3 Problems Most Lyricists Face

Being the main lyricist for a band is arguably one of the most difficult positions in music that one can hold. You have to be part musician and part poet, and you have to learn a ton of rules and techniques that go above and beyond what the average musician would have to know.

Because being a lyricist and a musician is such a balancing act, there are a host of problems that can occur. In fact, there are way more than can be named in this article. However, time and time again there seems to be three main stumbling blocks that lyricists happen to run into.

If you’ve been having trouble as a lyricist, or just want to avoid running into to some all too common problems, you’ve come to the right place. This article will give you three great tips to help you on your road to being the lyricist you’ve always dreamed you could be.

Side note: Yes, there are exceptions to every rule below. No, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve found a flaw in my logic. They are the exceptions that prove the rule, and most of them are either purposefully breaking a rule as a part of a larger message (“I Am The Walrus”) and/or work because the other elements that make them up are so strong, (a lot of Bob Dylan’s work).

1. Not Simplifying Your Song

Ideally, every song you right should have one main point. Everything else in your song should work to flesh out this point (or in some cases cause the listener to reinterpret it). Think of your song like an essay. You have your thesis, a few points regarding it, and then a few supporting details.

A common problem with a lot of lyricists’ songs is that they don’t follow this. By not outlining and sticking to one clear point their song becomes almost unintelligible. It confuses the listener, and it keeps your song from resonating with your audience.

To use the essay analogy again, imagine if an essay about the history of Coca-Cola had a five-paragraph section in the middle about party clowns. This would (rightly) confuse the reader and distract from the main point of the song.

2. Inconsistent Rhyme or Meter

You don’t necessarily have to rhyme to make a good song. You can also be relatively flexible with things like meter. However, you cannot have wild swings with either element. For example:

                  The red duck is red

                  He hides under my bed

                  Next to my bed is a trunk

                  It opens with a solid thunk

The example above would be okay. The syllable count is similar enough (a deviation of a syllable or two isn’t overly distracting) and everything rhymes. This on the other hand:

   The red duck is red

                  He curls up on a blanket under my bed

                  Next to my bed is a chest

                  It opens loudly with a very solid thunk

Would definitely not be okay. It doesn’t flow well, and quickly abandoning a rhyming scheme is distracting. Again, in certain situations this could work, (for example, it could be used as a technique to increase tension or draw attention to a line), it’s just not something you should do without a larger purpose. This isn’t the most elegant analogy around, but hopefully it illustrates the point.

3. Being Overly “Artsy”

If you analyze the work of your famous poet, you’re most likely going to see that the complexity and beauty from their point comes from the subtlety of their language. They don’t use overly descriptive phrases to sound deep, because by doing so they remove the audience’s agency.

The reason that a lot of poetry and/or lyrics resonate so deeply with people is that the author leaves room for the words to resonate with the audience. They leave their work open to interpretation so that the audience can fill in the gaps with their own experiences or expectations.

There’s a famous story of Ernest Hemingway winning a bet with some friends to see who could write the best novel with only four words. His response was “baby shoes; never worn.” These four words tell a huge story because they’re so open to interpretation. The story you thought of when you read them could be about a couple who miscarried, or it could have been a variety of other situations.

The lesson to learn with this anecdote isn’t that Ernest Hemingway was awesome, (even though he was!), it’s that in order to have a piece of media that resonates with a variety of people you have to leave enough gaps for them to insert themselves into.

Bonus: Use Relevant Themes

This isn’t necessarily a tip to make a better song, which is why it isn’t getting a number of its own. Rather, it’s a way that you can help your songs become more popular.

Something you should strive for if you’re looking to appeal to a wider audience is writing songs with themes that are both relevant to a wide number of people (heartbreak, having a lame job, having a p.o.s. car) and easily identifiable in a song. There are countless examples of this, and pretty much every famous artist has at least one.

To do this, just pick something that’s happened to you in your life that happens to other people. If you have a tense relationship with your folks, write a song about it. If you had a significant other cheat on you, put your experience to music. Just make sure that the basic storyline is easy to follow.

In Conclusion

Writing a good song is hard, and writing a great song is even harder. While this article may not give you all the information that you need to start pumping out hits, it can give you a leg up on your competition.

