Sometimes the universe is small

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After my husband and I started watching the 2015 movie “Straight Outta Compton” on DVD last month, we found out that one of the characters portrayed in the movie – Jerry Heller – died that week. We finally got back to finishing the movie tonight, more than a month later, and when I went to find out if the actor who portrayed Ice Cube was his son – because he looked so much like him – I found out that earlier this morning Dr. Dre and Ice Cube were in the news this morning because they were dismissed from a lawsuit.

So weird.

Great movie, by the way. I’ve never really listened to gangsta rap before so didn’t know much about it, but it was really interesting to learn about it.

Oh, and the actor is Ice Cube’s son.

A Pixelated World

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One of the things holding me back about publicizing my songs on YouTube is that I’m hesitant to make a video. I not all that tech savvy about making videos and I don’t want to just have one of me sitting in my living room playing guitar.

Then it dawned on me that I don’t really like most pictures of me in general and maybe that’s holding me back in other ways, too. If I wanted to be a Vine or Snapshat or Instagram celebrity (I don’t), you can’t really do that if you don’t like pictures of yourself. And today’s society is all about the pictures – it wasn’t as much of an issue 20 years ago when I was in my 20s. I’ve read some articles recently about how those “candid” snapshots of people often take a lot of work to set up and so it’s not really all that real at all.

I know with myself, when I’m posting pictures of our family trip, I tend to select the best one out of the dozen “candid” shots and avoid the ones that remind me that I was yelling, “Just look at the camera! NO silly faces, NO bunny ears, put your shirt down, put your tongue in your mouth – just look at the camera and smile!!” Sometimes I remember to tell them that we can do a silly one after the photo shoot but I just want one GOOD picture. (And often it’s the silly ones that bring back the best memories anyway.)

Anyway, that’s what I had in mind when I wrote this song, “A Pixelated World.” That in this world where everybody is constantly sharing photos of their life, it’s often more the photos of how they’d like their life to be rather than how it actually is. And how these “sunny snapshots” are mixed in my Facebook timeline with the distressing news stories of the day.

 

Stronger together

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After hearing Donald Trump speak last week, I turned off the television feeling depressed and pessimistic about the future of our country. Tonight, I felt a surge of optimism after hearing Hillary Clinton speak.

Although I don’t agree with some of her past work or some of her future plans, I feel inspired by her message. I didn’t have the same reaction to Barack Obama’s hope and change platform, as I was tired of hearing the same rhetoric in many areas of my life where I wasn’t seeing action backing up words.

But the news has been so dark lately and the future so dreary, that the light of Hillary’s message warmed me. The message of us all working together to get through this  was inspiring – and in sharp contrast to the message of “I will take care of all these bastards ruining our country,” which by judging faiths and ethnic groups collectively rather than as individuals has a dangerous precedent.

Of course the dark forces looming both within and outside our borders still exist and scenes from “The Apprentice” and “House of Cards” swirl in my mind alongside the campaign speeches and it’s a challenge to keep track of what is real, but for tonight, I’m happy for that one spark of inspiration.

 

Music first

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When I write songs, I usually write the lyrics and melodies first and then write the music afterward. Since my guitar chord ability is limited, this often causes many of my songs to have similar sounds. So I thought I’d try something new and start with the music this time and then add the lyrics. I even learned a new chord – C, which used to be a big challenge for me but somehow I’m able to stretch my fingers to play it now.

So here it is – I started playing the C, came up with chords that sounded like it went with it then the first line came to me “I never knew what you believed in” and went from there. I finished the first version of the song the same evening – once I had that first line – and a recent news headline in mind – it almost wrote itself. In the following week, I tweaked a few of the lyrics as I sang/played it over and over certain parts needed to be smoothed out.

One thing that took awhile was the bridge.  I never purposely wrote a bridge into a song before. I knew songs are supposed to have one, but was never really clear on what it was. I tried to grasp it and it took several days to come up with one, both the music and the lyrics. Still not sure if I got it right.

But here’s my newest song, “Evening News.”

Click here for the lyrics.

Technical stuff

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Tonight’s studio recording class at the community college was VERY technical. A look at how Pro Tools works.

My husband went with me to this one, as he’s interested in helping me record my songs. I’m very grateful for that because this aspect of the process makes my head spin. Or in tonight’s case, my eyes close because I was so tired and was having trouble staying awake. No reflection on the instructor, as he was energetic and funny and really knew his stuff. It had just been a long day of work and kids on not much sleep.

But it was interesting to learn about how this part of the recording process works, even if I didn’t understand much of it. I typically learn something better when I’m actually doing it, rather than listening to how to do it, so maybe if we get the interface needed to connect the instruments to the computer and we get ProTools, then I’ll get a chance to play around with it with my songs. Maybe use the metronome click to keep my tempo the same throughout the song and do some compression and EQ and use a gate to control the thresh.

Did you notice some of the technical terms there in the last paragraph?

Anyway, I have newfound respect for all the sound guys and producers and whoever else is involved in making songs sound good. Very impressive work.

