Tag Archives: Song lyrics

Arrangement of works in the public domain

Before you start arranging musical works that are not protected by copyright, it is worth being aware of the legal pitfalls in order to avoid costly stumbles. Text by Ernst Meier and Claudia Kempf

Arrangement of works in the public domain

An arrangement is when a new work is created using an existing work. (Photo: Tabea Hüberli)

Seeking inspiration from others, arranging existing works for different instrumentation, incorporating all or part of existing compositions into new works … these are age-old practices.

What pitfalls have to be avoided when you undertake a musical arrangement? – In a new series of articles to be published on the SUISAblog and in SUISAinfo, we shall try to shed some light on this topic. Initially, we shall examine the arrangement of works in the public domain, i.e. works that are no longer protected by copyright since their authors have been dead for more than 70 years.

What is an arrangement?

According to the Copyright Act, an arrangement is a “derived” (in German, literally, a “second-hand”) work. For an arrangement to qualify for copyright protection, it must satisfy the same requirements as a “work”, in other words: arrangements which are deemed artistic creations of the mind of the arranger are protected by copyright in the same way as an autonomous work. In the case of an arrangement, the artistic creation consists in the recognisable transformation, changing, or extension, of the musical substance of an existing work.

An arrangement is when a new work is created using an existing work in such a way that the latter remains recognisable with its individual character. The newly created element must, however, also have an individual character. Typical examples of arrangements are works orchestrated for different instruments, or lyrics translated into another language.

SUISA’s Distribution Rules (in German) have a section (1.1.3.5) that lists a whole series of works that do not qualify as arrangements for copyright protection purposes. In practice, this list has proven itself repeatedly. The following modifications do not qualify as arrangements:

  • adding dynamic or agogic accents;
  • adding musical phrasing symbols;
  • entering finger positions (fingering);
  • registrations for organs or other keyboard instruments;
  • flourishes;
  • translating an old musical notation style into a style in use today;
  • correcting clerical mistakes in the original and similar changes;
  • transferring music into other keys or pitches (transpositions);
  • editing out individual voices;
  • exchanging or doubling voices;
  • adding purely parallel voices;
  • allocating existing voices to other instruments (simple transcription).

Arranging works in the public domain and registering them with SUISA

Musical works which are not protected by copyright can be freely arranged and altered – no consent is necessary. To register an arrangement of a work in the public domain, you must send SUISA a copy of the new work together with the existing work, so that the music department can establish copyrightability. This applies to works whose authors are unknown or have been dead for at least 70 years. This also applies to works that have been handed down by folklore and are considered traditional.

When it receives an arrangement, SUISA’s music department verifies whether it satisfies the criteria for protection by copyright. This is always done by comparing the original to the arranged version. The musical quality of the submitted piece or movement is unimportant at this stage.

What types of arrangements are there, and what is the arranger’s share of the remuneration?

In its appreciation, SUISA distinguishes between the five following types of arrangement:

(Graphics: Crafft Communication)

1. Normal arrangement

The “normal” case (representing about 90% of all applications) is an arrangement in the strict sense of the word. A popular melody is arranged by adding voices or instruments for a specific ensemble or group (e.g. mixed choir, string quartet, orchestra, Big Band, etc.). The melody or main voice is taken over exactly, only the arrangement is new.

In this case, the arranger’s share is 15% (for works with lyrics) or 20% (works without lyrics).

Normal arrangement

2. Co-composition

Here the unprotected melody is not the upper voice; it is hidden in the musical structure. In this particular case (e.g. choir and organ music), the arranger’s work is of higher value since he has to compose his own upper or main voice and the existing music has to be embedded into the piece with a contrapuntal technique.

The arranger’s share in this type of work is 50% of the composer’s share.

Co-composition

3. Reconstruction

An original work is interrupted in one or several places, or left unfinished by the composer (or lost in handing down), and is then finished by the arranger.

The arranger’s share in this case is 50% of the composer’s share.

Co-composition

4. Complex jazz versions with changing soloists

The piece starts with a short presentation of the unprotected original melody. Then, a succession of soloists or “registers” (saxophone, trumpets, piano, drums) take up the melody with improvised figurations; these make up the greater portion of the work. Visually this is illustrated by the fact that the individual soloists or “registers” stand up for their solos. At the end, the original melody is often repeated all together.

In this type of work, the arranger’s share is 50% or 100% of the composer’s share, depending on the length and importance of the solos.

