About Li'l Hank's Guide

Since 1995, Li'l Hank's Guide For Songwriters has been one of the premiere resources for songwriters and musicians all over the world. It doesn't matter if you're into country, rock, hip-hop, blues, swing or any other style. If you are a creator of lyrics or a composer of music then you've come to an excellent place. Inside you will find all kinds of advice and tips on lyric writing, song publishing, copyright information, performing, music law, recording, live music, venues, books, and inspiration for what you do.

This site is absolutely free. There is no membership required or secret password needed to access the vast vault of information contained herein. The only revenue generated by this site is through our sponsors and affilliate programs, so if you feel at some point that this site has been of some benefit to you, we urge you to support the Guide by purchasing through the sponsor links throughout the site. We do not endorse any sponsor that does not provide something useful and relevant to the content, so be assured that a link from us will take you to a sponsor you can rely on.

Of course, you are not obligated to buy anything. Hopefully, though, you will bookmark this site and visit often, because we want to improve your odds of success in this crazy career you've chosen.

Hal Cohen (the guy in the picture) came up with the name Li'l Hank when he needed a name for a character's voice he created for a song that he wrote called "I Met Santa On The Internet". When Hal sent the song to Doctor Demento, The Doctor played it during the following holiday season and it went to Number 2 of the Funny Five, so he sort of let the name stick.

A Word From Hal

I've always been an information junkie. Since I am a singer/songwriter myself, I have a natural tendency to ask all the same questions and have had many of the same experiences as you have or are about to have. I'm your psychic friend 'cause I've already been there in a lot of cases and I know what you're gonna want to know and I've gleaned a lot of information from both sides of the fence. I was a singing waiter for six years, I've attended expos, seminars, played every type of room possible, had airplay, worked off and on for five years as a volunteer at The National Academy of Songwriters, interned for Winston Music Publishers, and have hosted and performed in manyl open mics and showcases. But most importantly, I have kept my eyes and ears open, met a lot of people and continue to perform live and write and network. Below is a recent exchange I had with a young songwriter who signed my guestbook. For more Ask Li'l Hank, click the button at the bottom of the page. Enjoy and remember - It's what you learn after you "know it all" that counts.

Hal's personal website: The Hal Cohen Network

Hal's Tip Jar
Hal's column is always filled with valuable tips and information (and sometimes, he just gets on his soapbox and starts bitchin' about stuff).

Ask Li'l Hank

I'm a singer/songwriter, and I've recently started
playing around at local venues. So far the response
has been pretty good.

My problem is that many of my songs are intricate, and
demand a listening audience. When I play a bar, or
whenever the crowd is active, I juice my songs up a
bit, leave off some of the picking and find a more
groovy strumming pattern. But I'm not sure if, or how
much, I should do this. I'm scared that if I play my
songs the way I wrote them, I'll be making them harder
to listen to, since they are emotionally powerful
songs. At the same time, much of what I think makes my
music unique and my songs memorable, and what gives
them their emotional charge, is the intricacy.
I have tried to take my cues from the artists I like
to listen to, but while many of my favorite musicians,
like Ani Difranco, Poe, and Dave Matthews (all of whom
do generally what I do) have songs that you really
have to just listen to, I only ever hear their cd's,
so I don't know what they did when they were starting
out as solo acts in their home cities.

Can you offer any advice?



Hi Mat -
Whether or not you realize it, you already anwered your own question. I can tell by the way you describe your performance that you already have an awareness that many performers do not posess or strive to develop - reading the audience.

For instance, you stated that when you play your more intricate songs in a bar , you "juice" your songs up a little. The mere fact that you have learned to do that tells me you are aware of your surroundings and your audience. This does not mean that you are right or wrong in your presentation, it's just another way of getting your songs across. To give you an example of another approach to the same scenario - I have a friend who once told me that whenever he plays a really intimate song in a bar or loud room, he would intentionally sing it very softly. This forced people who truly wanted to listen to the words to lean in and strain a bit to hear him, even shushing the people around them to bring the noise level down. Soon the entire room got quiet.

Now, I have tried both approaches to this type of environment, and they both work, but not necessarily every time, with every audience. The best thing to do, whether you are doing an over-edge soul-searching, gut-wrenching ballad, or a juiced up groove-oriented version is - be yourself. I would bet anything that Ani Difranco and Dave Matthews had gigs in the early days of their careers where things went pretty much the same way as you described.
One last thing - you might want to learn a few fun cover tunes or write some of your own to break up the tension of the more emotionally powerful songs in your repertoire. It might be too much to expect an audience to sit through one emotionaly draining song after another - sometimes even downright uncomfortable. I know I can't sit through long doom and gloom sets myself. Take a look at your set list as a whole. Is it actually one long sad song broken up into shorter ones? Do they have different messages or are most of them slight alterations on the same theme?

We all have our problems, especially people sitting in a bar drinking. They want to be entertained and forget about the problems that drove them there. When you see your crowd turn their attention awy from you after a few of your power ballads, just break into a rowdy version of "Honkey Tonk Woman" or "Why Don't We Get Drunk and Screw". After you've got their attention and they're on your side, you can get intimate with them again. Finally, rather than take your cues from other artists (hey, it's okay to have your influences), when playing live, take your cues from the crowd. Sounds to me you're already doing just fine. Be persistent and hang in there.

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