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SongCrafting: Song Form (Part 2)


It may look complicated when you see a song described as “AABA” or something similar, but it’s not.

To start, consider the first melodic segment you hear (not including the intro) as “A.” The next complete melodic section that has a melody different from “A” is designated “B,” the third “C,” etc. Repeats of any melodic segment get the same letter they got the first time.

Count bars or measures starting at the downbeat as follows:

For 4/4 time: 1-2-3-4, 2-2-3-4, 3-2-3-4, 4-2-3-4, etc.

For 3/4 waltz time: 1-2-3, 2-2-3, 3-2-3, 4-2-3, etc.

When the next melodic segment starts, begin counting at bar one again. Enter the total number of bars in each segment. Be sure to include any instrumental breaks, using “inst.” or a dash or some other shorthand to designate them, along with the number of bars they run. You’ll end up with a diagram that looks like this:

A-8, A-8, B-8, A-8, or

A A B A Here’s a more graphic way to lay it out quickly so you can easily add extra bars and make notes. Each of the slash notes represents a beat (in 4/4 time).

INTRO 1 / / / 2 / / / 3 / / / 4 / / /

A    1 / / / 2 / / / 3 / / / 4 / / /
5 / / / 6 / / / 7 / / / 8 / / /

B    1 / / / 2 / / / 3 / / / 4 / / /

C    1 / / / 2 / / / 3 / / / 4 / / /
5 / / / 6 / / / 7 / / / 8 / / /

INS  1 / / / 2 / / /

Try this exercise with songs on the radio. It will give you a repertoire of basic forms and, more importantly, it will show you a wide range of variations that work, such as extra bars of music between sections and unexpected chord changes. Even though you’ll find the forms falling into predictable patterns, the variations often give the song the sense of surprise that makes it special and exciting.

Note how the form contributes to the memorability of a song by helping it achieve a balance between predictability and surprise, repetition and new information, all within a commercially acceptable time limit.



A Title/hook in first or last line unless there is a repeated chorus with the same melody
A ”
A ”

This is an old form, used commonly in traditional folk music but rarely with good results in contemporary songs, because there is no chorus or bridge to help sustain melodic interest. The title line usually appears in the first or the last line but occasionally, there are two repeated lyric phrases, one in the first and one in the last line. The form can have any number of verses. You might use this form if you had a lot of important lyrical content, but wanted to eliminate the time spent repeating choruses. In the absence of a chorus that “sums up” the song, you’ll want the verses to end with a dramatic kind of “payoff” line.

EXAMPLES: Johnny Cash, “I’ll Walk the Line”; Bette Midler, “The Rose” (Amanda McBroom); “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” (Jimmy Webb), Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changin'” The following examples are AAA form melodically, although they contain a chorus lyric that repeats: Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA,” “Achy Breaky Heart” (Don Von Tress), Goo Goo Dolls “Iris” (John Rzeznik).

VARIATIONS: There are variations of this form, like Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry,” which uses a short refrain between every couple of verses. It’s not a standard AAA because the refrain isn’t a part of the basic melodic structure of the verse, and the refrain isn’t a chorus because it’s very short and does not contain the hook line (which is contained in the verse).

Musically, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The U.S.A.” is an AAA: although it has a chorus, its melody is the same as the verses. That’s very unusual, and if you had written this song instead of “The Boss” and you weren’t already a successful artist, your publisher probably would have demanded a rewrite. Without a powerful performance, the song would be musically boring.

Another variation of the AAA form is an extension created by repeating part or all of the last line. It’s usually referred to as a “refrain.” This special focus on that line however, makes it important that it be the title line. A short instrumental section or melodic instrumental hook can be used to break up the potential monotony.

CAUTION: You need to be very careful to make the melody as interesting as possible without making it too complex to be remembered easily. This is generally accomplished with a melodic variation in the last two melodic lines of each verse. Hum any of the examples mentioned to see what I mean.


Four 8-bar sections
A Title/hook in first or last line
A Title/hook in first or last line
B New melody and lyric (referred to as the “bridge” or “middle 8”)
A Title/hook in first or last line


A As above
B New melody and lyric
B Repeat B section with or without new lyric or make up a totally new bridge as Sting did in “Every Breath You Take,” (which would make it a “C” section)
A Repeat first A or part of first and part of second A or part of first A and new lyric
A Repeat second A

AABA is a classic song form with a long and popular history. At one time, it was considered the ultimate song form: it’s short, concise, melodically seamless and easy to remember. It is used in all styles of music and all tempos, but most frequently in slow or mid-tempo ballads, because its 32 bars (four 8-bar sections) make for a very short song at fast tempos. Variations have developed which can accommodate faster tempos and the need for more room to tell the story. You’ll find your own as the need arises. Hook/title placement is usually in either the first or last line of the verse but it can occur in both (like “Yesterday”). You’ll hear songs in which the title will also be recapped in the “B” section, although the objective is to go to a totally new place in that section both musically and lyrically.