Complex jazz versions with changing soloists

5. Sets of variations

Variations on historic musical themes (e.g. Diabelli, Paganini or Gershwin variations) are typical examples of compositions where the original takes backstage to the variation. The starting theme is merely a pretext for a completely new work. It follows, therefore, that the creator of the variation is entitled to the full remuneration. For example: “Diabelli variations by Beethoven” etc.

The arranger’s share in this type of work is 100% of the composer’s share.

Sets of variations

What does public domain (“domaine public”) mean?
For further information on the protection period for works we refer you to the article “Erstmals seit 20 Jahren werden wieder Werke gemeinfrei” (article available in German, French and Italian, PDF) in the SUISAinfo edition.
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Before you start arranging musical works that are not protected by copyright, it is worth being aware of the legal pitfalls in order to avoid costly stumbles. Text by Ernst Meier and Claudia Kempf

Arrangement of works in the public domain

An arrangement is when a new work is created using an existing work. (Photo: Tabea Hüberli)

Seeking inspiration from others, arranging existing works for different instrumentation, incorporating all or part of existing compositions into new works … these are age-old practices.

What pitfalls have to be avoided when you undertake a musical arrangement? – In a new series of articles to be published on the SUISAblog and in SUISAinfo, we shall try to shed some light on this topic. Initially, we shall examine the arrangement of works in the public domain, i.e. works that are no longer protected by copyright...read more

“You always want to write the best song you can” | plus video

Songwriter Kate Northrop is primarily a lyricist, a creative role that doesn’t often land her in the spotlight. Together with three other authors, the SUISA member co-wrote Naeman’s entry to the Eurovision Song Contest, “Kiss Me”. In a video interview, Kate Northrop explains how she came up with the song lyrics and how she was inspired by the songwriting camp organised by SUISA and Pele Loriano Productions. Text by Giorgio Tebaldi, video by Manu Leuenberger

Behind every good song is a good songwriter – and in the case of “Kiss Me”, there were four. The song is among the Swiss finalists for the Eurovision Song Contest 2018, and is performed by Naeman. It was written by Alejandro Reyes from Lausanne, Ken Berglund from Sweden, Eric Lumière from the USA and Kate Northrop.

Kate originally comes from the USA, now lives in Switzerland, and helped write the lyrics. The story the song tells is the result of a team effort: “First, we all told each other what we thought the song’s story was”, the songwriter explains. “Then we tried to capture that with music, words and – above all – emotions.”

Kate had written songs with a number of different co-authors before, but the process at the songwriting camp was an entirely new experience for her: she had 12 hours to write a finished song with a group of artists she had never met before. Kate loved this method of songwriting: “Working with these artists was incredibly inspiring”, she says. “In order to create something, you have to be open to creative ideas from the rest of the group.”

The fact that the songs written at the songwriting camp were being written for the Eurovision Song Contest made no difference to Kate: “I don’t think writing for the Eurovision Song Contest is different from writing any other kind of song. You always want to write the best song you can.”

www.songwave.ch, Kate Northrop’s website

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Songwriter Kate Northrop is primarily a lyricist, a creative role that doesn’t often land her in the spotlight. Together with three other authors, the SUISA member co-wrote Naeman’s entry to the Eurovision Song Contest, “Kiss Me”. In a video interview, Kate Northrop explains how she came up with the song lyrics and how she was inspired by the songwriting camp organised by SUISA and Pele Loriano Productions. Text by Giorgio Tebaldi, video by Manu Leuenberger

Behind every good song is a good songwriter – and in the case of “Kiss Me”, there were four. The song is among the Swiss finalists for the Eurovision Song Contest 2018, and is performed by Naeman. It was written by Alejandro Reyes from Lausanne, Ken Berglund from Sweden, Eric Lumière from the USA and Kate Northrop.

Kate...read more

New Jersey, just south of Berne

Polo Hofer receives the FONDATION SUISA Prize 2017 in the category “lyrics author”. Christoph Trummer writes in his guest contribution about the factors distinguishing the works of the award winner from others.

New Jersey, just south of Berne - Polo Hofer FONDATION SUISA Prize 2017

Polo Hofer, winner of the FONDATION SUISA Prize 2017 has found his way into popular culture and has translated rock and roll as a way of life for the German-speaking part of Switzerland. (Photo: Patric Spahni)

If you wanted to be brief, you’d say: The FONDATION SUISA Prize is a recognition award for outstanding creations. In 2017, it will be awarded to a lyricist for the first time. Polo Hofer was nominated for the award. What else did you expect the jury should do?

Of course, we’ll gladly dedicate more than just these few words to this worthy award winner and his works.

