It takes a certain talent — and mindset, and genius — to be a heralded songwriter. Think Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Bob Dylan or Lennon/McCartney.
But the music world is full of songwriters we’ve never heard of.
Like Billy Seidman. He’s been on the staff at RCA Music and other publishing companies, in New York and Nashville. He’s an adjunct professor of songwriting at NYU, and the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. He consults for Berklee NYC/The Power Station.
Seidman’s songs have been recorded and performed by Oscar, Grammy, Emmy, Golden Globe and Tony-winning artists like Irene Cara, Vicki Sue Robinson, Evelyn “Champagne” King and Kevin Kline. He’s a studio musician too, and toured with Ashford and Simpson.
Now the Westport native wants to teach you how to write songs like him. And like Berlin, Porter, Dylan and Lennon/McCartney.
Seidman recently introduced The Song Arts Academy. The Zoom course challenges students to “beat your songwriting heroes — write your best song in 4 weeks!”
This month drew 15 songwriters of varying backgrounds, levels and ages, from around the country. A summer “tune-up workshop” is coming soon.
Seidman hopes to find a space in Westport to offer an in-person course.
He knows this town well. In addition to going to school here before moving to New York, he’s friends with Grammy and Emmy-winning composer/producer/ Staples High graduate Brian Keane, plus Staples grad/former Remains front man/country singer-songwriter Barry Tashian and his songwriting son Daniel. Seidman was part of the now-legendary 2019 tribute to guitarist Charlie Karp that rocked the Levitt Pavilion.
(He was also a member of The Jades, a junior high dance band. Fellow members included Karp, Fred Reynolds, and Bob Jackson — “when his brother Chip let him borrow an amplifier.”)
Meanwhile, Seidman has written a book. “The Elements of Song Craft: The Contemporary Songwriter’s Usage Guide to Writing Songs That Last” promises to do for songwriters “what Strunk and White’s ‘The Elements of Style’ did for English language students and writers.”
Of course, there are differences between writing a story, and writing a song. In the latter, Seidman notes, “you only have 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 minutes total, and just 5 to 15 seconds to grab the listener’s attention. You have to get a lot done, fast.”
You have to do it in two ways, too: the music itself, and the lyrics.
Hope, loss, regret, joy — those emotions (and many more) are the starting points for Seidman’s deep dive into how to craft a good song.
How deep? Consider “love.” Seidman breaks it down into song categories like devotional love, new love, disillusionment love, unrequired love, makeup, breakup, coming to terms with love, coming of age, empowerment, optimism … to name a few.
He’s similarly deep when talking about harmony, melody and chord structure.
This is not for the faint of heart. But neither is trying to write a song like “Can’t Be Really Gone,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” or “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”
“Some people have a supernatural gift” for songwriting, Seidman says. But everyone — no mater how talented or average — can develop that skill.
“I have a method that works,” Seidman says confidently. “People who work with me look at songs differently. I help them connect with themes, so they connect with their audience. I’m like Johnny Appleseed.”
Sounds like a great hook for your next song.
I have long joked about whether there was something out of the ordinary in Westport’s drinking water back in the day given the success that a bunch of local kids ultimately enjoyed in the world of music—and Billy Seidman is one more example of that. In hindsight, it was a real oversight on my part not to seek to have Billy as an interviewee in “The High School That Rocked!” Billy, mea culpa! And kudos on the book and your song arts academy.
That’s very kind of you to say Fred. And yes, there was something in the water, also on it; from Canoeing at Camp Mahakanoe, to sailing Sunfishes at Compo. A special town to grow up in….