Notes on Napkins

musings for songwriters


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Natural Influences in June

“There is nothing more musical than a sunset – Claude Debussy”  

Debussy asserts that musicians “read but too little from the book of Nature.” What sights, sounds, or places in nature do you find musical? Share your thoughts in the comment area.

Thanks to @liveloveFranklin for this photo of my hometown


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May the Month of May Make Your Creativity Blossom

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” – Marcel Proust

Each May, I watch in awe as the flowering trees, shrubs and perennials that bloom in abundance here in middle Tennessee magically transform the landscape. Spring renewal – it really does seem to make everyone and everything in life just a little more tolerable. Unfortunately, I do not have a green thumb, but I’m trying (again) to plant and nuture a flower garden in the corner of my yard. I’m finding the task to be very inspiring, sometimes a little frustrating (where’d all those Canna bulbs I planted go?) and hard -yet rewarding- work. It’s pretty much the same way I can describe songwriting as a matter of fact. 

In what ways will you let your creativity blossom this month? Do you have specific goals or are you going to let your muse guide you? Please share your thoughts in the comment area.


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Share One Positive Thought About Your Songwriting for April

“3 A.M. is the hour of writers, painters, poets, musicians, silence-seekers. over thinkers and creative people. We know who you are. we can see your light on. Keep on keeping on.”  

Usually at the beginning of each month I ask you to post your goals. But sometimes we can get so caught up in what we STILL WANT TO DO that we forget to acknowledge the GOOD THINGS WE HAVE ALREADY DONE. So instead of posting our goals this month, let’s recognize our achievements.  In the comment section please take a moment to:

Share a positive thing or things you’ve done for your songwriting lately

-AND/OR-

Share a quote (or saying) that inspires you to keep on keeping on!

Let your light shine, friends.


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Instructor Spotlight: Randy Klein Has a Cool NYC Debut This Month

Multifaceted songwriter, performer, producer and native New Yorker, Randy Klein, has been mentoring emerging songwriters at SongU.com since 2006 when co-creator, Danny Arena, randomly spotted Randy’s name online for winning a prize for one of his jazz compositions. At the time, we were looking for some additional genre-diversity within our coaching faculty, and once we read his extensive bio, we had a gut feeling that Randy could bring exactly what we needed to the table. As it turns out, Randy did have a “flair for feedback” and has since become a well-respected staple of our song feedback and coaching staff.

Adding to his award-winning credits from Emmys to gold records to fellowships and commissions with projects including jazz, musical theatre, soul/R&B, documentary film scores, and PBS children’s TV shows, he now has a World Premiere to look forward to. His composition “Fanfare For Jerusalem” will be performed in New York City by the 400 voice Hazamir Chorale at the Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center on March 26, 2017.

I asked Randy to answer a few questions about  songwriting and what this newest commission means to him.

When did your music career begin and what were your goals when you first began?

I’m not sure when my music career began because I have never done anything else but music. There are pictures of me as a toddler reaching up to the piano to play. And, as far as goals are concerned, I only wanted to be a good piano player. Songwriting didn’t come into the picture until way later when I was in my late twenties.

What are the most important lessons you learned about the music business since starting out?

To be nice to everyone. Admit when you are wrong. Remember that it ain’t a gig until the check clears!

You have a very exciting project called “Fanfare to Jerusalem” that will be a worldwide debut performed at Lincoln Center in New York City. How did you get this commission? 

The commission for “Fanfare For Jerusalem” came to me because of my relationship to Matthew and Vivian Lazar, the founder and director of the HaZamir Chorale. They are my neighbors and live in my apartment building in NYC. They knew I was a composer and invited me to hear the chorale a year ago at a performance at Carnegie Hall. It was excellent, the sound of 400 voices blew my socks off, and the concert was of a very high musical aesthetic. I ran into Matthew and Vivian in the lobby of our apartment house the next day and told them how much I enjoyed the concert and mentioned that I would love to write for the chorale. They told me that the theme for the next year was to be the 50th anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem. I thought about this for a while and then pitched them the idea of composing a piece called Fanfare For Jerusalem. I wrote the main theme and proposed some original text in English. The text was not approved, but the concept and the main theme were. It was suggested that I look at the Psalms of David for text that related to Jerusalem. I did the research and found, using translations in English, four excerpts from the Psalms which I thought would work. These selections were approved.

