Saturday, March 12, 2016


One of the most challenging things in songwriting is coming up with a melody that is both unique and interesting, and also fits the emotion of the song perfectly...and you only have 12 notes to choose from!!

Folks ask me many do you come up with a good melody??? Well, here are some of the things I think about when creating a melody to a song:

1. The melody has to FIT PERFECTLY with the lyric and vice versa. Prosody here is the marriage between the melody and the lyric...they were just meant to be together. Don't be dragging 3 notes over a one syllable word making the one syllable word into a 3 syllable word :) etc.

2. BE CONVERSATIONAL! What this means is that when working on a melody to a lyric I ALWAYS "speak" the line first. Unless you speak in "monotone" every sentence or line has a "natural melody" when you speak. It is important to maintain this "natural melody" when creating the "musical melody" for the line. I like to try and mirror both the "meter" and the "natural melody" of the line when spoken. Take as example the classic song "I Left My Heart In San Francisco. Try this exercise:

A. Speak the line "I left my heart in San Francisco"...then
B. Sing the song (in your best Tony Bennett voice!! LOLOL)..."see?"

Pay attention to how the line flows perfectly with the meter and natural melody! This is what I strive for when I'm writing a new song. To me, the more conversational and natural a song sings the easier it is for the listener to "hear" the lyric and "feel" the song.

3. Play around with starting a melody not only on the "1" or "root note" (i.e. a C note in the key of C or G note in the key of G etc).  Maybe start the melody on the "3" note of the key (the middle note of the root triad). For example, in the key of C this would be an "E" note or in G it would be a "B" note etc. Then try and start the melody on the "5" note of the root triad. This would be a "G" in the key of C or "D" in the key of G etc. Starting on a note other than the "root" note is a good way of varying melodies.

4. Don't change chords! A great exercise is to try and write a "one chord" song and make it interesting. Remember Sonny & Cher's..."The Beat Goes On" :) for good or bad LOL. I can tell you, in my opinion, it is harder to write a 2 chord song than a 6 chord song. We tend to fall back into "stock" melodies and "stock" chord changes...however using chord changes sparingly and maybe not changing chords when it feels like you should change chords can help create more unique melodies.

5. Lastly, experiment with unfamiliar "keys". Most of us have a "go to key"...that is we sit down and pick up the guitar or sit down at the piano and IMMEDIATELY go to the key of G...or the key of D etc.  Every key has a fingerprint! A tonal color different from the a song in the key of Eb will sound tonally different than if you write a song in say the key of G. It can feel "brand new" to your ear! Experiment and get out of your "melodic rut". :)

So, with so few notes to choose from we as songwriters must really dig in and try to create that unique melody that will produce the next "HIT" with listeners. Now get out there and experiment and most importantly....HAVE FUN!!!

Remember:  Write more...whine less!!!

Write on!


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

 After a long absence I am back posting songwriting thoughts in my Tunesmith Tales blog.  Hope you enjoy and I hope something helps you in your songwriting journey!! :)



What is the power of one word?

 Does it really make that much difference in the final result of a finished song? 

I have always been a "tweaker" when it comes to writing a song. I use a major tweak...a minor tweak...a macro tweak...a micro tweak...a nano tweak and finally the "God particle tweak" which is the smallest tweak known to man LOLOL :)  In the end, I try not to waste even one word in a song lyric. When I'm writing a song, I want every line to relate to the title and emotion of the song. Every work needs to say "EXACTLY" what you want it to mean. Here is an example:

I wrote a song "Bluestone Mountain" recorded beautifully by Don Rigsby on his "Empty Old Mailbox" project, The Kruger Brothers have a great recording of the song on their "Carolina Scrapbook Vol 2" project...among others.  The song is about a young son that gets lost in a West Virginia cave. Here is a line from the song:

"The caves of West Virginia run a maze of black ribbon through the ground".

There is one recording of the song where the band changed one important is that word?  You decide...

"The caves of West Virginia run a trail of black ribbon through the ground"

"Maze" was replaced in the recording by "trail". This one word dramatically changes the sentiment and meaning of the entire song. You get lost in a "maze" not so much on a "trail". 

That being said, I feel it is absolutely critical that every word NEEDS to be there...if it doesn't take it out or change it. If you are looking to write "great" songs EVERY word is important. Every "and", "but", "if" etc...take out EVERY word that you don't need!  One of the benefits is that it lets the song "breathe" more.  It gives more space that will let the listener digest the lyric. 

