Monday, June 13, 2011

To Write or Re-Write, Is That Really a Question?

I’ve just written the best song of my life! Hell, I’ve just written the best song of anybody’s life! I can’t wait to share it with someone. So, I grab my guitar and go to find Lynn. You know what I’m going to say: "Hey, Lynn, listen to this!"  I take a big breath (you need lots of air to sing this baby) and launch into what will soon be known as the greatest song ever written. She’s not impressed. She kind of likes it, but she thinks the second verse is a “let down.” She doesn’t “get it.” (I always knew there was something wrong with her.) Only slightly deflated, I insist she come up to the studio so I can play it on piano. I’m sure she’ll hear the brilliance if I add more sound. Sadly, her opinion doesn’t change. Even more sadly, she’s right. Damn that second verse!

How do you know when your song isn’t the best it can be?
If you co-write with one or more writers, and their abilities are equal to yours, they will tell you. Listen to them. Rule number two for me when I’m writing with others is: If one of us doesn’t like it, it’s gone. No arguing! Most writers I know want to protect their “great idea” and defend their “genius” and they tend to get stubborn or shut down when faced with criticism. Get over it and open your mind to something new. Rule number three is (and yes, I know I haven‘t mentioned rule number one): Find a new way to say it.

If you’re working with a publisher, be open to their needs and be willing to change your song to fit the artists to whom they are pitching. Also, study those artists and be familiar with their songs. I can’t tell you how many times writer friends have said, “Hey, Kerry, listen to this,” then played me their latest demo, complete with a bumpin’ R&B track and six Black chicks rockin’ the chorus. But when I asked them which artist they heard singing this song, they got that deer-in-the-headlight look and responded, “George Strait?”

If you work alone, it’s tougher. You can find someone you trust to give you an honest opinion, a spouse, best friend, etc, but, if they don’t love it as much as you do…I think we all know how that ends.

I work with co-writers all the time. I’ve been with most of the major publishers. But, for me, it’s a little voice in my head that says, “This can be better.” That voice is always right, and the changes I’ve made to any song have always improved it.

The famous playwright George S. Kaufman said, “You don’t write a play, you re-write it.” That works for songs, too.

P.S. Before I “published” this blog, I ran it past my son, Chris, who is a wonderful author in his own right, and his close friend, Jessica, who is a wonderful editor, and they both had comments about it. So I re-wrote it!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Start At The Beginning

I’ve got my morning coffee and my writing stuff and I’m sitting down to do it again. What’s it gonna be? A song? A musical? A concept CD for a garage band? A lifetime in music? Reminds me of the old joke: A man walks up to a musician and asks, “You been in music all your life?” To which, the musician replies, “Not yet.”

Okay, so you’ve got your Hemingway sweater, your book on chord progressions, and your rhyming dictionary. You’ve also got that mic that wasn’t really in your budget, but you went ahead and bought it anyway and now it’s staring you in the face saying, “Come on, Genius, sing something brilliant.” Now, the fear sets in. What if I don’t get an idea today? What if I do get an idea today? How will I know if it’s any good? How long do I take following an idea that might not be going anywhere?

There’s only one answer to those questions. My mother (who had 23 romance novels published) used to say, “Seat of the writer in the seat of the chair.” What she meant was: See it as a lifetime. It’s your job. Do it eight hours a day, at least!

Even Shakespeare had a play that wasn’t as good as the others; even McCartney has a clunker or two in his volumes of genius. If you only write one song in your life, I hope it brings you millions or gets you laid. For the rest of us: Your first song won’t be your last, and your last song won’t be as good as the next one you’re going to write. We don’t write because we want to, we write because we have to. Every time you finish a song, good, bad, right, or wrong, you’ll want someone to hear it…“Hey, listen to this!” So, throw away those doubts and fears and get writing!

Coming next week: Edits and Re-Writes. How to fix that song gone wrong!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

O, Canada, part two

I was asked by the Nashville Songwriters Association, International (a group to which all songwriters should belong) to headline their music festival, Tin Pan North, in Toronto, Canada. Sharing the headline with me were Andy Kim, Danny Wells, Frank Myers, and my wife, Lynn Gillespie Chater. We performed one show Friday night, gave the Canadian writers workshops and seminars all day Saturday, and ended with a performance Saturday night.
I must say we had a great time meeting the new and upcoming writers. Let me tell you you’re going to hear some super songs coming out of Canada in the near future. But the overwhelming feeling for me was that I had come full circle, so to speak, by being back in the land of my birth, and now I was given an opportunity to inspire those taking their first steps on the road of songwriting.
I’ve been fortunate to make a living at songwriting. Now, I tell friends I’m going to retire, but I know, and they know, that no one ever really retires from songwriting. Along with this imagined retirement comes the opportunity to give back by helping the new writers coming up.
In the coming weeks, my blog will focus on all aspects of songwriting, including songwriting form, producing demos and CDs, pitching to artists, and being your own publisher. In the new world of the music business, be prepared to do everything yourself. The more you know, the better your chances.   

Thursday, May 26, 2011

O, Canada.

I'm going back to the land of my birth.
Headlining NSAI Toronto Tin Pan North Music Festival. First time I've been back to Toronto since age 6. I'll give you my reactions next week.