Notes on Napkins

musings for songwriters


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My Coach Rocks!

Today’s spotlight is on Coach #6732 (aka Vip Vipperman)!

“I always appreciate your time and comments. Your candid and encouraging ways, along with making me think differently about things, is valuable beyond measure. I can always trust you for honest and sincere feedback. I may not always like what you say, but I do always believe in it!”Dave J., FL

About: Vip is an award-winning hit songwriter (Garth Brooks, Randy Travis, Trace Adkins, Reba, and many more) whose songs have sold 26-million copies; publisher (securing placements on GCB’s, Weeds, Days of Our Lives and more); producer; recording, studio and touring musician with a host of major and iconic artists including most recently Don McLean.

Coaching Philosophy: “I am here to help and encourage. Having been an active pro writer, publisher, and musician for over 30 years. I have become a lifelong fan of people brave enough to exercise their creativity. I listen carefully and shoot straight. I will help you identify your strengths as well as your weaknesses within each song. My goal is to help you make your song even greater, if possible.”

“Wow. Quite an assessment. Thanks once again for your advice. Shows the benefit you gain by getting the opinion of a pro. Sending another song for evaluation.” -Paul K. UK


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Special Event Pitch: Staff Writer for a Day!

Between May 1st and June 30th 2020, SongU.com is running a special event: Staff Writer for a Day.  This is an opportunity to pitch your songs for a chance to see what it would be like to be a staff songwriter which includes getting set up by our guest publisher for a CO-WRITE SESSION with a hit songwriter! 

If you aren’t sure what the term Staff Writer means, you’re not aloneWhen I moved to Nashville in the early 1990’s and got serious about my songwriting, many of my peers were hoping to become a full-time paid songwriter for a music publishing company (aka a staff writer). The concept was so strange to me that I had to wonder if I ever had the chance to be a staff writer, would I even like it? At the time, I questioned whether I would really enjoy writing songs on demand, on a timetable, with a quota, being “set up” on blind co-writing dates, writing to make the creative director at my publishing company happy, and asking their permission to demo songs.

After about four years of engrossing myself in the Music Row experience of constant writing, re-writing, networking, co-writing, over-coming performance fears, sheepishly meeting with ASCAP reps and music publishers who would listen to my songs, and politely or not-so-politely tell me that I wasn’t quite “there” yet, I built a strong catalog of songs. By then, the idea of being a professional songwriter had grown on me. One day, miraculously, I was hired by a little music publishing company called Zamalama Music as their first staff writer (cue the Rocky theme song).

It turned out that this job gave me valuable lessons in how to prepare myself mentally every morning to “show up and write” whether I was feeling creative or not. I made sure to arrive at those blind date co-writes with lots of potential titles and ideas to jump start our meetings. I learned to leave my ego at the door and do what was best for the song. Most importantly, I found an inner confidence that only comes when your songs have been rejected so many times, you can laugh and moooove on! Here’s a picture of the bay window of the Zamalama writers room on Music Row where I eventually co-penned a hit song!

Check out the staff writer experience for yourself:

A SPECIAL EVENT PITCH – STAFF WRITER FOR A DAY! This is your opportunity to be selected by Kirby Smith, Creative Director of WinSongs Music Publishing, for a chance to find out what it’s like to be a professional staff songwriter for a day, including a meeting with Kirby and a CO-WRITING SESSION with hit songwriter, Sandy Ramos! Read about our guests.

For details about how to submit your songs between May 1st – June 30th 2020 for a chance to win STAFF WRITER FOR A DAY! Go to the Pitching area of SongU.com.

2000 ASCAP Awards. Connie Bradley, Kacey Jones, Sharon Lane, me, 


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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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My Coach Rocks!

Here are a few of our recent thank you notes to our incredible coaching staff comprised of professional songwriters, producers, artists, and music publishers, who provide individual written song feedback to our members.

Coach #6732 (Vip): “I especially appreciate the fact that you didn’t just tell me what to change but rather you challenged me to ask the right questions so I will learn to do it myself. You got me thinking which will make my song will be better – thanks again!”

Ray K. , FL on 3/11/2020

Coach #3002 (Barry): “Thank you for the positive grades, review and encouragement to continue to record ourselves. Agree that the chorus is more like a bridge. Pleased that you feel it doesn’t matter so much for this composition not to have a strong hooky chorus. May therefore just leave this one as it is. Thanks again.”

