Every line presents a new challenge and it may be that you’ll need to choose a less-than-perfect rhyme for the sake of naturalness. It’s more important to go that way than to use a rhyme for cleverness’ sake and leave us won-dering what you’re talking about.

The common failing among songwriters is that they say what they want to say in the first two lines, and instead of finding an equally strong statement to finish the verse, settle for a weaker line with a better rhyme. Sure, you save some work, but you’ve also weak-ened your song. You could have written several versions of the first two lines to come up with an end word that offered more rhyming possibilities, and thus giving you more latitude to say what you want to say.

Some common problems with rhyme:

•1NVERSIONS involve twisting the order of words so as to use a rhyme which wouldn’t naturally occur at that point. It almost always feels awkward. Here’s an example:

I never knew how much I’d missed
Until your candy lips I kissed

In this situation, I’d go for “lips” as the end rhyme, even though it lacks the perfection of “missed/kissed.” “Till I kissed your candy lips ” just feels more natural.

• IDENTITIES are not rhymes. It’s better not to use the same word for a rhyme, or words that sound identical even though spelt differ-ently, like bear and bare. This isn’t a hard and fast rule. It just sounds sloppy, like you didn’t try. Common exceptions include the building of a hook that repeats lines or ends of lines, like “Gonna talk about it/ Gonna shout about it/Gonna sing about it/There’s no doubt about it.”

• ASSONANCE is the agreement of vowel sounds that don’t naturally occur in words ending in the same sound. “Feed/sleep” and “taste/ lame” are examples. They’re great as a kind of “inside rhyme,” occurring within one line, but don’t usually make it as end rhymes. Ones that do work, like “home/ alone,” place heavy emphasis on the vowels when sung. But don’t get carried away and use this or other poetic devices in anything but clever, novelty songs. Ideally, you should aim at using them without sacrificing naturalness.

•SLANG is a great source of new rhymes and many hits have been based on slang words and ex-pressions. But there’s a major drawback, if you’re trying to write a song people will record 20 years hence. By then, the slang we use today may sound really dumb. I mean, would anybody record a song today with “the cat’s meow” or “23 skidoo” in it? Even groovy _ feels dated, and not so long ago it felt absolutely appropriate in Simon and Garfunkel’s 59th Street Bridge Song. But let’s face it; is Paul Simon reprimanding himself all the way to the bank?

• COLLOQUIAL PRONUNCIATION is a device similar to the preceeding one. Here the drawback is not change in fashion, but the reduced ability of other artists to record the song. It’s good to be able to tailor a song to a particular musical style, like country or R&B, and use the pronunciations common in that style; rhyme lime (lame) with time, or thang (thing) with hang. But bear in mind that you’re limiting the coverage of those songs to artists’ who are comfortable with those styles and pronunciations.

Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.


0

Songmine: “The Knack” A 3rd Point of View by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine:

Accession Number: C000000137-022-001 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: For the non-writing artist: Where do you find original material by John Braheny”, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

AUGUST 30 — SEPTEMBER 12
Songmine by John Braheny

Los Angeles Times Music Editor Robert Hilburn recently wrote an article applauding the Knack’s reintroduction of “the con-cept of blistering teenage rock’n’ roll to AM radio.” Hilburn was glad to see the change from the “tired soft-rock norm that has dominated AM radio so long.” I found myself saying, “Right on, Robert!”

“By speaking the language of street kids, the Knack has restored the teenage viewpoint to rock,” Hilburn continued. “The tunes, sometimes presented in the crude language of the locker room, or in the aroused passion of the drive-in back seat, range from the innocence of Your Name Or Your Number to the shy romanticism of Maybe Tonight to the frustration of [She’s So] Selfish. The highlight is Good Girls Don’t, an amazing recreation of agonizing teen desire and lust. The narrator is so excited by a dream girl that he fantasizes around the ‘good girls don’t’ protest to imagine she’s saying, ‘Good girls don’t — but I do.’ ” Hilburn concludes by saying that the blatant sexual imagery in some of the Knack’s songs may offend some listeners, but no more than other rock bands have over the years.

