Sunday, September 11, 2016

Songwriting Essentials: Rhyme Time

(Guest post by the inimitable Robert Sterling. Find out more about Robert here.)
robertbookThe single most common Poetic Device used in songwriting is without a doubt – rhyme. Unfortunately rhyme is seemingly so simple, the beginner songwriter may assume it to be easy. (Simple is very different than easy.) Really great rhyme is a well-practiced craft.
For those of you songwriters that haven’t read my book (Shame on you, by the way.)here are some quick tips that might help you better master a part of the craft we all too often take for granted.
 Rhyme the important stuff. Rhyme draws attention to itself, so try to land your rhymes on words that reinforce the song’s message or atmosphere. If you rhyme unimportant words, you’re telling the listener you’ve written an unimportant song.
Save the stronger, more creative rhyme line for the second half of the rhyme. Make your listeners wait for that great rhyming line.
Avoid predictable rhymes. Predictable rhymes telegraph to the listener what’s coming, spoiling the surprise. Because double and triple rhymes have fewer obvious rhyme choices, they have a greater tendency to create predictability than do single rhymes. This is a tough thing to do, but it’s worth the effort.
Vary the color of rhymes within a song. Using only one kind of rhyme is boring. Mix up the use of single, double, and triple rhymes. Try slipping an internal rhyme in occasionally. Avoid the overuse of the same rhyme vowel.
Rhyme naturally. A classic problem of novice writers is inverting words in a phrase to force a rhyme. I call this “Yoda speak.” Better to write the words the way people actually speak, and look for a new rhyme.
When you’re stuck for a rhyme, try rephrasing the line. Sometimes you can say the same thing another way and open up new rhyming possibilities. For example, the line “Love always ends that way” can be rephrased to “That’s how love always ends,” and suddenly you have a new rhyming word without changing the meaning or the message of the lyrics.
Don’t settle for sloppy rhyme. Even imperfect rhymes shouldn’t be weak. Rather than settle, dig a little deeper. You may find something terrific.
Get a good rhyming dictionary. Not even the most brilliant wordsmith can think of every possible rhyme for a line. A rhyming dictionary, whether an actual book or in software form, is a great tool for finding an elusive rhyme or for jump-starting the rhyming process.
Every now and then, don’t use rhyme. Sometimes little or no rhyme can be very effective if it is done purposefully and with solid craftsmanship. Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins used almost no rhyme at all in their song “What a Fool Believes.” But the lack of rhyme suits the unusual musical phrasing of the song.
That’s it for today. Now go read my book.
(Excepted and edited from The Craft of Christian Songwriting by me, the author.)

Sunday, July 31, 2016

How to Get Better as a Songwriter

I've been right where you are.

At some point in your life, it became apparent that you could put words and music together and make a song.

People know you as a songwriter.

But for some reason, no one has realized your genius (or least no one that MATTERS!) There has been no publishing contract with Word. There has been no calls from Toby Mac because he heard your music on Soundcloud. There has been no word from Hollywood, Nashville, or New York, even though you've sent a few demos that way.

So what is the deal?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

5 Steps to Songwriting Success

As you can imagine, we hear a lot of songs on a week to week basis. People ask us daily for our thoughts on their songs and we work with artists trying to help them move to the next level with their songwriting. In all this work we see a lot of the same things happening in songs. So I thought it might be good just to lay out a few things that might help beginning songwriters as well as songwriters who have been at this for a while find more success.

1. Subject

This may seem obvious right? We are Christians, so we write songs about God, or worship, many things that relate to Christian life. But many times we see a real lack of coherency. The songs are usually copied from other Christian songs that writers may have heard at some point, or written for a use they had on an occasion.

In truth, it's very hard to hear songs that have some kind of originality. This is very hard in these times where we want to worship so we sing something that sounds like another worship tune, but slightly different because we are trying to write “in the genre”.

My main hope when someone shows me their song, is that I hear something different. Something that gets me because I've never heard it said that way before.

“You've gotta be original, because if you're like someone else, what do they need you for?” - Bernadette Peters

2. Chords

This is another casualty of the modern pop song. Have you ever heard or seen the video of the guys doing medley of songs that all have the exact same chords?

