Notes on Napkins

musings for songwriters


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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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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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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
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Sara Light, Co-Founder & President
Successes
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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 .


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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