Those who were born after 1970 and grew up in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, are likely to find it hard to imagine their schooldays, youth and life in Switzerland as such without Polo Hofer and his songs and lyrics. Some of his works, ranging from “Bin i gopfriedstutz e Kiosk” (“Am I a blimmin’ kiosk”) to “Bim Sytesprung im Minimum e Gummi drum” (“For that bit on the side as a minimum a condom”) have turned into one-liners; you cannot possibly imagine everyday language being without them. Even those whose parents don’t even own a Polo Hofer CD can sing along to “Alperose”.

Song lyrics turned into popular cultural assets

These lyrics are now part of popular culture, in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, for sure. Since his early days with the band Rumpelstilz, Polo’s discography has been serving as a means to tell the story of a rather eventful Swiss history. The “Summer 68”, when (apparently) it was the done thing to travel to Kabul to smoke weed. The wild 70ies, years of upraise, with Rosmarie to Spain, free love next to the “Teddybär” (“Teddy Bear”). The dark side of dreams in the form of a “Silbernaadle töif im Arm” (“A silver needle deeply plunged into the arm”). And already then, dulled by consumerism, in full swing with the “Waarehuus Blues” (“Warehouse Blues”).

Polo’s lyrics are, sometimes, explicitly political: “Da isch nüt vo Grächtigkeit / So wie’s i dr Verfassig schteit” (“Um WAS geits?”) (“There is no justice / as it’s written in the constitution”, song: “WHAT’s this about?”). He does, however, also narrate world history as a personal story, when an old love affair finally gets a chance as the Berlin wall comes down (“Wenn in Berlin bisch”) (“When you’re in Berlin”). Plus, he criticises society with role prose, whose poetry stems from conversations at the regulars’ table in the pub, for example when the farmer’s son of the Lochmatt sums up the empty promises of a life in the bright city lights: «Lah mi vergässe bim rote Wy» (“Let me forget with a glass of red”). That’s popular in its very essence, but it also has side effects.

Sometimes the loud role of Polo National smothers the fact that he also has other qualities as a lyricist. For example, when he ponders about his own mortality in “Im letschte Tram” (“In the last tram”) or when he negotiates the literal sense of God, all the world and his brother in “I dr Gartebeiz vom Hotel Eden” (“In the garden pub of the Eden Hotel”) without getting lost in intellectual deliberations.

Rock and roll – translated for Switzerland

Some of Polo Hofer’s great songs are congenial translations: Tom Waits’s “Jersey Girl” into “Meitschi vom Wyssebüehl” (“Girl from Weissenbühl” – a Berne suburb), Todd Snider’s “Alright Guy” into “Liebe Siech” (“My dear chap”), and Dylan’s “Leopard-Skin Pill- Box Hat” into “Schlangelädergurt” (“Snake leather belt”). With that, you find out about another one of Polo’s various roles, which make him so significant (not only) for music performed in dialect in Switzerland: He is a translator. Not only a translator of song lyrics but one of the most important translators of rock and roll and popular culture into our culture, into our customs and habits.

Polo Hofer has managed to turn desires, but also the lustfulness of the young with its pubescent obscenities, the rebellion against a stale and settled system, in brief: the rock and roll way of life for the German-speaking part of Switzerland into sound. D’Stüehl ewäg, mir sy giggerig u wei schwoofe (Get the chairs out of the way, we’re in the mood and want to dance). He was inspired by, and found some of his topics in the rock and roll catalogue of legends and brought it to Switzerland: We would probably not get into a ride with Bobby McGee on the highway, but hitchhike with Rosmarie from Paris to Gibraltar. Wyssebüehl is closer than New Jersey.

Polo Hofer as a central figure of our story has opened doors through which many others could pass, even if they didn’t even know his music at all. And now he receives an award for this work. As such, the FONDATION SUISA Award 2017 is a kind of “Lifetime Achievement Award”. We congratulate you from our hearts!

www.polohofer.ch

The FONDATION SUISA Prize is a recognition award for outstanding creations. FONDATION SUISA bestows this award to authors and publishers rendering outstanding contributions to the enrichment of the cultural heritage of our country with their creations. The award, valued at CHF 25,000.00 is granted in a different category each year.

Christoph Trummer won the FONDATION SUISA Prize 2011 in the category “Singer/Songwriter”. Our guest author was born in 1978 and grew up in Frutigen (BE). Apart from his musical activities, he is President of the Association for Music Creators Switzerland.

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All comments will be moderated. This may take some time and we reserve the right not to publish comments that contradict the conditions of use.

