Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Time to Become a Better Musician?

It is rather ironic, but even though I have just created this blog on songwriting this month, at the present time I think that I am more inclined to spend time becoming a better player than writing more songs. One reason for this is that I think I could be better inspired if I could play more complex and interesting chord progressions. The songs I write are usually only four or five chords usually. Mostly the old I, IV, V type progression with a relative minor. I usually use suspended chords and seventh chords to help make things more interesting as well, but I'd really like to explore some jazz and swing progressions and see if those colorings might take me to new places lyrically as well as musically. I know I need to work on a more disciplined approach when I practice - to follow through on clear objectives. Even though I have more time than ever since I lost my job, I am spending a lot of time obsessing about what I am going to do now. I really, really hate job hunting! Sorry about getting off on a tangent. I just joined my first pay per post blogger network and I need to insert the random phrase below into this post to verify ownership:

Underneath a libel washes the motorway.

Before I get off on any more random tangents, I think it is time to end this post.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Can You Get Paying Gigs Playing Your Own Material?

Yesterday was the second meeting of the Cartersville Songwriters Exchange, founded by Randy Owens. Even though just Randy, his brother Billy Owens and I were the only ones who showed up, it was a good meeting. We all have strong original material and we got a chance to bounce ideas off of each other and play our songs. Still there are doubts - will people pay to hear unfamiliar songs? Can we get gigs as we try to build a following? I guess we will find out. We wrote down a list of songs that we would like to collaborate on, develop and record. I would like to accomplish three goals in this order:
  1. Record quality demos with Randy and Billy of my three best songs.
  2. Register the copyright of the three songs.
  3. Start getting gigs and performing my stuff live.
  4. Promote the songs on websites such as YouTube and etc.
Any feedback is appreciated.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Paul McCartney's Original Lyrics to the Beatle's Hit "Yesterday"

According to Paul McCartney, the working title of his song "Yesterday" was "Scrambled Eggs". Paul had heard the melody in a dream, and the next morning he sat down at the piano to make sure he could get something down before he forgot it. The original working lyrics were as below:

Scrambled eggs
Have an omelette with some Muenster cheese
Put your dishes in the wash bin please
So I can clean the scrambled eggs

Join me do
There’s a lot of eggs for me and you
I’ve got ham and cheese and bacon too
So go get two and join me do

Fried or sunny side
Just aren’t right
The mix-bowl begs
Quick, go get a pan, and we’ll scramble up some eggs, eggs, eggs, eggs

Scrambled eggs
Good for breakfast, dinner time or brunch
Don’t buy six or twelve, buy a bunch
And we’ll have a lunch on scrambled eggs

According to Wikipedia, McCartney said the breakthrough with the lyrics came during a trip to Portugal in May 1965:

"I remember mulling over the tune 'Yesterday', and suddenly getting these little one-word openings to the verse. I started to develop the idea ... da-da da, yes-ter-day, sud-den-ly, fun-il-ly, mer-il-ly and Yes-ter-day, that's good. All my troubles seemed so far away. It's easy to rhyme those a's: say, nay, today, away, play, stay, there's a lot of rhymes and those fall in quite easily, so I gradually pieced it together from that journey. Sud-den-ly, and 'b' again, another easy rhyme: e, me, tree, flea, we, and I had the basis of it."

On 27 May 1965, McCartney and Asher flew to Lisbon for a holiday in Albufeira, Algarve, and he borrowed an acoustic guitar from Bruce Welch, in whose house they were staying, and completed the work on "Yesterday".

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Random Updates and Musings, Hopes and Frustrations Open Mike Follies

It's Wednesday afternoon. I am not feeling much like working on that website I am supposed to finish to market my website design and graphic design talents, and Kathy is wanting us to take a day trip because it is a beautiful sunny day. She says rain is forecast for tomorrow, so why not put off sitting in front of the computer until tomorrow? I suppose I can at the very least write a new post. I'd also like to welcome my newest followers. I appreciate that you have taken the time to sign up and I hope that you enjoy reading my posts on The Seeds of Song.

