Challenge of digital songwriting

Oops I did it again – B.Spears

I could have just as easily called this confessions of a songwriter in 2020 or oh to be young in the nineties again but there you go.

I had this song about helping people with universal basic income (dont @ at me please, I think ubi could work, especially for our lot who have lost gigs, street performing, and some have even lost teaching gigs).

So, this…I’ll call it a song…was literally written and improvised in two takes after it “happened”. The germ of a song is that moment when you (or I, anyways) suddenly realize there might be something before me.

This song I titled “Give People a Chance”.

I hadn’t planned that Lennon connection…maybe it was playing a song like this on the black and whites…

Then after I recorded a phone video of me singing and playing it on my Yamaha keyboard, I loaded the second take into an app called Powerdirector. I had done editing a long time ago when I worked on my first film Bass Line so for me this app is a easy simple version of using something like Adobe Premier or Final Cut Pro.

Even with having a very simple idea (I used Canva for the final image) the process of that took about 45 minutes which is a sizable chunk of a morning’s practice routine. I don’t do this full time and I have from nine to about 1pm to practice keys, guitar, bass and drums.

But, I suppose you can absorb that. One easy rationalization is that being creative with music that you make is surely the point of what you are doing, especially if you start bringing those other instruments in. I play bass in a band, but my other instruments are all about making music at home.

So that should be perfect, right? I mean, that is what all the practice is for. It’s applying the craft.

Well, there is a problem and yet again I got excited and swept up in all that excitement.

It was way…way to soon to launch into the public consciousness.

Glen Hansard (Once, The Frames) said it in this absolutely amazing YouTube broadcast that you have got to watch…

click here !

…songs shouldn’t be put out there until they’re ready.

You’ve got to be able to let them grow and develop. The best songs resonate with you on a personal level. They are an organic thing that grows from the first moment you conceive them.

The challenge which I swear I am trying to push towards is not so easily falling victim to just launching it out for that immediate fix. We have this same, almost flipside problem with studying music with YouTube and Instagram lessons.

Scott Devine of Scott’s Bass Lessons has said this repeatedly, that it is so easy to bounce from YouTube video to YouTube video and think that you’re practicing. You’re not, you’re watching videos.

Even if you went to a traditional music lesson I wouldn’t call that practicing. Practicing involving YouTube would be to watch a video, get the information down, and then put the device aside and actually work on what you just learned. In a way it is an extension of how we all learned back in the day, playing along to music. Only thing is, we didn’t just stop playing and stare at the radio.

One of the coolest, coolest examples of switching to lo fi (not that they switched per se but…) songwriting has to be the story of two men who, along with there wives, lived in two cabins in the Stockholm Archipelago in Sweden.

They would go to one cabin where they would write for eight hours a day with just a guitar and a piano. They didnt record anything. They didnt even bring a pen. They’re attitude was “If I can’t remember it, well…it probably wasn’t any good!” Now we dont all have that kind of time but even still it did work for them.

It gave them songs like Dancing Queen, Fernando and Eagle.

This was the writing process of Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and the foundation of ABBA.

The world of online is a powerful tool and it is exciting, but allow yourself that offline time. It is in the moments of quiet where you can make magic.

Cheers,

Tom

Ok, I can’t resist…here is the guys of ABBA talking about it themselves…

https://youtu.be/FHDRRiX1now

“…it takes time to get through all the rubbish…to make something special…to hear it…that takes time” Bjorn Ulvaeus

Starting Songwriting Somewhere

Just DO IT! – Shia LaBeouf

We all start somewhere. And we are all not that great when we do. I started actually really late. I have had songs on the radio a few times which got me Socan membership here in Canada but I certainly didn’t start at 8. Not real songs anyways…

My first instrument was bass which is still to this day my strongest instrument and the thing I get hired for the most. I presently play in the celtic band Cookeilidh which I’ve been in (when I wrote this anyways) as of about 2006. Nobody is actually sure. We started so gradually and went through a few changes so nobody really knows exactly.

