Notes on Napkins

musings for songwriters


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The Big Reveal! Staff Writer for a Day with WinSongs Music.

Recently, we invited Kirby Smith, Creative Director of WinSongs Music to the SongU virtual campus to get to know our writers. She listened to over 200 songs submitted throughout May and June and chose what she felt were the strongest of the bunch. That group of 22 songs became the list RISING STAR CONTENDERS. One final song rose to the top as the winner of “Staff Writer for the Day”. Congratulations to Kelly McKay with her brilliant song “Kiss the Hell Out of Me.” Kelly will be set up through WinSongs for a co-write session with hit songwriter, Sandy Ramos.

Because the primary goal of SongU is always to inform and educate, this week we had Kirby visit our e-classroom to find out about her work as a Creative Director (particularly in the time of Corona), as well as her listening process and what pros and cons factored into her choices for choosing the contenders, and finally to reveal her choice for Staff Writer for a Day! Thanks to Kirby for being so generous with her time, information and insights into the song selection and pitching process! Without further ado…

CONGRATULATIONS to the Top Contenders who all received the SongU “Rising Star Award”!

*Wes Bullock (4 songs)
*Elvira Cawthon (3 songs)
*Bill Gue (2 songs)
*Brenda Kornblum (2 songs)
*Brad McKinney
*David Nicastro (2 songs)
*Kenneth Riggins
*Becky Smith (2 songs)
*Dempsey Watson
*Rita Weyls

And to Kelly McKay (2 songs) from TN, SongU member since 2013, for winning the top spot of “Staff Writer for a Day” with WinSongs Music.

A round of applause to every one who submitted their songs to this challenge. As the maxim says, you can’t win the game if you’re sitting on the bench. Keep up the great work, everyone!


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GOLD STARS Report: Songs Recently Picked Up (latest update)

On our SongU virtual campus, success is achieved through our focus on education and making each song the strongest it can be BEFORE spending money on a demo. We offer numerous opportunities for songwriters to reach their goals, from one-on-one coaching to live feedback sessions, to peer and mentor co-writes.

CONGRATULATIONS to the following members for having their songs signed or pitched for the following SongU leads during the time period 7/22/2020 – 8/3/2020.

Pitch For Publisher. Christian. VARIOUS CHRISTIAN & POSITIVE COUNTRY ARTISTS. Extended! (“I’m finding some great songs from these SongU writers! Keep them coming.” – D.G.) Street Pitch guest, D.G., veteran music publisher, who has already generated income for SongU members, is looking for songs to pitch to Christian labels Daywind Records /Mountain Fever Records / Red Hen Records – 65/40 Records. Submit the following: Southern Gospel / Bluegrass and Positive Country songs, male …

      • Karen Mitchell “WORTHY” (Date picked up: 7/28/2020)

Pitch For Publisher. Contemporary Country. SEAFORTH. Street Pitch guest and publisher, Bob D., who has already generated income for SongU.com members is looking for songs for is looking for songs for Sony Records artist Seaforth. (Note: This is the same artist but a different pitch guest listening than previous listing #1778). Still looking, no studio date yet. They need GREAT songs to beat what they have done. Nothing dirt-country. Think laid back, a touch of R&B, contemporary pop country. …

   • John Cirillo “LOVE IN MOTION” (Date picked up: 8/1/2020)
    • James Hoppe “SOMETHING’S UP” (Date picked up: 8/1/2020)
    • Lucy Leblanc “PAYING MY DUES” (Date picked up: 8/1/2020)

Pitch For Publisher. Country. REVERIE LANE. Extended! Still current and actively looking. Street Pitch guest, D.G., veteran music publisher, who has already generated income for SongU members, is looking for songs for Dreamlined Entertainment artist Reverie Lane. Female duo consisting of Spencer Bartoletti and Presley Tucker (daughter of Tanya Tucker). Needing hit radio singles, any tempo. Describing themselves as “nouveau traditional country duo.” Raw, honest, edgy lyrics. Think …

      • Hollie Brogunier “A LITTLE BIT O’HONEY GOES A LONG WAY” (Date picked up: 8/3/2020)
    • Wes Bullock “DRAWN TO THE NEON LIGHTS (FEAT. THE RUNNING MATES)” (Date picked up: 7/21/2020)
    • James Hoppe “ARETHA” (Date picked up: 7/21/2020)
    • Kelly Mckay “YOU REWIND ME” (Date picked up: 8/3/2020)
    • Ava Paige “OPEN THAT DOOR “ (Date picked up: 8/3/2020)
    • Jill Smith “STORM CHASER” (Date picked up: 8/3/2020)