And most importantly, don’t forget to have fun and write music that artistically fulfills you. We may not all get to be famous, but we can all have a great time playing music.

Are You Guilty? 4 Ways Indie Artists Are Killing Social Media

[Editors Note: This post was written by Joshua Smotherman, co-founder of Middle Tennessee Music, and it originally appeared on the Cyber PR blog.]

 

In an ideal world I would wake up in the morning to a fresh cup of hot coffee. I would enjoy it as I check my e-mail and skim social networks to check up on friends and my favorite bands.

I would immerse myself in an online community of music lovers, songwriters, and musicians sharing, caring, and building with each other… NOT blasting commands to “check out my new hottest thing”.

I see enough billboards on the interstate.

In this world:

  • Bands would stop acting like rock stars and start acting like leaders
  • They would build self-sustaining tribes
  • They would listen to their fans
  • They would understand that growing organically will always win over view counts

As a music blogger, my inbox would NOT be full of one-liners and YouTube links I only see as distractions. Whatever happened to “connecting” with someone?

Unfortunately, this world does not exist. From where I’m sitting, the average indie band sucks at using social media and its ruining it for everyone else. Most importantly, your potential fans.

What are we doing wrong, you say?

Oh boy…where do I begin?

Me, Me, Me Marketing

You might have been raised in a world of billboards and commercials, but using social media as a one way street is killing your promo game.

It seems too many people are missing the social half of the phrase, social media.

You need to engage with fans and listeners instead of blasting them with links, videos, and nonsense about buying your album.

Sadly, most bands qualify [as what the marketing world refers to] as spammers.

Engaging is easier than you think and should come naturally (assuming you are not a recluse).

  • Share albums, videos, and news about other music you enjoy or local bands you play with. Ask others what they think.
  • Share news related to the music industry or issues that reflect the personality of your band and use them to engage in conversation.
  • Instead of posting links to the same videos and songs repeatedly, post clips of the band working in the studio or upload a demo mix and allow fans to share their opinions so you can take the art to another level. Involve fans in your process(es).
  • Network with bands in other areas to create an atmosphere for gig swapping and collaboration as well as cross promotion of content.

This list goes on but the takeaway here is engage in a way that results in feedback and interaction.

Build a community.

Focusing on the wrong metrics

Your follower count means nothing unless you see conversions.

Huh?!

More important than a follower, view, or like:

  • How many fans have signed up for your mailing list?
  • Do you pass around a mailing list signup sheet at your show?
  • How many people have you met at shows? (You do hang out with the audience after the show…right?)
  • How many people have bought a CD or t-shirt?

Stop putting all your energy into increasing numbers on social sites and focus on converting the followers you have into loyal fans.

Use social media to funnel music listeners to your website where you attempt to convert them into a mailing list signup, song download, or merchandise sale.

Would you rather have 1,000 likes or 100 fans spending $1,000 on music, merch, show tickets and crowd funding campaigns?

Show me the money!

Repeating yourself on every social network

Sending your Twitter feed to Facebook then copying and pasting it to Google+ so the same message appears on every site is a horrible idea.

So is auto play on audio embeds but that’s for a different time.

You are not expected to know marketing, you make music! Allow me to guide you on this train of thinking…

People who use Twitter are different than people who use Facebook and the people who use Google+ are not like the others.

It is imperative you consider these facts when developing a social media strategy and act accordingly.

Make sure you actually use social media as a music fan before deciding how to market your music using these tools. Follow bands who are in a position you would like to be in and see how they use each network. Notice what works, what doesn’t work, and then perfect your plan of action.

Posting several updates to Twitter every hour (depending on the nature of the updates) is more acceptable than posting to Facebook every 15 minutes.

When you over saturate a person’s FB News Feed, they hide you from their feed. Or worse…unlike your page or mark your posts as spam.

A general guideline is try to retweet, reply, comment, and share relevant content from others more than you broadcast and peddle your own wares.

Sell Without Selling

If you focus on building a community around your band instead of acting as a bulletin board, you will start noticing the true power of social media.

You will not see overnight results.

The key is to stay consistent, focus on creating great music, and communicate directly with your audience.

If you create a community of loyal fans, they will want to support you.

Your community will become your sales force and all you need to do is be yourself and continue giving fans a band worth loving.