Anyways who’d write it down? Wierd…

Songwriting always seemed like lead guitar to me, something that was like “super talented genius” types only. But being a bass player I think slowly introduced me to how it actually was pretty reachable. And oh yeah, at first everything was pretty clunky and simple. That one on the top was one of my earlier, but that was one of the good ones. I think the first one was called Passages and it was described once as a “Car on square wheels”. Not really complimentary. I did have one song called Take Me Higher though which is now on my first album that I wrote back then in about 96 and it worked. My production of it wasn’t amazing but it was my nineties open stage winner at the time. How did I write it? It was lyrics first, it was guitar chords that seemed to work in church and other than that it was so simple and basic I though it obviously wasn’t any good.

Lots of songwriters I’ve played bass for are like that by the way. Everyone discredits their best songs because I think of how easily it comes out.

Playing guitar for came from a bass teacher who said I should use a chord instrument of some kind and my mom had this discarded classical guitar so I learned all the basic chords from a book. The church thing came when my first thing of playing bass for them switched when the guitarist left and i was thrust in front of the congregation. They were forgiving (hehe) but it got me to learn the basic open chords and basic fingerstyle fast.

The main thing is to just start. The story of famous musicians who literally learned on the job is almost a cliche and as a bassist I can give you multiple accounts of proof that you are never to old to try. Songs are great fun and have the effect of being like a sound and words version of a diary like “where I was then.”

I have just tapes and tapes (autocorrect fought me on that. Yes, tapes!) of my music from back then. These days people are using more computer software to mix songs but I still use a Zoom L12 multitrack which is just the digital upgrade from how I used a four track tape recorder. You had to use the good tapes to get the full four tracks and you heard stuff backwards when you flipped it over which was wierd but fun.

Anyways I got to get ready for work and I’m totally pushing it. I’m going to see how these posts go. Thank you for reading!

Cheers!

Tom

Writing ideas

If you can’t write anything, write the truth

Kind of later in the day here on the west coast but I wanted to get going on this idea which I’m presently writing into my phone on a break at work.

These days I’ve been really trying to develop my musicianship to take my sort of songwriting and production to the next level as it were. I have my band so that makes bass have a place of priority, but I’ve also been a writer and songwriter since way back.

I guess for me it’s a place of not quite knowing where to go with that side of me. I have done one album called The Goldblacks and it’s sort of a mix of older songs with some newer ones but I like the idea of my work evolving from there and also creating more songs that are ironically not reliant on a multitrack or a whole band coming with me.

I did one show on the album and while it went ok it was a bit frustrating that many songs from it just didnt work live. So I guess my goal is to develop a sort of best of the different worlds with the good musicianship for recording, simpler approach for writing and also keeping the other fires burning like my band and other things.

Now it’s been recommended that as a bassist I journal what I’m doing and I’m doing that with now keys, guitar bass and most recently my electronic drum kit (I’m in an apartment with fussy neighbors). So I was like if I’m already doing that why not bring it into more regular blog idea?

I could try it like this for a while and see how I and everyone else responds. I’m not sure. It could be like a evolving behind the scenes thing. Maybe I’ll bring it to once a week, or every three days. Daily is possible but I just dont thing that there’s that much material and also some days I have more time than others.

I mean today on keys I’ve been working through two books and I’m actually trying to scale back to basic things that i know will help me and on a recommendation of listening to Rick Beato, trying to not just rip through scales but slow down, feel each note, and get more melodic.

Guitar is the same for that, which I’ve never really practiced until this year. Drums are fun but presently with new car payments and Long and Mcquade payments I’m trying to hold onto it all.

I should probably get back to work especially as I’ll be setting the blog up after I sign off.

Hope you enjoyed this or maybe just got a little curious. What I’d like to almost do is maybe show my creative methods and things for others who want to get musically creative or go into songwriting.

