Wednesday, 23 April 2014

New publishing deal with scoreAscore 

I have signed a publishing deal with scoreAscore - The Internet's Leading Sound Marketplace

I am pleased to announce that I have recently signed a new publishing deal with online based publishing library! As of today all of my music for TV, Film, and all other media formats will be available within their extensive library.

I will continue to record instrumental guitar albums and they will still be available on iTunes, Amazon etc. In fact I am working on a new release right now, so keep an eye out for that. I expect it to be released within the next few months.

So just to reiterate, if you would like me to compose custom music for your production, or you would just like to use music from my pre-cleared library at then please get in touch directly or through the website and I would be more than happy to create the best music, tailored to your needs!!!

Ricci Coughlin.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Secondary Dominants in Major Keys

In the following weeks, I will be looking at secondary dominants. I will show you how to use secondary dominants, along with the tritone substitution, and modal interchange, to create interesting and original progressions. This week we will look at secondary dominants in major keys.

In its simplest form, a secondary dominant is a dominant for a diatonic chord other than the tonic. However, you cannot use a secondary dominant with the 7th chord in a major key. This is because it is a diminished chord and is considered too dissonant to be used as a tonic. Take a look at the image below to see all diatonic chords in C major.


The dominants of these keys are the chords a 5th from the tonic. In the same way that the G7 functions as the primary dominant for Cmaj, A7 would function as the secondary dominant for Dm. Whenever the secondary dominant (A7) is a 5th from its target note (Dm), it is considered a functioning secondary dominant.

Below is an example of a progression that contains some of the functioning secondary dominants in C Major


The reason why this substitution works so well is because of the occurrence of mini cadences providing greater emphasis on the target chords.

Remember that throughout the whole progression we are always in the key of C major. No actual key change has taken place. Notice that I have emphasised this further by changing the A7 to an A7b13. This means that we still have the F (4th of C major) note in the chord. We are temoprarily modulating to the dominant and tonic of other keys.

So far we have looked at functioning secondary dominants. However, landing on the target chord from a secondary dominant is not always an obligation. You can move from a secondary dominant to a chord other than its target chord. Take a look at the following progression which shows the secondary dominant in bar two moving up a minor 2nd instead of a 5th. In bar six we see the secondary dominant moving up a minor 3rd instead of a 5th. These types of secondary dominant chords are called non-functioning - as opposed to the functioning secondary dominants covered previously. 


So there you have it. Try to use these secondary dominants to create interesting progressions. Next week I will look at using secondary dominants in conjunction with the tritone sub and modal interchange to create complex jazz progressions.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Tritone Substitution

This week I am going to cover a theoretical principle popularised by early jazz musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington. The tritone substitution has many different names; this is probably the reason why so many people become confused when studying it. Some of the most common names are: substitute dominant, flat-five substitution and substitute five chords. It is important to note that whenever each of these names pop up, you are reading or discussing the exact same principle discussed within this post.

Why should we learn the tritone substitution? As I have discussed in my post on Modal Interchange, if you are struggling to add a new dimension to your compositions, or even getting bored of diatonicism, then you can experiment with these simple processes to add that extra dimension.

As you can see from the image below, all you have to do to create the tritone substitution, is to change your chosen chord with the same chord (a tritone interval apart). It is normally applied to the V7 chord in a key. However, it can also be applied to secondary dominants. This lesson will cover only the V7 chord substitution.

The previous image shows a ii-V-I in the key of C major. The V7 chord (G7) is substituted for the bii7 chord (Db7). When analysing the two chords, we soon realise why this substitution works. Both chords contain the notes B and F. In the initial chord (G7) we find the B as a major third and the F as the b7. In the (Db7) chord these two notes have been swapped - F = M3rd and B = b7. Although, the correct note name for the B now becomes the enharmonic equivalent (Cb). This is an important aspect of the tritone substitution as it means that we still have the leading note, thus creating a natural resolve on the Cmaj7 chord!

