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

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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Written by Barry DeVorzon – Follow us on Twitter

In my last blog, we took a brief trip through the fifties and sixties and the events that drastically changed the music business for songwriters, publishers, artists and record companies.  The main villain in this scenario was corporate thinking.  Doing away with the single record, only signing singer/songwriters, and the cost associated with recording albums before you knew if you had something or not, changed the business in a way that we would have to pay for later.

Corporate thinking and its consequences

Corporate thinking continued to zig when they should have zagged.  Radio lost its freedom and individuality, and became an advertising medium owned by a precious few corporations. The tight play lists did very little to break new artists, independent radio personalities disappeared and the most popular stations adopted the oldies but goodies format which was good for the oldies but not good for new product.

Greed will get you every time

The CD came out and offered a quality of sound that far surpassed vinyl and tape. Digital came at a price however, and as good as it was, it was also expensive and the sound was a little cold. As the consumer and the business itself embraced the CD, the sound quality improved, but for some reason or other, the price stayed the same.  With every other product, greater volume in sales usually results in the price coming down. This was not the case with the CD and once again it was corporate thinking at the major record companies who made that decision.

Since $16 was a lot of money for a kid to spend on an album each week, and kids were in the habit of wanting more than one album, they found a way to steal the albums. The new digital world made it easy and the record companies, instead of dropping the price, thought they could contain the problem legally. They finally realized that the cat was out of the bag and there was very little they could do about it. They finally did drop the price but by then it was too late, and convincing kids to pay for something they could get for free was not going to be easy.

The music business in transition

The rest is history, iTunes helped, but the business in general continued to suffer and here we are today – in bad shape, in transition, and nobody is 100% sure of exactly where it’s going.

To sum it all up, corporate thinking is not always a bad thing, it can be very powerful and positive, especially when it comes to developing and marketing products.  When it comes to the arts you have to be careful. The term music business says it all, it’s a delicate partnership between creative entities and business entities.  If either partner gets too powerful, it doesn’t work.

Where do we go from here?

I’m not that involved in the music business these days and what’s even worse, I’m getting old, but my guess is probably as good as anyone’s so for what it’s worth, here’s what I think is going to happen:

The new home of the record business is on the Internet. On this level playing field, independent record companies will be able to compete with major record companies. Boutique and specialty labels will also play an important role. We will take more chances and dare to be different. The cost of making records will normalize and the concept of the single record will be reborn. The cost of manufacturing will disappear since everything will be downloaded and companies like Pandora, Spotify, Amazon, iTunes, Emusic.com, Napster, Rhapsody, MP3Mix.com will provide interesting alternatives.

Exactly how this will end up? I don’t know, but it will certainly be better than what we have now. Better for the creative community as well as the record and publishing companies. Let’s hope I’m right!

If anyone has anything to add on this subject, your comments will be welcome.

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If you haven’t already, check out:

The 5 Ways to Connect to Inspiration – click here
How do you Know When you’ve Written a Great Song? – click here
The story of how I got my first hit – click here

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Written By: Kenny Loggins

“Intuition is soul guidance, appearing naturally in man during those instances when his mind is calm… calm the mind, that without distortion it may hear the infallible counsel of the Inner Voice.”

~ Paramahansa Yogananda

Last night in New York City, I was given my first ever “Lifetime Achievement Award,” thanks to the generosity of the T.J. Martell Foundation. I say “my first” because I suspect that’s how showbiz works. You hang around long enough, you do your job well, and the charities will want/need to award you in order to raise money for their cause.

As I see it, it’s a fair “give n take” for the privilege of making music for a living all my life. And it’s another way for artists to help out the charities. Just to be clear here, I am very appreciative of the honor. And my family will treasure this particular award long after I’m gone.

Start from the heart.

In the process of thinking about something appropriate to say at the dinner, I spent a couple of weeks just writing down ideas to consider for my acceptance speech. As it turned out, when the moment came for me to give “my speech,” I simply spoke from the heart, appreciated the moment, and felt proud and privileged to get to share such a profound experience with my daughter, Bella, and a few dear, good friends, including her mother and step-father.

When I was only 19, it was my good fortune to know a wise fellow musician-friend named Jeremy Stuart, who gave me a few tips that stuck with me all these years:

How to follow your heart (and create success from it)

1. Don’t follow. Lead.

Arguably the most important thing he ever taught me. If you can create your own market, you set the trend and own that market, thus raising the potential for longevity in your chosen field. Seems simple, but it’s not.