As I read the piece, I found myself agreeing. Sure, how about the stuff I grew up on, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis? They all had sexual imagery in their songs and talked about the way I felt as a teenager. Since those days, a general loosening-up of what is acceptable on records and on the radio had led to even more sexual candor in popular music. So what’s wrong with that?

In the same issue of Calendar (July 29), Kristine McKenna writes a commentary headlined “Knack: A Dissenting View.” She feels that “rock stars do have a moral respon-sibility not to be corrupt creeps, because people tend to believe what they say.” She adds a list of things that, through their music, the Knack is teaching their fans: “1)That the most important thing in life is to be a desirable sex object. 2)Having ferreted out these accept-able sex objects, the point is to score some kind of wierd victory over said object/victim.”

Says McKenna: “The ugly sex-ism in the Knack’s music is not just an affront to women. They’re re-inforcing repressive male stereo-types as well. They’re worse than the rest because they package their mind-rot as cute teenage fun and target it at malleable 14-year-olds.”

After reading both these artic-les, I discovered myself in a real quandry. I found myself saying, “Yeah, right on” to McKenna’s comments too. I’d love to see those old concepts of men and women as adversaries, conquerors, possess-ors and exploiters meet the same fate (and hopefully much faster) as the notion that “sex is dirty.” Both attitudes have been responsible for untold misery and wasted human potential. I believe, too, that music has a tremendous power to comm-unicate and reinforce attitudes and that young people who haven’t evolved a perspective and are form-ing their attitudes are particularly vulnerable. And anyone who mouths the words to a hit song hundreds of times is being pro-grammed.

So, what’s the answer? Aya-tollah Khomeini has offered one extreme solution by banning all music. Disaster! People need mu-sic, it’s good for the soul. It’s knowing that someone else feels as we do. It’s our individual and collective voice, our way of express-ing and showing our most basic emotions and our most sophis-ticated philosophies. The solution is not repression or censorship. Pop-ular music can’t help but reflect the attitudes prevalent in segments of society. songwriters should write songs about whatever they feel. All of us, as teenagers, have shared some of the attitudes that are drawing so much flack for the Knack, but should we say they shouldn’t write about it?

No! What we should do is to use all our songwriting craft, art-istic and business tools to give those impressionable people some alter-native, non-sexist or anti-sexist philosophies so they have a choice when forming their attitudes. We should offer the same alternatives in the music we write as McKenna gives in her dissenting view. It’s our moral responsibility.

 

Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.


0

Songmine: For the non-writing artist: Where do you find original material? by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine: For the non-writing artist: Where do you find original material? by John Braheny

Accession Number: C000000137-021-002 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: For the non-writing artist: Where do you find original material by John Braheny”, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

AUGUST 16—AUGUST 29
Songmine by John Braheny

In my last column I discussed the need for a non-writing singer to have good original songs to show record companies. The next quest-ion is: How and where do you find them?

•Publishers — One of the best sources of hit-quality songs are the music publishers. However, there are some things you need to under-stand about their situation. Pub-lishers invariably want to save their best material for major artists. The first time a song is recorded, per-mission must be granted to the artist by the copyright owner (usually the publisher), and the publisher therefore has control over who records the song first. After that, anyone may record the song. They have only to notify the pub-lisher and pay the royalties. Since major artists often want to be the first to record a song so the public will identify the song with them, they don’t want anyone else record-ing it. That fact will make publish-ers reluctant to give you a song they’d rather have a major artist do.

