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This is something I wrote a while ago and it appears elsewhere on the site (but it's pinned, which means it is invisible to the average human). If you are reading this I appreciate that you must be bored out of your skull and searching for
somethinganything to fill the soulless void of your existence so I do hope that it at least entertains a little - or maybe acts as an emollient while you wait for your wife/husband to finish doing whatever the fuck they need to do when it's time to go out and do something a little more interesting than the mundane routine that we all fall into eventually...
Here goes ...
So, you’ve listened to songs for a long time now and you’ve decided to write lyrics of your own. It doesn’t look hard. Hell, it can’t be hard – just look at some of the stuff that gets recorded!
What’s more, you are a damaged individual. It may be that you had a bad childhood, you were excluded at school, your marriage failed, you can’t get laid, you had problems with substance abuse, and any or all of myriad reasons that people decide to write songs - choosing that path from all the other masochistic pastimes they could choose.
You see, what that dreadful former life made you was ... a keen observer. You are a walking empath. You can see the big picture and the tiny details of people’s lives. You don’t judge – oh, no! You bear witness to the fumbling, daily slapstick and you can relay truths about life and the pitiful vanities of our existence with good humour, wit and kindness, lending insight and wisdom that helps us to laugh at ourselves and love one another just a little more than we otherwise would. You are a latter-day saint and a poet and a warrior, all rolled into one (yes, women can be warriors too).
But, more than that, it made you want them to understand you. Admire you. Whatever. They have to think you are pretty goddamn cool. That’s fo’ sho’.
So you write. And you find that it’s not so easy to do all that. In fact, it’s hard to do all that - in 3 minutes, especially.
And people aren’t quite as bowled over by your genius as you expected. And, because you are a damaged individual (hell, we all are), you don’t like that one ... little ... bit.
Help is at hand.
Here’s a handy list of the 10 things you do wrong when you write a lyric. I’m guilty of all of them (sometimes in the same lyric! I'm that talented).
There are more, but 10 is a catchy number ! Which is why I wrote 11. I despise “catchy”.
1. You use the wrong pronoun
You visualise who is talking to who in the song itself - and you also take into account the fact that, when the song is sung, there is a singer talking to an audience. Go, you!
However, if you paid too much attention to the latter, you still got it wrong. “I said this and she said that” can sound like a whine or a rant (see point 7, below). It also doesn’t really help the audience to connect. If it was simply “you said that”, it would work so much better and be more immediate.
Wait. You went for third person.
Third person can work for stories (but the story HAS to be interesting,and yours wasn't - not really). In all other circumstances, you need a good reason to move away from 1st and/or second person.
Mind you, 1st person can get you into trouble with point 7, too.
But let’s talk about that later. The point is, you chose the wrong pronoun(s).
2. You use the wrong tense
Past tense, in particular, is boring.
Some parts of the song can be in the past tense but it needs to be made relevant to the present and, ideally, we would have a time progression that would lead at least to the present and, possibly, into the future.
Stories can be past tense – but are they REALLY interesting? If not, don’t bother singing them to me. What if they were related to the present, at least in the bridge?
It would be slightly less boring, at least.
Or you could make the story funny. That works in whatever tense.
3. You lose rhythm by cramming words in
If you don’t understand meter, maybe this thread will help (but read it later. I'm talking.).
Even if you do understand it, aren’t there times when you try and cram in two syllables where only one fits?
People will say it’s OK. Singers will even cram it in for you. Friends will say it sounds OK.
Songwriters will say nothing, and simply be glad they weren’t that guy. Do you want to be that guy?
4. You don’t change rhythm between sections
You have a great rhythm running through the song. Still running. Getting bored with it now. Where’s the chorus? Oh! We had it already and I didn't even notice! It had the same rhythm. Please give me a bridge. And change the damned rhythm!
Words make rhythms. Words can force a change in rhythm. If the words don’t do it, the musician (maybe you) has to be much more innovative in changing rhythm and/or melody than he/she would otherwise need to be. Think of the musicians
5. You don’t grab attention early enough
Your lyric has a killer line (or twist or idea or something). The trouble is that it’s in the third verse or the bridge.