I’ll be studying it and working on it either way and it would be interesting to have the chance to take if beyond just selling my own songs but actually reaching further out. It just stems to stories I’ve heard of people being creatively shut down by so-called authority figures and I like the idea of showing that those voi as are wrong and you can do whatever dream you have.

There’s songs in the wood

-Alan Hutchinson

Cheers,

Tom

Songwriter’s journey

In the early days the very idea of making a melody that went with guitar chords seemed like something only people could do if they were raised by Andrew Lloyd Webber and they were descendent of Jean Sibelius.

So my first attempts were only after I had seen other people playing their songs as a bassist…a long time after that. I had also already played lots of other songs on my mom’s old classical guitar. Eventually my first attempts started. And they never used much more than four chords.

This song I released today was actually one of those. I was at a friend’s place and couldn’t sleep even though she and her baby daughter were. The guitar was there and I just started doing this “E minor” and “A minor” riff back and forth.

I was making music with a mod player called Scream Tracker which played sampled sounds in order and I tried putting the song there, ending up on my first 3 song demo CD.

Now twenty years later and hundreds of songs later I decided to try it out. That’s really my favorite thing. Give a song a real try and see the reaction.

My new album “The Goldblacks” was made up of mostly media favorites.

But yeah, if you have wanted to write just have pen, paper, instrument and maybe something to eventually record your ideas (way easier today with what devices can now do). Social media is a fun way to share your ideas and from the start you can grow your ideas by learning from the masters and just experimenting. I still do. Each one is me trying things out. It’s exciting, which you get swept up in.

Anyways here is my lastest as of literally this morning, Tattered Sails based on how my friend and I had gone through so much in our recent years.

Enjoy!

And if you want to write then find time you know you will be productive and go to it. As I said previously…just show up to the page. And again. You will be surprised!

☺️

Cheers,

Tom

☺️

Rock’n Rule #3. Show Disasters

Imagine starting a show that made everyone leave the room, or playing along to a classic song that you never actually learned, or starting a show with a guy holding (no kidding) a pumpkin (wasn’t near October) and saying to you that he’s sure you can’t play.

You guessed it. These are but a handful of mine. Now I’m not gonna say that I sell out stadiums like Sting and the boys up there, but I can almost bet you they had those early disasters too. Sting, Andy and Stewy were in sooo many bands before they ever met so you can bet there was the occasional weird amp problem.

On continuing yesterday’s Rock’n Rules on how to make great music, or be a success, I found another little clue. I will drop more if I find more, but it came from the fact that I am on a bit of an ABBA kick right now, and on doing some reading their first time(s) playing as a four piece actually totally flopped. Like nobody liked it. At all.

ABBA had every reason to go and quit and say “It didn’t work, why bother.”. But they just kept at it anyways. Music is what the four did so it was back to the drawing board (or the cabin).

Same goes for the boys from Depeche Mode…

Don’t be nervous 😊

The first two shows by these fresh young faces, which they spend time setting up were a complete disaster. Two shows in a row! On one of them all the keyboard stuff when crazy and one guy just kicked something and all the electrics went out on the whole stage.

They kept going. They even make weird mistakes to this day. You can look that up, but it’s only rock and roll.

The trick is to keep going. You get used to it. On the musical side you learn to “recover” if you played it wrong and 9 times out of 10 you notice it more than anyone else around. Nobody is going “hey, what’s with that Bm7 chord!”. It’s about connection to the people in front of you. In fact disasters can be funny and get them on your side if you stay chill and just go “wow, that was neat!” or something and just try again.

Screw up.

Screw up huge.

You’re in world-class company.

πŸ˜‰

(And yeah, this works off stage as well 😎)

Today’s music I blogged to was a classic instrumental CD called Black Sands by Bonobo

Black Sands – Bonobo

Cheers,

Tom

πŸ™‚

On this other writing

It’s the sort of thing I wanted to do with my first comedy pilot. I can’t bring you right in of course, that’s physically impossible. But it’s also part of my goal, to change your perception to mine, even if for three to four minutes.