I plan to go back to REV Coffeehouse to do open mike again tonight. I didn't check out the open mike at The Urban Grind last night – I am still meaning to give that a shot. Anyway, now that I have my nice new business cards, I can promote my songs and hopefully get people to follow this blog. I am starting to feel like a regular there, maybe I can actually find people to play with. The last person I started to try to get something together with didn't work out. I met him while playing harmonica on my back porch. He heard me and was excited about getting together to make some music. He came over and we hit it off at first. He was a pretty good guitarist and knew some good classic rock songs. He did smell like he had been drinking a bit, but I wanted to give it a chance. I said we'd practice up and do the next open mike at REV.

The next time he came over to practice, he seemed a little more buzzed. Still had fun, but I was beginning to wonder how bad of a drinking problem he had. He came over two more times and he was progressively more under the influence. On the night we agreed to play at REV, he brought over a bottle of tequila and it was obvious he had already had a head start on his buzz. I was dropping hints all along that he shouldn't be drinking so much, but you can't persuade a drunk to do anything he doesn't want to do. We drove out to REV and I wondered how this was going to play out.

At REV, I bought a decaf tea for myself and orange juice for Nate, the guitarist. I put our names on the sign up board for open mike participants right near the top – I thought it best to play early because Nate kept stepping out to nip on his tequila and was getting progressively more drunk. Good thing I did. When Nate's turn to play came up, he did Neil Diamond's “Solitary Man” with me backing him up on harmonica. A little sloppy, but better than expected. Next he did a pretty bad, sloppy cover of “Secret Agent Man". Then I finished by doing two Lou Reed song's “Wild Child” and “Walk on the Wild Side” with one of the regulars, Jimmy, playing saxophone. I then got us out of there pretty quick because it was embarrassing me that he was lurching around thinking he was Casanova, hitting on young women who I am sure were probably just wanting him to go away. Maybe if this was a bar with lots of people drinking and various states of inebriation this may not have been so awkward...but being plastered in a room full of coffee and tea drinkers? Out of line.

When I drove Nate home and said I wasn't interested in having him come over anymore if he had been drinking. Time to go Kathy wants to eat lunch. Until next time!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Do You Need to Pay Your Dues to Play the Blues? Does the Best Music Have Its Roots in Pain?

Is the most powerful music find its roots in personal suffering? Artists as renowned as Eric Clapton felt that they needed to suffer to play the blues with authenticity. I sometimes think that it might be a little absurd for me to sing about stuff like heroin withdrawal or being beat down by the man when I have always had a roof over my head and food on the table and really have led a safe, comfortable life. Not that I haven't had to work for almost everything that I have ever had. But where does music's power come from if not from something deeply meaningful? Such as suffering? For some reason it is the sad songs that are my favorites and the ones that I find easiest to write. I really wish it was easier to write upbeat music that wasn't completely vapid. Maybe I 'm dwelling too much on this though...as long as people are enjoying the music does it matter?

Love songs are very hard for me to write. There are so many bad ones. Plus I am kind of a cynic about romantic love these days. Not that I don't love my woman – it is just that I don't trust the soul-consuming fire that can burn those in love. Usually it is really more lust than love.

I could probably spend more time exploring this topic, but I'm running out of steam for now. I'm hoping some of you readers will chime in and post a few comments related to this post.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Guitars, Strings, Harmonicas

For what it is worth, here are some equipment recommendations. I have a Dean acoustic-electric guitar which I am very happy with. The sound is rich, it is easy to play, it looks good and it has a built in electronic tuner. I bought it last summer for less than $600, the most I have ever paid for an acoustic, but well worth it. It was tricky to find where to put new batteries in for the built-in tuner when they went dead. In case there is anyone out there with a new Dean guitar like mine, the batteries aren't located anywhere close to where the tuner is. At first, I thought I had to unscrew the tiny screws that hold this in place and look for the batteries inside, but no need. The batteries go in in a compartment in the same area as the output where the instrument cable goes. I didn't get a manual with the guitar (that would have been helpful).

I have been using a variety of steel strings over the years from Martin to D'Addario to discount brands. My friend Randy Owens of the Owens Brothers Band recently recommended Elixir strings. He said they have a great sound, play well and continue to sound good a lot longer than other strings that he has used. They do cost more according to Randy, but the extra value is worth it. I am going to be sure to give them a go next time I change my strings

As for harmonicas, I almost always buy Hohners, even though the prices of simple diatonic harmonicas continue to increase. I bought a Suzuki Promaster harp in the key of A to play blues in E and I am finding that I really like it. It sounds good, and the reeds are more durable. It was expensive though - close to $40 for a diatonic harmonica. At least you can order new reed plates so that you don't have buy a whole new harmonica when they start wearing out.

