Friday, May 29, 2015

Newest Song

I managed to finish my song for class and get it recorded and posted, despite a rather nasty virus that I seem to have contracted while away camping, or perhaps just before I left. It's actually a good thing that the deadline was yesterday, because when I woke up this morning my voice, which was already in pretty bad shape, was nearly gone.

I'm sharing the new song with you so that you can hear the song, not my sorry, stuffy-nosed recording of it. I have to re-submit the song with some phrasing changes by Thursday, and with any luck my voice will have recovered somewhat. The new recording will replace the old so I don't have to listen to the old one anymore, and neither do you.

But here, for good or ill (and when I say ill...), is my latest song (EDIT: This is the new version; the old version was removed):

Feel free to comment on the song, share it with your friends if you don't think they'd mind the singing, or with your enemies if you think they would mind the singing.

And you can comment on my voice if you must, but you won't be telling me anything I don't already know.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Why I Don't Use Rhyme Worksheets

As I mentioned last week, I'm coming up on a deadline for a song that I'm submitting as an assignment for my songwriting class. I know, I'm pushing it, but I spent far more of my time singing during my weekend camping trip than I did writing, and to top it off I managed to contract some kind of virus which had me sleeping until nearly noon today.

But, to the subject mentioned in the title. Part of the course I'm taking is a rhyme worksheet, where you list nine or ten key words and find a nice collection of good rhymes. I did one for the assignment, as required, and I don't mean to say that they're a bad idea, but on the whole they don't work for me, because of the way I tend to write.

Take the song I'm working on now (I am working on it, in my head, honest). It was inspired by passing one of the local graveyards and seeing that a John Deere backhoe had dug a grave, and that the area was being set up for a funeral. "Too bad," I thought, "but that's the way life goes; it happens every day."

And, being that I'm a songwriter, the inevitable happened, and I came up with an idea for a song that used major milestones in our lives to make the point that as important as those things are to us, individually, any one of them means nothing to the world as a whole because they literally happen every day.

So I did my usual thing, writing the idea out in prose, and working out the chorus. Then I went ahead and did a rhyme worksheet for the class, based on my prose, which talked about all the various emotions that go with these milestones. So far so good.

But after I finished the worksheet and started writing actual verses, I found that I had started with a very concrete idea, using actual items the singer had come across to set the scene. And I decided that switching from concrete "show me" lines to abstract lines about feelings was not where I wanted to go. And there went about 90% of my key words.

My lyrics evolve too much and too fast for me to choose my key words so early in the process. So, while I take every advantage of the theory of rhyme types put forward by Pat Pattison, which is so useful and liberating that I use a chart based on it as a bookmark in my rhyming dictionary, I've decided that the one tool I won't be using from this class is a rhyme worksheet.

But that's just me.

Meanwhile, I have less than 24 hours to complete, record, and post a new song. So I'd better get back to work.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

My Queue Is Full

One thing about taking a songwriting class is that it gets my juices flowing, but doesn't necessarily leave me a lot of time to finish songs (except for the one, due in about a week, that I have to finish as an assignment—yikes).

The result is that I have a lot of works in progress. Two, partial songs created for assignments, currently appear on my SoundCloud account.  And then there are a couple that I've been beating my head against for months. I suspect I will get a little done on some of these while I'm away camping this weekend, but I probably won't finish most of them until my current class, and possibly the next one, is over.

Wait, what? The next class? Yes, thanks to one of the students in the Coursera class, I found a class from FutureLearn and the University of Sheffield that seems to focus more on the musical aspects of songwriting, something I've felt constrained by for quite awhile now.

So some of these songs I have in the works might be awhile coming to fruition. But I hope when they do, they'll come accompanied by better tunes.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Another One-Day Song

I finally got the most recent one day song, Feeling My Oats, finished and recorded, and so here it is:

I'm not sure it's done; I might want to add another verse to it at some point, but I'm not going to worry about it right at the moment. I'm sitting down to write a song as my final project for songwriting class, and although I'm not ignoring all my other songs, that one takes precedence.

