Heart of the Song

 

I've been taking the time to do in-depth studies of traditional songwriting. Interestingly what I'm finding out about myself in the process is that a lot of my assumptions over the years have been backwards, and sometimes just plain wrong.

For one thing I've been writing lyrics first and going into a recording session trying to put music to the lyrics. While it could be argued that this isn't wrong it IS becoming increasingly clear that what can happen by doing it that way is that you are putting too many limitations on what the song may become, instead of letting the song happen.

Letting the song happen just means that you start with a musical idea (i.e. a melody, musical hook, etc.) and you let it grow from there, then you add lyrics to what the music sounds like.

But when you do get lyrical ideas by all means write them down because sometimes you write a piece of music and, "oh, look I just happen to have these lyrics that will fit perfectly!" 

Never be afraid to edit. Don't settle for an idea because it's "fair enough". Push the idea until it's molded into a form that coveys an idea while being poetically stated. Don't get married to ideas that could ultimately destroy your song. If you can't come up with ideas that tie all the concepts in a song together, then put the song on the shelf until it's ready, taking notes when you think of them. Some songs take years to happen, but when they finally do it's because it wasn't time before, but now it is.

Lastly, let other writers hear your progress. Iron sharpens iron. There's nothing more frustrating than laboring over a song, getting the recording just so, and then letting people hear it only to find that you didn't write a very strong song. Or sometimes you find out that it's just plain bad. 

Remember, you're only as good as the moment you're in. Once you do write a good song that people like, don't stop! Write another good one. Get feedback from as many people as you can. And above all, don't be afraid! Try and try again until you get it right.

 

Cutting the Fat

 

For a little more than a year my wife and I have been dieting and exercising like never before. We've lost a combined weight of 90lbs, and on average we've lost 4.5 inches off of our waists. It's resulted in us feeling better than ever and being able to do more with our kids. 

 

In a way I've put my website on a diet too. I started it several years ago, and actually in it's current form it's in it's fourth iteration. As a result it started to get rather overblown and for lack of a better word "fat". 

 

What I've been finding out, especially through the urging of friends in the industry, is that a lot of the things I thought were important as an artist are not. I had links to sites that I was only mildly interested in. I had photos of things that I saw on a gig abroad 7 years ago. I had quotes from people that had sent me emails. Stuff that you'd probably not want to see, yet there it was pulling you, the visitor, away from my music and away from the connection that I was hoping to make with you. 

 

Not anymore. I thought at first it would look bare, and that I'm not doing enough as an artist. Until I started thinking about it. I realized that it's a trap that most independent artists fall into. We all start thinking that if there's not a ton of stuff for people to "do" on our sites that people won't want to come back. In reality it's a simple fact that if your site is straightforward then people won't be confused and will be more likely to come back or sign up for your mailing list.

 

If people want something to "do" they're going over to FB or they'll play Angry Birds.

 

So to you the viewer/fan/customer/friend I promise to keep this website on a diet from now on and not to let it get bogged down with unimportant stuff.

 

Thank you for your continued support!

 

Fear and the art of flying

 
I have the privilege of having a home studio where I can close the door, write, and record my music and other people too. That being said, I have had to come to a place with myself where I actually limit myself in the amount of content that I record, focusing on content quality rather than quantity. I know a few artists that will record every single line they write, and post it every time they record something. Intrinsically there's nothing wrong with that. However, in the long run I worry, for myself anyway, that too much content can overwhelm what ever listeners you have coming to your site, or following your feeds on FB, Twitter, Etc. I'm not saying that if you are putting out special web only content that it's bad. I just wonder how much content the end user is willing to put up with. We are living in an amazing time where record labels are not really a consideration for being able to put out a record, however, we also live in a time where it's not uncommon for hundreds of records a week to be debuted. Who can keep up? I can't. So I think that you can better manage your quality of songwriting and recording by limiting the amount of content you release. Not only that, but when you really focus on one song, getting every word right, and making sure every note played is on purpose, then you have a better chance of making a meaningful connection with the end listener. And after all, that's what you are, or should be, trying to do with your art.
 