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Polo Hofer receives the FONDATION SUISA Prize 2017 in the category “lyrics author”. Christoph Trummer writes in his guest contribution about the factors distinguishing the works of the award winner from others.

New Jersey, just south of Berne - Polo Hofer FONDATION SUISA Prize 2017

Polo Hofer, winner of the FONDATION SUISA Prize 2017 has found his way into popular culture and has translated rock and roll as a way of life for the German-speaking part of Switzerland. (Photo: Patric Spahni)

If you wanted to be brief, you’d say: The FONDATION SUISA Prize is a recognition award for outstanding creations. In 2017, it will be awarded to a lyricist for the first time. Polo Hofer was nominated for the award. What else did you expect the jury should do?

Of course, we’ll gladly dedicate more than just these few words to this worthy award winner and his works.

Those...read more

Lyrics for a song: “Anything goes – if it has success”

The FONDATION SUISA dedicates its CHF 25,000 recognition award to lyricists of musical works this year. But what makes a song text a success? Guest author Markus Ganz in an interview with Jean-Martin Büttner

Lyrics for a song: “Anything goes - if it has success”

“Song texts usually don’t work on paper”, says journalist Jean-Martin Büttner. (Photo: Dominic Büttner)

Jean-Martin, what do you make of song lyrics including the line “A Wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom”?
Jean-Martin Büttner: This is an example for coded song lyrics. “Tutti Frutti” by Little Richard secretly deals with black drag queens and sexual practices, at least in its 1955 original version. To understand this, you got to know that the singer had a triple disadvantage: Richard was black, gay and from the South of the USA. The American political scientist, Greil Marcus, explained its amazing effect rather accurately in an interview. Even if they did not understand the lyrics, listeners would still be able to sense from the mere joy of Little Richard’s singing that it was about something naughty. It might sound strange but this is a central part of rock music – not because it says something but because it expresses something.

In its book “AWopBopaLooBopALopBamBoom” which had become a classic in rock literature, Nik Cohn wrote in 1971 that these words “summarised what Rock’n’Roll really was about” rather masterly. He also wrote that Rock’n’Roll lyrics were some sort of a “secret code of teenagers”. Youth culture is, however, subject to constant change. Does this mean that these lyrics are caught in their era?
I believe that this applies to each set of song lyrics and also for many poems. Only the greats such as Shakespeare, Rilke or Dylan can write lyrics which transcend their own era. These lyrics by Little Richard are clearly trapped in its time, albeit because it had to be coded into nonsense in order to escape the censorship of white radio stations. Ironically, this also holds true for explicit, vulgar and drastic hip hop lyrics which don’t omit anything. Calling women champagne bitches and writing hymns about your own sneakers wears off extremely quickly.

What significance has this song text by Little Richard retained?
“Tutti Frutti” is a historic text. But you also have to understand that Nik Cohn had an anti-intellectual attitude vis-a-vis the interpretation of Rock’n’Roll. And that his book was one of the first on rock music. I still love it today because he wrote in such a radical style. Nik Cohn, who was an Irish Jew and thus an outsider from the beginning, wrote sentences such as those according to which there were never proper lyrics in Rock’n’Roll. I believe that he meant this as a provocation but not just that. It was his way of attacking artists such as Dylan or the Beatles which, in his opinion, had ruined Rock’n’Roll with their textual cockiness.

Is the act of ennobling the song lyrics by the Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan thus also a loss for the tradition of lyrics that have been pushed “ad absurdum”?
Not at all, luckily there is no institution that decides what is or isn’t a proper song text. Besides, Dylan himself has written surreal lyrics, which might well play on words and are funny but don’t really make any comprehensible sense, such as “Subterranean Homesick Blues” from 1965. In this song, Dylan – who never actually denied it – leans back on Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business” – which is not far from Little Richard; Dylan was thus closer to Nik Cohn’s hero as the latter wanted to admit. Dylan even once said that his professional goal was to play piano with Little Richard.

“Poetry is always a vocal art, too. Poets recited their texts as early as in ancient times.”

Nevertheless: Haven’t song lyrics increasingly lost their original character?
Yes, the question for the meaning. I have always rejected the absurd notion that rock music had to remain music for the youth, something it had originally been. It has rather turned out to be a kind of culture which grows with its authors, has aged with them. Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash or Leonard Cohen are or have been relevant way beyond their pension age. Besides, poetry is always a vocal art, too. Poets recited their texts as early as in ancient times.