So, when you are finalizing your of the final checks should be that every word is "needed", no word is "wasted" and that EVERY word means EXACTLY what you intended it to mean and not just in there to make a "rhyme". Writing to a rhyme is an entire complete topic :)  

Thanks for reading and remember...write more and whine less :)

Write on!


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

I'll Never Write a Song AGAIN!!! - Writer's block.

 If you are into writing songs you will at one time or another...HIT A WALL!!  No ideas, no lyrics, no music, nothing comes to mind. You end up strumming chords and staring at a blank sheet of paper (or blank computer screen) and the harder you try...the worse it is to get a new idea. 

How do you break "writer's block"?? How do you fight your way through that wall or even knock it down???  Here are a few ideas of things that I do to try and re-fuel the idea tank...get started from a small base and start to build a new song.

1.  Name exercise:  One of the ideas that I use is to "make up a name". Make the name interesting sounding. I've written songs called "Lucius Gray", "Zebediah Jones", "Levi Birmingham", "Lizzy Hill" and several others. Once you get a kewl name...go ahead and give that person a personality. What is their story? What is interesting about the person? Brain storm about the person's life and write it all down. Now, start telling the person's story in the song.

2.  Put yourself in an imaginary situation:  Put yourself is an imaginary place and time and start thinking of what might be around you. Think of why you are there and what is happening around you. Example: Put yourself on a park are maybe waiting for someone that never shows up...maybe you've just been "done wrong" and are sharing the thoughts while sitting on that park bench. Tell the story. I used this technique in writing my song "With Love From Normandy" where I had no idea of anything to write. I decided to put myself in my grandma's attic and started to imagine what would be up in the attic. I led me to thinking there was old cigar boxes, and old army uniform, etc and once I started seeing that I wrote the song about a letter in the attic that I found that was from my grandpa dated the day before he died at Normandy.

3.  Look around and observe…read signs…what is around you!????  BE OBSERVANT!! Look at the things around you. Read signs! Listen to what people say. I actually combined 1 & 3 one time where I was driving down a country road and saw a large piece of plywood and painted on the plywood was written "Horton Stubbs Road". First I got a laugh and then started thinking that "Horton Stubbs was a kewl name!! I took the name from the road sign and gave Horton Stubbs a story and a personality and wrote "The Ballad of Horton Stubbs". If you see a city limit sign that reads "A great place to live"...maybe change one word..."A great place to love" and write a song with that idea. :)
4. Change the groove…change the chords….change time…change the melody! Get out of your musical comfort zone! If you usually pick up your guitar and write in the key of G, C, A or other.  Put the capo on and play chords in Eb, C#, just change it up to a key you don't use. Experiment with different chords. Change the timing up. If you usually write in 4/4 time...write in 3/4 or maybe 6/8 and get that celtic feel. Just noodle chords and melody and see if something will sound "AHA"...I like that :)

5. Write a lyric over a hit song:  Listen to a song that you love...a hit song and lay out the meter and phrasing...sing the song with new words (you can change the melody later). Just write a brand new lyric over and old song that you really love. Hopefully once you start getting a new lyric going the juices will flow :)

6: Write everyday!  Even if it only 15 minutes!!! Take these ideas and write everyday!!! Brain storm...write down new titles as fast as you can in one minute. Write down words that come to your mind as fast as you can for one minute. Look at your brain storm ideas and see if something "hits you". 

Bottom line..KEEP AT IT!!!  Don't give up. Put yourself in a creative place...go for a walk or drive in the country...The wall WILL come down but sometimes it is frustrating and wonder if you will ever write another song again. But you will...the key is persistence and the love of songwriting.  It will see you is a fight but you will win!!! :)

Remember: Write more...Whine less!!!

Write on!!!


Monday, May 4, 2015

The "Plan": I Love it When a Plan Comes Together!! :)

Songwriters for the most part are great at writing songs but when it comes to doing the "business of songwriting" not so much :) Writing songs is the fun part...the business stuff is the part we hate. But, depending on the level you want to achieve, the business part becomes more important. In previous blogs I said I would talk about a "plan" for songwriting. Well, today I'll touch on some of my own thoughts on "planning". The specifics are up to each writer as they are very personal but this might be an overall approach :)

The first decision that must be made is "What kind of songwriter do you want to be?". There is no "right or wrong" level of songwriting.  It is only "right" for YOU!! 