Note that despite it’s illustrious history, the AABA form is not usually considered the most commercially viable and most of the ones you’ll hear are written by the artists who perform them. When given a choice, most producers will choose to record a song with a repeating chorus.

EXAMPLES: “Yesterday” (Lennon/McCartney), “Just the Way You Are” (Billy Joel), Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire” and “Streets of Philadelphia,” Shania Twain’s “From This Moment On”

The varieties of this most popular form provide a maximum of chorus repetition and two or more verses to tell your story.

#1 #2 #3 #4 #5
A Verse A Verse A Chorus A Verse A Verse
B Chorus B Chorus B Verse A Verse B Pre-chorus
A Verse A Verse A Chorus B Chorus C Chorus
B Chorus B Chorus B Verse A Verse A Verse
A Verse C Bridge A Chorus B Chorus B Pre-chorus
B Chorus B Chorus B Chorus C Chorus

Version #1 gives you a maximum verse and chorus repetition. A potential problem is that, if you have a lot of melodic repetition within each verse or chorus, such as an 8-bar section made up of three 2-bar melodies with a slight variation in the fourth 2-bar melody line, you may have too much repetition. In that case, #2 with the substitution of a bridge for the third verse helps to break it up. Version #3 with the chorus first can give you more repetition of the chorus in a shorter time. The choice of whether to start with a chorus depends on the lyric development of the song. If it’s important to generate a dynamic opening to the song, try the chorus first unless you want the verses to build interest and suspense and “set up” the chorus as a “payoff.” Many Œ60s Motown hits used variations of this form. It’s always a good idea to give it a test by switching the verse and chorus positions to see which works best.

#4 with two verses in front is also a much used form. Its workability depends on a very strong lyric continuity between the first and second verses to offset the delay in getting to the chorus. This is a much greater problem in a slow ballad than an up-tempo song because of the additional time it takes to get to the chorus. Every word has to propel the story forward. Repetition of information is deadly. If each of the two verses cover the same information in a different way and don’t depend on each other, this may not be the best form to use since you should have a very important reason to delay the chorus. If you do need to use two verses, you may want to look for some arrangement devices or write a variation of the first verse melody to help sustain musical interest in the second verse. You could also consider using your title in the first line of the chorus to avoid even further delay in reaching the hook line.

Variations of this form opening with three verses (AAABAB or AAABAAB) are rare and the two examples that come to mind; The Eagles’ “Lyin’ Eyes” (Don Henley/Glen Frey) and Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” (Don Schlitz) both have such exceptional lyric continuity that a chorus any earlier would be an unwelcome intrusion.

You’ll also occasionally hear an AABAABB variation, particularly on up-tempo songs. Again, those choices will be different for each song but the guiding principle is that you don’t delay the chorus unless you have another good way to sustain the listener’s interest.

#5 offers the excitement of three different melodic segments. The pre-chorus is the segment that makes the difference here. This form works best in up-tempo dance songs where the three segments go by quickly. Many variations are possible with this form including repeated instrumental versions of any of the segments and instrumental breaks between segments. Here are some examples:
ABC ABCD ABCD, the “D” being a bridge with a new melody, with or without lyrics.

Even when your songs come spontaneously, there is a point at which you need to decide which form to use. Usually writers will come up with a single verse or chorus idea first. After that first flash of inspiration and an exploration of what you want the song to say, you’ll need to have an idea of the type of form you’ll want to use to help you say it more effectively. You may do that unconsciously, as a natural result of having listened to the radio all your life — you just feel where there ought to be a change without really making a conscious evaluation of the reasons. That approach can works just fine, but sometimes it doesn’t, like a beginning guitar player who writes monotonous two chord songs because he only knows two chords instead of learning a few more chords. You have to remember that what you already know or feel about form could be limiting.

Another problem in choosing form by “feel” is the songwriting equivalent of “painting yourself into a corner.” You might lock into a form that, by the time you’ve said what you wanted to say, has resulted in a five-minute song that you really wanted to be three minutes. You’re now faced with a rewrite that might include a restructuring of the whole song. It’s much harder to get out of a corner like that than it is to set it up better in the beginning. Even if you do have to restructure the song because the form you chose didn’t quite work — or you had another idea halfway through the song — the important thing is that you make those decisions on the basis of knowing your options.