So why might a publisher want to give you Class A material? Possibly, if you have management and are getting masters or demos. together to shop to labels, if you appear to have some momentum by virtue of an aggressive campaign and if the publisher believes in your talent and could predict that you may soon be a superstar, they might want to be in on the ground floor and be resuonsible for your first hit. However, the odds are still against you and more in favor of an established artist. Knowing this, how do you approach them? You let them know that you under-stand that if they find a major artist to cut the tune, you’ll have to take a back seat on it till they release their version. Another good way is to look for demo work from publishers. The songs they want to pitch to those major artists need someone good to sing the demos to get them in-terested. Take publishers a reel of three or four songs or a verse and chorus of several styles you can perform well, the reason being that, strictly for demo work purposes, they’ll think of you for different types of songs. When you look for a record deal, however, you need more stylistic consistency, so let the publisher know which styles on your tape you’re looking to pursue as an
artist and tell them you’re looking for songs in that style. Take cassettes of your demo audition tape to every publisher you can find. The advantages of being a demo singer for publishers are:

a( You meet a lot of music industry people and musicians.

b( Your name gets around within the industry.

c( Since publishers are taking their songs (with you singing) to producers for their artists, they’re going to the very people you’d want to hear you. It’s happened that a producer says, “That’s not only a great song, but who is the singer?” Zap! You’ve found a producer with-out even being there.

d( You’ll end up with the tapes of the demos you’ve done which (with the publisher’s permission), you can present to record com-panies and producers yourself. On the negative side, though, just for perspective, you should remember that often when you sing a demo you’re singing it the way the pub-lisher wants it to be sung and not, perhaps, the way you’d style it for yourself. Also, being a professional demo singer has been known to be a trap, in that people “bag” you as one and find it difficult to think of you as a potential artist.

Songwriter organizations and show-cases — Anyone who constantly deals with songwriters can help you find one who writes in your style. For these people, bring demos specifically in the style you want to pursue as an artist. Be prepared to explain to writers what things do or don’t fit your personal philosophy. Also be prepared to reject most of what you hear and be very select-ive. Finding the right songs is one of the most important and basic steps of your career. Don’t accept songs for any reasons (politics, friendships, love etc.) other than knowing they’re potential hits and appropriate for your personality. Enlist some other experienced in-dustry ears to help. Most writers, even when they have potential to be artists themselves, are flattered that you want to sing their songs and realize that you’ll be promoting their careers by doing it. Find them at the Alternative Chorus Song-writer’s Showcase, the Bla Bla Cafe, Troubadour and any other places that specialize in original songs. Good luck!

Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.


0

Songmine: For the non-writing artist: Why you need original material by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine: For the non-writing artist: Why you need original material by John Braheny

Accession Number: C000000137-021-001 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: For the non-writing artist: Why you need original material by John Braheny”, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

AUGUST 2 — AUGUST 15

Songmine by John Braheny

For the non-writing artist: Why you need original material

I’ve talked in earlier articles about the value of the writer/artist package to a record company. One of the primary advantages is that it’s easier, for the writer/artist to establish a consistent stylistic identity because he/she is writing about themselves and maintains a point of view in the songs that helps us, as listeners, to get to know and identify with them. Good examples are Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and Tom Waits. The record company can also be confident that their writer/artists will save them and the producer the trouble of looking for appropriate material, a very important but tedious task.

There are exceptions to this, of course, and more and more writer/ artists are open for “outside” songs (songs not written by the artist.) The reason is that the artist needs tunes the record company feels are potential hits and the artist in question may not have written anything that comes close. Another reason for the value of the writer/artist package is the possibility that the record company can also negotiate for the publish-ing rights to the writer/artist’s songs, and thus get a substantially greater return on their investment. However, in our interviews with record company A&R people, the consus is that they’ll sign an artist they believe in even if they can’t get a piece of the publishing.

So, if you’re not a writer, why can’t you go to record companies with your versions of current Top 40 songs? Well, those songs are al-ready hits by other artists and the chances that your recording of one of those tunes could be a hit is very slim. One thing that might work would be to do a country version of a pop hit, and vice versa. In other words, appeal to a new audience with a song that was popular with another bag. I Will Survive and Reunited are two examples of recent R&B/pop hits covered succ-essfully by country artists.

