Monday, October 23, 2006

Willy Porter – In The Groove

We saw Willy Porter in concert on Friday. As a student of groove, I was impressed. My ankle hurt the next morning from keeping time with him.

If you haven’t seen Willy, he’s an amazing solo guitarist, songwriter, and high energy performer. If you get a chance see him in concert. He moves around the neck of the guitar, with incredible rifts, all the while keeping in perfect time. I paid close attention to how he used his whole body to maintain the groove. When he was doing complex guitar parts, he maintained the rhythm by moving his head or tapping his foot. He wasn’t reliant on his right hand to maintain the rhythm.

A great part of his show was his on the spot songwriting. At one point a drunk told him he’s number two because he was still lusting after warm-up act, Angie Stevens. Willy on the spot created a song about being number two. Later in the show, he asked the audience to be co-writers and wrote a song with phrases provide by the audience. Each time, he set the groove first and then added the lyrics. Note to songwriters – with the strong rhythm, the lyrics can just flow.

The only constructive comment I could make about his show was that he tended to fall into one groove throughout the show, it seemed repetitive. My take away point here is to make sure to vary the rhythms throughout the set.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Pump up the intensity on slow/quiet songs

Yesterday, Ben Senterfit and I had a discussion regarding improving my groove. We started out by talking about that inner drummer essential in keeping time. In essense, implanting a beat in your head throughout a song. We worked on internalizing the beat by tapping the foot or moving the whole body. What I noticed was that I had focused on keeping the beat in my right hand, not my body. When I would do funky chord changes or melody lines, the beat would disappear and I would lose time.

We then started talking about intensity. What I noticed was that for my quieter/slower songs I had more of a struggle keeping time. My tendency was to get lazy on these songs. Ben suggested that I need to play quiet songs with as much or more intensity than loud songs. This doesn't mean hitting the strings harder, it means with more focus and intent. In otherwords, put the same level of effort and energy behind the slow songs.

We transferred the same concept to vocals. Quiet songs need to be sung with as much support as loud songs. In other words, the diaphram effort and breathing stays the same, only you regulate the volume.

What this means is that I need to work as hard on slow/quiet songs as fast/loud songs. Bummer!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Song feedback

At our songwriters group, I received feedback on the song, When the Talking Stops. The comment is a great example of how feedback can really help.

The chorus goes,

We pray to the same god
Though he has a different name
He's just the same

Julie suggested I change the use of "he" in referring to god. It's something I wouldn't have thought of, but a woman would pick up on. This little change can have a big impact in how women view this song.

I've given this same type feedback on other songs. For example, in one review, thunder and lightening was described as sounding like war. Since the song wasn't about war, and the current strong feelings about war, I suggested deleting the war reference.

The take away message here, as a songwriter you need to be aware of your audience and what may trigger them. Getting feedback from a diverse group can help you improve the universality of your songs.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Oct. songwriting group

Our songwriting group met last night. At the end of the session, I left with the general wow factor, how much this group keeps improving. The same thing that's exciting is also a little depressing, there's so many good songwriters!

A few things that became apparent last night:

1) The groove - Since I'm looking for this, I noticed a big difference between the groove in our songwriting session and the open stage the night before. The groove was so much better in our songwriting group. My ankle is a little tried from all the toe tapping I did.

2) Writing for your audience - A few in our group play at loud bars and therefore their music is more in your face (i.e. faster, louder, less dense lyrics and hook repeated more...). Most of my songs wouldn't work in a loud bar.

3) Song length - After my performance class, I'm very conscious of song length and keep bringing this up with others in the group. I typically don't get a good response, but hopefully I'm planting a seed. Songwriters (myself included) sing and play music that we love. We always want to give so much more. It's like having a teacher that wants you to learn everything that they know in one day. The best teacher is the one that gives you only what you can absorb. Less is more!

4) Music vs. lyrics - As time goes on our group is commenting more on the music. In the past lyrics got 90% of the attention. This time around it was about 50:50 or maybe even 60% music. In light of our discussions of loud bars where people really don't hear the words this seems appropriate.

5) Listener perspective - Last night we had a non-musician attend our group. He doesn't write songs or play anything but the radio, yet his insights were as valuable as any in the room.

My goal for next month is to focus on the groove and write a song appropriate for a loud bar.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Open stage - part two

We played at Swallow Hill's open stage last night. I backed up Julie on a song and then my daughter Alyse got to sing Going to the River. It was pretty cool, this 8 year old, singing during the open stage. She has no fear, her biggest problem was that we didn't use instruments like the other performers. She has learned that singing acapella is really cool. We still have to work on staying on beat, but we are getting better with time.

When we got home Julie and I discussed the performers. We immediately agreed that there were two artists that stood above the crowd. Our next agreement was that their songs were way too long. A note to all performers, take notice of the length of your song. Keep songs in the 3 to 4 minute range. Anything longer and you better have a lot of variety in what you play. This is especially true for solo folk performers.

Another thing that really showed the differences between performers was keeping time. My foot is the groove meter. If someone is doing a good job keeping time, my foot can't help but move with them. Last night it only moved on a few rare occasions. Note to self: get that metronome out again.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Keeping it simple for an open stage

I played at a songwriters night last Thursday. I tried a few different things, that worked and others that didn't. Luckily it was a small friendly crowd so no tomatoes were thrown.

First off, I tried using two different guitars, one with a pick-up and the other without. Not only was the change distracting, I wasn't able to hear the one without a pick-up in the monitor. I guess it sounded fine to the audience, but it was really distracting on stage. Note to self, only one guitar unless I have a sound checkup front.

Second, I tried a two day old song. I also asked a friend to play lead on it, without hearing it. It didn't go over that well. Note to self, give a song more time before playing out and practice before playing it.

Third, there wasn't enough plugins on stage for my buddy to use his acoustic for the leads. He ended up using an electric that was on stage, which worked OK on one song, but not so well on the other. Note to self, leads are cool, but can be distracting if not prepared properly.

The big lesson I learned was to keep things simple during an open stage.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Vote for me

With another political season upon us, I've posted the song, "Vote for Me." The song is my interpretation of political advertising.

In political songwriting you have a variety of options. You can be very blatant in your support of an issue or candidate.. You make your point but run the risk of pissing off at minimum 50% of your listeners. You also have to be careful not to be too preachy in expressing your viewpoint. In Vote for Me, I chose to do a parody of campaign advertising which everyone can relate to whether they're from a red, blue, green or other state. I can't afford to lose any of my audience.

Songs launch immediately

Thanks for a tip from Lance on my website. I've updated all songs so they launch immediately upon clicking on them. No longer do you need to wait for the whole song to download.

I'm always looking for suggestions for improving my website. Don't hesitate to contact me with your suggestions.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Two songs for one

I took a trip in the high country last week. On my hike I met an interesting older man (another Jeff) who inspired the song, "Never Too Old To Play." On the drive home, I drove past the Bailey school where students were being brought during the hostage situation. That led to the song, "Shadow of the Mountain."

In previous postings, I talked about tapping into the creative spirit. The lesson from these two songs is that from living, comes the music.