So what do you consider in your choice of form? If you’re starting with the music, tempo is a major factor in dictating the form. If it’s an up-tempo song, you may need a form with many sections (like an ABCABCDC or AABABCB) to help you sustain musical interest. If it’s a slow or mid-tempo ballad, you can use either the shorter forms or the longer ones but may have to shorten the sections.

If you’re starting from a lyric, the mood and subject matter will dictate the tempo of the music. In other words, “Genie In A Bottle” wouldn’t work very well as a slow ballad, and the lyric to the Titanic theme “My Heart Will Go On” wouldn’t be as effective in a fast dance song.

Tempo is also determined by the ease with which the lyrics can be sung. The problem usually arises when there are lots of words. If the tempo’s too fast, you may tie knots in your tongue trying to get them all in. If you want a rapid-fire one-syllable-per-8th or 16th note lyric, you have to be extra careful that the words are easy to pronounce and sing together. It’s a good idea to experiment with a metronome by singing the lyric against various tempo settings. Fewer words generally pose fewer problems, but the challenge is to phrase them in an interesting way against the rhythm. There are other tempo variables available, due to the fact that you can have a slow moving lyric and melody over a double-time groove.

Whichever way you choose, once you’ve set the tempo and determined how many lyric lines will be in each segment, you’ve begun to lock yourself into the form. If it takes one minute to get through a verse and chorus, and you’re looking for a three minute song, your options have already shrunk.

You must also consider the amount of lyric needed to tell the story. Though it’s always a good idea to condense, the AAA form gives you the most room to stretch lyrically, even though, as I mentioned earlier, it’s not the best form from a commercial standpoint. Any up-tempo three or four-section form can give you plenty of lyric space with strong musical interest, particularly if you use pre-choruses for new lyric information each time. One-section (AAA) and two-section (ABABAB) forms at fast tempos, though they allow for a maximum of lyric information, can be melodically boring because the melodies repeat so often.

With a spare, condensed lyric, you have many options. You can lay them over either an up-tempo track or a slow ballad and, in either case, have plenty of room to accommodate the individual phrasing styles of different singers. You can use any form and insure a maximum amount of both repetition and musical interest. However, a spare lyric at a slower tempo has more of an obligation to be interesting. You’re making the listener wait for that lyric to unfold, and it had better be worth the wait. The same is true of the music.

Eventually, like anything else, once you’ve worked with these forms, they’ll become second nature to you. You’ll also find that you will get yourself into problematic situations for which you will find creative solutions. A substantial amount of innovation in music is initiated by a need to find a graceful way out of a jam. If you already have a repertoire of solutions, you’re ahead of the game.


SongCrafting: Song Form (Part 1)

The form, also called the “format,” “structure,” or “formula,” is a song’s basic shape or organization. In the ’50s and early ’60s, there were hardly more than three different chord progressions (formulas) for any kind of rock music. If a song didn’t conform to one of them, the odds were heavily against its becoming a hit, so the chord progression formulas perpetuated themselves. The 1-6m-4-5 (eg. C Am F G) progression spawned hundreds of hits like “26 Miles,” “Silhouettes,” and “Earth Angel.” The twelve-bar blues format was also popular as it laid the foundations for rock and roll. (e.g. E- 4 bars/A-2 bars/E-2 bars/B7-1 bar/A-1 bar/E-2 bars)

Those old progressions were familiar enough to make us feel at home with new songs and new artists. They’re predictable: the chords, the words and the tunes are different, but the basic shape of the songs is the same, so we can learn them quickly. Some basic forms and variations will continue as they have for many, many years for a simple reason: they work.

People have an unconscious desire for symmetry, and the repetition of rhyme, melody and form satisfies that need. The repetition of form also sets up a degree of predictability that’s reassuring and comfortable to a listener. It sets up a solid base on which we can create surprises without taking our audience too far into uncharted territory.

The manipulation of form is a very important game to know. Classical musicians learn form as a basic part of their training, and for you, as a popular songwriter, to be able to make conscious choices about form is to be in control of your art. Once you understand the elements of form, what they do and why, you’ll be able to challenge yourself to go beyond the familiar as you write your own songs.

The verse is the major vehicle for conveying the information of the song. Its other major function, both lyrically and musically, is to “set up” (or lead to) the chorus, the bridge, another verse, or a title/hook line. If it doesn’t do one of those things well, it’s not working. Verses have certain basic characteristics:

a. The lyric, from verse to verse, is different or contains substantial new information each time. It may contain elements of previous verses (such as the title line if the song has no chorus).

b. The melody is essentially the same each time we hear it, although there is room for variation and some flexibility to accommodate the lyric. The reason for keeping the melody the same is because that familiarity makes it easier for the listener to focus on the changing lyric.

