Copyright Symbol

What Songwriters Need to Know About Copyright Registration

I get a lot of emails as well as blog comments that pertain to copyright. There’s a lot of confusion about what it is, because copyright is a legal term — the kind of thing that lawyers get paid to understand. So you’d be excused for not knowing everything about it if you aren’t a lawyer.

Having said that, I think anyone in the creative arts should do their best to be as informed as possible. One area which you definitely need to understand is copyright registration.

How to Harmonize a MelodyOnce you’ve got a melody, how do you know which chords will work with it? “How to Harmonize a Melody” shows you how to do exactly that. Shows the secrets of harmonic rhythmidentifying the key of your melody, chord function, and more. It’s part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle.

Every country will have their own specific laws, as well as their own way to describe the protections copyright registration offers. But I think you’ll find this document, from the United States Copyright Office, “Copyright Registration for Musical Compositions,” sums up most countries’ take on this comprehensive legal area.

I won’t simply restate everything here that’s in that document, but here are a few important take-aways. (Again, I’ll remind you that this pertains specifically to copyright in the U.S.A. In quoted passages from that document, the bold emphasis is my own):

  1. “Copyright in a musical work includes the right to make and distribute the first sound recording. Although others are permitted to make subsequent sound recordings, they must compensate the copyright owner of the musical work under the compulsory licensing provision of the law (17 U.S.C. § 115). For more information, see Circular 73, Compulsory License for Making and Distributing Phonorecords.”
  2. A work, once it’s been put into some tangible, written (“fixed”) or recorded form, is protected by copyright. You do not need to register the copyright to have copyright protection.
  3. A work for which the copyright is registered has the benefit of your music being in “the public record”, which can help in infringement cases.

There is a lot more in that document, but it’s only 6 pages long, so I strongly suggest you read it.

You can apply online to have your songs registered. I think that if you plan to do anything with your songs at all, they deserve the protection that registration provides. There is a fee for registration, as well as a deposit.

Registering a “Collection” of Songs

You will want to know that it is possible to register several songs as a collection, with one filing fee, as long as the copyright owners for all the songs is the same. There are other stipulations, so you’ll want to be sure to read page 5 of that document.

And one final tidbit of info: for songs written after 1989, it’s not been necessary to include the copyright notice (i.e., ©2017, John Brown). I’ve always felt that it’s a good idea, however, to include a copyright notice for printed copies of your songs. If for no other reason, it shows everyone that you claim ownership, authorship, and that you’re likely to rigorously defend it.

If you are not a citizen of the U.S., you’ll likely find a similar document by doing an online search for your country and the words “copyright office music.”

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

Essential Secrets of Songwriting Bundle“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10- eBook bundle comes with a free copy of “Creative Chord Progressions”. Learn how to take your chords beyond simple I-IV-V progressions. With pages of examples ready for you to use in your own songs.

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Gotye - Eyes Wide Open

5 Tips For Writing a More Focused Lyric

It’s important to realize that what you’re dealing with in songwriting is getting an audience to feel something, more so than telling a story. True, your song will involve telling a kind of story– a lover who tosses you away, or perhaps a plea to the world for more kindness — but what it comes down to is making your listeners conjure up an emotional response.

In that sense, lyric writing isn’t much different from what novelists or short story writers do: use words to communicate to audiences. In music, however, you’ll find that the melodies, chords and instrumental treatment (i.e., decisions relating to production) can often communicate more to an audience than words actually do.

The Essential Secrets of Songwriting, 4th editionThe best lyrics are the ones that partner well with the melodies and chords to which they’re attached. You’ve got to get the balance just right. That’s what Chapter 5 of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook demonstrates. Get it as part of the 10-eBook Bundle, or also available separately.

The biggest problem that most songwriters face is coming up with a lyric that’s focused, to the point, and concise. After all, while novelists get 80,000 words or more to relate their story, a song might use 100 or so (though considerably more for hip hop). How do you make sure you’ve said what needs to be said with so few words?

Here are some tips and ideas for making sure that your lyric is short enough to avoid being an aimless rambling, focused enough to keep the listener engaged, and poignant enough to have your audience feeling somethng.