Consistency allows you to reach a tipping point where fans begin promoting your music for you by wearing t-shirts, playing CDs at parties, and recommending you to their friends.

It is hard to conceive this when you are starting at zero, but 6 to 12 months down the road you will notice things happening simply because you remained persistent.

While fans are busy promoting your music, you need to seek out gig opportunities, blog reviews or interviews, and other chances to put yourself in the presence of tastemakers who can expose you to their audience.

Bloggers, journalists, booking agents, and other industry personnel will not give you their attention unless you have proof of a loyal, engaged following.

Buying followers or views might help you manipulate chart rankings and other metrics, but they will never replace the power of community. If you have 5,000 page likes but no one is liking, sharing, or commenting on your updates; we all see right through you.

So can the people who can expose you to bigger audiences of music fans.

In closing:

  • Build your tribe
  • Nurture your community
  • Stop acting like a corporate sales machine

You might also be interested in this panel discussion concerning Marketing, PR, and Promotion on a Budget hosted by Indie Connect NYC which discusses mores things indie musicians are doing wrong online.

How Have You Avoided Killing Social Media?

Let us know below what you have done to overcome these four social media killers above (or any others that you’ve experienced) in the form of a comment below!

Utilizing Soundcloud to Drive iTunes Sales

[Editor’s Note: This blog was written by Janelle Rogers, the founder of  Green Light Go Publicity, a music PR firm which helps up-and-coming musicians reach their audience.]

 

There’s no doubt that convincing fans and music listeners to buy music in 2017 can be an uphill battle. For nearly 20 years the music consumer has been conditioned into downloading music for free. Services like Spotify, Pandora and Soundcloud have made it even easier, while making it legal.

You may think the only way to get your music heard is to give it all away for free.

Not so fast.

Like any legitimate business model, you should be looking at how you can market your product to drive sales. A single can be your product to market while iTunes provides the vehicle to drive sales.

How do you do that? Let’s dive into a simple five step strategy to market your music on Soundcloud to drive sales on iTunes.

1. Create a Sales Goal

Before you start marketing your music, you should set a realistic sales goal of what you hope to achieve. Note, I said realistic. If you only have 30 Soundcloud followers and 100 Facebook followers, chances of you selling 1,000 downloads of your album on iTunes within two months are fairly unrealistic. In that case you need to make a compromise, either extend the timeline to where you can realistically sell 1,000 downloads or decrease the amount of sales to reflect your current followers.

2. Offer a Track for Free

If you want people to buy your music, you need to give them a sample of your music to try out. It’s the equivalent of going to your local market, trying that new crunchy snack at the sample table and then buying the entire bag because you can’t get enough.

Determine one single you can give for free off your new album and set a limited time frame to download it. You’re offering a single for a limited time for three reasons. It allows listeners a chance to really hear your music and decide if they want to hear more. The limited time creates incentive to download before it goes away and it keeps fans from solely relying on free music.

Lastly, by only offering one single it gives incentive to purchase more music if they are interested or at the very least streaming from Spotify where you’ll be paid for each listen. If you were to give away your entire album, you’re essentially giving away the entire bag of chips without asking for anything in return.

3. Post iTunes Pre-sale or Sale Link

Next, you need to make it easy for fans to know where to buy your music on iTunes. Post your iTunes pre-sale link or sale link on your Soundcloud profile, any public tracks from the album, and your Facebook and Twitter profiles. You should also include the release date so fans know when it’s available.

4. Alert Soundcloud Followers of New Music

Soundcloud made notification changes in 2014, which make it difficult to communicate when you have a new song available. In the past, when you uploaded a song, your followers would receive an email notification with a link to the new song. Currently, Soundcloud offers no bulk email notification option to alert fans of new music. Without your fans receiving notifications of your new music, what can you do?

First, you’ll unfortunately have to take the time to privately Soundcloud message every follower on your list individually to notify them of a new song available. That’s the good news if you only have 37 fans. It’s very bad news, if you have 10,000. This would be a very time intensive process if you did this every time you released a new single. You need a notification process that is both efficient and in your control. The best way to do this is to also notify your Soundcloud followers of your email list with a direct link to sign up and receive notifications when you release new music.

