Notes on Napkins

musings for songwriters


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Featured SongU Mentor: Alan Roy Scott – Oh, the Couches He Has Known

All SongU members have the opportunity to forge a creative connection with any of our award-winning coaches. These mentors offer written feedback on songs in progress, focusing on lyrics, music, originality, and commercial potential. They often become creative sounding boards on rewritten drafts of a song until it has reached its full potential. Some, like today’s spotlight Coach #3762, aka Alan Roy Scott, also serve as instructors of our online song feedback group sessions and offer private consultations.

Alan Roy Scott has been one of our most beloved feedback instructors and coaches since 2009 when he became a SongU.com mentor. During that time he has worked with literally thousands of songwriters at SongU. He has a self-proclaimed “gift of gab” and is known for his sense of humor, personal engagement, and wisdom. This often means that his “1-hour” group feedback sessions last quite a bit longer than an hour! I took some time to ask him about his personal mentoring philosophy and his UNIQUELY 2020 EUROVISION experience. Make sure to listen below to his song ‘Cleopatra’ recorded by Azerbaijanian contestant Efendi.

Alan, one of the things the SongU members seem to appreciate the most is that, even though all our coaching and courses are (and always have been) online, you really take the time to get to know them as people — their likes, dislikes and goals. Can you tell us how you make that personal connection and why you feel that is important?

Being a songwriter myself for such a long time (professionally since 1978) and having gone through so much in my own life and career over that time, I just have a lot of empathy and respect for all the SongU members overall,  and especially when they come to me for feedback and guidance and put their trust in me. I like to give them a full and thorough response with TLC they deserve. I have always felt that if we songwriters can’t support each other as creative people and lift up our own community first and foremost, it will be hard to expect that same level of camaraderie and compassion coming from anywhere else. In my case, how that plays out and how I deal with the writers is I get excited to know about THEM — where they’re from, how they feel about things, their lives and experiences, what their own goals are, and just being friendly and supportive of them and with each other about a myriad of things — in connection with the nitty gritty nuts and bolts of evaluating their songs when we get to that. So, when we do get to that whether in a live online feedback session, a private one-to-one, or in written form, I pride myself on dishing out my own brand of ‘tough songwriter love” when needed. With emphasis on the love.

I have always felt that if we songwriters can’t support each other as creative people and lift up our own community first and foremost, it will be hard to expect that same level of camaraderie and compassion coming from anywhere else.

You bring a unique international perspective to your song feedback, having travelled all over the world, judging song contests, doing seminars, and writing with up-and-coming artists. Can you tell us some of the places you’ve been and what you have learned by working in the international music scene?

Well, believe it or not, since my international travels started in 1984 with Japan as the first country I visited outside the USA, I have been to 124 countries and counting. I know this because I once sat down and literally counted all the countries I’ve been to with the guidelines that just being in airport transit doesn’t count, and at least 24 hours has to be spent in a country for it to qualify. So, among those 124 countries visited would be every continent except Antarctica (a song seminar for the penguins coming soon?), every former Communist country except North Korea, exotic places from Greenland to India, Bali to Ghana. Almost ALL of them for music activities, writing trips, writing camps, seminars and/or workshop events, concerts, or some kind of musical application. Quite often without much money in my pocket. So, the name of my eventual book I hope to write will either be “Couches I Have Known” or “Passport To A Musical Planet.”

Hah! I’d love to read that book…please write it! Tell us more about co-writing with writers from all over.

I have collaborated along the way with people in a variety of markets, styles of music, and languages. Although I could write a multitude on all the things I have learned along the way, one striking and overriding truth that I have found to be so by walking the walk is that truly music IS the universal language! Many differences and nuances abound in that, but in the end we are much more the same than not. I know this answer may sound a bit Disneyesque or “Koom-ba-yah”, but I don’t know how else to answer it.

Alan Roy Scott collaboration session

I know you had a big disappointment with one of your own songs, “Cleopatra” that was headed to Eurovision. What happened?

The answer to that is the pandemic happened. Eurovision was canceled for the first time in 64 years! Of course, there were some positives. For example, the video of my song ‘Cleopatra’ by the Azerbaijan artist Efendi got over 8 million views on YouTube among other good things. And most of the various reviewers and broadcasters from around the world had said that my song would surely have been in the Top 5 or 10 of all the entries, with a few even saying they thought it would win. So, all that at least is some consolation.

Congratulations! That’s no small accomplishment! Tell us how that came about.

