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Advanced Songcraft Tools for Professional Songwriters, Part IV

Guest post by Billy Seidman – Founder, Song Arts Academy & Songwriting Faculty Member, NYU & The New School

Are you on top of your songwriting game? Training for songwriter gold!

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Like winning a Gold medal represents the pinnacle of an athlete’s body’s performance, writing a chart-topping song represents the pinnacle of a songwriter’s communication performance!

The Olympics in Rio reminded me how an athlete’s success is based on the training and support they receive from a routine and a team of specialists.

Unlike athletes, songwriters build perception; perception is our muscle.

So how perceptive are you about your songwriting game? What’s strong about it, what needs improvement? Below is a quick quiz to find out if you’re a Gold, Silver, or Bronze contender!

Like any other serious professional we should be training just as hard for success if not harder than most professionals. Our training gear is songcraft; the use of songcraft in the writing of many, many songs builds deeper perception and understanding (muscle) of the communication opportunity in our ideas, music, lyrics, and tracks: writing what we need to say and what an audience wants to hear.

Athletes use a variety of coaches, apparatus, drills, diets, and mental conditioning to prep for performance. What are you using in terms of songcraft, the songwriting training equivalent to compete in a world just as challenging as the top performing athletes? Let’s find out:

  1. Choose your BEST SONG, OR A SONG YOU CURRENTLY LOVE.
  2. Listen to your song while reading the APPARATUS CHECK LIST below and fill in your score honestly for each:
    10 = Yes, Extremely Well
    5 = Somewhat, but could be better
    1 = No, wasn’t thinking about that while writing the song
  3. Add up your score and we’ll review what it means at the end of the post!

TRAINING STATIONS FOR SONGWRITERS:

APPARATUS 1: COMMUNICATION

Does the song let the audience know what it’s about in 5-10 seconds?

10___                                        5___                                        1___

 

APPARATUS 2: INTENTION

Before you started writing your song or after you finished it and were reviewing it, did you know exactly why you wrote it and what you wanted the audience to “take away” from it?

10___                                        5___                                        1___

 

APPARATUS 3: KEY EMOTION

Songs typically have one basic emotion at their heart: hope, loss, regret, reassurance, empowerment, or grief for example.  Did you know which emotion was driving your song before or during the time you wrote it?

10___                                        5___                                        1___

 

APPARATUS 4: SONG CATEGORY

Did you recognize what type of song you were writing?  Was it devotional love, coming of age, a make-up, a break-up, party, empowerment, or other?

10___                                        5___                                        1___

 

APPARATUS 5: REAL LIFE EVENT

Did you base your song on an event that actually happened, whether in your own life or the life of a friend or loved one?

10___                                        5___                                        1___

 

APPARATUS 6: RELATABILITY

Can your audience see their life and experiences in your song?

10___                                        5___                                        1___

 

APPARATUS 7: SONGCRAFT TOOLS

Did you use the songcraft tools of opportunity, perspective, momentum, and contrast to build your song?

10___                                        5___                                        1___

 

APPARATUS 8: MUSICAL & LYRICAL GRAMMAR

Did you use musical grammar (a consistent song form) and lyrical grammar (a logical flow of what needs to be said in each line) when writing your song?

10___                                        5___                                        1___

 

APPARATUS 9: MIRROR WRITING

Did you mirror write, or use “reverse song engineering” of a major hit to write your song?

10___                                        5___                                        1___

 

APPARATUS 10: K.I.S.S.

Did you keep the song simple and direct?

10___                                        5___                                        1___

 

SCORING TOTALS:
GOLD: 80-100
SILVER: 50-79
BRONZE: 29-40

Songwriters are my favorite people because creatively we are some of the bravest; we face a blank page and are expected to bring excellence every time.  If you need or want to improve your game, contact me to join one of my workshops, forums, or private sessions at billy@songartsacademy.com or check out my programs at www.songartsacademy.com.

Song Arts starts its annual Fall Workshop Intensive on Tuesday, September 27th in NYC. Limited to 15 students–apply now!

 

© 2016 Billy Seidman all rights reserved


For workshops, private study, or song consultations, visit www.songartsacademy.com or contact Billy Seidman: billy@songartsacademy.com.


MORE ADVANCED SONGCRAFT TOOLS FOR PROFESSIONAL SONGWRITERS:
Part I
Part II
Part III

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Advanced Songcraft Tools for Professional Songwriters, Part III

Guest post by Billy Seidman – Founder, Song Arts Academy & Songwriting Faculty Member, NYU & The New School

Do You Know Your Song’s DNA? Writing Songs That Last

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The biggest lesson I learned living and writing in Nashville was emulating how fast the best writers in town got into the bloodstream of their listeners.

How did they get me to care so deeply so quickly? Raise the stakes so high IN 4 SECONDS that I couldn’t take my ear off their song, saw and felt my life in it, had skin in their game, in their song?

