Things Every Songwriter Should Know
  ...from the Pros Who've Done it.

Written By: Kenny Loggins

There’s a magic that comes with being aware you’re “onto something” while you’re onto it. It fills you with a strange sense of purpose that seems to invigorate the project and deepen the vision, even when you feel like all you’ve got is fireflies to follow, just the hint of heat and light out ahead, teasing you on, leading you somewhere you can barely see in the distance, as if towards an ancient city shrouded in fog, just waiting for you to come discover it.

Great moments are rare.

Here it was, another one of those moments that we, as artists, long for, wait years for, usually very impatiently, and hope to capture at least once in our lives. I can honestly say, looking back, I believe I’ve been incredibly lucky to have experienced this rush 3 or 4 times in my career, but few times as consciously as this moment.

Loggins and Messina was one of those moments, certainly, but I was young and not really as aware of what was happening or what was in store. Making “Celebrate Me Home” was one, big time. A big leap from the Country inspired sound of L&M. Speaking of “leaps,” writing and recording “Leap of Faith” years later was another major “magic moment,” possibly my biggest one ever, as it was accompanied with a major spiritual awakening and an amazing love affair.

Enter Gary Burr.

Back when I was making the CD, “How about Now,” (2007) I met a very talented Nashville singer/songwriter named Gary Burr, and we set about writing some songs together, most of them based on my journal entries from the first few years of my recent divorce. In many ways that was a painful process, I might add, yet Gary and I spent as much time laughing as we did writing. And the songs were good, some of them damn good. But the best part was that when we sang together, we sounded like brothers. A rare occurrence, especially for me. The last time I experienced that kind of blend was with Jimmy Messina in 1971.

Start a new band??  Am I crazy or what?

Well, some time passes and I found myself thinkin’ to myself, “Self…Ya know if this was 20 years ago, that kind of mixture of fun, great songs and natural vocal blend would have spawned a band!” Of course, that’s crazy talk at my age. I mean, I’ve made my own “brand,” my career is doing fine, thank you God, and why mess with a good thing?

But something pushes you when you make art for a living, something beyond logic.  So, just like that, I called Gary and asked him if he’d like to form a band. He, of course, thought I’d lost my mind, but agreed with something like, “Why Kenny, that’s a dandy idea…” We shot the shit for a few minutes, and then we hung up the phone. I suspect he never expected to hear from me again. But I’m funny that way, and the feeling, the inspiration to do something NEW wouldn’t let me go. I would check in with Gary every couple of months, just to let him know I was the proverbial dog with a bone, and was still thinking about this imaginary “band.”

One more piece to the puzzle…Hello Georgia.

Then one day, while on a 15 mile bike ride, after the endorphins kicked in, I suddenly “realized” we needed a third member! 3 part harmony. Never done that! And it should be a female voice. A singer/songwriter of some high credibility, but preferably, as yet an undiscovered talent.

I called Gary.  “You know any great chick-singer/songwriters?” “Hell yeah,” he replied, “My girlfriend, Georgia Middleman. She’s the best I’ve ever worked with.”  It should be added here that Gary is no slouch himself, Gary was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005, having penned 13 #1 songs to date!  He went on to say “Georgia just wrote Keith Urban’s #2 record in the country right now.”  That felt like one hell of a start, so I agreed to fly out to Nashville for “a meeting.”

Why fight something that feels this good?

And what a meeting! Within our first three hours together, the three of us wrote our first song, called “I Get It,” and were singing with a 3-part blend that comes once in a lifetime. I was as high as a 21 yr old (who shall remain nameless) having discovered rock-n-roll for the very first time, like a kid I knew who once hitch-hiked his way to Monterey in the summer of 1966, only to have the course of his life changed forever. So we wrote this really cool song, and started seriously considering the “band thing,” which as I said before, at this stage of my life feels a lot like Mickey Rooney saying to Judy Garland, “Hey kids…Let’s put on a show!!” It’s crazy talk. It’s a million to one long shot. But it sure is fun!

Have you had any magic moments like this?  Have you started a new group late in your career.  Please share in the comments below.

If you haven’t already, check out:

The Story Behind the Hit Bless The Beasts and the Children – click here
How an unlikely background cue became a giant hit – click here
Craft will save your ass – click here

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Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Andy Mesecher, Associate Editor of Music Connection Magazine

There are many reasons one might create a demo:

1. For the smoke and mirrors of a record deal.
2. As pre-production for your recording engineer or booking agent.
3. To promote an upcoming studio album.
4. For entry level reviews.
5. For your EPK, etc.