We now also have the ability to create chromatic bass lines. If you look at the distance between the intervals of the roots of the chords, you will notice that the substitution allows for a descending chromatic passage in the bass (D - Db - C). This is especially important for constructing jazz progressions. This stepwise motion can be found in hundreds of jazz standards and creates an exciting and interesting twist on the standard ii-V-I progression.

Remember that you don't have to stick to the triads and seventh chords. You can also apply extended chords to the progression. This provides you with numerous possibilities!!!

Here are a few examples of the ii-V-I progression containing extended chords with the tritone sub applied:

IMPORTANT: there is something you need to remember when applying extended chords to the tritone sub. You must always sharpen the 4th or 11th notes when playing chords that contain these intervals. This is due to the preferred mode (Db Lydian Dominant) that we play over the tritone substitution.

Here are the notes: Db - Eb - F - G - Ab - Bb - Cb

Notice that the G is a raised 4th (raised 11th). This is why we have to raise the 11th on the tritone sub. Check out the progressions below: (When playing these extensions on the guitar it is common practice to omit certain notes. This is because of the amount of notes in an extended chord; it is just not possible on the guitar).

So there you have it. Yet more chord combinations to play with. Give it a go and good luck! In next weeks post I will look at secondary dominants and tritone substitutes.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Writing Jingles

If you are a composer or songwriter you will already have the qualities of a good jingle writer. You should already be a creative individual who is astute, works well under pressure, can work to deadlines, open to direction, a great musician and arranger, and can use the relevant software and hardware to produce quality sounding results.

When writing a jingle, you apply these same qualities; however, the emphasis with a jingle is on the marketing of a product or service. This is also the difference between a jingle and thematic music. Therefore, you also need to have an understanding of advertising.

The most important aspect of a jingle is how memorable it is. I am sure that you have all, at least once, painfully sat through the advert with Gio Compario belting out his operatic sales pitch, only to spend the rest of the day humming the melody. This works. In fact, it is genius. If I were to ask you to name a comparison site, your reply would almost certainly be “Go Compare”. This is an interesting aspect with jingles (and often popular music in general). It is to some, a really annoying tune. However, annoying can also be good... as long as it is memorable. If you are a serious artist, then you will probably not want your music to be annoying but from a sales point of view, annoying can sometimes be the key to success. Take any song from Jedward as an example, or even the song by Rebecca Black – “Friday”. The two artists mentioned have probably built their success on annoying tunes. The same applies with jingles.

Writing jingles is also a great way for a composer or songwriter to make some money in between their “real” work. Although, there are many composers that make a very good living from solely writing jingles and this is why there are specific agencies and companies for this part of the industry. Please don’t think that you are in any way “selling out” by writing jingles.

So what are the steps?

As we are selling a product, it is important to include lyrics that are simple and easy to remember. They must also contain all of the relevant selling/marketing points of the company you are writing the jingle for. For this purpose, it is important to carry out some research prior to writing any lyrics. Make sure you know what the company’s goal is and try to include this within your lyrics. If you are working with an ad agency, then you will want your jingle to stand out above the rest of the competition, and this is one of the key components that the agency will be looking for. Remember, your lyrics don’t need to be more than ten to fifteen lines (sometimes less). The jingle in its totality will be around thirty seconds, so keep the lyrics descriptive, memorable, but also brief. Take a look at the following example to see just how descriptive your lyrics should be:

The Wheaties Quartet

Have you tried Wheaties?
They’re whole wheat with all of the bran.
Won’t you try Wheaties?
For wheat is the best food of man.
They’re crispy and crunchy
The whole year through,
The kiddies never tire of them
And neither will you.
So just try Wheaties,
The best breakfast food in the land.

There are keywords throughout the lyrics presented (I have highlighted them). And this is why the above jingle almost independently saved the "Wheaties" brand from going out of business back in the 30's. So don't underestimate just how important the lyrical content is!

