Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Little Extra Tech

If you've been following me for any length of time, you know that I do the bulk of my writing using Evernote. It allows me to write wherever I happen to be, as long as I have my phone, or access to a computer.

Or, now that Christmas has come and gone, my new Kindle Fire HD 6. I'm enjoying the bigger screen and keyboard. Not that my ever-present iPhone won't play a major role in capturing ideas on the go, but for longer bouts of writing away from the computer keyboard, the Fire will be a great tool.

And, of course, it's a great way to read Kindle books. Including mine.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

In the Song Swing

Funny how I write. I have been trying to finish my unfinished song When the Kids Are Gone for a couple of weeks now. I thought I was writing She Works So Hard, but then suddenly some lines from the former song came into my head and wouldn’t leave me alone, and I thought I could just switch over, spend a few hours working the lines, and then get back to what I was doing.

But I just couldn’t get the last line to come. Actually, as it turned out, it was two lines that were thwarting me: the missing line, and the one before it that just had the most awful word at the end to rhyme with. I ended up writing the missing line, and that gave me the change for the line that preceded it.

Now, my usual method of working would have me sitting at my desk or the kitchen table poring over my thesaurus and the rhyming dictionary to come up with a bunch of combinations that might fit. But, every once in awhile, something happens, and When the Kids Are Gone just seems to be one of those songs. Having already written the chorus while driving to the laundromat (and now our washer is fixed—I hope that doesn’t kill my creativity), I filled in the final lines while watching my youngest son at basketball practice.

It was another one of those times when I thanked all the creative people who gave me my iPhone, and Evernote.

Now I can get back to work on She Works So Hard. And I hope it comes together soon, because I sort of wanted to give it to my wife as an extra Christmas present.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Writing Songs

I’m not a professional songwriter. Not yet, anyway. But there are people who are starting to think that I am a good songwriter, and so I though there might be some interest in my process for writing songs. Some of this is adapted from the work of Pat Pattison, and I can highly recommend his books if you want to improve your lyric writing. And if you have the chance to take the online songwriting course that he offers for free through the Berklee College of Music, via Coursera, jump on it.

I also learned a lot earlier in my life from the work of Sheila Davis. I’ll link to some books below.

So, how I go about writing a song. I’m a “lyrics first” songwriter, for the most part. At least, I start with a portion of a lyric, based on an idea, and write a verse and, when appropriate, a chorus. I’ll usually try to get the music together for those once I have them, so that the other verses can be written with the music in mind, and so that I don’t have to tweak too much to make things fit smoothly.

But I don’t just sit down and start writing full-blown lyrics. I start with an outline, based on Pat Pattison’s “box model,” which gives me an idea of how the song progresses from beginning to end, “gaining weight” (as Pattison says) as it goes to maintain interest and move the listener close and closer to the main idea of the song. Most of my songs are stories, so the progression is often a time progression, or a change in perspective (but not in point-of-view).

Then, with this outline, I write my whole song out in prose. I just lay down the ideas I’m trying to convey conversationally. So, for example, in the song I’m working on now, She Works So Hard, I have a section in the second verse that’s written like this:

She cuddles close
I barely stir but still I know she’s there
Almost when her head hits the pillow
She’s dreaming of the life that could have been

There’s no rhyme, no rhythm, and only a hint of the structure, but it’s the gist of what I want to say. Since I’ve already written the first verse (and two lines of the second), I know the exact rhythm and rhyme scheme I have to match. Here’s the first verse:

At ten o’clock she stumbles in
Too late to say goodnight to me or to the kids
She sits alone to watch TV
To settle down enough to go to sleep
Trying to grab a moment for herself
Because she always has to live and work for someone else.

The first two lines of the second verse are:

She comes upstairs, where I’m in bed
With dreams of fame and fortune dancing in my head.

Now I get out my two most valuable books. I’m not talking about the songwriting books; I rarely reference those during the actual process. No, it’s my thesaurus and my rhyming dictionary. I’ve linked the ones I use below, but both are a matter of personal taste, and you need to try on some different ones to find out what fits your style. I use the thesaurus to come up with a lot of different words I could use to express my ideas, because the first ones I come up with might not have any usable rhymes. Then the rhyming dictionary will give me a good list of rhyming words to choose from.

After that, it’s a matter of playing around with the words. For example, in this song, I like the line “I barely stir but still I know she’s there.” It expresses my thoughts precisely, with the right rhythm and the emphasis in all the right places for the existing music. There’s only one problem: all of the rhymes for “there” that I can come up with result in clumsy, forced ideas for the preceding line. That’s what I get for choosing a word that ends with an “r” sound. There are no good substitutes for the “r” sound, and so you’re pretty much stuck with perfect rhymes or consonant rhymes (for more on rhyme types, see Pattison’s Writing Better Lyrics).

So, although it will hurt, I will probably have to rewrite that line.

I go through like this, moving from section to section, not in order, but as I find ideas for the different sections, turing my prose into lyrics, until the last line falls into place. Then I record a rough version of the song, celebrate briefly, and go on to the next song.

There’s always a next song. I have far more ideas than time. You probably do, too, if you think about it, because ideas are all around you. Just make sure that any time you hear or see or feel or think something that would make a good song, that you capture it. In this day of smartphones, you always have a tool available to do that. I use Evernote for writing things down, and the built-in voice memo recorder on my phone to hum musical ideas. Before I had a smartphone, I has scraps of paper. Sometimes they got lost. Sometimes I found them years later, and they became a song. That’s what happened with I Guess I'll Learn To Live Without You. And Wake Up Call.

There’s something romantic, I guess, about digging up an old idea and giving it new life. But then I think of all the ideas that I probably wrote somewhere and never found. I like my new way better.

Here are links for some of the stuff I've mentioned:

Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison

The Craft of Lyric Writing by Sheila Davis

The Modern Rhyming Dictionary by Gene Lees

Roget's Super Thesaurus by Marc McCutcheon

I Guess I'll Learn To Live Without You on Soundcloud

Wake Up Call on SoundCloud

And an update: Pat Pattison's songwriting course, offered by Berklee College of Music through Coursera,  has a session coming up in February 2015. If you have any interest at all in songwriting, do this. Sign up now. Here's the link: Songwriting

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Life Interrupts Art

I thought that today would be the perfect day to catch up on a lot of writing. Oh sure, I had plans to pick up some lumber to shore up a temporary shed damaged by the recent snowstorm in this part of the country, but I wasn’t planning to do the actual repair until Thursday, in the sunshine, with warmer temperatures.

Then I saw the weather report. We’re expecting another storm tonight. Not like the last one, but still a few inches of icy snow followed by rain, enough to make me nervous about the shed, which houses my wife’s pet art project, a teardrop camping trailer that she and I have been building for nearly two years.

So, not so much writing today. Not that I won’t be writing at all, but it won’t be the marathon I originally pictured.

Perhaps Thursday. When there will be sunshine, and warmer temperatures. Assuming the forecast holds.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Re-Branding

As I approach the end of the year, I am looking over the totality of my Web presence and considering a major reorganization.

That sounds so corporate. What I'm really trying to do is a combination of simplifying my life—an important task at my age—and attracting more attention to my work.

So, some changes are afoot. I can't really say what they are yet, mostly because I don't know, but you can expect that fewer alter-egos (and the various online accounts that go with them) will be part of the equation.

If you only follow me in one place, that means you'll be seeing more sides of my personality. And you may have to re-find me on another Twitter account or blog (although this blog is not going anywhere, but a name change might be in order). Of course, there’s always my Web site. That’s not going anywhere.

I might lose followers along the way, but that's a risk I'm willing to take. It's all one big experiment anyway, and if something isn't working, it's likely best to try something else.

See you on the other side!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

It's Over

Not my writing, or any such thing. My songwriting class ends today, and I won't be taking that particular one again, though I'll be reviewing the materials for some time to come.

Also coming to an end is the Thanksgiving break, which wasn't much of a break in our house; we lost power for 68 hours and ended up having our Thanksgiving feast in a timeshare. It wasn't all that bad, though; my lovely wife made us a delicious meal in the tiny kitchenette, and the room was nice and warm.

But not a lot got done on the creative front, and so I'm looking forward to sending kids back to school so I can get back to work.