I hope that you find this information helpful

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Should I Submit My Songs to Songwriting Submission Sites and Contests?

I did a search on Songwriting Contests 2010 in order to share the results with my followers. It seems there are quite a number of sites that claim that to promote your songs by distributing them on feeds and archiving them in databases that are accessed by producers and musicians. But what happens if you send your song in and it is stolen outright? Is it foolish to even consider sites like this if your material hasn't been copyrighted? I'd like a shot at making some money from my songs, but would definitely feel like an idiot if I let someone else make all the money from my work because I was too lazy to protect my material before I started promoting it. If anyone can offer advice, please feel free to comment on this post.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Notes on Poetry and Lyrics

Poetry and lyrics... they have much in common, but there are also important differences between the two. Most of it stems from differences in delivery. Poetry must appeal to a reader while musical lyrics have to appeal to a listener. Some of the best rock songs have lyrics that are too simplistic to stand on their own as poems, but when these same words are sang by a talented vocalist in a musical framework, the impact and meaning of these same simple words can be greatly amplified. As an art form, music structures time, sculpting it into an expressive statement.

So the lyrics of great songs can fall along a broad continuum of poetic merit. Lyrics can sometimes can stand on their own as poetry but does not always mean that the more poetic the lyrics, the better the song. It's like comparing apples to oranges. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Mick Jagger said, “Bob Dylan one said, 'I could have written Satisfaction, but you couldn't have written Tambourine Man.' It's true, but I'd like to hear Bob Dylan sing, 'I can't get no satisfaction.'”

Compare the two songs... Satisfaction and Tambourine Man. Both are great songs, but Tambourine Man works better independently as poetry. But does that matter if the intent is to use words as lyrics? Artists like Mick Jagger understand that music can transform simple phrases into powerful anthems.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Upcoming BMI events

More upcoming events for musicians and songwriters.

March 16th - Submission Deadline for MUSIC 101 - Building the Beat: http://www.bmi.com/events/entry/547457

March 19th - Submission Deadline for the BMI Unsigned Urban Showcase: http://www.bmi.com/events/entry/540683

March 31st - Next Fresh Thing (LA) - details to be posted soon

April 1st - BMI Rock Showcase (ATL) - details to be posted soon

April 8th - Guitar Sessions (LA) - details to be posted soon

April 20th - BMI Unsigned Urban Showcase (ATL) - details to be posted soon

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

REV Open Mike - Lots of Talented Songwriters and Performers

Tonight for the 2nd week in a row I packed up the guitar and drove to REV coffeehouse on Spring Road in Smyrna. I got there earlier than last time and got my name on the board right off the bat, which was a good thing because there were only a couple of spots left. Each time I come back to REV it seems to get better - it was especially cool that the first performer covered some of my favorites - The Velvet Underground's "Heroin" and the Replacement's "Alex Chilton". And he did a great job! Most people bring in acoustic guitars, these were performed on an electric guitar really pushing the dynamics on "Heroin" and getting in some tasty crunch. A lot of the others were good tonight, but this first set was the best.

When it was my turn, I played perhaps my best original song "Take it to the Bank" followed by a blues harmonica medley of sorts. It was well received and one of the performers told me he thought it was good, so that was reassuring. Between performers sets I had a chance to plug the blog, suggesting that songwriters check out my blog for information about BMI's free songwriting conference next month mentioned in an earlier post.

Getting up and playing live again is a rewarding experience, and very valuable for a songwriter. It forces you to sharpen up sloppy sections of your work and gives you an opportunity to see how well material goes over. And it reminds you why you are putting forth the effort in the first place.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

BMI presents MUSIC 101 - SONGWRITING

Come and hear from some of the industry's leading songwriters. This panel will also include an in-depth Q&A session.
 
