Quickie Advice on Focusing Your Project…

March 22, 2012 Leave a comment
A friend, who is a talented indie songwriter/artist, e-mailed me concerning a new EP that he was recording (questions on where his focus should be).  Below was a portion of my response that I thought would be of interest to some of you.  (My responses are edited below.)
These are a few things I’d say in general to anyone (recording in today current ‘commercial’ music industry landscape)…
1.)  CDs aren’t selling anymore (but everyone knows that at this point).  Most product is sold or GIVEN AWAY online.  (Given away to promote the live show.)  So,  I wouldn’t package your songs/tracks/product on CD.  I’d do an online release only and look at selling the EP on a minimum number of thumb drives (containing mention of your website and itunes) at shows.
2.)  Since you aren’t spending on CD packaging, focus your finances on the quality of the recording.  The recording has to be high quality to compete.  A  good portion of my income comes from getting songs placed on TV (which is becoming a revenue source for many artists and producers)…TV & Film won’t use your songs unless they are competitive to industry standards of recording.  They have to sound great.
3.)  (Many) Labels are functioning as contractors.  Those that are signing artists are (generally) signing artists who are touring, already have radio/TV ready tracks and who already have backing/investment money ($500,000-$1,000,000) to bring to the table.
4.)  (Most) Publishers are only signing writers who already have cuts or who are established artist (whether major label or est. touring indie acts.)  My last pub deal came after I had a couple of songs recorded by major label artists, which I’d obtained myself.
The industry has always been competitive but seems to be more so now since mp3s and file sharing crushed the physical product, so your tracks and songs need to stand above the rest from a writing, production and mixing/mastering standpoint if they are going to see the light of day.  Don’t be discouraged though, there are many practical steps you can take to maintain a healthy and prosperous living in today’s musical climate.
To all readers of my blog:
If you are interested in cost effective production or simply need independent A&R, marketing consultation feel free to contact me at:  shaywatson@shaywatson.com
Vist:  www.shaywatson.com for links to my music and others that I’ve worked with.

Cheap & Weird Gear

February 24, 2012 Leave a comment

(Be sure to click the play button above and listen to some samples of my production work  as you read through the blog below. Production work consists of that  from both me and from my production partnership Watson & Nash.  For more info visit: http://www.shaywatson.com )

No matter how cheap your gear is, you can still get a great sound. Well, that’s true to a degree. Rather, no matter how cheap your gear is, you can trick 80-90% of your listeners into believing you tracked your music in a ‘pro-studio’. You can get great sounding records with minimal and sometimes very dated gear…but with limitations.

A lot of recording musicians run out and purchase expensive mics, pre-amps, compressors, etc. thinking it’s going to solve all their sound problems. (When I refer to more expensive mics I’m referring to $2,000 + or Pre-amps/compressor that run $2,000+). Over the years I’ve seen friends and clients drop thousands on mics and pre-s thinking that it would greatly improve the quality of their vocals and thus greatly improve the quality of their tracks. …Home recording folks, you are probably expecting me to say that dropping the G’s doesn’t improve the sound. If so, you’ be wrong. It DOES improve the sound. …but here’s the question: Does expensive mics and pre-amps improve the overall quality of the song (track) and the listener’s desire to hear the song? Not really…well, maybe to elitist audiophiles.  Ask yourself, does the general and even trained listener, in most cases, even hear the difference?