Although I have some stories in progress, songwriting will be my main focus for the next few weeks. I have three partial songs and a new idea I'm dying to get to work on. If I'm diligent, you'll be able to hear  the results very soon.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Holiday Break

Taking time away from writing for a few days to get ready for family travel over the holiday weekend. I need to concentrate on packing, preparing entertainment for kids for the long car ride, and preparing whatever food we're bringing along with us.

I won't really be taking a break from writing, of course. I may not be sitting down at the keyboard for my usual writing sessions every day, but so much writing goes on in my head that it's never accurate to say I've stopped writing. An idea for a scene here, a line for a song there—they just pop up without warning while I'm doing something else entirely.

Those are the times when I really appreciate modern technology. Instead of writing these ideas down on scraps of paper that I will inevitably lose, I can whip out my phone and put them in Evernote, where they are available to me later from my computer, tablet, or phone.

This is how I keep notes for new song ideas, too, and the list is growing longer every week. I have ideas than I will ever develop into finished songs, which is how it should be. I never have the excuse that I don't have any ideas.

Choosing among them, however, is another matter entirely.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Moving Ahead

I know I’m not really finished with The Kids Are Gone, but I’m not going to try to finish it now, expect for some minor phrasing changes in the recording, part of the assignment for the last week of my songwriting class. But I’m too close to the song now, and I like it the way it is. I know it needs some extra lines in the bridge, some rearranging, and some work on the chords, but it’s my baby right now, and I need to get some distance.

Meanwhile, I think I created a good start in She Works So Hard, and that’s running around in my head now, so I think I’ll try working on that one. Not to say that some idea may not slip in for The Kids Are Gone, or one of the other two songs I started working on, though. Sometimes it just happens.

Usually while I’m either driving or sleeping.

I haven’t abandoned my other writing, either. I’m working on a short story and a book. On the other hand, I’m not working on any movies right now, but maybe when the winter routine sets in and I’m pretty much trapped in the house except when I go out to shovel snow, I might be able to make substantial headway on movie projects.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Another Song, Sort Of

I just finished the lyrics of When the Kids Are Gone, enough to submit for class. I’ll record it tomorrow, and post it, and link to it here in the blog. But I don’t consider it finished. Not yet. Although I’m satisfied with the verses and the chorus, the heart of the song is the bridge, and I want to put a lot more into that bridge before I call it finished.

But deadlines loom, and there are many other things on my plate for tomorrow, so the song will be submitted in its present state.

But I’ll let you know when I think it’s really finished.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Progress

I love it when a song speaks to me. When the Kids Are Gone is so relevant to my life right now, even though I still have about seven years to go before I’m an empty-nester, and my eldest is a boomerang kid, there’s something about the topic that hits me where I live.

Most of the time when I write, I lay the entire song out in prose, with approximately one line of prose eventually corresponding to one song line. Then I get out my thesaurus and my rhyming dictionary to convert those thoughts into, I hope, good lyrics. I don’t always have the tune set before I start, but there is at least a beat, and of course once the line lengths are established for the first verse (or, at least, the first one I write, which isn’t always the first one in the song), that gives me the pattern for the second verse.

That’s where I am now, except that for this song, the chorus came to me in a matter of minutes while I was driving into town to do my laundry (our washing machine is broken). Tune and all. It happens sometimes, and it’s usually a good sign.

So now on the the verses. Something sweet and sentimental. Something to bring a tear to my eye.

Maybe. Or maybe this song means something else. We’ll see.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Changing Horses

Last time I posted, I was trying to decide between to song ideas that I'd already partially written to submit as the final song for my class. Well, it turns out that I'm supposed to be writing a new song from scratch. I guess I should have remembered that from before.

Just before I figured this out, I was in the library looking over news magazine, mostly with cover stories about the big win the Republicans pulled off in the mid-term elections. This was juxtaposed with a news story I'd just heard on the radio concerning 19 races in New Hampshire that were up for recount because they were decided by less than 1% of the vote. Some mandate.

And the title came to me: "The Pendulum Swings." And I was going to write that song for the class.

But, unfortunately, the deadline is very short, less than a week from now, and that song is going to take a lot of metaphor juggling to make it work. So, with three songs in development, I am adding a fourth title, "When the Kids Are Gone," which I had no more than a title in my notes for until now. But I know where I'm going with this one, and I think I can get it done in time.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Decisions, Decisions

Just finished up my assignment for Week 4 of the songwriting class that I’m taking for the third time from Coursera. I’ve written the beginnings of two songs, and now I have to decide which song I’m going to develop into my final project. I like them both, and each one has strengths. I think, with less than two weeks before I have to submit the first version of the song, that it will come down to which of the two will be easiest to develop.

If you are curious about them, they are the two most recent uploads on my SoundCloud account. Whichever I choose, the verse and chorus I already created as an assignment will probably undergo some adjustment before it becomes a song.

I haven’t done much else, and I’m starting another course completely unrelated to my work tomorrow, but I am trying to get some traction and produce more work. I have plenty lined up, but lots of personal Winter-prep stuff to do around the house. Maybe when I finally get the chance to hibernate, the stories will start to flow again.

Meanwhile, I am working on a new version of my Web site, which I expect will be up and running before the end of the year.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Scaling Back

I’ve bowed out of the Jazz Improvisation course on Coursera, because I’ve discovered that my music-reading skills are not developed enough to keep up without spending far more time than I have available each week, especially while I’m taking another round of Songwriting. And, of course, trying to keep up on all my other writing.

I’m scaling back on that too. Not that I have fewer projects in queue, but that I intend to pay less attention to some and more to others. I think it will help me concentrate better and that the end result will be more and better writing in the long run. Even after scaling back, I have a lot of things going at once: a song (other than my class projects), a novel, a short story, a screenplay, and a video. And I’m planning to spend some time making new recordings of my old songs, and maybe some better recordings of my recent songs.

So I’m not being lazy. Just smart. I hope.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Brainless

I haven't made much progress since last month. I have started a new song, but it hasn't gotten very far, and my stories are just sitting around waiting for me. I plead illness and sleep deprivation. But I need to clear my head this weekend, somehow, because I'm starting two online classes on Monday, and though songwriting won't tax me too much for the first couple of weeks, the jazz improvisation course is going to be a challenge from the start.

Deadlines can be a wonderful thing, though it's hard to feel that way when I'm sick. When I do feel a little more intelligent, though, I have a nice long list of projects to work on, so I won't have the excuse of running out of ideas.

All I need is some sleep. Wish me luck.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A New Video, At Last

I finally dug out some of the footage I shot and made myself sit down and do the post-production. And here is the result.



I had a lot of fun using Apple Motion to make this one. Now it's time for some more serious video: the miniatures projects my wife created in front of my cameras. Time to break out my narrator's voice.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Brick Wall

I haven't been able to write anything of substance for quite awhile. I'm not sure why, although home life has been hectic. But then, it usually is, and I went through a pretty long period where I was writing productively every day.

I could make excuses. I have a deck to build, and I'm building a camping trailer with my wife. The latter needs to be ready for camping (though not necessarily done) by the end of October, and the former needs to be done before it snows (and who knows when that will be). My stove and clothes washer are out of order and I can't afford to have someone else fix them, so it's up to me. And on and on.

But I'm not going to make excuses. The fact is that there have been many times when I could have found the time to write, and I haven't. I kept myself busy with other things that I could pretend were more important, and when I did sit down to write, I couldn't get myself moving on it.

But rather than sit around waiting for the muse, I've decided to take some steps to push myself in the right direction. The other day I was walking the stacks at the library, looking for inspiration. I found a book of myths, and thought that might spark an idea for a short story. But before I even opened the book, I happened to be listening to an old Dragnet episode on Netflix (I listen while I do dishes and sort laundry—the hazards of working at home) and I had one of those "what if" moments.

My idea has nothing to do with the plot of the episode; it was just one phone call about a bank robbery that Joe Friday answered. But I thought to myself "what if the motive for that robbery was not money?" If I write the story, you'll know the details.

Then, on the very next episode, there was another phone call, about a bank manager who was being threatened over the phone by a woman who said she had a gun aimed at the manager and would shoot if he didn't hand over money. Something one of the officers in the station said to Friday suggested another story. So we'll see where that one goes.

What I've really been bad about is editing video. I have a fair amount of footage I've already shot, but I don't seem to have the brain to organize it right now. That might be a better winter project.

