The Song As A Script
by Ralph Murphy
Your song is finished.
You were eloquent.
The melody flowed.
You are fulfilled, complete.
You resound with satisfaction.
You said everything you wanted to say.
How could anyone fail to rush to record your song?
Well, not so fast… Your songs may be your little lambs, but when it comes time to send one of them to the market, keep in mind that some people hate lamb chops and others are allergic to wool.
So before you proceed, think back…
back to before you entered the music business;
back to when you were the audience and went to see singers for fun;
back to when you thought those singers were singing songs they had written about their own lives;
back to when you thought you were catching a glimpse of their inner souls. You were unaware that those inner souls had been crafted for them by Bacharach & David or Holland-Dozier-Holland.
Well, just as your favorite TV and movie stars do not write their own scripts, luckily for songwriters, neither do a lot of singers write their own songs.
The major difference between actors and singers however is that most actors can change characters from film to film whereas successful singers rarely depart radically from the image they have chosen.
That presents the songwriter hurdles that require investigation before rushing into pitch mode.
Not only must the song/script be in keeping with the artist’s image but a few music business executives must be persuaded to gamble a million dollars on it. Figuring in the cost of the sessions, (studio, production, musicians, etc) the video, tour support, radio school, stylists and of course radio, you are at a million big ones.
Your script has to function on a lot more levels than just entertaining your friends and family.
It is a script for a performer to stand on stage and have a linear, lyrical conversation with his or her audience (in my case is that audience is women!).
In my opinion, if you are a stand-alone writer – not a performer, not in a band – and you are not writing for women, you are decreasing your chances for success! Our world of entertainment is always ultimately about “The Woman.” With rare exceptions, it is men singing to women and women singing to women. So, the mantra for the songwriter parallels that of the restaurateur. When looking for a restaurant to invest in, there are three factors to consider: location, location, location. Likewise, to be a songwriter, there are three things you should consider: What’s in it for the woman? What’s in it for the woman? What’s in it for the woman?
So, when you see the word LISTENER in any of my articles, mentally substitute the word WOMAN.
So let’s focus on their perception of your song.
Aside from the work being right for the artist, is it a potential hit?
Do you get the listener involved in the song quickly? How quickly? Well, try 60 seconds, including introduction. I call it getting the listener to invest in your song. If I am drawn into a writer’s invention, it requires me to identify with (or ideally become) the hero, victim, winner or loser in the piece.
In order to lure me/the listener in, it’s better that you speak to me, not about me. Though I dealt with the pronoun (the little big word) in a previous column, let me remind you that when it comes to the song as a script, it is the little huge word. You’ll get my attention faster if the song is about You, I, Us or We, because if it’s about Her, Him or Them, it will be much harder to capture and keep my interest. However, if the song is using the first-person pronoun (you, me, I, etc.) and the central figure is too old, too young, not cool enough or just not the image that the artist, management or label wish to project, you might consider changing to the third-person pronoun (even though the odds are higher for your song not being #1). That way, the artist can sing the song (about being homeless a drunk perhaps) without it reflecting personally on him or her.
Next, you must create an expectation and then fulfill that expectation. Pull out some of your favorite songs and look at the titles – pretty average stuff, mostly words or phrases you use every day. However, those titles are the fulfillment of the created expectation. The genius is in the creation of the expectation. Making something commonplace eye-catching – or in the case of the song, ear catching – is your job.
I don’t know how many of you have seen an uncut diamond, but they look remarkably unremarkable, rather boring in fact. Only in the hands of someone who has absorbed the craft and mastered the skill of making the mundane sparkle does the seemingly dull come to life.
So, surprise me with interesting information, by asking a question with a different twist or by describing a condition, place, person or circumstance using words and phrases that make the ordinary extraordinary.
Well, I guess we need to have a checklist for this song that you have chosen to be a script for a specific artist.
High on that list is accessibility. How easy is the song to sing? Are you trying to fit three-syllable words into a one-syllable spot?
Singer/songwriters do it all the time and get away with it because they are the artists. You cannot.
Does its range span three notes or three octaves? Remember that a lot of “artisteests” may have an abundance of charisma, personality and sex appeal but honestly can’t sing very well. Send them the story songs because the more detailed the story, the less melody you need. Remember, the human animal is not very good at hearing more than one moving part at a time and given its preference will always defer to melody.