  1. Examine your lyric line by line. Once you’ve got what you think is a lyric that works, go through it carefully: read a line, then say to yourself, “Because I said that, I then said this…” Then read the next line. You need to have a strong sense that one line leads logically to the next.
  2. Try rewording lines of lyric. For every line you write, try finding different ways to say the same thing. Sometimes that might involve re-ordering some of the words, and at other times it might mean coming up with an entirely new way of saying it. You may find that what you’ve said in your lyric is the best solution, but this idea has a way of surprising you with something that you weren’t expecting.
  3. Avoid being overly wordy about unimportant things. If your song is mainly about how you felt being at a party, you may discover that you’ve spent an entire verse talking about how you were planning to get there. Minutia is unimportant, unless it sets a scene. A great example is Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up,” in which he uses the verses to describe the protagonist’s background, and the chorus to switch point of view to that of a close friend, begging him to stay strong. The details in the verses are what makes the chorus so powerful.
  4. Compare the duty of the verse to the duty of the chorus. Read through your verse, and then compare it to what you’ve written in the chorus. What did your verse say? What did the chorus say in response to the verse? Audiences will automatically do that, even if they don’t know it. They want the chorus to be some sort of point of focus for what the verse has given them, and it’s important you offer that.
  5. Keep your song lyric pointing to one specific issue or topic. Novels can take lots of side trips to supporting stories, but song lyrics often don’t have that opportunity. You need to decide what your song’s topic is, and then write a concise lyric that stays the course.

The best way to hone and improve your lyric-writing abilities is to study good lyrics. Read them over, and try to get a sense of why the lyricist wrote what they did. Make note of imagery, poetic devices, rhyming schemes… everything you think makes the lyric work.

To get you moving in the right direction, try reading through these examples. Then take the time to listen to each song, and see how the words partner up with other important song elements:

  1. Woodstock” (Joni Mitchell)
  2. By the Rivers Dark” (Leonard Cohen)
  3. This Kiss” (Beth Nielsen Chapman, Robin Lerner, Annie Roboff, recorded by Faith Hill)
  4. Eyes Wide Open” (Gotye)
  5. All Caps” (Daniel Dumile Thompson, Otis Lee Jackson – MF Doom)

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

Chord Progression Formulas“Chord Progression Formulas” shows you a system for creating your own progressions in seconds using some basic formulas, in both major or minor keys. It’s available at the Online Store.

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Solving Musical Problems Is Best Done Before Production Happens

In 2005, when I wrote my first eBook, “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting”, I was planning to call it “The Essential Principles of Songwriting.” After some considerable thought, I reasoned that most people would be turned off by the word “principles”, and opted instead for “secrets.”

To my mind, however, it conveys the same thing, and I think people generally have a more positive view of a secret than they do of a principle. And I use the word principle a lot when I write these blog posts, because it conveys more exactly what I mean: that good songwriting (or good anything) comes down to understanding certain principles.

Essential Secrets of Songwriting Bundle“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle covers the principles that create great songs. No stone left unturned! How to create great chords, lyrics, melodies, and much more! Get today’s free deal: a copy of “Creative Chord Progressions”

What do I mean by principles? Here’s a random sampling of songwriting principles, just to give you an idea:

  1. Musical energy should increase or, more rarely, stay the same (not diminish) as a song progresses.
  2. Chorus melodies should be pitched higher than verse melodies.
  3. Songs without contrast risk being boring.
  4. The shape of a melody should be planned with vocal range, harmony and text in mind.

There are more, and in fact, there are probably dozens. Each principle of songwriting is actually interlocking, in the sense that one principle partners with, or strongly affects, another. For example, the second principle I listed above (chorus melodies should be higher than verse melodies) is a kind of realization of the first principle (that musical energy should increase as a song progresses).

In my eBook, I refer specifically to 11 different principles, all referring back and forth to each other.

Applying Principles to Songwriting

When you solve a musical problem in a song, you’re actually applying the expectations of a principle. Here’s how that might work.

You might notice, for example, that your chorus lyric is missing an emotional punch, even though you’re using very emotional words. (“Oh, I love you, need you, wish you were here…”). You realize, after some inspection, that it’s the verse that’s the problem… that the verse itself is full of emotional phrases and words, so when you reach the chorus, the audience has heard it all already.

