Friday, March 31, 2006

Performance tips

I've summarized some performance tips and posted them on my web site. These tips are based on number of performance classes, notably Julie Portman, Vance Gilbert, Ben Senefit and Christy Wessler. All are excellent teachers and I highly recommend taking a class with any of them.

Also included are some thoughts from public speaking which I have a lot more experience. I'm actually preparing for a presentation next Tuesday in San Francisco. Many of these tips apply. I just will I could use my guitar to make my presentation more interesting.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

More songwriting resources

I knew as soon as I wrote some down good site, I'd find a number of others. These include:
Graham English's blog, Jeff Mallett's Songwriters site, and Blogging Muses. Check them out.


Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Songwriting resources

I've recently been looking at music resources on the web and it's amazing all the sources out there. A Google search on the word songwriting returns 16 million hits. I'm afraid this blog and my web site come in around 15 million. The hard part is to sort those with good information vs. those that are only trying to sell you something.

Songwriting - There are some good sites that use free songwriting tips as a way to get you to listen to their music. That what I've done on my website. A few sites that I looked at are Irene Jackson's site, Molly's column, Richard Ebbs and Easy Songwriting Tips. There are tons of sites out there. Let me know your favorites.

Getting your music out there - Musicians are also taking advantage of the various web tools to get their information out there. You can create your own site, like I did or you can use a service like, Acoustic Bylines . Myspace is a great free resource out there that is amazingly successful. One of my friends, Rob put some of his music up there. Check out how he's linked to other artists.

Forums - There's a good forum on songwriting. Check it out.

I'm always interested in good sites, so if you have any ideas, let me know.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Performance class complete

Tonight we had our performance class graduation by doing a show for our friends and family. It turned out to be a great event and it was very rewarding hearing songs that have evolved over the last 10 weeks. A few take home points from this class

Songs were three minutes in length - There were 27 songs during the performance, however, we move through it pretty quickly. The audience stayed engaged in large part due to the short duration of songs, you never had time to get bored with any song.

Practice makes perfect - Everyone in the class progressed and all the songs were pretty tight. The fact that folks were so comfortable with the material really helped compensate for the nerve factor. For myself, over these 10 weeks, I must have played each of my songs over 100 times. I didn't have to think about the words or guitar, I could concentrate on my singing (my weak point) and the performance itself. I still made mistakes but it was easy to rebound from them.

Feeling fresh before the show - I had practiced so much that I took the last two days off my songs, and didn't even play more than two lines in my song check. When I got to perform them they felt fresh. In my old sports days, I remember not performing well after practicing too much before the event.

Mix of songs - The overall show worked because of the variety of songs. For myself, I chose three very different songs, with the second being one I wasn't that comfortable with. I made it through and then ended on a fun blues tune. I was great knowing that the tough stuff was behind me, so that I could enjoy that last tune.

It was a great experience, that I got to share with some wonderful performers.


Sunday, March 12, 2006

Ambiguity vs. Clarity

At songwriters group a question came up on ambiguity vs. clarity. In one song the author wanted to let people wonder what had happened to the main character. However, to listeners (and on reading the lyrics) it left too many questions and made the interpretation difficult. In other songs, strong phrases like "corporate greed" and "lump on the breast," stood out. Since these weren't the main points of the song, I suggested using weaker lines. This turned out to be an interesting discussion with some points below:

1) Do you want your song to be understood when folks listen once (i.e. during a performance) or do they need to hear it multiple times (on a CD)? For the one shot, reduce the ambiguity - for a CD you can make people wonder more.

2) Do you need the listener to care what you're saying for the song to be effective? How many great songs are there out there where you have no clue what the artist is trying to say?

3) Clever lines vs. a story. Some artists just string together a series of clever phrases and don't aim for the story. It's the phrases that you remember.

4) Does a line or phrase stick out and stop the flow of the song? If it's one that will be remembered, does it reflect the main point of your song?

Ambiguity is something to be aware of and use to your advantage. It can add color to your song and make it interesting, it can also hide your message. As the songwriter, know where you're going. Does the listener?

The best part is that there's no real right or wrong answer.


