Monday, June 16, 2014

The Best Songwriting Class You Will Ever Take... in your ears.

There are countless courses out there to help you write "better" songs. I taught one at University Of The Arts in Philadelphia and heard with my own ears some of my students literally write better songs as the course went on. A thrill for me, to say the least.

The more I taught, the more we listened to their favorite songs. Because listening is really where I learned how to write songs in the first place.

While driving and jamming to the radio tonight, with my wife, I narrated (as usual) on why the song we were listening to was so great. Why it works.
The song we were grooving on and analyzing was a huge dance floor/radio #1 smash hit, classic, iconic, universally acclaimed masterpiece that almost everyone loves.
The theme musta been pretty damn over-the-top genius, right?
The song had a crazy, unique, cool phrase as the title/hook?
Well, obviously the music part of it had a chord change that had some unexpected musical genius twists and turns?

There are 2 chords in it. The verse and chorus are the same chords, in fact. The title has 4 words in it that we've all heard before. The theme or story is, well, about having a feeling of beginning....something.
The song was "Wanna Be Starting Something".

The simplicity is the "genius" of it. When you want to make something simple you have to go all the way. You can't just simplify a complex idea or make something fairly simple a little less wordy. The whole simple-equals-genius thing is an all or nothing thing.
"Wanna Be Starting Something".
The verses are fun and they simply support the concept of the one-line chorus. It's all about feeling under and over and being stuck. Being stuck is the verse, starting something is the chorus. THAT'S simple.
How bout something more current like "Happy"? "Clap along if you feel that's what you wanna do". THAT'S simple! Simple thought, executed simply.

Listen to the radio when you're driving, but really listen. Get inside those songs. Take a look around. 
Great songwriters aren't Gods (though they tend to act like ones). They're more like children that never grew up. And that quality gives them their edge. They have the experience and wisdom of a grown-up with a child's simple perspective and wonder.

Songwriting Bonus Tip:
My first songs were almost like using tracing paper. You know how you can lay that transparent paper over, say, the Mona Lisa and "draw" it?
Well you can do this with songwriting too? I would take the basic structure and even the feeling of a famous song, or a song I loved, and write my own over it. How? Well, I would "play" the song in my head but sing different words and/or chords over it outloud. I used the "famous" song a blueprint in a way. A model. Once i got enough to hear just my song I forgot all about the famous song underneath and found myself with a really cool song that all my own! So, use the past as a tool to get to the future. And your ears!!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Who's Writing This Song Anyway?

This past week I've been watching the interviews play back to me at the film editing sessions for my upcoming documentary "Platinum Rush". 
Oliver Wood, Eric Bazilian, Julie Gold and Steve Forbert in particular.

One commonality that I am hearing from these accomplished songwriters is how their strongest songs seem to "write themselves". In other words, there's not the usual "i have an idea" followed by trying some chord changes out, writing down a handful of lyrics, scratching out the bad ones and eventually getting a ruff sketch recorded to be worked on later. I'm talking about a killer song literally existing with minimal effort in minutes!
But wait, there's more....and less!

Julie said she placed her hands on the newly-delivered childhood piano her parents shipped to her then first apartment and "From a Distance" was written by the time she lifted her hands back up.
Bazilian, in an effort to show his wife how multi-tracking works literally sang "One Of Us" straight through into the microphone. Yes, "what if God was one of us" and all the other amazing lines in his million selling Joan Osborne hit simply fell out of his mouth in one take. ONE TAKE.
The others had similar stories.

But here's the catch:
Before and after their worldwide smash hit songs were "magically born" they wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. Some of those other songs were good. Some make Rebecca Black seem like Paul Simon. Regardless, an endless parade of songs were being written.

Their stories only support what I've found myself to be true over the years. Eventually your songwriting "muscles" will be so well-oiled, by regularly writing, that the potential for divine intervention is greatly heightened. If and when the stars do align for a moment of mind-blowing sheer brilliance, your skills will be ready to execute it like a mother (you-know-what-er)!
If you don't write regularly, even when you're not inspired, the magic may come but you will be caught with your pants down.

And a naked no-hit wonder is no way to go through life.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Great Songwriters Are Great SongReaders.