A few weeks ago, I had a client that purchased a couple $1,200-1,500 mics along with a pre that ran around $1,400. The client and I (at no extra cost to the client) decided to recut some earlier vocal passes, which were recorded on a less expensive mic and pre, using the new gear. Once I comp-ed my client’s new vocal passes (recorded on the more expensive mic and pre) I pulled them up in Pro-Tools alongside the old vocal tracks (Recorded on a $300 mic/$100-200 pre). The newly tracked vocals, on the more expensive mics and pre amps did, in fact, sound better.  There was less ‘graininess’ in the raw track and the passes on the more expensive gear was more detailed and possessed a certain clarity.  This is not to say that the vocal tracked on the less expensive gear was bad.  It just involved a lot more post recording work (eq-ing) to get it on par with the later vocals.  After importing the new vocal tracks and pulling them up against the originals, I then began to eq the original  tracks using the new vocals as a reference. After around 30 minutes, through eq-ing with various plug-ins, I had the old and new vocals sounding somewhat close clarity-wise.  The graininess was still slightly present at the top end and the eq-ed vox sounded a little thinner but not enough to effect the overall recording once the musical tracks were added back in.   True, a pro audiophile would know the difference but the average listener and even most trained musicians would not be able to tell the difference (with the instrument tracks playing in the background). The old vocal track needed more work, so I kept tinkering with it.  Eventually I got the vocals so close that differences between the passes could only be detected by the discriminating ear at in the upper range of the vocal.  Again, the upper range didn’t sound bad just a little thinner.  The various passes were so close that I tried a little experiment. I edited a few parts of the old vocal in with the new vocal, blending them to the point that the blended lines could not be easily identified, if at all, by the average listener. I let a couple people listen to the blended vocals (mixed in with the track) to see if they could pick out the edits. No one picked out the edits.

Here’s another example:

A few years ago I was producing a project for a popular label artist (I’ll spare the artist’s name here in respect to confidentiality…however if you look back over my client roster of the past 12 years this would have been about 6-8 years ago). The artist had just finished up touring his latest radio release from his former record and was anxious to release some fresh, new ‘organic’ material. We holed up in my house for a couple months, originally with the intention of first writing the record, running the songs by A&R, tracking a couple songs and then getting a budget to record the rest in a major studio later. It became evident early on that this was not the artist’s intention. The artist rather us write and record simultaneously at my small home studio. At the time my gear was more limited.  If I was working on a big project, I’d just rent a studio for the week and pay the players, however, this was not the direction the artist and I were heading with this ‘organic-out of the box’ project. The artist’s sentiments, not my sentiments, (I loved the artist’s previous record) went something like this:

“My last record was a finely crafted slick polished turd. I don’t care what the label guy says…My fans want something real. They don’t give a crap if the banjo was tracked with a Neumann-This or that or a freakin’ Folder’s coffee can! Let’s just give them something clean and raw and great!!!”  (me paraphrasing the artist’s sentiments)

I’d tracked the shoe-string/live from the living room way before on earlier Ten Mile Drive recordings but was very nervous about tracking this way for a label project.  Since I used my house more for writing and programming keyboard/synth parts and loops, my true audio gear (mics, etc. was limited). On hand I had a few cheap, less than $500 mics, a cheap DBX Pre-amp Compressor, my workstation, a couple good active monitors, a bunch of blankets to sound proof certain rooms (Including mine and my wife’s master bedroom), a big open living room with hardwood floors, a couple hallways with fairly good acoustics and a few great ears.

I was somewhat apprehensive about our set up but I did believe strongly in my ability to ‘hear’ what needed to be in the track and what did not need to be in the track. To be honest, I was a fan of the artist that I was working with and respected his musicianship. I didn’t want to lose the opportunity to produce his next label project and I also didn’t want him viewing me as ‘one of them/the A&R/the suits’, so I made it work. At one point I had the artist tracking guitars in a back bedroom, a latin percussionist with congas, bongos and timbales in my hardwood living room and a bass player tracking in my programming room (which also served as the control room). My aim was to listen and get each instrument sounding clear and as close to exactly what you’d hear live as possible. I allowed room noise in the perc tracks but deadened the room for the guitars. The process, however is not the point of my example. The end result is.