Thanksgiving 2010

 
About a year ago my mother gave Teresa and I her fine china. I have memories of this china from every thanksgiving and Christmas as far back as I can remember as a kid. As I was unpacking it and getting it ready for the festivities for today I was drawn to thinking about holidays of the past, friends and family long gone, and relationships that have ended for one reason or another, and I almost shed a tear. What's done is done and I am comforted in the thought that we will see those friends and family in a better place, in a better time, and all relationships will be reconciled one way or another. As we enter into this holiday season be encouraged to have your fill of love, drink in the affections of those closest to you, pray for those less fortunate, and finally be blessed in the love that God has given. May He keep you and yours in the palm of His hand. Happy Thanksgiving from Michael, Teresa, Madelynn, Catherine, Evelyn, and Devin!
 

25 Albums That Changed My Life

 
I recently played this little game over on Facebook. I was surprised by the things that came to my head first. Check out this list, then comment on this blog and tell me what 25 of your favorite records are.
 

The Prophets of Society

 
Musicians and songwriters have often been referred to as the prophets of society down through the centuries. Why? Because these kinds of artists have a keen eye for the things that are happening around them, and usually an innate ability to turn it into lyrics that resonate with the masses in some way. Modern musical examples of prophets range from Woody Guthrie, to John Lennon, and Bob Dylan. Some would say Bono, but I think he gets way too much credit, no offense. They all had a way of not only speaking cultural truth in song, but also saying what others really didn't want to say, or didn't have the courage to say. In this way they could be compared to the actual prophets of the Old Testament. People like Isaiah, Ezekial, Daniel, etc. They knew their own history, and could see where their people were about to repeat mistakes, and often they were rejected by the people, and exiled to a lonely life. I think we are missing the prophets of today in todays music. I can't think of one example among the new crop of artists that are even remotely related to John Lennon in terms of being big thinkers. Even in the Christian music industry where the prophetic should be welcome, I don't see a Bob Dylan. So, am I blind? Am I missing something? Or are we just not producing that kind of artist anymore?
 

The new artistic freedom

 
Hi all! I haven't blogged in a while so I thought I would throw some of my ponderings into the cyberwind. I have been doing some listening lately to the new music that's been coming out and I have to say that there is some good artistry out there. Musically I am really liking bands like The Gaslight Anthem (their new record is American Slang) and I really like David Grays record "Draw The Line". My favorite new record right now is Peter Gabriels "Scratch My Back". At first I didn't totally get it, but after listening to it repeatedly I am completely drawn in. My favorite track on the record is his cover of Paul Simons "Boy In The Bubble". I never really paid attention to the lyrics until now, and now I agree with Mr. Gabriels assessment the these are some of the best lyrics written in the last 25 years. I can't wait for the follow up record "I'll Scratch Yours". Given Gabriels track record for long production schedules there's no telling when we could see that one. Something else I've noticed about a lot of the new records coming out is that there are fewer records with close ups of the artists faces on the front cover, thank God! The Gaslight Anthems "American Slang", for example, features a cover and booklet with great pictures of NYC. Truly classy. Peter Gabriels "Scratch My Back" features a cover with a great picture of two blood cells, and at first glance it looks like a rose. The only exception out of the three records I mentioned is David Grays "Draw The Line". There is a photo of him on the front, but not a cheesy close-up of his face. I only mention the front covers because I grew to hate the cookie cutter that was the artists face on the CD covers of the albums that came out in the 90's and early 00's. I am so glad we are moving beyond this. There used to be so much good album art (ala Boston, Yes, even Xanadu with Olivia Newton John...) but the last couple of decades it seemed as though record companies were so afraid that you wouldn't know who you're listening to unless there was some big goofy pic on the front. Now, that being said I have been disappointed by some of these indie bands that put great paintings on their album covers only to be turned off by the music. I can think of a couple of examples like The Silverspun Pickups, Casting Crowns, and most of the hip-hop/rap/Lady Gaga style artists out recently. Now, why am I obsessing over album covers and new artists? Because I love music. I love to write it, play it, listen to it, record it, mangle it, and I remember a time when you could go to a record shop and flip through these amazing looking record covers and find some amazing stuff. So, are those days over? Or is the best yet to come?
 