Now, if you’re pitching to divas or vocally well-endowed males, then be big on melody, heavy on monosyllabic words and open vowel sounds (A-E-I-O-U-Y!) and minimum story.
What is the song about? Will this artist’s audience identify him or her with this situation or circumstance? Does the artist use this language? Remember all that changes from genre to genre, aside from attitude, is vocabulary and technology. Vocabulary especially is a bond between the artist and the audience. That, by the way, is a huge obstacle for writers crossing to cultures and genres that they are not intimately connected to or understand personally.
And finally, have you told the whole story – beginning, middle and end? Have you created an expectation from the opening line, fulfilled that expectation in 60 seconds, added information/detail in the next verse, and spiced it up by adding conflict or calming it down? Have you made the listener laugh, cry, question, cheer, feel any (or all) of a whole range of emotions or just plain old fall in love?
Then take it to the artist – job well done!
Ralph Murphy, hit songwriter and expert, has been successful for five decades. He wrote huge hit songs such as Crystal Gayle’s “Talking in Your Sleep” and “Half the Way”. Consistently charting songs in an ever-changing musical environment makes him a member of that very small group of professionals who make a living ding what they love to do. Add to that the platinum records as a producer, his success as the publisher and co-owner of the extremely successful Picalic Group of Companies and you see a pattern of achievement based on more than luck. Achieving “hit writer” status has always been a formidable goal for any songwriter. Never more so however than in the 21st century. Catching the ear of the monumentally distracted, fragmented listener has never been more difficult. Getting their attention, inviting them in to your song and keeping them there for long enough for your song to become “their song” requires more than being just a “good” songwriter.
*His new book Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting “The Book” arms the songwriter for success by demystifying the process and opening the door to serious professional songwriting. Hall of fame songwriter Paul Williams said in his review of the book “If there was a hit songwriters secret handshake “Da Murphy” would probably have included it.” To get the book, enter 3 or more songs at the 11th Annual IAMA and receive this exclusive book for FREE»
Acoustic Music Radio featuring acoustic track by current hit maker Meghan Trainor, hear her acoustic song “Waterfalls” that got her discovered! She hit #1 this week on the Billboard Charts (press time).
Song list on this radio program:
5 Things I’ve Learned About Having A Long Music Career by Jason Miles
There are many intricacies to having a long-lasting career in music. I learned so much from being around great musical minds and incredibly talented musicians, producers, and arrangers. I’ve been around this business for 41 years and I still feel there is much more for me to do that I haven’t yet done. Here are just a few things that I hope you’ll keep in your back pocket and learn from as you embark on careers of your own. 1. Be Unique When I came to New York City there were some absolutely amazing musicians on the scene. The competition was fierce! What was I going to do to make my voice heard above the fray? My answer was that I chose to be an early adopter of synthesis. As much time as I spent practicing, connecting, and writing, I also put effort into learning about synthesizers at a time when many people really didn’t know much about them. I programmed my own sounds and used them on live shows, and soon word started to spread that I did something special with these new instruments. You have to find something that separates you from everybody else. 2. Learn from the Masters When I started out, I wanted to work and hang out with as many great musicians as I could. My enthusiasm for music had no bounds. Knowledge and wisdom from experienced people will take you very far in this business. There’s so much to learn, and you simply can’t learn it from yourself. Keeping your mouth shut and observing the work of great musicians in different situations will go a long way to giving you the experience you need. 3, Patience, Patience, Patience! When I came back to New York City in 1974, my goal was to work with Miles Davis. I worked and worked, and in 1986, it happened. Was there some luck involved? Of course, but when the moment came I was truly ready for it. There was a lot of pressure and responsibility involved in making Miles’ album Tutu, including new technology and new ways of making music—but I’d been preparing for that moment for years. Nothing happens overnight, but if you hang in long enough, you will get a shot. 4. Know Your Music History I had a great record collection and I spent hours and hours listening to all kinds of music. Later when I met well-known musicians, they realized I was familiar with their work, and consequently they were much more friendly and interested in me. When I met Josef Zawinul for the first time in 1974 he looked at my girlfriend and said, “This guy knows his stuff!” We ended up being friends for over 30 years. You need to be a mini-encyclopedia of music. It will help you understand how to move forward by respecting and learning about the past. 5. It’s Called the Music Business for a Reason This is not always a kind business, nor has it ever been for anybody. Everyone has his or her terrible music business stories. The more you know about the business side of things, the better chance you have of surviving its ups and downs. Learn about contracts, royalites, and performing rights organizations, and last but not least, surround yourself with people you can trust and who truly have your best interests at heart. I’ve been in this business for four decades and even during its most difficult moments, my wife Kathy always supported me unconditionally.