Little Richard has – not least – provoked, something that has become difficult nowadays …
This gesture has lost its impact long ago. Lady Gaga is a good example as her provocations became such a major part of her marketing. Her final provocation, to show herself without make-up, shows how desperate she has become. Nowadays, it is rather heart-warming that David Bowie triggered a scandal when he said he was homosexual – and it wasn’t even true. Such shock effects, from Alice Cooper to Marilyn Manson, have worn themselves out completely. The consolation: Good music remains good.

In rock music, the lyrics depend very much on other aspects such as sound or phrasing, and only makes sense because of that. Do lyrics still have the same meaning as they used to have back then?
I don’t cease to be amazed how little attention people pay to the lyrics. It probably has always been that way. In fact, the Beatles mainly wrote trivial lyrics along the lines of “She Loves You”, even though their irony and their lyrical talent would have allowed them to do so much more at the time. It is interesting that especially within the hip hop genre lyrics play a central role, while the music is monotonous and repetitive. What also stands out is the development over the last decades where hip hop is no longer sung or rapped just in English, but, in Switzerland, for example, increasingly in German, Italian and French. In line with this development, it is only logical that the importance of lyrics has increased again. For example Peter Fox (Seeed): His solo album “Stadtaffe” [city monkey] is a hymn dedicated to his home town Berlin – and only because of the German lyrics, Berlin citizens could identify themselves with the song.

“Lyrics aren’t a school subject. It should be left to each individual what they make of the song lyrics.”

This example also shows that the background of a text is sometimes the prerequisite to understand it. But can an author really expect from his audience that it grapples with its song lyrics?
Lyrics aren’t a school subject. It should be left to each individual what they make of the song lyrics. A friend of mine has been a hip hop dance instructor for a long time. She did not realise that the pieces she used often contained misogynist lyrics, as she only played them to provide music for dancing. But that’s ok.
On the other hand, I keep noticing during concerts that due to the lack of knowledge of the lyrics misunderstandings pop up. A classic example which even US-Americans misunderstood is “Born In the USA” by Bruce Springsteen. The piece deals with the fate of Vietnam veterans but is full of ambivalence as it starts with a fanfare and Springsteen is shown on the cover of the album in front of a US flag. Left-wing message, right-wing chorus. Reagan only heard the latter and was enthused, Springsteen distanced himself in a peculiar mumbling manner. The record made him a millionaire.

But doesn’t something from the original message stay on?
Greil Marcus, whom we mentioned earlier, described in his essay why everything that Springsteen sings remains without any consequence. Irrespective of how often the artist sings about a broken family and the poverty in the USA, it was striking that nobody ever responded. This silence was proof that all of his statements remained without effect. How could it be otherwise? I have asked the comedian Eddie Izzard, whether comedy could actually change anything. He said: only politics changes things, that’s why he was standing for Parliament. If you want to change something, you have to change the law.

Writers of song lyrics often say that – by way of their texts – they are trying to trigger an association within their audience so that they can create their own stories from that…
An important role during the 1960s was the fact that black youths listened to James Brown who sang: “Say it loud – I’m black and I’m proud”. That was an instruction to a black identity – telling you that you could be someone who exists, who is important in the USA, because you get a voice – even if you are part of a minority.

He gave people courage to stand tall and self-confident…
Exactly, many song lyrics played an important role for the civil rights movement. Songs have always played an influencing role, also during the movement against the Vietnam War. Why, of all things, was it “Sloop John B” by the Beach Boys that became a hymn for the GIs in Vietnam, even though this cover version only contains the story of a quarrel on a ship? Because the chorus says: “Why don’t they let me go home, this is the worst trip I’ve ever been on”. No wonder that this hit the right tone in Vietnam. Or: “Nowhere To Run” by Martha and the Vandellas was phrased as a love song, but became the slogan for left-wing protesters against the government.

A text can also receive a completely new meaning…
An example for this is the piece “Another Brick in the Wall” by Pink Floyd, which has been redefined in South Africa among white and black pupils as a hymn against Apartheid. German cultural scientist, Diedrich Diederichsen once said, pop music was an open channel. The good thing about it: You can do what you like. If the audience decides that a song means this or that, then that’s the way it is.

“One of the most famous examples of a song which didn’t have any meaningful, serious lyrics initially, is ‘Yesterday’ by Paul McCartney. The original text for this song was ‘scrambled eggs, baby I love your hairy legs’.”

Many musicians have expressed themselves against Donald Trump in the last months, but up until his inauguration there were few explicit songs…
The English journalist, Julie Burchill, once wrote that nothing would castrate a political message as efficiently as a pulsing backbeat. Bob Dylan realised this quickly and ceased to create songs pointing fingers, he was well ahead with his thinking. His explicitly political songs such as “Now Ain’t The Time For Your Tears” have aged in a worse manner than his songs which simply state a general unease against the war such as “Masters of War”. I think that great artists don’t think in weeks or years, and that’s why all great political songs are not specific. Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” is a universal song, especially as humour and irony are added to it – something that protest musicians unfortunately include very rarely.

