Songwriting From The Audience’s Point Of View

I was remembering the old days when I was in a serious rock band, before marriage, kids and a fulltime job. It was serious to us at the time at least. We were young and dedicated. It was common for our rehearsals to last 7 or 8 hours, with the typical pizza break half way through of course. There was something so fluid about the songwriting process at that time for me. When I had a song idea, I would simply ask my drummer, rhythm guitarist and bassist to play what I heard in my head. We would write the song then and there on the spot. As each idea for the song popped up in my head, the band was right there to immediately play it and let me hear it in real time. I could make the changes on the fly and hone each song in on what I wanted. Songwriting was a pretty easy thing for me when I had ability to hear what was in my head become reality so quickly.

Fast forward 9 years and things aren’t quite as easy for me. After the events of the typical day, I find myself sitting at my workstation scratching my head, pondering where I should take the song next. Every song is different. Every song has a unique way of coming into existence, however with every song I usually sit back in my chair and do one thing that helps me focus and be a little more creative.

When I get an idea in my head and begin to put everything together into one cohesive song, I like to picture the song being played live in front of a large crowd. I actually imagine myself in the audience and try to hear it in my head coming out of the speakers. I imagine the wall of sound, the energy, the emotions I feel. This always seems to help me produce a song that’s less predictable. If I feel bored, or find myself(in the audience remember) predicting where the song goes, I try to change it up and surprise the audience. Remember, if your own song bores you, there’s a good chance it will bore most people. Take that as a warning and go a different direction. Give this a try next time you feel stuck or bored with an arrangement.

Have a great week people! Cheers!

 

 

 

 

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Unconventionality… Rock It!

Hey everyone! Back from a 2 week hiatus and ready to roll! Getting more and more accomplished in my home studio here in Houston and soon will be dropping videos into my arsenal of goodies for you. I’ve got a lot of things planned but life is a roller coaster and my hands are in the air. I always say “Have a plan, but be willing to roll with the punches and make changes when necessary”.

As I have been rolling with the lastest changes in my life I have been reassessing my motives for writing music. I’m trying to get back to writing for the way it makes me feel, instead of how my songs might make someone else feel. Yes, I hope that my music will have an impact on somebody, but as I have tried to write songs directly for that purpose I have found myself in a slump. I haven’t written as much lately. While trying to get back to my roots, I’ve been forced to do things a bit of the unconventional way in my studio and it begs the question: “How far are you willing to go to finish a project?”. I’ve put several things on hold over the last 6 months in the hopes of upgrading my interface and really my whole setup here. No doubt I am limited in what I can do at the moment, but I guess I would rather finish some of these songs and projects than sit around and think about how they will sound eventually. In the long run I am satisfied by the final products and my clients have been satisfied thus far as well. I guess that is the ultimate test. When life gets out of the way and I AM able to upgrade, things will only be THAT much better.

I’d like to hear from you. What kind of “unconventional” methods have you been forced to use to finish a project? What kind of unusual methods? What’s the weirdest studio experience you’ve encountered? Drop a line in the comments. Cheers!

 

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Put Yourself In The Listener’s Seat

Out Of The “Box”

I’ve said before that there are no rules in songwriting or the music production process. General guidelines? Sure, but there have been many hit songs that came from the strangest places, the strangest inspirations and were never expected to be hits. Keeping that in mind when you write music can keep you out of the “box” and take your music to places you might not otherwise explore. Don’t be afraid to try something unorthodox or unusual.

Boring?

When you listen to a song for the first time, you will most likely enjoy it and keep listening if you aren’t bored. That may be a pretty obvious observation but I think a lot of us write music sometimes without keeping that in mind. Quite honestly, if my own song is boring me, I STOP and look for a place for an ear break, tempo change, time signature change or anything that will keep a listener engaged and eagerly anticipating the next segment in the song.

To Solo Or Not

A trademark of an amateur song is a guitar solo that is out of place, not in the correct scale, or simply takes away from the overall feel of the song. As a guitarist myself I usally try to implement a solo in my songs. However, I will only include a solo if it…

  • builds upon and adds to the song as a whole
  • fits the style and sound I am shooting for
  • creates an interesting and intriguing ear break from the basic song structure
  • the song feels empty or lacking without one

When I write a solo for a song, I do just that. I write the solo FOR THE SONG. I think about what genre the particular song might fit into and consider the key and chord progressions, then write a solo that will fit into that song. Jumping right into scale runs after the second chorus as a default will usually sound off at best.

Not everyone is a Berkeley educated musician with the golden knowledge of theory at their fingertips. I myself am a mostly self taught guitarist and musician. However if you want to write songs that will captivate your audience you might want to study up or get some lessons in soloing over chord progressions. This will take your solos to the next level. Scales are a great necessity, but learning how and when to use which scale is a whole other ball game. If you are in G major you more than likely won’t want to solo in G minor pentatonic. There are videos all over the web on how to harmonize scales and solo over progressions. I also recommend learning the “modes” of the major scale.

This post wasn’t meant to be a guitar lesson so I’ll cut it off here. Keeping these things in mind will help you to stay creative, and puting yourself in the listener’s seat will help you write relative songs that people will enjoy. I will have video lessons and tutorials in the near future so stay tuned for a more in depth look at some of these topics. Hope it helps some of you. Cheers!

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Does Your Ego Get In The Way Of Your Abilities?

