Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Developing a story first and then the song.

This morning I was inspired and wrote the first draft of a new song. I've been in a songwriting drought for the past few months, mainly because I was preparing for a show, so it's exciting to be back in the flow. I'm also excited by the process.

For the past three days, I started writing morning pages again. I'm also back to making up a new melody each night before going to bed.

This morning I started writing about compassion, before I woke up fully. My thoughts went to a discussion from the night before. I remembered one specific example and decided to flesh out the characters in the story. When I got stuck, I asked myself a few questions,
- What did it feel like, where would I feel it?
- What did it smell like? What did it remind me of?
- What did it look like? What were the colors/ shapes?
- What did it taste like?
- What sounds would I hear?

I also asked myself, how else could I describe it (i.e. metaphors). I ended up with a four page story which I edited down to a one page short story. At that point I picked up my guitar and modified a melody I developed the night before, it just fit. After a few hours, done. Time to get some coffee.

I recorded the song right away because the melody was pretty dissident. I doubt I could have figured it out again if I didn't get it down.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Our gig in hindsight

We survived our show at the Listening Room last night. No tomatoes thrown, no-one left screaming -- actually we received a lot of great feedback, and most importantly we felt great.

In looking back at what worked and didn't work, the following worked really well:

1) Our set list.
- We started (first impression) and ended (lingering taste) on our strongest songs.
- The second song in the set was a joke song that I've been doing for over 20 years. It gave me a chance to relax as well as broke any tension with the audience.
- Of the 11 songs we did, Julie sang three. We interspersed these in the set. It added variety for the crowd and also gave me a much needed break.
- We had a ton of variety in our set and it seemed to keep people interested.

2) Practicing with a PA beforehand had huge benefits. We were both comfortable singing with mikes and hearing ourself through a monitor.

3) We gained energy from the audience. In the past, I lost energy by being nervous in front of the crowd. Last night, the crowd was like a shot of espresso.

4) We had fun and it showed. All the practice beforehand, let us forget about the music and just have fun.

5) Ability to recover from mistakes. On a few songs, I forgot the words and was able to add in an extra line or two of music to recover. Julie added an impromptu solo on one song until my brain came back from the ozone. I messed up the beat on a song, but just kept bluffing it. Most of the crowd didn't notice.

Things that didn't work that well or would do differently,

1) The songs we struggled with, were newer songs. While its exciting to play newer stuff, they don't have the automatic quality, so mistakes will happen on stage.

2) We used the cover songs early on. In the future, I would move one later in the set.

3) At the last minute in our preparation we thought about an encore. While we chose an old standby, we didn't practice it. My timing was way off. Next time, we'll prepare for an encore.

4) Prepare even earlier. I was the sick all week, so we lost the last week of practice. Next time, I'll remember Murphy's law, and plan for something to come up at the last moment.

All and all, we're really excited by how it turned out and can't wait for the next gig.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Getting ready to take the stage

My new column on Muse'sMuse just hit the web. In the article, Let the show begin! Getting ready to take the stage, I describe the steps Julie and I are taking to get ready for our gig next week at Cafe Cero (January 27, 8:00, Denver).

In the column I discuss 8 ways we are preparing including planning the set list to create variety, practicing with a PA, and preparing song introductions.

Check it out. If you have other suggestions or tips, let me know.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Got to hear it twice

At songwriter's group I'm constantly amazed at those who can hear a song once and understand what the artist is trying to say. For me, I need to hear the song multiple times and to study the lyrics sheet. The first time through, I usually feel the music and may get a general sense of what's going on, but rarely do I understand it. I'm like my daughter at an early age watching a movie for the 100th time or reading a book over an over, each time gaining more understanding.

In thinking about this I've had a few thoughts:
- I get the most first time through from songs that are simple both musically and lyrically.
- Its easier to understand a solo acoustic version, than with the full band. We had one person sing acapella and that was great!
- There's a balance between making people understand the song the first time and wanting to go back and hear it over an over. For example, a lot of jokes songs are great the first time. However, after about the 10th time, its time to move on.
- What makes you want to go back and study a song? I'm often drawn in by the melody and groove. Many times I love songs that I have no idea what they are about. It's like those two guys on the TV commercial singing "stuff the catbox." In some of songs, there's a few lines that catch my imagination and I want to learn more.
- Are we trying to entertain or inform? Set the mood or make a statement? My favorite example of a CD that sets the mood is by a friend KG Morris. While Ken is an excellent lyricist and interesting guitarist (alternative tunings and partial capos) I listen to his CD for the mood, which I describe as contentment. After listening to his CD, I feel like sitting back with a cup of coffee, put my feet up and know that everything is going to be OK.
- Is there a strong line that detracts from the song? A good example is war references. Because of the current sensitivity, one line can immediately start me thinking the song is about the war.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Another view on the songwriting process

I just posted on my web site a song by Rob Roper. In the "about" section Rob described his provided in the writing the song. One new idea that I gained was how Rob developed the melody while walking after he had already written the chords. I can see how separating the melody writing without the guitar in hand could really work.