SXSW '10

 
Well, as you can tell by the title of this most recent offering, it's South by Southwest or SXSW time again. I completely blew the deadline to get an act onto one of the stages, so I won't be performing this year. I am, however, in the thick of things as I work on 6th st here in Austin, TX right in the heart of where everything is happening. I have to say that I have noticed that this years lineup of industry people look pretty overly serious and beleaguered. Some are obviously just overly serious, hipster, and self righteous, and to each his own. The ones that frighten me, however, are the downcast, jaded, non-hip industry crowd that are serious for another reason. Of course that reason is because they are spending their last dollars to showcase their indie labels band(s). I've seen it time and time again. I sometimes sit and wonder what happened to the sheer joy that makes people get into music for their livelihood, and then of course I remember the current state of affairs of the industry. It is increasingly difficult for artists with bands, and bands for that matter, to make a living doing what they love. And that goes for the record exec as well. We live in a time when the label/artist is expected to put out a top dollar product only to be given away for free in a lot of cases. Name another industry where that happens. Aside from film. So perhaps the overly seriousness comes from the fact that they are laying out a ton of cash with no certainty of a return, and for some that means a cash outlay on a showcase and advertising at the expense of a car or house payment this month. For that I am frightened. Not because I am in that position, but because that could be me very easily. But perhaps 2010 is the year that things turn around for the industry and we have another boom like back in the late '80's and early '90's and maybe the amount of product given away free will turn into dollars that will fuel the industry and make real artists again. Thoughts?
 

Social networking and the working musician

 
I was thinking a couple of weeks ago, which I often do. It was an enriching experience. Anyway, my thoughts were about social networking and how it is affecting the music industry. We live in an unprecedented time when we are able to connect with friends and family literally all over the world. It's incredible to think that just 15 years ago the internet was a new concept to most people unless you worked for the government, where they've had the internet for a long long time, or at least a version of the internet. But now it's as common in the home as the telephone, which ironically is being phased out in most homes in favor of smartphones and internet service. Not to mention Skype and other VOIP services. The time of 2001: A Space Odyssey is here. This has brought about huge changes for the indie and unsigned musical artist. Mainly in that pretty much any artist can record and release an album of all original music, sometimes without ever setting foot in a traditional studio, and without the aid of a larger machine like a record company. Promoting the album, though, usually falls on the artists shoulders. which means that he is left alone to brave the digital frontier. That's where social networking can be a real asset. I can use myself as an example as just a few months back I completed and digitally released my own album. If I hadn't had accounts like facebook, twitter, myspace, etc., I wouldn't have had much of a release. In addition to my live shows, these networking websites have helped me have an average of around 6,500 hits per month on my official website. That may sound like a small number, but that number is without any additional promotion, and no radio airplay. This also brings with it some unique challenges such as: You as the artist are now the promoter, manager, record label president, website IT guy, etc. If you don't work hard to get people over to your site where they can hook up with your music, you might as well pack it in and do something else. There's never been a better time to be a musical artist, but there's never been a more frustrating time as well. There's no one way to do it right. The name of the game is getting your music in peoples hands. If you have any thoughts on this subject as an artist or a fan, I invite you to comment.
 

Welcome to the new blog!

 
I have been maintaining a blog at another location, but from here on out I will be blogging from here. I usually talk about subjects related to music, songwriting, the music biz, and artistry in music. I will occasionally cover other subjects, so dig in and enjoy!