The next step will be to write a melody for the lyrics. Ensure to keep the intervals between each note fairly simple. This is done so that the average listener can easily pitch the notes. You don’t want a melody that Joe Bloggs can’t hum or whistle.

There are variables to this process. You can write the melody prior to the supporting progression, after you have your progression, or alongside writing the progression. This will come down to what your preferred writing style is. The most important things to remember here are that the lyrics, melody, and progression are all easily recollected by the viewer/listener.

What progression should you choose? If you think about the average listener/viewer, you will realise that your progression will need to be simple. Joe Bloggs is not going to recognise modal interchange, extended and altered chords, or a chromatic resolution within a progression; thus, it does not need to be complex. They will struggle to tap their feet to something composed in 7/4 or 9/8 time. So typically, I would advise you to write your jingle in 4/4 time with a basic progression; (I – IV – V) being a popular choice.

Now that you have your lyrics, melody and progression all mapped out, you will need to think about the accompaniment. What instruments should you choose? Your choice will come down to the style of the advertisement that you are writing for. You will need to investigate the timbral qualities that you wish to include in your jingle. An advertisement for a computer company will more than likely contain different instruments to that for a car company. Try to explore all possible ensemble types. You can also experiment and fuse a variety of styles and instruments. Most important of all, make it relevant to the ad.

Take a look at some of the following ads and make note of the key components. This will help you to identify the hooks that draw in the consumers.

There you have it. I have explained the reasoning and processes behind jingle writing. All you have to do now is go and find your local ads paper (yellow pages), find a company that you think will benefit from a jingle, research their primary selling points (and the company's goals), write your jingle, contact the company, and sell yourself and your jingle!

Good luck!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Modal Interchange

I recently had an ex-student explain to me that he was getting bored of writing the same old chord progressions and melodies, and that he was bored of writing in a diatonic fashion. I said I would try to help him out. Therefore, I have decided to write this article on modal interchange, or 'borrowed chords', as it is also known. 

There are two key principles involved with modal interchange. These are: the harmonised major scale, and modes. If you are unsure about the theory of these two principles, then you might want to revise before continuing. However, I will provide an overview of both principles. 

The harmonised major scale is just another way of saying: use the notes of a major scale to create triads, seventh, and extended chords. Take a look at the image below for an example of triads and sevenths.

In modern music, a mode is simply the process of taking the notes from a major scale - beginning on a different degree each time - to create a variety of intervals. As you can see from the image below, all of the notes of the modes are the same. It is the intervals that change.

The first mode is Ionian (C D E F G A B
The second is Dorian (D E F G A B C
Then we have Phrygian (E F G A B C D
Then Lydian (F G A B C D E
Mixolydian (G A B C D E F) 
Aeolian (A B C D E F G) 
Finally the Locrian mode (B C D E F G A

Here are the modes in relation to major and minor scales

Ionian: major scale
Dorian: minor scale with raised 6th
Phrygian: minor scale with a flat 2nd
Lydian: major scale with a raised 4th
Mixolydian: major scale with a flat 7th
Aeolian: natural minor scale
Locrian: minor scale with a flat 2nd and a flat 5th 

This may seem complicated to some but if you just think of the modes as the major scale starting on degrees 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, then it may be easier for you to identify each mode more quickly. You can relate them to major or minor scales later on. With all of these varieties of intervals we have a complete and impressive array of unique sounds at our disposal. If we harmonise these modes, (using only the notes of the major scale), it will result in diatonic chords relating to each mode. For example; below is a picture of the diatonic chords of the 'D' Dorian mode:

And this is where the interchange takes place... We now transpose this arrangement back to our original key: which is 'C'. So we now have all of these new chords to play with: 

Using these chords, as well as the original diatonic chords of C major, will allow for vast amounts of variety in your compositions. Now that we can apply this process to all of the modes of C major (and any other key), we find ourselves with endless harmonic possibilities. This will undoubtedly provide a high range of musical depth, colour, and most important of all, originality. Give it a try and see what you come up with!!! Here are some examples of modal interchange in modern music. See if you can work out what the chords are behind the melodies:

Satriani is a big fan of modal interchange (often referring to it as pitch axis) and you can find the concept in many of his tracks. The track below is a more obvious example than the previous.

