Dedicated songwriters who craft intelligent, perceptive songs—but are frustrated by record companies’ growing emphasis on “hit today-gone tomorrow” throwaway pop music—have found a new ally in 87-year-old Tony Bennett.
The 17-time Grammy-winning jazz singer has always nurtured the art of literate songwriting, but is dismayed by the state of popular music today.
Bennett has been making records since 1951 and has recorded songs by some of the greatest songwriters of all time. He has built a 60-year career on classic songs from the Great American Songbook—he calls them “the silver lining songs”—but he is dismissive of the quality of many of today’s melodies and lyrics.
“The songs that are written today, most of them are terrible,” Bennett recently told BBC Radio 4. “It’s a very bad period, musically, throughout the world for popular music.”
But Bennett doesn’t think it is necessarily the artists and producers who are at fault for not cutting better-quality songs. He blames money-hungry labels for setting much lower standards instead of backing songs that will stand the test of time. He believes record company bosses have become obsessed with making sure their releases generate money quickly.
The legendary singer also accuses record labels of ‘dumbing down’ by refusing to release music that will engage listeners on an intellectual level.
“They think the public is ignorant, so their attitude is, ‘Don’t give them anything intelligent, because it won’t sell’,” said Bennett.
He added: “I grew up in an era where the record companies just sold records to everybody, and the whole family bought songs. Today, record companies are failing because they are putting their accent just on the young, and I think that’s rather silly. They’re missing out on thousands of people that would love to buy records but they don’t buy them because they don’t have a lasting quality.”
And here’s Tony Bennett and the late Amy Winehouse showing just what he means by songs that can stand the test of time. ‘Body and Soul’ was written 74 years ago, with music by Johnny Green and lyrics by Edward Heyman, Robert Sour and Frank Eyton.
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“How [Not] To Write A Hit Song! – 101 Common Mistakes To Avoid If You Want Songwriting Success” is available from Amazon as a US paperback, UK paperback and as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple’s iTunes Store (Books/Arts & Entertainment/Music) and Barnes & Noble’s Nook store.
Music publishers and A&R executives often talk about how important it is for new singer-songwriters to create their own unique style. But what they really mean is they simply want you to sound original.
In reality, your songs should not be completely different from anything music industry execs have ever heard before. Ideally, they want something that develops what is already out there – not a sudden leap that will leave a huge gap between you and the audience.
For your songs to be commercial and marketable so that they will sell (which, at the end of the day, is all that record companies and publishers are really interested in), your ‘unique’ songs still require a hint of familiarity so that people will be able to relate to them.
In other words, listen to what is currently being played across lots of different music genres – then carve your own niche by adding something new of your own.
One of the finest current examples of this approach is British singer-songwriter Laura Mvula.
One magazine has described her as a “musical magpie”; another reviewer referred to her musical style as “Nina Simone sings the Beach Boys”; while another even coined a brand new genre – “gospeldelia” – to encapsulate her soulful vocals and vivid soundscapes.
With a degree in composition from Birmingham Conservatoire in Birmingham, England, Laura Mvula has created her own distinctive sound by taking inspiration from many different genres – including choral baroque music, George Gershwin, Björk, the gospel-soul of Jill Scott, Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill, and the pop of Amy Winehouse.
She has created something fresh by taking elementary melodies from each of these genres and turning them into complex five-part harmonies and emotional vocals.
“I’ve always enjoyed bringing really simple elements together to make something that’s bigger or more interesting,” said 26-year-old Laura in a recent interview. “I’m just into things that circle round and round. It’s how my brain works.
“I drew on the soul icons I loved when growing up – Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill. But I’m not a wordsmith, so I tried to be expressive with my unashamed first love, harmony.”
Listen to ‘Green Garden’ from Laura Mvula’s Top 10 album Sing to the Moon HERE…
And you can hear her latest single ‘That’s Alright’ HERE…
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“How [Not] To Write A Hit Song! – 101 Common Mistakes To Avoid If You Want Songwriting Success” is available from Amazon as a paperback, or as an eBook from Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple’s iTunes Store (Books/Arts & Entertainment/Music) and Barnes & Noble’s Nook store.
While a song’s title is often its strongest selling point, and the best way to attract the attention of music publishers, A&R executives and record buyers alike, coming up with a highly distinctive lyric line within a song can also instantly draw listeners in and hook their interest.
Most top songwriters confess to being envious of certain lyric lines written by other writers. The latest to join this group is US singer-songwriter Bruno Mars who has revealed the iconic lyrics that he most admires. They include lines from Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’, ‘You Sexy Thing’ by Hot Chocolate, and ‘Big Poppa’ by The Notorious B.I.G.
The Grammy award-winning writer has admitted that he wishes he had come up with lines like: “They try to make me go to rehab, but I say No No No” … “I believe in miracles since you came along. You sexy thang. You sexy thang you” … and “Cause I see some ladies tonight who should be havin’ my baby….”.
Bruno recently admitted that he finds it difficult to come up with new material. “You know how hard it is to write a big song?,” he said in an interview with GQ magazine. “It’s so hard to do. Might be one of the hardest things to ever do.”
Which classic lyric line do you wish you had written?
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Also available from Apple’s iTunes Store (Books/Arts & Entertainment/Music).