An Interview With Record Producer and A&R Executive LOREN ISRAEL About His Songwriting Course All About The Code!
Posted On 01 Jun 2017
Loren Israel is a record producer and A&R executive who poses the question, is there a formula or “code” to writing a hit song? He believes there is – that there is a fundamental “Code” to writing a hit song. Israel believes that songwriting can be taught to anyone. And that writing a hit song can be taught to anyone.
The clients of Israel who understand this have had outstanding success. Big names like Jimmy Eat World, Neon Trees and Plain White T’s, to name a few, all owe their rise to stardom, at least in part to the development and mentorship of Loren Israel. In fact, Israel’s ear for talent has helped secure record deals for nearly two dozen bands. Overall, Loren’s clients have grossed over $60 million through record deals, touring, and promotional materials.
Israel believes that music, like any art, is a craft, and true to being a craft, music requires constant and focused practice in order to progress. He teaches his artists that there are certain customs or principles that apply to most hit songs, a “Code.” Once they understand the foundation of those principles, he works with them to develop their unique voice into the equation. Through constant songwriting from the band and feedback from Israel, it’s expected that a band can write at least a couple hit songs during his six-month course. A brief breakdown of the course is below.
ABOUT THE COURSE
The first step of the program is Songwriting 101 where the artist/band will learn the fundamentals of hit songwriting by looking at the song so their favorite artists. He will tach that gaining a basic understanding of songwriting fundamentals is essential to long-term success as an artist.
USING THE CODE
After learning the basic tenants of hit songwriting or what Israel calls “The Code”, the next step is for the artist/band is to write multiple songs in the simplest form possible. Here they will put to use the songwriting principles learned in Songwriting 101. What may seem painfully tedious at times, will in fact encode these techniques into the songwriter’s brain until it becomes second nature.
After mastering basic songwriting principles, the artist/band will gradually move to more advanced forms of songwriting. Here, Israel demonstrates where to take chances and provide guidance on how to correct mistakes. The goal is to write at least one song a week. It is a very give and take process. The artist/band sends Israel the song and he immediately critiques what they did wrong and where the song needs improvement.
After the artist/band writes six songs that everyone feels good about, they start talking about the recording process. The artist/band needs to fully learn and know each part of the song in order to not waste time and money in the studio. When the song is fully written and all the parts are known, they will discuss what producers and studios would be a good match. As soon as the recording is mixed and mastered, they will outline how to market their product to the most efficient extent.
Either during or after the recording process, exploiting yourself is the next step. Playing shows is how the artist/band gets their music to the world. He teaches them that they don’t need to travel the world or even the country but rather to stay in their region and play, play, play. Playing shows is where the artist/band learns how to make people believe in you. Israel will guide the artist/band on what steps they need to take to polish their live show and improve their image. The goal is to make the artist/band unique and energetic while still being faithful to the music they are presenting.
Learn more about Loren and his principals in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time! How is 2017 treating you so far? Did you approach the start of this year any differently then you did last year?
2017 has been great so far. I’m excited to be working with a handful of new bands in my six-month songwriting course. They’re pumped, I’m pumped. As far as how I’m approaching the year, umm, I’d say it’s really not much different. I learn from my bands all the time, so my experience helps to make certain things run smoother each new year. But this is the music industry. Each month could be so totally different depending on the sort of record deals and promotional contracts my bands and I are going through that even with clear goals for the year mapped out, you still have to have so much flexibility in order to best serve your bands.
I’d say the method year to year is pretty much the same. I try to bring enthusiasm, forward thinking, and a sense of growth to each new year. I mean, I love what I do. So the motivation and drive is there regularly. That’s the easy part. I keep a 24/7 open contact with the artists in my course, so I’m constantly working with them throughout the week. It keeps me driven, grounded, thrilled, frustrated, curious. It’s probably the medical cure for boredom. The hard part is taking time away from my bands and doing things like: evaluations of my course curriculum, getting rid of old models that don’t work, incorporating new ideas, finding new talent when I’m spending so much time with my current talent, building new relationships, stuff like that. But I’m constantly trying to do better with all of those.