Whatever the reason, these tips are crucial for any level of submission:

1. Make your package clear.
You would be surprised how many people do not follow this simple step. I have witnessed a band get a stellar review only to find out there was no contact information provided in the package, the CD was not labeled and there was no way of truly identifying the group.

When you submit your press kit, always label your cd, then label your tracks again on something the listener can hold while reviewing your demo. A “RIYL” (Review If You Like) list is also crucial. If the label or booking agent is looking for an Iggy Pop style band and sees your artwork is similar, but then you sound like Shania Twain, you have wasted his or her time.

2. Make your package memorable.
In the three years I have been at Music Connection, I have seen some of the most elaborate press kits; everything from an “Enema” pill that contained a USB stick with the band’s information, to a Chinese take-out box full of smaller take out boxes containing bio information. While these are memorable and funny styles of submission, they are also very expensive and impractical. But there are alternatives. I have seen a singer-songwriter submit a toy kazoo with her demo that had her name on it. That’s genius! A tangible form of swag that will likely be in my office for years to come, which will be viewed by any industry head that comes through this office!

3. List your accolades.
Let’s face it, the industry isn’t about “making it big” any longer; it’s about survival. This doesn’t only apply to artists. Booking agents, managers, publicists, engineers, etc., are in the same survival mode as you and your band. Because of this, they want you to prove why they should take the time to hear you. Have you won a battle of the bands? Do you sell-out good sized venues? List things like this, and always add publication quotes of previous reviews.

4. Do not send MP3 via email.
Nothing infuriates someone more than coming into work to find out their inbox was clogged over night and all of their emails were bounced back to sender. Always contact whomever the package is intended in advance, and ask them how they would like to receive the media. If you cannot afford to mail packages (which many companies don’t accept anyway), websites like BandCamp and ReverbNation are intended to help!

5. Check your demo before sending.
Last but not least, check your demo before you send it out. If you’re burning CDs on your CPU, it is likely that there will be a 5-8% failure rate (depending on how many you are cranking out). Because of this, the person checking out your demo may hear pops, skips, or even DEAD AIR instead of what you sent them… woops!

Look, this is the music world. You joined this industry to express yourself and to not “conform” to the regular 9-5, so of course you should take these tips with a grain of salt. I am not a 25 year veteran of the industry, but I am someone who watches 1000+ demos come-and-go each year. Seeing what I’ve seen and watching so many bands continually grow, it can only help to keep these 5 tips in mind before wasting the postage on that next Kit.

Cheers,
Andy Mesecher
Associate Editor
Music Connection Magazine
andym@musicconnection.com

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Craft Will Save Your Ass
September 20th, 2011

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Rand Bishop

A little bit about me

When I published the book BMI VP Jody Williams dubbed my “manifesto” (Makin’ Stuff Up), I have to admit I was overly confident in my assumption that there were tens of thousands of wannabe songwriters eager and waiting to lap up a veteran’s tips on song craft and chuckle over glib real-life tales of self-destruction and ultimate triumph in the music-biz. After all, I am a journeyman with decades in the trenches, a former major-label recording artist, platinum producer, A&R rep, Grammy Nominated, BMI Award-winning, million-play, number-one songwriter. (Sure, I’m tooting my own horn, but every note is right on pitch; and I think I’ve earned the right to strut a little after enduring 41 years in this brutal game — no mean feat, whatever that means.)

Anyway, I’ve had to adjust my expectations regarding books in general (especially books written for the purpose of deconstructing that odd and mysterious creative concoction known as the popular song). And now I await the publication of my second “manifesto” on the subject: The Absolute Essentials of Songwriting Success. But, if there’s anything that four decades in the music biz has taught me, it’s how to readjust my expectations. (If you don’t know what I mean by that, just stick around in this biz a little while longer, and I guarantee you will.)

Inspiration alone is usually not enough

So, my fine, furry friends, here’s what I’ve discovered since Makin’ Stuff Up hit the marketplace in December, ’08: The vast majority of songwriters are not the least bit interested in developing their craft. Bold statement, I know. Factual, however, I assure you. While dancers, painters, sculptors, classical singers and musicians, even hard-rock guitarists willingly seek qualified teachers, and pay a good price for their hard-won expertise, far too many songwriters assume their very first inspiration has been beamed from the gods, that the Muse’s initial whisper is sacrosanct, and not to be messed with. (While they are absolutely correct in the assumption that we are divinely inspired, it’s what a writer does with those heavenly inspirations that can make ALL the difference.)