This next one is a jazz fusion track called Wonderful Slippery Thing by the wonderful slippery guitarist, Guthrie Govan!

"Modal interchange, playing in A major and all of the sudden switching to A minor - I love that kind of stuff." - Paul Gilbert.
So let us take a look at a track from Paul Gilbert that, yet again, contains modal interchange.

And now for some pop songs:

Yes... Hendrix and The Clash also used modal interchange.

So there you have it. Modal interchange may seem like a complex theory, too many chords to think of!!! Actually, you will hear it almost every day in at least one song. So if you are struggling to complete a piece of music, struggling to write that melody or chord progression, try to use modal interchange to go beyond the constraints of diatonicism.

Ricci Coughlin Composer
Course Tutor
BTEC Music
Merthyr College

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Writing to a Deadline


Every summer I work for a community arts group as a composer and performer. There are three musicians in total. It is an intense environment, in which, we are giving a week to write approximately 30 minutes of music. We then have to perform this music to a live audience. The difficult part comes when, in the third week, we have over an hour’s worth of music all to be performed live to a paying audience. All the while, having to sync the music to groups of young dancers performing various dance routines! Had I not honed my skills with regards to writing to deadlines, such a job would not have been possible. The same principle applies to songwriters/bands on a label, composers working in the film and TV sector, and even music students completing college or university courses. At some point in your career as a musician you will be required to work to a deadline. I will attempt to provide some advice on how to succeed at this.

The formula is comparatively simple: divide the amount of days you have for the project by the total amount of minutes you have to write. In our case for example, we have 4 days to write 30 minutes of music. Remember that the fifth day for this project was for performing the music... So my equation states that we would have to write 7.5 minutes a day - (30÷4=7.5).

However, your calculation will more than likely be different to the example above. The most important thing is that you continue writing, whether you are working or not! Composers and song writers are in this business because they enjoy writing music every day. If you don't enjoy writing, then you are definitely in the wrong business. And you can forget about ‘writers block’, ‘being in the zone’, ‘only writing at night’... this won't fly when you have to explain to a film director that you have no music for a certain scene. They will replace you with someone who can see past this entire BS and just get the job done. As most composition tutors will tell their students, you have to practice writing at least 2 or 3 minutes of music a day - every day - without fail. Even if what you write is awful, you need to write something... anything. I have written some seriously bad music in my life. Even so, I have still written something.

Software, hardware and memory...

There are many mobile devices on the market that can help a musician tremendously. For example, my iPhone. As long as I have my phone on me, I have a music studio to record my ideas. The iPhone has some great applications to help with the recording of ideas. I have purchased GarageBand for my phone. This way, I not only have the ability to record progressions or melodies that I create on the guitar, but I can also program (via midi) these ideas if I only have my phone and no other instrument. I can also layer tracks. A long train journey could be spent composing a track on my phone using GarageBand.

The same applies with the laptop. If my phone had a good app for notation (Sibelius) then maybe I could survive without the laptop. However, being able to notate a fully orchestrated piece of music whilst on the move is important to me. Using Sibelius and its built-in sounds allows me to notate my orchestrations and hear a reasonable representation of the piece wherever I am and whenever I want. I can easily export the MIDI file when I get home and edit it in my studio.

Even if you don't have these devices or specific software apps, there are always things you can do to make sure you never lose that melody or chord progression. Always carry a pen and note pad. This is the ‘old school’ way of logging each musical inspiration. This is what I did over a decade ago. It's the cheapest way of recording your ideas. However, in my opinion, it is far from the best. There have been many times when I would write down a cool progression, only to forget the exact rhythm or mood when it came to recording it. I'm sure this has happened to you at least once... This is why I recommend an audio recording device. Most mobile phones will have a recording feature. Use it!!! Right now my phone has 15 recordings and 4 GarageBand projects. I have about 10 unfinished projects in Sibelius and about 4 in Cubase. Will I get them all finished? If they are good enough. If I like where they are going I will keep them and finish them. If not, I'll still keep them. You never know. Those few bars that I struggled to expand on may one day fit perfectly with something else that I come up with. Never throw material away!!!