So you fix the chorus problem by reworking the verse lyric to be in a more observational, narrative style, which gives the chorus more punch. What you’ve done is to apply the expectations of a principle: that verse lyrics should be descriptive, leaving the emotional response for the chorus.

Using Production to Fix Bad Songs

In applying songwriting principles as you write, you are solving musical problems before you get to the production or recording-mixing stage of your project. The more you can apply the basic principles of songwriting to what you’re writing, the less responsibility there is on the part of the producer to fix what needs to be fixed.

I’m not a producer — I’m a composer — but I know enough about production to know that good production is an art form. Its main job should not be to solve or correct songwriting problems, but rather to partner with a good song to create something wonderful.

If you are using production to fix a song, you’ve taken it to the studio too soon. You need to get a song working in its most bare-bones fashion first, and then, once you like what you hear, you use production-mixing-engineering to enhance the beautiful work you’ve already done at the songwriting stage.

And this applies even to songs that are created primarily at the computer.

It’s impossible to completely separate songwriting and production, but the more you spend time writing your songs with little or no thought to eventual production, the more you can apply the principles of good songwriting. Leaving other issues until the song elements work well (melodies, chords, lyrics, etc.) means your production can serve not as a crutch to prop up a bad song, but as an art form in its own right.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

If you get stuck at the chord progression stage of songwriting, you’ll find “Chord Progression Formulas” to be a vital go-to text for your process. Create dozens of progressions in moments by applying a formula!

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Peter Gabriel - Car

3 Big Tips For Making More Interesting Chord Progressions.

Every once in a while I take a look at the visitor stats for my blog, and especially take note of which pages — and in particular the topics — are the most popular. Typically it’s been articles about chords that get the most attention – usually 6 out of the 7 top posts.

So imagine my surprise today to find that of the 7 most popular posts, only 3 of them pertain to chord progressions. Two of the others were posts I wrote about melodies (“5 Most Important Qualities of Good Song Melodies“, and “A 10-Step Process For Adding Melody To Your Lyrics.” The other two were “8 Tips For Writing a Song Bridge,” as well as my home page itself.

How to Harmonize a MelodyOnce you’ve got a melody, how do you know which chords will work with it? “How to Harmonize a Melody” shows you how to do exactly that. Shows the secrets of harmonic rhythmidentifying the key of your melody, chord function, and more. It’s part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle.

Those stats may be an anomaly; from everything I see online, many or most songwriters feel that chords merit the most attention. I think it’s because we hear chords as being a kind of landscape upon which other musical elements are placed: melodies and lyrics in particular.

And because of this, we give chords the same kind of attention that we’d give a true landscape if we were buying a piece of property upon which to build a house.

The thing is, in music, chords don’t need to be anything dramatic or head-turning. I love creative chords, but I’d far rather have innovative lyrics and melodies than innovative chords. That’s because as chords get weirder and less predictable, they leave us out in the cold, musically speaking. There is a fine line between chords that are pleasantly creative and chords that don’t work.

So if you’re trying to create better chord progressions for your songs, improvising is going to help you find some interesting solutions. But as you search for those new and exciting chord solutions, I think you should consider the following 3 big tips to guide you in that search:

  1. Make complexity out of simplicity. In other words, if you want a progression that sounds innovative, start with something that’s tried, true & predictable, and manipulate that. That leaves a core progression that’s still going to work. Example: Take this “boring” progression: C  F  G  C, and freshen it up by adding a tonic pedal (the note C) under each chord. The progression is the same, but now sounds more creative.
  2. Don’t abandon the theory behind why chord progressions work in the first place. I’m simply saying here that you shouldn’t ignore what people are ultimately looking for: some journey, however simple or complex, away from and back to the tonic chord. Example: C  F#  Ebm  Am… There’s no denying the creative nature of this kind of progression, but all you’ve done is confuse your audience. Moments of oddness are fine, but help your audience find their way through the oddness to something they can understand.
  3. Remember that no one hums chord progressions. If you really want something that audiences are going to remember, concentrate on crafting beautiful melodies and stimulating lyrics. No song has ever made it to a best-songs-ever list because of its chord progression.