Songwriting.

Now of course, not all songwriting has to be deep and cerebral. Kurt Weill championed the writing of silly songs and the “just fun”. Hey, we gotta eat too, right?

I’ve been writing since I simply could. Even before that, considering it certainly kicked off before I played my first note on that purple Series A bass I had at the age of nineteen. Guitar would still wait a year.

Actually doing it scared me at first, like it was only done by geniuses who were born under a music school piano or something. Between people I jammed with in those early days and music I was learning it seemed more and more reachable. Then came my first role model.

This guy.

Martin Lee Gore of Depeche Mode was the first person to not only pave my first road, but also to show what could be so great about it.

He brought in the idea of taking every subject without filter, layering the modern and creatively limitless atop the traditional, and the storyteller’s approach to sounds versus the idea of endless rock solos. From the first album I got ( a friend’s tape of Some Great Reward ) I was hooked. My first multitrack cassette machine was soon going to arrive.

And I sucked. It wasn’t good at all. It’s one of the reasons I don’t believe that there’s such a thing as bad art. First because any attempt beyond our day to day is beautiful like an early cave painting, but also I will beat anyone to the finish for the just bad.

But you go through this and soon I became a Socan member after getting on the radio a few times.

Since then it’s just always been there, though just recently it has got a resurgence to when I first heard Martin’s work (not to steal his thunder)

This guy.

Ryan Karazija of Low Roar. I discovered this music in the way many probably have, by simply surfing in and seeing the intriguing album cover for the self titled debut (a deer with birds flying out of it’s mouth. It reminded me of the Canadian artist Hayden). I was doing morning pages and other writing and just wanted music to work to, like my use of Harold Budd and Cocteau Twins that had been my go to for just years. That album of Ryan’s was instantly a favorite and it sparked the idea of trying to actually move forward again. So from the beginning of this year I started working on my first song “She lives There”, and while it’s becoming clear that I need to upgrade my recording equipment before I put out a first EP, I still would love to do that and until then I want to hone my sound and songs in preparation.

Songs for me come from anywhere and have come in on literally any instrument. I’ll hear something or learn about something and go “ooh that’s good”.

An example of this was Moonwatcher which is now on my SoundCloud page, which came from studying my girlfriend’s First Nations culture in a dissertation by her late Aunt, Allis Pakki Chipps-Sawyer called Standing on The Edge of Yesterday

In it she mentions the traditional Moonwatchers who would literally stay up all night and observe the moon and there findings would make decisions easier for Elders in the day. Just the name sparkled before me, but I knew it would be too much like Moonshadow if I went and did it acoustic, so I tried for an almost dance feel.

Precipice on the other hand had to be written as I kept having a waking nightmare of being swept over Niagara falls, on a loop so I never actually fell (clearly a stress thing). The cascading arpeggio at the start came first and then the first half fell in place. I resisted the dramatic “chorus” at first but it grew on me. Is it a hit? Probably not, but I love both songs for what every song I have ever done. It is a capture of me exactly at that moment, in both the words and how those words reverb.

Have a listen to Precipice

https://youtu.be/hKC82a_d8JE

Cheers,

Tom

😊

Apps for Musicians! The Ear Gym!

In the interest of trying things out, I’d thought I’d give a try to trying things. Hopefully that made sense!

I’ve loaded and deleted lots of apps over the ages as I have a little, little phone with not much room and I just keep a few in play.

Let’s kick off with the second in a series of ear training apps I’ve tried, “The Ear Gym.” Ill keep this brief and tight as I’m short on time like yourself.

Way tougher than “functional ear trainer” it actually puts you through paces with interval recognition which is excellent. I’m a big believer in “The Talent Code” (check this out or maybe I’ll do a bit on it later), and anything that puts you in that just-beyond-ability sweet spot is great. I do wish it would go more into recognizing full chords but maybe that’s soon to come ot elsewhere.

8/10

Know an amazing musician app? Post in comments below!

Cheers!

Tom