Jane H., Scotland on 3/11/2020

Coach #4146 (Marcia): “Great feedback! So helpful, as always. We will tighten up the lyric and speed up the track. See you next time! Thank you, Susan”

Susan S., NY on 3/11/2020

Coach #6732 (Vip): “Wow, in these trying times it was such a joy to read your enthusiastic evaluation of my song! Thank you thank you thank you for giving me a “best of songu” award!!”

Zeke, IL on 3/20/2020

Coach #2245 (Michele): “Thank you so much, good to know we’re getting there. I will work on the ‘meat’ to make it stronger. I am glad the chorus will work if we strengthen the verses as it really is so easy and singable and that’s all I wanted. Will resend when I can! Please stay well and safe out there okay! :)”

Rhonda P. , Canada on 3/20/2020

Coach #814 (Tom): “Hey, great that you like the rewrite. Thanks you so much. Yeah, lock down, isolate, run/jog, write, rewrite, record, read, email, scotch, wine, smile:-) “

Carol C., KS on 3/22/2020

Coach #6732 (Vip): “Hi coach, thank you for your critique! Once again I feel you are right on target! I will work on this and send in a re-write. Thanks again for your time and well wishes! Take care of yourself and family!”

Charles H., TN on 3/23/2020

Coach #2245 (Michele): “Yay! So glad you liked this one, we can definitely spice up the verse lyric. I’m feeling much better, too, started working on a few new ideas already. Thank you so much for the pep talk :). Stay safe!”

Susan S. , NY on 3/25/2020

Coach #3762 (Alan): “I wanted to let you know how great your inputs are. This is exactly what I was looking for. Many thanks!”

Alina V., FL on 3/25/2020

Coach #2245 (Michele): “I love your notes! They ALWAYS make a song better!”

Alina V., FL on 3/28/2020

Coach: #1104 (Helen): “I am taking all of your feedback into consideration. Working on a way to better portray the back story without losing the poetic style. Removed the chorus ramp up, and rewriting verse 1. Thanks again.”

Budden B., Canada on 3/31/2020

Coach #3762 (Alan): “Just wanted to say thank you for all your advice on shaping up this song!Hope that you are doing well!”

Jason S., TN on 4/7/2020

Coach #6732 (Vip): “I am so thankful for your encouraging words and feedback. I am learning a lot thanks to the amazing staff at Song U. Thank YOU!”

Robbi A., TX on 4/8/2020

Coach #3762 (Alan): THANKS SO MUCH COACH ALAN!! That had to be the most encouraging, beautiful, caring, empowering eval ever!!! Thank you for being a huge part of my musical journey n helping me2 be the best songwriter I can be! It’s not by chance that you’re my mentor. GOD bless you! Happy Easter and thank you!

newdaymusic, MI on 4/12/2020

 


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Your Kind Words are Music to Our Ears!

“Hello, This is a VERY competitive business as you know but it is encouraging to know that a song I wrote “Southern Life” is a ” Maybe” to get pitched for a major artist! Thank you SongU Team!! I know you are busy but wanted to let you know that I have several people pitching my Songs and YOU are by far the most Professional, Kind, efficient group that ALWAYS responds and clearly has a CRAZY work ethic! You know as well as I do that that is what inevitably leads to success! I LOVE IT!”

–Roger Brantley (LA) on 3/13/20

“I was a first time user of the e-classroom and enjoyed being able to participate in the course.”

— Alina V. (FL) on 3/18/20
For Diona DeVincenzi, FDBK 225-Indie, Film-TV, Production Feedback

“Many thanks for filling in, Sara, and also for the great feedback. Listened to the full transcript today and enjoyed it. Nice to see more Scots in Songu. I hope Lisa is OK.”

–Alex H. (Scotland) on 3/20/20
For Sara Light, FDBK 210-Song Feedback

“I’m enjoying getting ideas, feedback and inspiration as with the virus escalating now my co writers and I can’t meet to work on our new stuff so online is definitely a way forward and I’ve had some good food for thought from the coaching reviews and the two on line classes I’ve attended on the songs particularly the ones that need some work. I’ll look forward to another class soon. Kindest regards and stay safe.”