Admittedly, some aspects of that goal depend upon a bit of luck, but I think the secret to how to actually DO that is summed up in another popular phrase Jeremy used to love to say, “Follow your heart.” What a deceptively simple-sounding concept that is actually incredibly difficult to learn and practice.

2. Get in touch with your heart.

In order to connect with your heart, you have to learn how to hear it. Then you have to be willing to trust those subtle messages, even though they may seem (almost always) a bit crazy. Then you have to be courageous enough to actually take action on those messages.

3. Take action on intuition – exercise creativity.

Over the years I have come to believe that taking action on an intuitive, creative inner message is like making a deal with Creativity itself. The more I am willing to trust my heart, my creative inner voice, the more It’s willing to trust me and thus communicate more with me.

Sounds kind’a crazy, I suppose, but it seems to work for me. For some reason, Creativity is like a muscle that needs to be constantly flexed. I think of it as “a spiritual practice,” a deal I make with my inner muse. Why not?

Stephen King once said he has to write every day, or he starts to dry up, to go crazy with the self repression and the self-defeating inner dialogues. (He would say that, I expect, seeing as it’s Stephen-frickin-King!)

4. Warning: Don’t let your mind take control.

A word of warning to those of you just starting out on the Heart Driven Path: The first thing the mind will want to do is get itself back in charge of your world, so in the throws of a creative flash, you may find yourself thinking, “Oh, I’m sure someone already thought of that,” well.., I’d consider that thought actually as a clue that I’m onto something.

So, take a beat…then take a good look at what just came through, and simply humor yourself for a minute. Look to see what about that idea is fresh, different, maybe even possible. Don’t dismiss it till you’ve given it a moment to hatch. “Don’t kill it in the cradle,” as my great songwriter/friend, David Foster, used to say.

5. Prioritize the heart’s creativity and intuition over the mind’s logic and control.

For some reason, the mind and the heart have been waging a centuries old battle that continues to this day within each of us, and whenever I start to get close to a fresh spark, my mind will often attempt to extinguish that spark, almost as a knee-jerk reaction.

I think the nature of “the mind” is essentially to protect us from harm, and thus I suspect it trained itself, centuries ago to “protect us” from being different. Even though it’s not really needed in that capacity anymore, (at least in most of he United States), the mind is still busy doing it’s designated job of “keeping us safe.” “Don’t break from the herd. Don’t stand out or someone will try to knock you down,” is its primary directive. I suspect this is “natural selection” at work, survival of the fittest in a bit of a worn-out wrapper. (Truth be told, some cultures are still run by that axiom, and ingenuity can be almost eliminated by it.)

Craziness required.

I believe the artists and inventors of the world are celebrated primarily for their ability, their willingness to reinvent the wheel, and the really good ones strive to be different. The more you are not contained inside that box, the more creative you can be. But it takes vision and courage to escape, and maybe a little craziness too.

In my case, I confess, it has always been my biggest challenge. Yet I’d say my “formal education” on how to hear my heart came from a teacher I met in my early 30’s, and following it has been getting progressively more “second nature” ever since then. In that way, I have slowly, inadvertently, found ways to reinvent myself. Just by following what feels good, and letting my voice, the one who sings, express that feeling.

Looking back, I was lucky that I always had a very powerful inner spirit that took charge of my destiny, even when I might have wished I could be someone else. Most writers will tell you that when they did do their best work, it felt as if someone else was doing the writing. We often hear about a songwriter sitting back after creating something really good, and saying, “Did I do that?” That’s what I’m talking about. I think the Ancients called that ephemeral spark the “Muse.” I believe it to be an inner voice that, when we are at our best, sidesteps the self-critical mind and takes over the task at hand.

I call it ”the heart” or “spirit.”

You may call it whatever you like, but I’m willing to bet money, if you’ve got the gift, you’ve felt the feeling.

Have you been listening to your head or your heart? What’s been your greatest career challenge? Please share in the comments below.