If you don’t have an email list, that should be your first priority for two reasons. One, you control how your fans are notified and you also don’t risk losing fan contacts on a platform who owns the contact information or controls how information can be sent.

Lastly, keeping your iTunes objective in mind, you should also include that iTunes pre-sale link and call to action in your individual messages and newsletter announcements.

5. Increase Soundcloud Following to Increase Sales

In order to increase sales outside of your base, you also need to increase your following. The best way to utilize this within Soundcloud is to follow those who would be interested in your music and are current Soundcloud users. If you also factor in users who repost tracks regularly, no more than 2-3 times daily, you have the opportunity to grow your base exponentially.

First, think about bands who are similar to you on Soundcloud and follow them. Then take a look at their followers and start following those who fit the parameters in the above paragraph. Soundcloud does limit how many you can follow in one day, so I recommend keeping it to ten per day, which will also make it more manageable as you engage with those who follow you and comment on your tracks.

This brings me to engagement. You should also be engaging with those you follow or who follow you, by liking tracks they post (If you like them) and commenting. This is especially true if you are following a band or someone else in the music industry.

This is also the one area where I suggest NOT sending your iTunes link, keeping in mind you should have it included in your song description. You are building a fan relationship when increasing listeners so you need to make sure the listener experience is a good one. Once you have built that relationship, then you can repeat the above process by releasing another single to support the album and including the iTunes link when you privately message.

This method is the first step in increasing sales for your music. In this day and age, however, you need to be creative and adapt to a constantly changing industry. Album sales are just a portion of revenue for a band. You should always look at how you can build your audience and create an experience they want to be part of, so they will in turn support your every endeavor.

4 Ways To Build Confidence as a Musician

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog post written by Mason Hoberg. Mason is a freelance writer who covers music-related topics and is a regular contributor to Equipboard.]

 

The hardest part about participating in any facet of the arts is overcoming your own insecurities. It’s easy to feel self-conscious when you perform music, especially when you’re not confident in your playing abilities to begin with.

The worst part about being unconfident as a musician is that it will rob you of enjoyment from your playing. If you don’t feel comfortable playing in front of others you’ll never be able to experience playing with your friends, playing open mics (which is a lot of fun if you have the right mindset), or being in a band.

If this is an issue that you’ve faced you’ve come to the right place. This article will give you four great tips to help you build confidence as a musician, which in turn will help you become the musician you always dreamed that you could be.

Tip 1: Play For Family And/Or Friends

I know it sounds kind of lame, but playing for family is actually a really good way to dip your toe into the pool of live performance. Most families are relatively supportive, so it’s a bit less stressful than playing in front of strangers.

Playing in front of friends is the second step. Your friends are still likely to be supportive, but more honest than your family. Constructive criticism is going to help you improve, but it’s just as important to learn how to take feedback that may not necessarily be very positive. It’s a skill that helps you learn to accept your flaws as a musician, which will in turn help you increase your confidence.

Tip 2: Focus On Improving, Not Putting Yourself Down

A mistake that a lot of musicians make is that they focus more of their attention on worrying about the flaws in their playing, rather than how they can improve them. Analyzing every mistake you make and then letting it bring you down is going to hurt your playing more than it will help. It may even eventually lead to you abandoning your instrument.

Instead, count every mistake you notice in your playing as a lesson.

Think about why what you played didn’t work or didn’t sound quite as good as it could have, then start thinking about how you can change it. Doing this will help you keep improving because you’ll always be working towards something instead of spending energy worrying about what you’re doing wrong.

Tip 3: Play A Song A Day In Front Of The Mirror

The most important part of building confidence is to consistently see a visual representation of your success, and the easiest way to do this is to play in front of a mirror. Playing in front of a mirror allows you to see yourself succeed with some aspect of your playing. It reassures you that though there may be things you struggle with, it’s still worth it to continue practicing because you can see that there are things you can do well musically.

Even better, playing in front of a mirror actually improves your technique. It lets you see how you play with a perspective you don’t normally get, which will do wonders for helping you remedy flaws in your technique.

Tip 4: Play Live!!!

The most important thing when you’re trying to build confidence is that you really just need to put yourself out there. Odds are you’re not going to sound great, but that’s okay. Unfortunately, the only way to become a good performer is to perform. It’s not a skill that you can hone without practice, and you can’t practice without doing it. This is where open mics come in handy, because odds are there are plenty of other people there who are also just starting out.

