Songs: from translating lyrics to writing your own

Song lyrics
The last post in this series is about songs – from translating lyrics to moving on and writing your own.
1) SONG TRANSLATION
KNOW ABOUT RHYME, AND RAP!
Song translation can often be required as part of film subtitles, or as a standalone translation for an advert, for example. It’s useful to be familiar with a whole range of song styles (from pop, to country, to children’s cartoon theme tunes) in your mother tongue as you don’t necessarily need to be a specialist in a particular genre, in the way you would for book translation.
If you are asked to translate the words of a song, then there are a few things to bear in mind:
1) Rhyming is often required, if the original song contains rhyming couplets, for example.
2) For many styles (and especially with things like Rap), it is vital that you have some basic feel for music beats and how the syllables in the words of a song match these.
3) The register of the translation must match the register of the language in the original song.
As with film translation, a great, and fun, way to practice can simply be to take a song you like in your source language(s) and translate it, bearing in mind the points above. It can also be helpful to look at existing translations of songs, within films or on adverts (www.youtube.com can be useful for finding these) in your language combination(s).
READ A BIT OF THEORY

There are many interesting texts which can be found online about this topic. It’s worth looking at a few as they can really help to give you a sense of what to look out for and focus on when translating song lyrics. For example: http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:375140/fulltext02 (an academic study of song translation using famous musicals as its reference material).
ADD THE SKILL TO YOUR CV

Song translation can be required in all sorts of different environments (from a few lines in an advert, to a full song in a film or as a TV series theme tune). Recent examples of work I’ve completed include translating a French children’s song within an animation into English – complete with very challenging rhymes! – and translating a Spanish rap for Telefónica into English. It is definitely worth adding that you are interested in/have undertaken song translation to your CV and let clients know as this is not something that everyone offers up as a service. Some translators find it quite daunting and therefore it’s good for agencies and clients to know who they can come to if a song, or part of a song, should need translation. Unlike with book and film translation, there isn’t always so much of a need to prove your prior experience. But it certainly couldn’t hurt to practise with a song or two and then add these to your portfolio to demonstrate your ability.

NETWORK WITH INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS

There are plenty of songs out there that need translating, so target the places where you think such songs may arise. For example, agencies who specialise in film translation may have need of your skills, or advertising companies who often work with songs for adverts.

ESTABLISH A RATE THAT ALLOWS FOR THE TIME CREATIVITY TAKES


There is much less information out there about how to charge for translating a song. Based on experience, my key piece of advice would be ‘don’t underestimate how long it can take to translate a song’. It is not simply a case of translating some words. So, if you charge by the word, make your rate a healthy one. If you charge by the hour, make sure you allow enough hours in your quote (to give you an idea – I’ve sometimes had to spend 30 minutes or more on a translation for just one or two difficult lines in a song).
2) WRITING YOUR OWN SONG LYRICSI’ll focus here on the skill of being a songwriter, which in and of itself does not mean that you need to be an amazing musician, singer, producer etc. Writing song lyrics in your mother tongue is a skill in its own right and lyric writers often work in collaboration with musicians, producers and so on to produce a great song.

TAKE A COURSE


Songwriting is a skill which can be learned and perfected. Studying with industry professionals is therefore worthwhile as they can help you work out what area of songwriting you may be most suited to (for example, some people are great at coming up with song concepts, or themes, others with a topline melody (or ‘hook’ – those lines in a song chorus that you’re humming for hours after you hear it) and others are brilliant at producing verse lyrics, involving rhyme if necessary. There are songwriting courses available all over the world but if you truly have aspirations to get your songs played commercially/sold one day, then it’s worth finding one that is run by industry professionals. For example, https://thesongwritingacademy.co.uk/offers courses in London, Berlin and New York and is run by writers who have been working in the business for decades.

 

LISTEN TO LOTS OF SONGS AND PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE


To improve your own songwriting, listen to the experts! Simply choose the genres you like and start actively listening to the lyrics. The more you do, the more you will spot patterns in successful songs (everything from the all important ‘hook’ in the chorus, to the use of repetition). Once you’ve taken a course, you’ll spot a lot more of the techniques that are common to all hit songs – irrespective of genre.
BE PART OF A COMMUNITY AND GET FEEDBACK

Some people aren’t aware that successful songwriting often involves lots of collaboration with other writers. There are lots of Facebook forums and so on for songwriters, but nothing beats meeting other songwriters in person, as this can help foster collaboration opportunities. Joining a more ‘professional’ association can also be of benefit. Some, such as the The Guild of International Songwriters and Composers (http://www.songwriters-guild.co.uk/) provide feedback as well as collaboration opportunities. Most will also ensure you are well versed in the importance of copywriting your work.
As times goes on and you write complete songs, whether alone or with other songwriters, you will probably want to become a member of a national or international copyright collective, such as the Performing Rights’ Society (https://www.prsformusic.com/) in the UK. These organisation protect your rights and deal with the very complex issue of royalties for your work (of which there can be many kinds). Just to give you an idea (of how many different ways a song can be used to produce royalties), have a look here:https://www.tunecore.com/guides/thirteen-ways-to-make-money.

 

NETWORK WITH INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS


Networking is a must in the music industry so head to any events that you can where music industry professionals are present. These can be found with a simple Google search and are often held regularly. This little article explains very succinctly why networking is essential: https://www.horusmusic.global/music-industry-networking/. Meeting publishers and people from record labels enables you to avoid contacting people ‘blind’ when the time comes to pitch one of your songs. You can also find out about commissioned songs (of which there are many). This is where a budget is available to write a song for a specific purpose (for example, a song for an advert or a song for an artist in a specific genre).
GETTING YOUR SONG SOLD

Pitching a song to a publisher, record label or to the proposed artist is the way most songs are taken on. You generally get one chance to do this right, so it pays to know what you should and shouldn’t do, particularly if you are only starting out. I’ve found other songwriters to be an extremely supportive group of people who offer up lots of knowledge, experience and advice (a bit like the translators in SOM really!) Aside from that, there is plenty of advice on the subject online. Here’s just one of the many articles available on this topic that offer some really sound advice: https://songtown.com/dos-donts-pitching-songs/
THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR:
As with the film industry, you need to be careful, as a good song is a good song. If you write one and don’t protect yourself, someone will probably be keen to appropriate at least a part of it ). You should therefore:
– Copyright your songs as soon as possible, even if you don’t plan to do anything with them for a while. This can be done by registering them with your copyright collective.
– Make sure you keep a date-stamped audit trail of any songs you send off on CD or electronically to publishers, record labels or artists.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s