Sometimes we get so in love with 1-4-5 that we don't notice every song we are writing is some or same combination of these chords. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of combinations and things you can write to three chords or maybe a combination of four chords that you play a lot. But eventually this can make your writing sound the same from song to song.

Try something different. Anything. Insert a chord into every song that you haven't used before, or a chord that isn't in any other part of the song. Change things up. This is key to growing as a writer.

3. Melody

“The only thing that I miss lately in all music is somebody that will put out a melody that you can whistle. It doesn't seem like there's anything happening like that.” - Merle Haggard

This won't be a clinic on melody but I do want to say something here on intervals. Good melodies have intervals between each note. By this I mean it's not just the same note sung one after the other. Sure, as a gimmick it can be done from time to time. But in good songwriting great melodies soar. They are singable and hooky because they have meat to them, and aren't just monotone or follow the chords up or down.

By interval I mean that there are leaps up and down to a melody, and those leaps are what make the melody memorable, and…whistleable.

4. Lyrics

We usually come up with lyrics and leave them alone, glad they are done and wanting to just sing the song. But good lyrics are often written and rewritten. Make sure people understand what you mean. Play it for someone and make sure they get it and that it is saying what you want it to say.

This goes along with the subject, and how do you say something in a way that it hasn't been said before. An original way of poetically saying something so that people hear it in way that really affects them. It also has to be something you believe in, and really helps if it’s personal to you.

“Lyrics are kind of the whole thing; it's the message. Something might have a beautiful melody but if it's not the truth coming out of your mouth, it's not appealing.” - Alison Krauss

5. Demo

This is something near and dear to my heart. We help people make a lot of what we used to call demos. Nowadays we called them masters because it is so easy to make a recording sound very good. But even if you just have your phone, you can record a nice easy demo with just your guitar and voice. Or maybe piano and voice.

For showing songs to people, it doesn't necessarily take lots of money or equipment to make a decent scratch demo. I usually tell folks to just play and sing into their phone so I can get a sense of the song. Don't feel you need to spend money at a studio so you can show a producer…and then spend money at a studio. It doesn't make sense.

There’s a lot you can do to become a better songwriter, and the best thing is to write about 100 songs. Work with others, get feedback, write different kinds of songs, and get recordings of your songs made so you can keep getting better.

“By giving the public a rich and full melody, distinctly arranged and well played, all the time creating new tone colors and patterns, I feel we have a better chance of being successful. I want a kick to my band, but I don't want the rhythm to hog the spotlight.” - Glenn Miller

Have a great week!

EC
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Eric Copeland is a music producer, but thinks of himself most as a songwriter. So he takes all these points seriously with every artist he works with, and with his own songs! For more on what his company Creative Soul does, check out http://www.CreativeSoulOnline.com

More Quotes

“Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value. It is a process; it's not random.” - Ken Robinson

“In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.” - Coco Chanel

“Melody is the single most important thing to any song, period. I don't care what anybody says, it trumps everything. Not because that's my opinion but because I think it's actually indisputable fact. The human brain retains melody easier than it retains words. It's that simple.” - Ryan Tedder

“Melody is king, and don't you ever forget it. Lyrics appear to be out front, but they're not; they're just an accompanying factor. If they're good, you're really in good shape. Lyrics are written to be rewritten.” - Quincy Jones

“What makes a great song - you don't put it into words. You feel it. The perfect lyric. The perfect melody. It makes you feel something.” - Diane Warren


“There's a melody in everything. And once you find the melody, then you connect immediately with the heart. Because sometimes English or Spanish, Swahili or any language gets in the way. But nothing penetrates the heart faster than the melody.” - Carlos Santana

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Fighting Writer’s Block

You're trying to put together a new album, or haven't written any music in a while, but every time you sit down to write, the same thing happens. Either nothing comes to you, or you feel like everything you come up with is so stale and predictable you can't stand it.

Don't you hate when THAT happens?

Here's a few things you can do to fight this very common problem.