While you're on SoundCloud you might notice a couple of other tracks that I have not bothered to announce on this blog. These are just a couple of assignments for the class and not complete songs. If you're interested, you should listen to them soon because they will disappear after the class is over, about a week into June.

But don't fret; I like them enough that they will probably re-appear in the coming months as complete songs.

Meanwhile, a little note: if you really want to keep up on all the latest news, you should "like" my Facebook page, which gets all of my Twitter feeds, including all of my SoundCloud posts. I also will be posting news to my Facebook page that I don't put on Twitter.

If you're not on Facebook, or don't pay much attention to it, or have so many friends and likes that you're likely to miss my little announcements, then you can also sign up for email updates on the front page of my website. The email announcements won't be as frequent, timely, or thorough as the Facebook posts, but you're less likely to miss them as long as I don't get caught in your spam filters (which sound very painful).

If you're a SoundCloud member, you can always follow me there, but that will only get you the songs, and there's more than songs coming down the pipe. You can also follow me on Twitter, which is the second-freshest options next to Facebook.

And if you like my music, and whatever else I'm creating, I hope you'll take the time to share with your friends, family, and even passing strangers. As I've always said when acting on stage, I love to play to a full house.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Writing the One-Day Song

Every week I try to do a song over the course of a single 24-hour period. It's not always possible, and I don't always finish, but I do schedule it once a week.

The idea is not to pump out as many songs as possible, especially because the song that I write in one day may take up to two weeks to get refined into a finished song, which is longer than some of the others that I didn't give myself such a tight deadline on.

No, the One-Day Song is a tool that I use to shake up my writing, to force myself to think like a songwriter intensely for a whole day, even when things are happening around me that have nothing to do with songwriting. (Well, maybe not nothing—it seems that inspiration follows me whether I am looking for it or not.) It's an adjunct to my other shake-up-my-writing tools, including working from a beat track, doing algorithmic composition, writing in a genre I've never written in before, writing with a different instrument in my hands, or writing in a different time signature.

I like to keep things fresh.

Today, in addition to my constant songwriting companions, the thesaurus and the rhyming dictionary, I pulled out two idea kick-starters. One won't be surprising at all, it's Sheila Davis' The Songwriter's Idea Book. The other, though, is a browser's book for word lovers, The Henry Holt Encyclopedia Of Word and Phrase Origins.

Davis' book lead me to start thinking about idioms, and so I started browsing through Henry Holt to find some promising phrases for song titles. Now, this is the sort of thing that I could waste an entire day on, coming up with a title, but not actually writing a song. So, this whole brainstorming session had a 45-minute timer on it. I flipped through randomly and found the expression "feeling one's oats."

And there's the title, "Feeling My Oats." As soon as I heard it, I had the line before it (with the idiom rounding out the last line of the chorus), and an idea of the tune. So I did something I don't normally do and started to figure out how the rhyme scheme and line lengths in the verses and chorus should be and wrote those down. And now I'm writing lyrics to go with that. Will it work? I don't know, but it's produced some ideas so far that seem promising.

You may ask, "Well, if you're supposed to be writing a song in one day, why are you wasting time writing about writing a song in one day?" Good question. But the one-day song isn't me banging my head against the table for 24 hours struggling to come up with words and lines. It's setting up the structure, making as many notes as I come up with on the spot, and then making sure my work is out where I can come back to it again and again during the course of the day. Thank you, Evernote, for letting me have my lyrics and notes on my phone, my tablet, my computer, and even my TV (I have a Chromebox hooked up to the TV).

The ideas will cook, and occasionally they will draw me back to my notes, send me to the thesaurus and rhyming dictionary (you thought I'd forgotten about them), and as I'm about the business of writing prose, marketing, and making dinner for the kids, I'll get more and more ideas to add to the notes.