1. Do you want to only write songs from yourself for fun? You don't care if you ever get a song recorded and you mainly just write them and sing them for yourself, family and friends. This kind of a songwriter has really no business need but still may want to keep learning about songwriting. The only "plan" that might be desired would be one to have a path to becoming a better songwriter...but not even that is is just FUN :)

2. A "hobby" songwriter. This is a songwriter that encompasses all of type "1" but also has some desires to maybe play their songs "out". Let the general public hear the songs they've written. A "hobby" songwriter has some goals to maybe get a song recorded at some point. They would love to hear one of their songs played on the radio but if that doesn't happen...well they are good with that too. The emphasis is on FUN but with a minimal emphasis on the business part of songwriting. A "hobby" songwriter may attend some conferences and do some pitching if the situation would arise. There is a light need for a plan but really again not a necessity.

3. The "professional" songwriter. By professional I mean a songwriter that is serious about crafting songs to be recorded. They will study the craft of songwriting, network, pitch songs, will either become a publisher or seek out a publisher for their material and generally do the both the crafting of songs and the "business of songwriting". While this blog can be used by Type 1 and 2 it is really meant for the songwriters aspiring to move to a "professional" level.

So, with that said, let's talk about level 3. If you aspire to reach level 3 then you have to approach songwriting as a "business". It is just as much of a business as selling a product or manufacturing something. Every business NEEDS a plan. A well thought out mission and direction...a "track" to run on so to speak. This takes a LOT of thought as it will set your direction for the next few years. So here is how I approached my songwriting and my continuing effort to be a "type 3" songwriter :)

1. Like any quality business you need a mission statement. A short statement that encompasses your "core values". A template which you can lay over all your songwriting activities to make sure you are doing and accomplishing what you set out to do. There are many resources on the internet to help write a "mission statement". I know many folks go..."I don't need any mission statement!" but I would argue that "you do"!!! If you haven't done a mission statement, I would encourage you to try it :) At the very least it will add some clarity to your songwriting as a business! :)

2. Once you have you have your "mission" documented you want to create a 1 year and 5 year plan. Write down what you want to accomplish in your first year...then write down what you want to accomplish in 5 years. This isn't a quick and easy thing to do. If you are serious about songwriting and want to compete in the business world of songwriting you need to have a "plan" as to where you want to be and what you want to accomplish in the first year and then more long term in the next 5 years. Make a list of where you want to be, what achievements and goals you want to attain in those time periods. You want to set goals that are a "stretch" but attainable.

3. Once you have decided on your basic 1 year and 5 year goals you then REALLY need to roll up your sleeves and set "milestones" to get you to your goals. Milestones are really "mini-goals", they help you monitor your progress toward your goals and the MOST IMPORTANT thing is that the "milestones" will include the "ACTIVITY"!!!!  The DOING! The actual daily/weekly steps that you will DO to reach the milestone.  Here is where THE RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD!!!!

Now, the one thing no one can tell you is what your plan will be! You have to do a LOT of soul searching. Your plan will include steps to improve your knowledge of songwriting both craft and business. A marketing plan to get your songs in the pipeline and recorded. But ONLY YOU can decide what your mission and plan will be. 

Setting Milestones is critical as they are the things you do on a daily basis and allow you to celebrate small victories along the way and THAT is really important to have positives on your "road to success". For example: I may have a milestone for the one year plan that might read:

"I will pitch at least one song per week for the first 12 months. I will reach out to artists/bands and get permission to send one song per week for consideration." I think most people will agree this may be a "doable" thing. It's one song per week...heck...I can do that!!! :)  So you start every week with the goal of pitching "one" song that week. At the end of the year you have pitched 52 songs. This gets your feet moving, so to speak. Without this kind of milestone I tend to procrastinate!! :)  By setting several milestones that when added together keep you moving toward your overall "goals" you will begin to see accomplishments.

So, I hope this might get you thinking about your own songwriting and some soul searching as to what level of songwriter do I want to be and more importantly the things that will help me "get there"!! Of course your mileage may vary! :)

Remember:  Write more ....whine less!!

Write on!!


Sunday, May 3, 2015


It was about 44 years ago that I graduated high school and enter the US Air Force Academy. One of the first things I was taught was that there were "no excuses" for anything...rational or irrational!! I remember one day on the obstacle course when the upperclassman watched me fail the, what looked as, 20 foot wall (was actually 9 or 10 feet I think) obstacle. He came over and yelled, "WHY CAN'T YOU GET OVER THAT WALL???". I replied as always instructed..."NO EXCUSE SIR"!!!

I was reading the fantastic blog by hit songwriter Marty Dodson (Songtown...check it out!!) and it was funny as I was thinking about doing a blog on this topic and he beat me to the punch. His blog really hit a nerve with me and seeing as I was going to talk about this it gave me the perfect excuse to "piggyback" on his thoughts.