If you haven’t already, check out:

The Story of How The Theme from S.W.A.T. Came to be – click here
7 Tips on How to Record a Demo That Gets Results – click here
7 Places you Should be Sending Your Songs to – click here

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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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Written by Barry DeVorzon – Follow us on Twitter

You have some great songs…Now what?
You have some great demos of some great songs, and when I say great I don’t mean good or even very good, I mean great!  Now what?  Now is when the songwriter has to become a detective and identify and find the people and companies that he should be sending his songs to.  This used to be an impossible task but today you can find almost anything you’re looking for on the Internet.

Music magazines are also great sources of information and often publish lists of record companies, producers, and publishers.  There are also a great many songwriter resources on the Internet that will give you all the information you need. Spend whatever time it takes, but leave no stone unturned. Your goal is to get your songs in the hands of as many artists, producers, publishers and record labels as you can.  Here are 7 places you should be sending your songs to:

1. Record Labels

In addition to the majors, there are a lot of smaller labels that are even more accessible and just as effective as any major.  Everyday, more independent labels come on line and this is a trend that I think will continue.

2. Producers

Getting your song to the producers of the various artists is one of the most effective ways to get your songs cut.  Who they are is information that is out there, how to get to them is not so easy.  It’s been my experience that less is more, try and keep your submittals to one or two songs and no more than four.  Here again, all you need is for one producer to take the time to listen.

3. Artists

The best way to get to artists is through a personal relationship or mutual friends, or members of their band.  If that’s not possible, try contacting their managers or you can send your songs to the A&R departments of the record companies for a particular artist.

4. Publishers

Publishers are easy to get to but the only Publishers really pitching songs these days seem to be in Nashville and Austin.  There may be some exceptions in LA and New York, but not many.

5. Music Libraries

While you’re trying to get your songs recorded a great place to make money are Music Libraries.  Usages and the subsequent performance royalties can really add up.  Some major Music Libraries are: APM, Killer Tracks, Extreme, 5 Alarm, Megatrax, and First Com.  For the entire list, check out PMA, Production Music Association.  You may have to give them exclusive rights in as far as production music is concerned, but don’t give up your copyrights.

6. Music Departments at Movie and Television Studios

Music Departments at movie and television studios always need production music.  Sometimes they augment the music in a film by adding a song or two from their music libraries in scenes where they need them. If for any reason they are unhappy with the Main or End Title you may even get a shot at one of those.  Sometimes they use songs from their music libraries as a temp track for a movie or television show, and sometimes producers and directors fall in love with those songs and they stay in the film.  That’s happened for me a number of times.

7. TAXI

If you don’t feel like doing all of the above, there is a company that does it for you named TAXI.  Check it out, it’s worked for a lot of songwriters.  Michael Laskow, is the President of Taxi, and he has assembled a great staff to help songwriters in a number of ways.  They not only do what they can to place your songs, they critique them as well, pointing out the weaknesses, and suggesting how you can make them better.

Leave no stone unturned.

Some people will argue that spending the time, effort, and money that is required to do the above isn’t worth it since you’d have to consider taking this approach as somewhat of a long shot.  Some of my biggest hits came as a result of taking long shots rather than following the obvious path.  Most of what I’ve suggested to you will be a waste of time, with the exception of TAXI, but this is a business that is all about percentages, all you need is one or two people to hear something in your songs and the result could be life changing.

If anyone out there has any additional suggestions on how to get your songs heard, we’d love to hear from you.  Share in the comments below.  Thanks for adding to the conversation.

Did this post help you in any way? If so, please share it with one other person who could use it. Use the links for Facebook and Twitter below. Thanks!

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Written by Barry DeVorzon – Follow us on Twitter

Okay, so you have a great song and now you want to record a demo. Once again, a song comes first, and your goal is to do a recording that does it justice. Sometimes, you can take a great song and make it even better with a demo, while other times, great songs can suffer in the recording process. Here are some tips that will help you avoid that and get the most out of your recordings.

1. Start with a good studio.

When recording your song, you want make sure the quality of the recording is top notch.  Whether you choose to record at a commercial studio or a home studio, make sure you are working with quality equipment. This would include effects units, microphones, sequencing software, and the ability to edit easily. The sound of your demo is important so you should do everything you can to ensure that quality.

2. Work with a qualified engineer.

Working with someone who knows the equipment and knows how to get the most out of the equipment is essential. If you work in a commercial studio, do your homework and make sure you are working with the right engineer. If you’re working at home, the right engineer may be you or a friend of yours.