Many songwriters confess that their lyrics don’t get written until after the music has been completed. How do you explain that?
One of the most famous examples of a song which didn’t have any meaningful, serious lyrics initially, is “Yesterday” by Paul McCartney. The original text for this song was “scrambled eggs, baby I love your hairy legs”. Brian Eno mentioned during his press conference in Geneva last year that the majority of artists sing anything during their rehearsals, some sort of a scat song. From this emerges a chorus or a hook, from which the actual lyrics are developed. Many musicians use this process, for example Bono, or Mick Jagger. Writing lyrics, by the way, is also hard for authors, who are famous for their texts. Randy Newman for one said to me in a conversation that he wrote melodies with more ease than lyrics – the latter were a nightmare.

But aren’t song lyrics often secondary, and only have the purpose to carry the melody?
This can be deceptive as the example of ABBA shows. You could, of course, argue that “I do, I do, I do, I do” does not constitute song lyrics which belong into the Hall of Fame. But “Knowing Me, Knowing You” is a piece which sweetens a bitter message with an enchanting melody. The lyrics are about a divorce and is one of the favourite songs of Elvis Costello. “The Day Before You Came”, the last, desperately sad ABBA single, also combines an excellent set of lyrics with an extremely sad musical piece.

As we all know, many song texts pop up by chance, on the spur of the moment …
The most famous example for a song which practically happened by accident is “Smoke On The Water” by Deep Purple. To put it simply, the band was watching across the lake, how the casino in Montreux was on fire – and wrote a gripping, but actually rather descriptive song about the event in the blink of an eye. Bob Dylan sometimes falls into such a creative rush, too: He wrote all of his lyrics for “Time Out Of Mind” within two weeks even though the verses are rather long.

This is more the modus operandi of singer songwriters who reduce the story down to the bare minimum. You do, however, sometimes also find the other extreme with them, where the lyrics are basically simply wrapped in music….
You notice that when the lyrics overwhelms the music in such a way that the music becomes a pretext. In the case of a good songwriter like Dylan that’s another matter. “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”, for example, formulates a cascade of words – and still works because the language becomes an instrument of rhythm. The Beatles-Song penned by John Lennon “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” is the opposite of that: Despite its length of nearly eight minutes, it consists of one single sentence with variations. This shows how much freedom you have as a lyricist. There’s a great quotation by Max Frisch: “Anything goes – if it has success”.

«You must stop imagining that lyrics can be read: they don’t usually work on paper, they are dead.»

This could be used as the guideline for song lyrics about love, still the main theme in pop music. A love song can appear clichéd with respect to the choice of words, and yet work magnificently. What makes the difference?
An example how the same text can have a completely different impact depending on instrumentation and interpretation is “I Will Always Love You”. The song has not been written by Whitney Houston but Dolly Parton. And her original version dating back to 1974 is grand, even though the lyrics are incredibly trivial: The recording lives off the performance.

The same song lyrics can also have different meanings in different interpretations…
A good example for this is “You Can Leave Your Hat On” by Randy Newman. In its original version, this love song is lurking, the protagonist a stalker, you get scared of him. In Joe Cocker’s version, however, the song about a sexual offender turns into a hymn for sex and freedom – and as such, it was used for the film “9 1/2 weeks.”

The lyrics of two love songs can be nearly identical regarding the choice of words and yet one can seem corny whereas the other is captivating. Why?
You must stop imagining that lyrics can be read: they don’t usually work on paper, they are dead. One of the reasons for this is that the technique of repetition is important for song lyrics; texts by writers like Nick Cave look absurd on paper.
One of the great exceptions, however, are the song texts by Leonard Cohen. An explanation for this phenomenon is that he wrote three books and two poetry volumes before he entered a studio for the first time. He started playing the guitar because he thought he could reach a wider audience as a consequence. The magic of song lyrics usually appears when being sung, just remember Marvin Gaye’s “Hitch Hike”. His singing imparted a kind of lascivious elegance.

By way of singing the lyrics, it is also possible to break the stereotype of a text or add an ironic note …
Lyle Lovett does exactly the opposite in his song “She’s Leaving Me Because She Really Wants To”. The text in the title is coined by its typical irony but he sang it in a grizzling, absolutely non-ironical sounding country song. What constitutes the breach here is that he performs an unconventional text which is a persiflage on the genre, in a completely conventional style.