–Jane H. (U.K.) on 3/23/20

“Bob always brings his ‘A’ game. He has a very honest and passionate approach to helping. You can really tell he loves what he does. Even if I don’t agree with him on every point. I can still understand where he is coming from.”

–Shawn F. (NJ) on 3/25/20
For Bob Dellaposta, FDBK 315 Publisher Song Feedback

“Marcia has been one of my “go-tos” for a long time now. Really appreciate her take. I count her as a friend besides. Benn is always there to keep us straight. Sara, Danny, and Martin, the whole SongU community is an avid, major part of my writing track. Thanks so very much guys!!”

–Brad Y. (NY) on 3/26/20
For Marcia Ramirez, FDBK 140 Song Feedback

“Always awesome!”

–Ricki B. (WI) on 3/27/20
Nancy Peacock & Queenie Mullinex, FDBK 330 Sync Licensing Production Feedback

“I wanted to share with you a copy of the note I recently sent to the UK Songwriting Contest: A big ‘thank you’ to the UKSC for the wonderful prize of a free trial membership to songu.com. Not only have I learned A LOT by participating in a variety of their online courses and seminars, but I have taken advantage of their pitching opportunities as well… and good news!… one of my songs was recently picked up by a publisher! Needless to say, I’m thrilled!”

–Elizabeth Roberts (U.K.) on 3/28/20


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Dear SongU, Can We Talk About Pitch Submission Deadlines?

I’d like to share a SongU member inquiry that recently landed in my inbox: “Dear Songu, can we talk about extensions for deadlines on pitch submissions on songu? How do they occur? What kind of relationships do you have, that ever cause to allow this? What actually happens? Thank you kindly.” – J. (Vancouver, B.C. Canada)

Dear J.,

What a great question! Let me explain the process we use at SongU.com. To get the leads and submission deadlines for our Street Pitches, I communicate directly with several song pluggers, music publishers and licensing agents that are out there “on the street” making appointments with the artists, record labels, and such to find out who is looking for songs, what kinds of songs they want or need, and when they will be in the studio recording.

After you’ve been working in the industry for a while, you learn that most artists search for songs over a period of time from a couple of months to even a year or more. It is often a moving target as the artists  find songs they like, target songs they hope to find to fill out the album, or “change direction” from what they thought they originally wanted.

Based on the information our pitch guests relay to me each month, I post the Street pitch leads and submission deadlines. Then, a few days before the deadlines (which generally fall either mid-month or end of month), I send out an email asking if they want to extend any listings or send new ones. Here is an example of an email I received this week:

Good Morning Sara!

Sorry I’m just getting back to you.  Let’s keep Mark Wills and Chris Golden active through the end of May if that’s o.k. as they continue to be very engaged in receiving and listening to songs.  We can pull Hannah Dasher on the 15th, but I may re-list Hannah in a few weeks IF she is still looking for songs.  They’re assessing what they have at this time.  I’ll get with you later today with fresh pitch opps.

Have a wonderful day 🙂

DG

Thanks for taking the time to check in with us and find out more. I hope this explanation helps clarify.

Best wishes,
Sara
————————————————————————-
Sara Light, Co-Founder & President
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“Wherever you are, we bring the music industry to YOU”


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March into Metaphors

“March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.”  marchI actually remember the first time I heard this saying in Mrs. Harris’ third grade class. When she asked us to tell her what we thought it meant, my hand shot up.  It describes the weather perfectly in New Jersey where I grew up!  From that moment on, I was hooked on the wonder of metaphoric language. Metaphor – a  comparison of two disparate objects to suggest a similarity (e.g. “I am a rock, I am an island” Simon & Garfunkle);  and simile – a comparison using “like” or “as” (e.g. “I feel like a stone that’s been picked up and thrown to the hard rock bottom of your heart.” Shout out to songwriter Hugh Prestwood!).

Why do we use metaphor and simile all the time both in everyday speech and, of course, in song lyrics? The use of this kind of comparison enhances our sensory connection to the subject. And why is that so awesome? When our senses are heightened, our emotional connection is heightened as well. As songwriters, it’s our job to write lyrics that draw in our listeners emotionally. We want them to FEEL love, heartache, joy, or surprise when they hear our song. The music works on one level, the lyric on another.

Just for fun, since we’re in the month of March, what are some song lyrics that use ANIMALS in a metaphoric way? Use the comments area for your solutions, or join the Facebook discussion in  SongUNews .