A little wisdom from Janis Ian

So, if I may play devil’s advocate for a moment, I’d like to call my first witness to the stand, one Ms. Janis Ian, undeniably one of the hippest, most respected tunesmiths of the last half-century. “Ahem… Ms. Ian, if I may, I would like to ask your professional opinion.”

“By all means,” the diminutive lady responds.

“Inspiration versus craft,” I propose, “which is of more importance?”

“Inspiration is great,” says the Divine Ms. Ian, “but craft will save your ass.” Hmmm, the woman certainly has a way with words.

Sometimes it pays to listen

Yet, over and over again, I’ve seen the posts on Internet discussion boards: “Why should I pay for a song evaluation? It’s just somebody else’s opinion.” Yes, it is somebody else’s opinion. Somebody else who presumably knows what he or she is talking about. Somebody else who has had songs on the top of the charts, cashed six-figure royalty checks, and accepted real awards. What this industry professional is charging for is constructive feedback that can help a developing writer get a little closer to that same experience. Still, so many writers would rather bitch and moan about how they can’t get arrested and how unfair and cruel the business is, while simultaneously refusing to listen to voices of experience and advice that just might contain the keys to the kingdom.

Up-and-comers are not the only writers who can benefit from qualified, constructive feedback. To this day, after 250 of my songs have been recorded — by some of the most iconic artists in pop, rock, and country — I rely on the ears (and opinions) of other industry pros to help me hone my songs until they are as tight and concise as they can possibly be. Do I willingly accept every comment and apply every single syllable of input? No-sir-ee-bob. But, if I harbor even a milligram of lingering doubt as to whether a specific passage of lyric or melody is as strong as it could be, and that bit’s not quite making hearts go pittapat, I’ll go back to the woodshed and carve away at it with renewed vigor. For most of us, great writing is re-writing. The purpose of a pop song is to communicate emotion. If we’re not getting the response we’re looking for, if anything at all needs to be explained, it’s not the listener’s fault. It means the composer and/or lyricist has more work to do. (That’s not to say that every lyric has to be absolutely literal in every pop genre, but leaving a listener confused can certainly be a liability if you’re trying to achieve your very first success, or even your next one.)

Don’t be afraid of constructive criticism

I remember those long-ago days when I strongly resisted playing a song for a peer or professional, for fear they might not love it as much as I did. I also recall thinking that I knew it all, and that anybody who didn’t fully appreciate my obvious genius must be an idiot. The reluctance to seek out and accept constructive criticism comes from those same two unattractive, counterproductive places: fear, and arrogance. To not avail oneself of every resource there is to improve one’s craft, while complaining that the rest of the world is an ass is a surefire recipe for continued failure. If you’ve tried it that way and the deck still seems stacked against you, maybe it’s time to reshuffle the cards and ask for directions to Hit City.

Sometimes a little MasterWriter helps

Speaking of resources, MasterWriter is one songwriting tool I will never do without. In my process, MasterWriter is equally as important as a guitar or a keyboard. I’ve used MasterWriter on every song I’ve written since 2002, when I first installed this brilliantly conceived software. So, MasterWriter and I have probably collaborated on about 400 songs. The original 1.2 version integrated word processing with a very practical, songwriter-friendly rhyming dictionary (including “sound-alikes,” which I absolutely LOVE), thesaurus, a wonderful innovation called rhyming phrases, and a reliable digital recorder. All the basic tools under one roof. No longer did I have to pack a computer, rhyming dictionary, thesaurus, and portable recorder, and keep track of stacks of work tapes and lyrics. MasterWriter provided all of those tools in my laptop, and my words and music-in-progress were automatically linked and date documented.

For me, this essential, all-in-one program had two drawbacks: it was more than a little bit poky, and the thesaurus was sketchy at best. (I could never figure out why ProTools was able to load up ten times faster than Masterwriter.) But, Masterwriter’s strengths far outweighed its weakness. I quickly became dependent on it, and even after more than 30 years of makin’ stuff up, I became a better writer for it.