The end result: After quite a bit of raw, guerilla-style home recording we walked into a multi-million dollar facility to do a few small overdubs and have the tracks mixed & mastered. Once the mix engineer pulled the tracks up, the engineer, studio assistant and owner all asked where we recorded the tracks. Why? Because, in their words, the tracks sounded so clear, detailed and amazing! They all absolutely loved what we’d given them. I shot a knowing “don’t you dare tell them how we tracked this thing” glance at the artist. Best to let them think we spent a pretty penny.

Honestly, it’s great when you can afford great gear (and know how to use it) because it makes your job much easier but, as you can see from the above examples, you don’t have to have it to get quality. It comes down to your ears and your vision for the ‘sound’ you are going for…and a great mix engineer:)

Below are a few vocal samples through different mic-mic pre/comp chains:

New Production Sampler Up

February 3, 2012 Leave a comment

(Be sure to click the play button above and listen to some samples of my production work  as you read through the blog below. Production work consists of that  from both me and from my production partnership Watson & Nash.  For more info visit: http://www.shaywatson.com )

Today has provided me a nice little stroll down memory lane. I decided to take some time and further compile a new Jan/Feb 2012 production reel. Listening through the above sampler I was reminded of so many great memories that were formed over the past couple years. Hours of being locked in the studio writing and recording projects with other artists/musicians have been the impetus of forged friendships, long laughs and quite a few heart to hearts. If some of you guys who have worked with me hear a snippet of yourself above, I thank you for allowing me to work with you and to use your music. If you’ve spent the time working with me and don’t hear your a snippet played, know that you’ll probably be on the next sampler! I know how the artist’s mind mind works, so let me go ahead and say to you, “No, you were not left off because you weren’t good enough! It was that I simply found the reel to be going too long and unfortunately had to put yours on hold until the next time.”

With all thanks and disclaimers out of the way. I want to encourage you to scroll back through my past songwriting and production posts and dig into them. There’s some good info that has already been posted, plus you’ll gain a better perspective of where I’m coming from in future posts.

Today’s post may seem a little purple prose (If James Joyce were a music blogger) but that’s ok. Sometimes the conversational brainstorm can be best…

A few random thoughts for today:)

It’s amazing what we can do in our own homes these days with the right gear and plugins. Today has been a band-in-the-box-midi-generated type day. Aside from making records (CDs) for artists to package and take on the road with them to sell, my attention has shifted to the TV/Film world. …Let me say, being a musician/producer who can play all his own instruments and construct the majority of his tracks on the laptop (with little overhead)is a great thing. I’ve found here lately that I can quickly churn out the tunes on spec and save my wallet. That’s a very great thing when you are relying on the chance that your pitch will land and get the placement. I have to admit that I came a little late to the party in conjunction to TV/Film…but I’m glad I finally showed up. As I’d mentioned in my previous posts, I’ve always been geared more so toward making a record (CD) then touring it, selling it and then making the next record. After receiving a few placements over the course of the past year and a half and seeing that this was a good revenue stream for me, I’ve dug deeper in the placement world…a world that calls for really quick turn around!

Although I miss the camaraderie of my fellow musicians, I’ve found that If the budget is non-existant it’s best that I’m left alone for a few hours to complete the track on my own. Writing the song, programming the drums, keys, strings playing the bass or GTRs (if I decide not to shoot it over to a guitarist friend with a tracking room), recording vox, comping and tuning the vox and getting a rough mix should take the better part of the day. Of course, I time my time on some…but if I’m under the gun, I could make a good run.

I’ve spent a good bit of today in ProTools bouncing down midi drum tracks that I’d programmed with EZ Drummer. The more I dig into the EZ drummer plug in the more I love it. Although, I prefer to use live drums on all rock and country masters, this little tool in the arsenal has come in handy lately. I have actually been able to ‘fake-out’ a few of my musician friends by playing them a couple CCM and Pop records that I’ve recently produced using a combo of EZ drummer (Nashville version) and loops from my library. I mention the Nashville version because it has the most realistic sound and drum patterns. Also, a little tid bit of info. that you’ll want to try (if you are new to programming your own drums)…Instead of mixing the drums in the plugin and then bouncing the track down to one stereo file, bounce each track individually. You’ll be able to better edit, sample and manipulate eqs later.