Finding the time

We all seem to lead very busy lives in contemporary society. However, if you cut out all of the crap, you will find more than enough time in a day to write 3 minutes of music. TV can be a hindrance. I am guilty of watching far too much TV within any given day. However, you could easily free up an hour a day to write your 3 minutes by deciding not to watch that episode of (FILL IN THE BLANK)... As I mentioned earlier, if you get the bus or train to work or college you have some free time there. A lot of my inspiration comes when I'm sat on a bus watching the world go by. Luckily, I have my phone (and GarageBand) there to write/record it. Bottom line... you need to make the time, no excuses!!!

Know your s**t... and then expand!

The easiest way to be able to write 3 minutes of music a day is to practice, practice, and practice! And then practice some more! It is far easier to work towards a deadline - and be confident that what you are creating is suitable to the purpose - if you know what you are doing. I began playing and writing music when I was just 8 years old. 20 years later and I am now able to confidently compose a piece and know that it is written correctly. You don't have to be a theory wizard to write an excellent piece but it does help. It will also speed the whole process considerably; thus allowing you to get more done. Having good internal pitch and tempo is another essential component for composers. You may want to practice every day if you are lacking in this area. 30 minutes a day with a metronome, familiarising yourself with time signatures and tempos will help a lot. Practice singing scales and try to aurally work out 7th and extended chords. This should be a regular routine until you have become efficient enough to use these techniques when writing. Once you have a good internal clock and can identify pitches accurately, you will find composing a far easier task.

I am going to slightly contradict what I said earlier. I do believe that it is more important at the earlier stages of this process that you practice writing regularly, even if it is not great music. However, once you have become proficient at writing large amounts of music in short periods of time, you have to learn to write quality music. You have to refine your writing process until what you write is useable. It is ok at the start to write 3 minutes of music everyday and possibly have a gem or two after a few months. However, if you were writing for a film, then you will need to write large quantities of quality music. This is not something that can be taught. It is something that comes with experience. The empiricists of the world will tell you that knowledge without experience is impossible. However, logical truths are possible. Use the logical truths that you have learned from your theory lessons and apply them every time you put pen to paper. In time you will gain the experience you crave and will become more musically knowledgeable. Once you achieve this, you will be writing as a professional composer... and that is when the real work starts! Good luck!

Ricci Coughlin
Course Tutor
BTEC Music
Merthyr College

Friday, 11 May 2012

The 35 Year Reversion (US Copyright)

By Ricci Coughlin

Image by Jeroen van Oostrom

Ears pinned back and eyes peeled as 2013 could be a very difficult time for record companies. The 35 year reversion is soon to commence and we may very well be about to see a large number of artists taking back the copyright to their original recordings.

On January 1st 1978 the new copyright law was enforced and subsequently provided that an author, pursuant to an assignment of copyright, could recapture the copyright 35 years later. I will do the maths for you: 1978 + 35 = 2013.

Are you lost already? Well before I can explain this further, I will provide you with a brief description of how a record contract works. If you already know then you can simply skip this next section.

Recording contracts are legally binding and allow record companies to exploit an artist’s performance within a sound recording. Exploitation is achieved by sales of records, vinyl, mp3’s, ring-tones etc. These all derive from the master recording.

An artist will be signed to the record company exclusively. This is essential for the company as they certainly wouldn't want their artist recording with another label unless they authorise it. The artist will also be contracted until the date stated within the contract.

There are normally set periods within a given contract where the company can review the artist's performance with regards to record sales and progression, the label will want to make money from the artist and if they don't; the artist may be dropped. The company will have the right to terminate the contract at these periods unless stated otherwise within the contract. This is known as the term and can be anything from 6 to 12 months for period one (in which you have to record an album) after that the company will have the option to extend the contract further and record another album. However, if the first album has flopped they will probably drop the artist from the label.