The newer 2.0 version is far superior and has overcome the speed issue. Added are pop-culture references, word families, parts of speech, on-board midi drum loops, and lots of other stuff I haven’t even explored yet. The new thesaurus is more comprehensive than any I’ve ever seen. I salute MasterWriter as the most innovative and essential songwriting tool available today, bar none. You bring some talent and inspiration, along with the iron will to hone a tightly constructed pop song, and MasterWriter will be your strongest ally in your quest to make the airwaves and climb the charts.

Rand Bishop
Songwriter, producer, author of Makin’ Stuff Up, secrets of song craft and survival in the music-biz (Weightless Cargo Press, 2008, distributed exclusively by Alfred Publishing), the darkly comic novel/mock-memoir, Grand Pop (Eloquent Books, 2010) and the forthcoming Absolute Essentials of Songwriting Success (Alfred Publishing, 2010). http://www.randbishop.com

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Written By: Kenny Loggins

Key lessons from this post:

  • Why most executives only give most artists one CD to prove themselves
  • The danger of trying to follow a fad
  • Why artists are losing their audience
  • The power of looks and video

When I started in the music business, Clive Davis was the hand’s-down taste-maker, the man who far-and-away, “got it”, and lead the way with an ethos of how to do the music business, a style that completely lead the industry. Among his many gifts, I especially noticed:

1. He trusted his instincts, his “ears”, while watching the trends, and he had/has a damn good set of ears.

2. He knew that artists needed time to mature their craft, and would often invest deeply in an act for quite a while (as he did with Loggins and Messina), in order to shepherd that act’s creative growth. He literally invented the term “Artist development”.

In today’s music business, there are precious few record executives who still believe as Clive did, and are willing to hang with an artist for more than one CD.

There seems to be little or no “artist development” any more.

Why is that? Perhaps because when accountants took over the music business, they had no clue how Clive came to his decisions, had no inkling what was “good or bad”, and so they encouraged their “artists” to follow whatever fad was selling at the time. Thus we were launched into an era of copy-cat trends in music that has led to an all-time record-industry crash.

Artists are losing the audience’s attention.

Artists no longer capture the imagination of the public for very long, because Record Companies (interesting that they still use the term “record” in their own definition…) do not encourage originality and don’t stay with an artist’s development long enough to let them. New acts are signed for one “record”, sometimes even two or three songs only!

I suspect the rule of thumb is, “take one shot. If it doesn’t stick, it’s not worth the investment.” I’ll bet money that’s because they don’t “get it” in the first place. They never really “heard it”. It’s all just “white-man’s magic” to them, the incomprehensible whims of the unpredictable masses. In most cases today, it looks to me as if they just throw it all out there and see what happens. Then, if they smell success, they might spend some promotional money on that act and invest in a second song or CD.

How to be an ‘exception’.

Of course there are a few exceptions to that rule, but I consider those acts either left over from the previous era of the music business, as in the case of a U2, or artists so charismatically powerful, so willing to constantly push themselves into new territory that even the company can’t stop them (Witness John Mayer’s continuous self-empowered evolution). But I believe those artists and their managers have had to fight for every leap they’ve taken, and probably against the “better judgment” of their company’s most fearful leaders.

The difference (and danger) with Video Artists.

Clearly, looks and image have propelled Rock n Roll from the very beginning. Elvis had the look, the hips, the outrageous style that would propel him into the ethers of the Rock Pantheon. He would have made a great Video Star, as indeed he DID with his dynamic performance of Jailhouse Rock!

But many artists now owe their entire careers to Video, and have very little substance to back up their stratospheric rise. In all fairness, Music Video has kept the music business breathing during hard musical/financial times, but it has also hampered careers that might have had a chance in earlier times. So it goes.

But Video has also fueled the “fast food” intellect of the consumer by overexposing a new artist right from the beginning, thus usually quelling the mystique an artist might have developed over time. In many ways, it is the illusion that an artist’s music spins that fuels the longevity of the career. We crave more because we are allowed to simmer in the magic for a while.

Short-term hype causes true fans to be replaced with infatuation.

That, I believe, is why today’s audience rarely falls too deeply in love with an act. What I see today is more akin to the white-hot intensity of an infatuation, a “fantastic first date” if you will, and why today’s acts fall so quickly from grace, their promise never quite achieved.

The public simply got too much too quickly, and the act lost its seeming uniqueness right away. The Video too often strips us of the use of our imaginations. I am hardly the first person to say that. Folks have been saying that about TV since the death of radio.

And where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire…

How has the rapidly changing songwriting business affected your career? What changes could we help with? Please share in the comments. Even a short sentence helps our community in a big way.

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