Bass and keys went down pretty quickly…

Now it’s on to my Vienna Strings plug-in. If you don’t have this one get it. These string sounds are very realistic. You can adjust everything from down bows, up bows, tremolo, not to mention the obvious timbre, duration and attack. It’s a great plug-in. Again, I recommend bouncing violins, violas, cellos and basses separate.

Glancing up at the clock, I’m realizing that I’d better get back to today’s tracks. Here goes the next bounce…

The Call of The Artist

January 19, 2012 Leave a comment

(Be sure to click the play button above and listen to some samples of my production work as you read through the blog below. Enjoy!!!)

One of the advantages that I’ve been afforded as a producer is that I was fortunate enough to have previously had a fairly solid career as a recording artist.   This has comforted many of the artists that I have worked with because I could sympathize with them over their artistic concerns.  I understand the obstacles they face budget-wise, music sales wise, road wise and schedule wise.   For newer recording artists I understand the confusion that can sometimes exists navigating through the murky waters of the modern era music industry.  I have the ability to remember what it was like, listen and if asked for, offer advice.  For the seasoned artist,  I  understand the importance of breaking new ground and remaining fresh while, at the same time, not loosing or alienating their established following.

It’s important for the producer to capture what is there, accentuate the strengths and unique aspects of the artist and downplay any ‘undesired’ weaknesses. (Sometimes weakness and vulnerability in the proper light can be a good thing.)  It’s important that the producer not fashion the artist into what he wants the artist to be but rather listen to the heart of the artist and help refine. (Scroll down for the full blog)

It was fall 1999, I had been working as a staff writer at a small publishing company/record label.  The new millennium was fast approaching.  Y2K hysteria was in the air.  Small peer to peer sharing of mp3s had only put a small dent in the record industry’s sells.  CDs were still selling.  Napster, the first huge blow to the industry had only been released a couple months earlier in June.  I was optimistic about my future as a songwriter.  I was one of the more fortunate transplants. I’d uprooted from South Alabama a year earlier, within a couple months landed a small internship in music publishing, been mentored and was now firmly developing my own voice as a writer.  As much as I loved writing (which had previously been my only interest), I was now gaining studio experience and was feeling that inner call of the artist.

I had been hanging out with a number of artists and hearing their stories.  I had been playing as a sideman occasionally on concerts and showcases.  I saw how they were able to effect and move their audiences, endearing their own personalities, philosophies and yearning onto them.  These beautifully broken creatures had a ‘voice’, a message.  They also had the opportunity to live out their songs on stage.  They weren’t dependent, as I was on an ‘outside’ artist to pick up a song, record it and hopefully perform it live in order to be heard.  The artists had instant access to sharing their music. Something inside me longed to be doing what they were doing.  I was an artist at heart.

My first attempts at a career as a performing singer/songwriter were in the Contemporary Christian Music Genre.  Pursuing a career (initially) in this genre felt very natural to me.  I’d performed a few times before in churches, I new the lingo and my first song cuts were in Christian music.  I was able to pull from my resources as a B-level…(probably more C or D level) Christian songwriter at the time and get a few gigs.  Most of my early shows were at coffeehouses and special music at churches.  Gigs were sporadic at this time.  I didn’t really know how to properly book a tour, how to route gigs, etc.  …plus I detested cold calling venues and promoting myself.  Self promotion felt very unnatural.  One of the earliest concert runs that I booked was in Central Louisiana.  I’d booked a coffeehouse and a couple small backwoods churches to perform at.  No pay was involved.  I was expected to travel from Nashville to New Orleans and perform off love offerings and CD sales.

Fortunately, I’d just finishing cutting my first album, ‘Anyway’ a couple months earlier.  It was a very low budget recording.  At most I figure I spent around $3,500-$4000 on the project.  Musician friends donated time,  my brother shot the photography and a friend gave me a cut rate on graphics.  My biggest expense was duplication.

