By Diana Black with Michael Layman

Members who have not attended a meeting for some time would be pleasantly surprised at the increased involvement of the membership. It is really exciting to hear the discussions and see the interest in what is currently happening in the Co-op.

The May 6 meeting was a perfect example.

Prior to the presentation segment of the meeting, a lively discussion was held concerning the newly formed Listening Committee, the November Showcase and our Hit Makers '91 seminar. Already we have volunteers for these events/activities, not to mention suggestions on how to make each more successful. Comments were also heard on how to involve even more members; for instance, a "Where Have You Been?" column in the Letter listing names of members we have not seen or heard from for awhile. A suggestion for Songwriter of the Month was made by Larry Standiford; Gardner Barger also had this suggestion a few weeks ago.

Prez Paul then introduced member Michael Layman who gave an excellent review of Sheila Davis' songwriting book "Successful Lyric Writing: A Step-By-Step Course and Workbook." Mike kindly accepted my offer to write a piece on his presentation so that those of you not fortunate enough to be there might also benefit. Thanks again, Mike, for your extremely informative presentation and write-up. Heeeeeere's Michael ...

What separates Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Don Henry, Michael Boulton or Hall and Oates from other writers, is that these guys are not only prolific writers, but writers who have honed their craft. Improving your lyric skills involves a number of elements: Listen closely to the tunes receiving air play, attend songwriting seminars and find a good lyric book. One such book is Sheila Davis' songwriting book "Successful Lyric Writing: A Step-By-Step Course and Workbook." The difference in this book and others is that it is a workbook. Ms. Davis teaches lyric writing and uses examples of both well written and poorly written lyrics. In each chapter (or steps as Ms. Davis calls them) you are asked to improve the inadequate lyrics. The book is well formatted and does not require a Masters in Music to understand.

Ms. Davis begins by developing the Essential Framework for the lyricist. It begins with a genuine idea, which expresses a clear attitude that is substantial enough to be set to music, puts the singer in a favorable light, and has a built-in situation about believable people. A successful song is a song with universal appeal, such as the shared emotion of hope found in "Tie A Yellow Ribbon;" or a universally understood situation such as commitment to love expressed in the song "We've Only Just Begun;" and songs which contain a universally comprehended meaning, such as everything changes, found in "The Same Old Lang Syne."

A successful song starts with a memorable title, one that is identifiable after one hearing, and it should summarize the essence of the song. "Once you use it, then prove it!" Two title techniques suggested by Ms. Davis to grab listeners' attention are the use of antonyms, as in "I've Got It Bad and That Ain't Good," or altering an adage, e.g., "Two Hearts are Better Than One."

A successful song has a strong start. For example, a setting as in "The Gambler," which begins "On a train bound for nowhere, I met up with a gambler," or a question, such as, "Is this the little girl I married?" (A word of caution here: Russ Zavitson of Shedd House Music suggests if you ask a question in a song you should also answer it.)

Once you have established the universal theme, got that killer title, and developed your start, then it is time for the payoff. Use a meaningful sequence – if you list items, list in ascending order of importance, i.e., small to big – if the story moves in time – go from hours to days, to years. Use vivid imagery; you are painting a picture with words. You might consider a device Ms. Davis calls the turnaround, " I got lost but look what I found."

Ms. Davis lists the following ten principles to avoid the pitfalls of songwriting.:

1. Keep it simple – no subplots.

2. Clarity – the words should flow and keep the listener's attention.

3. Compression – say a lot with a few words.

4. Emphasis – prefer active verbs to passive.

5. Consistency – keep lyrics fundamental image in line with figurative language.

6. Coherence – make it logical, as in a cause should precede the effect.

7 Specificity – the listener wants to see, hear, smell and taste.

8. Repetition – repeat important lines.

9. Unity – have a logical relationship between verse and chorus.

10. Genuine – write about things you know! (I think everyone endorses this element.)

With apologies to Ms. Davis, I've only touched the surface of her book, due to space limitations. And no, I do not know Ms. Davis, nor am I receiving any endorsements, but I am receptive to that idea! I hope this gives you some idea about the LASC meeting and the book.

I did receive a comment that it all seems so antiseptic. Well, that's more the presenters' fault than Ms. Davis'. There are many other areas Ms. Davis covers and for $18.95 you can find out what they are. There are shelves full of books about music and lyric writing. Check out your local bookstore or public library, you may find one you like even better.