People won’t listen that long. It’s like a joke that needs over a minute to explain before it can be told. The listener turns off.
You have maybe 30 seconds to grab some sort of attention – give a surprising line or an idea that draws attention. It needs to be in the first fifteen seconds of singing.
You then have another short space of time before you need another – and it’s not long.
6. You forgot to write the first verse
The listener doesn’t know who these people are. You do. So you wrote the meat of the song assuming they did too. You started with the second verse. We often write the second verse first. It needs a first verse to set up things and invite the listener in. It’s your introduction, if you like.
And see point 5.
7. You are preaching (or venting or whining) - and you aren’t being funny about it
I don’t want to be preached at, whined at, or vented at – unless you make me laugh. I bet you don't want that either, do you? No!
So don’t write songs that whine, preach or vent. Simple. Unless they make us laugh.
I mentioned something in the part about using the wrong pronoun about using 1st person. A lot of songs written in the first person can be whiny, venting or preachy if we aren’t careful.
So are a lot of songs about “them”, “They did this, they did that ... they are bad”.
It’s a delicate line to tread. A confessional song can work but it has to show the singer as insightful and sensitive – not as a bad person, or a whiner.
A song has to make the singer look good. See point 11, below. So, be careful.
8. You included details – but you included the wrong details
So, you know you need details (it said so in a book) and so you put them into your song.
What colour is the sun? What about the grass? Let’s say “golden” and “emerald” because “yellow” and “green” sounds boring, right?
Wrong. The colour is boring, period. It adds nothing to how I feel about what’s happening. In fact, adjectives should be used sparingly. Just find better words, damn you. English has so many of them - for a reason. Mind you, only use words when you know what they mean. Dictionaries help.
Details are what bring a picture to life or, better still, an emotion to life. They aren’t what’s in the picture. They are the parts that show how we feel about the picture.
They are metaphors for feelings – or they are nothing. They can be sounds, smells or objects or textures. Or they can be one of those that prompt others.
“Car wheels on a gravel road”. I can hear them. Now, what do they make me feel?
9. You use too many words
What it says above. Trim them. ‘Nuff said.
10. Your rhymes lack reason
You paint yourself into a corner with a rhyme scheme and now you have to find a rhyme for “Drove me in his truck”. You don’t want to use the obvious rhyme so you decide to rhyme with “luck” instead. And you contort things a bit and get a line that kind of half-works and then you convince yourself that it’s fine.
There is always that one line you aren’t satisfied with in a song, isn’t there? Maybe more than one?
Why not just change the word "truck"? Or the whole verse? Or the whole song? You made the corner you are painted into. You can un-paint it.
And never (never!) start turning sentences around into "yoda-speak" to get a rhyme. It's just crap.
11. You don’t write for women
All songs are written for women. Even songs that are written for male singers are written for women. They are written so that the singer can look good to women. Don’t believe me? Fair enough. But don’t say I never told you.
The only exception is that small demographic of teenagers (of all ages) who wear black T-shirts and listen to doom-laden heavy metal genres in their bedrooms at full volume. Guess what? You can’t write songs for them anyway. They are either writing their own or they can’t hear you over the screaming of Megablood Death Spasm (or whoever they are listening too). If they do show any interest it is only because they want you to give some attention to their own written-down angst stuff (i.e. lyrics, but not as we know them, Jim).
So, leaving them aside (it’s for the best, trust me) – all songs are written for women.
So write songs for women.
If you don’t know how to do that, ask one (preferably not your mother). If you are one, ask yourself what you want to hear when you are stressed out. If you don't know any women, buy a black T-shirt.
I hate rules. Are these rules? Not at all. Songs can work perfectly well without them – but they are less likely to do so outside of a particular setting.
That setting might be a late evening after a few drinks. It might be in front of a group of friends or family. Whatever the setting, it will be in a situation where the song fits the environment or suits the mood the listener is in – but only at that moment, in that place. Only there.
But ... but ... don’t the songs you love have the power to change the environment? Don’t they change your mood when you hear them?
Yes, they do. But they don’t do that by accident, and most listeners aren’t too forgiving. Give them an excuse not to listen and they will take it. A flighty, fickle fiend is what an average listener is. Including us.