The music of Peter Gabriel is a favourite example of mine to show how subtle the straying from basic progressions needs to be. In his song “Moribund the Burgermeister” (from his 1977 “Car” album), the opening progression, used also in the verse, is: Eb7  Ab  Eb7  Ab  |Bb7  Eb  Bb7 Eb, all over a pedal dominant (Eb).

That progression isn’t overly inventive; it’s the instrumentation, melodic ideas, vocal style and rhythmic treatment that gives the song its unique sound.

So if you’re looking to make your music more imaginative, don’t focus too much on chords. Work instead to add a touch of originality to your melodies, lyrics and rhythmic treatments.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

Essential Secrets of Songwriting Bundle“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10- eBook bundle comes with a free copy of “Creative Chord Progressions”. Learn how to take your chords beyond simple I-IV-V progressions. With pages of examples ready for you to use in your own songs.

Posted in Chord Progressions and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .
Music concert microphone

Talent is a Starting Point, Not a Flag to Wave

Talent is a hard-to-define quality that generally pertains to one’s instinct or innate ability to do something well. We admire talent, but we also find it easy to roll our eyes at it. For truly successful people, talent is only a starting point. I have to agree with author Stephen King when he says:

Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.

The creative arts (composing music, writing books, choreographing dances, etc.) have a way of making people believe that talent is all it takes to be successful. Athletes are more likely to have a more balanced view of talent; a golfer with talent will hire a coach if they want to go as far as they can. For good golfers, talent is a starting point.

Fix Your Songwriting Problems - NOW“Fix Your Songwriting Problems – NOW!” describes 7 of the most common problems that practically every songwriter struggles with at some point in their writing careers. Buy it separately, or as part of the 10-eBook Bundle.

For some songwriters, you only need note their generally negative view of studying music theory to see a common opinion regarding talent: studying theory might cramp one’s musical imagination. It’s another way of saying that talent is what you should be nurturing, that talent is an important endpoint.

If songwriting is something you do instinctively — if you have a feel for it, and that’s what you are relying on — those musical instincts will take you only so far. You should view your musical talent as fuel for improvement, not as a flag to wave.

What To Do With Talent

So if talent is fuel, what’s the motor you’re fuelling with it? The answer is: your songwriting process.

Without a well-thought-out process (and a good work ethic), talent is about as useful as gasoline in a container. That container holds great potential, but not much more.

How do you know that your songwriting process is letting you down?

  1. You use improvisation as your main (or only) process. You improvise musical ideas, and then you keep randomly improvising until you’ve got a completed song.
  2. You find it easy to start songs, but very difficult to finish any of them.
  3. Your songwriting lacks any sense of method. While a baseball batter will go through a set of steps that starts with how to stand at the plate through to the follow-through after a swing, songwriting for you lacks a set of steps or even a loosely-defined procedure.

Having said all that, talent is important to a songwriter. Why? Mainly because musical talent (what we might also call musicianship) tells us what good music is. Talent also tells us when music is bad. The more talented you are, the quicker you’ll be in identifying precise problems with a song.

But talent doesn’t provide you with a process. Talent doesn’t necessarily tell you what to do to solve problems. For that reason, being talented is no reason to brag; it’s not a flag to wave about.

If you truly believe that you have musical talent (and many do, so that likely includes you), you can use that talent as fuel to hone a powerful songwriting process. I wrote a blog post about developing a good songwriting process recently (“Thinking About Your Songwriting Process“), so I won’t rewrite all of that here.

But the take-away is this: stop thinking of talent as a replacement for hard work, and think of it more as fuel for developing a disciplined approach for your songwriting activities. The benefits that come from hard work will greatly outpace the benefits that come from basking in the glow of your own talent.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

If you’re ready to develop a sensible songwriting process, get “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle. It covers every aspect of what makes great songs great, and will start you on your own path to musical excellence.

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I’m Gary Ewer. This blog has been my labour of love since 2008. You’ll find the five most recent songwriting articles right here on this page, and if you want to browse through the more than 1500 posts in the archive, scroll to the bottom of the page.

Please feel free to leave a comment at the end of any article. I love reading what others are thinking about music.

About Gary Ewer

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