Was it intimidating to write the lyrics in another language, especially one that doesn’t use the English alphabet?

The only drawback was that I did not speak Hebrew and the Psalms are in Hebrew. Matthew Lazar connected me with an associate who spoke the Psalms into a recorder in Hebrew, including a recording of each word sounded out phonetically. It was from this recording that I wrote Fanfare For Jerusalem.

How long did it take for you to complete it?

It took about 5 weeks of non-stop writing. I would study the pronunciation of a syllable, then a word, and then a phrase and I slowly put music to it. Hebrew is a language with some guttural sounding syllables that don’t sing very well, like ‘o-ha-va-yich’ and ‘b’-chei-leich’. The challenge was to set them and be musical. While, I was composing the music, I was also imagining the 400 voice chorale singing it. So, I was learning the sound of the words, composing and orchestrating for chorale at the same time. I presented the first draft in Matthew and Vivian’s apartment. I had them look at the printed score as I was playing and explaining the piece. The reaction was overwhelming. Vivian sensed that this was a very special piece and said it was going to be in this year’s concert at the Metropolitan Opera House. Matthew was already making musical suggestions to make it better. And, that they had decided to make the piece a commission. To say the least, I was overjoyed! Through Matthew’s suggestions about chorale writing and a series of about 11 rewrites, the piece was tightened up.

You almost make it sound easy, Randy. I’ve done more than 11 rewrites on a 3-minute Country song!

As a writer, I was thrilled because the original structure never changed and except for ‘one mis-stress’, I had set the text correctly. I was able to hear the language as it was spoken and paint it in a musical setting. The final piece is about 6 minutes long. The skill set I used to compose this piece was the same as I use to write songs in English. Listening to the way a lyric speaks, I used my songwriting ear to learn how the lyric in Hebrew spoke and set it to music. Lessons to learn… don’t ever be afraid to pitch a creative idea to someone…music is a universal language….develop your listening skills! And, the cool news is, my collaborator is King David!

Yes, that’s a great lesson: “Don’t ever be afraid to pitch a creative idea to someone.”  So, what’s the best piece of general advice you can give up and coming songwriters?

This is easy. Write every day, even if you are not inspired. Take an article in the paper and write a song about it. Write a song about ketchup. Just keep your pencil sharp.

What’s on the creative horizen for you?

-A book on songwriting titled, “You Can Write A Song!” (Fall 2017)
-Musicals in various states of completion: The Black Swan, Jubilee, Pandamonium and Speak.
-A piano improvisation project: Ambient Spaces
-Teaching songwriting – ongoing!

Name three of your favorite non-music related activities.

-Sitting in the middle of Greenwood Lake, NY on my 1995 pontoon boat on a warm summer day.
-Freshly brewed coffee.
-Riding my bicycle.

 

For more information and to purchase tickets to the March 26th world premiere of “Fanfare for Jerusalem” go to:  

http://www.metopera.org/Season/2016-17-Misc-Season/Hazamir/


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March Goals (Some Advice from Steve Martin)

“Perseverance is a great substitute for talent.” – Steve Martin, Comedian, Actor, Musician

steve-martin-bookI’m in the middle of reading Steve Martin’s book “Born Standing Up” and have been highlighting lines and paragraphs like crazy (wild and crazy, that is ;-). I relate so much to the joys, setbacks, highs and lows he describes because in any kind of creative pursuit from stand-up comedy to songwriting, there are commonalities: We are starting with nothing and trying to create something tangible with the intention of moving an audience emotionally. We are trying to find our original voice while at the same time being relatable. We are constantly mining our inner resources and confidence to keep moving forward. We continue learning new tricks and developing our skills even as our work is being rejected over and over. But somehow the pursuit is a thing of beauty in itself.