Growing up, did you always want to work in the music field? Can you recall your first musical memory? Could you see yourself doing anything else today?
Well, no. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. For a time, I wanted to get into research working on the brain, something like the field of psychology or neuroscience. But I decided it was beyond my intellectual grasp at the time (laughs). But one day, it must have been the early 70’s… I was going to school, and I remembered listening to a song called “Locomotion” on the car ride. My grandmother, who was driving, recognized that I loved the song “Locomotion.” So she would turn it up a bit when it came on. And every time it would come on the radio, I would freak out. I was in 1st grade. How old is that? Like 6, 7? Geez. Well, I remember getting into my grandmother’s car, and she had the single of “Locomotion.” So she played it. And I was freaking out every time. It blew me away. I don’t know what it was, but I felt movement and energy when it played. I honestly flipped out with this. For whatever reason, this song sparked something in me that evolved into a deep love for music.
Let’s face it. I’m completely unqualified to do anything else. (Laughs). At a time where you need advanced degrees for entry-level jobs, I’m forever stuck as a Songwriting expert. My beautiful wife, Chelsea, has a Law Degree, and she’s smart enough where she could really do whatever she wants. Which is great. But in all honesty, I can’t see myself doing anything else. Degrees or not. Nothing keeps me up at night, in a good way, like working with a band to write a hit song.
Could you list a few of the band that you have worked with over the years? Can you think of anyone that you would love to get in studio with today?
Absolutely. Bands that perhaps you’ll recognize are the Plain White T’s, Jimmy Eat World, Neon Trees, Less Than Jake, Ozomatli.
Hmm. There was a band in the 90’s called “Brainiac,” that are no longer a band because one of the band members had a terrible accident. But I’ve always loved their sound, and I think they would have been great to work with in the studio. They’re the first band that sticks in my mind, but outside of that, there are a bunch of talented bands working today. I don’t often think of working with the bands we’ve all heard of. My whole drive is to help develop the bands you haven’t heard of. Yet.
You have worked with so many well-known bands so I would love to know what’s been a favorite experience of yours with an artist? What makes it stand out to you? Who would you say is writing the best songs right now out there? Who do you think is writing the catchiest and most memorable lyrics?
Being in the studio when Jim Atkins from Jimmy Eat World would perform was always something mind-boggling. He put his heart and soul into it. Really. I just love watching him do his thing. The man sings it like it’s the last time he’s ever gonna sing. That stands out to me.
Well there are a lot of artists that are writing great songs, but I think Sia is one of our best songwriters. She’s an artist. She’s consistent, emotional, and she connects the spirit and the craft of music in a powerful way. I find her to be best at conveying sentiment and producing a story with her music.
Catchiest lyrics? That’s a good question. Probably The Unlikely Candidates. But they’re one of the bands from the course, so I’m obviously partial.
Let’s talk about the fundamental “code” as you call it that you feel is essential to writing a hit song? How is that you believe it’s possible for people to learn it and then write a hit song?
You know, I like to always say that I think the music business shouldn’t be mysterious. Other businesses aren’t like that. Either you do the work, or you don’t do the work. I firmly believe that if you put in the time when coached and mentored by someone like me, and you adapt and make changes, you will write a hit song. You will absolutely write a hit song that moves mountains. But there’s a catch. The catch is you have to actually work hard (laughs). Easy, you say. But few bands want to write 1,000 or 10,000 songs. They don’t want to put in the hours it takes to perfect their craft. But that’s all it takes my friend. It takes grit and coaching. My course, my Songwriting 101, works. Not just because it has a proven method through the years, but because my methods are not changing! The concepts have become sharper, better, sure, but the method really hasn’t changed.
