It’s never too late to argue with a song…..
WHERE THE BLOG & THE SONG BECOME THE BLONG
I have sat across from more songwriters who are afraid of success, than songwriters who are afraid of failure.
I have even been one of those songwriters myself…….
If I wrote a great song today…and I don’t mean just a good song or even a very good song but a great song.
Lets say a song that would raise the bar for every other song ever written by anyone. I mean “Let it be” kind of great or “Imagine” great or..well you get the idea.
That song would begin to change my life right away, but not necessarily in ways that I would have dreamed it would or want it to.
First of all I would have to invest in the song first. Many publishers have asked me over the years why I should expect them to invest in my song when it is evident that I did not believe in it enough to invest much into it myself.
To give my great song it’s best chance to succeed I will need a great recording and that will mean hiring some talented people to do the stuff that I’m no good at. And maybe I need to get into a studio that has a mixing board that is larger than say….the cutting board I have in my kitchen.
I often suggest to my songwriting clients to see if they can hire celebrity vocalists for their top end recordings since they can then pitch the song themselves to radio with a vocal by an artist that already gets radio play.
One of my clients paid just over $1000.00 for a vocal by a Juno Award winning singer from a band and that song then got some radio play that paid back more than double their investment but the celebrity singer also loved the song and promoted it and performed it as well.
It is a calculated risk that only a great song deserves…at least with my budget. I’m not suggesting it works every time but it has worked more than a few times.
But back to my problem of writing a great song…..
There is also the stress and worry that now I have a great song and a brilliant recording and this might be my big break…what if it doesn’t go as planned, what if it is ignored like so many of my other “great” songs.
What if my taste is not reliable and I love this song more than anyone else does because my song is about me and I care about me but no one else cares about me as much as I care about me but why don’t they care about me…I’m a good person, I’m not needy or whiney or annoying…not like that Phil guy I met at the open mic night….or Jen. AHHHHH! I hated Jen and why does eeeeeeeeverybody love Jen’s songs when it is obvious she only writes songs about herself and…….Ohhhhhhhh! Now I get it.
And so this, too often, has been my investment. Competing for attention instead of pouring my energy into being great and writing about life instead of just about my life in a way that is, therapeutic for me but not always relatable…. thinking that I represent my music instead of the other way around.
In 2016 lets start letting the music do the talking and invest in our skill and and vision and if you write a great song, invest in that too.
23 Cures for the Common Song by James Linderman
As a music journalist specializing primarily in songwriting, I get asked all the time to refine my best advice down to a top 10, or 12, or 20 kind of list. Like most journalists, I have certainly written my share of top 10’s but then when I look back at my rough notes there is always a lot of pretty good stuff that gets left out, beyond the first 10. For this particular list; which includes some general skill building advice mixed in with some specific “nuts and bolts” kinds of rules, I decided to not put a limitation on the number of points I would list and decided to just wing it. If you have ever read my journalism or have ever met me, you will know that “winging it” is not really my thing. However, I felt that it would be great to write something that had a more freewheeling kind of approach and see if it made the piece of journalism seem more natural and conversational and more complete. So with no further ado… here are my top 23 all-time cures for the common song.
1. Keep a journal – you can come up with amazing ideas for songs anytime of the day or night and then… Poof! They are suddenly gone. Keeping a journal allows you to have a great place to store your ideas in and be able to find them again readily and easily. Many of my collaborators use their phone for this but at the risk of seeming old-fashioned I still like to keep a journal that I also use as a day timer and a catchall for everything James Linderman. One of the primary differences between a tourist and an explorer is in the documentation of the journey and so to appear more like a songwriter and less like a person dabbling in songwriting, documentation will be a feature in that distinction.
2. A song has four primary elemental stages to it. Pat Pattison, head of the lyric writing dept. at Berklee College and author of “Writing Better Lyrics www.patpattison.com often says that songwriting is – entrance – focus – energy – exit.