Moderated By:  Catherine Brewton, VP, Writer-Publisher Relations BMI
 
Friday, April 16th, 2010 from 3:00pm-5:00pm
 
Georgia State Alumni Hall
30 Courtland St
Atlanta, GA 30303

You must RSVP to http://rsvp.bmi.com/music101/ by April 9th

Space is limited, so please respond ASAP

ADMISSION IS FREE

Monday, March 8, 2010

Keep Those Old Notebooks of Lyrics

Several years ago I had written a song about an image on a tarot card - building a short narrative based on that picture.  I came up with some chords and a melody, but it just wasn't working - the chord structure wasn't quite right, and I had a hard time singing the melody.  Just recently though it all fell in to place.  I hadn't thought about making that song for years but for some reason the new chords just fell in to place one day when I thought about giving it another go.

One of the Red Hot Chili Peppers biggest hits, Under the Bridge, was languishing in Anthony Kiedis' notebook until producer Rick Rubin found it while the Chili Peppers were working on what was to become perhaps their best album, Bood Sugar Sex Magik.  Anthony had written about a time in his life when he was going through a lot of emotional turmoil and was hanging out doing cocaine "under the bridge" - some bridge in downtown Los Angeles that Kiedis wishes to be left undisclosed.  Kiedis was not planning on turning this poem into a song - he thought it was too emotionally angst ridden to fit in with the rest of their songs.  But Rubin thought it had potential, and the poem became a hit song.

Sometimes all it takes is a fresh set of eyes to see what has been right under your nose all along.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Cartersville Songwriters Exchange - 1st Meeting

I had a fun and productive time at the first meeting of the Cartersville Songwriters Exchange.  Hosted by organizer Randy Owens, of the Owens Brothers.  We agreed to meet once a week and to exchange MP3s to help us work out material at home.  Our goal is to create a compilation CD and perhaps to sell it at performances.  One we have some songs down, we will look for paying gigs.  And we'd also like to publish and promote our original material.  We discussed the process of getting material copyrighted.  It sounds expensive - $35 a song through the government website!  We all agreed this seemed ridiculous - people used to mail themselves their original material by certified mail, believing that an unopened envelope with a date on it would be evidence enough that they were indeed the original authors.  For some reason though this no longer stands up in court.  If you know of a cheaper, legal alternative to paying the government $35 to copyright songs, please comment below.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Michael Franti of Spearhead Wrote a Hit Song in Woody Harrelson's Bathroom

I heard this story on 92.9 dave FM. Michael Franti of  the group Spear was staying at Woody Harrelson's house while Harrelson was away filming.  Franti was in the shower when an idea for a melody came to him - and he was able to to come up with lyrics as well.  To make sure he got his ideas down before he might forget them, the first thing he did when he emerged from the shower was to write them with his finger on the steamed up glass of the bathroom mirror.

While he was sitting on the toilet, he got a call from Woody.  Michael told him he was sitting on the toilet and had just came up with a song in the bathroom, to which Harrelson replied, "is it a No. 1 or No. 2?".

The song that Michael had written was "Say Hey (I Love You)".  It  made the Top 100, and the album the Top 40.

Listen to Say Hey (I Love You)

Friday, March 5, 2010

Digital Recording at Home - Microphone

I am trying to figure out home to assemble the least expensive but reasonably effective home recording setup.

I bought a very cheap omni microphone that uses a USB connection to hook up to the computer.  The software I am using is Audacity.  My friend Jim Wunderlich, owner of Orbital Sounds studio recommended this microphone for home recording:

You might want to check out the Sampson C01U studio condenser microphone. It features a 19mm internal shockmounted diaphragm with a cardioid pickup pattern for good quality recordings. It's a condenser microphone that can be plugged into any computer with no in/out boxes, no expensive computer pre-amps, just a USB cable. The cardiod pickup pattern rejects sound from the rear and works well for recording vox and acoustics. You can find them for around $70 new and $50 used or so. I have a CO1 in the studio and get alot of use out of it. It's also good for podcasting.

Audacity is free but it definitely has its problems.  I am finding that multiple tracks can get out of sync due to latency.  This would happen when I laid done the drums and then tried to add an additional guitar track.

I'd be grateful for any advice my readers can offer.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Double Vision

Finally got the courage up to do my first open mike in years.  Kathy and I went to REV's open mike.  We were there at almost 8:00 PM, the posted start time, and the sign-up board for performers was already full.  There was a lot of decent talent last night, it's good to know that I live in an area where people appreciate local performers.  REV is run by some really nice people, and the coffee and food is quite excellent.  I choose a decaf caramel apple tea so I wouldn't be too wired to sleep.  I think the facility that REV is housed in used to be a garage - the decor has an industrial motif.  Lighting and acoustics are a bit harsh.