The songwriter and producer Roman Camenzind once said that you could write an authentic song text only in your own mother tongue ...
That’s a great thesis, even if there are examples that show that the opposite is true. In the case of Rammstein, I am fascinated by the fact that concert-goers sing along to the German lyrics, even in places like Mexico City or New York. Singer Till Lindemann once told me that the majority would only sing along phonetically and not understand the phonetic implications and play on words of “Du hast” – one of their song titles. English is treacherous in this respect, anyway. It’s like when you play the guitar: You can quickly get to grips with guitar chords, and it sounds alright. But then it gets complicated rather quickly. And that’s what you find in the case of lyrics of authors whose mother tongue isn’t English.

And in Switzerland?
We do have some amazing lyricists such as the songwriters Kutti MC, Endo Anaconda (Stiller Has), Kuno Lauener (Züri West) and Carlos Leal (Sens Unik); The reality in Switzerland is, however, that the dialect is rather restrictive in terms of the audience; the conditions in Germany are completely different.

If you want to live off your music in Switzerland you have to try to find a wider audience with an international language. Is this inevitably at the expense of authenticity?
Yello are a good example that using English can be a success. Dieter Meier has written many lyrics with Dadaistic nonsense, but his English is – regarding the accent and the humour – definitely very Swiss. You also feel how the personalities of the two shine through very strongly, something which creates authenticity. In a special way, the Young Gods are successful because Franz Treichler sings his English lyrics with a French accent; but it is his voice that’s important, not the lyrics. For me, these are the two most important Swiss bands because they have maintained their identity despite their international aura. Bands that sing French lyrics such as Sens Unik have more luck as they have an international language as their mother tongue.

Jean-Martin Büttner (born 1959) grew up bilingual in Basel (German and French). He studied psychology, psychopathology and English in Zurich and wrote his dissertation on “Singers, songs and compulsive words. Rock as a narrative form.” (the book with the original title “Sänger, Songs und triebhafte Rede. Rock als Erzählweise”, published in 1997 is sold out). In the middle of the 1980s, he regularly wrote for the Swiss music magazine Music Scene which was run by the interviewer Markus Ganz at the time. Since 1987, he has been employed by the Swiss daily, Tages-Anzeiger. He works as an editor for the cultural and domestic affairs department and is the daily’s correspondent for the French-speaking part of Switzerland, and Switzerland’s Parliament (Bundeshaus) editor. Since 2010, he has been writing on various subjects, including regular articles on music.
Recognition award for lyricists
FONDATION SUISA dedicates its CHF 25,000 recognition award to lyricists of musical works this year. Works in all languages will be considered. The entire works of the nominees will be judged, not just individual lyrics. All participants must prove that there is a relationship of their works with the current Swiss music creative scene. It is also possible that third parties nominate candidates. An expert panel will judge the submitted nominations based on the Award regulations. Closing date will be 24 February 2017. Further information, including the regulations and the entry form can be downloaded from the FONDATION SUISA website.
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The FONDATION SUISA dedicates its CHF 25,000 recognition award to lyricists of musical works this year. But what makes a song text a success? Guest author Markus Ganz in an interview with Jean-Martin Büttner

Lyrics for a song: “Anything goes - if it has success”

“Song texts usually don’t work on paper”, says journalist Jean-Martin Büttner. (Photo: Dominic Büttner)

Jean-Martin, what do you make of song lyrics including the line “A Wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom”?
Jean-Martin Büttner: This is an example for coded song lyrics. “Tutti Frutti” by Little Richard secretly deals with black drag queens and sexual practices, at least in its 1955 original version. To understand this, you got to know that the singer had a triple disadvantage: Richard was black, gay and from the South of the USA. The American political scientist, Greil Marcus, explained its amazing...read more

Adieu, great Jörg Schneider!

Without a doubt, Jörg Schneider was part of the most popular actors in Switzerland. He also directed films, lent his voice to the “Kasperli” character and wrote fairy tales and musicals. As a lyricist of more than 200 songs, whose music he partially composed himself, he had been a SUISA member for a long time. At the end of August 2015, Jörg Schneider passed away, aged 80. Obituary by guest author Monika Kaelin

Adieu, great Jörg Schneider!