3. Songwriting is said to be show and tell but actually it’s more show to tell. The difference between “From the first time I saw you, when I met you as a teenager, I instantly fell in love with you”, and “Indian Summer, Abilene, you were new in town, I was 19, sparks flew” is that the first version tells without showing in the second one tells by showing. The second version is from the Amanda Marshall hit Dark Horse, written by Dean McTaggart, Dave Tyson and Amanda Marshall.
4. Your title should hold all your songs DNA. Title your song based on what everyone else calls it, when they hear it.
5. The first verse rule. (similar to #3) Use the first verse to provide a physical or emotional setting for your characters to interact within. When you provide a setting for your listeners you take them with you to that location. When you do not provide a setting, you merely tell them about something that happened in a place that they now cannot picture. Even if you are narrating a lyric without characters, you can use a very clever device by providing a setting description to narrate within. Your listener will now see you as a person telling them a story from an interesting location.
6. Stay in character – make each line a clear expression of the character you intend to be communicating that information. Make all shifts in point of view, subject context, setting and even time frame completely clear and purposeful throughout the whole song.
7. Yoda speak….Another quote from Berklee lyric writing professor Pat Pattison is “always preserve the natural shape of the language”. Therefore, no “Yoda speak”. If you write, “this destiny for you, I now see” it is not necessarily grammatically incorrect but it makes a listener have to think backwards while they listen forward and the motivation to write the line in this way is usually to produce an easy or cheap rhyme. if you wouldn’t say it that way, then don’t sing it that way.
8. The second party rule. Don’t tell your second party something they already would know. Yes to, “her hair was golden brown” and no to, “your hair is golden brown”.
9. The “No” free zone…Writing should be a place where no idea is considered useless or inconsequential. Cowriting is a “no” free zone. A great phrase to use when ramping up to a good idea from a collection of less valuable suggestions is “were on the right track, but see if we can find more choices” or “now we’re getting there, but now let’s see if we can find something even better”.
10. Write one song at a time. Write one single song; thematically and have every word in the lyric support that one theme. Don’t create five different intents into your single song in an effort to make it epic and grand. Great songwriting is taking a small idea and making it smaller.
11. Odd and even. An odd number of lines in a section of your song will create an open feel and will pull the listener into the next section. An even number of lines will close a section off and allow you to start a new section that will seem like a more independent lyric entity, like the ideas in each section are more complete unto themselves.
12. A good kind of stress….Place the words in your lyric that you want to have the most impact, on the strongest accented beats and underline them. Yes to, “I’m going to lunch with you” and no to, “I’m going to lunch with you”. Where you place the strong stress syllable almost always affects the specific meaning of the lyric line.
13. 4/4 time and 3/4 time are “architectonic”…. which in plain English means that the first beat of each measure is the strongest. Good to know!
14. Use hyperbole… to create more drama in your lyric. “I nearly died crying” is more dramatic than, “I cried a slightly above average amount for this specific level of disappointment” the second statement might be more accurate in context, but will not have the desired dramatic effect you want your listener to experience. Remember, “I’d walk a million miles for one of your smiles”.
15. Save some of your brilliant wisdom for the bridge. Always try and hold back at least a portion of the moral of the story in your song for the bridge which is where your emotional and moral stance is most commonly framed for your listener’s. Songwriters with a lot to teach in their songs tend to often write, what sounds like one very long bridge and call it a song without remembering that their message can be delivered more effectively if it can be connected to characters in a setting in the verses and and then made memorable by the hooks in the chorus.
16. Target practice…..Practice songwriting by taking pre-existing songs that you like and writing answer songs or parallel songs, line by line, borrowing the structure and possibly some other feature such as rhyming pattern or emotional tone from the existing works. This is great target practice for songwriters, at any level.
17. Edit… Edit… Edit. Once you’ve had the initial creative burst that most songwriters begin a song with, cross-examine your lyrics looking for every possible loophole, useless or irrelevant information, unnecessarily repeated content, or anything that might be confusing or alienating to the listener. You also want to remove lines that don’t live up to the quality of the very good writing in your song. Any line that looks like it was just a “place card” lyric should be replaced with something that will increase the value of the line and therefore the value of the song holistically. Get rid of anything that causes LEGO (listener’s eyes gloss over).
