Notes on Napkins

musings for songwriters


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Writing About Current Events From a Different Perspective

“With history piling up so fast, almost every day is the anniversary of something awful.” – Writer & Artist, Joe Brainard

Recently, while cleaning out my closet, I happened upon a small book of Daily Meditations given to me by a friend a long time ago called The Promise of a New Day (copyright 1983). The book goes through each day of the year and offers a quote and a short spiritual reflection.  I hadn’t opened this book in well over a decade, but last week I found myself turning to the February 7th meditation which begins with the quote at the top of this page. 

At first I was surprised to read this quote from the 1980’s that felt so relevant for today’s world. But then I realized that in every decade, at every point in history change is inevitable, and with change comes discomfort, fear, anger, and as the quote says, “the anniversary of something awful.” Joe Brainard died in 1994 of AIDS. Can we take a moment of pause to reflect on how incredibly scary and sad that time in our history was until, thank goodness, we found a treatment for HIV?  Our amazing scientific and medical community created an antidote to something horrific.

Obviously, as writers and artists, we have a responsibility to reflect the trouble in the world around us as songwriters like Woodie Guthrie and Bob Dylan did in the 1960’s. But can’t we also create an antidote to the daily assault of awful news? If history is comprised of times of trouble, war, disease, hunger, and hate, isn’t it just as important to highlight the love, compassion, simple moments of trust, help, hope, and success?

As a songwriting exercise, try making a list of the little things that have kept you motivated, inspired, happy, or brought you peace of mind, during these difficult times. Kissing your loved one good night, scratching your dog’s tummy, taking a walk near a stream, sipping on a hot cup of coffee, holding open a door for a stranger and exchanging a smile. Keep a section in your “title book” or idea journal specifically for a daily dose of positivity. See if you can practice a heightened awareness for the the good things that we often take for granted like a compliment from a friend, being in the fast line at the grocery store, having enough gas in your car, birds chirping when you open your door, or a warm coat when it’s cold outside. Write it all down.  These specifics will inform your lyric with a universal theme of gratitude and  provide a different perspective on our current events. Bring this perspective into your next song.

 


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Finding Time to Write

“Who will free me from hurry, flurry, the feeling of a crowd pushing behind me, of being hustled and crushed? How can I regain even for a minute the feeling of ample leisure I had during my early, my creative years? Then I seldom felt fussed, or hurried. There was time for work, for play, for love, the confidence that if a task was not done at the appointed time, I easily could fit it into another hour. I used to take leisure for granted, as I did time itself.” 

— Bernard Berenson, Sunset and Twilight, from the Diaries of 1947-1958

I am finding that the older I get, the more difficult it is to feel unencumbered. I do not have the same sense I did in my 20’s and 30’s of having the time or energy to follow my muse, explore my own interests, or even rest my mind.  The tasks that I commit to now, even the ones I voluntarily choose, come with a sense of heaviness;  How will I fit that in to my schedule? What do I prioritize today? If I do THIS, it’ll take away from THAT.

I’m beginning 2018 pretty well. I’m back to starting most days with a yoga video and green tea BEFORE I check my schedule, answer my emails and walk my dog. I’m even on a streak with my Headspace meditation app and I’m finally able to turn off my brain at night and get some deep sleep. And, check this out, I’m writing a blog entry (an activity that I enjoy, but usually fits into the “how will I fit that into my schedule today?” category).

Some of the lessons I find that are working for me this year that I haven’t tried in the past are:

  • Doing a little bit consistently can be as satisfying as going “all in”.  This is a good one for songwriters. If you only have a couple of minutes to work on a song today, do that. Don’t wait until you have half a day to devote to writing a whole new song. If you think one new title today call that your day’s work and let yourself feel accomplished.
  • Good is good enough.  Perfection isn’t a mandatory requirement. Just get the job done the best you can in the time you have and move on. Don’t berate yourself for not doing something exactly the way you imagined.  This frees up a lot of time.
  • Deadlines are often flexible.  I have been noticing that a lot of the people around me also feel crunched for time. Because of that, they often are more than happy to move around appointments and extend deadlines. They, too, have a million other things they can fit into that slot.  Flexibility reduces stress.
  • Take a break from social media. Yikes, lately, I have been seeing so many articles about the addictive (aka drug-like) qualities of those pings and likes and notifications. It wasn’t a coincidence that on my birthday this year, as much as I thoroughly enjoyed reading all the sweet notes and well-wishes throughout the day on Facebook, I also left my notebook with my favorite recipes on a shelf in the grocery store (never to be recovered), threw my dog’s leash out with the trash and generally walked around with fog-brain as if I were hung-over.  This week, I resisted the urge to post a cute picture of my daughter hugging our dog in the unusually snowy day in Nashville. That meant that I also missed seeing all the  photos of my friends’ kids. But the payoff was additional time and FOCUS.
  • “The only way past it, is through it.”   This is my new mantra every time my procrastination instinct kicks in. I got this one from an interview by Gretchen Rubin of writer Greer Hendricks .

Wishing you all contentment and time to explore your muse in the new year!