Martin says, “I did stand-up comedy for eighteen years. Ten of those years were spent learning, four years were spent refining, and four were spent in wild success.”

What are some of your objectives to keep learning and refining this month? Statistics show that writing down goals increases the odds of achieving them. Big or small, it doesn’t matter as long as we keep moving in the right direction. Join us in goal-setting this month and post yours in the comment area. 

 

 


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What Are Your Goals for February 2017?

“In a world full of temporary things you are a perpetual feeling.” – Sanober Khan, Poet

heart

While February is the shortest month of the year, it can sometimes feel like the longest. Between the colder, grayer days, and the New Year’s resolutions slump, and the barage of chocolate-filled hearts weighing us down, our motivation may wane. So in February, let’s try to be extra gentle with ourselves and wake up remembering that every day is a new beginning. Try to find some simple ways to reignite your creative spark and find the song in your heart.

What are some of your songwriting (or other) plans, hopes and objectives for this month? Statistics show that writing down goals increases the odds of achieving them. Big or small, it doesn’t matter as long as we keep moving in the right direction. Join us in goal-setting this month and post yours in the comment area. 

 

 


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Why Are Most of the Pitch Leads Country?

Image-2-2015-BillboardChartWe’re often asked why so many of the SongU.com pitch leads for original songs are for the Country genre. The reason is a fairly simple one: Country is one of the rare popular genres of music in which many of the major artists are open to recording “outside” songs. What does that mean? It means that they are willing to listen to and record a song that they did not write or co-write themselves.  My friend, song plugger Jeffrey Nelson, regularly compiles a list of major-label Country artists who have recorded outside songs. In the last part of last year, he counted 27 Country artists who recorded 50-100% outside songs on their albums, and another large group who recorded at least one or more outside song. Some of those songs were written by songwriters who hadn’t previously had a major-label artist record their songs. In other words, there are still many big Country artists who believe in the power of a great song no matter where it comes from. Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Martina McBride, and Faith Hill are all notorious for recording great outside songs. Thus, they all can boast an incredible number of hits.

This is in sharp contrast with most of the Pop and Hip-Hop stars, who create their hits in the studio together with a group of other musicians and songwriters who contribute beats/tracks, topline melodies, lyrics, and hooks. Often these major artists rely on only the hottest hit makers and producers like Max Martin or Dr. Luke or Pharrell, making it much more difficult for an untested songwriter to insert themselves into their projects.

Justin Timberlake talks about working with Pharrell, Timbaland, Max Martin

Admittedly, some of the iconic pop singers like Barbra Streisand and Whitney Houston, for example, always depended on great outside songs, as have some of the more current pop stars such as Rhianna. And while this year’s Shawn Mendes’ hit song “Stiches” was written by Daniel Parker, Teddy Geiger, and Daniel Kyriakides, and Selena Gomez didn’t write her hit “Same Old Love”, major-label pop opportunities are decidedly tougher to come by. Rock/Pop bands tend to build their reputation on the strength of their own sound and their own self-written songs and unique vibe.

If I don’t write Country, how do I get my songs recorded?

Where does that leave you in terms of pitching if you’re writing Pop, Rock, Hip-Hop, Electronic, Retro, Americana, Classical-Operatic, or a variety of other valid genres?