18. Relocate any valuable lines that don’t fit into your song thematically, into your journal (remember your journal from #1). Instead of jamming lines into the song where they don’t belong and don’t help the song be great in general, remove these distractions and put them in your journal to perhaps be a launching point for another great song. Never force a lyric line or idea where it does not serve the overall premise of the song. The song always wins.
19. Room test your lyrics. Try reciting your lyrics to a listener across a room and watch how they have impact on that person. Once you get brave enough, try it with your most honest critic or a room full of people.
20. Be an adventurous listener. Get out there and listen to great songwriting, which is not the same thing as listening to what’s on the radio. Get into songwriting events in your area and listen to your peers, visit songwriting websites, and also check out the winning songs in song competitions that you can find online. Make a list of your favourite songwriters much like you would list your favourite entertainers.
21. Reading in = writing out. Read everything you can get your hands on and write anything that you find interesting into your journal. Reading poetry is not for everybody, but it can heighten your ability to think in metaphor and also broaden your sense of meter, rhyme and form. It is also a great place to learn the fine art of brevity.
22. Have a Jam-tastic Time – Turn your song into a mini jam session trying out different chords, melody lines as well as different lyrics to see if there might be a version that is even better than the one you originally settled on when you thought that the song was finished.
23. Remember “fun” – Remember when writing songs was about having fun, expressing ourselves and feeling how cool it was to be writing songs. Remember when writing songs was NOT about target demographics, getting songs into film and tv placements and writing with artists with an audience and influence. I am ambitious too, but the writing room is a great place to remember why we got into this and hopefully it was to have fun being great and not being desperate to be successful.
Using Compositional Tessellation in Contemporary Songwriting
by James Linderman
Imitation isn’t just a sincere form of flattery, it’s also a good way for novice melody-makers to hone their craft
At the start of the industrial revolution in North America, there were a few developments that converged to popularize a particular form of academic composition. One of the factors was the mass production of the parlour piano – what would be called a studio size today. This piano’s short stature allowed the player to look over the top of it to lead sing-alongs, a popular pastime with the urban aristocracy in Europe and with the new urban wealthy in America.
Another development was the invent of the catalogue store, usually the general store in rural America. Companies like Sears would sell items from a catalogue in the rural general store that could be shipped to remote areas that would not otherwise have access to those items. The last piece of the puzzle was the availability of farm equipment that could allow farmers to harvest much larger yields with much less manpower and in a fraction of the time. This created a new class of rural wealthy that aspired to use, at least some of that wealth to appear cultured and urban.
“Piano music had historically been a European art form driven primarily by male composers”
These converging developments combined to place a parlour piano in the front rooms of farm houses all across North America, but there remained one final, decisive factor.
￼￼￼￼￼Piano music, and ‘cultured’ music in general had been, to this point, a European art-form, powered primarily by male composers and dominated by male virtuoso performers. Men in North America’s rural midwest, however, were still primarily labourers despite the modernization of farming and did not have the time or inclination to learn the piano.
Grown women didn’t often take up this newly purchased instrument either, as much of a woman’s work in that setting, in that era, was also still primarily manual and not yet automated. Young boys were also not ideal candidates, as they often helped with farm chores after school and looked at the piano as more of an extension of a school day.
That, of course, left young farm girls as the natural choice for this instrument. Their chores were mostly indoors where the piano was located, they were encouraged to become cultured ladies, and the piano’s reputation and European aristocratic background made it the ideal instrument from a sociological standpoint.
All of this also provided the need for there to be itinerant piano teacher who would travel from farm to farm and village to village, teaching these young farm girls how to play the music in their piano bench. One obstacle, however, was the shortage of mass-print sheet music. As result of this, many of these fledgling musicians had only one or two sheets of music to play, as the printing industry lagged behind the demand for more accessible music.
