An Alternative to Spotify?

On Thursday mornings starting around 10am in San Francisco there’s a songwriters gathering in San Francisco that I often attend. Yesterday, local songwriter, Joey Wolpert, told us all about a new streaming site coming out of  Joey’s hometown, Montreal.

It’s called and can be found online at UpRise.fm and it differs from Spotify, Rhapsody, Pandora in numerous ways.

The Music Director and Chief Music Curator is the notable producer/artist, Daniel Lanois. That’s a good start!

They are committed to paying the songwriters more in royalties than any of the other streaming alternatives.

Each artist will get their own webpage where they can have control over the content.

You will be compensated for bringing new fans to the site.

Realizing that they can’t compete head to head with the Spotifys of the world on content, they plan to focus on unique content like live recordings, outtakes, sound checks, songs being written, in other words, stuff your fans would likely love to hear.

They’re not ‘live’ yet but they plan to make it happen in 2015.

I look forward to checking them out.

You can learn more now at UpRise.fm

Jim

 

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Can We Make Streaming More Equitable?

Hello All,

Sorry that it’s been so long since I posted anything. Life keeps getting in the way of things I like to do.

Anyway…
I recently saw this article, thanks to my friend, Mike Winger, and thought this might be the solution to the pathetic royalties we all receive from streaming services like Spotify.

The article was on Cuepoint.com but I’m not sure who the author is.

Here’s the article: https://medium.com/cuepoint/how-to-make-streaming-royalties-fair-er-8b38cd862f66

I think it makes a whole lot of sensed. What do you think?

Jim

The Basic Components of Songs

Songs are made of components. Almost all songs have verses and choruses, and many have bridges. Some have pre-choruses. Occasionally there are intros and outros.

All songwriters should be familiar with these building blocks of songs.

Introduction: This is usually a short passage that logically introduces the song to the listener. Often it’s a passage that’s influenced by the verse or the chorus.

Verse: Verses are the building blocks of songs. You can have a song with out any of the other components but not without verses. If there’s a story to be told you’ll find it in the verses. The chords and melody is often the same for every verse. The lyrics tend to and should move forward throughout the song adding new information. The length and rhyming scheme of each verse should be consistent. If the first verse is 4 lines every subsequent verse should be four lines. If the the rhyming scheme in the first verse is ABAB then that should be the rhyming scheme for each verse.

Pre-Chorus: The purpose of the pre-chorus is to ‘set up’ the listener for the chorus. The melodic tension should be increased in the pre-chorus so that there’s a sense of relief when the chorus is sung. It should never outshine the chorus. It is often 8 bars in length but once again, there are no hard and fast rules. It is only included in a song if it is needed. Although not rare, most songs don’t have pre-choruses. It should directly precede the chorus. Lyrics can differ in the pre-choruses but the melody should remain the same. It’s sometimes called ‘The Climb’.

Chorus: This is the part of the song that could be considered the pay off to the listener. It should be the most memorable part of the song. This where the hook is usually to be found (a hook is a catchy passage in a song that ‘hooks’ the listener). Melodically and lyrically it’s often identical every time and it’s often sung using repetition as a device to imbed its hook in the listener. There may be a slight variation but usually not much. It’s also often where the title of the song is sung. It focuses the meaning of the song usually in a more succinct and simpler way than the verses. The overall message of the song should be found here. In comparison to the verses, the chorus is usually either half as long, twice as long or the same in length.

Bridge: The bridge is usually to be found after the second chorus has been sung or around 2/3 of the way through the song. It goes by many names including the ‘middle 8’ because it’s often 8 bars in length. The purpose of the bridge is to give the listener a sense of release from the repeated verses and choruses. It rarely contains the hook or the title. Melodically it should lead into a verse or a chorus. Usually there’s only one bridge in a song. Bridges should add a additional component both lyrically and melodically to the song. It’s an optional component of a song and, like the Pre-Chorus, should only be included if necessary.

Outro: The dramatic ending of a song intended to leave a lasting impression with the listener. Outros are also called ‘codas’, and are not all that common.

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Songwriting “Furniture”

In songwriting there is a term we refer to called “furniture”. It’s a simple concept and can help root your song in the real world. When you look at lyrics, especially in your own songs, are they only taking place in your mind? Is it all about emotion? Well to take your lyrics out of this cerebral and into the real world try using “furniture”.

Okay, enough already! I’m ready to use “furniture”. What is it? “Furniture” is when a lyricist puts real world imagery in a song. Some examples of this would be the name of a city, a certain dress your lover wore, a brand name, type of car, anything that’s other than emotional and cerebral. Something that takes the listener out of your head and into the tangible world we live in.

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Song Structure Decisions

How many verses do I need to write? How about chorus? Does my song need a bridge? Does it need a pre-chorus? There are of course no easy answers to these questions. The fact of the matter is that there are no hard and fast rules. Some songs only consist of verses and include no chorus or bridge. Other songs have all three components.

One answer to this question is to listen to the song as it emerges from the creative process. Have you written a few verses? Does it seem too boring, either lyrically or melodically? It’s important to listen closely with that detached critical viewpoint mentioned previously and make some decisions.

Do you feel that now that you have a couple verses that the listener needs a ‘pay off’? Does the song need a hook? Do you need an effective place to convey the title of the song? If the answer to each of these questions is ‘No’, you may want to consider not having a chorus. The overwhelming majority of songs do have choruses, but many excellent songs don’t. There are no rules in songwriting.

How about the bridge? Do I need a bridge in my song? Well, as defined, a bridge brings a certain ‘relief to the listener’. After listening to your song with the detached attitude we talked about before, does it need one?

