If you want to add to your streams of income and try something new, why not help people enjoy their celebrations?
Weddings, birthdays, confirmations, bar/bat Mitzvahs, engagements – all of these happy occasions can be enhanced by a personal song written just for the celebrants. And don’t think you have to be musical or a poet to write them, – because I’m neither and I’ve written many. The fun of celebration songs lies in the personal touch, the stories, anecdotes and information you have amassed about the person or people your song is honoring. Even the music to which you will put your song, should, if possible, be something connected to your celebrant.
The most important thing you have to do is gather information. Often these songs are ordered as a surprise, so you won’t be able to ask the person directly – you will have to speak to parents / the spouse / friends/ work colleagues, etc. The type of questions you will need to ask obviously depends on the event you are writing for and age of the person you are writing about. For young celebrants, you should try and discover their nicknames, favorite food, name of school, hobbies, favorite books and movies, teachers he clashed with, trouble he got into, names of siblings and best friends, etc.
Ask everyone you can to give you a funny story / anecdote about your subject but always check that there’s no way the celebrant (nor anyone else at the party) will be upset, embarrassed or offended – that is the last thing you want your song to cause. If in doubt – leave it out.
If you are writing for an engagement or wedding, find out how, where and when the couple met, where he (or maybe she) proposed, how long they’ve been together, where they went on dates, etc. Try not to use too many private, family in-jokes that only one or two people will understand. You want everyone at the party to understand and enjoy your song.
You can’t use a real song without written permission from the copyright holder. If you can’t compose your own music to accompany the lyrics (and you should definitely charge extra if you do!), there are numerous songs in the public domain, many which you may know but might have forgotten over the years. From “Popular Song Hits” to patriotic and children’s songs, you can search for them here: http://www.pdinfo.com/list.php
Pick a song with a good rhythm because you’ll find it much easier to compose your song around a good beat. If it’s a well-known tune, others can join in. I recommend making copies of the lyrics for everyone so that all the participants in the celebration can follow and join in.
Decide how long the song will be. Otherwise, you can get carried away if you have a lot of anecdotes. Don’t feel you have to use every piece of information you have gathered. Keep an online thesaurus at your fingertips to avoid repeating a word, and if you’re stuck with a rhyme, use an online rhyming dictionary, which will give you plenty of options to choose from. Remember – it doesn’t matter if a rhyme stretches the imagination a bit or if you have to race through a line to fit it into the music – this just adds to the fun.
Once you’ve chosen the tune and have some information, get to work. You can always add more details or stories as you acquire them.
Getting known in your field is very important. Obviously the bigger the gathering where your song is heard, the greater the likelihood of people hearing your work and booking another song. But don’t just rely on word of mouth. Advertise in your local newspaper and your local parenting publication (for children’s celebrations). Put an ad in your church or synagogue newsletter. Many of the events for which these songs are commissioned are connected to some religious rite of passage. Write a song to distribute as a sample of your work. Writing it will also give you an idea of how long the project takes.
I charge $75-$100, depending on the length of the song (young children’s songs are usually shorter as is their attention span). What you charge for your songs is something you will have to estimate depending on your fee per hour and how long it takes you. The more you write, the easier and quicker it will become.
Ann Goldberg has published hundreds of articles for print publications in the USA, Great Britain, Israel and Australia as well as for many online sites. She writes her blog at: http://livingandwritinginisrael.blogspot.com.