What about doing an oldie? Maybe, if you find one that you can do exceptionally well and nobody else has recorded for ten years or so. Ronstadt has been successful with this approach because her older audience not only likes the way she sings, but because oldies trigger those old backseat first love memories. Her younger audience, who don’t remember the songs, like them because they’re basically good songs and they dig anything she sings. Remember, though, that she became a hit artist on the strength of original songs like Diff-erent Drum and Gary white’s Long, Long Time.

So why do you need originals? Record companies put a lot of bread into making the world aware of a new artist. The cost of recording and promoting a new artist can be as much as $250,000. They want to establish a unique and individual image that makes the artist stand out from the field. If you get there with a song that’s identified with someone else, it interferes with that special focus. It also invites a comparison that you won’t hold up no matter how well or uniquely you perform the song. Chances are that we’ve heard the original hit version hundreds of times and it’s provided the background for lots of memor-able experiences. We love it best. It’s tough enough for a record company to break a new artist without dealing with that kind of resistance.

So, what kind of songs do you need? You’re a singer and you don’t write. You want to try to get a record deal. You think you have a special style. You also need to estalbish an identity in the style of the music and in the lyric content that expresses where you’re at as a person. You also have to be very aware of the commercial potential of songs. Record companies want to hear hits on your demo reel. They’d like to know that you can choose songs for yourself that represent a consistency of style and hit potent-ial. Sure, that’s what your producer will do, and also what the A&R department at record companies should do for you but assume they’re either busy or lazy and at this point they’d rather look for great songs for their established artists. You’re on the outside look-ing in and you’re not their priority. It’s up to you.

ln the next edition of Music Connection, John Braheny will examine sources non-writing artists can turn to for material.

Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.


0

Songmine: Scoring Films on a Low Budget Part 6 by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine: Scoring Films on a Low Budget Part 6 by John Braheny

Accession Number: C000000137-020-002 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: Scoring Films on a Low Budget Part 6  by John Braheny”, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

JULY 5 — JULY 18
Songmine by John Braheny

[This is the sixth part of the writer’s account of his work on the sound-track of a low-budget movie.]

After Lucia had recorded the Pipa and Cheng parts I prevailed upon her to leave her Cheng with me and I recorded a lot of stuff by myself using a remote control on the four-track and watching a stop-watch at the same time. I ex-perimented with various mike plac-ings, and found that by placing the mike underneath the instrument, by the sound hole, I got a deep, resonant sound with plenty of bot-tom and lots of overtones. With the graphic equalizer I could further tailor the sound by boosting or reducing certain frequencies. When the mikes were placed overhead I got more of the high-end articula-tion of the string sound. I also experimented with aiming the mike at various spots on the instrument. Before recording any instrument, I go through this process of experi-mentation. I also try different mikes because each has its own character-istic response pattern. Even a cheap mike that you think is terrible may have an appropriate response patt-ern for a particular situation.

While I’m making decisions I’m also thinking about the context. If this is the first instrument record-ed in a cue that will involve overdubbing several other instru-ments, I have to consider the overall sound and where this instrument fits in the frequency range. For instance, in a cue which involved Cheng and percussion I wanted a big broad sound. Since the per-cussion was going to be mostly high frequencies and short, transient bursts, I could go for a very broad frequency range on the Cheng without “fighting” the percussion sounds.

There’s a very basic theory of successful arrangement and prod-uction involved here that bears repeating. You need to pay close attention to frequency range and space to preserve focus and prevent “cluttering.” For example, if you are recording a bass, vocal and flute, you’re dealing with low frequency, mid-range and high frequency instruments, respectively. Not much problem here except that maybe the flute will “mask” some of the overtones of the voice. In that case, the flute has to work out a part that plays between and around the vocalist’s notes so that the listen-er’s mind does not need to continu-ally decide between focusing on the flute or the vocal. A failure to appreciate this phenomenon makes for what we refer to as “busy” arrangements. The problem bec-omes even more complex when we add guitars, keyboards, etc. in that same vocal range. Another principle shows us how to deal with it. Our minds will “take for gran-ted” and not focus on a repetitive rhythm guitar riff or any other figure that we feel will remain the same. The same with a sustained note. Notice the background strings on records. They’re mostly sustains or slowly moving melodic lines only in “holes” between the vocal, in unison with the vocal, or when a vocal note is sustained. The easiest things to listen to are those in which the focus is made obvious for us. We are so used to focusing on the human voice that whenever a vocal is used in a lead melodic line we zero in on it and anything that might pull our attention from it begins to irritate us, at least uncon-sciously. An extreme example is to have two radios tuned to different stations playing in the same room and trying to carry on a conversa-tion at the same time. It’ll definitely make you crazy. At this time I seem to hear the voices of my parents from the past saying, “Okay, wise’ guy, so how could you listen to the radio and do your homework at the same time?” to which I can only answer, “Obviously, I was very highly motivated,” or plead insan-ity.