Performing will also help build your confidence in your abilities as a musician, regardless of whether or not you choose to continue performing. This confidence will improve your overall performance, resulting in a positive feedback loop where you’ll find yourself improving more and more as time goes on.

Wrapping It All Up

While building confidence as a musician is a long and difficult process, it does have a big payoff. It can help you become the musician you always hoped to be, and even better it will help you enjoy playing your instrument more than you ever thought possible.

Got some advice for your fellow artists trying to build confidence? Share below in the comments!

10 Ways to Make Vocals Sound Modern & Professional

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog written by Rob Mayzes, producer, mix engineer and founder of Home Studio Center, a site dedicated to providing valuable tips around recording from home studios.]

 

In most genres, the vocals are the most important part of the mix.

Especially in modern pop styles, there are a number of techniques that make a vocal sound modern, expensive and professional.

Once you apply these ten techniques, your mixes as a whole will improve.

1. Top-End Boost

This is perhaps the easiest and fastest way to make a vocal sound expensive.

Most boutique microphones have an exaggerated top-end. When using a more affordable microphone, you can simply boost the highs to replicate this characteristic.

The best way to do this is with an analogue modelling EQ, such as the free Slick EQ. Use a high shelf, and start with a 2dB boost at 10kHz.

Experiment with the frequency and amount of boost. You can go as low as 6kHz (but keep it subtle) and boost as much as 5dB above 10kHz. Just make sure it doesn’t become too harsh or brittle.

2. Use a De’Esser

When you start boosting the top-end, the vocal can start to sound more sibilant. To counteract this problem, a de’esser can be used.

These simple tools are a staple of the vocal mixing process, and required in at least 80% of cases. I find they usually work best at the very beginning or end of the plugin chain.

3. Remove Resonances

If you’re recording in a room that’s less than ideal, room resonances can quickly build up.

Find these resonances using the boost-and-sweep technique and then remove them with a narrow cut.

4. Control the Dynamics with Automation

For a modern sound, the dynamics of vocals need to be super consistent. Every word and syllable should be at roughly the same level.

Most of the time, this can’t be achieved with compression alone. Instead, use automation to manually level out the vocal.

I prefer to use gain automation to create consistency before the compressor. But regular volume automation works well too.

5. Catch the Peaks with a Limiter

Using a limiter after compression is another great way to control dynamics.

You don’t need to be aggressive with it (unless you are going for a heavily compressed sound). Aim for 2dB of gain reduction only on the loudest peaks.

6. Use Multiband Compression

As vocalists move between different registers, the tone of their voice can change. For example, when the vocalist moves to a lower register, their voice might start to sound muddy.

Instead of fixing this with EQ and removing the problematic frequencies from the entire performance, you could use multiband compression to control these frequencies only when they become problematic.

For any frequency-based problem that only appears on certain words or phrases, use multiband compression rather than EQ.

7. Enhance the Highs with Saturation

Sometimes EQ alone isn’t enough to enhance the top-end. By applying light saturation, you can create new harmonics and add more excitement.

8. Use Delays Instead of Reverb

For a modern sound, the vocals need to be upfront and in-your-face. Applying reverb to the vocal does the opposite of this, so is undesirable.

Instead, use a stereo slapback delay to create a space around the vocal and add some stereo width.

Use a low feedback (0-10%) and slightly different times on the left and right sides. I find that delay times between 50-200ms work best.

9. Try Adding a Subtle Plate Reverb

To add more width and depth to the vocal, try adding a subtle stereo plate on the vocal.

You don’t want the reverb to be noticeable, as discussed in the previous tip. Instead, bring the wetness up until you notice the reverb, then back it off a touch.

Start with the shortest decay time possible and a 60ms pre-delay to give the transients a bit more definition and room to breathe.

10. Try Adding a Subtle Chorus Effect

Another way to give the vocal a bit of depth and shimmer is to apply subtle chorusing.

Again, you don’t want the effect to be noticeable. Add a stereo chorus to the vocal and increase the wetness until you notice the effect, then back it off a touch.

Conclusion

The vocals are extremely important and will require more time mixing than most other instruments.

But once you apply the 10 techniques in this article, you can take a big step closer to a modern, professional sound.