Lukas Graham’s “Seven Years” is a good current example of what I’m talking about.

The famous novelist Elmore Leonard, when asked why his books were so popular said, “I leave out all the stuff no one wants to read.”

Great songs also find a lasting audience because their writer(s) left out all the stuff no one wants to hear!

So, how to know what to leave out and what to leave in…?

You’ve got to understand your song’s DNA.

What kind of song are you writing? Know that, and you can begin to assemble the essential ingredients for success!

The DNA of SEVEN YEARS is that of a “COMING OF AGE SONG”

Coming of age songs are usually driven by one key emotion.  Can you tell what that emotion is? Let me know @SongArtsA.

The second key factor making the song stick is that it’s a STORY SONG.  If you tell a good story, people stick around to hear how it ends!

“Seven Years” has, like most good stories, a beginning, middle, & end.

Okay, so you know what kind of song it is and how you’ll deliver it. That’s still not enough. You need to understand the value and the character each line in your song delivers.

SONG REAL ESTATE:

Opening lines are like the great entrance a star showman or woman makes as they come on stage.

“Seven Years” gets this done by delivering the hook/title of the song in the 1st line; it anchors the entire song and sets up each beginning line of the next hook so it will be related.  SMART!

IT’S A NO-SET-UP SONG!

The song starts with the Chorus. In many respects, songs that do this make the entire song a CHOURS/hook.  Another smart choice!

HONESTY

We see our lives in this song because it’s honest, and it’s not working hard to be honest, it just is.

There is a place for simple sing-song melodies or slammin’ tracks that 5-year-olds in the suburbs can bounce up and down to in the back of SUV’s. That’s a big part of the music business, and I’m not putting it down. That said, too many writers aim too low; they don’t see the opportunity of BIG IDEAS. Your BIG IDEA and your need to express your BIG IDEA is the DNA of a BIG SONG!

Having the craft skills to PULL IT OFF, to deliver it, is why you write a lot of songs. No way around that; ask Ed Sheeran!

Songs that last do so because they connect at a much deeper level than other songs and they do it quickly! They are direct, simple, and there’s no thinking involved; we know why the singer is singing every note and word.

It may take you writing 40-100-150 songs to get really good at this.

The best songwriters are honest with themselves. They risk feeling unable to pull this feat of “emotional hypnotism” off. They just keep working on the song until they know it’s strong, stronger, strongest…

Follow this concept of knowing your songs DNA and I promise you’ll start off much closer to where you need to be in creating songs that last.

© 2016 Billy Seidman all rights reserved


For workshops, private study, or song consultations, visit www.songartsacademy.com or contact Billy Seidman: billy@songartsacademy.com.


MORE ADVANCED SONGCRAFT TOOLS FOR PROFESSIONAL SONGWRITERS:
Part I
Part II
Part IV

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Advanced Songcraft Tools for Professional Songwriters, Part II

Guest post by Billy Seidman – Founder, Song Arts Academy & Songwriting Faculty Member, NYU & The New School

5 Essential Reasons to Re-Write Your Songs: The Creation vs. The Re-Write Space

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Each new song you start is an opportunity to connect your heart and head, your emotions and ideas to an audience. And guess what? You are that “first audience member.” Your judgment and ability to be both an enthusiastic dreamer and a steely-eyed gatekeeper simultaneously leads to writing much stronger songs.

Advanced song craft is your ally in this game of three-dimensional chess played between your head and heart. Keep the following tips in mind when you sit down to write your next song. Let me know how it worked out at billy@songartsacademy.com or on Twitter @SongArtsA.

My take is that there are two distinct songwriting spaces: the creation space and the re-write space.


1. In the creation space, you’re focused on getting something going, getting a toehold on a melody, chords, track, and words so they flow in the general direction of your idea, passion, inspiration, craft, and lucky creative accidents.

A great tool in the creation space is title ideation, literally thinking in song titles, creating the downbeat of the chorus destination in a title, then musing backwards into creating/thinking/dreaming/exploring how you could make that title pay off.

One of my favorite examples of this is a song called; “Politics, Religion, and Her” performed by Sammy Kershaw. When I first saw that title, I thought, “Wow, how are they going to make that pay off/work?!”

They did and it’s awesome what a great title in the hands of a great tunesmith can accomplish.  The point is, the idea itself does the first part of the heavy lifting. So work from solid titles in the creation space, know why they are great, why you want to write the song, and why an audience is going to connect with it before you even start writing…

In the creation space, your frame and focus is on the initial design & construction, on getting a song off the ground, not on placing the finished song in a gift box and tying a ribbon around it.

2. In the re-write space, you’re concerned with the song’s momentum, how it’s building and paying off at critical points.  Each line of your song is critical real estate. Some are more critical than others. Can you take a guess as to where are the most critical places lyrically are in a song?