1. It's not you, it's, well...

Listen, this is something every songwriter and composer has struggled with, so first of all give yourself a break. This is one of the things you are just going to have to deal with from time to time. It actually means you are a little more advanced than you ever have been. The fact that you are unwilling to put out ideas that you feel like you've heard before means you are at a level where just anything won't do. This is a good thing.

2. Try to not be...you.

If you are like me, you have go-to chords, instruments, or sounds you use to write with. If you are having trouble writing, abandon those. Fight the urge to do what you always do and pull out some other tools, instruments or sounds. If you're a guitar or piano player and usually write at that instrument, write the words down and write music to them without playing anything. This is actually better for melody writing as it forces you to write a melody that is not informed or influenced by the chords your hands are playing.

Try writing in a different genre than you are used to. If you usually write worship, try a rock song, If you usually write contemporary, try something more traditional in nature.

“Breaking through writer's block is like thinking out of the box: Both require an ability to imagine a world outside your four walls or rearranging them to get a better view.” ― Susan J. McIntire

Break out of your box by burning the box! Don't allow yourself to come back to your normal stuff until you have done something different. Play in a new key. Write about different subject matter. There are a lot of ways you can write other than the way you usually have.

3. Do something else.

This sounds extreme, but maybe this is a time for you to do something else in your music ministry. Maybe you're blocked because you haven't finished recording or marketing the songs you have now. I currently have personal projects backed up and think some of my reluctance to write is my brain MAKING me get these other projects up and out before it lets me create new things.

Take this time that you aren't writing and put your focus on the other creative and business things you need to get out of the way. When the logjam is clear, the ideas will flow once again.

4. Just Start Writing

“Don’t waste time waiting for inspiration. Begin, and inspiration will find you.” ― H. Jackson Brown Jr.

There are many times I don’t feel like writing, but know I have to (for a client for instance). Sometimes just making a conscious effort to sit down and write actually starts me writing. I have to make time for it, and not just walking by the piano and throwing my hands down (although, this is in fact another of my favorite methods ;)

Above all don’t panic, don’t fret, and don’t assume it’s all over and you will never write anything ever again (although it feels like it!)

“Writer’s block is my unconscious mind telling me that something I’ve just written is either unbelievable or unimportant to me, and I solve it by going back and reinventing some part of what I’ve already written so that when I write it again, it is believable and interesting to me. Then I can go on.” ― Orson Scott Card

Have a great week!

EC
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Eric Copeland is right there with you, and deals with writer’s block all the time. There are times he thinks he’ll never write again, and then a big bunch come. Be patient. If we can help you with your songwriting or any music needs, check out http://www.CreativeSoulOnline.com

Sunday, October 4, 2015

What Are You Writing For?

In working with Christian songwriters, we sometimes see some confusion about the kinds of songs they write, and the uses for them. We all hear about publishing, co-writing, royalties, commercial songs vs. artistic songs, etc.

It’s hard to know which way to write to please the powers that be in the music business. But the good news is we really don’t have to, and here’s why.

Publishing


If you are a Christian songwriter with an aim towards writing so that someone will publish your song (which basically means something will be done with your song, ie. recorded, played, etc.), then you do have to write what you think the artist, producer, audience, or publisher will want to hear. You have to write for them, while also of course writing for God.

As a songwriter “for hire” (so to speak), your job is to write songs for whoever you are trying to please. I put it that way because music is a very subjective thing. If you are writing songs for a publisher and you know he/she has very specific likes and dislikes, then you are going to tailor the song to their preferences. If you are writing a certain kind of song, you are going to stay within the parameters of that genre to have the best chance that song will be deemed worthy.

If you have an artist you want to pitch the song to, you want to tailor that song to that artist. You won’t write a six minute jazz epic for a praise and worship artist (although there could be real comparisons between the two! ;)

This is where rules come in. Hook, melody, smart original lyrics (or traditional lyrics, whichever the song calls for). A song that is not too long, and really, really catchy. The right song at the right time for the right ear.

Now if all that sounds like no fun at all, then you may prefer to write songs for your own use and audience.