Songwriters group follow-up

My song went over really well at the songwriters group, with a comment that it was one of my best songs. Not sure if I agree but the compliment was appreciated.

When we got to the analysis phase, it was pointed out that my rhyme scheme wasn’t consistent. I used a combination of:

A, A, B, B and
A, B, C, B

Changing the rhyme scheme interrupts the flow of the song, so I need to go back and look at it.

Another comment was that in one line, I used too many syllables for the melody. Unfortunately it’s in a crucial line and I like how it sounds.

These are all great comments. What I’m going to do next is to record the song and see if I want to make changes. The best part of the process is knowing that I have the option whether to use these comments or not.


Friday, March 10, 2006

Songwriting group tonight

We have our monthly songwriting group session tonight so I spent the day finishing up two songs.

One of the songs was a difficult challenge - at the end of last month's session, KG gave out pictures and asked us to write a song about the picture. I'm very good in writing about myself, writing about someone else (and someone I don't know) was a challenge. The picture was an older black man, sitting around a kitchen table in what looked to be a barely furnished apartment. Behind him in the window hung an old cross that looked to be made up of puzzle pieces.

With the recent events I started to think about New Orleans. It was easy to picture someone losing everything, yet still keeping their faith. The metaphor I chose was an old house, and the chorus was,

The levee may break,
but it won't break me
The walls may be gone,
but the Foundation stands

Julie on hearing that for the first time, couldn't understand what I meant by the Foundation stands, so I changed the lyrics to better set it up. We'll see how it goes over tonight.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Music of the heart

I just watched the 1999 movie, Music of the Heart, with Meryl Streep. Ok, I'm a little slow, but better late than never.

The story is about the East Harlem Violin Program (now called Opus 118, The Harlem School of Music). I won't ruin the story by saying more, but check out the movie and the program. I may be a little biased having two violinists in my household (not me, I'm just a guitarist that can't read music) but the movie was inspiring.

The movie did remind me of the power of music. It crosses all boundaries and provides a lot to all who participate in it. For kids it provides many benefits, from discipline to a great outlet. My daughter age 7 just started her third year of playing the violin. At her parent/teacher conference tonight, the teacher mentioned how well she's doing in math and remarked about the relationship between music and math. I can see it. My daughter also wrote that what she wants to be a songwriter when she grows up. Who could ask for more!

The value of music programs is amazing. I've studied with two great programs in the Denver area, SwallowHill Music Association and Golden Music Center. My significant other plays in a community orchestra, The Mostly Strauss Orchestra. All are great programs and add a lot to the community.


Sunday, March 05, 2006

Performing vs. Writing

Over the last 8 weeks I've been taking a performance class. Over this period, I've been focusing on getting 3 songs just right. This means practicing them at home and on stage.

What I found is that my songwriting has really slowed down during this period. I've developed a few melodies and started some lyrics, but haven't completed anything.

My musical energy is now focused on performing, not songwriting. Hopefully after the performance, I can get back into the songwriting groove. Of course with the whitewater season coming soon, the struggle for my free time will begin.


Friday, March 03, 2006

What's your stage?

I survive my performance last night and even received a great complement (secondhand). Bob Turner a well known local musician though that my song, Here I Am, "was great!" That made my night and possibly my year.

Later I reflected on a comment I heard from another songwriter, Larry, about "writing songs for the venue." For example, is the song for an open stage at a noisy bar or for an attentive group like at Swallow Hill. At a bar, the lyrics probably won't even get noticed. For an attentive audience, you have the opportunity to paint a story. Each "stage" requires a different song. . Here I Am is the perfect song for an open stage and to a crowd of musicians. However, it wasn't designed for a CD.

This doesn't meant that you can't tailor the same song for different stages, but thinking about the "stage" first can help you better reach your audience.


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Performing with a cold

I'm scheduled to perform tonight and of course I woke up this morning with a sore throat and a cold.

The advice I've been give is to take a decongestant (like Sudafed) but not an antihistamine that would dry me out. I'm also drinking throat coat tea and trying to minimize talking through out the day.

Wish me (or the audience) luck.