As always, is the story behind the scenes is always the most interesting. Some of that unknown backdrop and saga is as follows: The writing of the song is a lesson in itself for all songwriters because the day we wrote it at Las Negras Camp in Spain in November 2019 ( a collaboration between myself, Dutch writer, Luuk Van Beers, and Norwegian/British writer, Sarah Lake) was just a magical three-nation writing collaboration experience where we were laughing hysterically the whole time, and just having pure fun around the joy of songwriting without any other thoughts in mind. Surely, we were not thinking about Eurovision. If we had TRIED to write for Eurovision, it might never have come out the way it did.  So, after the writing and production of it, we then moved into the whole politics and international business portions of Eurovision. In Eurovision, every song that makes it to being the song for a country literally ends up having like a whole team of people involved, and ours was no different in becoming “Team Cleopatra.” Some countries pick their artist and song the artist will sing to represent them through extensive and high profile national competitions and TV shows to pick the national winner before they head off to the finals to represent that country. But some other countries just pick their artist and song WITHOUT open competitions through a private process known as “internal selection.” This also involves team connections and private resources. That’s the way it was for us.

First, our song was submitted internally to the small country of San Marino for their artist Senhit. My collaborators flew to Bologna, Italy to work with her on the song and see how she sounded on it. In the end, although her team and committee wanted her to do “Cleopatra,” the artist didn’t think it was right for her, and she went with a different song. Then it was pitched to the last country choosing via “internal selection”, Azerbaijan.  They had selected an artist named Efendi to be their artist and so “Cleopatra” was chosen to be their song. My collaborators then flew to Baku, Azerbaijan to try Efendi out on the song and it worked out. Therefore, after all that when the many months of preparation time and money spent by 51 country “teams” to get to that point of being in Eurovision, besides the cancelation of the whole event, it is the final chapter that should come as no surprise in the annals of the way songwriters are so often treated. After the cancelation of Eurovision, the ruling was made that for 2021 the ARTISTS for each of the countries who were to be involved would be allowed to come back again if they chose to (and most of the artists from 2020 ARE returning in 2021), but NOT THE SONGS !!! All the songs have to be NEW songs and all the effort and competition it takes to make it, plays out all over again for the songwriters. Fair, right? The Artists get to return automatically, but the songs and songwriters involved this year get thrown under the bus. Every heard that before? My Azerbaijan artist Efendi WILL be returning in May to again represent Azerbaijan, but with a different song!!! And as they say, that’s that!!!

Thanks for sharing your story. Let’s get you some more views on YouTube. Maybe we should start an international SongU movement to save Alan’s song in 2021! 😉

When offering song feedback to emerging songwriters, do you find that there are certain pieces of advice or suggestions that seem to come up a lot? If so, what are some of the most common?

Surely when it comes to the actual nuts and bolts of song craft part, I find there are a lot of common and recurring themes I encounter quite often that I talk about, that many people who are reading this who have worked with me might have heard already. Such as how as beginning songwriters, we often come up with a really good idea that we don’t fully develop before moving off it too soon, or leaving it feeling unfinished or jagged. I call this “not milking your own good ideas” as fully as possible. And I also find that quite often songwriters who are not great singers (or even some who are) will write their melodies to fit within the limits of their vocal range, which often means melodies may get squashed because of those limits from the full range of what they could be. As for me, I call it not being afraid to sound like a “shrieking chicken” in reaching for notes I hear in my head if the right melody is out of my range for my ‘songwriter singing his own songs the best he can” voice. So don’t let any vocal limitations stop you from reaching for the best and most contrasting melodies possible. And surely I find a big part of my job is editing with my big scissors hence “song surgery.” That’s because you need to remember in the end as much as it is about expressing ourselves and writing the best song possible, it is also about communicating our songs to the listener we want to embrace our music,  and speaking to them in ways and methods they can follow and appreciate. Attention spans are short and getting shorter all the time. So great old adages like “don’t bore us, get to the chorus” still apply even today. But also as nothing is cast in stone and every rule is meant to be broken, my only “golden” rule of songwriting as I call it is….”if it works, it works.” So when it feels right to me, I will go with it even if it goes against my usual judgement of such things.

Besides writing songs and mentoring, what have you been doing to pass the time during the pandemic?

What? Has there been a pandemic ? What’s that? LOL !!!   Really, I just want to say that my job at SongU.com is made so much easier by the fact that, by any measure, we just have so many talented and wonderful members as songwriters and people. Because of that, it’s never stopped being as joyful to be a part of SongU from the very beginning until now. All that is equally made possible by the wonderful ongoing relationship I have with the SongU.com administrative staff (Sara, Danny, Martin, and the ever awesome Benn), and to the caring, giving, faculty alongside me, all combining to make Songu.com the magical place it has always been and continues to be. Here’s to 2021 and beyond !!!