I think there's a good chance that a song will come out of it by tomorrow afternoon, even with the kids around and Mother's Day preparations to make. Of course, if it does, you'll know about it soon enough.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Continuing To Educate Myself

I think I may have mentioned that I am once again taking the Songwriting course by Pat Pattison via Coursera. I have taken it three times before, and I've downloaded all the lectures so that I can watch them anytime, so why am I doing the course again?

Deadlines. They really help keep me writing. And then there is the chance to do something outside my comfort zone. For example, the verse and chorus that I just submitted for grading started out with me just thinking about the requirements for the assignment: that the verse feels unstable (has forward motion) based mostly on the number and length of lines, and that the chorus feels stable (comes to rest) on the same basis, and that the subject matter for each is appropriate for the feeling.

I know that most of you reading it won't exactly know what I'm talking about; these are concepts developed by Prof. Pattison, and he explains them much better in the course than I possibly can in a short blog post. But it lead me to thinking about moving from something that feels unstable to something that feels stable, and I thought of a young child suffering some kind of little trauma, which is anything but little to the child, being comforted by her father. Unstable followed by stable.

As I developed the lyric, though, I found myself going somewhere that didn't sound like the usual me. That's a good thing, not because the usual me is so bad (I hope you'll agree), but because I want to change it up and keep it fresh whenever possible. And what I'm hearing sounds a little like a show tune. Definitely something new for me.

Now, the song is far from finished, and I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with it, except that the little girl in the song is going to grow during the course of it. But here is the first little snippet:

So have a listen, feel free to tell me what you think, keeping in mind that the song is likely to change a lot before I declare it done.

And now back to work. Not only do I have three other songs in the works, but I'm going to attempt another one-day song tomorrow. Not that you likely get to hear it tomorrow. As with Always Here, I expect it to get rewritten over the course of several days before I'm ready to record it.

Because with pretty much any kind of good writing, that's just the way it goes.

Saturday, May 2, 2015


I've written two songs in just a little over two weeks, but between tweaking and all the little things that have prevented me from getting in front of the microphone, I just haven't been able to record my new songs.

Until today. Empty house, no noise to speak of, and an itch to get them done, and now they're on SoundCloud.

And since I posted the unfinished lyric to Always Here before, let me post the finished version:

When I was young
I lost my way
Traveling on a road that had no end.
But I found you
Along that road
And you’ve been walking by my side since then.

You’re ALWAYS HERE for me
As we wander through this life.
You're ALWAYS HERE for me
On a trek through space and time
I can always forge ahead
Because I have you near,
My life's complete because you're ALWAYS HERE.

The many years
I've walked with you
We've had our share of bumps along the path
But hand in hand
If we stay close
Together we can find our way at last.

And lest we think that we've arrived,
There's another destination, just as long as we're alive.

My songwriting assignment for Thursday is a verse and a chorus that meet certain criteria. Since I'm kind of on a roll, I've decided to try to write an entire song by that deadline.

Wish me luck, and keep an eye on me. And tell your friends.

Behind the Scenes

I've been pretty quiet lately, at least the public side of me. It's been almost two weeks since my last blog entry, and I haven't posted anything to SoundCloud since I updated When the Kids Are Gone more than a month ago. Even my Twitter feed has been mostly automated reminders of late. So what's going on?

Well, plenty, actually. I have finished the tune for Always Here, I wrote another song called A Birthday Song (inspired by my cousin in California, who prodded me for a new song by way of Facebook), and I've started on two new songs for my songwriting class.

I also just finished Maps and the Geospatial Revolution, a MOOC from Penn State via Coursera, and that was keeping me busy. And the kids had a week of vacation, which puts a crimp in my work time.

So, sometime soon, maybe even today, there will be a little burst of postings and something new to listen to, and then I'll get back to work on writing.

But if, while I've got my head in my work, and my hands on the keyboard, I seem to have disappeared from the online world, fear not. I'll pop my head up once in awhile.