As far as songs are concerned, I haven't written one since I Guess I Learn To Live Without You. But I'm starting another session of Pat Pattison's online class on Coursera, and that usually gets my juices flowing. I'm also taking a jazz improv class, which scares the life out of me, but that can be a good thing.

But I don't think I want to wait until then. I think it's time to just play around with rhythms and chords and scales until something talks to me.

I need to get back into the habit of writing every day.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Book I’m Not Going To Write

I had started a book entitled How To Make Videos That Don’t Suck, and had gotten as far as the outline, when I did a little search for books with a similar title. And what did I find? How To Shoot Video That Doesn't Suckby Steve Stockman. Well, there goes that title.

And, actually, there goes that outline, because he has covered a lot of the topics I was going to cover, and done them very well from what I’ve read so far. Does this mean I’ve given up on writing a how-to book for YouTubers? No, not really. I think I can contribute some different perspectives that Mr. Stockman’s book doesn’t cover if I think about it enough.

But meanwhile, while I’m cooking my idea, if you want your online video not to suck, I’d recommend taking a look at Mr. Stockman’s book.

It’s the one I should have written a long time ago. I’m glad that someone did.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Word of Warning

I received a message on my cell phone from a company called Book Whirl, wanting to talk to me about my book. The message didn’t say which book. I only found out who was calling by doing a reverse phone lookup, followed by some Internet research. This company purports to offer book marketing services, though their Website is so full of bad writing that it’s hard to believe that they could be the least bit effective.

And reliable? Consider that their first contact with me was made as a cold call to a number that is on the federal Do Not Call List. I think they got my phone number through the whois entry for the family publishing Website; it's the only place I can think of where they could have obtained it. This is a very aggressive tactic, and not indicative of a reputable company. It’s hard to believe that a marketing service that does not respect Do Not Call has a legal “opt-in” list of email addresses, though they claim to have just that.

Not that I can afford to pay for book marketing services, but if you hear from the folks at Book Whirls, I’d say “no, thank you.”

And then tell them not to call you back.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Summer Coming To a Close

Not the season, of course, which still has a month to go. But the vacation will be over right after Labor Day, which means that there are a lot of things to do to prepare the boys to go back to school. So I don’t have as much time for creative work.

I’m working on a non-fiction book, finishing up my final project for Music Theory, and noodling with songs, but that’s about it. I find myself with no short story in the works, and no novel that I’m really making any progress on. And I haven’t edited any video in weeks, although I have a fair amount of raw footage.

I hope that will change soon after the boys are back in school. My wife has a vacation that week, and we’re planning a couple of inspiration trips, to inspire her painting and my writing. With luck, I’ll be able to put my head down in the second week of September and make some real progress.

I’m trying not to make excuses, though; I am still doing my best to sit at the keyboard and write (or do it on my phone while boys are at the beach), and I’ve been at the piano daily playing around with chord progressions (between head-spinning sessions of analysis of the score that the Music Theory class gave me to work on). So even while I am not making much in the way of word counts, I am cooking up a few things, letting them simmer—or ferment as the case may be—so that I can turn them into something delicious when the time comes.

You’ll have to let me know if they are to your taste. Don’t forget to check out my existing work and comment, rate, review, and email me with feedback. Positive or negative, I want to hear from you!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Playing With Panorama

During our vacation, we went up to the Kancamagus Highway between Conway and Lincoln, New Hampshire. Our usual swimming hole up there is closed for renovations, so we drove further up to Otter Rocks. While my two youngest sons played in the water (it's not deep enough for swimming), my lovely and talented wife painted the scenery. And I, left with nothing else to do, did some experimenting with my iPhone.

The camera application on the iPhone has a panorama setting, which I've used before, but never to this extent. There just seemed to be more scenery at Otter Rocks that was suitable for extended width, and height. Or maybe it was just the mood I was in.

In any case, here are some of the better results:


Here is the lady herself, Karen Hardenbergh, painting. She doesn't use an easel most of the time; she just hold the canvas in her hand, or sets it down on the bench in front of her.


Here is a section of the river. Exposure is an interesting problem with the panoramas unless you are shooting somewhere that has fairly consistent lighting, which almost never happens outdoors. There are probably digital manipulations I could do to alleviate some of the dark areas, and I may try when I have the time.


Panorama mode on the iPhone works in vertical mode as well as horizontal. It's a little trickier to keep the guide arrow lined up to prevent too much choppiness, but the results are worth the effort, I think.


Another vertical shot. Distortion is always present in close objects in a panorama. But I rather like the effect here.

My vacation may be over, but my sons' is not, and so I suspect that I will find myself having time to play around more with this feature. And, on occasion, I'll probably post the results for you to see.

But meanwhile, it's back to work for me.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Something Coming Up


When I released my latest short story, Doors, I mentioned that there might be a free promotion coming up, not only for Doors, but for some of my other stories, as well. I also said that I wouldn’t announce the date anywhere but Twitter.

But I didn’t say that I wouldn’t hint that, if you were looking for such an announcement, it might be coming up in a couple of days, and so this would be a good time to start following me.

Or at least taking a daily look at my Amazon author page. Just in case, you know.

And if you should happen to stumble upon free copies of my stories, and download and read them, I wouldn’t be at all upset if you were to rate and review them.

Even if the review isn’t stellar. Really. I don’t live and die by the sales of these stories. I can’t even buy an extra bottle of Dr. Pepper with the royalties from these stories. But as a writer I do appreciate honest feedback and the chance to make the next story better.

By the way, “I don’t own a Kindle” is not an excuse for missing out on a good read (and I talking about the many titles available on the Kindle store, including countless of free versions of classic works, not just my humble stories); free reading applications are available for all smart phones, tablets, and Mac and Windows computers. You can even read it from your Web browser with the Cloud Reader.

So keep an eye out. In the next couple of days. In case something happens.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Week Off, Kind Of

Family vacation week, so I’m busy with, well, family vacation stuff. But I still will find the time to write and work on music, because it’s hard to get through a week without coming up with something I want to add to a story or a song that I’m working on.

That and the fact that I’m still in the middle of my music theory class, which has been very good at getting my harmonic juices flowing.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Neat Trick

I was reading a book recently by a writer who does a lot of non-fiction, and she was talking about how, in addition to keeping outlines in a mind-mapping app (something I've yet to try), she uses a recording app on her cell phone to dictate portions of the book she's writing at the time. To be transcribed, I presume, at a later date.

When I read this, I wondered. You know, the Mac OS, at least recently, has built-in speech-to-text translation. I know that you can dictate into a microphone and have the words come out on the screen. But what about something you've already recorded?

Well, a little Google searching and before you know it, I've found that there is a way. Something I already had called SoundFlower. It's a virtual audio device that lets you route audio signals on the Mac. You can set up the dictation system to take sound input from SoundFlower. Then you set up the playback of the sound file to output to SoundFlower, and suddenly, you can translate the speech in the sound file to text in any program that accepts text.

You playback program has to support output selection (I use ocenaudio, which I use for all sorts of things anyway), and you have to start the playback before you start the dictation feature (so I paste about ten seconds of blank audio to the beginning of the file at the start), but the results are pretty impressive.

Planning to add this to my arsenal of tools for writing on the go.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Latest Short Story

See, even while struggling to make my way on Fiverr and studying programming and music theory and taking care of all those other things in my life, I'm still writing. The latest release is a cute little story about a guy who is having a bad day with doors.




This one is available now on Kindle for a buck (click the image above). It will be free for a few days in the near future, along with some of my other short stories, but to find out when you'll have to follow me on Twitter. Or check in on the Amazon page day after day. It's easier to follow me, really, and I won't flood your feed with Tweets because I'm too busy writing.

After I've finished a few more of these short stories, I plan to offer them in an anthology, so that anyone interested in reading them all can save a little money.

I'm working on some videos and a book right now, plus a song or three, so I don't know when the next story will some. Probably it will just tap me on the shoulder and say "You have to write me now."

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Couple More Lessons About Fiverr

With a little more experience doing voiceover on Fiverr, I can add a little advice:

7. Don’t rely on the rating system to get your gig seen. Fiverr has recently switched to a five-star rating system instead of the usual thumbs-up or thumbs-down system. People who give you four stars think they are giving you a really good rating, but the less-than-perfect rating can knock you out of the first search page unless your gig is unusual enough to be included with a small number of search results.