As I was taught in the military...nothing good ever comes out of "excuses"!! Explaining why you can't do something is an exercise in futility. Seems to me most times excuses arise as a form of "whining". It seems however, defending oneself or rationalizing something is basic human nature and it is so easy to fall into the trap of making excuses and placing blame on why you can't accomplish something. "I can't get over that wall because you guys made it TOO DANG HIGH!!!". It never would be something that I did or didn't do!!! LOLOL

Marty says, "If there is one thing that I have learned in my journey through the music business it’s that I’ve never made one dollar from excuses."  How true!!!

Here are some of the excuses that Marty Dodson's points in his excellent blog...I couldn't agree more and have heard (and probably used ) them all!!:

“It’s harder than ever to get a cut”

“You have to write with the artist to get a cut”

“I write songs that are too deep for the market”

“People don’t understand my music”

I will add a couple more:

"There is crap on the songs are WAY better than what I hear being played on radio! They don't want good songs like mine"

"There just isn't any access anymore and it is impossible to get a cut unless you know somebody"

"I just don't have the time or money to get my songs heard and the doors are closed anyway!"

These all may ring true...but...the fact remains...if you want to get songs "cut" you have to STOP with the excuses and make a plan to overcome the obstacles!! GET OVER THAT WALL!!! No one is listening or cares to hear all the whining!  LOL Here is what I would call the start of a roadmap to success:

1. Study, Learn, Hone your craft, Write...write...write. In other words Write a GREAT song...not a "good song" but a GREAT song. Good songs don't get cut!!! Get to where you know a great song when you write one :) The late great songwriter Paul Craft once told me "A great song will find its way out!!!!"

2. Have a plan!! Spend time putting together your mission, your goals, and how you plan to go about reaching those goals by creating steps or "milestones" if you will. What can you do to move forward toward accomplishing your goal. (I think I will do a future blog on creating this "plan" and how to lay out "measurable" milestones for success)

3. Work the plan!! It is one thing to have ideas and plans but if you don't dedicate yourself to actually "doing" it is just a piece of paper that looks nice. Every day do something based on your "plan". 

4. Identify the obstacles and DON'T make creative and find away over around or maybe even through the obstacles knocking them down!! :) Realize that "failure" is part of is 'how' you handle the failure that sets a winner apart!!

5. Reward yourself for small successes or victories. Give yourself a reason to celebrate!!! 

6. Surround yourself with "positive" people. Songwriters that are passionate about the craft and can get you fired up and excited about songs and songwriting. 

Now as Larry the Cable Guy get out there and "git r done!!!" The time for excuses is over and it is time for action. Make a plan...write a great the plan...celebrate the milestones and overall no matter what....HAVE FUN!!!

Thanks to Marty Dodson for inspiring today's blog.  Remember...Write more...Whine less!!!

Write on!!!


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Should I Publish My Own Songs??

Being your own publisher can sometimes be a double edged sword. A good share of musicians/songwriters just want to write songs and/or play music. They don't want to be "bothered" by all the "business" side of the music. Music is the fun part...the day to day business is not. Both are necessary! But, there are advantages to being your own must be willing to take on the duties of a publisher.

So what are some of the pros and cons of being your own publisher? This is FAR from all inclusive but just a few thoughts for today's blog:


1. As a songwriter you keep 100% of the money. You get all of the writer's share AND all of the publisher's share.

2. You own and keep control of the "copyright" of your song. It also means that you are the one to "pound the pavement" to get your song recorded. And, you are the one to collect the money.

3. You as the writer can control who records your song for the first time. The copyright owner/songwriter only has a "veto pen" on who records a song the FIRST TIME it is recorded. As the publisher/copyright owner you can deny someone from recording your song...the first time. Once a song has been recorded and released to the public, all bets are off and anyone can record the song on the condition they obtain a "compulsory mechanical license". Compulsory meaning you have to give them the license and of course the recording artist must pay execute the license and pay the mechanical license royalty.

4. You as the songwriter might continue to try and get the song recorded many times, pitching the song into different markets etc. Most labels can and will publish your song for you if you don't have a publisher. That will work for "that" recording...but...after the song is recorded for the label will they continue to "work" your song to get it recorded multiple times? Most times not!

5. You as the writer must "vet" your own material to determine if it is of the quality to actually get recorded. Sometimes as writer's we are too close to the song to be objective about the quality of our own songs :) This could be a pro or a con if you have a good handle of good songs vs. great songs (another topic) :).


1. You have to split the money with the publisher. Usually the split is 50/50. You keep the writer's share and the publisher gets the publisher's share.