There are times, particularly in film music, when you’ll want to use that confused focus as a tension device, but it’s better, obviously, for it to be deliberate than accidental.

Anyway, to sum it up, you want to give your lead instrument or vocal the space it needs to be focused upon properly by a combin-ation of: 1) keeping other instru-ments out of it’s frequency range, and 2) giving it it’s space in the arrangement. With this is mind, a flute part and percussion_ were recorded and overdubbed and the whole thing was mixed and edited onto one reel in the order it appeared in the film.

(To be continued.)

Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.


0

Songwriters Musepaper – Volume 3 Issue 11 – October-November 1988 – Interview: Jules Shear

Songwriters Musepaper – Volume 3 Issue 11 – October-November 1988 – Interview: Jules Shear

Songwriters Musepaper - Volume 3 Issue 11 - October-November 1988 - Interview: Jules Shear

JB#: C000000062-019-001

Jb C0000000062 019 002

JB #: C000000062-019-002


Table of Contents

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

FEATURES
THE CRISIS OF A&R COMPETENCE AND RECORD COMPANY ECONOMICS
Music business consultant Thomas A. White fired this opening volley in a heated dialogue on a&r in Billboard Magazine. The subject will continue on the NARAS/ASCAP sponsored panel on November 19 (see Noteworthy) Page 7

JULES SHEAR: RECKLESS SLEEPER
Jules has had hits with Cyndi Lauper and the Bangles, as well as a recording career of his own for over 12 years. We talk about his work, his new band, Reckless Sleepers, and their new IRS Records album, Big Boss Sounds Page 10

SONGWRITERS EXPO 12 HIGHLIGHTS
Scenes from a magic Expo Pages 14-15 & 18-19

IT’S A JINGLE OUT THERE
LASS Pro Member and jingle producer, Richard Lieter gives us a closeup look at his experiences in the jingle jungle Page 20

FREE WOMAN IN POMONA
Molly-Ann Leikin gets a new perspective as she guests with LASS co-founder/director Len Chandler at his songwriting class in a California men’s prison Page 23

WRITING WITHIN A SCALE CONTEXT — USING INTERVALS
David Cat Cohen gives you more hot music writing tips Page 26

# 1 WITH A BULLET
Dan Kimpel reviews a new Cypress Records album featuring the original demos for some #1 hits Page 27

LASS NEWS
MEMBER NEWS — NOTEWORTHY — MUSICAL CHAIRS
News about classes, biz events, where your favorite publishers and a&r reps are this month and good stuff about our members Page 4

WEEKLY SHOWCASE SCHEDULE Who will be at the Showcase looking for songs and what they’re looking for on Cassette Roulette (publisher song critiques), Pitch-A-Thon (producers and record company reps looking for songs and acts). Also a list of Pick-Ups (writers whose songs were picked up last month) Pages 16-17

From the Acting Archivist…

Much like the Songmine columns posted earlier, the archives contain a large collection of Songwriter Musepaper publications. With this posting, I am beginning a project to scan the cover and table of contents of each issue and then OCR (convert the scanned picture to text) the table of contents in order to make it searchable. I don’t yet have the staff necessary to create complete scanned issues of the Museupaper, but if there is interest in a particular article or interview, I can scan that and make it available here.