In contemporary songwriting, the chorus (sometimes incorrectly referred to as a “refrain”) focuses the essence, emotion and meaning of the song into a simple and easily remembered statement, like “I Can Love You Like That,” “Mo Money Mo Problems” or “You Were Meant For Me.” The chorus is also usually the segment of the song often referred to as the “hook,” i.e. the catchiest, most memorable part of the song. While verses usually concentrate on detail, the chorus can make a broader statement that bears more repetition. The basic characteristics of the chorus are:

a. The melody is the same each time we hear it.

b. The song’s title usually appears in the first and/or last line, and possibly more.

c. The lyric is usually the same each time, although you may want to use some new lyric information in subsequent choruses to develop the story. A good example of that would be a “turnaround”: a tactic commonly used in country music, where the “twist” is not revealed until the last chorus.

An example of a song with a chorus that changes every time but still works well is Blessid Union of Souls’ “I Wanna Be There.” It has an eight-line chorus that repeats the title at the beginning of lines 1, 2, 4, 5 and 8, with the rest of the chorus lyric changing in every verse. A title repeated that many times guarantees that a listener has something to sing along with, and can easily learn. It also allows the writers to change other information in the chorus without worrying about losing their listeners.

Even though there may be reasons for you to change the lyric, there is a very practical reason for you to keep at least a substantial part of it the same: you want listeners to learn your song quickly and easily. If they hear the same chorus three times during the song, they can go away singing it. If you change all or even some of the lyric and music on each chorus, you make it harder for the listener to remember. If you have information in the verses that you want people to think about, the chorus should let a listener relax with its simplicity to allow the verse information to sink in. Be aware that, in a song, the listener’s attention is divided between the lyric and the music, making it extra important to retain simplicity. So even when you feel you need to change the chorus lyric, a substantial amount of it – particularly the title line – should remain the same and be repeated every time.

Also called a “release” or “break,” the bridge provides a variety of important functions in a song. Musically, it helps to relieve the “boredom factor,” and for that reason, it’s usually placed about 2/3 of the way into the song, (After the second chorus in a verse/chorus form) which is normally when people may begin to tire of melodic repetition. The bridge zaps the listener back to attention and helps them to refocus on the song, and can add drama in many other ways. Musically, you can use any of the devices used to achieve contrast described in the “Song Dynamics” segment that we’ll get to later.

The bridge can also be purely instrumental. The melody should sound as different as possible without sounding like it belongs in a different song. Lyrically, it offers you the opportunity to change gears. You can reiterate the philosophy of the song in a whole new way by changing the “person” (going from “they” or “you” to “I” for example), going from specific imagery to something more abstract (or vice versa), or using it as an “aside” or for outside commentary. The basic characteristics of a bridge are:

a. Its melody is different from the verse and the chorus, although occasionally a portion of the verse or chorus melody may be used in the bridge.

b. It usually doesn’t contain the title and/or hook, but that’s certainly not the law. That decision may depend on how many times you have repeated the title/hook in the song. If you haven’t done it much, it might be smart to use it again.

c. It usually occurs only once in the song, but it can be repeated in an extended verse/chorus form. Two things prevent that kind of bridge from sounding like a chorus:

1) it usually doesn’t contain the title and/or hook, and

2) if it is constructed correctly, its melody leads back into the verse or chorus.

d. It is rarely over eight bars long. After all, it’s supposed to be a diversion, not a whole piece in itself. It may be two bars or two lines or whatever is needed to fulfill the function of breaking up the song.

e. It is entirely optional.

Pre-choruses are melodic segments that are different from the verses, chorus or bridge. They are known by many other names (climb, lift, channel, B-section, pre-hook, setup), all of which give you clues about their function. They’re used extensively in contemporary music – primarily in pop and R&B – although they’re currently gaining popularity in country/pop. Producers seem to favor pre-choruses to help create an additional level of interest to keep a song exciting, particularly in up-tempo or dance songs where extra length and faster tempo make a straight verse/chorus form feel too repetitive.

When you first hear a pre-chorus, it almost sounds as if it is going to be the chorus, until you hear the chorus that follows. It should increase the tension to the point where there is a great sense of release going into the chorus. Some examples of hits that use a pre-chorus are:

EXAMPLES: “End Of The Road,” Boyz II Men (written by Kenneth Edmonds, Antonio Reid, Daryl Simmons); “Any Man Of Mine,” Shania Twain (Robert John Lange, Shania Twain); “I Can Love You Like That,” All-4-One, John Michael Montgomery (Steve Diamond, Jennifer Kimball, Maribeth Derry), “Every Day Is A Winding Road” Sheryl Crow (Sheryl Crow, Jeff Trott, Brian Macleod)

The basic characteristics of pre-choruses are:

a. They directly precede the chorus.

b. They usually precede each chorus, but may be dropped after the first couple of times if you can find a way (musically) to get back to the chorus without it.

c. Lyrics can be the same each time or different. Melodies are the same each time.

d. The length varies, like the bridge, from one line to four. Pre-choruses usually last no longer than eight bars.

e. Musically, they build tension to increase the feeling of release in the chorus.