Pitch For Publisher. Country. CARTER WINTER. Street Pitch guest and publisher, Bob D., who has already generated income for SongU.com members is looking for songs for Average Joe Records artist Carter Winter. Submit Mids/Uptempo honest heartfelt lyrics ala Garth Brooks and George Strait.
View the following for more info on artist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V04F3P2gCfc
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvazJBJgvA71avc-lfwvYFw
https://www.carterwinter.com/bio

   • Ronald Brown “CRAZY FOR ME” (Date picked up: 7/30/2020)
    • John Condrone “YOUR LOVE’S GOT SOMETHING ON ME” (Date picked up: 7/30/2020)
    • Ben Krahne “THREE MINUTE VACATION “ (Date picked up: 7/30/2020)
    • Ken Wank “MORE THAN THAT” (Date picked up: 7/30/2020)

Pitch For Publisher. Country, Rock. JAY ALLEN. Street Pitch guest and publisher, Bob D., who has already generated income for SongU.com members is looking for songs for Verge Records artist Jay Allen. Looking for real, raw, in your face undeniable SMASH Country hits with meat on the bones! For more on this artist go to https://www.jayallenofficial.com/. Pitch follow-up info: If this guest expresses interest in your song, before pitching it, they will ask for publishing if a major recording …

 • Avrim TopelPRAYERS AND WHISKEY (Date picked up: 7/31/2020)

And a round of applause to those marked ‘Maybe’ too. Keep up the great work, everyone!


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My Coach Rocks!

In addition to our live audio/video feedback courses, SongU members have the opportunity to forge a creative relationship with any of award-winning coaches who offer individual written feedback on songs in progress and sometimes award them with “Best of SongU”! Emphasis is given to constructive comments on lyrics, music, originality, and commercial potential.

Today’s spotlight is on Coach #1683 (aka Lisa Palas)!

“Thank you for the terrific, inspiring feedback. It felt good to hear that coming from you. I will address the tweaks you pointed out and kick it out of the nest. Thanks ever so much again.” -Mark M. IN

“Your advice is just what I what I’m looking for.Thanks so much…I’ll be back!”Grahame M., FL

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Lisa Palas

About: Lisa is an award-winning songwriter with several number one hits to her credit including Alabama’s “You’ve Got the Touch” and “There’s No Way”. Her songs have been recorded by the renowned country stars Alabama, Reba McEntire, Randy Travis, Kris Kristofferson, Chris LeDoux, Conway Twitty and The Oak Ridge Boys as well as included in the soundtracks of feature films. She has also scored musicals on the stage, most recently “Jack” for Louisville’s Walden Theater. A featured soloist at Unity churches, Lisa recently recorded a CD of original songs included in her performances. As an actress, Lisa has appeared in numerous short films, industrials, TV commercials and episodic television such as the Pax Network’s “It’s a Miracle”, hosted by Richard Thomas. She has also performed in various productions on the Nashville stage including the world premiere of “A Stoop on Orchard Street.”

Coaching Philosophy: “I try to coach you as if you were a staff writer for my company.”

Thank you, Coach, for offering professional advice and songwriting education to literally hundreds of SongU writers since 2006! You rock!


Write Your Truth

Last week I watched an email exchange between Danny ArenaCo-Founder of SongU.com, and a fellow songwriter. The focus was not just about writing songs but about how we can listen to each other and have honest conversations about difficult subjects. I asked him if he could take a portion of that email and modify it into an article that might be of interest to our readers. Here it is:

One only needs to glance at any news organization’s social media page to see the current state of divisiveness in the world. We choose our sides. We engage in hostile micro-tweets. We post snarky memes and comebacks. As quickly as our fingers can type, we rattle off hurtful labels and insults like “libtard” and “trumptard,” “commie” and “nazi.” We cease listening to each other and stop talking to each other. We use our words as weapons to further drive a wedge between “us” and “them.”