8. Give yourself enough lead time. Fiverr orders come in out of the blue. They’re not scheduled like most freelance work. So make sure your standard lead time gives you plenty of time to fit a quick job into your schedule (and maybe, if your lucky, get some other jobs to gang it up with), and if you offer fast turnaround, make sure it’s not a big strain to make it happen. See number five in my earlier post (and, as it turns out, $20 is the most you can charge for fast delivery). Though I used to offer a three-day turnaround and one-day service for only $5, I now promise a five-day lead time with two-day service for $20. Since I made that change, I still get orders, but no one has ordered the faster delivery, and that’s fine with me.

So far, I’m still staying with Fiverr. It’s not making me a lot of money overall, but when a job comes in, with my microphone already set up, it’s a reasonable to good hourly rate. And sometimes the work is even fun.

And besides, I am building up a portfolio.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Quiet

It's been quiet here on the blog, and on SoundCloud, and Twitter, and YouTube, for the last couple of weeks. Mostly because it hasn't been quiet here at home. I've been working hard running up to six shows on the stage in Pittsfield, NH, and I'm only halfway through. And I'm taking two online courses simultaneously.

And, of course, this being summer, there are activities with kids and construction projects on the house. So, no quiet time for me.

And I have continued creating, behind the scenes. I'm writing a short story. I'm working on a song I thought was finished until my sense of structure tapped me on the back of the head and said "you need a second bridge before the last verse." Sigh.

I've been very lax about editing video, but I do have footage to edit, for my channel and for my family's channels.

So there will be some activity online from me soon. But certainly not until after my next three shows.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Broadening

In the midst of doing a play and trying to keep on on writing, I'm doing something that might seem to be a complete distraction: taking a programming course.

The course, Creative Programming for Digital Media & Mobile Apps, is offered by the University of London, through Coursera. It's about using the MIT programming environment called Processing to manipulate images, animations, and sounds on desktop and mobile devices. Now, at least that sounds closer to my usual specialties.

And closer than you think, because way back when, even before I was one of the gurus of interactive media for Philips, I was a programmer. I haven't done much to keep up, and something I find that confusing, but I also find that the new programming environments allow me to work with imagery and audio in ways I could never have imagined when I worked at Philips, with a lot less coding.

If I can get up to speed. That's what this course is about for me, a free (though not easy) way to see how well I can adapt to new programming tools, and maybe use them to supplement my art. Or even create new forms of it.

Which is, of course, exactly what I've been doing all along: trying to apply my old-guy skills to a quickly-changing technological landscape.

Can I do it? I don't know. But I'm going to try.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Lessons About Fiverr

Here are some things I'm learning about Fiverr, the hard way:

1. Make sure you're good at whatever you're offering, and that your video shows it. I seem to have done OK on this as soon as I put up my first voiceover gig, which has gotten a lot of positive response.

2. Make sure you're comfortable with what you're doing. I have recently pulled my video gig because I was being asked to lend my face to things that I didn't agree with; one customer, without asking first, asked me to say that I was a woman. Sorry, no.

3. Don't accept offers to do anything outside the scope of the gig. If, for example, you do voiceover, don't offer to put music behind it. If you're good at this and want to do it, offer it as a separate gig, if you can do it reasonably for $4 net, or as a gig extra, making sure you charge enough. Extras tend to get out of hand.

4. Get all the information you can before you start the gig. And if the buyer doesn't give you what you need, do exactly what he or she gave you, no more and no less. You can't produce high-quality output with low-quality input, and it's the buyer's responsibility to tell you what you're expected to deliver.

5. Charge a fortune for fast delivery. Really. $20, $30, or even $40 is not out of line. It's doubtful that you make your living from Fiverr alone, which means you have a life. Setting that life aside in order to deliver an order that, after fees have been paid, might net you $12 is not worth the stress. If someone needs it that fast, they will pay extra or go elsewhere. Either way, you win.

6. Realize that all the precautions you're taking won't protect you against unthinking or abusive customers. And, unfortunately, Fiverr is more buyer-friendly than seller-friendly, as far as I can see. There is no way to prevent a demonstrably abusive buyer from buying from you, and canceling an order, even if it is because the buyer asked for something quite unreasonable—or totally ridiculous—can count against your overall ratings, increasing the pressure to deliver orders even when it is not in your best interests to do so.

I'm sure I'll be adding to this list as time goes on, and the only reason I've posted it now is that I've just had a buyer who expected a lot for the money, and gave very little information up front. I've already had to re-do a substantial amount of work, and I'm not happy about that.

So, after a break, I think I am doing some editing to my gig. But probably not today; I have a rehearsal tonight and I need to study my lines.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Love/Hate Relationship With a Mic

Today I did my first voiceover recording session with my MXL microphone. I had forgotten how wide the frequency response of this mic is, how transparent the sound, how clean.

I had also forgotten how damn sensitive it is. I had to close windows and shut off fans all over the house, and I still had to filter out the low hum from my old computer (a sound which my new computer doesn't make, damn it—although I blame that on Tascam, who stopped supporting my old audio interface for new operating systems), and even a little bit of noise from my monitor.

It's amazing how noisy a home studio can be, in ways you just don't hear unless you play it back through headphones. Refrigerators on another floor, breezes from outside (I hope it doesn't rain tomorrow for my next recording session), road noise. Ceiling fans! Good grief, I had to shut off the ceiling fans on the floor below because the vibration comes right up through the floor, through the mic stand, and even through the shock mount, and winds up on the audio track.

What I wouldn't give for a nice sound-proof booth. Maybe one day.

But for now, at least the death of my H2 hasn't put me out of the voiceover and song recording business.

Video shooting, though, is going to be quite another matter. That, I have to work on.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Equipment Failure

Tonight I went to record a voiceover gig, and discovered that my trusty Zoom H2 was dead. Wouldn't power up with batteries, A/C, or USB. I shouldn't be completely surprised, I guess; I've been using the little portable recorder for many years now with nary a hitch, and nothing lasts forever.

But the timing was sure horrible. I don't currently have the money to replace it, and although I have a good microphone, the USB interface that I have doesn't work with my new computer. And so I find myself hauling out all kinds of old equipment and going back to my Mac Mini G4 running Tiger.

It works alright, but I have to go back to an old version of GarageBand (so old it only exports to iTunes), and I can't use my favorite, simple software, ocenaudio (although I can use it to edit and convert, thanks to the magic of networked computers).

I do love the sound of the microphone, a relatively inexpensive large-diaphragm condenser by MXL. But I wish I could upgrade my interface so that I can use it with my latest software and computer. But if I do that, I won't be able to replace the H2, which is my go-to field recorder that gives me such good sound on my videos.

I feel lost, and I feel like I've lost an old friend.

At least now, though, finally having hooked up my old audio interface, I can try out some of the microphones I have lying around to see what I think about them. I'll be able to pare down, but I also might find a few forgotten gems.

With any luck, you'll get the hear some of the results the next time I record one of my songs.

However I end up doing that.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Unchallenging

Now that I've decided to cancel the Challenge, there is a fair amount of work to do the change the theme of my Internet presence from one event to the subject of me. My, that doesn't sound right.

And yet, it has to be about me, and my work, because that's really all I have to sell. Not that I don't think my work can stand on its own. But I do think that it's easier to draw people into your work if they know about you. Assuming your story is interesting. And I have to assume, or at least hope, that my story is interesting, because here I go building a narrative about myself for all the world to see.

Or, at least, as much of the world as stumbles upon me online.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Calling It Off

For a few reasons, some of them personal and some of them practical, I'm calling off the Challenge. Note the changes in the blog and YouTube channel already; my SoundCloud and Twitter accounts and my main Web page will soon follow suit.

On the personal front, there are things happening in my family life that, while not necessarily bad, are very time-consuming, and have to take priority over the Challenge.

But while it feels strange to be giving up on something I've spent around 270 days keeping track of—though not keeping up with—it isn't bothering me as much as I though it would.

For me, the Challenge had two goals. One of them it has failed at, and another 95 days, no matter how hard I work, will not change that. That goal was to gain a following. As a gimmick for attracting a following, it did not work.