SongCrafting: Basic Principles

I’m not big on rules.

Successful writers break them all the time. Some break them by accident and are accidentally successful. Those writers may be “one hit wonders” because they don’t understand why it worked on the first one. Some understand why the rules were made and break them consciously, knowing the principles behind them. I believe that if you know some of the basic principles that make songs “work,” that make them communicate, you can make use of alternate techniques to compensate for the rule you break. For example; A “rule” is that you don’t go more than two verses before the chorus and repeat the chorus at least three times. The Kenny Rogers hit, “The Gambler” and the Eagles’ “Lyin’ Eyes” both broke that rule. They compensated with compelling lyrics that held your attention for three verses before the chorus. The Clay Walker hit “Chain of Love” is AABAABA (verse-verse-chorus-verse-verse-chorus-verse) with only two choruses, ending with a verse. A triple rule-breaker by having two verses after the first chorus, only two choruses, and ending with a verse, the concept and great storyline held our attention and were ultimately more important to the success of the song than the rules it broke.

I won’t talk in terms of emotional content at this point. We all know soulful “heart” songs and soulless but well-crafted songs that are just as successful. Something that speaks to my heart may leave you cold. So I’ll limit this to principles that work for all songs, both hits and album cuts, though you may have a little more latitude as an album artist if you have a distinctive and appealing sound.

Here are the basic, underlying principles.

For commercially successful radio songs, you need to:

Maintain a balance between predictability and surprise.
If your song is too predictable, listeners get bored with it and tune out. If it’s too complex, listeners don’t feel comfortable and tune out.

Make it easy for listeners to remember your song.
Easily remembered melodies, lyrics, concepts, hooks (anything you remember after the record is over) help your song to stay in your listeners’ consciousness.

Hold the attention of your audience.
The tools needed to do the above include a mix of: repetition, rhythm, rhyme, placement of hooks – title line, dynamics, structure.

Does all popular music need to adhere to these principles?
Not at all. Just the pop radio oriented songs you want your audience to remember. These principles work for album oriented songs too but may not need to be used in the same concentrated way because fans listen to albums in a different way than they listen to “hit” oriented records. They buy albums because they’re already committed to liking the artist or the artist’s sound. Exceptions are: dance club music that doesn’t need to rely on the same techniques and structures as pop music because it already has your attention in a dance club. The same is true for musical theater. As a visual medium it already has your attention.

We most often listen to the music on the radio while we’re doing something else; driving, working, exercising, etc., so radio hits need to break through that to capture your attention and hold it. That’s why these principles, though they’re important for all types of songs, work especially well for radio pop hits.


Sample Work For Hire Agreement

Note: This is a sample agreement and may not apply to your specific situation. Always have an experienced music attorney check your agreements before using them.


This agreement is entered into as of this ______ day of ___________, 20____, by and between _____________________ (hereinafter referred to as “Artist”) and _________________________ (hereinafter referred to as “Musician”). The parties hereby agree as follows:

1.   Artist hereby engages Musician’s services and Musician hereby accepts such engagement to perform, without limitation, at rehearsal sessions and phonograph recording sessions for the purpose of creating the following master/demo recordings :

Musician agrees to diligently, competently and to the best of Musician’s ability experience and talent perform to Artist’s satisfaction all of the services required of Musician hereunder.

2.   Conditioned upon Musician’s full and faithful performance of all the terms and provisions hereof, Artist shall pay Musician the sum of $_______________ per [track/session/hour] as full and complete consideration for Musician’s services hereunder. Musician acknowledges that this agreement (and your services and the services of anyone else hereunder) is not subject to any collective bargaining agreements since Artist is not a party to any collective bargaining agreements that might be applicable to the type of services provided herein
3.   Musician agrees that his/her performances shall be considered as works made for hire as contemplated and defined in Section 101 of the United States Copyright Act of 1976. Musician hereby grants to Artist all rights of every kind and nature in and to the results and proceeds of Musician’s services and performances rendered hereunder, including, without limitation, the complete, unconditional and exclusive worldwide ownership in perpetuity of any and all recordings and audiovisual reproductions embodying Musician’s performances hereunder. Artist shall accordingly have the sole and exclusive right to copyright any such recordings or audiovisual reproductions embodying Musician’s performances under Artist’s name as the sole owner and author thereof.