This list could also be headed “10 excuses a listener can use to stop listening”. Except there are 11 of them!
- Try a tempo synced tremolo on your reverb return.
- Humanize your shaker and percussion loops by automating a transient designer. Back off the attack in quieter sections and vice versa.
- Present your hook in an almost subliminal way by loading a sample of it into an IR reverb and sending a rhythmic element to the reverb.
- Stereo trick for mono tracks: duplicate the track, hard pan, use a compressor on one track and an expander on the other.
- Strings: double the part a few semi tones up/down and tune it back to the target pitch. You’ll blend different samples = more real sounding.
- Cut out the reverb for a few seconds to create an almost claustrophobic feeling! Check the verse on “A Sorta Fairytale” by Tori Amos.
- Any melody line (or vocal instrumental) can be made richer by adding a harmony, sending it to a reverb, and muting the dry sound.
- Make a pad or shaker track with verb 100% wet followed by a gate. A dry snare triggers the gate and gets a very interesting reverb tail!
- On drum reverbs, use a transient designer and turn up the attack. It gets you a tighter reverb and punchier drums without spiky transients.
- A track needs more presence? Try brighten up the reverb instead of the dry sound. How does it sound different? How does it work in the mix?
- When using several rhythmic loops, try moving them slightly (in samples or ms) to mess with phase. Interesting tonal artifacts often appear.
- Guitar parts played with a pick on single strings: Transient designers can make the player sound a lot more confident. Turn up the attack!
- Automate tempo and go up a few BPM in the chorus. It adds excitement and life, just like when real musicians play together. Subtlety is key!
- For dry sounds that sound a little detached from the other instruments, put a slap delay (80-100 ms), 0 FB, panned to the opposite side.
- Use a filter in the low end to reduce the bass a bit in the verse, turn off the filter in the chorus. The chorus will have a greater impact!
- ABBA used to speed up the pitch of the song (varispeed) and record vocals and then pitch it back to normal. Try this in your DAW.
- Duplicate a track, pitch shift up 1 octave, insert reverb (100% wet) and mix in subtly with the original for a gentle kinda exciter effect!
- You got two guitars or synths panned hard left and right? Put a subtle tremolo on each, one doing 16th notes, the other doing 8ths.
- Try inserting a distortion/saturation plugin followed by a low pass filter on an aux before your delay to simulate a tape delay driven hard.
- Try a de-esser before your reverb. Not just on vocals.
- Put a compressor on mid-range heavy sounds like electric guitars and synths, letting the vocals trigger the sidechain, to make room for it.
- Put a gate on a pad or vocal; let a 16th note rhythm trigger the sidechain, let the gate attenuate 6 dB or so.
- Tape stop reverb: Record the reverb tail to a new track. Automate (or do in real time and print) a pitch shift down an octave or more.
- When using a delay on a send, put a gate after it and let the dry signal trigger the sidechain. Either let it open the gate, or close it.
- Put some street noise or the sound of a train at low volume behind your drum loop to give it depth and subtle variation.
- Classic vocal trick: don't send the dry vocal track to a reverb, instead send it to a delay and send the delay to a reverb.
- Try an EQ after your delay with a hi shelving cut, followed by a reverb 20-40% wet for some subtle depth and width added.
- Try putting a subtle chorus on an aux before you reverb.
- You can have a virtual 3D map in your mind when placing a sound. Front to back - reverb, delay, more (front) or less (back) high end. Left/right - panning, haas effect. Up/down - lots of high frequencis (up), emphasis on lower frequencies (down).
- Automate the reverb time throughout the track; longer times for the chorus to create more depth and sustain - shorten the reverb to clean up when there’s a lot of things going on at the same time.
- Basic sound design and a great way to learn about audio processing: move the plugins around in the chain, one by one and listen to what happens.
- With an EQ in ms mode on the mixbus, use a shelving filter to cut some lows on the sides. It gives the mix some more space and lightness.
- EQ'ing your delays attenuating at 2-5 kHz will tuck them in to the mix creating depth without being too obvious.
- If you plan to high pass-filter a lot of tracks in your mix, try a 6dB/octave filter. You filter out a lot of low end without getting too much separation between tracks. It also messes with phase less to have less steep filters.
