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The Complete Handbook of Songwriting AN INSIDER'S GUIDE TO MAKING IT IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY by Mark and Cathy Liggett (New American Library: $9.95; 336 pp.)

January 26, 1986|Michael J. Miles | Miles is the program director of the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, and has recently published instructional materials with Kicking Mule Records. and

Mark Liggett has a track record in the popular music field that includes a solid-gold single and a gold album. Liggett describes songwriting in this way: "It's a job, and the people who treat it as such are the ones who make it. Just like the executive who goes to the office each day. . . ."

It is difficult to understand the ways and means of record companies because they must respond to the record-buying marketplace where billions of dollars change hands. The pressure is severe, and record company executives must make the correct decisions or they're fired with little notice.

For an outsider looking in, an insider telling of his experiences can save a lot of time and effort. Reading about Mark Liggett's personal experiences with record companies of various stages of negotiation is valuable to any songwriter:

"But when I returned a month later with new material, I was offered a contract . . . which I signed . . . on the spot . . . I hastily jumped at the chance . . . I didn't say . . . I'll have to have my attorney look this over . . . I didn't know enough to ask about or for anything . . . and I never saw any of the money that I'd put into them (his songs)."

Furthermore, there is advice on what not to do. Songwriters can easily lose a lot of money making the wrong kinds of tapes, the wrong kinds of phone calls and contacts. Mark describes his experience making a master tape:

"I was able to borrow $10,000 . . . within three weeks of the day that that money went into my checking account, I had $2,000 of it left and what were supposed to be two master recordings . . . sounded like two half-baked demos."

In order for the book to be the "complete" guide, there are included discussions of the raw components of a song--melody, rhythm, lyrics and harmony. These items are approached in a superficial manner.

Rhythm, which is the backbone of pop music, is summarized in one paragraph:

"And it's up to you, as the song's creator, to dictate which words fall on which musical notes."

Lyrics are treated in the same extremely brief manner:

"The words you choose should reflect the language of the market you're aiming for. . . . The hook is the catchy part of the song."

I object to these statements and to the extreme brevity with which these musical aspects of songwriting are addressed. There is a great deal that aspiring songwriters need to learn about the musical ingredients of a song. These items should not have been included in this token manner so that the book could be entitled "complete." Doing so detracts from the book's real strengths--the retelling of Mr. Liggett's experiences in the music profession.

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