I realized that a friend of mine, who was also a musician, had family down in Louisiana so I asked him to accompany and play on the shows with me.  My friend’s name was Jacob Wiley.  We had a great time performing together and on the last of our shows we got to talking to an acquaintance of Jacob’s, Cole Bruce who was contemplating moving to either Branson, Mo or Nashville to pursue his own music career.  A week later Cole moved to Nashville and the three of us formed a band that week that our fans would come to know as Ten Mile Drive.

Ten Mile Drive (10MD for short) was a unique concept at the time.  The three of us decided that we’d forgo the typical instruments that we played and purchase bluegrass instruments, which we’d write and play pop/rock songs on.  We’d also all sing in a Beatles meets Beach Boys manner and and perform happy, feel good, catchy songs.  So I moved from piano to upright bass, Cole gave up his drums and switched between Banjo and Mandolin and Jacob added harmonica in addition to guitar.  After a couple months of strenuous rehearsals, we hit the road.  We lived and breath our instruments and quickly became a moderately successful national touring act.  At the end of our 2nd year together we were performing around 150+ shows a year and some weeks pulling in over $10,000 on CD sales.  We developed a solid grassroots fan base and was fortunate enough at the end of our 2nd year together to take on a manager, booking agent and a couple people here and there who would help with promotions.  Everything was running smoothly like a fine oiled machine and then the labels came…

Be sure to check back in for my next blog.

If you are looking for a producer or interested in production info please e-mail me at:  shaywatson@shaywatson.com

Co-Writing and the First Fall…

December 30, 2011 Leave a comment

(Be sure to click the play button above and listen to some samples of my production work as you read through the blog below. Enjoy!!!)

During my time working at the indie label/pub company (sometime around 1999/2000) I was able to gain a great deal of knowledge not only as a songwriter but also as a producer and an administrator.  This knowledge of the inner workings of the business has been of great benefit over the years.  Throughout my first year working at the label/pub co, my passion was directed almost exclusively toward songwriting.  As my knowledge grew of the craft, I was able to obtain better co-writing partners at other publishing companies.  The result was a solid catalogue of commercially viable songs that needed demo-ing.  Every publishing company is different concerning when and how frequently they demo their writer’s songs.  My publisher was on a strict budget due to having a promotional staff, 3 other writers, a label that had to foot promotional expenses, etc and all the other practical day to day office expenses.  For those reasons we typically demo-ed our 10-12 absolute best songs once a quarter.  This meant that each of the 4 writers were turning in a total of 50+ songs in addition to the 5-10 from outside writers that our publisher had heard and was considering demoing.  Add to that a huge back catalogue of  songs from the past 10 years of the company’s history.  So 12 spots, 200+ songs competing just to be demoed per quarter…At least that better odds than trying to get a cut on a 10 song label project with hundreds of publishers pulling their best songs from their catalogues to pitch.  The competition factor taught you to constantly be on your game.

Building a catalogue isn’t about quantity.  It’s about quality.

(Below is a picture of me, Michael McDonald and co-writer, James Clay at a party James’ label was hosting.)

I also began to realize that great melody writers were a dime a dozen but truly great lyricist were few and far between.  That observation prompted me to dig down deep and develop and refine my lyrical skills.  I’ve always had a  love for language and poetry, so the idea of diving in and focusing my attention on mining the fertile ground of words thrilled me.  Pretty soon I was dubbed ‘The Southern Poet’ by my publisher.  My attention to detail, the conveying of emotion and use of visual imagery lyrically was what gave my early songs an edge.  Melodically, they were crafted well but I do not feel that I was breaking any new ground. It wasn’t until a few years later that I developed my own unique sound melodically and chordally.