How To Kick Out a Band Member

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog post written by Mason Hoberg. Mason is a freelance writer who covers music-related topics and is a regular contributor to Equipboard.]

It happens to every band eventually. A bandmate might have an overinflated ego, or become unreliable, or even just lose interest in the project. Regardless of the underlying reason, eventually you’re going to find yourself needing to remove a bandmate from a project.

In addition to being emotionally stressful, kicking out a band member can be a pretty difficult process in general. It requires a lot of tact and forethought, and if you don’t go about it in a careful and measured way there will be consequences.

So if you’ve come to the point where you need to remove a negative influence from your band or musical project, check out the tips below. They’ll help you gauge the best solution to the problem, and hopefully end the dispute in a way that ends up being positive for everyone involved.

How To Identify A Bad Band Mate

Believe it or not, this is actually a major stumbling block for a lot of people. They either have an issue recognizing that a bandmate is a negative influence on the project, or they mistakenly believe that their bandmate doesn’t contribute when in reality their a key component in the groups sound and/or creative process.

The key to recognizing a bad band member is that they put someone or something ahead of the band in almost every situation in a way that’s inappropriate and detrimental to the group. The key here is that their behavior has to be willful and a detriment to the group. There’s nothing wrong with a person having to reschedule the occasional practice because they have to work, that’s just a fact of life. However, if a person willfully ditches a practice to do a non-essential activity that’s a problem.

Emotional or substance abuse issues that causes a person to be unreliable or volatile is also a huge problem, and one that should be addressed as quickly as possible. You never know when your chance is going to come, so you want every one of your band mates to be as reliable and professional as possible.

Attempt To Reach An Understanding

Before you take any drastic actions you should attempt to resolve things. While the impact of a person’s behavior might be obvious to those around them, it’s possible that your bandmate might just not realize how his/her behavior is effecting the people around them.

The key here is to be as direct as possible, even if you come off as confrontational. Make sure that every member of the group is in agreement before the confrontation, and make sure that the person is aware of the consequences they’ll face if they continue their actions. If they work to correct their behavior it’s a good sign, but make sure that the positive change continues. Stay firm and reasonable, but don’t ignore it if they start to slip back into old habits.

Find Potential Replacements Beforehand

A mistake a lot of bands make is that they remove a band member before they find a replacement. This slows the band’s career momentum to a crawl, and in the worst case scenario it can actually result in the band splitting up.

The best way to avoid this situation is to line up a list of potential replacements before you remove your bandmate from the project. Ideally, you shouldn’t do this in a way that results in your bandmate hearing about the change. Don’t publicize it if you can help it, and tell as few people about it if you can. If anything, check around your local music venues to try and meet musicians. If you have even a hint of a music scene in your town odds are you’re going to be able to find a suitable replacement if you put yourself out there a bit.

Be As Kind As Possible

While your musical abilities are important, a band lives or dies based on their reputation. Believe it or not, word is going to get around about how you treat your fans, the owners of venues where you play, and even your own bandmates. No one is going to hire you to play if you don’t have a solid reputation, because it’s a sign that you’re unreliable.

To kick out a band member while maintaining your reputation you’re going to have to be as kind as possible, regardless of how you feel about the person. You’re also going to have to maintain professionalism.

The best way to do this is to remain calm during the confrontation, and explain yourself as clearly as possible. It’s also important to not badmouth the former bandmate in public, as this reeks of immaturity. If anyone asks about the situation, just say that your former bandmate experienced creative differences with the group. Even if your bandmate starts to spread rumors about the band as a whole or individual members, never respond in kind. If you stay calm and reasonable through the whole situation it’s going to reflect well on the members of your band, which in turn is going to make you appear more reliable to prospective employers.

In Conclusion

While kicking out a band member can be difficult, so long as you remember to be kind and calm the end result should be positive for the remaining members of your band. Also, remember to keep in mind that this doesn’t make you a bad friend or person. If someone isn’t pulling their weight in a project you have a right to find someone who will perform better, and even though it may hurt their feelings it doesn’t mean that you’re being callous. You can’t control other peoples’ behavior, but you can control the effect it has on you. You don’t have to sacrifice your career for anyone if you don’t want to, and if they don’t recognize the effect of their actions that’s on them.