Awww, thank you for saying that. Of course, thank YOU for your countless hours providing professional advice and songwriting education to the SongU writers and to so many writers around the world! You rock!

What Our Members Are Saying:

1/8/2021 – “Thank you SO much!! Your evaluation got me there to that finish line almost right away after sitting on those lyrics being all over the place with it for a few weeks. I so appreciate it!!!” — Robbi A. (TX)

12/1/2020 – “Thank you so much Coach for all your help and I’m so happy with the final result and the reworked chorus per your suggestion. It’s been a labour of love with the subject matter and all. So, thanks again!!” — Mike R. (UK)

12/20/2020 – “Alan’s classes are about as much fun as you can have legally, and you can always count on a good honest critique. I love it when he sings along often forgetting to turn his mic off. Ha. Fun stuff. Go Alan!” — Lon C. (NY)

12/20/2020 – “Alan is a perfectionist. He listens, remembers, and knows. I am grateful for such opportunities.” –– Ewa R. (Poland)

About Coach #3762: Alan Roy Scott has had over 200 songs recorded across multiple genres by various artists around the world including, Celine Dion, Notorious B.I.G, Cyndi Lauper, Patti LaBelle, Gloria Estefan, Oak Ridge Boys, Journey, Ricky Martin, Luther Vandross, The Neville Brothers, Cher and Ray Charles. This coach also has significant credits in Film/TV, including “Top Gun,” “Fame,” “Coming to America,” “First Wives Club” and “Beverly Hills 90210.” This coach is comfortable in evaluating songs in virtually all genres, including Film/TV, Pop/Hot AC, R&B, Urban, Christian, Country, World Music, Singer/Songwriters and Rock

Alan’s Coaching Philosophy: “I consider myself a real colleague and advocate for songwriters and will give whatever I feel is needed in each individual situation from “tough songwriter love” in a direct fashion, to being a cheerleader. I enjoy working with all levels of writers and have been known to throw in some stories from my own songwriting career when needed.”


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Marcia Ramirez: Inspiration On and Off the Road

Marcia Ramirez

Marcia Ramirez one of the most experienced and sought after demo-singers in Nashville. She’s one of the funniest, brightest, and thought-provoking people I know. Music is the backdrop of her life: Not only with her own singer-songwriter projects, her family’s (her husband, Mike Waldron is one of the most sought after musicians and session players in Nashville), her spiritual home’s, the artists’ she goes out on the road with, as well as all those songwriters’, whose demos she breathes life into with her lead and background vocals.

In May, my eyes were drawn to a quote by songwriter Liz Rose (Little Big Town’s Girl Crush, Taylor Swift’s White Horse) in a Forbes magazine article about songwriting. Liz Rose said, “The lifeblood of Nashville was built on songwriters and studio musicians and artists. How are we going to grow the next Derek Wells if there’s no studio and there’s no songwriters doing demos to play on?”

Of course, I emailed the quote to Marcia. Not because of what Liz was saying, although she makes a good point, but because of the mention of Derek Wells – Marcia’s son – who, in 2016, was the youngest person in history to win The Academy of Country Music’s Guitar Player of the Year award, as well as the youngest person to have been nominated for the CMA Musician of the Year award. Marcia, quite literally, “grew a Derek Wells.” (Her joke, not mine.) I’ll brag for my #proudmama friend and mention that Marcia’s youngest son, Sam, is a fine musician as well.

I’m happy to have a chance to ask her a few questions about her career for “Notes on Napkins.”

Marcia, I have to start by asking what’s helping you cope during this time of Corona?

Schitt’s Creek!  I’m obsessed.

Hah! Great answer. I love that show too. As a song feedback mentor and coach at SongU, you inspire so many writers. What inspires you? 

People brave enough to be their authentic selves – no matter what. And I mean on all levels – personally, spiritually, relationally, and especially creatively! Fight for your unique voice and perspective.

You’ve been touring as a musician and backup singer with major artists for over 20 years, most recently with pop legend Christopher Cross. What’s been the most surprising thing you learned being on the road? 

Well, I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but it’s not nearly as glamorous most of the time as you might think! 4 AM lobby calls to fly to the next town can be brutal, or sleeping in a bunk on the bus every night that’s about the size of a coffin, or washing your hair in the dressing room sink because soundcheck ran long and you don’t have time to go back to the hotel before the show…road life can be difficult some days. And you can really get homesick too when you are gone for long periods of time. All that being said, I have LOVED my time on the road and made some truly strong friendships by traveling around the world with great groups of folks. I’ve been super blessed to have loved my road families!