You can't be a great writer without reading. It doesn't have to be an 800 page Hemingway. It can be a 50 word review of a movie, a page of the newspaper, a list of book titles, a do-it-yourself handyman manual, half a page of Hamlet.
You can't be a great singer without listening. The Band, Ke$ha, Woody Guthrie, Brandi Carlisle, Patti Smith, Rap, Americana, blues. Experiment: go on a genre binge and see how it effects your music!
You can't be a great performer without watching. Learn from Springsteen how to lead a band, learn from The Black Keys how to throw yourself all the way into your show, learn from Dylan how to keep'm guessing.

Can you imagine a cook who didn't like to taste all kinds of foods? Would you want a meal made by someone that only liked to eat the same things every day?
Since the subjects of songs tend to be pretty basic: is up to the writer to express those emotional activities in a fresh way. A way that entertains and seduces and educates.

A word or 3 about performing: be present from start to finish. Support every syllable with feeling. Whenever I am thinking (on stage) "I hope the audience is liking this" I am losing them. I can feel it. So can they. But when I forget to think and just lose myself in the music, I look up and the whole room and I are one. Why? Because I wasn't acting. I was exposing my truth.

So, eat words and listen to the sky and sing the driveway and lose yourself in the song of life.
It is then that you will have something to offer and an audience to offer it to.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Writing to the "Tempo Of The World"

The speed of life or "tempo" in your bedroom or studio is usally very different than the tempo outside. Which is usally why so many singer-songwriters play their songs onstage to a sometimes indifferent or restless audience.
It's not a bad idea to go outside for a bit and acclamate yourself to other people, cars, trees, chatter and the energy in general. Then come back in and write. It's easy to slump into the same ol' groove/tempo when you sit in the same spot and strum the same strum. Just go to any open mic night and you'll hear it almost all night.This is why we hear a seemingly non-stop conveyer belt of ballads. The truth is, uptempo's get more reaction from the audience, the music business and usually your pocket. Ballads when they are good are life-changing. But too many can be life-numbing.

Splash some cold water on your talent and go get'm!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Hard Work, Persistence and Practice.

Guess what, you're probably as good (and maybe even better) than some of the biggest
hit writers out there. I know. I've worked with unknowns and huge hitmakers. The talent is about the same.
The difference is the "out there" part. When I was signed to Warner/Chappell Music Publishing in Los Angeles, it wasn't till i went out there and showed my face that they offered the deal. And guess what they said when they did offer me the deal: we like your songs but more importantly love your work ethic.

You can write "Stairway To Heaven" and stay unknown/un-successful or write "Da Da Da" and be world famous.
The song is just part of it.
You must get into peoples eyes, ears and faces.
And if your song is strong and real, youll end up in their hearts too.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Write Until It Sounds Like The Truth

Hearts connect when there is truth. People sense when something is fabricated. Sometimes a song is merely being structured, or fabricated, before the song is in the process of actually being written. Keep playing whatever it is you have been coming up with until your mind starts to wander. Play it until you don't even realize or think about what you are doing. Soon you may just start feeling something and that feelin may start writing the song. In other words, your soul may pick up where your brain left off. This is when real life magic can take place. Let the thing breathe. Let your song do the talking for a bit. Take yourself out of the equation. Cut out middle man between truth and creation: your head. Remember, it's music. It's rhythm. It's emotional. Let it bevthese things by giving it some room. Write and play till it sounds like the truth.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Show that song who's boss!

More times than not I step up to the guitar or piano and pretend the song exists already. I pretend it is great even before I start. Why start timidly thinking "is this gonna be it gonna i even know how to write a good song?"
Screw that! You have walls lined with gold records! You have millions of fans and 3 live-in maids!

I literally, on my walk to the instrument, envision myself playing a killer new song. How would it go? What does a killer song sound like?
How many great songs have we all heard? Countless.
What makes them so damn lovable? Usually something pretty unique happens early in the song. Something a little unexpected. Something where we kind of go "oh this is nice but i'll probably get bored soon..." and then all of a sudden some kind of magic happens and you start to crave more of it.
Ya wanna know how to make magic? Go left when you usually go right. Say yes when you usually say no. And blammo (!) magic.

Show that song who's boss, don't be scared of bigger than the song. Be an amazing songwriter by believing in yourself. Confidence is the key to success in almost every category.