3. Work with the right musicians.

If you’re not doing it all, make sure you work with great musicians. Working with the right musicians is an essential ingredient if you want to wind up with a good recording. You want musicians who can take direction without letting their egos get in the way and who will freely contribute musical ideas to help you achieve your goals. Signature licks and fills can come from the musician while they’re playing that turn out better than anything you may have had in mind. I call these pearls, and you only get them when you work with the right musicians. That being said, the right musician may be you, which makes it all a lot easier.

4. Get a basic track that’s right for the song.

A good basic track is the backbone of any good recording. Start with the basics when laying down a track, you can always add to it. The basics are drums, bass, keyboards, guitar, and last but not least, the right tempo. Before you start recording it is important to capture the tempo the song was conceived in. Sometimes in a studio environment, people tend to forget that and speed up or slow down the original tempo, which can cause you to lose the natural groove for that song.

If you sing the song using your vocal as a temporary guide track while they’re playing, it will help them with the feel. If you’re a one-man band, then I would start with a drum track, add a bass, and then start laying down your keyboard or your guitar. Either way, once you have a basic track, take a moment and see how it feels. If it feels good, make whatever adjustments are necessary to make it better. If it doesn’t feel good, then start again until you get a basic track that does feel good. Now you’re ready to lay down the vocals.

5. Work with the right singer for your song.

If you wrote the song and you can sing, this is as good as it gets. If that is not the case, you first have to decide if the song calls for a male or female singer. Once you make that choice, it is important that you find a singer that relates to the type of song you have written. This is important because most singers are not a jack-of-all-trades, they feel comfortable with certain types of music. Find one that loves and feels comfortable with the style of music your song was written in. Once you’ve identified the singer, sing your song several times so the singer can get the essence of your phrasing.

Then, give the singer a copy of the track with and without your vocal and let him or her live with it for a while. When you’re ready to lay down the vocal, it’s better to do 2-3 takes before making any comments. This gives the singer a chance to relax and get into the song. If you start commenting too early it can sometimes throw the singer off. When you do make comments regarding the phrasing or performance, don’t always expect the singer to sing it exactly the way you sang it. What you’re trying to do here is to capture the essence of the song.

6. Now you can add the “goodies”.

When you have your basic track and vocals the way you want them, now is the time to add some complimentary elements. Now you can add additional guitar or keyboard parts. You may want to add strings or brass. Whatever you do, try not to overdo it, don’t add anything that might fight or neutralize your basic track and vocal. More often than not, “Less” is usually “More”.

7. Now it’s time to mix your tracks

Getting a good mix is the last and most critical part of making a good recording. Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules. Mixing is a very personal experience. All the elements have their place in a good mix and your ears and emotional instincts will be your best guide. My only bit of advice is don’t try and homogenize everything, some elements are meant to be featured over others. If you get confused, listen to some of the mixes on your favorite records.

A good demo is almost as important as the song itself. Make sure your recording does your song justice. Follow the 7 steps shown above and trust your instincts. The best way to get a song cut is with a good demo.

Do you prefer doing your demos in a professional studio or a home studio? Do you prefer playing all the parts or do you bring in other musicians? Share in the comments below. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

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Written by Barry DeVorzon – Follow us on Twitter

Not every song you write will be chart-topping material. That’s the business. Get used to the fact that every song you write won’t contain the emotional values needed to qualify it as a great song. A good song can be well done, well written, and musically well constructed, but that does not always mean that it’s great. Following the suggestions listed below will help you pick the winners.

1. Accept the fact that a song rarely starts out perfect.

When the heat of inspiration cools and you take your first look at a newly finished song, you have to accept the fact that the muse rarely leaves us with perfect. With that in mind, be forgiving and try and react to the essence of the song.

If the melody or the words, or the combination of the two touch you emotionally, then you have to assume that it will also touch others, and that’s what you’re looking for. Don’t let the sense of accomplishment that comes when you’ve created a new song get in the way of honestly reacting to it emotionally. This is a mistake that most amateurs make.

2. Great songs make people feel something.

Great songs have a quality that touches the emotions. There is no formula to accomplish this, it’s either there or it isn’t. If it isn’t there, it can never be a great song. A song can evoke any number of emotional responses -what’s important is that the listener feels something. If it makes you want to get up and dance or think of a lost love, or makes you feel anything, these are the responses you’re looking for.

