singer-songwriter

Making an Emotional Impact as a Performer: Part 2

 

If you read Part 1 of this three-part series, you’ll also have listened to three different performances of the song “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”

What you may have learned is that the way you interpret a song makes a difference in the way people will react to your performance.  This means the way you choose to sing each phrase, emphasize key words, and bring in dynamics and emotional expression are important in making an emotional impact.

So, now I want to get into the Song Interpretation Exercise that I mentioned, which can help you think more intentionally about all of these elements.

Just a note: I’d like to think I’m brilliant, but I didn’t make this all up. A huge thanks goes to my former vocal teacher, Véronik Fournier (a.k.a. V), who passed on this incredibly helpful exercise to me.

First things first, choose a song you want to work on. Then download the Song Interpretation Exercise template here and get going with Step 1!

Step 1: Character, Objective, Moment Before, Win or Loss?

My Character

It may seem obvious that the “Character” in question – i.e. the person singing the song – is, well, you.

Technically, yes. However, is every story that you communicate through the songs you perform actually about you?

Maybe you are singing a song that you wrote completely based on your own personal life story. In that case, when you do the rest of this exercise, you’ll probably be drawing from the exact events and emotions you experienced.

However, sometimes we perform songs that aren’t based on our real life history. For example, one of my songwriting collaborations involved me having to sing about how my now-ex-lover just ran off to Havana. Well, I assure you that this has never happened – but I needed to convince everyone that it had!

So, I created a character in my mind who I could embody when singing Havana”: a young woman who had gotten in deep with her Cuban lover and brought him back to her homeland. Yet, after a tumultuous time together, he packed up and left her high and dry.

Although creating this made-up character may have seemed a bit disingenuous at first, I was able to own the performance by drawing from my own, very real experiences of having felt the emotions of longing, bitterness and despair that are expressed in the song.

Singing To

If you are performing at a show, you will, of course, be singing to your audience.  But, again, let’s get to the heart of the story behind the song.

Who are you, as the character of the song, singing to? Are you singing to your cheating, ex-boyfriend who is now trying to win you back? A group of angry protestors who are demanding change? Your first, newborn baby?

There’s something kind of freeing about approaching a performance in this way. Rather than getting the jitters about singing to a sea of faces watching you from their seats, you are simply communicating a story that is really about, and being directed at, someone else.

Objective

What is your objective, or reason, for singing these words to the person (or people) you are singing to? Is it to assure them that they are going to make it through their challenging situation? To convince yourself to take the leap into a new romance?

Clarifying this for yourself from the outset can help in shaping the rest of the exercise. Read more

Bruce, Patrick, Phil, and Neel

“A song is good if you like it,” says Patrick Ballantyne

Bruce, Neel and Phil were all happy to have Patrick Ballantyne back in the Song Talk Radio studio for the third time. He always brings great songs (listen to “Make Believe” and “Sky” for proof) and lots of experience to share about the songwriting process for our listeners. When writing a song, he starts with the music – almost always on the guitar. For contrast, he has started writing on the piano where he has less competency and is forced to “keep it simple.” After writing solo for many years, he recently joined a group of collaborators and enjoyed the process.

Listen to the whole show:

See the live performance:

Man holding guitar in front of crowd

Protest Songs: What makes a good one?

For our latest theme show, we take a look at some of our favorite Protest Songs and try to figure out what makes an effective one. We looked at River Runs Red by Midnight Oil, Eve of Destruction by P.F. Sloan, and Phil talks about how his band The Parkdale Hookers, went about writing their punk-anthem Multi-Media Word and talked about how not to date a protest song.

Listen to the Full Episode:

 

Stuff we talked about:

Jeff Greenway finds his own way

Jeff Greenway returned to the Song Talk Radio studio to share his thoughts on song writing. His approach to writing is through a feeling, not a theory. This was amply demonstrated in the two songs he shared with us. The first, Cavalry, evoked the sadness and confusion you feel when a relationship just isn’t working any more. No one is coming to save the day and there’s nowhere to hide. The second tune, I Need describes the two opposing sides of possible reconciliation. Notice the lyric shift from “don’t come home” to “please come home”. We discussed:

  • collaboration
  • home recording with a good microphone and Logic
  • modulation
  • background vocals
  • the use of silence in a song
  • chord substitution
  • teaching music to children

Listen to the entire show here:

 

Blair Packham packs emotional power

From the moment Blair Packham started to speak, we knew we were in for some great lessons from a master songwriter and experienced teacher. If You Were Mine featured a great bridge and instrumental break. In Her Dreams started out as a story of a woman in a call centre and moved to a daughter caring for an ailing mother. In our wide-ranging conversation we also touched on the following:

  • who are you writing for?
  • does the song connect emotionally with the listener?
  • collaboration is good
  • ask for feedback and use it
  • write from your creativity
  • the new singer-songwriter accent (Shawn Mendes song Stitches for example)
  • song-writing workshops (songstudio.ca)

Listen to the full episode

Scott Neary – Tools, tips, and some very cool things

Seasoned professional guitarist, singer-songwriter, and all-around nice guy Scott Neary shares some of his best kept songwriting secrets. Scott also accompanied the talented jazz songwriter Steven Teatz for his appearance on Song Talk Radio. We talked about:

  • The great chorus debate – to repeat it verbatim or not?
  • Why you should whistle your melody
  • Why, sometimes, you need to ask, “Why does there have to be a chord?”
  • Why you should re-harmonize your chords after you develop a great melody on conventional chords
  • Symmetry, or lack thereof

 

Sonja with the team

Doing that country thang with Sonja Seiler

The uber-talented Sonja Seiler brings her own brand of passionate, emotional songs to Song Talk Radio for the second time, this time with a country twist.

Stuff we talked about:

  • transitioning from writing on piano to guitar
  • letting an idea percolate for a while before writing
  • the power of imagery
  • what’s the right tempo for your song?
  • titles with brackets
  • extending a metaphor
  • Sonja’s previous appearance on Song Talk Radio

New standards by Steven Taetz

Multi-talented singer songwriter Steven Taetz turned the Song Talk studio into a smoky nightclub with his perfect renditions of his own songs. Waiting for Wishes (co-written with Emma-Lee) had so many “hooks” we lost count (listen for pre-chorus one and two, and the first chorus!). Lately (co-written with Gavin Bradley) had us enraptured as Steven delivered the plaintive lyrics of a man who fears his lover may have strayed. Listen to the awesome bridge!

Listen to the entire show here!

Lucas Bozzo and the wisdom of repetition, repetition, repetition

On this engaging program with Lucas Bozzo we delved into the sometimes heated debate of variety versus repetition in songwriting. Lucas performed two songs in the studio; “If” and “How Beautiful You Are”. We discussed:

  • legato vocals over staccato guitar
  • powerful lyrics over a repetitive musical form
  • the balance of the simple and the practical
  • chord substitutions
  • dynamic vocal changes
  • “da-da-da” as a break from dense lyrical sections
  • the power of a full stop (tacet)
  • the influence of classical training on the writing of popular songs
  • TAB chords

John Glover keeps it simple and engaging

On this highly informative and entertaining show, we talked with John Glover:

  • how John adapted his guitar playing after a hand injury
  • the difference between “cathartic creativity” and the hard work of writing songs
  • Justin Rutledge‘s songwriting workshop
  • lyrics versus poetry
  • playing with Willie P. Bennett
  • starting the writing of a song with a melody and a chord progression
  • Object writing” as a songwriting exercise to build sensory awareness
  • Secret Agent Man” as inspiration