So here it is. The “code.” If you are prolific. If you follow my Songwriting Course. And by the way, when I say prolific, I just mean two or three song starts in a week. Just a verse and a chorus. If you send that to someone who will give you really honest feedback, like me (laughs), who, my bands can tell you, will give incredibly honest feedback, then you will find a hit song. Invest the time or money if you can to be coached on your work, augment the feedback, reinforce it in subsequent songs, and you’ll find that improvement is merely a matter of time. But, again, here’s the thing. Most people won’t get the black belt. Most people won’t become champion athletes. Notable scholars. Celebrated musicians. Not because they weren’t born with some innate skill, but because they simply haven’t put the work in.
Where did you come up with the idea for your six-month course? Can you describe the course?
The idea came out of my work with other bands. I spent time as an Executive at Capitol Records, which is where I met Jimmy Eat World. The work there was great. But I soon found that my work with lesser known, independent bands, was what made me happiest. There’s a great thrill in being able to see talent inside of someone, or a group of people, and helping them realize that talent themselves. So I started my own business doing just that.
The course teaches artists that writing a hit song can be done. By anyone. I help artists demystify the music business, learn commonly used techniques that help frame the music on the radio, and teach them to repeat their actions, adapt, and grow. Writing hit songs has an impact on a musician or band’s entire business, and I try to get that across. It affects sales, marketing, press, everything. If a band wants to make a career, wants to make a living, out of doing what they love, then they have to understand the entrepreneurial part. I teach that.
The first few weeks of the course lay the foundation. Artists learn the rules so they can break them. Of course, when I say break them I mean in the most productive way. I will ask them to come up with 20 of their favorite songs that are featured on the Billboard charts. I have them answer questions like: What is the structure of the song, what is the chord progression, what’s the rhythm section doing, etc. We discuss it, move on, and learn from that what the common techniques are that hit songs contain.
Then, theory becomes application. The artists must start writing new songs. Lots of new songs. They start by writing a verse and a chorus, and through constant feedback, we improve their work down to the smallest of details.
Throughout the writing of these songs, we go over techniques on songwriting. 20 techniques to become a better songwriter. We go over things like: alliteration, bridge structure, imagery, and more.
By the end of the course, dozens of songs will have been written, and, given that the band put in the necessary work, there will have been at least 1 song that becomes a hit. That’s really it. It takes hard work and the ability to interact with a professional back and forth. Like I said, I give 24/7 contact, and the bands that make it big are the ones that really take advantage of that.
What advice would you give to a young person that is interested in the music business and being a record producer one day?
Immerse yourself. The only way to do anything successfully is to breathe the same air as the person in the position you’re aspiring to. College can help. But if you’re not willing, if you’re not the type of person that can tirelessly endure through sometimes repetitive actions, that can give critiques to people you respect, who’s not willing to deeply learn the craft of music, or who isn’t honest enough to understand the business of music, then you’ll struggle. My advice? Do what you love. If that’s music related, then keep doing it. You’ll find that people will disparage your goals at every turn, but if you’re enjoying it, keep going.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers about yourself or your course in songwriting?
Yes. Anyone, and I mean anyone, can learn the craft of writing a hit song. My program will teach you that it takes work ethic, not just some talent, to go far in this field.
At the end of the day, what do you hope that listeners take away from the songs that you are a part of? What do you think people need from music in this day and age?
Honestly, I hope they take away a variety of things. Music is personal. It brings a different scope to different people. Whether you look at music for self-enjoyment, an escape, motivation, education, or socializing, it doesn’t matter. What matters is you discover and continue to discover songs that bring you enjoyment. I hope listeners of my bands find something in these songs that bring a positive impact to their lives. Simple as that.
Just like I said before, I hope they take away what they need most. If you mean in this economy, or this political climate, then I don’t think my answer to the last question changes. People need music to heal them in different ways. And there’s enough room for a variety of sounds to do just that. I think people need music that can keep them doing what makes them happy. Think of music as the glue that holds your dreams together. Without it, maybe your goals fall apart. But with it? Well, I think you reach the places you always hoped to.