Ideas

Songs that write themselves.

In all my years of songwriting (which are many) and listening to other songwriters I have discovered a great song can write itself. Let me explain…

I have written a lot of songs and write more often as I get older. I would never presume to have written great songs but I have noticed that the songs that catch people’s attention or move them are the ones that I don’t really remember writing. It’s like they kind of wrote themselves. I am not in any way religious but I feel that my subconscious is doing the work for me. It’s like I finish a song and then think ‘how the heck did that happen’. I have a song for the Relay for Life, which gets a lot of attention and when people ask me about the lyrics, I really have no idea how they came to be. And I’m not a flake (or on drugs)… honest!

There is the songwriting school of thought that says that a great song takes many hours of writing, re-writing, altering and re-writing some more. But after watching an interview with Paul MacCartney talking about waking up one morning and having ‘Yesterday’ in his head and being convinced that it was an existing song, I came to conclusion that great songs happen while writing other songs. ‘Yesterday’ has got to be one of the greatest songs ever written.

So my goal of writing and recording a song a week (which I am now in week 18) has forced me to write lots. I try to be a few weeks ahead to allow for illness and vacation and have found that my best songs happen out of nowhere while trying to write other songs. I am not averse to hard work, in fact I love it, I just believe that if I write enough songs then a few of them will be good and maybe one day I will have a great one!

In conclusion, rather than spend a month writing and shaping one song, I would rather write twenty songs and get one good one because I learn from every one that I write, especially the bad ones!

How do you write songs?

Are you making new fans?

I spent this last weekend taking in all the great music at Vancouver Island Musicfest. It was cool to see how many bands, some very famous and others on their way up, handled their audiences and the backstage crew.

I had the privilege of being both an audience member and  also an MC for the Saturday mainstage (which was SO cool, by the way!)

Without fans, the bands that played would not be where they are. Without the crew they would not sound as good as they do. Obviously.

So when I am told that I can’t take a photo of a famous performer while they are on stage, from the side of the stage, I have to wonder, is this performer thinking about making new fans? I spent the festival taking photos and tweeting about the bands that I liked and had I been able to take a photo I would have tweeted something nice along with the #vimf and my followers would have thought ‘cool’ and maybe RTed.

But I didn’t tweet and more importantly, others tweeted negative things. No new fans made here.

Then the next band came on. I noticed that they had been hanging around the festival all weekend (not just shipped in and out of the stage covertly). They had made friends at the festival, they thanked the crew and volunteers numerous time while onstage and brought members from other bands on stage to play with them. They were not precious.

So I tweeted! And within 12 hours they were now following my tweets. So I will tweet some more and now they have a new fan (and probably thousands more, judging by the reaction to their show)… and it helps that as a band they were incredible!

The band is Enter the Haggis and now I am blogging about them too.

So the other performer may have been famous, once upon a time, but I don’t think any new fans were made this weekend.

Enter the Haggis… You Rock!

Pick a card… any card!

I was getting ready to go play a gig last night and was trying to put a set list together from my cue cards and I realised that I don’t really care what order I play my songs or which songs I sing.

So I had the idea that I would let the audience chose the cards for me.

It turned out to be a great idea because I didn’t know what I was playing next, so it kept it fresh and the audience seemed to enjoy being a part of the show.

I don’t really enjoy gigs where the audience listens quietly. I prefer a bit of heckling and interaction (a hangover from my comedy days I presume). So this was the perfect way to add spark and participation to my gig. It was a really fun show.

Try it and let me know how it works for you.

How do you grade yourself?

I have been spending some time on broadjam.com and finding out some interesting things about my own music.

Broadjam isn’t just a site to pitch music and enter contests, it is a site where peers can review each other’s music as well.

So I dug in a started reviewing some music (you have to review others to get your own music reviewed). You have to grade things like arrangement, vocals, lyrics from 1 – 5 and then substantiate your marks with positive and constructive comments.

When you start to pick apart other artist’s music it makes you look at your own music. One of the main constructive comments I have given is that a lot of the music needs more dynamic variety and, in giving this advice, I had to step back and look at my own music in the same way.

So I have started reviewing my own music in the same way. Not a comfortable thing to do but, I think, a necessity.

Know Your Limits!

We all have limitations, especially when it comes to home recording, but rather than fight them, I have chosen to embrace them. It’s like the bottle of wine theory…

You have to choose a bottle of wine. If you go to the corner store and they only have three to chose from and the wine is ok then you will feel happy with your choice. However, if you go to the large store and they have 50 to chose from and the wine is ok, chances are that you will berate yourself for not choosing a better one.

Long story short, the more choices you have, the less satisfied you are with your choice.

Back in the recording studio/bedroom. I know my equipment pretty well but I don’t have racks of stuff and a range of mics. I have learned how to be creative with what I know and what I own (a mac with Logic Express, a Mackie and 2 decent mics) and it seems that my limitations have gotten me to my end product in a timely manner with few frustrations. I have a found a vocal sound that I like and I learn something new everyday about production and arranging. The learning curve on this stuff is huge and I’m enjoying the ride.

It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it.

Lots of us make music…and I mean LOTS! So how do you get yourself noticed amongst the sea of musicians?

I wish had the answer.

I post my music wherever I can find places to post music. I sign up to most social networking things etc. etc… BUT…

The most valuable things I have learned is to do it all with humility and grace. Be grateful every time someone features or comments on your music. Take an interest in what other artists around you are doing, especially those in the same position as you.

You can’t fake this. You need to find a way to genuinely feel it or you will spend your days feeling bitter about why others are getting further. And if you do see others getting ahead then see it as inspiration rather than one less slot for yourself. There are always less slots than musicians.

If you can’t make millions from music then you had better enjoy what you do… or else what is the point?

I LOVE what I do and hopefully one day it will pay the bills too!

I write the songs…

I do… but they don’t make the whole world sing. I do sometimes write of love and of special things… enough!

I used to write about events in my life but got tired of my songs being like an open diary page (hand on head in dramatic pose)… so I stopped.

These days my songs start with a phrase (whatever comes to me) sung around a chord progression and I work from there. Most are happy (an indication of my mental state, I am hoping) and quite jolly.

When you force yourself to write a song a week you have to write fast and this can lead to some interesting lyrics. I sometimes write stuff that I didn’t even know I was thinking and I don’t know what the song is about until I am finished. I am hoping that there is nothing too dark in my subconscious!

Anyway, I am writing this because I should be writing the songs… so back to it!

Valuable Lesson #1

When I first joined twitter I was unsure of what use it would have and then I read a day changing bit of info (which I think came from artistshouse, who are a must to follow if you are an independent musician):

“Be interesting and interested”

I had to ask myself… ‘am I either’….hmm, interesting question. So I started with the ‘interested’ part.

As an artist it is sometimes easy to get stuck up one’s own bum, but once you pull your head out and look around for interesting things it’s amazing what you find and, by becoming interested, I found that I had become interesting (if RTs and #followfridays are any indication).

So once I had become interested (and met some interesting people along the way) I felt much more comfortable about putting my interesting stuff out there.

Interesting…

Seriously…

Here’s the dilemma. I make music and I want people to hear my music. To get my music out there onto SO many sites takes up a serious amount of staring at a screen time. What I really want to be doing is writing and recording the music (which is why I put out a song a week…but more about that another time) but I am spending much time uploading and making my way through all of these sites.

What do you do when your making music time is getting eaten into by your getting your music out there time? No really…anyone?