4.   Musician hereby grants to Artist the worldwide right in perpetuity to use and publish and to permit others to use and publish Musician’s name, likeness, voice and other biographical material in connection with Musician’s services and performances hereunder.

5.   Artist shall use best efforts to credit Musician as performing on the recordings herein in the event such recordings are released for sale to the public and shall place Musician’s name on the cover, sleeve, jacket or insert of the recording as part of any list of musical works. No casual or inadvertent failure by Artist and no failure by or of any third party to accord the requisite credit herein shall be deemed a breach of this agreement.

6.   Musician hereby warrants, represents, and agrees that Musician is not under any disability, restriction, or prohibition, whether contractual or otherwise with respect to Musician’s right to execute this contract, to grant the rights granted hereunder, to perform each and every term and provision required to be performed by Musician hereunder. No materials, ideas or other properties furnished by Musician and utilized by Artist will violate or infringe upon any common law or statutory right of any person, firm, corporation, including without limitation contractual rights, copyrights and rights of privacy and/or publicity. Musician shall hold Artist harmless and hereby agrees to indemnify Artist for all costs in connection with any breach of the above warranties and representations.

7.    Musician fully understands that Artist would not have employed Musician without an agreement on Musician’s part to give, grant, release and assign to it all rights of every kind in and to the work performed by Musician for Artist, together with all results thereof and incidental thereto.

7.   Musician acknowledges and agrees that nothing in this agreement shall obligate Artist to employ or otherwise engage Musician’s services in connection with any other recording agreement.

8.   Musician acknowledges and agrees that if she provides musical equipment or other property of any nature in connection with services required hereunder, Artist shall not be liable for any loss or damage to such equipment or property.

9.   This agreement sets forth the entire understanding of the parties hereto relating to the subject matter hereof and supersedes all prior and contemporaneous negotiations, understandings and discussions. No modification, amendment, waiver, termination or discharge of this agreement or any of its terms or provisions shall be binding upon either party if not confirmed by a written instrument signed by Artist and Musician.

10.   Any and all disputes between the parties arising under and/or relating to this agreement shall be determined in accordance with the laws and the courts of the State of California.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, the parties have executed this agreement on the date first written above.

________________ (Artist)

The Following are two additional optional clauses in case someone actually wants to split some percentages From the Master Use half with their musicians or singers.

2a.    Not withstanding the foregoing, in the event that the recording embodying Musician’s performance is licensed for synchronization with an audiovisual production for which Artist receives a fee for Master Use, Musician will receive ________ percent of 50% of the total of combined Synchronization and Master Use fee received by the Artist or ________ percent of 100% of the Master Use fee (if paid separately)received by Artist.

2b.   Furthermore, if Artist signs a contract with a major recording company and the recording embodying Musician’s performance is released by that company pursuant to the recording agreement, and the provisions of paragraph 2, above, notwithstanding, Artist shall use best efforts to cause the company to pay Musician the difference between what Musician has already been paid and the American Federation of Musicians session scale.


My Audience Loves It – Why Don’t You?

You’re primarily a live performer who is used to getting an enthusiastic response from an audience. You think, “I’m ready to do a CD of my songs and see if I can get a record deal” (or publishing deal, manager, film and TV placement, good reviews, better gigs, etc.).

So you save up your cash and record those songs – the ones they love with the arrangements they love in the clubs. Then you start sending them out and get comments like:

  • “I like your style but you need better songs”
  • “Good singer but I don’t hear any hits”
  • “I suggest you find better songs”
  • “Nothing here of interest but let me know when you have some more songs.”

You can’t believe it! Your audiences love these songs. They even request them. After all, aren’t these the people who’re gonna buy your records anyway?

Why can’t these so-called “music professionals” hear how great these songs are?

Continue Reading →


Why You Should Write Bad Songs

I had read Rex Butters’ interview with my friend, writer/producer Wendy Waldman in in the March/April 07 edition of FolkWorks magazine and I came across a quote I thought was helpful.

“FW: How much are you writing these days?
WW: Lot, I’ve never stopped writing. I always write.
FW: You Must have a trunk full.
Yeah man. And a lot of it is really bad. People are so flattering and sweet to me, and they say” You’re such a great songwriter,” And I say “no, no, no, I’ve just never played the bad stuff for you.” I’m just a good editor. A lot of good songs you can only get to through the bad ones. Sometimes you have to write a lot of prototypes before you can get to the one you’ve been trying to get to, that might be really good, Continue Reading →


Peace and Good Will Songs… Donate Them?