Marcia Ramirez and Christopher Cross

Can you tell us the story behind the song you co-wrote called “God and My Girlfriends,” recorded by Reba McEntire on her Grammy Winning album Sing It Now: Songs of Faith & Hope?

My friends, Lisa Hentrich and Patricia Conroy, wrote that song with me one day during a writing session on Music Row several years ago. As soon as we wrote it, we just KNEW it would be perfect for Reba, so we pitched it to her as soon as we got the demo done, and she put it on “hold” right away for the album she was about to record. She ended up not recording it on that album, and we were super bummed. BUT…. almost 9 years later, she actually tracked the song down herself and recorded it for her first faith-based album. I guess she remembered the song and was at a point in her life where the words felt very real to her. She had just gone through a divorce, so she was truly relying on God and her girlfriends to get her through a difficult time. It just goes to show you that artists record songs that they really relate to.

That’s one of my favorite “songwriter stories,” Marcia. It shows that you can have a great song that the artist loves, but if it’s not exactly the right song at the right time, it may not get cut…but that doesn’t mean it’s forgotten. It’s a tribute to this song’s strength that Reba remembered it so many years later to give it the perfect home on her album.

Marcia Ramirez in Studio

You’re an in-demand demo singer in Nashville. What’s the best tip you can give songwriters about working with a professional demo singer to get the best vocal on their song?

I think being as specific as you can about how close you want them to sing the song like the worktape. Some writers tell me to just use the worktape as a reference, but “Just do your thing” — meaning, they trust me to use my own instincts with the phrasing and melody. Other writers want it EXACTLY like they have phrased it on the worktape, and they don’t want you to vary the melody one single note. That really helps me prepare for the session if I know that ahead of time so that I can make much more specific notes. ALSO, always let the vocalist pick the key ahead of time that works best for their voice. That is SUPER important.

Marcia, Thanks for taking the time out of your multi-tasking and busy day to answer my questions. I enjoy and appreciate you, as always!

Find links to hear Marcia’s music, book her for gigs, read her blog, and learn about her God and My Girlfriends ministry by visiting her website at marciaramirez.com.


John Condrone, Songwriter

Click here to listen to John’s songs.

We’re sad to report that longtime member and Dove/Grammy-nominated songwriter, John Condrone, from Maryville, TN, passed away on Tuesday, October 20, 2020. As some of you know, John caught COVID-19 in mid-September. He managed the illness at home for a week before being admitted to a nearby hospital. His condition worsened, and he moved to the ICU unit. Near the end of September, John was sedated and placed on a ventilator until passing away.

As one of John’s songs is titled, “The Sound of a Heart Breaking”, there’s no doubt that our collective hearts are broken that Corona virus has taken yet another creative soul. It’s not about whether you do or do not believe in masks or numbers. The undeniable truth is that we all mourn the loss of a husband, a father, a friend, and someone who gave back to the songwriting community at every opportunity. John’s been a member of SongU.com since 2012 and we will miss his presence and his energy around the virtual halls of SongU.com. RIP John.

SongU.com/members/jcondrone


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Featured SongU Coach: A Conversation with Michele Vice-Maslin.

Today, I have the pleasure of talking with one of SongU’s long-time mentors and coaches, two-time Emmy Award winning songwriter and producer, Michele Vice-Maslin.

Michele Vice-Maslin

Michele, I’ve got to start by asking what’s helping you cope during this time of Corona?

Well I am a complete hermit so besides my lack of a hot tub to slip into I’m doing just fine and feel blessed! Also I really aspire to be a “Happy Girl” as one of my songs is called. That always helps one c ope, finding and holding on to their “happy”. A little “hippy dippy” I know but it’s true!

…But first off what helps me cope are my amazing Students at SongU and in my FROM SONG TO SYNC course! I am so busy coaching, mentoring, teaching, guiding, hand holding and seeing “light bulb moments” go off!… It is beyond rewarding and fulfilling!

I’ve actually never been busier so I think I am too tired to have to cope. LOL. In addition I’ve been writing with my favorite artist smooth jazz R&B legend Jonathan Butler for his new album and writing /producing songs for my own little pet artist project (2 of the songs appear on the Mpath PHENOMENAL WOMEN album series), plus other productions so I’m busy with that. I’m busy guiding my new intern Jeremiah. I’m busy pitching. I’m busy participating in tons of webinars mostly about all things music biz like Neighboring Rights, The MLC, Music Licensing, and so forth. I’ve been speaking on a bunch of webinars too… and so on and so on. All a great distraction from the difficult “mess” at hand that we all share.

