Notes on Napkins

musings for songwriters


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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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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.


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What You Really Need To Know To Be A Professional Songwriter

I’m making a little joke here. I found this in my computer files. I can’t recall how I originally got it and haven’t found the source (if you do, let me know). But it still makes me laugh and there’s definitely a grain of truth – or the entire loaf of bread of truth –  in this list. So without further ado, here’s what songwriters really need to know:

THE PROFESSIONAL SONGWRITER’S ABBREVIATED DICTIONARY

VERBS:
1. to schmooze = befriend scum
2. to pitch = grovel shamelessly
3. to brainstorm = feign preparedness
4. to research = procrastinate indefinitely
5. to network = spread misinformation
6. to collaborate = argue incessantly
7. to freelance = collect unemployment

NOUNS:
1. agent = frustrated lawyer
2. lawyer = frustrated producer
3. producer = frustrated writer
4. writer = frustrated artist
5. artist = frustrated human

COMMON TERMS AND PHRASES:
1. Entry-level = pays nothing
2. You can trust me = you must be new
3. Highly qualified = knows the producer
4. It needs some polishing = Change everything
5. It shows promise = It stinks rotten
6. It needs some fine tuning = Change everything
7. I’d like some input = I want total control
8. It needs some honing = Change everything
9. Call me back next week = Stay out of my life
10. It needs some tightening = Change everything
11. Try and punch it up = I have no idea what I want
12. It needs some streamlining = Change everything
13. It’s very close = You’re not even on the right planet
14. We want something different for this album = The last album didn’t sell
15. We’re looking for a new direction = see previous
16. I know someone at the label = I know the janitor
17. You’ll never work in this town again = I have no power whatsoever


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It’s Never Too Late to Write a Great Song

“I’m still learning.” – Michaelangelo, at age 87

Songwriting is a craft that you can begin working on at any stage in your life. Unlike recording artists, who often have pressure to look and dress a certain way or to be a certain age, songwriters never have to “look the partBluebird cafe.” Even in Nashville where it’s common for a songwriter to become “famous” among the locals, nobody cares how old they are, if their vocals are perfectly pitched, or what size dress they fit in.  They can show up to play a gig at the famous Bluebird Cafe in a t-shirt and old jeans (not even black ones) and their songs speak for themselves.

Great Nashville songwriters like Harlan Howard, Richard Leigh, Bobby Braddock, Tom Shapiro, Jeffrey Steele, Al Anderson and Gretchen Peters were, or still are, cranking out hits for young recording artists in their 50’s and 60’s (and that list is just off the top of my head). Singer songwriters like Elton John, Sting, Dylan, Springsteen, Billy Joel, and Cyndi Lauper all continue to write new material and reinvent themselves well into their prime. So, if you’re reading this and have a desire to write songs, nothing is stopping you. I would only add as a caveat that you have to be willing to continue to learn, to grow, and to be open to your surroundings…but that’s not rocket science.

For a little more inspiration, here’s a short list of diverse folks who accomplished great things at a more “mature” age. I culled this list from Goodreads.com and a couple of Google searches and admittedly haven’t fact-checked it, but it seems right to me!

  • J.K. Rowling was 30 years old when she finished the first manuscript of Harry Potter.
  • Mark Twain was 40 when he wrote “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, and 49 years old when he wrote “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
  • Rosa Parks was 42 when she refused to obey the bus driver’s order to give up her seat to make room for a white passenger.
  • Suzanne Collins was 46 when she wrote “The Hunger Games.”
  • Charles Darwin was 50 years old when his book On the Origin of Species came out.
  • Leonardo Da Vinci was 51 years old when he painted the Mona Lisa.
  • Ray Kroc Was 53 when he bought the McDonalds franchise and took it to unprecedented levels.
  • Dr. Seuss was 54 when he wrote “The Cat in the Hat.”
  • Colonel Harland Sanders was 61 when he started the KFC Franchise.
  • Ronald Regan entered politics at age 55 and eventually became the oldest person to ever become President, at the age of 69.
  • Artist Paul Cézanne was 56 years old when he was given his first art exhibition.Grandma Moses
  • J.R.R Tolkien was 62 when the Lord of the Ring books came out.
  • Peter Roget invented the Thesaurus at age 73.
  • George R.R. Martin was 63 when HBO purchased the television rights for his A Song of Ice and Fire series and launched the mega-hit “Game of Thrones” for which Martin actively writes and produces.
  • Grandma Moses started painting at age 76. Three years later her art was hanging at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City! Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Write on, friends!

-Sara