Check it out in his own words.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Unlocking creativity

I listened to an excellent sermon on creativity at Mile Hi Church today given by the Rev. Barry Ebert. In addition to being a minister, Barry is also an excellent songwriter and we heard a few of his songs during the sermon. You can't ask for more at church.

I related his message to the creativity involved in songwriting. Some notes that I made were:

- "Everyone is creative and you create every day" - He used the example, if you ask 1st graders to put their hands up if they are an artist. Almost all do. If you ask the same question to 5th graders, a few will raise their hands. If you ask adults, on a rare occasion one will raise their hand. However, we are all artists in some way and are creative everything (dealing with kids, driving to work, getting dressed). You need to acknowledge and have faith that you are indeed creative.

- "The emotion of transformation is joy" - Bring joy into your life and things start to open up. Being joyful about yourself and the things you do, will open up your creativity.

- "Get yourself out of the way, opens the circuits" - You don't need to analyze, just believe that you are creative. Remove the doubts.

He also gave a quote that I'll remember before getting up on stage:

"It will be perfect when
Fear knocks on the door
Faith answers
There is no one home"

My take on this is that if you have faith that you are creative, a good musician, and a good performer then you will portray that to your audience. If you think otherwise, it will show.

I remember a comment from my first Song School, "you are a songwriter. You don't need to take a test or pass any criteria. Everyone is a songwriter."

Have faith, you are a songwriter!!!

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

January songwriters session

Our songwriting group had a number of new participants last night. Great, we can always use new blood. I just hope these folks continue to come back and it's not just another New Year's resolution...

A couple of concepts that I heard last night are:

- Write the same song three different ways, using different tempos (i.e. 3/4, 4/4, 6/8).

- Clustering - When searching for a different word, write a word, then in a circle around it, write all the different words you can think of.

- Write different versions of the same song for different audiences. For example, the G-rated version vs. the adult crowd.

- Not every line in the song needs words, add some oohs or ahs.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Tom Kimmel at Mile Hi

I just returned from listening to Tom Kimmel at Mile Hi Church. He did a 30 minute set and then came back for reprise at the end. It was very interesting going to hear a well known songwriter playing as the opening act at church. Overall I was very impressed his songwriting and clever lyrics.

My first reflection was how he set up his songs. He started fast with a full band behind him. He then played a solo acoustic song, followed by two poems, and then finger picked with the band quietly behind him. This was followed by the sermon. My overall impression was that the choice of his tunes and their order, set a path that lead to the sermon. By chance, I think not.

In the sermon, the minister, Barry talked about how one of Tom's song, Angel, moved him over five years ago. He was dealing with the death of a friend's child, when he heard Tom sing the song Angel at Swallow Hill. . He felt that Tom was singing directly to him and it was exactly what he needed to hear. Five years later, Barry was still choked up about that song. It was a great example of the power of a song, and the greatest compliment to a songwriter, to be able to comfort and move people. I hope one of my songs has that impact.

A final thought - Tom played the song Angel as his lead-in with the band. He also sang it solo acoustic as the reprise to the sermon. The solo acoustic version blew me away. Partially because of the sermon, but more for the ability to understand what he was saying. My take away point was that I was better able to appreciate his songwriting prowess on the acoustic version. Too much going on with a band to appreciate the lyrics.

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Listening Room

Julie and I will be playing the Listening Room at Cafe Cero, 1446 S. Broadway, Denver on January 27 at 8:00. We're not quite sure who we are opening for yet, but we've have time for an hour set.

To get ready is going to require a lot of work. I've got two songs that I need to finish and one or two covers that still need work. However, I work best under a deadline.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

How to make covers your own

Today, Ben Senterfit and I discussed covers and how to make them your own. In other words, how to have a fresh approach to a song that everyone knows. We were working on "Knocking on Heaven's Door".

Since the song is easily recognizable by the chords, there's lots of room to modify the melody and rhythm (i.e. phrasing). Ben suggested two approaches:

1) Get at least 4 different versions of the song (i.e. by different artists) and learn to sing each version. Each version should open up new phrasing and rhythm changes. For example, though originally done by Bob Dylan, there are a number of reggae versions of Knocking on Heavens Door.

2) Sing variations of a pentatonic scale over the song. In practicing, we started by playing the chords and singing a scale over the chord changes ( i.e. do, rae, me, fa, so, la te, do). Then we tried different patterns in the scale ( i.e. do, rae, so, do).

To develop my cover of this song, I'm going to:
- Get 4 or 5 distinctly different versions of the song from iTunes and learn to sing them in my car.
- Record the chords only and develop leads. Use the leads to identify some phrases.

Another thing that Ben pointed out was how I play the guitar. Typically, I play the chords at the same volume throughout the song. Ben suggested that I play quieter (while keeping the same rhythm) when singing. In between verses, play the guitar louder.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Songwriter opportunity

Rob Roper's song, "Wave the Flag and Give 'Em God," has been posted on Neil Young's Web site.

Neil Young has an interesting project called , "Living With War." On this section of his web site, he has an open submission of protest or topical songs. After a review, a link is provided to his web site. Right now there are over 1130 songs posted.

If you go there check out Rob's song, currently number 276.

Pretty cool to have your song linked to by a legend.

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