One of my favorite things that I did as a staff songwriter during those early years was to make sure that every night I had another writer over to the house.  It was a great time of both exploring ideas and getting to know people.  My wife Claire, ever the wonderful hostess, would prepare  meals in the small kitchen that connected to the dining room where I would be situated with my co-writer tossing ideas around.  Back during those days it was more common to see notepads and pencils instead of Mac laptops and ipads.  I’d generally have a couple stacks of torn paper and notebooks full of scribbled ideas resting on the corner of the table.  We work until dinner was served, putting together a framework or outline for the song, eat and then hit the grindstone again.  Oftentimes, I’d work with the other writers well into the wee small hours of the morning laboring over lyrics and melodies.  During those  years we lived in a cheap two bedroom apartment, near the airport in the industrial section of Nashville.  I was sometimes embarrassed when we had the more established writers over, as we’d frequently be in the middle of a crucial line and hear a couple cop cars zoom by outside, sirens blaring.

About two years into my time working at the publishing company I began to head up the publishing department.  I was responsible for handling pub contracts, single song contracts, work registrations, reviewing all music that came through the door and putting together pitches for other record labels.  We’d just had a song that reached number 2 on the inspo radio charts and another that was climbing.  Things seemed to be going well but then the bottom fell out on the entire industry.  A couple issues had converged to create this collapse.

In 2000, an article titled ‘Flat Notes’ by Beverly Keel, noted that 2000’s sales dropped 2% from 1999’s sales in overall market share.  The industry had experienced a boom in the 90s thanks to Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson and Clint Black and more than 30 other acts who earned gold and platinum records.  During that time period, when pop was losing listeners, country was gaining and had nearly 19% market share.  Country music had never before experienced the success it had in the 90s.  With the success came increased revenue and expansion.  Chances were taken.  New labels opened and countless new acts were signed.  Of course, living high on the hog didn’t last, as it never does.  Those who did not keep a watchful eye open for anticipated trends and store up a little extra for that proverbial rainy day, began to suffer.  What goes up must come down! A couple major issues surfaced on the initial roll back down the mountain that began to hit heavy on the pocketbooks of the decision makers.

Due to a rise in the popularity of pop/rock music, consolidation on radio and the quality of new country music being questioned, sales dropped, labels began folding and mid level artists began to suffer.  In the 2000 Flat Notes article, Barry Coburn, then president of Atlantic Records stated, “The real problem has been the development of new artists who haven’t been successful enough to recover the investment made.  The cost of launching new artists is at an all-time high.  The business model doesn’t really work in this kind of environment, so we need to re-evaluate all of the costs of breaking new artists.”

Another major issue that came to play was digital downloading, especially Napster (In it’s original free, non-pay form).  Napster, in it’s original form, operated between June 1999 and July 2001.  Its technology allowed people to easily share their MP3 files with other Napster users.  SIDE NOTE: This form of sharing bypassed the established market songs and lead to massive copyright violations of music, film media and other intellectual property.  Although the original service was shut down by court order, the damage had been done and the way was paved for decentralized peer-to-peer file distribution programs, which are harder to control.

The industry seemed to reach one of  it’s lowest points in 2000.

The artists who were recording songs that I had written were not selling well.  Against my own better judgment I had also begun contemplating an artists career…

Categories: Music Production

Modern Pop Melodies and Accompanying Chords

December 29, 2011 Leave a comment

(Be sure to click the play button above and listen to some samples of my production work as you read through the blog below. Enjoy!!!)

In the last post I elaborated a bit on the ‘tools’ that aided me in writing a commercially viable song during the early years of my songwriting career.  The focus of these tips concerned the lyric.  In this post I plan to discuss melody and chord usage but it may be a little hard to do without the ability to physically and aurally demonstrate examples, as we are currently confined to the written word in this particular blog post.

Pre-Nashville my melodies were fairly meandering and my chord progressions were obvious attempts to be cutting edge on the contemporary symphonic front.  As I mentioned, in my first Songwriting and Production blog, my focus was not on writing music commercially but rather writing for a more elitist symphonic audience.  I wrote music for musicians.  My goal was to break new ground as a composer, not derive an income from writing songs for the masses.