But the other goal of the Challenge was to get me back to being a full-time, year-round creator. And on that front it has succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. I might not be making the numbers, but I have created some wonderful songs, and there are some written works in the works that I am very proud of.

It has been an eye-opener, too. I am not as productive when doing post-production on video as I am doing all the phases of songwriting and publishing. I could take that as a sign to more-or-less give up doing video, but I like the results so much that it seems more likely that I will change my approach and probably join up with someone who is better at post that I am.

I'm also finding that trying to make numbers is distracting me from creating good work, not only for the Challenge, but for my clients as well. And so I'm shifting gears and, although I always cared about quality, I am concentrating on it instead of (though not to the exclusion of—a guy's got to make a living) quantity.

But even with the Challenge cancelled, I hope that those few of you who have followed me and kept track of my exploits will continue to do so. There may not be a definite deadline, but there is still a lot of cool stuff coming down the pike.

Because I'm still creating, 52 weeks out of every year.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

More Old Notes

Wow, this going through old notes is really making my songwriting life easier! I found some lyrics that must be nearly 20 years old, and with my new-found lyric-writing skills, I was able to fashion them into a cute little kids' song in hardly any time at all.

The song is called Now That I'm One, and I should be able to lay tracks for it in a day or two.

I wish I could get that kind of inspiration and productivity on the video front! Maybe I need to keep looking through old notes.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Outdoor Inspiration

As I mentioned in my last post, my family went camping this weekend. It was three lovely, rainless days, a bit chilly but a pleasant change from the weather we've been having lately. I, of course, brought my guitar, and although I didn't get many chanced to play, I did play some of my new songs for the group we were camping with, who hasn't seen us since the Challenge started, and the songs were very well received, especially Nickled and Dimed.

I wasn't able to perform my newest song, because I forget the lyric sheet, and I haven't had enough practice to do it from memory. Next campout, perhaps.

While I was sitting in our screen room, just plucking on the guitar, I think I came up with the basic tune for Living As If It Matters; I pulled out my iPhone and recorded it to a Voice Memo. Love the technology!

Now I can start adding lyrics. It's the opposite of what I usually do, though it won't be the first time I've started with the melody.

And, of course, I can't guarantee that the melody will stay the same. But I think it's a good start.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Just a Song Before I Go

Finished up my latest song just in time for a weekend camping trip. Here it is:



This song demonstrates why it's important to capture even small, seemingly-insignificant ideas whenever you can; they can come in handy in the future. Even unexpectedly far in the future.

I actually wrote a couple of lines for this in a notebook I use to carry when I worked at the National Passport Center. I couldn't bring any electronic devices, so I'd jot down ideas in a big blank book for later use. I ended up using this one about eight years later.

The only line that actually came through unmolested, and it's just a tag line in the final version of the song, is "I could get drunk, but I don't drink." The rest is all new.

And now I know where to look if I come up short of inspiration down the line. But right now I'm trying to write a non-rhyming song, kind of inspired (in form, not in subject matter) by Paul Simon's America.

While I'm thinking about it, I'd better pack my notebook.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Sliding Back Into It

Now that the vacation is over, I'm trying to shift gears from carpentry to writing, video, and song. It's not easy, especially because I still have carpentry assignments in my planner, something on the order of making sawdust while the sun shines, especially because Spring took it's sweet time getting here in the Northeast.

Yesterday I filled in the last few lines for my latest song, I Guess I'll Learn To Live Without You, and this evening while washing dishes, the tune popped into my head. I made a quick scratch recording using my iPhone (not GarageBand, just Voice Memo—I like to keep things simple) so that I wouldn't lose the tune.

And after uploading it to iTunes and having another listen, I find that I still quite like it. So, a better demo recording is coming soon, perhaps tomorrow. Meanwhile, on to more lyrics, for a song that I am trying to do without rhymes, and a new short story.

Being very bad about editing video, which is ridiculous, because I have a lot of footage. I might be dumping five or six videos into the playlist all at once next week. We'll see.

Meanwhile, I keep plugging away. Although the numbers seem increasingly impossible, the exercise is doing me a world of good, and helping me sort out what I want to spend my time going after the 52-Week Challenge is over.

And the Rest-Of-My-Life Challenge starts.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Poised and Paused

I'm paused this week because my creative project during my wife's vacation is her camping trailer, the Lady-Bugout. I am applying my meager carpentry skills at her behest, and along with paid voice work and rehearsing for the theater, I'm not left much time for my own personal work.

But the vacation is coming to a close, and I have several irons already in the fire, so you should be seeing several new works popping up in the next couple of weeks.

I am also continuing the process of simplifying my online life, and I will soon be moving one of my Google accounts, the one that this blog officially connects to, into the one that I use for the Challenge. So YouTube videos and ads on my site and blog may come and go erratically for a few days after I start the process.

This blog should stay pretty much the way it is, except that a new profile will appear once I make the final transition.

Thanks for sticking with me. I don't know if I'll make my numbers when I reach the end of this self-imposed deadline, but I hope I'm created a lot of work that you enjoy.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Other Videos From a While Ago

I decided that I was being too hard on myself by not including the videos that I have done for my other channels in the Challenge, since they take just as much time and effort. I have only made two of those since the Challenge began, but more are in the works. I still am not including any videos on the status of the Challenge, and none of the video that I make for clients (obviously).

Here they are. One how-to video from On a Smaller Scale, and a how-I-do-it video about an additional use for my teleprompter.




There are a lot of videos in the post-production queue, including three of the miniature how-to videos, and at least one filmmaking how-to. To see all the videos from the challenge, look for the playlist rather than just my list of uploaded videos.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Perfect

Here is song number ten, Perfect Little Robot. I started thinking up the lyrics to this song more than a year ago while I was sitting at a computer doing a very boring job. I won't go into the gory details. But the first four or so lines came into my head pretty much all at once. And a tune, though not the one I ended up with.

And that's an interesting story, really. The original tune was nearly monotonous, not in the sense of being boring, but in the sense of having few note changes. But I wanted to have the "robot" parts done with an auto-tune effect to make them sound more mechanical, so I came up with the current tune to give more variations for the auto-tune to correct.

But when I applied the effect, it didn't help the illusion at all, and it made the lyrics much harder to understand. So I ditched auto-tune, but kept the melody, which I quite like for this song.

This is another one of those times, too, when I really need to thank the Berklee School of Music and Pat Pattison for offering the online songwriting course I took through Coursera. The tools I learned to use in that course really gave this song far more lyrical depth and forward momentum than I would ever have been able to achieve earlier in my songwriting efforts.

And so, here it is:




I hope you like it. Meanwhile, I'm moving on to the next song ASAP.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Slipped In At Number Nine

Song nine should have been song ten, but I've had trouble finding time to lay the tracks for Perfect Little Robot, which has multiple vocal tracks, backing tracks, and effects.

On the other hand, Minor Pentatonic Blues, a song that just popped into my head during an online music class, needed only a guitar, a voice, and another guitar. And so here it is.




If you're not a musician, you probably won't get it, but it's a fun little tune anyway.

More stuff coming soon, including quite a number of videos that just need to make it through post-production, probably after the Memorial Day holiday. Company coming, and I still have a queue of Fiverr clients to deliver to.

Ah, life. Makes creating art challenging.

Pun intended.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Here They Are

Here are the two videos that I uploaded this morning:




I'm getting in front of the camera, behind the camera, and at the computer to edit much more often now, so I think I will be able to catch up on videos.

But only time will tell for certain.

Monday, May 12, 2014

New Videos In Motion

I bought myself a birthday present a while back: Apple Motion. And I intend to be as annoying as possible with it until I get it out of my system. I already sent my mother a funny video with text effects for her birthday, and I used Motion for a more prosaic video for a Fiverr client, who needed a logo beside me on the screen (something that would have been more work in iMovie).

And I used it for the next two videos in the Challenge, which will be uploaded in the morning: Get Horizontal, and Fiverr British Gig. That second is, as you might have guessed, an actual Fiverr Gig video. Is that cheating? I don't think so, and I hope you'll agree when you see it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Finding My Niche On Fiverr

I've had a couple of gigs languishing on Fiverr for quite some time, and neither got any bites. So, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to put my voice and face on the line and offer a gig for doing voiceover narration, and a gig for speaking in front of any graphic via green screen.