We’re seeing a lot of new indie CD projects coming out that pledge to donate a percentage of the income from the CD’s sales to a charitable organization. I think it’s admirable that you want to donate to a good cause. However, I believe you and the charity can get more out of this than doing it that way. You may be selling your CD one at a time and when you stick the money in your pocket it takes some organization to be able to remember to put that money in an account and actually send it to the charity. Then you just end up feeling guilty about forgetting.

Here are some suggestions about how songwriters can get their songs to appropriate charitable organizations, and how those organizations can find appropriate songs for their cause. This is a ‘public relations’ job and takes a little dedication and follow-through.

Basically, it takes time to ‘smile & dial’ for a few days to find which organization you want to donate to. Fortunately, there are many. Then find which person in the organization is responsible for their public relations. Ask when/how their fund-raisers work. If they use music at their events, ask if you can donate your CD (containing not more than ONE or TWO appropriate songs, i.e., ecology songs for the Sierra Club) to be included at their events. Ask if the organization will distribute your one-song CD via their mailings to people who send them a donation.

In one scenario, the only thing you get in return (which is good) is the PR from hundreds/thousands of people getting your CD into their hands w/your info on it, e.g., lyrics, name/e-mail/Web site/yada-yada, how-to-buy-more of your music. This, after all, is a version of DISTRIBUTION. And the charity is getting it to people you can’t reach on your own.

Another scenario is that if a giver donates a certain figure to the cause (above $100, for example) they receive your one-song CD as a premium, and the organization pays you a $1.00. Even if only 100 are sold, you’ve made $100 more than you had before, you’ve covered your hard costs, plus you’ve reached a new audience of future purchasers.

In fact, a charity MIGHT agree to let you have a list of names & addresses of those who got your CD. Naturally, this has to be discussed in advance with the organization.

And last but not least, can you perform your songs ‘live’ for the organization … do they do benefits? Fundraisers? Will they let you sell your CDs at those events?

There are many ways to market your songs. But as with everything else, it’s a job and you may just have to hire someone to do it for you. The idea is to get the word out to as many people as possible, right? Not to mention that you could have a song that becomes an anthem and does us all a world of good.


How to Present Your Demo: 10 Biggest Mistakes Artists Make and How to Avoid Them

Your demo will introduce you to the eyes and ears of many music industry professionals. Take this introduction very seriously — it’s your job interview.

Here is a short checklist that summarizes the biggest mistakes I see new artists make all the time. Avoiding these will maximize your chances of getting heard and respect the demo listener’s time.

1. Sending more than 3 songs (unless specifically requested).
Demo listeners like to watch the “In” pile on their desk shrink and the “Out” pile grow as quickly as possible. If the listener has limited time, which is usually the case, the tendency is to listen to a CD they know they can complete.

So if you send a 12-song demo or a 12 song master, send a note that prioritizes 3 songs they should listen to. If you refer them to a MySpace, ReverbNation or other page where you have a list of songs, do the same.

If you want them to hear a song for a specific artists you think the song is appropriate for, tell them to listen to that specific song. If they like it, they may listen to others.

Most industry people resent getting CDs with 20 songs or a link to a site with 20 songs and a letter that says, “I know you’ll like at least one of these, so just pick out what you want.”

If you’re presenting it via snail mail or in person, they want you to send (or play) them three songs or less that you totally believe in. If you’re not far enough along to be able to decide, you’re not ready. When sending CDs with more than three songs, highlight three you want the listener to focus on first, and include the numbers of the cuts in your cover letter and lyric sheets (so they have a reference while the CD is on their player and they can’t see the label). If they like those, they’ll listen to the others.

Send CDs in standard, hard, jewel cases (not soft, thin vinyl) labeled on the spine so when they stack them they can find them later. And please remove the shrink-wrap!

2. Not placing their best and most commercial song first.
If you have a strong up-tempo song, start with that. If the listener doesn’t like the first one, it may be the only shot you get.

4. Not sending a lyric sheet, neatly typed or printed.
Letterhead is impressive. It says “This is my business and I take it seriously.” Some don’t like to look at lyrics while they listen, but most do. It’s a time saver to be able to see it all at once and to see the structure of the song graphically laid out on the page. If you submit online, attach the lyric sheet so they can look at it.

Lead sheets (with melody and lyric together) are not sent out with demos. They’re bulky to mail, it’s too difficult to follow the lyric and visualize the song’s form, and many industry pros don’t read music anyway. If they want to record the song and ask for one, then send them a lead sheet.