3. How do those around you react to your song?

The first test of course is does it make you feel something? Next, test it with those close to you. Start with your wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, or friends. I favor the wife or husband’s reaction over the others. It’s been my experience that they are usually the only ones who will really tell you the truth and the truth is what you’re looking for.

4. Be willing to do whatever it takes to make it better.

Once you’ve established that the song has the necessary ingredients to be great, it’s time to take it to the next level. If that means finding a more eloquent way of expressing yourself, finding a better chord, or adapting or modifying the melody, then do it. It can be painful and frustrating at times, but well worth it. Polish that beauty until it shines and you’re in the race.

There are no guarantees in this business.

Songwriting is like art–its beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The job of the songwriter is to be objective enough to make the song as perfect as possible, but in the end, how people emotionally respond to the song is all that matters. Everyone has an opinion about what makes a song great, but I believe it comes down to something that simple.

Simple…but not always easy to do.

Once you have a great song, the next step is recording a demo. Unfortunately, going into the studio with a great song does not necessarily mean you’ll come out with one. Next week we have another great story for you and the following week we will cover recording techniques.

How do you determine when you’ve written a great song? What qualities and reactions do you look for? Share in the comments below. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

Was this post helpful? If so, please share it with one other person who could use it. Use the links for Facebook and Twitter below. Thanks!

Written by Barry DeVorzon – Follow us on Twitter

Without inspiration, a great song is not possible. The muse is an elusive source of inspiration and she is not always accessible. The truth is, she talks to us when she wants to talk to us.  All we can do is put ourselves in the best position possible to tap into that inspiration when the opportunity presents itself. Here are 5 simple ways that will help you get connected.

1. Find an ideal place to create.

You need a place that is yours and yours only, one that is totally free of distractions. This can be a room at home or a writing room at your publisher’s. Any place is good as long as it’s a place where you will not be disturbed. Remember, when things aren’t going well, a telephone call, your kid, or anything for that matter can be a welcome distraction.

You have to learn to tough it out even if that day of writing doesn’t give you anything. Some days will deliver everything you could ask for and others will just turn out to be practice. Have the discipline to stick it out regardless of the outcome.

2. Clear the deck of any tasks, errands or responsibilities.

Do whatever has to be done of an immediate nature and let everything else wait. Now it’s time to close the door, turn off the phones, and make sure nothing will disturb you. This means no wives, no husbands, no kids, no calls. You know what distracts you, so be honest with yourself and don’t let it get in the way. Give your mind the focused time it needs to let creativity flow.

3. Do things that trigger your creative side.

Sit down and think of what you want to write. If nothing comes to mind and you play an instrument, now is the time to sit at the piano or pick up the guitar. You can play songs you’ve written, other people’s songs, or just go through a sequence of chords. While you’re doing this, open yourself to any melodies or lyrical ideas that might come to you. Sometimes working with another writer will also trigger inspiration. Whatever it takes to get you going, do it.

4. Inspiration comes when it wants to come – You have to be patient.

It’s very possible you may sit there for hours without getting anything of note. Other times, it can come quickly. Inspiration is a gift, and that is why it is not something you can turn on or off at will. The best way to access this gift is to stay open, relax, don’t let yourself be distracted, and whatever you do, don’t try too hard. It’s very possible that you may waste a day and come up empty-handed; don’t let that scare you.

5. Once you’ve tapped into inspiration, go with the flow.

Acknowledge the fact that words, chords, and melodies may be temporary, and may change during the creative process. Go with the flow, this is not the time to be a perfectionist, don’t try to arrive at the best word, chord, or melody. As you live with the song, it will change on its own. It’s important that you not allow yourself to get stuck on a rhyme, a way to express yourself, or a chord that is not quite what you want. There will be time for that later when craft and dedication to your art come into play. If you spend too much time trying to get something perfect, you may lose your connection.

Consistent Writing Habits Lead to Great Songs

If a songwriter maintains this discipline in his/her writing habits, they will write inspired songs, which are the only ones that count. When inspiration fades, it’s time to take an objective look at the song you’ve created and decide whether it’s just good or truly great. This brings up a new set of rules that we look forward to covering in the weeks to come. Don’t miss it because this phase is just as important as the inspirational phase of songwriting.

What’s been your best method of connecting to inspiration? How and in what circumstances do you write most effectively? Please share in the comments below. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

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You also might enjoy this recent video: How I Got My Very First Hit