Douglas E. Welch, douglas@welchwrite.com

Previously in Songwriters Musepaper:

0

Songmine: Scoring Films on a Low Budget Part 5 by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Songmine: Scoring Films on a Low Budget Part 5 by John Braheny

Accession Number: C000000137-019 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: Scoring Films on a Low Budget Part 5  by John Braheny”, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

JUNE 21 — JULY 4
Songmine by John Braheny

[This is the fifth part of the writer’s account of his work on the sound-track of a low-budget movie.]

In my last article, I talked about click tracks and free timing but didn’t explain, mechanically, how I did the click track.

I figured out ahead of time what tempos I needed for each segment, and wrote the number of beats per minute on a new form that was prepared for each musical segment. Included on the form was a number of letters for each seg-ment, the reel number of the master tape (since I’d be using several reels), and numbers for each take with space for comments like “sucks”, “passable”, “blew in-tro” and so on. This is already prepared when the musicians arr-ive.

I set up the metronome in an adjoining room with a long chord so it won’t “bleed” onto the instru-ment tracks as they’re recorded. I put a mike up close to it and turn the volume as low as possible without losing the signal on the tape. This click track is only a guide for the musicians, and won’t be part of the final mix. Remember that after the other tracks are filled, you may have to erase and record over the metronome track, since the rhythm will have been established by other musicians by then. There-fore, be careful to record the click track at a very low level, because a sharp, percussive sound doesn’t always erase cleanly, and may re-main on the track and cause prob-lems later on.

Now I’m ready to record. I’ve picked up two ten-inch reels of Ampex Grand Master Tape (you must use very high quality tape).

Lucia Hwong arrived. I’ve hired her to play Pipa, the Chinese equivalent to the banjo, and Cheng, similar to a Japanese Koto and the equivalent, I suppose, of the dul-cimer, only with movable bridges at intervals to determine pitch. There are some segments (usually re-ferrred to as “cues” in the biz) for which I know just what I want, and others that will require experi-mentation, and will depend on how she plays and what she can come up with on her own. Only one cue is notated. Curt Berg has notated it in the Chinese manner, which he learned during our research with Mr. Lui.

It turns out that Lucia never plays in an ensemble, only solo, and consequently her rhythm is not as tight as I need it to be. It’s difficult for her to lock into the click track rhythm and we do many takes. I try to think of ways to salvage some takes, because I’ll need to record other instruments over them and need something solid to work with. I decide after a while that I splice together some of the takes where she does lock onto the click track. It makes us both happy when I can tell Lucia we have enough to work with. She’s been working hard and hold-ing up under pressure, while I’ve tried to maintain a positive and encouraging attitude myself.

This brings up a very important point. The psychology involved in any kind of creative recording sit-uation is critical. If I had got uptight and put her down, it would not have helped her deal with a difficult situation. It may have completely paralyzed her creatively, and that was the last thing I wanted. It’s important to be positive and say things like, “You’re getting closer to it, the feeling was good, now let’s work on…”, and whatever else is true or close to being true.

You must also pay very close attention to each performance and fall back on your own creativity for alternatives if it seems what you had originally conceived is not happening. You really have to zero in on what the musicians can do in case you (or they) had overrated their talents in a particular area. In Lucia’s case, when we got to the cues involving free timing, I ex-plained what was happening on the film and its emotional import, and she was then in her element and performed beautifully.

(To Be Continued)

Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.


0

Songmine: Scoring Films on a Low Budget Part 4 by John Braheny

A John Braheny Songmine column from the archives…

Jb C000000137 018 part 4

Accession Number: C000000137-018 Document/Digital File, “Songmine: Scoring Films on a Low Budget Part 4  by John Braheny”, OCR converted text under same Accession Number

(Digitally converted text. Some errors may occur)

JUNE 7 — JUNE 20
Songmine by John Braheny

[This is the fourth part of the writer’s account of his work on the soundtrack of a low-budget movie.]