- Are your virtual instruments locked to the grid? Tap in some subtle delays manually to get some human feel.
- Transient designers are great for recordings made in a bad sounding room. Back off the sustain and get some of the room out of the way.
- Near the end of a mix, note the level of the snare (this is to see if you tend to mix it too loud or too quiet), pull it all the way down. Push the level up slowly until it sounds right. Do the same with lead vocals and kick drum.
- There’s an idea that you shouldn’t have any compression on the master bus if you’re gonna send the mix to mastering. If you’re compressing for movement/groove - absolutely keep it there. If you’re compressing/limiting for loudness - remove it.
- Space for vocals: Attenuate vocal frequencies on other tracks (mixing). Move things out of the way, changing timing or pitch (arrangement)
- Layer your vocals with a whisper track. It helps the lyrics cut through and can create a bit of an eerie feel if you turn it up loud.
- Add weight to vocals: Duplicate vocal track, filter out highs and high mids. Distort. Blend in with original track.
- Put a phaser in parallel on your hi hats or shakers loops for a subtle variation to make it sound less like a loop.
- You probably have a lot of unfinished music on your harddrive. It can be a burden for sure. Try using the old sessions as sample libraries and create cool and unique samples. Suddenly that work was not in vain.
- Vocal production: use breaths creatively, copy an intense sounding one and paste before a phrase or transition to add drama and intensity. Also works wonders for VO work when there's too much intensity on a single word; lower the volume slightly and add a big inhalation.
- Widen mono track: duplicate track, pan the tracks hard left/right, boost with EQ on one track and cut at the same frequency on the other track.
- Any processing you do to your audio tracks you can do to your reverbs. EQ, distortion, delay, another reverb, pitch ...
- Two similar instruments playing the same chords, use different voicings or octaves and pan them L/R. It adds width, depth and detail.
- A close miked source can sound even more in your face with a short delay on it. Gives your ear a point of reference.
- Adding a tiny bit of attack with a transient designer on the master bus before the final limiter can give that extra bit of life and punch.
- More difference between L and R means wider stereo. Think about this when it comes to microphone choice, EQ, compression and arrangement.
- Boomy low end, mix gets thin when you try to fix w/ EQ? Shorten the sustain of the bass drum/bass. Edit manually or use transient designer.
- For instant inspiration: load up a loop that's preferably kinda cheesy but with great groove and energy. Compose around it, then delete it.
- Make virtual instruments like drums, pianos, etc, sound more natural by turning down the velocity and turning up the volume
- Before EQ'ing your kick/snare, tune them to fit the track. If it doesn't sound quite right, tuning a sample up or down a semitone can do it.
- Sweep with an EQ on the master bus, find the bad frequencies (if any). Then cut 0,5 dB or so from several tracks at that frequency instead of 5dB on the master bus.
- When you’re asking ”How many?”, three is often a good number. Three layers (drums, lead melodies ...), three dubs, three harmony parts, three cups of coffee ...
- Using delays in sync with the song (8th notes, quarter notes etc), offset them a few milliseconds to create a rushing or dragging feel for a section.
- Steal the dynamics from a drum track by routing it (mute the output of the track) to the sidechain of a compressor that’s inserted on anything you want to move like the drum track.
Some songwriters advise us to give a song room to breathe, give it space, and make it less busy.
While I agree this good advice, I also like to think - give things a chance to "sink in".
Often listening to lyrics is like drinking from a fire hose. You can't do it, so plenty of water doesn't make it down your throat
To avoid this, we need to meter out the lyric so it gets absorbed by the listener's brain, not discarded because the listener isn't ready for more information.
A repeating chorus, a musical interlude or even a stop or breakdown in the song can give the listener a break.
Is there a poignant line in the lyric of your song?
Is there a climax in the storyline?
Is new information flowing too fast for a typical listener to keep up?
If so, add some room to allow things to sink in. You'll make a better connection to your listeners if you do
Thought I had the Lazz Last Gasp Set Two sorted.
But I suddenly ran into big juicy trouble with it.