I was a speaker at a conference for a well established songwriting organization, and one of the participants said that she’d just left an evaluation session with a music publisher. The publisher had stated that every song needed a bridge. This is plainly not true and it’s bad advice to give to any writer. You should only write a bridge for a song when it’s absolutely necessary.

The bottom line in regards to so many things in songwriting, including decisions regarding Song Structure, is if it doesn’t need it then don’t do it.

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Words or Music First

‘What comes first, the words or the music?’ I’ve heard other songwriters ridicule the question, however, if you think about it, the interviewer is not a songwriter and has no idea about what the process is.

There are two schools of thought regarding what comes first words or music. On the one hand, some people feel that lyrics should come first, because the nature of melody makes it more flexible, and so from a practical point of view, one should always write lyrics first. The flip side of that argument is that melody is more important in song and the creation of melody, has to be a fluid process. And so melody should be written first. My take on it, is that songwriting itself is as fluid process and so both melody and words need to have a certain amount of flexibility.

The process is usually very fluid with the words and the music working together in a ‘give and take’ way to make it work. I’ve written many songs on my own and many with co-writers, and in every case there’s a certain adaptability necessary to make the words and music work together.

A lot of this kind of fine-tuning goes on the rewriting of the song. Rewriting cannot be over emphasized and separates the pros from the amateurs. There will be more on rewriting later in the course.

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Golden Era of Songwriting?

Are we in a golden era of songwriting? Will this time be looked back on as a historically great one for our art form?

Lord knows we’ve got numerous advantages our predecessors didn’t have…

How about our instruments? With the advent of quality Chinese instruments you can now get a guitar, mandolin, banjo, whatever that’s a pleasure to play and sounds great for a fraction you used to have to pay to get the equivalent quality.

How about our recording costs? Also way, way, way down. You can record albums using Pro Tools or many of its competitors for literally hundreds of dollars rather than the previous tens of thousands of dollars.

How about distribution? Thanks to the Internet we can now reach listeners all over the world. No longer do the Music Industry Gatekeepers control our access to our fans.

So, once again, are we in a golden era? I’m not so sure myself. In spite of all the advantages I’ve mentioned I can’t really say that I’ve seen the level of our art form go up. Yes, there are more songwriters but better songwriters? I’m not so sure.

Maybe it’s just a case of they’re out there but the clutter prevents us from hearing them or maybe not.

What do you think?

Song Titles

So let’s start at the top, with titles. How important is a great title? Does it make or break a song? Well my feeling is a great title is a great asset to a song. However, rarely does a title ruin a song. One of the more difficult things in the process of writing songs is to get the ball rolling, to get the song started, and a great way to do that is with a great title. A great title can be a great idea for a song. One of the greatest titles, in my opinion, was written by Sonny boy Williamson and that title was “Your Funeral, My Trial”. Doesn’t that say it all?

Well, we’ve talked about how a great title can enhance the song, and a bad title ruin a song? I don’t think so.

One more thing…Titles should almost always be included in the lyrics of the song. Keep in mind that songs are heard by listeners and not read like poetry. We’re trying to make our songs memorable and one way to do it it to make every effort to make our titles obvious to our listeners.

An excellent place to put your title is in the chorus. The reason being that the chorus should be the most memorable part of your song, it’s the essence of your song and it’s sung multiple times in a song.

Another good place to place your title is to repeat it at the end of each verse. This is called a ‘refrain’.

Idea Collection

One technique that’s used by many songwriters is ‘Idea Collection’. Although there are numerous approached the basic premise is always the same.

Here’s how it works. Let’s say you were going to work on a song about jealousy. You’d start by writing down whatever popped into your head about the subject: hate, broken heart, loss, other man, ring, alone, loneliness, anger, trust, insecurity, no answer on the phone, broken promises, unfair, juvenile, lover, etc. Try to list as many ideas as possible. They can be a word, a phrase, a concept, whatever.

It’s important that you’re non-judgmental during this process. Be sure not to be critical of any of your ideas. Just keep jotting them down. Quantity is more important than quality for this to work.

Now start writing your jealousy song. If you’re like most songwriters there will be times when you can’t come up with anything. That would be the time to review your ‘Idea Collection’. You’ll find that often there’s a better word or concept that you can use or perhaps a direction to go in for the bridge.

I think that this approach can be helpful because of the freedom you allow during the creative process of compiling the Collection. When you’re actually writing the song your brain is multi-tasking. It’s thinking about the song form or the rhyming scheme or the meter. If you can free it up a bit with the ‘Idea Collection’ it can work much more effectively.

What We Can Learn from Cinema

Next time you watch a movie see what you can learn from it as a songwriter.

Here are some examples:

As songwriters we need to remind ourselves that we can use the cinematic devise of ‘dropping in’ on either an internal conversation, a discussion, a situation, or whatever, in a life or lives, either our own or someone else’s.

Who hasn’t wished he wasn’t a fly on the wall? It offers a kind of voyeur appeal. It also makes the listener quickly attempt to determine what’s going on. Cinema often uses this device. The next time you’re watching a movie, study how the film opens, how the director establishes the locale, how he introduces the characters, how he informs you of the issues and problems that will propel the story forward. You can use those techniques in songwriting to have songs with more believability and to make them more coherent.

You can also use the lessons learned in cinema in regards to creating first verses and opening lines. Think about how movies often start with a very general shots, often from a helicopter. This establishes the location for the story. From the beginning, we know if the characters are in the city, a town, in the wilderness, wherever. Well, the same holds true for song.

What do you think?