[This article is reprinted with permission from Keyboard Magazine]
Jason Miles is a Grammy winning producer, keyboardist, synthesist, composer, and arranger who has worked with Miles Davis, Sting, and Michael Jackson. His latest project with his band Global Noize is a groove/jazz/ world tribute to Sly and the Family Stone called Sly Reimagined.
For more information on the 11th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com
Breaking News: IAMA Winner Meghan Trainor Hits #1 on Billboard
#1 on Billboard Charts is a huge accomplishment, especially for a young 20 year old girl. IAMA winner hits the charts yet again. The song is also #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, Meghan Trainor is no longer an indie artist, she has gone huge mainstream.
Meghan Trainor was discovered by IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards) and she won Best Female Artist in the 6th Annual IAMA (International Accoustic Music Awards) in 2010 when she was just 16 years old with her songs performed in acoustic format.
After sneaking up to #2 last week, Meghan Trainor’s love-your-body anthem, “All About That Bass,” will take the top spot on the Billboard Digital Songs chart this week thanks to sales of 197,000. Her video has over 14 million views on YouTube. The song is also #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts this week.
At just 20 years old, this is a huge accomplishment for a young girl. “All About That Bass” is a Pop doo-wop blue-eyed soul song, with a fun retro 60’s “Hairspray” feel.
From Nantucket, Massachusetts, She wrote “All About That Bass” this year with Hit Grammy Award-nominated songwriter and producer Kevin Kadish. Her publishing company told her that many artists might be interested in recording the song. Music mogul L.A. Reid heard Trainor’s demo of the song and signed her to Epic Records, where she was able to release the song as a solo artist.
Berklee College of Music trained Kevin Kadish has written and produced for the biigest names in today’s pop music such as: Jason Mraz, Miley Cyrus, Michelle Branch, O.A.R. and many more. Trainor is also a successful songwriter and has had songwriting cuts with Rascal Flatts, Sabrina Carpenter and Macy Kate.
ABOUT IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards)
IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards) promotes the art and artistry of acoustic music performance and artistry. In it’s 11 year, IAMA has a proven track record of winners going on to hit the Billboard Charts. 2nd Annual IAMA winner Zane Williams winning song was recorded by country music star Jason Michael Carroll, that song hit #14 on Billboard Country Charts and #99 on Billboard Hot 100 Charts. Jeff Gutt, finalist at the 9th Annual IAMA was a runner-up on X-Factor USA. For more information on 11th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com
by Jeannie Deva
Your audience may think it’s magic, but anyone who achieves outstanding performances has worked hard to do so. What is the key to this success? Through my own development as a veteran performer, as well as by helping countless singers and bands achieve success on stage and in the studio, I’ve been able to develop these tips to help your rehearsals result in “Wow” performances.
1. Envision your message. Sometimes referred to as “the whole package” or “branding,” the overall image, sound and message of a band or solo performer should be established early on. The better you can define your general message and image the more focused your activities will be. This vision of your “product” acts as the criteria for every detail of your music, arrangements, set list, staging, outfits, etc. This is your musical presentation, persona and unique identity. As your career develops, so may your vision and everything realigns to harmonize with it.
2. Keep rehearsals focused. It’s very easy to squander valuable rehearsal time if you don’t predetermine what you will be practicing. Make a “to-do list” of what you’ll cover during rehearsal—and stick to it. Don’t make the list unrealistically long and don’t veer off it. If something comes up mid-rehearsal, such as certain players need more practice of their own parts, skip that song and go onto the next item on your list. Keeping rehearsals productive keeps morale high.