Fred had made me the offer, and set me the task, just before Christmas. Our first window for wrestling with Set One happened at the beginning of February. It didn’t seem to have been a long wait. Neither did Christmas seem so long ago. But the New Year had already brought me back into messing around with the eighteen-piece “Narwhal” ensemble on the North Shore across the inlet. That’s how I ran into trouble.
Members of this “Narwhal” unit are all disconcertingly young and talented. (Except for way older and less skilled Lazz.) Participation has me teetering on the edges of my competence: having to shut-up and follow directions, attempting to blend smoothly with the other voices, and struggling to sight-read the notes placed before me. The other singers all sight-read. When I brought in a song for which I had voiced the vocal melody in fourths, they had no problem. When the musical director brought in another with tight close voicings, that was fine also. My envy is as large as my inadequacies.
Invitation to join the group had come from M.D., Jared Burrows, multi-instrumentalist head of the jazz department. His plan was for part of this semester’s focus to be songs from Lazz (once again an unexpected and enormous compliment) and somehow suddenly he and I were writing together…
And thus the trouble I run into regarding Set Two is the result of having a pretty incredible brand new writing partner and a consequently unexpected abundance of new material. Well – seven new songs seems like abundance to me – seven tunes could constitute one set all on their own.
· A pentatonic Irish-style folk-song on a drone.
· A laid-back rock-ish groover.
· A rousing 6/8 gospel-style hand-clapper.
· A Cahn-Sinatra style swingin’ love song.
· A 32-bar standard-style moaner.
· A silly playful tango.
· And one serious heavyweight epic.
The way we work is quite fresh and new to me. After I send a finished lyric to Jared, he places an order with his sub-conscious (that’s how he describes it) and the next morning when he wakes, the tune is ready to be written down. He credits my lyrics for the inspiration. Very reassuring to discover that he finds my intentions so transparent – because they all turned out unbelievably close to how I imagined them. Uncanny.
The setting for our heavyweight epic was the exception which took more time – maybe two weeks – but it still hit that same E.S.P. target. My overblown pretentiously dramatic tear-jerker lyrics, full and heavy with meaningful self-importance, had actually caused him to weep, and to develop a moody waltz like that from a romantic French movie – in the style of Michel LeGrand. Again, it was what I had envisioned – like a cross between Jacques Brel and Kenny Wheeler. Wow!! I love it.
And the extra bonus is that Jared - a fabulous guitarist and luthier with deep background in a broad range of different musical traditions - expressed a wish to be part of the project I am working on with Fred.
Fair warning to all, this is not a musically related article.
I could have posted it in the "Off Topic Discussions" section the boards, but for a number of reasons, I've opted to post it here.
Immediately following the May school shooting in Noblesville, Indiana I put together a Facebook post.
I'm not really sure why, but I did. Perhaps self-therapy...perhaps as a plea for someone to actually consider doing something?
I pulled it down several days later, but before I did, I saved it to document form.
I'd like to share it here.
After reading it over, you're welcome to comment, ask questions, share it, or tell me I'm out of my mind...whatever you deem appropriate.
Since I'm not sure the news article link will be functional embedded in a screen grab, I've pasted it in below.
BTW this was not a new train of thought for me.
This whole issue of parental cluelessness / responsibility has been on my mind for decades.
Matter of fact, in the wake of the Columbine tragedy, I wrote a song about it.
Almost 2 decades later, to the best of my knowledge, we've taken no meaningful action of any kind.
Frankly, I'm tired of waiting!
If anyone's interested, here's a link to that 1999 effort - http://www.tune-smith.com/The_Last_To_Know.mp3
*Be forewarned, this was one of my early 4 track analog recordings, so the production's less than stellar.
So I've been asked about copyright and if I have permission to use the beats I'm using and stuff (In the comments in BANQUET). I have just contacted the places I am using and asked, I'll be waiting on responses. Emails were sent at roughly 10:30 Tasmania time, on the 3rd of May.
But I still feel like it was unnecessary, I'd love to hear from anyone exactly what the big deal is. I am not writing that out of spite, I would honestly like to hear and learn. I would understand if I was making money off the tracks, but I won't be. As well as that, I did do some research prior and it was 50/50 about whether or not you needed permission.
1. It's a mixtape, that means an unofficial release and the only people who ever know it exists will be people who search for it.