2. You give up control of your "copyright". The publisher becomes the "Copyright Owner" of your song. You no longer have control over the song. And unless you have a "reversionary clause" of sort in your publishing is "for life" :)

3. A publisher may/should have access to many more artists, producers, labels etc to pitch songs. If, as a writer, you don't have access or opportunities to pitch song you are dead in the water. Many of the larger markets are a closed box and open only to a few publishers as well as many have gone to "staff writers" (another future topic). So, to get a song into the bigger markets most times a publisher becomes a necessity. Many times this is "genre specific" as some forms of music (i.e. bluegrass, folk, Americana, some gospel etc) the artists, labels, producers etc are willing to let you pitch songs to them. Other genres are like trying to break into Fort Knox!!!

4. Once a song is pitched and no recordings come, the publisher may just give up on your song and move on to other songs. There are many songs sitting in publisher's vaults pretty much dead to the world and there is not much you can do about it unless you have a "reversionary clause" in your publishing contract.

5. As a publisher you have to do all the administrative work such as "issuing licenses", "negotiating licenses", "pitching", "filing copyrights", "filing with PROS", "collecting the money", etc...all the business stuff!! 

Of course there are many "PROS" of having a publisher as well and everyone needs to weigh the good and bad and decide which is the best for "you". A publisher many times has the resources and ability to pitch to bigger artists. They don't make any money unless the song gets recorded. The publisher should take care of all the business stuff that you as a writer/musician may not want to do. 

So, should you publish your own material? Only you can answer that question.  Of course there are all kinds of "in between" answers.  Things like "co-publishing", "single song publishing agreements", etc but that goes well beyond a "blog" :) There are many business considerations when it is smart to give up publishing on one of your songs.

Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, but if you have interest in publishing your own songs, it can be done but be aware there are many pros and cons to consider. I really like the book by the late John Braheny..."The Craft & Business of Songwriting". It is one of my "go to" books for information and so sorry to hear of John's passing a while back. I would check it out as it is in soft cover and a very inexpensive resource for songwriters. 

As usual...your mileage may vary and remember:  Write more...whine less!!

Write on!!


Saturday, April 25, 2015

"Finding" Time to Write

Some people ask me..."How do you find the time to write?" The answer DON'T FIND THE TIME...YOU MAKE TIME!!!

I love the presenter who had a visual example of how to prioritize your life. Make sure you get to the "important things". He made the list: 

1. Rocks 
2. Pebbles 
3. Sand 
4. Water

This is how we should structure our priorities every day. He took a large glass jar that represented the time of one full day. He went on to start filling the jar. He explained that the "rocks" were the most important things in our lives. We all NEED to identify what are the MOST important things in our lives. If we fill up the jar (our lives) for example, with "sand" there will be absolutely NO ROOM for the "rocks" The same for "pebbles" or "water". So, we all need to "PUT THE ROCKS IN YOUR JAR FIRST!!!" For, if we put the rocks in first there is still room to put in small pebbles...and after the pebbles are in the jar you still have room for some "sand" and lastly after all these are in the jar you still have room for some "water". BUT...if you don't put the "rocks" in will lose out in doing the things that mean the most to you in your life!!!

So it is with each of us. What are the important things (the rocks) in your life? Family? Friends? Writing songs? We all should identify the "rocks" in our lives and make them a PRIORITY EVERY DAY!  Put your ROCKS in the jar first!!! :)

One thing I learned over the years about myself is: 


I can be one of the biggest procrastinators around.  My motto seemed to be: "Don't put off till tomorrow..what you can put off till the day after tomorrow!!!" :) But, if I put the important things in my jar first and schedule them, they tend to get done. One thing about songwriting is it easy to say "well I can't just sit down and "write on cue...I need to wait for inspiration to come". That is one way to think about it but for me that has been kind of way to "push" my songwriting down the road...turning the "rock" into a "pebble" on my priority list. I find that sitting down and putting myself in the "frame of mind to write" brings inspiration. My mind is ON SONGWRITING and that in and of itself leads to ideas and inspiration. 

So...IF songwriting is one of your priorities (a rock)...don't "FIND" the time to write..."MAKE" the time to write. Put that ROCK in your daily jar FIRST along with the other rocks in your life. Don't spend all day on "sand" and at the end of the day have no room for those rocks!!!. I love the line from "The Shawshank Redemption" where Andy Dufrane says to Red, "Get busy livin'...or get busy dyin'!!!" Are you making time for the most important things in your life, and really "livin" or just going through the motions spending all your time on activities that just get you to the next day and then complain that you have no time for the things that mean the most? 

Don't FIND time....MAKE time!!! :)

Your mileage may vary and remember: Write more...whine less!

Write on!!!