Artist’s should avoid or at least be wary of such terminology as ‘commercially acceptable’. This little phrase may result in the artist re-recording tracks that the company found 'not commercially acceptable'. Any artist signing a deal should also look to include a long stop provision; thus only being tied to the company for a total of 7 years or so.

When an artist signs on the dotted line with a record company they give up their copyright with regards to the actual recordings of their work. This is known as the assignment of rights and means that all copyright with regards to the recordings (the master recordings) are held by the record company and not the artist for 50 years. This is the area of concern for this article and we will now focus our attention on the 35 year reversion.

As mentioned earlier in the article, the author of the works will regain ownership of the sound recordings 35 years after the assignment. So... Can we define author? Well, there is no actual definition given for author in the copyright law, so the answer is no. At some point within the next few years there will surely be an amendment to the copyright act which may define the word author, but as it stands now, it could be the performer, sound engineer, producer, or even the record company. We simply don't know.

Before record companies used the assignment of rights provision, they simply used a provision known as 'Work for Hire'. This provision states that the copyright of the artistic works created will not be owned by an individual but rather an entity (company). A great example of this is provided by Maggie Lange in an interview for Artistshousemusic. She describes it best as; a writer writes articles and publishes them. In this situation the writer will be the owner of the works created. However, if this writer was to work for a newspaper franchise then the articles created by the writer will be owned by the newspaper franchise and not the writer. This is because the company hired the writer to write the articles.

The musical equivalent of this would be a composer for film or TV. John Williams for example, does not own the rights to the music for Star Wars as he was hired to write the score by Lucas and 20th Century Records, the music branch of 20th Century Fox.

The problem the record companies had with the 'Work for Hire' provision is the working conditions in which the artists were confined to. Many artists will claim that they were not hired to write music as employees of the record company. They did not receive the same benefits that a typical employee would receive (pensions, regular hours, salary etc). Therefore, without these incidents of employment, how could they possibly be employees? Thus, the sound recordings that the artist creates belong to the artist. It has to be noted that the RIAA actually succeeded in changing the copyright law so that sound recordings could be classified as an addition to the nine types of 'Work for Hire'. However, it was reversed shortly after.

Here are the nine types of ‘Work for Hire’:

1. a translation
2. a contribution to a motion picture or other audiovisual work
3. a contribution to a collective work
4. as an atlas
5. as a compilation
6. as an instructional text
7. as a test
8. as answer material for a test
9. or a supplementary work

Record companies soon realised that this provision was debatable and so they introduced the assignment of rights provision as an addition to the ‘Work for Hire’ provision. This type of contract is known in the industry as the belt and suspenders approach and is basically the record label's way of saying; if the first doesn't succeed, then maybe the second will.
Despite the provisions there are some artists that have already began filing their cases for reversion, this is because the case must be filed 5 years before the reversion is due to begin. Some of the artists that may be eligible for this are Kiss, Bruce Springsteen, AC/DC, Neil Diamond, Van Halen, The Beach Boys, Alice Cooper... to name but a few, and that is just for 2013. This may continue for a long time. As we now know, a recording from 1978 means a reversion of rights in 2013, 1979 would mean a reversion in 2014, 1980 allows for a reversion in 2015 and so it goes.

Clearly the recording and publishing companies will not go down without a fight. Do artists really want to regain ownership of their recordings? It will certainly make pirating less dangerous since music pirates won't have to face the wrath of a major label. It costs money to sue someone. Imagine an individual trying to control infringement issues on an album that has previously sold hundreds of thousands. This brings us to the distributing of the music. The copyright owner would also have to consider the distribution of their recordings (worldwide for some artists). Things will get ugly and there will be a lot of litigation from next year on. One thing is for sure, it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Ricci Coughlin
Course Tutor
BTEC Music
Merthyr College