Monthly Archives: July 2013

The First Verse

So how important is the first verse, and what is the first verse supposed to do? The first verse is extremely important! Let’s think about this the first verse establishes a rapport that you have with your listener. In the first verse you are showing listener what the song is about and what your attitude is in regards to the subject matter. You are also establishing the tone of the song.

The first verse, in conjunction with the title and the first line of the song hopefully, make that ‘first impression’ of the song a good one!

Some songwriters feel that ambiguity is important in the first verse. That it instills a need for clarification and draws the listener in. I’m not sure I agree with that. I mean, the argument has some validity, but I don’t think one should be purposely ambiguous. I think it just confuses the listener. However, I encourage you to try it out and see how it works for you.

What do you think?

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Why I’m Optimistic or Technology Got Us Into This and It Can Get Us Out

You’ve heard that the music business is on life support. That everyone’s stealing what they once paid for and that we’re all screwed as far as royalties go but let’s hold on for just a minute. I’m optimistic about the future of our business and let me tell you why.

The history of our business is littered with examples over and over again, in which big bad technology was going to ruin us. It actually started with player pianos. They were going to put “live” musicians out of work. Then came the phonograph, another threat. Then the radio. Who needed records if they could get music for free? How about cassette tapes? Remember how the industry predicted that would be the death knell?

And it’s not only new technology that has scared us. Hell at one point they thought Rock and Roll would be the end and don’t forget the demise of Tin Pan Alley! The list goes on and on.

So imagine you’re a songwriter one hundred years ago in 1913. You wouldn’t even be able to picture the future royalties generated by the phonograph, movies, radio, television, tapes, CDs, along with anywhere your music is played including concert halls, night clubs, department stores, hair salons, etc. (ASCAP, the oldest PRO wasn’t founded until 1914).

We are blind to what’s up ahead but if the past is any guide, there are going to be technical innovations way beyond what we currently have and they’re going to need songs and they’re going to have to pay for them!

What do you think?

Insight and Empathy

Many things that we discuss when we’re exploring songwriting have a lot to do with the craft and not so much about the art. Why is that? I suppose the easy answer would be that art is hard to define. In fact, it’s one of the biggest questions we ever asked ourselves. How many conversations in bars, cafés, and dormitories start with this question, “What is art?”

One dictionary definition is “creation of beautiful or significant things.” I do like that one. But there is a component or two left out of the definition: insight and empathy. Many of us who are in love with the art form of songwriting have found certain songwriters to have a certain kind of wisdom. Like great novelists, they have the ability to express the human condition and experience in effective and original ways that resonate with us. I think that’s why many fans of songwriters think they know them as people. The best songwriters seem to have the insight into the way we are internally and through their songs they empathize with us and we with them.

Sometimes it’s done with a turn of the phrase, sometimes it’s done with a particular melody or part of a melody that evokes a particularly strong mood, sometimes it taps into our subconscious and we’re not sure what the song’s about we just know that we’ve been ‘there’.

Can this be taught? I’m not so sure. I think it can be recognized, pondered and pursued. I think it’s important to strive for, to look into yourself, to find a commonality with your listener and to always try to find a humanistic way of expressing it.

What do you think?

Anthem with a Bullet!

Anthem with a Bullet!

Happy Birthday, America! But we don’t sing Happy Birthday today. We sing the “Star Spangled Banner”. Our National Anthem. I thought it would be fun to take a look at the SSB (as it’s called in the street) and see if it’s well written.

 

The Lyricist

Frances Scott Key was an attorney who had the good sense to leave all legalese out of the song. That would have just clouded the issue!  Well done, Francis!

 

The Lyrics

I just learned that we only sing the first verse!

 Here are the missing ones:

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

 I think we sing the best verse or maybe I’m just used to it.

 

The Melody

According to Dave Hiskey on “Today I Found Out” “…

“the melody for the Star Spangled Banner was taken from a song in homage to drinking.

The melody that would be borrowed for the Star Spangled Banner was extremely popular and well known at the time the future U.S. national anthem was penned.  Around the time the Star Spangled Banner’s lyrics were written, this melody was being used for at least 84 popular songs in the United States alone, including Adams and Liberty – The Boston Patriotic Song and the subsequent tune Jefferson and Liberty, written after Jefferson was elected President.

The original song that used the melody was To Anacreon in Heaven, written sometime between 1760 and the late 1770s, expounding on the virtues of wine.”

 

Ok so the melody was “sampled” or in 18th century terms “stolen”.

I guess it was an accepted practice back then considering there were at least 84 songs with same melody.

 

The Setting of the Song

A lot of folks have a problem with the wartime setting of the lyrics. “America  the Beautiful” is nipping at it’s heels. While I abhor war, from a lyric writer’s viewpoint nothing gets those patriotic juices flowing like war does.

 

The Title

Not bad but only mentioned in the song once.

 

 

Bottom Line

Is it a well-written song? Well you can’t argue with a hit that’s still charting after 199 years!

 

What do you think? Was it well written?

 

 

 

 

Welcome to Song Blog! Today’s Subject “The Dreaded Writer’s Block”

I want to welcome everyone to the Song Blog!

I know the name of the blog isn’t very imaginative. I welcome any suggestions.
I hope you’ll enjoy the blog as we learn about blogging by doing it. I’ll periodically post songwriting subjects with my take on them and encourage you to post yours.

OK then, let’s get on with it!

Dealing with the Dreaded Writer’s Block

We’ve all been there. Staring at the blank sheet of paper! Holding the guitar in our hands and playing the same boring melody over and over again. To quote Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, “What’s a poor boy to do? “ Well don’t give up hope! There are strategies you can use to combat the dreaded writers block!

1. Don’t Push It!

I’ve been writing songs for a long long time and one of the reasons, I believe, that I haven’t lost interest is that I never feel guilty if I haven’t written something in awhile. I believe that once you start linking the songwriting process with something you should do and linking it with guilt it starts to look more and more like a chore and less and less like something you savor and look forward to. I’m not saying that songwriting isn’t work. It is but it’s good work! Work that should inspire you to do more! Not tedium!

2. Honor Our Heroes!

One approach that helps me to get my creative juices flowing again is to remind myself what attracted me to the art form to begin with. I’ll sometimes either start out by playing a cover of a song I’ve always loved or take a break and do it. Go listen to one of your favorite songs by one of your favorite songwriters. Enjoy the moment and really listen. Realize once again how potent songwriting can be!

3. Trash Our Heroes!

Now that you’ve listened to one of your hero’s best songs listen to your least favorite song by the same songwriter! Not every painting by DaVinci was a ‘Mona Lisa’! For me regarding Bob Dylan, all I have to do is put ‘Self Portrait’ on and I realize even someone like him sometimes struggles. They’re human just like us! Feel better now?

4. Take a Break!

Yes, something as simple as giving yourself some time away from the challenge can often help. Get up and read the newspaper or go online or take a walk, anything other than starting at that blank sheet of paper!

5. Co-Write!

There will be more about co-writing later in the class but for now consider co-writing as way of finishing a song that you’re stumped on or finishing your co-writer’s half finished song! Bring in a fresh pair of eyes and with a new approach can open doors you never knew existed.

Any other suggestions on how to deal with it?