When you type your lyric sheet, separate the sections of the songs with a space and label each one (verse, chorus, bridge, etc.) at the upper left side of the section or otherwise differentiate them by indenting or bolding the chorus or typing them in capital letters. If you’re repeating a chorus, note where it goes. Do not type your lyrics in prose fashion. Lay them out with the rhymes at the ends of the lines so the structure and rhyme schemes of the song can be seen immediately.

5. Not Putting on a Copyright Notice
Make sure there’s a copyright notice (© 2011 I.B. Cool, All Rights Reserved) on the bottom of the first page of the lyric sheet and on the tape or CD label. Technically, this isn’t necessary but it alerts everyone that your song is protected, whether it’s registered or not. (See the U.S. Copyright Office Website for info and forms.) Note: DO Register your song at the Copyright Office to be on the safe side.

6. Blowing the Cover Letter
Cover letters should be short and to the point. Let the music speak for itself and avoid hype. A professional presentation will do more to impress someone than “I know these are hit songs because they’re better than anything I’ve ever heard on the radio.” Don’t hype, plead, apologize or show any hint of desperation. It only gives the message that you have no confidence in the ability of the songs to stand on their own.

Here’s what should be in your cover letter:

  • It should be addressed to a specific person in the company.
  • It should state your purpose in sending the demo. Are you looking for a publisher, a producer, a record deal for you as an artist? Do you want the listener to pay special attention to your production, your singing, your band, or just the song? Is the song targeted for a specific artist?
  • List any significant professional credits that apply to the purpose of your submission. If you want your song published, list other published or recorded songs, contests won, etc. If you’re a performer submitting an artist demo, resist the temptation to grab at weak credits: “I played at the same club that (famous star) played.” Tell them what drives you, what inspires you. Keep it short. List real sales figures. Don’t lie.
  • Include any casting ideas you might have if you’re pitching to a publisher.
  • Ask for feedback if you want it. Odds are you won’t get it but give it a shot.
  • List the songs enclosed and writers’ names in the order they appear on the CD/tape. (Lyric sheets should also be enclosed in the same order the songs appear on the demo.)
  • Thank them for their time and attention.

7. Not putting their name, address and phone number, e-mail address and Web site on the CD, the case, and on every lyric sheet.
It seems like such common sense. In fact it would be embarrassing even to suggest that you might forget to do it but I see it happen constantly. The problem on this end is that, between listening sessions at the office, the car, and home, it’s so easy to separate the CD from the case or lyric sheet. Once they’ve gone to the trouble to find your hit song, not finding you is a fate neither of you deserve.

8. Not using adequate postage.
You’d be surprised how often this happens. Take the time to weigh your package at the post office and use the proper postage.

9. Sending CDs in ordinary stationery envelopes.
It’s risky because rough postal handling could force the edge of the case through the envelope. Use a special envelope with an insulated lining.

10. Sending song fragments or intro clips.
Like “a verse and chorus of each song to save their time and give them a taste.” Seems like a good idea if you’ve never been in the listener’s position and really like the verse and chorus, then have to wait until the writer can send you the rest. Frustrating! If I only want to listen to a verse and chorus or less, I’ll just skip to the next song.


There are a couple different procedures for this:

  1. Send an E-mail with the audio file attached. Follow the suggestions listed above for cover letter (Include phone number(s). Also include your Web site address so they can click it and go directly to it. When they get to your site, they’ll hopefully find additional bio material, photos and lyrics.
  2. Just send them an e-mail intriguing enough to get them to go to your site and hear your music there.
  3. Use an Electronic Press Kit (EPK). Sonicbids has been very popular for a few years now, but most artists will use their MySpace page as their EPK. A better choice is creating an “EPK” page on your own personal website and sending people there. (Example:

Indie marketing guru Tim Sweeney suggests that because of the limited amount of time someone may want to spend at any site and the degree of difficulty their online access speeds may present, it’s important to help them decide quickly which of your songs may be of most interest to them. You can help by providing a short description like this one provided on the site of Franklin Spicer and Valerie Ford’s Pegasus Project, a soft jazz, world music group.

“One People”
“The first song Franklin ever heard from Val was a reggae tune she had recorded called One People. He really liked the positive message and the infectious chorus. Franklin talked her into doing a rewrite and making it a Pegasus Project tune. They wanted to share a positive message of how we all are part of one global family. This song was shaped from a number of African musical influences, including the Tuku style. The huge chorus backup vocals were done in two days of recording using seven different singers.”

Note that the description includes information on the style, what it’s about, why it was written and how it was recorded. Their site also includes lyrics to all the songs.

Remember, your demo should look good, have something important to say, and say it well. There are a lot of other applicants for the job. The pros are looking for the best. Be the best!