And to top it off, as you and I discussed a little while back Sara…all the cooking. OH MY! Right now it’s after midnight I’ve been up working since 7am and I still have dinner to cook. Hahaha No time to think of coping

How has the current state of the world affected your writing, production, and pitching?

It hasn’t much affected the producing and pitching and solo writing. I am still doing that. Yes there are much less specific projects in production but still I always have backlogs of new songs that need to be pitched and brought to the attention of the “powers that be”. It has however very much affected the co-writing for me. I don’t like to collaborate virtually at all!  In fact I usually have a strict policy of “in the same physical room at the same time from complete scratch”. The only person I write virtually with is my main collaborator Larry Treadwell whom I’ve worked with for 39 years and know so well. I’ve also made an exception with Jonathan whom I’ve worked with for 20 years.  

Actually I’m always impressed by the Songu members I coach and their ability to co-write virtually even before the pandemic.

What qualities do you look for in a co-writer?

Of course if they are what I consider a good writer, which is subjective any way but after that mostly I look for someone I like, who is a nice human, a good human, an honest human. 

As a coach and mentor, you inspire so many songwriters. What inspires you?

The songwriters I coach and mentor! They inspire me everyday!  Some of them are soooo talented they could be teaching the class!  In the last 2 weeks alone I have heard some really amazing songs from them!  Life itself as well has always inspired me! Paying attention to all that is going on. Listening, watching, participating.

Do you have a favorite story you can tell us about one of your song placements? 

I have so so many but probably it’s my first one. That is what is coming to mind. It was 1987 and I was the songwriter, producer, arranger, creator of a “performance art project”. I had films and slide shows and actors doing skits accompanying the songs. The songs themselves and the whole project made Bjork look “normal”. 🙂 The whole thing was beyond alternative and avant-garde. I had a friend who was directing his first feature film TAPEHEADS. It stars Tim Robbins, John Cusack and the R&B/Soul legends Sam Moore (Of Sam & Dave) and Junior Walker (Of Junior Walker And The All Stars) Sam & Junior were playing the fictitious duo “The Swanky Modes” in the film. The director(my friend) asked me if I had any friends that created R&B/Soul music and if so could they submit some tunes for the film. So I grabbed my writing partner Larry, whom I previously mentioned, and we wrote and produced up (after much careful research and listening) a song to submit. Now remember I am a weird “Performance Artist”  who writes very odd songs, so what to do what to do… how to submit…? The director (who actually directed the films and slide shows in my performance art project) would never have considered any R&B/Soul song I might come up with so…I submitted it under a pseudonym… and voila!! In the movie. With the legendary Sam Moore and Jr. Walker recording it. My first cut and placement at the same time. In a major big budget film…and then haha I became knows as an R&B writer. Crazy stuff! I think the moral of that story is just go for it!!! Give it a try! Ya never know…

What music have you been listening to lately?

I listen to so much music. I’ve been listening to a lot of hip hop as I am producing a really cool hip hop/rapper artist. Khalid, Kanye, Money Can’t Buy, A.J. Tracey, Troye Sivan, and others. Also a lot of pop music. Katy Perry, Halsey, Dua Lipa, Sean Mendez, Jonas Brothers, Charlie Puth, Kim Petrus, Tov Lo, Hayley Williams, Ellie Goulding… so so many and the songs of my friends, colleagues and students. Every day I listen to new music. I subscribe to some online newsletters that are always introducing me to new music.

Thank you, Michele, for offering professional advice and songwriting education to our SongU writers ! You rock!

Thank you for these really great questions Sara and thank you so much to you for having me. It’s really an honor. This is my 14th at Songu and it has enriched my life beyond measure. I’m so proud to be a part of the Songu family! I love my students!

I can’t believe it’s been 14 years already! Time flies when you’re having fun (and learning new things all the time). Thanks again for your time, Michele!

ABOUT COACHING AT SONGU.COM

In addition to our 20+ live audio/video small-group song feedback courses each month, our members have the opportunity to forge creative relationships with any of award-winning coaches in the form of individual written feedback with detailed song (or lyric-only) evaluations and constructive suggestions emphasizing lyrics, music/production, originality, commercial potential, and even a chance to be awarded “Best of SongU!”

HERE’S WHAT OUR MEMBERS ARE SAYING ABOUT COACH #2245 (aka Michele Vice-Maslin)!