How sensitive are you to this fact? The important thing when re-writing is what you notice during playback. Are you seeing clearly what is adding to the drag on your song’s momentum?

For example, a lot of songs in the creation space are born with way too many notes and words. Those extra notes and words were needed to help get your song going, but now they’re dragging your song down. Advice: be a smart songwriter; don’t absolutely fall in love with everything you wrote in the creation space.

So now those extra notes needed to write the melody in the creation space need to go! They’re not letting the melody breathe, not letting the song become memorable. Let them go and your song and phrasing become more singable.

3. The same thing goes for those extra words that seemed so necessary in the creation space (words such as I, and, or because). They need to go too. Everyone knows it’s “you” singing. These extra words distract from the emotional hypnotism you need to create to make your song stick.

Re-writing is where you take “thinking” out of the listener’s ear and replace it with feeling.

4. The same is true for your song’s tempo. The tempo you wrote the song at will most likely prove too slow for the final version. (It was great during the “writing mode” as your hunt and peck tempo to learn how the song went).

5. The same holds true for accompaniment. That first guitar or piano part you came up with served you perfectly as a songwriter, but now the demands of making a record of the song demands that the accompanying part fit within an arrangement–with other players and current production and programming styles.

Consider the value of this. Everything we hear on the radio is highly vetted. Your song will not be that exception…

Learn to love re-writing. Become your own best gatekeeper and give the real gatekeepers more reasons to like your song. Because you understand the realities of pop music, you better have re-written the hell out of your song!

© 2016 Billy Seidman all rights reserved


For workshops, private study, or song consultations, visit www.songartsacademy.com or contact Billy Seidman: billy@songartsacademy.com.


MORE ADVANCED SONGCRAFT TOOLS FOR PROFESSIONAL SONGWRITERS:
Part I
Part III
Part IV

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Advanced Songcraft Tools for Professional Songwriters, Part I

Guest post by Billy Seidman – Founder, Song Arts Academy & Songwriting Faculty Member, NYU & The New School

BMI, ASCAP, & SESAC SAA GROUP

What business are you really in if you’re a Songwriter?

It’s the first question you should ask yourself before sitting down to write a song, as knowing the answer immediately leads to writing better songs.

Why? Because there are two huge problems facing songwriters on the creative side:

1. It feels so good to write a song that we immediately think our song is good and not subject to standards or re-writes.

2. Songwriters aim too low in their concepts and execution of song ideas.

Regarding #1:

In the creation space we’re focused on just getting a “toehold” on our lyric & musical idea, on getting something going. The esteemed songwriter Leonard Cohen has said that typically, his first encounter with a song he’s starting is his weakest work (I’m paraphrasing here).

Unfortunately, this is where many songwriters stop writing because they don’t understand what business they’re in. We’re in the communications business and if you’ve not made 8 to 10 crucial song craft decisions in your songwriting–one being to invite the “audience” (your listeners) into your song so they can see their life in it–you’re not communicating.

A large percentage of hit songs become hits during the re-writing stage where everything about the song is vetted and held to standards.

Regarding #2:

David Bowie aimed so high in his song concepts, he easily qualifies as a founder of Glam Rock! How high are you aiming in applying “creative clarity” to your songs?

It turns out your song title and the idea/emotion driving it do the heavy lifting in songwriting. There are very simple and effective critiquing tools that can help you find the best ways to write your ideas early in the writing process so you completely understand what’s at stake for you to sing your song. And that’s what audiences really want to know! You’re singing this song because why? You’re feeling: hope, loss, regret, you want to party, you can’t contain how great it feels to fall in love, etc…

That’s how audiences listen to songs! Your urgency or need to write the song in the first place is catnip to an audience. So these song craft decision in the earliest phases matter big time.

Again, you’re in the communications business. As a songwriter, if you don’t put yourself on the listener’s side as you’re writing, it’s just guesswork you’re performing, not communicating.

© 2016 Billy Seidman all rights reserved


Billy Seidman

Is the founder of Song Arts Academy, a NYC based songwriting school sponsored by ASCAP, BMI, & SESAC as a learning destination for their membership. For further info about Billy and the current slate of March & April Workshops and Forums he runs, or to join, visit: http://www.songartsacademy.com.

Quote from SAA member:

“I’ve attended workshops with many of the greats in songwriting including Steve Seskin, Jason Blume, and Hall-of Famer Hugh Prestwood, but there is something about Billy’s content and teaching style that seeped into my psyche automatically. I’m listening to songs differently and writing stronger lyrics after four weeks with Billy, which blows my mind considering I’ve been analyzing hit songs and lyrics regularly for years. I highly recommended his SAA Workshops.” – Gil Polk

For workshops, private study, or song consultations, visit www.songartsacademy.com or contact Billy Seidman: billy@songartsacademy.com.


MORE ADVANCED SONGCRAFT TOOLS FOR PROFESSIONAL SONGWRITERS:
Part II
Part III
Part IV

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