And things just started happening. I've gotten seven gigs in less than two weeks; five are already completed. They run the gamut from straight commercial work to "what really happened" video narration to appearing in someone's YouTube trailer video.

I've discovered a couple of things. First, recording voice narration with my current set-up is really easy. I've got some great tools, and the biggest problem is finding enough quiet time in the house to record a clean track. But it's not that big a problem.

I expected the same to be true for the video work, and the green-screen part of it is certainly simple enough. But when you're being paid four bucks (Fiverr takes 20%) to do an on-screen performance, you don't really have time to memorize 30 seconds worth of lines.

This is where me teleprompter comes in. It's something I built some time ago from scrap lumber and a $1 picture frame, and it worked really well on its first test. But, not using scripts that often, I stopped using it as a teleprompter and started using it as a framing aid.

So when I went back to using it as a teleprompter, I had a couple of nasty surprises. First, when I had tested it, the lights were not so bright as the ones I used for shooting in front of my green screen. And the screen for the test was just my phone, which is pretty bright.

But the phone is too small for the working distance I have to use for the green screen, so I had to switch to my old tablet, which is not nearly as bright. Between that and the light shining on my camera and the inside of my hood (a cardboard box), I couldn't see the text at all.

So I had to very quickly rig up a shade for the box, which I made with an old t-shirt (because no one in the house had any black paper—boxes and boxes of craft materials in this house and no black paper). I couldn't find anything to hide the camera with, but I discovered that if I moved the tablet to the outer edge of the platform, the image would appear above the camera and be very readable.

Not the perfect solution, since I'm looking above the lens and not into it, but it worked out very well. You'll get to see soon, because I'm shooting a couple of Challenge videos against the screen with the teleprompter this coming week.

Sound was another issue, but that was only because my microphone setting was wrong. I have to re-do one gig because of it, but I warned the client that it would be so and they were very understanding. In fact, they are giving me another job before I've even finished the first one, based on the first version with the bad sound.

I don't expect to make a fortune on Fiverr, but it does add a little money to the budget for something I spend time doing anyway, and it gets me at the mic and in front of the camera on a regular basis. And that can only be a good thing.

Maybe I need to offer some writing gigs, too, to keep me at the keyboard.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Simplifying

In an effort to simplify my life, I'm consolidating some of my blogs. This blog now includes all the posts from my blog, An Old Filmmaker. Probably, when I'm done with this challenge, this blog will be renamed to serve some other purpose.

I hope none of this is confusing, but it will save me some time and a few brain cells.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Guardian Has Been Published

My second short work for the Challenge, Guardian Of the Cave, is now available to purchase in print on for Kindle. I highly recommend the Kindle version, which will start at only a buck (but probably go up to $1.50 next month, with perhaps a couple of days between when it will be free). Although there are good reasons to buy a print book, these very short ones are relatively expensive. If I were you, I'd hold out for the anthology.

Here is the link:



I will probably move on to my first non-fiction short before I write another story, because I want to make sure it's ready for a course I'm giving on formatting for self-publishers in the Fall, and I don't want to put it off any longer.

I'm teaching a stop-motion class at one of the local private schools next month, and the preparations for that will be the perfect opportunity to do some video, which I've been neglecting. I've already shot a fun little test with a picture frame and my iPhone, which will become my next video for the Challenge as well as a sample for the class.

And I am in the process of recording Perfect Little Robot; I may have that done before next Tuesday. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

New Story, With a New Title

The Cave Dwellers has become Guardian Of the Cave, and it's in the process of being published as I write this. The files have been submitted to CreateSpace, and once I have proofed them (and probably resubmitted them with corrections, at least twice), then I will send the HTML version to Kindle for electronic publication.

I again decided to offer a print edition, despite the fact that the story barely makes enough pages for a paperback. But when I've gathered enough short stories together, I will probably withdraw the original books and create an anthology.

I changed the title because the story is really about this one character far more than it is about the world he lives in, and I might someday explore that world for other stories.

Now that I've submitted my files, it is tempting to keep checking my email to see if they're done. But the process can take up to a day, and I have other projects that need my attention, not only Challenge projects, but family business projects.

And so I will do my best to ignore that fact that I have a new book in process and get some other things done.

But it won't be easy.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Another Article

Even as I'm getting close to finishing The Cave Dwellers, and getting ready to resume work on my Kindle article about formatting for self-publishers, I think that one of my video ideas is going to become a Kindle article as well.

The video, which I shot footage for today, was inspired, if you can call it that, by an ad in Popular Science. It's for some kind of equipment that purports to produce some kind of miracle water. The ad claims that the water we're all drinking is not the water we should be drinking. Going to the Web site listed in the ad takes you to a solid block of almost indecipherable text claiming that the water can cure cancer, and even purify other water.

And the more I looked into the claims, the more I found other pseudoscientific claims about water and about certain kinds of water, all of which, to my utter lack of surprise, require you to either buy the water or buy some very expensive equipment to produce the water.

And it's all getting so interesting—and infuriating—that I think I won't have much trouble producing at least 5,000 or so useful words of warning about water-based health claims. Doing a public service and a service to my Challenge at the same time.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Progress Report

No new material to show off yet, but I'm getting close. The lyrics to Perfect Little Robot are done, and now it's time to turn to the music. I have a pretty good handle on the tune, but I have to get the backing tracks laid; it's not the kind of song that works with just guitar and voice.

I'm getting very close to the finish line on the short story The Cave Dwellers, and I expect to have that one up on Kindle, and maybe in print, by sometime next week.

And I have a couple of ideas for video that I can do quickly. One was inspired by an ad in Popular Science, and the other is just about something I do nearly every day, but that I think is interesting enough to do a video about. That's coming soon.

So some momentum, finally.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Status

Well, here I am, starting the second half of the year, with 181 days to go until the end of the Challenge. And how am I doing?

Lousy, if you just look at the numbers. With only seven videos (why am I having so much trouble making videos?) and eight songs and one short story, I'm really far behind my goals.

But, on the other hand, I've written some really terrific songs, and eight songs is more than I'd written in the previous decade or more. And I've published a short story and gotten a good review. I have one story that's more than half complete, and three or four songs that are getting close. I've made good progress on the first book, I have an outline for another book that wasn't even originally part of the Challenge, and a third book has a copious collection of notes. I've even managed to get a handle on my screenplay.

Still struggling with the damn videos, though. Maybe I should start playing Minecraft.

But the point is that, even if the numbers remain terrible, the Challenge has done its job. I've produced more creative work and started forming habits that will allow me to continue doing so far beyond September 30th.

And I haven't given up on the numbers, either. I've been keeping track, and although it looks daunting at first glance, it's still within the realm of possibility. I'll share the numbers with you:

From today, I'd have to do a video every four days (easier than a daily show, right?); a song every ten days, which is tight but possible; a short story or article every 16 days, not a big deal now that I've got some routines going; a book every 45 days, which scares the hell out of me, but I'm quite capable of being scared into action; and a screenplay in 26 weeks. I have a book about writing a screenplay in nine weeks, so I should be able to do one in nearly three times that much.

I feel as though I'm part of a reality TV show, where things keep going wrong and the stakes get higher and higher until it looks like the contestants can't possibly make it through, and then they do.

But I don't have a producer making all that happen. It's just me, and the outcome is by no means assured. But that doesn't mean I won't keep trying.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

My First Review!

Royal Pines Estates got its first review on Amazon.com! Four stars, and the reviewer said it was a "fun somewhat eerie story." And it sure is that. Go read the review. And then buy the story and find out for yourself.

And here's a little more shameless self-promotion; a link to the story:


Next story should be coming pretty soon.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Moving Forward

Considering that I have a lot of family projects to work on today, I've already been quite productive. I've written about 500 words of my interactive book, The Big Old House, and I wrote the first verse to the song Perfect Little Robot. I managed to add about 300 words to The Cave Guardian, my next short story, last night after a family birthday party.

And the day isn't over. I have a lot of publishing, business, educational, and home-building tasks (did I mention I live in an unfinished house?) to work on today, but I seem to be finding the time to write as well.

If I can make most days work that way, I'll have a better shot at making my goal a reality.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Two With One Blow

Here are my two new songs, finished and posted on the same day. Song number seven:



I Jump turned out to be very interesting, and it makes me want to be a better musician. Which, by something that is merely coincidence, I am attempting to do by taking a new Coursera course from the Berklee School of Music, Developing Your Musicianship. Berklee has done well by me so far, so I have high hopes.