“I am really thrilled with your Best of SongU recognition – you had awarded that for [my other song] ‘Marisol’ as well – and it means a lot. Both were probably more work than I would care to admit so it feels great to be recognized. I’m so happy that you liked it and found it relatable – THANKS!” -J.M., CT

“Thank you for the feedback. Once again you’ve opened my eyes through your insight. I definitely want to get away from cliche writing and hope to look get better at recognizing it when I write. Thx again!”D. Brown, GA

About Michele

About Michele: This coach is a two-time Emmy Award winning songwriter and producer who has written hit songs in multiple genres for artists all over the world, as well as having several thousand film/TV placements. This coach is also a music producer and music publisher who is well versed in song pitching and placing, and business issues pertaining to the music industry. Specializes in evaluating Pop, R&B, Hot AC, Top 40, Dance, Alternative, Urban, Country, Singer-Songwriter, Film/TV/Songs for Sync Licensing.

Michele’s Coaching Philosophy: “My coaching philosophy is one of empowerment and inspiration along with some real and straightforward honesty about what I believe is important in the way of crafting a great song – for personal satisfaction of course – but also for commercial success.”


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In One Day at SongU, You Can Meet With, Get Song Feedback From, and Pitch To Music Publishers.

Those of you who have been “on campus” for a while, know that at SongU our focus is on education, personal attention, and connections, even when it comes to PITCHING. That’s why the same pitch guests that are listening to your songs for their own meetings with artists and labels are also available to help you reach your songwriting goals. At SongU on any given day you can:

  • Run your demo by a publisher before pitching it…just to get a sense of whether or not you’re on target.
  • Play a simple work-tape of a song for a publisher before spending money and time on a demo.
  • Bring in a song or part of a song, even a lyric that you’ve been stuck on to get some professional direction.
  • Network directly with publishers, music licensing agents, and song pluggers.
  • Hear back about the song you pitched to them, even if they pass on it.

Featured pitches: Do you have a female Pop song that would be great for TV Shows? An incredible Contemporary Country song with harmonies that would be perfect for a newly signed trio? An interesting song with a Singer-Songwriter vibe for a major label artist? Right now we have publishers looking for those songs and more to pitch for their upcoming meetings. And we want you to put your songs out there in the music industry and pitch! But before you do…

We would also like to suggest that in a competitive industry, it’s important to take advantage of every opportunity; whether it’s making your songs the best they can be, connecting with music industry professionals to find out what they’re looking for, or meeting a group of musical cohorts and peers, as well as experienced writers and publishers who will be there for you when you’re feeling a little discouraged.

woman in gray sweater typing on laptop
Photo by bongkarn thanyakij on Pexels.com

If you are not already a member of SongU, come check it out. Book a private consultation with a publisher, hit songwriter, or producer, take one of our monthly small-group song feedback sessions led by industry pros, submit a song for written feedback from an award-winning coach and pitch a song or two.

If you have any questions, see our extensive FAQ or send a “contact us” support form and we will respond directly within 48 hours (usually less).

Stay safe and have a great and inspired day!


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Featured Coach: A Conversation with Michele Vice-Maslin

Today, I have the pleasure of talking with one of SongU’s long-time mentors and coaches, two-time Emmy Award winning songwriter and producer, Michele Vice-Maslin.

Michele Vice-Maslin

Michele, I’ve got to start by asking what’s helping you cope during this time of Corona?

Well I am a complete hermit so besides my lack of a hot tub to slip into I’m doing just fine and feel blessed! Also I really aspire to be a “Happy Girl” as one of my songs is called. That always helps one c ope, finding and holding on to their “happy”. A little “hippy dippy” I know but it’s true!

…But first off what helps me cope are my amazing Students at SongU and in my FROM SONG TO SYNC course! I am so busy coaching, mentoring, teaching, guiding, hand holding and seeing “light bulb moments” go off!… It is beyond rewarding and fulfilling!

I’ve actually never been busier so I think I am too tired to have to cope. LOL. In addition I’ve been writing with my favorite artist smooth jazz R&B legend Jonathan Butler for his new album and writing /producing songs for my own little pet artist project (2 of the songs appear on the Mpath PHENOMENAL WOMEN album series), plus other productions so I’m busy with that. I’m busy guiding my new intern Jeremiah. I’m busy pitching. I’m busy participating in tons of webinars mostly about all things music biz like Neighboring Rights, The MLC, Music Licensing, and so forth. I’ve been speaking on a bunch of webinars too… and so on and so on. All a great distraction from the difficult “mess” at hand that we all share.

And to top it off, as you and I discussed a little while back Sara…all the cooking. OH MY! Right now it’s after midnight I’ve been up working since 7am and I still have dinner to cook. Hahaha No time to think of coping

How has the current state of the world affected your writing, production, and pitching?