Ideally, I would have a project-or and screen, someone to run it, and would record the music as I watched the segments on film, getting into the mood visually. However, this is a low-budget pro-ject, and a screen and projector are luxuries. If you have access to a video camera and playback system it’s a good idea to record the movie and play it back on your TV. However, I had to make do with a cassette recording of the dialogue track.

While we’re on the subject of budget, I should point out that the music part of a film budget amounts to about seven percent, and more often than not the filmmaker will opt for “library” music, which is recorded cheaply in other parts of the world, bought by companies like Capitol Records (who have an ex-tensive library), and sold by the minute. Whoever is responsible for the music listens to a wide range of styles and sounds and picks what’s appropriate. Much cheaper and less hassle than what we’re doing here, but also less original and tailored.

I knew the sounds of the Chinese instruments as well as styles of playing them as I had inundated my brain with them during the past week. I also had all the segments laid out carefully in terms of length and tempo. I started that process by determining where the music for each segment should begin and end. Here are some questions to ask yourself: Is it better to “sneak” the music in (or out) or to bring it in with a punch. If there’s dialogue, do I need to underscore parts of it by the way I write the music? If so, it must be timed exactly and written in the score. If that’s not necessary, do I need something moody but un-obtrusive in the background? Wh-ere does it feel natural to stop the music? At the scene change? A fade? Need there be a transitional pause between the music in this segment and that in the next? Does the music need to overlap or segue?

After making those decisions I timed each segment, converting feet to frames and frames to seconds. For example, the count on the Moviola might tell us that the length of the scene is four feet and six frames. We convert it to frames by multiplying four feet by 40 (the number of frames per foot), we get 160 and add the six frames we had, for a total of 166 frames. Divide by 24 (the number of frames per second), and we end up with 6.9 seconds, which we could call seven seconds. Obviously, a calculator-speeds this operation considerably.
After working out the times, I decide whether this segment will be “free timed”, having no particular rhythm or pulse, or if I’ll need a “click track” so I can base the music on a rhythmically timed structure. If I choose the former, I will have to establish, in my own mind, a “feel” for how the music should flow so that I can conduct the musician(s) and watch the clock at the same time. If I choose the latter, I need to figure out a tempo based on what’s happening in the film, set the tempo with a metronome, set a time signature, see how many bars of music I get at that tempo and lay out the music accordingly. Unless I need to synchronize the tempo exactly to the film (for dancers, walkers, etc.) I’ll have some leeway to vary the tempo so I’ll come out even in the end and not on the first or third beat of a phrase. That may be important if you want to repeat a chord progression or set up a repeatable musical structure in some way.

Remember, however, that the film music does not need to use song form structures as we’re used to hearing them. Only if you’re going for a hit theme would you do that. So you have a lot of flexibility. With a “click track” you always know exactly where you are, and that it’ll end at exactly the right time. With free timing, you can play it more expressively in some ways, but you have to pay close attention to the clock.

To Be Continued

Previously in the Songmine Collection:

About Songmine and Music Connection Magazine:

John Braheny met Eric Bettelli and Michael Dolan right before they were going to publish Music Connection magazine. Eric and Michael wanted to get their publication out to as many songwriters as they could. They had already heard of the LA Songwriters Showcase, and of John and his partner, Len Chandler. John’s goal was to advertise the schedule of guest speakers and performers at the weekly Showcase… so they made a deal. 

They published John’s Songmine column (he had never before written a magazine article!) in their very first edition, in November 1977. Trading out the column for advertising, this arrangement continued for many years. Plus, Eric and Michael came to the Showcase each week and distributed free copies to the songwriters!

Those articles became so popular that (book agent and editor) Ronny Schiff offered John’s articles to F&W Media, where they became the backbone of John’s textbook, The Craft and Business of Songwriting. As a follow-up, Dan Kimpel (author, songwriter, teacher), who had also worked at LASS, took on the Songwriting column at Music Connection magazine which continues to this day! You can subscribe to get either hard copies or online.


0

Website designed/maintained by Skyrocket Websites