The solution for this, for many of these developing musicians, was imitative composition, or compositional tessellation. Tessellation is the art of taking smaller patterned items and making a larger pattern out of them. A quilt is a tessellation and so is the way a jigsaw puzzle is cut, or a picture of a face made up of many smaller pictures of faces.
Tessellation is when shapes or patterns fit together seamlessly, like the hexagons in a honeycomb
Farm girls would take a random bar of melody from, say, New World Symphony, combine it with an equally random bar of melody from O Little Town Of Bethlehem, and compositional tessellation would be born…. well, perhaps not so much born because they did not invent this practice, but more adopted and over time they certainly mastered it.
Bar after bar would be brought into the composition and adapted through editorial shifts of pitches and rhythmic placements. Sadly, most of this early North American music is not archived, since blank staff paper was not readily available and many of these composers would have not considered this so much composing, but more just recreating on their instrument.
As mentioned, once the melodic motifs are stuck together there is often an editorial adjustment that is required to seamlessly join them into a single musical statement and then there is the work of re-harmonizing them into a more full musical expression.
In academic music circles this is now considered every bit as much an act of composing as composers, and also songwriters would do today, either knowingly or merely intuitively, as we attempt to create new original music from our collection of past musical experiences and present abilities. In other words, we draw on the resources available to us… just as these farm girls did in the rural midwest at the turn of the century.
“Tessellation is great ‘target practice’ for writing melodies”
Tessellation is a great way to take some ‘target practice’ at writing melodies: since the source materials are from already existing and at least somewhat popular songs, your tessellated melody is therefore likely to also be likeable by association. It is a great way to get practice at setting chords to a melodic pattern as well, and a terrific way to test-drive your ability to solve the various kinds of problems that melodic motifs can cause when trying to create our new work.
If we find we like what we are creating with a tessellation and want to turn it into a commercially available original work, there is often more work required to edit it until it no longer sounds like you just stuck a bar of Katrina & The Waves’ Walking On Sunshine on the front end of a bar of Jason Mraz’s I’m Yours. But if you edit it, then play it for a few close friends and associates and they cannot trace your song back to its original source materials then the original composers (and their legal team) will not be able to either. Your song will be no more plagiarism than anything else you might write from the vast collection of other people’s musical ideas we have floating around our subconsciousness!
James Linderman is a guitar, piano and songwriting teacher in Ontario, Canada and teaches in studio and over Skype to students all over the world. James is an Berkleemusic Ambassador and a music journalist and presenter at music conferences and workshops. Contact James at firstname.lastname@example.org
Confessions of a Top Secret Song Assessor by James Linderman
When I first became a Top Secret Song Assessor for the Songwriters Association of Canada (SAC) it was quite easy to just fall into the role of critiquing songs by focusing mostly on elemental discrepancies such as mismatches of form to style, or missing elements such as rhyme scheme, but I also went through a time of contemplating what the process of assessing songs might actually mean and also what value assessment might have to the songs and to their writers.
The first questions that arose from this contemplation were…
Do artists actually want their work assessed or do they merely want a forum in which to have their work heard and appreciated for what it is?
Is it possible for art to benefit and improve from adjudication based judgements?
As an assessor, will I be able to discriminate between the very few facts and rules associated with the writing of a song, and my own subjective opinions…and are my opinion based observations of any value?
Many of my answers to these questions came to me from recollections of having my own work judged and critiqued, and I began to take a mental inventory of what kinds of comments, in critiques of my work, seemed like they were aimed to help me as a writer, wanting to improve my songs and which ones seemed to serve only as a demonstration of the assumed greater authority of the person delivering the assessment.
I also felt that much of what I would eventually be able to understand about the assessment process and its value would come to me in the process of doing the assessments themselves. I also believed that assessments would have greater value to the artists if my observations could be drawn from a single motivation and with a singular purpose. The singular purpose I decided on has now become my assessment mantra…in a manner of speaking.