 


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10 Facts About Music Licensing That Will Put You In a Good Mood by Diona Devincenzi

Let me introduce you to my friend, Diona Devincenzi (isn’t that one of the lovliest names you’ve ever heard?).  I met Diona, a talented singer-songwriter, in the early 1990’s when we were both fairly new to the “Nashville thing.” Perhaps she’ll remember the story about how back in the day, when we were all pretty broke, she invited Danny and me for a dinner at her place. Having gotten used to eating a lot of vegetarian Pot Lucks with friends, I was shocked that she and her fella, Jerry, served us a REAL meal…appetizers, main dish with meat, dessert…the whole kaboodle! She chuckled at my delight. Ah, those fond memories of being a starving artist. 

Diona has remained on the cutting edge of the songwriting business, traveling back and forth from Nashville to the West Coast.  I’ve always admired what a hard worker and go-getter she is. Here’s one of my favorite articles from her blog Savvy Songwriter. You can find out more about her (besides that it’s grand to be invited to her house for dinner) at her website dionadevincenzi.com

-Sara


10 FACTS ABOUT MUSIC LICENSING THAT WILL PUT YOU IN A GOOD MOOD

I’ve been hearing and reading a lot of doom and gloom about the music industry lately. Articles which lament the demise of the value of music and the dwindling earnings from making and selling it. So I wanted to present a different perspective in an area of the music business that is actually thriving: MUSIC LICENSING.

Here are 10 facts about music licensing that will put you (or should put you) in a good mood.

1. YOU CAN ACTUALLY MAKE SOME MONEY AT IT
Yes, you actually can. You’re not going to get rich with just one placement, but if you are a prolific writer with many songs that are placeable, you can make some decent money. BUT, be prepared to be patient because it won’t roll in over night.

2. THERE ARE MILLIONS OF OPPORTUNITIES TO PLACE YOUR SONGS IN FILM/T.V. AND MULTI-MEDIA EACH YEAR
According to IMDB (Internet Movie Database) there were over 2,000,000 opportunities to place your songs in film & television just last year alone.

3. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE 20 SOMETHING.
Those years are past me and many others I know in the music licensing business, but that doesn’t matter because what people need desperately are songs to place with their visual production. And they don’t care how old you are. They only care how good your song is and how it might fit their project.

4. IT’S A RAPIDLY GROWING INDUSTRY.
In fact, it’s the only part of the music industry that is growing, besides touring. Need we talk about CD sales? No, already done. But as content is king, so are songs.

5. YOU CAN WRITE IN MULTIPLE GENRES.
If you want to, you can write in every genre imaginable, and even some that are new hybrids. If you want to write a pop/rock song, go for it. If you want to tackle a Bollywood tune, no problem. You get to write whatever you want, as long as it’s commercial.

6. IF YOU WRITE BOTH LYRICS AND MUSIC, THEN YOU BASICALLY HAVE YOURSELF TWO TRACKS FOR THE PRICE OF ONE.
Many times a music supervisor (decision maker) will ask for and use the instrumental track versus the vocal one. Well, no problem, you literally have 2 songs – one with both lyrics and music and one with just the music. You double your opportunities as well as your catalog. And that’s just a side benefit.

7. YOU’RE GOING WHERE THE MUSIC INDUSTRY IS HEADING.
We all see the writing on the wall when it comes to CD sales. It’s all about streaming these days. If you’re writing for the music licensing opportunities, then you’re at the forefront of where music will be in the future. Sure, no one can really tell the future. But with all of the cable channels and new networks and “screens” popping up to enjoy content, there is a growing marketplace for usage of songs. If you’re not thinking about music licensing then you’re out of the game.

8. YOU DON’T HAVE TO HAVE A PUBLISHING DEAL.
Middlemen are disappearing in the music industry, much like a lot of other industries. There are more and more opportunities to pitch your songs directly to the gatekeepers, thanks to technology allowing for direct access.  You couldn’t do this 20 years ago. So welcome to the directness. Just make sure you are prepared when you do pitch your songs though, because as the saying goes, “You only one chance to make a first impression”.

9. THERE ARE RESOURCES TO LEARN MORE ABOUT MUSIC LICENSING.
I scoured the four corners of the earth to find out all I could about music licensing when I started getting involved. I still consume all things music licensing in the way of books, blogs, articles, podcasts etc. In fact, I’m in the process of writing an e-book right now on it.  And thanks to Google search and the like, all the stuff you need to know about music licensing is at the tips of your fingers.

10. IT’S A THRILL WHEN YOU HEAR YOUR SONG IN A FAVORITE TELEVISION SHOW, MOVIE OR AD.
We all write songs because we love it. Well, this part of the glory of your hard work is really gratifying. ‘Cuz you get to tell all your friends and family about your latest rockstar placement.

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Diona Devincenzi is a songwriter/producer born in San Francisco and hanging her hat in Nashville. Check out her blogs at Savvy Songwriter .


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Natural Influences in June

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

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

Thanks to @liveloveFranklin for this photo of my hometown


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May the Month of May Make Your Creativity Blossom

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

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

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


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Share One Positive Thought About Your Songwriting for April

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

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

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

-AND/OR-

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

Let your light shine, friends.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How long did it take for you to complete it?

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

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

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

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

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

What’s on the creative horizen for you?

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

Name three of your favorite non-music related activities.

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

 

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

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