And here, more within my musical skills, is the eighth song of the Challenge:



Although I don't think this lyric is as well-crafted as Bad New Always Comes In the Mail, I think it contains a lot of important ideas for the times we're living in. That sounds pretentious, and I don't mean it to be. But I like the fact that I've put some of these things out there in a way that relates to what most of us are experiencing right now.

The songs that are coming up, unless some other song sparks my imagination and jumps ahead as these did, are both comments on life, but from two very different angles. Should be interesting.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Upcoming Uploads

Now that the giveaway period for Royal Pines Estates is nearly over (what, you missed it? You should have followed me on Twitter), I can concentrate on the two songs that are nearly ready to upload. Actually, Nickeled and Dimed is ready to go, but I'm waiting until I Jump is done. I recorded vocals for it, with a bongo track (you'll see), and now I'm adding synth guitar and piano tracks, maybe a little strings.

So tomorrow, I think, I'll be uploading two more songs.

Got a lot of work to do on all the other aspects of the Challenge, but the songs at least are pretty close to the schedule. Hoping for a kick in the seat of the pants with the warmer weather to come, which I desperately need now that there are fewer than 200 days left to go.

I never liked those scenes in the movies where the bomb ticks down to literally the last second before it's disarmed. I just hope I don't end of living that scene in real life.

Or the other one. The one where the bomb goes off.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Snow Joke

My wife left late for work today; it's just the way her schedule goes. My kids came home early from school because of predicted blizzard conditions for the afternoon. So I didn't get any recording done today.

It's hard to record with other people in the house. I'm a budding songwriter, not a professional musician, and I do not have a sound-proof space in my house. So I have to wait until I get some relatively noise-free time to do any recording.

The thing that kills me, though, is that the blizzard didn't arrive. The kids could have been in school until well into the afternoon, and I could have recorded Nickeled and Dimed, which now has a tune, and probably done the vocal track for I Jump, and then started working on the arrangement, of which much will be done with virtual instruments in GarageBand.

With my luck, at least as far as this Winter goes, the blizzard will still arrive, overnight, and the kids will have the entire day off tomorrow. I'll have to find them something quiet to do.

Having two songs that are basically ready to record has me champing at the bit. Hmm. Champing At the Bit. That has a nice ring. I wonder if anyone else has done a song with that title. Oh yeah, Every Time I Die did one. Oh well, I have enough ideas to work on without taking someone else's title.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Collecting Lyrics

I finished the lyric for Nickeled and Dimed today while I was on the treadmill; I'd rather have been taking a walk, but the walkways around here are covered in ice. Some of my best writing comes when I'm not trying to write, though that's mostly true when I've done a lot of thinking and prep ahead of time, as I had with this song.

Neither this song nor I Jump is musically complete yet, but I'm homing in on it. I might have some time to work on it in the next couple of days since we're going to be snowed in. Or, I won't have any time at all because we're going to be snowed in. It's all a matter of timing, and when I need to shovel snow and how much school my kids miss.

Meanwhile, I'm moving on to new lyrics, for the song Living As If It Matters, if I can get a handle on it, and a song I thought up while I was working in probably the most boring job I've had since I got married. That song is called Perfect Little Robot. Like Wake Up Call and Disconnected, it's a little out of my musical comfort zone, which is something I try to do from time to time to keep my work from all sounding the same.

I'm also jamming on the next short story, The Cave Guardian. I've taken it in a completely different direction than the one I started with over 30 years ago. I like to think I've become a much better writer since then.

On the other hand, I'm beating myself up because I can't seem to get rolling on the video front. I have lots of ideas that are really hard to shoot in the Winter, especially this Winter. But I should be able to dream up some fun things that can be done on a tabletop or in front of my green screen. I just can't seem to make that happen. Right now, anyway.

But I'm determined. This can be done.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Bamboozled By Five—Just a Little

I did a scratch vocal recording of I Jump last night. Nothing I can use, because there was too much background noise and my voice was tired. But my brain wasn't doing too badly. I have managed to get a handle on this 5/4 time signature and actually sing the song straight through.

But the song is much too short, and it needs some filling in on the instrumental side (and a new drum track). That's where I'll be spending some time with GarageBand this week, getting some good 5/4 instrumental fills in so that the song is longer than, say, 1:05.

It won't be anything earth-shattering on the arrangement end, but it need that kind of fleshing out to maintain a sense of pace and separation between the sections. Wish me luck. Especially because I don't want anything to sound as if I had just stolen it from Mission Impossible or Take Five (even though the influence will no doubt be inescapable).

Meanwhile, I am just a verse away from having all the lyrics for Nickeled and Dimed, and since that is a straight guitar-and-vocal kind of song, it might hit SoundCloud ahead of I Jump.

It's really funny how these things work out.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Day Late

Well, more like half a day. CreateSpace approved my files around 7:00 last night, which would have given me time to approve the proof and move on to the Kindle publishing realm.

But as I was in the process of making four pizza for my family (we cook at home a  lot), our range stopped working. It's something that's happened before, and I know that it can be fixed (and I spent night cursing digital controls for something as simple as a stove and oven). And we actually have a second range available in our currently-vacant basement apartment, so I was able to make the pizzas, eventually.

But I didn't get back to my publishing duties until this morning. The printed version of Royal Pines Estates is immediately available at CreateSpace, and will shortly be available on Amazon.com. But if I were you I'd wait until this afternoon for the much cheaper Kindle version.

And if you're really cheap, as I am, you'll wait for the free promotional days later this week, which I will announce on my Twitter feed. So don't you think it's time you followed me on Twitter?

Today is a housework day, though I am going to try to slip in the vocal track for I Jump and see if I can do some writing on Nickeled and Dimed. And I'm editing a video that I made with my son William about his first cake-baking experience. Finally, the eighth video is coming.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Almost There

Had a couple of minor mistakes to correct on the proof of Royal Pines Estates; I just submitted the final file for print. As soon as it's reviewed and I approved it, I'll move on to uploading the Kindle version. If all goes well, the story will be available for sale in both formats by the end of the day.

How did I get the proof so fast? Well, CreateSpace offers a virtual proof, and online version that gives you all the formatting and text on the computer screen. For long books, or inexperienced publishers, I don't recommend it; it's better to have a physical book that you can mark up, dog-ear, and hand off to other readers to help you spot problems.

You can actually print the online proof as well, but on longer books I just go ahead and order it; much easier to pass around. But for this short work, the online proof works just as well, and it gets me to press—literally and virtually—much faster.

Friday, March 7, 2014

First Short Work For the Challenge

I finally have finished my short story Royal Pines Estates, and am now just waiting for the uploaded files to be approved for print before I send the electronic versions to Kindle.

Wait a minute, did I just say "print"? Yes, I know, and if I wanted to make my life easier, I could count this as the first book of the Challenge instead of the first short. But sending the book to print is just something I do whenever the formatted page count is at least 24 pages. There are some people who just don't like reading e-books, and there are other advantages to print. For more on my opinions about that, see this blog entry.

But at roughly 4000 words, this is definitely a short story. I'll post the link and the description, and also announce the time window when you can pick up a Kindle copy for free, as soon as the e-book is approved.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Jumping

Still haven't recorded I Jump. Can't blame the kids today, and although my wife was home and we spent time away from home, I can't blame here either. It all comes down to discovering that when you write a song in an odd time signature, you really discover the limits of your skills as a vocalist.

I'm having trouble staying with the metronome, the bongo beat, the piano riff. I keep missing the downbeat because it's not where my limited musical experience expects it to be. But then, how many people have experience singing in 5/4?

I'm thinking that I need some kind of visual cue to help me out, but lacking a conductor, I think I might just have to muddle through.

I will try again tomorrow. And again and again. Until I get it right. Or at least as right as I am able.

And then sometime down the line, if I still like the song, I will arrange with a vocalist with much more skill than I have to record the song.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Overly Optimistic?

I'm actually nearly done with I Jump, but my chances of recording it by tomorrow are very slim. I didn't take into account my children, who are on vacation and demanding a lot of my time. And, besides, I have discovered just how challenging it is to sing a song written in 5/4. And yes, I did manage to keep that time signature.