The assessment mantra I adopted was “serve the song” which essentially means that I attempt to address and suggest what will make the song better and not what will either commend or offend the song and therefore also it’s writer, falsely. Serving the song also helps focus the assessment on the songs elements and not on the artfulness of assessment or the perceived importance of the assessor (since we work in an industry where infamy and notoriety create a very self gratifying mirage, that is very tempting to portray as ones real self).
I have attempted to be as fact based during the assessment process as possible and work hard to determine where the songs strong points are located so that the writer can revisit the editing process with a good base to build the improvements into. I also see value in focusing on the strengths in the writing so that writers can, for instance, consider co writing where they would contribute their strong element with a collaborator who performs well in one of their less developed capacities. There is much to be learned from the collaboration experiences and in the process, it can produce some great work. Eventually, however, I believe that it is most writers’ goal to be strong in every aspect of writing songs and to this end, assessment can be revealing and instructive.
Over the time I have been providing SAC members with assessments there have been some very common elements where very many songs are consistently under developed and on the flip side, also some areas where writers almost always get it right and although each song is a unique assessment experience it is possible to see the same sort of need in many songs and draw some interesting broader conclusions over time.
It seemed like a great opportunity when the SAC invited me to write this article, to list some of these more common rights and wrongs found in the songs submitted for assessment, and help even more writers learn from explanation and not just from trial and error.
So here are the top 10 most common comments produced in the assessments I’ve completed so far…..
1. Great use of form whereby everything arrives just where and when and how it should. The song serves the listeners needs really well as far as structure goes.
Most songwriters get form right because we hear a greater quantity of music now in a lifetime then any previous generation and a sense of form is now very ingrained. Form is not an element in song craft that has evolved much over time either.
2. Your song title needs to be in the place where your strongest melodic hook is and needs to be in the optimal location to be identifiable as the title by your listener.
The power positions for the title is commonly either within the first line of the chorus but more preferably in the last line of the chorus which usually has the strongest melodic hook; the most final musical cadence. When we place the title line there it allows for multiple repeats at the end of the song which allows the listener an even greater chance to identify and remember your song title from the catchiness of the hook.
3. Establishment of setting or storyline in the first verse lyric is usually needed. If only “point of view” perspectives which carry over into the chorus and bridge are used in the first verse the song parts will not be diverse enough to be identifiable to the listener and will distract from the content.
There is lots of great point of view writing but most songs benefit from grounding that point of view in some first verse setting which should establish timeframe, some location information and some character description as well (if appropriate to the song storyline). Remember that verse lyrics need to “show” and the chorus lyrics “tell” while the bridge lyrics “philosophize” and that gives the lyric all its “weight” of emotional impact and its diversify of its song elements. One way to accomplish this is to look back at the first verse once the song lyric is complete and then edit so that it perfectly announces and sets up an initial display of what the rest of the song lyric will reveal.
4. Establishment of a rhyme scheme that properly sets the lyric over the rhythm of the melody
The rule to try to follow is to attempt to use imperfect rhymes (moon/room) in the verses which helps keep the storyline in the verses from having to conform to perfect rhymes and then perhaps having them not communicate what the song needs them to. This allows the lyric to stay on topic and to be the best line to follow the one before it and lead into the line after. Imperfect rhyming verses help the verse sound more conversational but still have a rhyme pattern which is essential for it to appear as a lyric and not like a prose (with no rhyme) or a traditional poem with only perfect rhymes. Perfect rhymes (moon/June) are ideal for the chorus and especially for the title hook at the end of the chorus where you want your listener to be able to predict the rhyme while they sing along. This allows your song to serve the needs of the listener.
5. Very hummable and memorable melody and it partners with the chord progression really well.
Melody is another area where many writers show a natural ability because we hear so much “tune” in a listening day and much of those tunes are designed to be catchy so that advertisers can help us decide what to buy and where to shop and to help us feel what the characters are feeling in movies and TV shows. The difficulty is to retain that tunefulness once the lyric is complicated with setting descriptions, character developments and metaphors which are more difficult to make melodic than point of view statements.