Jörg Schneider, shown here in a picture of 2013, wrote many song lyrics and composed the music for some of them. (Photo: Christoph Kaminski)

He had to leave us all too early. He, who always stuck to a healthy nutrition, never overdid it, but had completely committed himself to the stage. Jörg Schneider was a perfectionist, translated many pieces from English and high German into Swiss German, wrote more than 200 song lyrics, played the main part in all of his own boulevard productions, had success in TV series such as “Polizischt Wäckerli”, and in “Motel” as Koni Frei, was convincing as accountant Oskar Wehrli in the long runner soap “Lüthi und Blanc”, directed films ‘on the side’, wrote fairy tales and musicals, lent his voice to the “Kasperli” character and had to face the hard truth of suffering from untreatable cancer after 55 years on stage.

Not an easy task for such a bubbly and eager to work exceptional artist who – as a trained teacher and subsequently promoted professional actor – had originally committed himself to classics. It was in light entertainment, however, where he found his great audience and continued to delight millions of Swiss viewers over the years. The popular actor was a creative actor both in front of and behind the stage curtain who wrote, produced and stage-managed. The original Zurich-born actor was a cheerful person by nature. If something annoyed him, he got rid of the event with a sarcastic saying and a laugh.

Multi-talented exceptional artist

The versatility of exceptional artist Jörg Schneider becomes particularly evident when taking a look into his intensive artistic activities. Side by side with Ruedi Walter, Jörg Schneider played the role of Wladimir in the high-profile performance of the Beckett piece “Warte uf de Godot” in the dialect adaptation by Urs Widmer. In the summer theatre Winterthur as well as the open air theatre Hohe Promenade in Zurich, he played in many more classical theatre pieces.

In 1963, he started his TV career as a young actor in “Vico, ist’s wahr?” and travelled together with Vico Torriani through Switzerland. He had his great breakthrough with the radio play, the stage production and the TV series “Polizischt Wäckerli” from 1966 onwards.

Jörg Schneider remains unforgotten as the father of 41 Kasperli stories which enthused generations of children and still are a big hit today. He contributed to the creation of innumerable childrens’ musicals and fairy tale plays for the Zurich Märchenbühne and the Opera House Zurich.

Other places of activity in Zurich were the Schauspielhaus, the Corso Theatre, the Theatre at the Hechtplatz and, above all, the Bernhard Theatre. In the Musical “Z wie Züri”, I had the honour to play alongside him for the first time as an actress in 1976. Jörg gave me many tips during this production and explained to me, for example, how I should say something to ensure I had the punchline in the bag. His advice was the best actor’s training that I ever had the pleasure to enjoy, as I could learn directly while acting on stage.

Magnificent life’s work

In the following years, there were many more new pieces each year, which Jörg Schneider successfully performed with his ensemble in the Bernhard Theatre and on tour in Switzerland. In 2014, he finally had to break off his farewell tour with the dialect tragicomedy “Häppi Änd” due to health reasons. During this hard time of suffering and pain, he still bravely starred in the cinema movie directed by Paul Riniker, “Usfahrt Oerlike” together with Matthias Gnädinger, who also recently passed away. The film was awarded the “Prix du Public” at the 50th Solothurn Film Days where the magnificent life’s work of Jörg Schneider was honoured with standing ovations. The Prix Walo had been awarded twice to Jörg Schneider. In 1995 he received it as an actor, in 2014 for his life’s work.

In March 2015, his last work was published, the autobiography “Äxgüsi”. After his suffering as a cancer patient, Jörg Schneider peacefully fell asleep in the arms of his beloved wife Romy at home in Wetzikon for the last time on 22 August 2015, free of pain and with a smile on his face. He was a good man and colleagues and friends among actors and his audience will sorely miss him. Thank you dear Jörgli for everything what you have created for us all your life, with joy, love and dedication.

In friendship your
Monika Kaelin

Monika Kaelin is a composer, lyricist, singer, entertainer and moderator as well as theatre, music and event organiser, President of the Association Show Szene Switzerland and TV producer for the Prix Walo. She was a member of the SUISA Board between 1999 and 2015.

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Without a doubt, Jörg Schneider was part of the most popular actors in Switzerland. He also directed films, lent his voice to the “Kasperli” character and wrote fairy tales and musicals. As a lyricist of more than 200 songs, whose music he partially composed himself, he had been a SUISA member for a long time. At the end of August 2015, Jörg Schneider passed away, aged 80. Obituary by guest author Monika Kaelin

Adieu, great Jörg Schneider!

Jörg Schneider, shown here in a picture of 2013, wrote many song lyrics and composed the music for some of them. (Photo: Christoph Kaminski)

He had to leave us all too early. He, who always stuck to a healthy nutrition, never overdid it, but had completely committed himself to the stage. Jörg Schneider was a perfectionist, translated many pieces from...read more