Sunday, April 23, 2006

Lots of melodies

I typically average one to two completed songs per month. However, in the last two months I've been in melody mode only. I have the chords, including bridges, for at least 5 songs. I did put lyrics to one and have some great lines, but in retrospect, felt that the message didn't go with the music. So back to the drawing board.

In thinking about what's going on, I can only point to doing too many things at work, paddling season starting, and changes at home. The quiet time (both physical and mental) to compose lyrics hasn't been there. The music, on the otherhand has become more expressive. In the absense of lyrics, I'm using the guitar for my voice. Or it my be that I'm saying too much with the guitar to make room for the lyrics. An interesting dilemma.

The best thing about music is the luxury of staying where I'm at. Someday the words will start to flow. Then I won't have to search for melodies!


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Doing covers

I woke up this morning to an artist talking about a project to redo a variety of covers, which was then followed by his version of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl.” I was disappointed. It sounded almost identical to the original version, except for a longer break between verses (which I didn’t like) and vocals that sounded like a poor copy of Neil Young (which I liked even less). To be fair, I was listening to this on a clock radio at 6:30 a.m., so it may have some influence on my reaction.

The thought struck me, what’s the sense in recording covers that sound like the original artist. I can see this if you’re playing in a bar or similar venue, but as a recording artist you should paint the song with a fresh canvas. My favorite example is Manfred Mann’s Earth Band doing Bruce Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light.” Being from NJ, where we were huge Bruce fans, the redo helped me to better appreciate the song.

On my own songs, I love it when someone comes along and changes my song. As long as my message stays, they’re renditions shed a new light. On my website I have Marianne and Julie, singing my song “Ode to the Canyon.” When I sing it it’s much more introspective, their harmonies add a ton of energy. The first time I heard them sing it, it became theirs and the version I used for the demo. On “Storm Clouds,” Julie changed the phrasing on the lyrics. Same song, just more interesting…

To be fair in all this, I was never able to do justice to an original. I have to make it my own out of necessity. Going my own way helped me develop my interest in songwriting, “I can’t sound like somebody else, so I better sound like me.”


Saturday, April 15, 2006

Songs from my friends

The goal of my website is to provide information on the songwriting process. To accomplish this I've asked my friends to provide their songs and to write about their songwriting process.

Tonight I posted the first song from a friend, from Sandy Raey. She's a professional performer and it's interesting to see she her process. One thing that I learned from her process, was how she rewrote it after a few years. It's something I haven't done but will consider.


Friday, April 14, 2006

Open Stage for my B-day

On Wednesday, Julie asked me what I'd like to do for my birthday and I said let's go play at Swallow Hill's open stage. Last night we did just that. We only had a chance to do two songs, so I chose "Here I am" and "Slow Down." I'm surprised at how much I enjoy playing for folks. After years of only playing for my own enjoyment (and scared to death of singing in public), I'm really enjoying it.

"Here I am" once again went over well. It's the perfect open stage song because the crown is musicians and most can eelate. Since I have played this so many times in my performance class, it's almost automatic. Also it helps me get over my own stage fright, because it's easy to play and I'm more comfortable singing joke songs.

"Slow down" is a good second song because of the violin and it's totally different style. The violin really stands out among the guitar crowd. Since we haven't played it for a long time, it wasn't our best rendition. However, since we worked on it so much over a year ago, we could still fake it.

The cool thing about Swallow Hill's schedule is once a month there's the standard open stage, followed two weeks later by a best of open stage, where 5 acts get 20 minutes. We put our name in the ring for a best of show, hopefully, we'll hear back.


Monday, April 10, 2006

Songwriting is in vogue

I’m sitting on a plane and listening to United Airlines in flight entertainment. Lo and behold there’s someone talking about her process for songwriting. While boating this weekend my paddling partner is talking about his nephew’s ambition and frustration in songwriting. It seems like songwriting is becoming in vogue, with classes, books, articles, and websites (like mine) popping up all over the place.

I’m amazed how many people’s goals are to make a living writing songs. It’s kind of like pro sports while growing up, everyone aspires to become a professional, with so few making it.

When discussing this with my paddling partner (who’s a hobby artist), we started identifying what makes you succeed where others fail. Below are some ideas that we came up with after a few glasses of wine:

- Are you doing this because you love it or trying to get rich? If you’re doing it because you love it, as long as you’re satisfied, you're already a success. Then selling your music is the icing on top of the cake.
- How hard are you willing to try? There’s no such thing as an overnight success. The one who makes it, tries the hardest. Just writing a great song is not enough, you need to do the work to sell it.
- Do you have the talent? This is probably one of the most difficult things to get accurate feedback on. In almost all classes, the teachers are doing what they should, encourage you. Feedback is almost always constructive; never will you get “maybe you should try something else.”

In thinking about this, selling a song would be an added bonus. I write music because I love it. I’m working on my craft in classes and lessons because I can’t stand not to do something well. I’m doing some work to make my songs heard through this blog, my website and some performing, but haven’t made the total commitment like cutting a studio CD or going to Nashville. Should I expect to be a success, in many ways I've already succeeded, I love what I'm doing. Am I going to get rich doing it, probably not, or a least not yet!!!


Music in the mountains

I was camping this weekend outside Buena Vista, CO. In the early morning just as the sun came up, I took my guitar, climbed a rock that overlooked the valley and with the snowcapped peaks in the background began to play.

Over the next hour, I remembered the pure joy of playing music. Without thinking about form or context, tunes just started coming. If a theme emerged I went with it, if I got a new inspiration I went with it. To me it all sounded great and it’s a shame that only the trees and a few coyotes got to enjoy my early morning symphony. I didn’t worry about writing it down, song structure, or even remembering it what I was playing. It was more about being able to express myself with music. It takes times like these to reconnect myself to the music.

I’m also glad I have a decent quality camping guitar. I’ve carried a guitar with me in the wilderness for over 20 years. Instead of getting a “backpacker guitar” that is lighter and smaller, I’ve always carried a guitar with a full sound. Just hearing clear notes ring through the valley makes the extra hastle well worth it.


Monday, April 03, 2006

Tips from film

After watching the movie, Good Night and Good Luck, we listen to the producers (George Clooney and Grant Heslov) describe how they made the movie. Their commentary was very interesting and stimulated some ideas about songwriting.

1. Learned from other movies – They described a large number of older movies and how they learned from them. Even though both producers were well versed in the movie business, they were constantly searching other movies for better ways convey their message. For songwriting, listen to other’s song and figure out what works and what doesn’t.

When my alarm clock goes off in the morning, I listen to a few songs before getting out of bed. In my early morning daze I try figure out their techniques for songwriting. One example is Lyle Lovett’s song “Bear.” Throughout the song, he only used one musical part throughout the song. He changes the melody with the vocals, not the instruments. There doesn’t seen to be any real chorus, even though two different set of verses are repeated. The song works because of the hook, “bear” and Lyle’s unique voice.

2. Use of silence – The producer made a number of comments about purposely leaving periods with no dialogue. This lack of dialogue really brings one’s attention to key points and is very effective. In songwriting, using a pause, can be really effective.

3. Starting but not really sure where it will end up – I heard a number of comments about starting a scene, without knowing where it would end up. As it evolved the way became clear. I do this all the time in songwriting.

There’s a lot to learn from other artists in different medium’s. Just listen and apply it to your own craft.