3. Call “vocals only” rehearsals. Many details go into blending good sounding vocals, so coordination of lead and harmony vocals deserve separate rehearsals. From the audience’s perspective, vocals are the most important instrument in a performance or recording (no offense to instrumentalists). A cappella or quiet guitar/piano accompaniments allow you to really hear the vocal quality and blend. Record your sessions to identify what needs to be tightened up.
4.Set lists that work. Open the set with a song that grabs your audience’s attention and captures their interest. End the set with a song that has a strong hook that they’ll walk out singing. Plan the intervening songs based on set length and use of contrasting keys, tempos and emotional transitions to build audience interest and response. To increase interest, pick a song sequence that varies your singer’s range.
5.Practice performance skills too. After any musical trouble spots are smoothed out, such as wrong notes or chords and sloppy rhythms, don’t neglect practicing performance skills such as movement on stage, microphone handling, etc. Spend some time practicing as though you’re ON stage and singing TO the audience. Use video recordings of rehearsals to evaluate and improve.
6. Practice Tops and Tails. Top is the beginning of a song and tail is the end. Going from the tail of one song to the top of the next allows you to get familiar with emotional and physical transitions including changing guitars, moving from one instrument to another and for singers, any change of vocal approach. This will also confirm if your set list works or needs rearrangement.
7. Practice your full set list. Practicing your full set is like a gymnast practicing their routine. You develop your mental as well as physical transitions while you navigate through each song in order of actual performance. This also helps you develop physical and mental performance stamina. This includes:
• Entrances and exits: Consider entrances and exits as a visual part of your show. This should include things like deciding if the lead singer will enter after the band begins playing and how you will end the show and exit the stage.
• Your gear: Avoid clumsiness on stage by practicing any necessary guitar changes; effects pedal settings, etc. during rehearsals of the full set. Practice smoothly taking the mic on and off the stand or making setting changes on vocal effects pedals such as TC-Helicon’s VoiceLive series. Using quick change Hercules mic stands eliminates awkward adjustments on stage.
• Band interaction: Your performance is both visual and audio how you move and look to the audience will either complement or distract from their emotional experience. Performance energy is enhanced when a group works in unison and plays off each other musically and visually.
• Talking to your audience: Audience connection can be enhanced with short verbal interchange between some songs. It takes practice to say something appropriate to the audience to fill a few moments of downtime while a player changes a guitar or the singer moves to a piano for the next song. Practice this during your full set rehearsal so you get comfortable doing it without rambling on.
8. Practice in different rooms. Room acoustics and stage sizes may influence the audio and visual aspects of your performance. Change your rehearsal location whenever feasible to become familiar with adapting your show to different venues. (For more, see my July 2013 MC article: “Different Room Acoustics.”)
9. Practice on camera. To prepare for TV appearances and videos, practice performing to your video camera as though it is a live audience. Different emotional messages from song to song will have varied musical tone and should also LOOK appropriately different. During playback you will see whether your movements and expressions are emotionally consistent with the song. For compact affordable stereo sound and video recording, I like the Zoom Q4.
10. Don’t skimp on preproduction. When prepping for studio recording, spend adequate rehearsal time in preproduction. Rushing into the studio unprepared wastes valuable recording time and money and increases frustration and stress. Enhance your vocal recording by having your singers practice with a rough mix of the instrumental tracks prior to going into the studio. Incorporate all the above tips into recording prep so you emulate a live performance in the studio. A good headphone set mix is vital in the studio, so I recommend Sennheiser’s HD 280 for fantastic sound at a great price.
[Reprinted by permission from Music Connection magazine]
JEANNIE DEVA is a celebrity voice and performance coach, recording studio vocal specialist and member of the Grammys. Endorsed by engineers and producers of Aerosmith, Elton John and the Rolling Stones, she is the author of The Contemporary Vocalist book and CD series, The Deva Method Vocal Warm-Up CD and the eBook: Singer’s Guide to Powerful Performances available for all digital readers. She teaches in her Los Angeles studio and internationally via Skype as well as through her online video exchange school. Visit http://JeannieDeva.com.
For more information on the 11th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to:http://www.inacoustic.com