It hasn’t much affected the producing and pitching and solo writing. I am still doing that. Yes there are much less specific projects in production but still I always have backlogs of new songs that need to be pitched and brought to the attention of the “powers that be”. It has however very much affected the co-writing for me. I don’t like to collaborate virtually at all!  In fact I usually have a strict policy of “in the same physical room at the same time from complete scratch”. The only person I write virtually with is my main collaborator Larry Treadwell whom I’ve worked with for 39 years and know so well. I’ve also made an exception with Jonathan whom I’ve worked with for 20 years.  

Actually I’m always impressed by the Songu members I coach and their ability to co-write virtually even before the pandemic.

What qualities do you look for in a co-writer?

Of course if they are what I consider a good writer, which is subjective any way but after that mostly I look for someone I like, who is a nice human, a good human, an honest human. 

As a coach and mentor, you inspire so many songwriters. What inspires you?

The songwriters I coach and mentor! They inspire me everyday!  Some of them are soooo talented they could be teaching the class!  In the last 2 weeks alone I have heard some really amazing songs from them!  Life itself as well has always inspired me! Paying attention to all that is going on. Listening, watching, participating.

Do you have a favorite story you can tell us about one of your song placements? 

I have so so many but probably it’s my first one. That is what is coming to mind. It was 1987 and I was the songwriter, producer, arranger, creator of a “performance art project”. I had films and slide shows and actors doing skits accompanying the songs. The songs themselves and the whole project made Bjork look “normal”. 🙂 The whole thing was beyond alternative and avant-garde. I had a friend who was directing his first feature film TAPEHEADS. It stars Tim Robbins, John Cusack and the R&B/Soul legends Sam Moore (Of Sam & Dave) and Junior Walker (Of Junior Walker And The All Stars) Sam & Junior were playing the fictitious duo “The Swanky Modes” in the film. The director(my friend) asked me if I had any friends that created R&B/Soul music and if so could they submit some tunes for the film. So I grabbed my writing partner Larry, whom I previously mentioned, and we wrote and produced up (after much careful research and listening) a song to submit. Now remember I am a weird “Performance Artist”  who writes very odd songs, so what to do what to do… how to submit…? The director (who actually directed the films and slide shows in my performance art project) would never have considered any R&B/Soul song I might come up with so…I submitted it under a pseudonym… and voila!! In the movie. With the legendary Sam Moore and Jr. Walker recording it. My first cut and placement at the same time. In a major big budget film…and then haha I became knows as an R&B writer. Crazy stuff! I think the moral of that story is just go for it!!! Give it a try! Ya never know…

What music have you been listening to lately?

I listen to so much music. I’ve been listening to a lot of hip hop as I am producing a really cool hip hop/rapper artist. Khalid, Kanye, Money Can’t Buy, A.J. Tracey, Troye Sivan, and others. Also a lot of pop music. Katy Perry, Halsey, Dua Lipa, Sean Mendez, Jonas Brothers, Charlie Puth, Kim Petrus, Tov Lo, Hayley Williams, Ellie Goulding… so so many and the songs of my friends, colleagues and students. Every day I listen to new music. I subscribe to some online newsletters that are always introducing me to new music.

Thank you, Michele, for offering professional advice and songwriting education to our SongU writers ! You rock!

Thank you for these really great questions Sara and thank you so much to you for having me. It’s really an honor. This is my 14th at Songu and it has enriched my life beyond measure. I’m so proud to be a part of the Songu family! I love my students!

I can’t believe it’s been 14 years already! Time flies when you’re having fun (and learning new things all the time). Thanks again for your time, Michele!

ABOUT COACHING AT SONGU.COM

In addition to our 20+ live audio/video small-group song feedback courses each month, our members have the opportunity to forge creative relationships with any of award-winning coaches in the form of individual written feedback with detailed song (or lyric-only) evaluations and constructive suggestions emphasizing lyrics, music/production, originality, commercial potential, and even a chance to be awarded “Best of SongU!”

HERE’S WHAT OUR MEMBERS ARE SAYING ABOUT COACH #2245 (aka Michele Vice-Maslin)!

“I am really thrilled with your Best of SongU recognition – you had awarded that for [my other song] ‘Marisol’ as well – and it means a lot. Both were probably more work than I would care to admit so it feels great to be recognized. I’m so happy that you liked it and found it relatable – THANKS!” -J.M., CT

“Thank you for the feedback. Once again you’ve opened my eyes through your insight. I definitely want to get away from cliche writing and hope to look get better at recognizing it when I write. Thx again!”D. Brown, GA

About Michele

About Michele: This coach is a two-time Emmy Award winning songwriter and producer who has written hit songs in multiple genres for artists all over the world, as well as having several thousand film/TV placements. This coach is also a music producer and music publisher who is well versed in song pitching and placing, and business issues pertaining to the music industry. Specializes in evaluating Pop, R&B, Hot AC, Top 40, Dance, Alternative, Urban, Country, Singer-Songwriter, Film/TV/Songs for Sync Licensing.