6. Vocal shows great emotion but has technical issues with timing and pitch
Vocal performance is an essential element of the song to get right and “under rehearsing” the singing of your song or not having the ability to sing in time and in tune can greatly alter the listener’s ability to focus on the song and not be distracted by the delivery. We now live in a world that is almost 100% pitch corrected and so it is important to either have the pitch verified to be correct in the vocal performance of your song (pitch correct software has become very affordable) or over rehearse the vocal performance (preferably with a metronome to get the timing right as well) and record multiple takes of the vocal to get a perfect vocal performance for your demo. Do not rule out hiring a demo singer that fits the song and can deliver a performance that gives your song the best chance to be brilliant.
7. Demo is recorded well enough for assessment but not well enough to pitch or release
Many songs are recorded specifically for assessment and it makes sense to not invest too much into the song if you feel that assessment is going to send you back to the drawing board and therefore to the possibility of another demo. Greatly changed musically, the song will unquestionably need to be recorded again. However, since song form, including chord choice and rough arrangement concept are usually very strong song craft elements and most of the writing weakness are in the lyric elements and vocal performance it makes more sense to produce a strong recording of your songs instrument tracks to then edit lyrics, rehearse vocal performance and to do self assessment from. With a better quality recording you may even find that it will inspire an entirely better lyric concept and help the song sing out much better.
8. Instrument performance did not effectively represent the quality of the song
It is hard for a songwriter who can sing to consider hiring a singer to perform the vocal on their demo but if our ultimate goal is to “serve the song” and make decisions in the songs best interest, it may sometimes be necessary. It is equally hard for anyone who plays guitar or piano to give up that chair to a hired gun but again, consider the needs of the song and not the value of the personal experience and your song will thank you for it.
9. Song could be covered by artists who are producing similar work but you should release it yourself since you have written the song as a self contained performer.
Many songwriters look for opportunities to have recording artist cover their songs and although that is a great pursuit, the work they have submitted for assessment often shows that all the tools are there to release the work themselves and it also seems that they are “performing” like singers even if at this particular time they are “presenting” like songwriters. If a singer is going to write for pitching they should look into how that writing differs from the writing that is done for the self contained emerging recording artist they sound like they really want to be. Knowing what you want to be in the industry and then working backwards from that eventual goal is a great way to know where you are going and how to get there in as straight a line as possible.
10. The artistic level and the commercial potential are proportioned to indicate what will likely happen with your song next and when the artistic interest outweighs the intent to have an audience with a commercial interest in your song, your audience might not include enough people to constitute value beyond the basic value of self expression.
It is a clever tightrope walk to write a song likeable to the widest listening audience possible without seeming to be pandering shamelessly to the masses and transversely, write songs artistic enough to be brilliantly original without them being so different from easily digestible music that no one but you and your invisible best friend comprehend them.
I always advise writers to listen to well crafted songs by other artists inside and outside their chosen genre and to read more to give some traction to their lyric writing.
Song assessment has become a very interesting and inspiring addition to my workday as a musician and teacher. I have heard songs that I know has been the product of a lifetime of dedicated work and I have also had the thrill of hearing some writer’s very first works. Despite performing the service of assessment for these songs, I feel more like I am a fellow writer on the same journey of trying to find that rare combination of notes, chords and words that will tell people who we are and what we care about. It is my hope that assessment helps Sac writers get closer to that shared pursuit.
Murphy’s Lesser-Known Dictums: by James Linderman
Unfortunately I am not the author of these sayings (see list below) and at this writing I do not know who is. A quick Yahoo search did not reveal authorship but I am sure that it was written by someone smart enough to not hope to make a living off of the royalties paid for writing clever sayings and posting them on the internet.
