I’m also getting mentored/coached by two great people — Tom Hess is a music career mentor and his program is an amazing opportunity to equip yourself for success as a musician.
And I’m working with a business coach Tom Volkar to take my music business into a higher gear.
Now, I have to admit, I am a pretty independent person. I can do A LOT on my own. But at the same time, there’s only so much I can do — and I don’t know what I don’t know.
If you’re looking for an advise, you need to get it from people who are doing exactly what you want to be doing, and nowhere else. Many people have “helpful” advises — but sadly, only those who actually do it have real value. Connecting to such people is really the quickest way to get there yourself.
is the best advise I’ve read so far for any aspiring musicians. It is directed toward new students of the Berklee School of Music, but it’s really applicable to just about any musicians or arts-oriented people.
For the last 3 weeks, I’ve made myself sit down at night and work on songwriting. Thanks to my MacBook and its built-in camera/mic, I can just focus on writing and not remembering — I’m capturing everything as I go, and I don’t have to worry about what the heck was the chord I played. (A real issue with my songs)
So far, I got 3 songs to “record-ready” status, meaning, it has the structures and lyrics down mostly. These things change as I record them, but they are good and settled enough to start recording. Plus, I have over a dozen snippets — riffs, melodies and chord progressions — that I’m really excited about. (more…)
I was deeply saddened to hear that Leroi Moore, the saxophonist of Dave Matthews Band passed away on August 19, 2008.
I don’t consider myself a huge fan of DMB — at least not any more. That said, two early albums, Under the Table and Dreaming and Crash, are among my all-time favorite albums. And I have seen them in concert a couple of times. Unfortunately they lost me after that, but Dave Matthew’s acoustic guitar antics and the unique sound of DMB left big impressions on me.
I must admit that I am not a big fan of saxophones, particularly in rock music. I can’t tell you exactly why, but I grimace most of the time when they come on, and at best tolerate them — sax on some of Pink Floyd’s tunes are OK — with two notable exceptions: DMB and Morphine. Of the two, I discovered DMB earlier, and Leroi totally changed my opinion on what sax can do in rock music. Not just in improvised solos, but to me his major contributions are in the areas of riffs and textures — particularly, I loved his bari sax stuff on Crash. I can see the low bari punch extending into heavy metal arena — one of the experiments I’d like to try in my music.
Though I am not into DMB’s more recent material, I’ve always admired them for their band chemistry and the way they conducted business — they and U2 remain role models for me in that regard.
Rest in peace Leroi — I’ll look you up on the Other Side. I hope we can jam.
I’m half way through reading a book called “Song Man” by Will Hodgkinson. This is a sequel to a book called “Guitar Man” by I haven’t read the first novel.
It’s Will’s own chronicle of his journey to discover the secret of songwriting, and in the course of his exploration, he uses his position as journalist to go talk to a host of British luminaries, from Keith Richards to Ray Davies. I’m only half way, but so far it’s been very readable and enjoyable.
Having started writing songs at age 18, I forget what it’s like to marvel at other people’s songs and wonder “how does anyone do that?” I say that about someone’s singing or playing, but not often with writing. I don’t mean to sound cocky, but most of the times when I hear a good song, what I say to myself is “oh yeah, I can do that.” There have been few times in my popular music journey where I went “wow — there’s no way I can write that in a million years.” The most recent was The Mars Volta. Classical music is a different story — I don’t listen to Beethoven’s Fifth and think I can write something as good. But with pop music, I very seldom felt that the heights of those considered the best were a plateau out of my reach. Whether anyone agrees with me is a different story, but that particular belief is one of the major decisions why I haven’t stopped pursuing music.
That’s not to say that I don’t write stuff that are not fit for public consumption. I write plenty of banal, generic, awful music. But so did Lennon-McCartney. We are judged by the number and consistency of our best material — they have the power to make people forget all the fillers we put out in between. The trouble with songs, though, is that the strength of writing cannot be understood unless performance and production (if recorded) do it justice. Unlike film scripts which are still gripping read even if it’s simply read in that format, a song cannot reveal its full girth until the actors and the cameramen do at least a competent enough job. That’s the area where I’m still slowly developing, though with Aries9’s first album I felt that I’ve reached a point where my own skills in those areas have finally reached a competent level.
Of course, I’m aware that if writing is my primary muse, I could have found other people to perform my songs. The thought wasn’t lost on my mind, but there are problems with that plan. The majority of my songs fall in genres where artists traditionally write their own material, instead of using songwriters to supply songs. Where that is true is primarily Nashville-based industry of country and related genres, and I am simply not a country songwriter. The other problem is that the primary reason anyone would outsource songwriting is to produce hits. While I think some of my songs are fully deserving of becoming hits on radio, my primary muse of songwriting has always been that of establishing unique style. Like Radiohead or Tori Amos, my material builds an overall impression from a collection, and picking any single song to give it to someone as an ingredient in their piece-meal effort has never appealed to me.