2. Everything will be creditted where necessary.
3. No money will be made.
4. I see it as a win/win. Sure, I get free promotion by using the beat but so does the underground artists who the beat belongs to. If someone likes an instro they hear in my track, they look in the credits and can be directed to the real artists.
5. Even if I get permission and the artist say yes, all they'll do is say 'but you can't sell it and it must be creditted.' The only difference between what I was doing and that was not asking. Of course, they could say no, but does anyone have any suggestions as to why???
Maybe this is an issue because of demographics, age differences, attitudes...I'm not really sure. I can see how using someone else's work is an issue, but to me it isn't as serious as some of you seem to think. Anyway, I'd like to hear your say.
And one other thing: its not only beats I'm planning on using. I was going to use some samples from THE SIMPSONS GAME at the end of BANQUET, there's a line about "slugs sucking up sexy sleaze with a smile" which I kind of think fits in with the theme. Thing is, from my research the massive businesses won't bother chasing you for an uncredited/no permission sample. They make enough money and it isn't worth their time and resources to chase down someone like me. Thoughts on that?
Can I also just clarify that people know what a mixtape is? It's an unofficial release usually used to promote yourself when you start out (though as I prefer underground stuff, it's not really about promoting, its about getting stuff out there). A mixtape uses beats by other artists and is full of samples, for example check out SAVILIAN KID OR KONCEPT MIXTAPE (I admit the lyrics to his stuff suck). It samples beats from heaps of artists. Often they are only used in rap, they arent as serious in other genres though do occasionally pop up. A rap mixtape will usually have no original production. Everything is done by you: album art, liner notes, pressing and all that (if you want, mine will just be digital). You basically spend money making it that you won't make back.
I didn't mean to drag this out so long but yeah, hope to hear some thoughts on the copyright thing and has anyone had similar issues, either with not getting permission or using an uncredited sample?
In Latin America and Europe, this guy is virtually an icon who seems to have taken the role of Bob Marley. Manu Chao is a wandering artist who for years never had his own place, staying forever on the move, as though addicted to the travel itself. He was born in Paris to Spanish parents, growing up to the sound bolero at home and rock'n'roll in the streets.
It is now two decades since Manu Chao released his higly popular 'Clandestino' album. At the cross-fade of the millennium, it sounded perfect: a mix of simple acoustic sound and bare vocals, underlined by the clear message to all minority groups in the darkest parts of European and South American reality.
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Since I started this I should go first.
The most recent interesting song I've heard is This Is America thanks to Spanish Buddha, which we've already discussed in another forum. Thank you SB. Since it is a cultural touchstone I appreciate you pointing it out. I won't feel so clueless if somebody mentions it now.
The most recent song I played on purpose was this morning I played Memphis Soul Stew by King Curtis, from Live at the Fillmore 1970. King Curtis was arguably the best R&B horn player (sax) and this was a special band put together to back up Aretha for her Live at The Fillmore album, and King Curtis's live also. When Little Feat used to tour they played this song just before the band came out. This is a song that will wake you up.
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Today I've been listening to and singing 'Protection' by Massive Attack and Tracey Thorn. She has such a beautifully resonant voice - like they managed to get a microphone inside her throat, so thick even when she goes up her range. I'm really tempted to try to make my own cover, because it's in a good key for me and I think I would probably learn a lot from her.
The lyrics are here, and they're so beautiful and heartfelt, but the thing that made me wonder is the complete lack of detail.
The first verse is:
This girl I know needs some shelter
She don't believe anyone can help her
She's doing so much harm, doing so much damage
But you don't want to get involved
You tell her she can manage
And you can't change the way she feels
But you could put your arms around her
No details about the girl. No details on the requirement for shelter. No details on the people that she doesn't think can help her. But it works.
Is the amount of detail that I should put in a song genre-specific? Is 'pure and heartfelt' a special case, like a special effect - is it plenty or nothing with mediocrity in the middle? I remember someone on here making the point that the 'furniture' shouldn't just be thrown into the song unless it's relevant to the plot or used for a rhyme. You want the right detail, the stuff that elaborates about the characters or the setting gracefully and makes the setting feel real, I get that. But how much should I use?