There is nothing wrong with following the ‘classical’ course of the musical spectrum…just as there is nothing to be frowned upon if you decide to follow the route of popular music.  Sometimes the two worlds collide and this overlapping can be a marvelous thing.  (Think: Gershwin, Bernstein, John Williams, Yo-Yo Ma, Andrew Lloyd Weber, Sting) For our purposes in this blog we will discuss the composition of commercially viable melodies and chord progressions.  We will draw a box around this particular subgroup of the musical spectrum and we will focus on the genres of pop, rock and country music.

Concerning Melody, there are a few standard rules you’ll want to follow:

1.)  Keep your melodies singable.  Can he average Joe on the street easily repeat your melody back to you?  If you whistled a simple motif to the average listener could they whistle it back with at least a 90% accuracy?  This doesn’t mean the melodies can’t be inventive.  ‘My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean’…Think of the tune that goes to that one. The first interval is one of a sixth. The melody descends and quickly ascends before dropping just before a repeat of the melodic motif.

2.) Repetition.  Repetition.  Repetition.  Again, think ‘My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean’…Think of the melody that accompanies those words…What are the next words?…”My Bonnie Lies Over The Sea”?…What’s the melody that accompanies that second line?  …Did you say that the melody in the second line is almost the exact same as the melody in the first?  If so you’d be correct.  Think of the countless other songs that follow this example. Think  5-10 notes in an interesting rhythm with interesting intervals repeated with perhaps a different chord underneath the repeated notes.

3.) Keep commercial melodies short.  Too many notes and the listener will not be able to grasp the melody.  The listener will then forget the melody and the song will be forgotten. Typically: 4-8 bars for the verse, 2 bars for the channel, 4-8 Bars for the Chorus, 4 bars for the Bridge.

4.)  Write most of your songs in 4/4 time, a few in 3/4 or 6/8 time but for the most part avoid writing in 7/8 or some weird time signature (try it out occasionally but realize that unless you are the singer of the song, it probably won’t get cut).

Concerning chord progressions, you’ll want to analyze  current pop/rock, country and Top 40 songs.  Certain chords progressions get popular for a few years and then they’ll take a back seat for a time while others come to the forefront.  Remember the popular progression from the 50s:  1  6-  4  5 (Earth Angel, In The Still of the Night, etc.)  Then in the sixties we saw 1  5  -6  4 70s was a curious time when allot more exploration was done with progressions starting on minor chords.  The 80s, 90s, and 2000s had their popular progressions just as we do today…I encourage you to grab a Taylor Swift CD chart out her chord progressions then sit down with a Kelly Clarkson Album…Chart hers out.  Guess what?  Most of the progressions will be the same.  Trust me, I’ve done it.  One of my favorite progressions is (6- 4) (1  1).

You may want to take a couple minutes and visit my website: http://www.shaywatson.com  Pretty much every page contains a Jukebox of songs that I’ve written not only for myself but other artists such as Dove Award Winners: Sidewalk Prophets, Grammy Nominated Group: Sonic Flood, Country Artists: Calico Trail and others.  Listen to those songs.  Chart out the progressions that you find in those songs.  Listen to my usage of melodies and individual motifs within the melodic line.

The 8 Components of Successful Songwriting

December 28, 2011 1 comment

(Be sure to click the play button above and listen to some samples of my production work as you read through the blog below. Enjoy!!!)

It was the late 90s and I’d been working part time for a small music publishing/indie record label for about a year when I was offered a staff writing deal. The deal was not that great financially but did contain a draw (a salary that would be recouped out of future assumed royalties) and a budget for demos. I learned a few things from my 1st pub deal. First, having a deal in no way insured that you’d get your songs cut. Second, if the contract stated that you turn in a minimum of 12 songs a year, that was 12 aggregate total songs…meaning, if another writer and myself had written a song, that song only counted as 1/2 a song. If there were 3 writers on a song, the song was deemed 1/3 of a song. I also learned that the songs turned in were only counted upon publisher approval. I could write 100 songs but if each were a 3 way co-write that would only count as 33 songs, 7 of which were likely to be accepted.