Personal Ministry

“Make your own kind of music, sing your own special song.” – Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil

Lately I have had conversations with artists who are a bit confused by reviews and industry comments that on one hand imply their music sounds like other copies of other Christian artists, and then says their music is too unique and doesn’t fit “the genre” or playlist. Artists are wondering what to write and how to please everyone.

“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” ― John Lydgate

The good news is, if you are an artist wanting to take your own music into the world, you don’t have to worry about pleasing anyone. Why? Because as a music ministry, the emphasis isn’t really on the music anyway – it should be on the message. If you can’t please everyone, then write the music that God gave you and what you hope pleases Him.

The truth is that getting on commercial radio is a game only the majors can fight, mainly because it takes money and marketing that most independent artists don’t have access to. Reviews of independent music don’t reach enough eyes to make a difference in online sales, which don’t amount to much anyway.

What we need to concentrate on as artists is making the original music that comes from our hearts, no matter what that is. It should be personal, and meaningful, and interesting, and done with the absolutely highest quality we can muster. This is what we will take into the world, show our friends, family, and fans, as well as putting our mark on the massive amount of music out there.

Not much has changed on the music publishing side. The old rules of writing, co-writing, pitching, etc. are still very valid. But the rules of being an artist have changed dramatically, with one small caveat – in person, live music still rules. It always has. Yes recorded music took over the Twentieth Century, but we are getting back to a time where the live performance is king again, especially in sales and our ability to reach a captive audience. And as artists, that captive audience is who we should be writing for as artists.


Have a great week!

EC
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Eric Copeland is a music producer and also a songwriter who has written for publishing and for hire, but would prefer to just write whatever inspires him as God designed. But he helps songwriters do both at his company Creative Soul. Find out more at http://www.CreativeSoulOnline.com

Sunday, August 23, 2015

What if Nobody Ever Hears My Songs?

“Every man, and for stronger reasons, every artist, wants to be recognized. So do I.” - Albert Camus 

When I was a young songwriter, long before I became a full time producer, I used to really worry that if I died no one would have ever really heard my songs. Oh sure, my family and friends knew I was a songwriter, but I fretted hard about the world not knowing my work even existed!

At that point I had probably written 400 or so songs since I was in high school. I was raising a young family, and working full time at a corporate job. But as always in my life, I was writing songs like crazy.

About that time, I wrote a song called “Be Still”. Not exactly a unique title, but I had only started writing Christian songs in earnest several years before. I felt it was a strong song, maybe the strongest I had written up to that point.

“If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door.” - Milton Berle

I had recently met a pro songwriter who was signed to a publishing deal in Nashville (remember this was the early 1990's), and showed the song to him. He liked it, and pitched it to his publishing company for me. Their response was that it “had no legs”, and other pithy publisher comments that meant they simply didn't know what they'd do with it.

I can't say I was crushed, because I always am writing a better song. But I felt more and more like I was spinning my wheels. Why would God give me this talent if no one would ever hear my songs?

Then, that same songwriter called me to say he was producing an indie record for someone in Indiana. He had shown them my song “Be Still” and they loved it. They wanted to put it on their record. It ended up as the first song on the record.

Almost instantly the feeling that strangers would never hear my music abated. Since then of course I've written and co-written hundreds of songs on artist's records and releases of my own that are out on CDs, iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, Spotify, etc., and can reach strangers easily around the world. My songs have been and are part of ministries literally around the world.

But I will never forget how that one opportunity and use of one song kind of changed my whole thinking. I could relax and get to work without all the stress and worry.

All you need is one solid use or release of one song and it can totally change how you see yourself, your songwriting, and your place in this world.

Keep working to find the right opportunity, the right ear, the right recording. Your job as a songwriter is to reach people with your songs. Find a way and you may just find peace of mind!

So though there are many things I would have done differently, I submit to God's sovereignty and His purpose in my life and I thank Him that He brought me the way He brought me and gave me what He gave me when He thought I could handle it. - T. D. Jakes

“Don't worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.” - Abraham Lincoln

Have a great week!