1) Independent Artists.  – If smaller indie artists cut your song on their album, it probably won’t net you much (if any) income, but there are still many advantages. First, it’s simply flattering that your song speaks to an artist so much that they want to sing it and record it for their audience. Also, it’s a good way to get a new recording (demo) of your song that you can use to pitch to bigger artists. In addition, it’s exposure for your song. Songwriter Jon Ims, for example, tells the story of how a local band had recorded one of his songs on their album and took it to Nashville in hopes of landing a record deal. While in Nashville, they played it for a big record producer. That producer, Garth Fundis, had no interest in signing the band, but loved the song Jon wrote called “She’s In Love With The Boy”. Fundis decided to record that song on his new act, Trisha Yearwood. Needless to say, “She’s In Love With The Boy” became Trisha’s breakout single and launched a stellar career for her AND for songwriter Jon Ims (who after moving from Colorado to Nashville that same year had another hit single “Fallin’ Out of Love” for Reba McEntire).

2) Placements in Film/TV/Media. – Films, TV shows, commercials and other alternative media always need music but don’t want to pay top dollar to get big hits by by big stars. That leaves the door open for you if you’re writing songs that have a certain “sound” or specific genre that they just happen to need. We had several members get Country songs placed in the TV show “Nashville” for example. But the song needs are as vast and varied as the media itself. If you’re writing in any genre, there’s a chance to get your song placed.

  • At SongU.com we offer regular opportunities by our guest music supervisor, Nancy Peacock, who will give us current leads from her contacts with production companies. She’s taken our members’ songs for specific leads, but also for a non-exclusive contract to pitch on comp tapes that she sends out when there is a need (i.e. love songs for Valentine’s Day commercials that can also be used for background music in a movie or TV show).
  • The occasional unexpected opportunities come along too. Through an odd encounter I had at the Jersey shore, I was able to put up an exclusive listing for our members to submit their songs to the music supervisor for the NBC Olympic Games in Beijiing. Over 50 songs from our members went to those games!
  • We have a great series of DIY webcasts by Benn Cutarelli and Dan Robinson called “The Next Rung” all about how to get your songs into film/TV/and media. They’ll let you how their song got into the major motion picture “The Longest Yard.” Go to the DIY course catalog to find these courses.

3) Network and Collaborate. – The Jon Ims story above reminds us that networking at any level, even locally, has the potential to yield big results. Other important network outlets are music publishers and songpluggers, performing rights organization reps, and of course your peers. The new songwriters and aspiring artists of today, might be the next big thing tomorrow.

kelsea-ballerini

Breakout Country music superstar, Kelsea Ballerini, said in an interview recently that her first album is a bunch of songs written by her and her friends. Her friends were unknown emerging songwriters that had been networking and co-writing and sticking with it. They were all just doing the “hang in there” thing that we do when we’re creative people wanting to earn a living through our efforts. Sometimes you get lucky. It paid off for one of our SongU.com alumni, Lance Carpenter, who was one Kelsea’s co-writer friends on her #1 Platinum-certified breakout song “Love Me Like You Mean It” which skyrocketed her into the spotlight. Chalk one up for breaking in to the music business! (Also known as ten years to overnight success.)

Additonally, several of our members have had great success with smaller music markets. Two different members, Barbara Wilkinson and Ed Williams both had #1 songs on the Bluegrass Charts with separate artists. Another, Don Eidman, was nominated for a Dove Award for best Christian song (Bluegrass), and another, Pat Kelley, had a single with a major Christian artist as well. Just this month, Canadian-based SongU.com member, Stephen Adrian Lawrance, broke into the major-label Canadian Country market with an “outside” song for Aaron Pritchett, “When a Momma’s Boy Meets a Daddy’s Girl”  (co-written with A. Godvin/M. Webber) with the assistance of previously-mentioned song plugger Jeffrey Nelson, who he met through SongU.com. Find details of those successes here.

Remember that you can choose to look beyond the roadblocks and find alternative routes to success. The only real reason to write songs is because you love doing it. There are no guarantees except the ability to enjoy the ride. Sure, that ride can be bumpy, maybe take longer than you anticipated (“Mom, when are we gonna get there!”), but it’s always rewarding, not to mention fun, to follow your passion.