While our choice of words can be used to divide us, they can also unite. As songwriters, this notion of unity should align with us. After all, at the very core of the craft of songwriting lies the principle of universality. Even the words unify, unity, universal all originate from the same Latin word, “uni,” meaning oneness. Who hasn’t been to a music industry seminar and heard some publisher or executive recite the mantra — a successful song must strike a universal chord? Part of our creative job is to find a way to express a single idea that resonates with an audience. This sounds much simpler to do in practice. Song after song by aspiring writers gets passed over because it fails to “ring true” to a broader audience.

At SongU.com, one of our courses teaches us that the most effective way to reach the universal is through the specific – a story that you can tell using your own truth. What does this mean? I know that I can never fully comprehend what it’s like to walk through this world as an African American male. No matter how “woke” I become, I will never know the enormous weight someone carries throughout life simply because of the color of their skin. This does not mean that I do not understand prejudice or hate. It means that for me to write about the subject in an honest way that resonates with others, I must find my own truth and then tell that story.

So what is my truth? I understand religious hate — my wife is Jewish, and I have lived with antisemitism and watched it through her eyes. This past weekend, the Holocaust Memorial at our local JCC was vandalized with nazi symbols and white supremacist threats. I also understand homophobia and hate — my sister is gay, and I have lived through times where “neighbors” put letters in her mailbox, telling her to move out of the neighborhood simply because of who she chooses to love. While I am not Black or Hispanic, I understand what it means to judge someone by the color of their skin. Sara and I adopted our daughter at birth from Guatemala. Every day, I see the world through her eyes. I know the pain it caused when her history teacher walked up to her desk while conducting a lesson on citizenship, asking her if she was born in the United States. Upon answering no, her teacher proceeded to tell her in front of the entire class that she better have a conversation with her parents that evening because she might be in this country illegally. I know the truth of what it feels like to have the police called on my daughter’s boyfriend for playing soccer at dusk with a few of his Latino friends because someone thought they “looked suspicious.”

How can I channel my truth into my creative process? If I’m inspired to write a song about Black Lives Matter because I am outraged by the injustice I see, I cannot write the same song as LL Cool J or Trey Songz. There is no possible way I can approach the topic of injustice from the same honest perspective they did because that is not my truth. No matter how much I admire or attempt to emulate their approach, it will not ring true or have the universal appeal of their messages.

I need to write my own truth. I can write an honest song about having a daughter who’s judged every day because of her skin color or how we worry she and her boyfriend could get pulled over at night when he’s driving. Or I can change direction and write an honest song about what it’s like to love someone who is hated simply because of which religion they follow or gender of who they choose to love. The point is that if I do my job well as a songwriter using my truth as a vehicle, I will wind up with a song that makes an impact and resonates. That means more listeners are likely to hear my song and identify with its core message.

Recognizing your truth and being able to tap into it creatively, in an honest way, will make your songs more universal. And it seems to me, the world could use a little more “uni” right now. So use your voice and speak your truth. Your songs and this world will be a much better place for it.

Stay the course and keep the faith.

-Danny


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Why Should I Get Feedback Before Pitching My Songs to Film and TV?

At SongU.com, we offer a variety of of small group feedback sessions that focus on different aspects of songwriting and the music business. Writing songs for synchronization with film, TV, and other media takes unique skills beyond crafting a great song. For example, do your vocals and instrumentation work to the benefit of your production? Is your hook relatable for certain situations? Do you know the specifics of the sync licensing market in order to submit your songs appropriately to music supervisors?

Today we’re shining the spotlight on “FDBK 330 – Song Feedback for Film-TV-Media.” Join us to learn from the pros and your peers.

About: This 1-hour advanced feedback session is geared toward analysis of how your demo recording will compete in Film, TV, and other media-related pitches. Focus is given to your songs’ production as it pertains to pitching successfully for sync licensing opportunities in TV, Film, and Media. Limit 5 participants.

Our Facilitators: Nancy Peacock, CEO and Owner of Washington Street Publishing which focuses on securing placements in Film, TV, and Media; and Creative Director for Washington Street Publishing, Queenie Mullinex.

“Queenie and Nancy are soooo good. They are encouraging and yet candid when they hear things that need improvement. I learn a lot from their feedback on my song and the feedback that they give others. Always very, very helpful.” -Becca B. , SC

Always a joy to learn from them.” –Ricki B. , WI

“Great insight for tailoring your songs for music supervisor pitches.” Shawn F. , NJ


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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.