EC
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Eric Copeland was a songwriter first before he ever became a producer, arranger, website designer or the other hats he wears at Creative Soul. For more info on what he does for Christian songwriters and artists, check out CreativeSoulOnline.com

Also check out our unique site for Christian songwriters at FromtheMomentMusic.com

Monday, July 13, 2015

Writing Real

"Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced.” - John Keats

Recently an artist told me they had written a song in order to really speak to someone about Jesus. They wanted to relate to this person on a deep level about exactly what the person was going through. So they had written a song just for that person.

Then they played me the song. It was a fairly generic song about the love of Jesus. Now, there was no problem with the song technically, but it certainly wasn't about the issues they said the person was going through. It was just a song with similar Christian diatribes as other general Christian pop songs.

Another time, an artist came to see us and I asked them what made them different with their music. They proceeded to tell me how they write really different Christian songs, with unusual chord patterns and lyrics that go deep. There was nothing wrong with what they showed me, but the songs were neither unusual in chords, nor deep in lyrical content.

So what is the problem here?

As Christians we tend to think that any song we write is unique and special because it is coming from our heart for the Lord. We believe that it is our gift from God to a hurting world. The problem is, many times it just ends up being a retread of every Christian or worship song that has already been written. These songs are not bad at all and actually are quite good sometimes. But they are not wholly original, they are not unique, and they have no real application to the world that is begging for something authentic.

Now, I’ve written praise songs and literal songs about the Cross and Jesus, including ones that fit a specific pop Christian or worship template. These songs definitely have their place in what we do as Christian songwriters and artists.

But when people tell me they need to speak real to a friend who is hurting, will a generic song about the love of Jesus that does not address the needs of that friend help? When someone is needing cheering up, will a formula vertical worship song whip them into shape? Probably not.

Add to that the issues of writing songs that come from Bible verses or regurgitate hymn or worship lyrics, and it can be hard for our songs to relate to the problems our Christian and non-Christian listeners are having. Relating to the world is kind of our imperative.

Frankly, the hardest thing to teach to Christian songwriters is how to reveal the wonders of our faith in real, conversational language.

Recently, I listened to an older Sara Groves CD, The Other Side of Something. There was a 2nd CD with interviews on it on how she wrote the songs; every songwriter reading this should listen to that interview.

If you do listen, you will hear her talk about the ideas, people, and real life situations behind each song. Every line is a “real” sentence we would say in normal conversation, or maybe in prayer.

Read this lyric from Sara Groves song “Compelled”:

What a relief it is to know
I’m a slave to Christ
Of all the masters I have known
I’m compelled to live this life
Free for you

I’m on the other side of something
I’m on the other side of something

I have a new hope that blows away
The small hopes I knew before
And at the end of the day I am yours
And I am compelled

You’ve written on my very heart
Where no man can legislate
The law of your love has taken hold
With your holiness and grace
There’s no mistake

I’m on the other side of something
I’m coming out the other side, the other side

I have a new hope that blows away
The small hopes I knew before
And at the end of the day I am yours
And I am compelled

I am drawn and driven, I am compelled
You have written it, I am compelled
You live in me
And I can’t help myself


See how freeing this lyric is? How appealing, while still talking about the compelling love of Christ, and how we want to live it each day in real life?

This week as you sit down to write an idea, think of a real concept. Not something you've heard before or a Bible verse, but a phrase or saying you heard in real life that might make an impact on both a Christian, and a nonbeliever as well.

“If you copy, it means you're working without any real feeling. No two people on earth are alike, and it's got to be that way in music or it isn't music.” - Billie Holiday

It’s time to write real.

EC
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Eric Copeland is not anywhere as good a songwriter as Sara Groves, but he’d like to think he and his artists are getting there. Check out what Eric’s company Creative Soul does with and for Christian songwriters at http://www.CreativeSoulOnline.com

Also check out http://www.FromtheMomentMusic.com their publishing and songwriting services arm.

About Me

My photo
Eric Copeland is an author, producer, keyboardist, songwriter, and president of Creative Soul Companies. What is Creative Soul? Our main goals are to inform, encourage, and assist Christian creative folks in ministry, no matter where they are in their journey. Thanks for reading! Find out more about us at http://www.CreativeSoulOnline.com