One of my earlier cuts (I Fall)  was featured on a CD released by Word Records…

I also learned that there was a structure to songwriting and there were certain rules that could be applied to each song to make it more ‘commercial’. I must specify here that these rules…or shall I say tools are only to be applied to songs that a songwriter hopes to get cut or to that he expect to appeal to the masses. Below are the components that my first publisher drilled into my head…I still use many of these as they pertain to lyrics (I’ve over simplified and given a brief explanation of each):


This is the phrase or word that every other word and phrase in the song points to. It should be unique, cool & catchy but at the same time conversational. It most often appears in the chorus at least 2 or 3 times. If the hook is going to be in the chorus only once, it should be the last line of the chorus. If you are writing a story song the hook can fall at the last line of each verse.


The most common song structures are (Intros, outros and bridges can be omitted):

a.) intro-verse-channel-CHORUS-verse-channel-CHORUS-Bridge-CHORUS-CHORUS-Outro

b.) intro-verse-CHORUS-verse-CHORUS-Bridge-CHORUS-Outro

c.) verse-verse-REFRAIN (Bridge which contains Hook)-verse


Each section of the song will include a particular rhyme scheme. Think back to when you studied poetry in high school.
A section could contain the following rhyme scheme:
AABA (Meaning Lines 1, 2 & 4 rhyme)
Other Rhyme schemes include but are not limited to:
Each section of the song should contain a different rhyme scheme. For instance the verses have the same rhyme scheme but are different from the choruses which is most often the same lyric each time. The rhyme schemes of the Verses and choruses which are different from each other are different from the channels and also different from the bridge.

Think variation of rhyme scheme between different sections but consistency of rhyme scheme within the individual sections.


Alliteration is the repetition of a particular sound in the first syllables of a series of words or phrases.

For instance: Weeks wheeled by like sandy shadows
Note the ‘W’ and ‘S’ sounds.


A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to two unlike thing in order to suggest a resemblance, as in “She is a flower.”

A simile is a figure of speech in which two unlike things are compared, as in “she is like a flower.”


Personification is giving human attributes to an inanimate or non-human form.

For instance, “The sun crept across the sky reaching it’s blazing fingers down on golden fields”.


“Standing in the crimson stained light of an overcast dawn.”


If you are writing a song where the you open up the song with a line like:

“He thought he was gonna strike out on love again”

Consider spicing the rest of the lyric up with terms that could be associated with baseball. Example:

“So he ran back home before he let love in”….”Rounding first, ‘catching’ a break. …etc.


This is the most important component. You must connect emotionally with your listener. If you don’t your song is self serving and no one will want to hear it. You can connect emotionally in a variety of ways. A lyric can be heart wrenching, funny, sarcastic, sad, etc. but it most connect on some level with the listener.

I used the tools so much in my first years of my professional songwriting that they became second nature. I hardly ever think about these components anymore although I’m incorporating them all the time.

A few other things that I learned during this time was to be concise and conversational. I learned to get to my point quickly and conserve words…(I also have found that I often carry these principles over into my everyday conversations.) Use less words but allow the words that you do use to have a memorable impact. I also learned that I should try to keep my songs around 3 minutes and 50 secs. Now I typically try to make it from intro to outro in 2:50. I learned that if your melody isn’t greater than great, no one will take the time to listen to your lyric no matter how great it is.

So far I’ve been discussing the lyric…In the next post I hope to hit on melody and chord usage.

To hear a few of my past and present song cuts and solo albums visit: http://www.shaywatson.com

Solo album I released after my days on the road with Ten Mile Drive…