Michele’s Coaching Philosophy: “My coaching philosophy is one of empowerment and inspiration along with some real and straightforward honesty about what I believe is important in the way of crafting a great song – for personal satisfaction of course – but also for commercial success.”


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The Two Biggest Songwriting Mistakes and How to Fix Them

The first lyric I wrote was critiqued by master songwriter educator, Sheila Davis, in 1990 at the Songwriters Guild in NYC. From that moment on, I have enjoyed digging into the nitty-gritty how to make a song “work” and connect to the listener. As a songwriting mentor myself for the last twenty-plus years, I’ve critiqued several hundred original songs-in-progress in multiple styles and genres by songwriters from all over the world. I have even had the privilege of training other music industry professionals on how to successfully offer song feedback. I’ve observed that there are certain craft points that, if not executed correctly, get flagged over and over again by song coaches and mentors.  Here are the two most common:

Big Mistake #1: Trying to put too many ideas into one song.

In order connect emotionally to your audience, it is important for your song to have a “universal idea” such as falling in love, falling out of love, unrequited love, or just about any love-adjacent subject including family life, loss, escape and so on. But here’s the trick – you get to the universal through the SPECIFIC. In other words, the more you can whittle down your big idea into a concise moment or feeling in time or a very specific story that illustrates that idea, the more you will keep your listener engaged, and the more your own personality and “voice” as a writer will come through.

Your Fix

Make sure you can sum up your entire song in ONE simple sentence that starts with “This is a song about…”. If you cannot complete this in a sentence, you probably have too many ideas. It helps to know your title before you write the song. Then, make sure every line in that song leads the listener to the title in some way specifically and emotionally.

Hit Song Examples:

  • I Will Always Love You written by Dolly Parton
    • This is a song about a woman who is telling a man that although she knows they aren’t meant to stay together, she will always love him anyway.
Example of a single idea about the universal theme of love.
  • Blank Space written by Taylor Swift.
    • This is a song about a woman who thinks of love as a game and is seducing a new lover to play with her.
  • Love written by Kendrick Lamar.
    • This is a song about a man who is finally ready to commit to the woman he loves and is asking her if she loves him too.

Big Mistake #2: Not enough musical, lyrical, and/or production contrast.

Contrast is another way of saying “change it up.” While it’s true that you need a certain amount of repetition in a song to give the listener something to sing along with or dance to, too much repetition becomes boring and the listener will tune out. If the entire three-and-a-half-minute track basically sounds the same – boring. If the melody sits in the same pocket the entire time – boring. If the lyric says the same thing over and over without any new information along the way – what do you think? I know this seems obvious, but it’s very common for the first draft of a song to be a real snooze fest.

Your Fix

Shoot for having three distinct parts to your song for the listener to latch on to. Musically, the tools at your disposal are the melody, the chords, and the rhythm. Make sure at least one of those things changes between each distinct section such as the verse, chorus, and bridge. Lyrically, you can contrast the rhyme sounds, the rhyme scheme, the pronoun emphasis (I/You), the rhythm (e.g. long lines vs. short lines), and general or detailed images. In the production, you can create subtle and not-so-subtle transformations in the track with the instruments, the rhythms, the vocals, and so on.

Hit Song Examples:

  • Somewhere Over the Rainbow written by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg is one of the most covered songs of all time. Notice in particular the rhythmic contrast of the long lines in the verses that contrasts with the staccato rhythm of the bridge section.
  • Chandelier by Sia. Chandelier has it all when it comes to contrast. Notice in particular, the clear rhythmic changes between the verse, pre-chorus, chorus. Also, note the huge soaring melodic contrast in the chorus, as well as the harmonic (chord) contrast in the bridge. And of course, the way the production builds and breaks down and builds again throughout.
Example of musical and production contrast.

When you listen to songs from now on, see if you can pick out the universal theme as well as the more specific way that the theme is addressed by the songwriter. Ask yourself if the title or hook is clearly explained. Also, listen for musical, lyrical and production contrast throughout the song. Will every song you hear be a perfect example of all of these techniques? Definitely not. But my guess is you will hear them a lot more when you know what you are listening for.


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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.