The bottom line is that I’ve never been all that interested in giving my songs to others. It’d be different if I’d written the song with the intention to suit someone else’s needs. I can do that but it has to be for a specific person commissioning me to write a song for him/her. Otherwise, I would rather try to figure out how to make my life work with my own quarky set of songs to satisfy my own muse than try to play the game of the industry by supplying songs that are designed to meet their demands. My art is my business, sure, but so far I’ve chosen not to sell my writing itself, but to sell what I’ve written.
I’m in this business because I enjoy creating. Last night I was up until 1am writing a song. Whether I make money or become famous is, beside the point. I’m already doing what I love to do, and nothing can take that away from me.
Well, I’m making diligent progress on my big business vision. Here are some stuff I’m working on:
Have you checked out my “life” blog, OurBestVersion.com? Now in the 4th month of existence, I’m refining more and more of its branding and focus. Right now it’s branded as “Big Picture of Healing and Growth.”
I’m planning to start a music review site. The couple of reviews I posted on U2 and Toad the Wet Sprocket were practice and micro-test — to see if I enjoy doing it. I do! I love to tell the world about the music I love.
And thirdly, I’ll start a site about songwriting, arranging and recording, though with some emphasis on the first two. There are plenty of resources out there for recording and engineering, but not as much for songwriting and arranging — just as, if not more, important as engineering. I feel that that’s my forte and I’m going to share my tips and thoughts on how to do them well.
And finally — writing songs! I’m writing furiously, and it’s a lot of fun. Under my vision, I’m going to have an outlet for every kind of music I write — from heavy metal to children’s songs. I feel like I’ve finally given myself permission to fully unleash myself. I am many things, but I am a songwriter at heart. It’s too bad the word “songwriter” tends to refer to a specific genre of music and industry — as I don’t fit that mold. I’m a different kind, and I’m looking forward to the day when I share everything I do with the world. And of course, that includes more Aries9!
I’m not sure how I would go about teaching someone to write a killer melody.
I just did a quick search on the topic of songwriting on Amazon’s book section. For a craft that’s been done so unversally, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of how-to books. There are some, of course. I’ve never read them myself. I studied theory, but that’s not songwriting.
Arranging can be taught. Production and engineering can be taught. Performance can be taught — you can never teach me to sing like Freddie Mercury, but I can learn to use what voice I do have.
I guess songwriting is similar to that last point. We can’t determine how ‘good’ our talent is. But we can learn to use what we have, better.
It’s like we’re each born with some kind of drawing utensil. Some of us got brushes, others pencils, or ball-end pens. Pastels or chalks. Some draw like butter. Others are crooked, ink spills, don’t work reliably. But we can learn to use what we have. And sometimes, the unreliable one just move in a way and create lines that you just can’t make except by happy accident, caused by the unique quarkiness of your tool. Then you learn to use that particular trait of your tool. You may not be able to draw many different kinds of drawings, but you begin to develop a craft for one thing you do really well.
Ah, I’m liking that metaphor. It really seems to work, in describing songwriting.
Now, what the mass considers “good,” we don’t have control over. We can make observations on what the mass considers “good” and make our God-given tool try to work in a similar way. But ultimately, how close or similar you get to the “good” kind, depends greatly on the capabilities of your tool. Plus, the mass’ taste is very volatile, unpredictable, and changes often. Even when you’re drawing something that is definitely NOT “good” according to the mass at one time, can all the sudden be the next best thing since Elvis left the building.
But that is extremely unlikely to happen if you don’t learn how to use what you’re given well. If you’re not using it well, it means your craft is underdeveloped. That really can’t be good, in anybody’s eyes, including the person who wrote it. If you develop your craft to a point where you’re doing what you can do fairly well , then you have a chance of getting the mass to accept your craft, too.
So that’s our task, as a craftman/woman. To develop what we have fully. To be able to use it.
And one of the key ways to measure it, is to see how you feel about your own craft.
If you have some serious self-esteem issues, it’s possible that you become too self-critical and not see the value of what you have. But otherwise, you are good if you think you are. Even if the 99.99% of the population disagrees, the 0.01% still can add up to be tends of thousands of people. Your job simply gets narrowed down to finding them.
To get back to the original question, I think developing your own craft can be taught — well, maybe “taught” isn’t the right word. The process can be mentored, guided, coached — though it’s hard to teach someone “how” as what each person is trying to accomplish and how their tool works are different. But I think there is something universal about developing your craft.
Are your songs as good as the Beatles? Led Zeppelin? Elvis Costello? Townes Van Zandt? John Hiatt?
No, I’m not asking the opinions of your mom/girlfriend/boyfriend/friends/record label.
I’m asking you. Alone.
Even the best songwriters can’t write hits all the time. We all have garbage bags full of songs and ideas that aren’t good enough. Don’t judge yourself on that. But think of how often you come up with songs that you think are at least good enough for public consumption.
Do you think you are as good as the best in your genre? Are any of your songs, ever?
You don’t need to prove anything. I’m not going to ask you to put up your best songs to see if what you’re saying is true.
So be honest with me. How good of a songwriter are you? Let me know by commenting below.