These kinds of saying, however, are very valuable to those of us who write songs; as we are always trying to attempt to get better and better at coining clever phrases. It is suggested that we read a lot of this kind of writing (not exactly torture to those of us with a songwriters usual sense of the ironic) and practice writing like this to build up a collection of lyric hooks. They do not always have to be funny but they should follow this same kind of manipulation of meaning. It is valuable to keep a collection in a notebook or journal to be able to refer to them in writing sessions.
Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
He who laughs last, thinks slowest.
Those who live by the sword get shot by those who don’t. Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool.
The 50-50-90 rule: Anytime you have a 50-50 chance of getting something right, there’s a 90% probability you’ll get it wrong.
The things that come to those who wait will be the things left by those who got there first.
Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will sit in a boat all day drinking beer.
The shin bone is a device for finding furniture in a dark room.
A fine is a tax for doing wrong. A tax is a fine for doing well.
When you go into court, you are putting yourself in the hands of 12 people who weren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty.
If you come up with an original Murphy’s Law that you want to share, please feel free to send it to me and I will credit it to you if I use it in a future article on this topic.
James Linderman teaches guitar and piano and coaches songwriting in studio in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada and to students all over the world over Skype. He is an ambassador to The Berklee College of Music and a popular music journalist. Contact James at email@example.com
I want to start out by apologizing for disappearing from this blog for so long. If I were to say that life got busy it would be a lame excuse no matter how true it is.
What drives enthusiasm for a pursuit like songwriting isn’t always easy to understand and what drives an interest in writing about that enthusiasm is also elusive at best and confounding at least. I guess I write about it because I know about it and I guess I stopped writing about it because I feel, every so often, like I should be doing it instead of just writing about
It is reasonable for me to claim at this point in my life that I know a fair amount about songwriters and their work and I believe almost all of my ability to assist them in moving forward has a lot to do with defining the specific subset skill that they possess.
I first like to determine if a writer has a natural and developed ability that is more prominent in one of the three large divisions in song craft. Are they a better lyric writer or better melody writer or better at developing the harmony that accompanies.
The next subset for those that primarily have a way with words is to determine if their particular gift is in producing the initial blast of ideas that provide the inception of the song or if their skill is more developed in the back half of the process and they are a much better lyric editor.
Since these two skills both drive towards the completion of a song lyric, the casual observer might see them as two parts of a single job and always performed by a single individual. However true this might be, I can tell you with certainty that, I am a much better lyric editor then lyric creator and many of my private song coaching clients bring me their work to edit, knowing that this will bring value to our time together and ultimately, to their song.
If you are primarily a melody writer, it is usually helpful if you are also an elite singer as this gift tends to help in the development of a great melody and also helps in the delivery of those melodic ideas. Very few collaborations start with an unharmonized melody with no lyric but when you consider that one of our more universal goals as songwriters is to produce a great tune it seems strange that we don’t produce more stand-alone melodies that exist, uninfluenced and therefore not compromised, by the other elements of the song.
If you’re friends call you “Mr. Chords” or a “Walking Chord Factory” then you might be perfect for the contemporary trend of providing the materials needed for top lining. This is the practice of a singer/lyric writer taking a track, provided by musician like you, and writing a melody and lyric to the track. There is also an even more current trend to bottom line; this is where a musician will receive a completed lyric with the suggested stress syllables underlined and the musician will create the melody and chord progression to accompany the lyric. This trend has two inherent advantages; one is that many songwriters struggle with the lyric portion of the writing process and so the most difficult part the process is already done when the musician starts the music part and the second advantage is that it secures a premise for the lyric content that is now unlikely to get altered or compromised in the editing process.
Once you determine what your primary strength is as a writer you can take that skill into your collaborations with confidence; certain that you can provide valuable contributions that would be perhaps less available to your co-writers. So much of what makes a songwriter great has to do with self-knowledge and knowing what you’re good at is, in my mind, some of the best self-knowledge you can project out into the world.
James Linderman coaches songwriting, and teaches guitar, and piano over Skype to students all over the world. He is a Berkleemusic Ambassador and mentors the Songwriting and Film Composition Resident for the Slaight Music Program at the Canada Film Centre. James can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.