Vacation will be over on Monday, though, and I will set right down to recording that song. Nickeled and Dimed is in the works, too, and that one will be an easy guitar-and-voice set-up, so once I'm done with it, a few rehearsals will be enough to get me up on SoundCloud.

I'm discovering, much to my surprise, that with the tools provided by the Coursera course Songwriting, by Pat Pattison, I am having much more success writing songs than with the other media in my Challenge. Not that I'm giving up on the videos and books; it's just more of a struggle than I expected. Maybe I'll get into the groove with those as much as I have with the songs, and zoom through to the point where I'm caught up.

Or not. I am going to give it my best try, but I know for sure that when the year is over, I will have created more than I would have had I not given myself the challenge in the first place.

Win, place, or show, I'll come out ahead on September 30th.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Jumping Ahead

I have been trying to get Living As If It Matters to turn into something. It's a great concept, and there's some wonderful proto-lyrics in my notes. But I can't seem to make it come together into a tune that sounds like the mood I'm trying to create. Yet.

So, moving ahead on the outside and pulling into the lead are the other two songs I've been working on: I Jump, and Nickeled and Dimed.

I Jump began as an exercise in 5/4 time, but I'm not sure it's not going to end up getting an extra beat in every measure. But the lyrics are almost done, and they'll work with either time signature. And I'll have drawn on Lalo Schifrin for inspiration no matter which it ends up being. (In case you didn't know, Lalo Schifrin composed the theme for Mission: Impossible in 5/4 time, and also the theme for Mannix, printed on the sheet music as 3/4, though it really works best when you think of it as six beats.)

Nickeled and Dimed will be getting a lot of inspiration from Merle Travis' classic Sixteen Tons, and may give a little nod to Tom Glazer's A Dollar Ain't a Dollar Anymore.

And one or both of these songs should be coming to SoundCloud by the end of this month. And maybe the work that I put into them will suggest something I can use for Living As If It Matters.

Or maybe I'll jump ahead to something else first. I just never know sometimes where my mind is headed.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Trying To Finish

I feel like a juggler (actually, I do juggle, but that's another subject altogether). I know the conventional wisdom is that you should work on one thing at a time until it's done, and then move onto the next thing. But my mind doesn't work that way.

It's one of the reasons that I am such a fan of Evernote. Whether I'm walking around doing something with my wife and kids or sitting at my computer (or the family computer at the kitchen table), all of my current projects are right there. If I'm feeling stuck on one project rather than beat my head against the wall (and that's tempting on many days, believe me), I can move to another project to see if something comes to me.

Of course, to get anything like a book, or even a short story, done requires periods of concentrated writing effort. But that usually comes, for me at least, after I've mapped out the general outline and written lots of individual paragraphs the get my juices flowing.

And they are flowing, even if you're not seeing a lot of the results yet. But it will come.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Passing Me

I felt a twinge of guilt and jealousy today when I noticed that my 13-year-old son's channel has more videos on it than mine does.

Of course, his videos are all just screen captures of him playing Minecraft and Happy Wheels, so it's not quite the same as what I'm doing. And, no, I'm not going to resort to the same tactic just to get my numbers up.

But if the guilt and jealousy gets me off my butt and back behind the camera, then maybe I need to feel a little more of it!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Song Six Finally

After struggling with all kinds of recording and logistical problems, during which time I just sat down on the bed and started rehearsing the song so that I could play it in one pass for the mic, I finally did just that and gave up on multitracking this one.

And so here it is:



It's not long on production value, but I think it's one of my best songs yet.

But no time to rest. Three more songs in the pipeline, five videos, two short stories, two books, one screenplay ...

Oh hell, I'd better get to work!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Aargh!

I was recording Bad News Alway Comes In the Mail today. Really. But it wasn't going well. I didn't like the guitar part (I'm not good at this strumming thing: I'm more of a picker), and I wasn't satisfied with the voice recordings. So I was going through again and again, trying to improve the performance and the mic position.

The guitar part still sucked, but it was multitrack, so I still had the option of replacing that part. And the vocal was getting there.

And then my headphones broke. They were cheap headphones anyway, but they just sheared off and came apart from nothing more than me taking them off of my head.

It was my cue to stop. Besides, the vocal wasn't really all that good, and the guitar part wasn't just bad, it was off-tempo. So I set down a click track, to which I will sing tomorrow, when I can dig up some temporary headphones. And after that I will do a completely new guitar part, and some harmony, and a little bit of extra instrumentation.

And the result, I hope, will more than compensate for the loss of the headphones.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Looping For Nothing

In one of the experimental videos I made recently, I used this fun but bizarre program called "Fun Movie Maker" (or FMM) where you can do the old Clutch Cargo trick (or, for a more modern reference, something like Annoying Orange) and substitute your real mouth for the mouth of a photograph or drawing. I chose a drawing.

The problem I had was that, although the movie was perfectly acceptable, the audio was too quiet and a little distorted. I won't blame the microphones on my iPhone for that; they seem to be pretty good under most circumstances. I just think the recording conditions at the time were lousy.

But I didn't want to redo the video recording. So I decided to loop the audio instead. Now looping can often involve pretty expensive software (and back in the old days, some really expensive hardware). But I managed to get good results with the free program ocenaudio (which I run on a Mac, but it's cross-platform) and my Zoom H2.

I cut a version of the sound containing only the line I wanted to loop, and played it back over my headphone in ocenaudio, which plays the file over and over in a loop by default. I set my H2 to record, and then just repeated the line several times until I liked the way it sounded.

Then I loaded the file from the H2 into ocenaudio, and trimmed to the chosen take. I normalized it, then imported it into iMovie, which I used to edit the video, and lined up the track with the original audio.

That's a lot easier than it was in the days when this stuff was all done with coated film for the sound; now you can see the peaks and valleys in the waveform for the rough line-up, and then you can hear the two together. You just make minor adjustments until they play simultaneously, with no noticeable echo, and then you can silence the original track and the new, better track will be there playing in perfect sync with the video.

For the performer (me in this case), the recording part is really easy, so it's a method I'll likely be using with my talent in future project when the sound from the field doesn't quite work for me.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Bookshelf

I have a lot of books. I think most writers do, and I think most writers have a lot of books about writing. But there on the many bookshelves in my house, there is a section about 18 inches long close to my computer where I keep my current reference books. My dictionary, rhyming dictionary, and thesaurus are always there. But the rest of the collection shifts around to suit the project I'm currently working on.

Right now there is a small group of books to help me with my screenplay, including The Comic Toolbox and How To Write Mysteries (since it is a comedy with a murder plot). There is a little section for songwriting, including The Songwriter's Idea Book, but right now I am going through the process with my Kindle version of Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison.

The books come in and out throughout the day as I switch from one project to another, sometimes coming downstairs to the laptop at the kitchen table (the family machine, but I've been hogging it lately).

I've read many of these books from cover to cover, but it helps to have them at hand to look up something that I knew, but had forgotten. Despite the promise of these titles, there is no real "how to" manual for writing. There is craft, there are rules, and there are tools.

But after that there is practice. And more practice.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Writing!

That whole chaining-myself-to-the-keyboard thing actually turned out pretty well. I wrote over 2000 words and made progress on the tune of Bad News Always Comes In the Mail. I like the way that feels!

Shooting for 3000 words tomorrow, on various projects.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Song Number Five, Finally

This posting is a few days late. The day after I got this song recorded and posted, I got a nasty flu bug. Which will make it fun when it comes time to record the sixth song, which I hope to have done by the end of this week.

Here's my new one:


A bit out of my comfort zone, but I hope you like it.

The next three days in particular will be spent chained to my computer keyboard, catching up on the writing to go with the many ideas that are rattling around in my head (I wondered what that noise was). The following week I will concentrate on turning that writing into finished works.

Stay tuned, and please don't forget to follow; Twitter is best for keeping up-to-date on releases.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Finally a Chance To Start

One of the annoying things about Winter in New Hampshire is the occasional appearance of snow days, which have the kids sitting at home making it impossible for me to get any substantial amount of work done. One of the annoying things about this Winter, aside from the roller coaster temperatures, is that we've already had two snow days and one early release because of weather.

Which means that this is the first day that I haven't had the kids at home. And so I'm writing, doing musical arrangements, and trying in general to catch up.

So I don't have a lot of time for this blog, but I just wanted to let you know.