Nobody enjoys being around an arrogant person, and unfortunately there are many in the music industry. Nothing strokes the ego quite like a Grammy award or hit album. That’s why I find it funny that there are so many egotistical folks in the ammature arena. They don’t have half the resume that a successful musician does, yet they strut around like they are God’s gift to the music industry. Don’t get me wrong, most of the professional figures in music are probably as nice as the next guy and have better things to do than brag about themselves all day, but I think there are many promising acts that will never move up to the next rung in the business. Their attitude turns away those that would otherwise love to work with them.

I wanted to share a personal experience I had with someone that was too “good” for their own good. This person was the lead singer of one of the first bands I played in. He was much older than everyone else in the group. To be specific, we were all in our latter years of high school and he was 28. We considered ourselves lucky at first because although we were talented, he was a down right amazing vocalist and songwriter. He also knew much more about audio production and live performance than we did at the time. We should have known there was a reason someone like this guy would want to play with a bunch of kids. We soon realized that despite his talent, the task of working with him would be no easy one. It was a constant fight and battle when it came to rehearsal habits, the songwriting process, and just working with him in general. He always acted like he knew best and our opinions didn’t mean anything. He literally would belittle us at times. He had played in multiple groups over the years and one or two of them had been semi professional. Believe me, he let us know it all the time. His most common saying was “This ain’t my first rodeo!”.  In less than 6 months time, we made the decision to boot him out, and I became lead singer. All of the sudden, our rehearsals were fun again. They actually lasted longer, and much more was accomplished. We all kinda felt bad for the guy because he had so much raw talent. We all knew that he could be so much more if had a different attitude and if he humbled himself.

I ask you to take a good look at your own attitude and consider how you might appear to others in your profession. Would YOU want to work with you? I guarantee that most professionals would rather work with somebody who is easy to get along with and listens, than somebody that is a music guru but a pain in the a**. In a professional situation you need to know your stuff, but as a generality a little charisma and a humble attitude can get you pretty darn far. Regardless of skill level. 

Cheers!

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Why You Should Be Using A Midi Controller

Lately I’ve been talking a lot about songwriting and approaching things from new perspectives, with the intent of opening up and expanding your creativity. I must admit that one tool in my studio that truly opened the door to thousands of possibilities is the midi keyboard controller. If you aren’t aware of or familiar with midi controllers and virtual instruments you are missing out on some seriously cool stuff. Not to mention the many uses a conroller has for workflow improvement. The device itself produces no sound whatsoever. It merely controls and/or activates the sounds within a program in your DAW. I am a Pro Tools user and Pro Tools 8 happens to come stock with XPand 2. I’m fairly certain that most DAWs come stock with some type of virtual instrument, if not several. Dig a little and you will probably find some really cool stuff you didn’t know you had.

XPand has been an invaluable tool in my songwriting/music producing ventures. From organs, pianos, strings and effects, to drum kits, loops and many other types of samples. Not only does this program offer these sounds, they sound quite good. I used to approach songwriting with a guitar and notebook and while that still remains a common method for me, my midi keyboard and the stock virtual instruments that came with my DAW have proven to be more useful that I ever had imagined. I have even began writing music in genres I never knew I had the potential for. If you are not using this tool in your studio you are hindering yourself. You can find controllers fairly cheap at your local music store. I am using the M Audio Oxygen 49 and it’s a great keyboard for $150, but there are even a few under a hundred bucks. Like many others, the Oxygen 49 has a bank of faders, knobs and buttons that can be programmed to operate practically any function within your DAW. There’s really no limit to what you can do with these things.

What are some of the ways you all are using a midi controller for in your studios? And for the newbies, what programs come stock with the other DAWs? Drop some comments below. I’d love to hear what you guys got going on. Cheers!

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Stuck In A Rut? Change It Up!

The inspiration for today’s post comes to you curtesy of my good friend Freddy. We were discussing a new song that he sent me and the process he used to write it. He wanted to approach songwriting from a different angle and get out of the same chord structure he always finds himself playing. Though he’s not necessarilly a bassist, he picked up a bass and mapped out a bass line at the very beginning before he even had a melody in mind.  He found it to be a great way to open up his creative possibilities and the song is definitely different from anything he and I have collaborated on before. I’m liking it a lot! You can check out his site HERE and listen to some stuff he’s working on.

For those of you who are fellow guitarists, I am sure many of you will relate to this. When you pick up your guitar with the intent of writing something new, do you find yourself playing the same chord progressions, licks and phrases over and again? I know I do. Maybe it’s habit, or a subconscious thing we do out of comfort on the fret board… heck I don’t know. I just know I definitely get frustrated with this very issue. I especially deal with this in my soloing. I have to consciously keep myself from playing the same lick and note runs or I start repeating. It definitely helps to approach things from a foreign perspective from time to time. Sometimes I will sit down at the keys to work up new melodies or find new chords to play with. I recently acquired a bass so that will be making its way into my songwriting process from now on. Don’t be afraid to be unconventional. If you haven’t watched the video I posted of Gotye writing and recording his newest album, click THIS. He uses some of the most random and unusual ideas for turning sounds into music. There are no rules in writing music. Inspiration can come from a billion different places, and the most unique songs usually come from unexpected sources.

So what kind of processes do you use to find new inspiration? I want to hear from you guys. I am always looking for creative ideas to change things up in my studio. Cheers!

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