Eventually someone dropped out of their slot and I made my move and wrote my name in empty spot on the sign-up board.  I was able to perform "Walking in the Morning Rain" and "Here's One for Your Ego".  The first song is about domestic tension with a spouse or significant other.  The second is kind of tongue in cheek humor with a little bit of real pain at its core.  I really did look up an old fling and she totally ignored me - she ended up blocking me after I sent her a couple of emails so I tracked her down, cut off her head and drove a stake through her heart - OK not really.  But I did get a good song out of it so that helped me finally achieve closure.

One final comment - does anyone feel self-conscious when performing and you are trying to stand closer to the microphone so you kind of get cross-eyed while you are tracking it visually?  I wonder it looks weird from the audience's perspective?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

 

Local Services

 


All the jobs I have had...

Creative types often have to take rather odd jobs in order to pay the bills while waiting for someone to recognize their talents.  Maybe this could be the subject of a future song, lol.  Or maybe not.

Well you have to pay the bills... in roughly chronological order:

Ice Cream Truck Vendor
Intelligence Operations Specialist USAF
Summer Help Wood County Phone Company
Graphics, Agricultural School at UW Madison
Environmental Activist
Restaurant Prep Cook
DJ AM Radio Station
Butcher's Assistant
Telemarketer (2 god-awful times)
Administrative Assistant
Electronic Funds Transfer 
Multimedia and Graphic Design
Day laborer
UPS worker
Graphic Designer (3 different companies)
Web Designer (2 different companies)

Which one sucked the most?  Possibly one of my telemarketing jobs in which I was selling a system to help people who wet the bed.  Their celebrity spokesperson was Suzanne Somers (who had that problem as a child).  So lots of jokers would send in cards requesting more information with someone else's phone number on it as a prank and I'd call the phone number and say "I understand that there is someone in your home with a bedwetting problem." Of course then the answer would be something along the lines as "WTF?".  Anybody else have a story to share?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Birth of the Seeds of Song

Being between jobs can be both frightening and liberating. I am a songwriter / guitarist / harmonica player and I am creating this blog in order to help promote myself and others in the North Metro Atlanta area who love to make music and perform. Until yesterday I was working for a media company in downtown Atlanta - yesterday I was fired. I will be getting a month's severance pay and unemployment compensation. Between this and about a year's worth of savings, I hopefully will have some time to step back and really think about what I'd like to do next. I will try to find some freelance web design and graphic design work and also give this whole blogging thing a shot. Maybe it will be a way to help keep me sane and upbeat - in any case, I hope you the reader will feel that you can be part of this journey.

A little about my own journey... I have always loved music, especially rock and folk. Back in the 1980's I taught myself how to play guitar, and got started playing blues harmonica while I was in college by taking a mini-course on blues harmonica. Me and some of my college friends at the University of Wisconsin, Madison started jamming together and formed our band "The Dharma Bums", named after the Jack Karouac novel. I played harmonica and handled lead vocals; Jim Wunderlich was lead Guitarist; Tim Krause the rhythm guitarist; Steve Fischer on bass; and Joe on Drums (first there was Bob then Joe - sorry Joe, can't remember your last name it started with a T but it wasn't an easy name to remember like, say, Joe Smith). We had fun playing at co-op parties, open mikes, and actually at some bars brave enough to take a chance on us. But as most these things go, in couple years people went there separate ways and that was that. Jim is still quite a good guitarist and has his own studio in Hamilton NY. Steve was part of a successful touring band for a while. Jim is the only one of the above I have kept in loose contact with.

Many years that have passed since those days. I had joined the 9 to 5 crowd but always wanted to get back to making music. I have continued to write songs over the years, and sometimes I was fortunate enough to attend a jam session or two.

I am excited about this Saturday night. Randy Owens of the Owens Brothers in Cartersville is having the first meetup of his new songwriters-exchange. So it is time to practice up! I need to perform a song or two to my fellow songwriters and hopefully not mangle it too badly. I'll be back, dear diary with updates.
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