One interesting piece of advice I heard tonight, too, is to listen to other songs in the genre that you want to work in and pay close attention to those that are successful to see how they are made. That seems like it should be obvious, but I’ve never thought of my songs in that way. I usually just get an idea or a melody or a first line and then go from there until I feel like it’s done – changing lyrics along the way, but not really planning which direction to go in.

So I’m going to try doing that – maybe actually trying to craft a song from the start and see what happens.

 

A song is a short story

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Tonight in my songwriting quest, I went to a song-in-progress workshop hosted by the local songwriters’ association. Guests are invited to bring one song – either recorded or playing it live – and songwriting experts and other participants critique it.

I brought a recording of my most recent song, “Among the Shadows,” which my husband and I recorded in our living room last night. I’ve been working on it for a couple of weeks now and my husband added his guitar, which added a whole other dimension in my opinion. This was the first time playing one of my songs with somebody else so that in itself was fun.

Back to tonight. As I expected, the group as very supportive and it was cool to hear everybody else’s song-in-progress.

Here were the critiques/compliments about my song:

The main critique of my song was that the chorus and the verses sound too similar and need some more differences between the two. Not a big surprise as I used the same chords throughout, although I tried to switch the order in different places.

One person really liked the lyrics and the message behind them.

One person said he liked my singing voice and that the song had a Pretenders sound to it, but he was waiting for the big chorus, which never came.

Some tips that I found really helpful:

A song is a short story – it should have a beginning, middle and end (especially in the singer-songwriter and country genres.)

When writing a song, decide what the goal of the song is – is it for commercial purposes? If so, what kind? A specific genre?  To get picked up by radio? (If radio, it should be about 2 1/2-3 minutes long, which pretty much all of my songs are.)

Who is the singer singing to?

Definitely things to think about when reworking my songs and rewriting new ones.

Here’s the song I played tonight:

My favorite quote

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To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of the intelligent people
and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better
whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch,
or a redeemed social condition;
to know that one life has breathed easier
because you lived here.
This is to have succeeded.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson (apparently he’s often attributed to saying this, but didn’t actually say it, according to many sources. But regardless who actually said it, I think it’s a beautiful message.)

 

Dreams shot down

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I had never heard of Christina Grimmie until last night. #PrayforChristina was trending on Twitter and I clicked on it to see why. The story was heartbreaking – a 22-year-old talented singer whose presence on YouTube and her appearance on “The Voice” had gained a large number of fans was shot when signing autographs after a concert in Orlando, Florida. Her brother heroically tackled the shooter and during the struggle, the shooter fatally shot himself. Christina was rushed to the hospital. Her last Twitter post was inviting fans to come to her show.

By all accounts, she was a sweet person and very kind to her fans and from the videos I watched, it was apparent that she was a VERY talented singer. I said a little prayer for her and went to sleep.

I ended up waking up around 3 a.m. after a weird dream and immediately thought of her – I checked Twitter and sadly, the hashtag had changed to #RIPChristina.

The police have identified the shooter, but I don’t even want to type out his name in the same post.

When I checked into Twitter tonight, her name was no longer trending, the list of trending topics moved on to something new. So I just felt like I wanted to write a little post about her. Even though 24 hours ago, I had never heard of her, her death made me so sad. Some tweets from her fans wrote about how they had grown up with her YouTube videos (she started her YouTube channel at 16 years old and had more than 3 million YouTube subscribers) and how she was always so kind to them when they tweeted her. She recently debuted an EP called “Side A” – in a recent article, she said she wanted a title that hinted at a second – “like Side B,” that she was planning on releasing sometime this year.

#RIPChristina

You trended for a day
Then your hashtag went away
Disappeared and was replaced by someone new
A world was revealed
The moment you were killed
Tributes and tears were shared for you

It’s not meant to end this way
Your dreams were shot down yesterday
A future once so bright extinguised suddenly
But your light continues to shine
In the hearts and on the minds
Of those you shared yourself with so generously.

Gaining experience

A few weeks ago, I contacted a legendary music producer after hearing a radio interview with him and really being impressed with his passion for music and helping songwriters. After a few emails back and forth trying to set up a time to talk, he ended up calling me and we chatted for about an hour.

I don’t want to say his name at this point because it’s too early to do so, but he was so nice and so gracious and I was so appreciative that he took the time to not only  listen to some of my songs but to talk to me about them and give me advice. Since my songs have always been a really personal thing for me and something I’m not used to sharing with others, it was really a life-changing conversation for me and got me thinking about what I really want to do with them.

After our conversation, I started reading more about the business – both in the Songwriters Market, which I bought a couple weeks before that, and online.

He had also given me an idea of what the process is to record a song at his studio, which ended up being way out of my price range. We renegotiated by cutting down on some of the instrumentation, but it’s still not an amount that is readily available for me, especially right now when there are still some weeks this summer that I haven’t arranged for summer camp for the kids.

So I was totally bummed that I couldn’t just jump into this project – did I mention that he was interested in recording one of my songs? Oh, I didn’t mention that? Oh, well yes, this legendary producer thought one of my songs had some potential and although I wasn’t clear on some of the vocabulary he used to describe it, the end result is that he thought it had potential.

So anyway, there I was the day after discovering that even the lower price was currently out of reach, and I found in my work inbox a free “No Experience Necessary” class at a local community college about studio recording. It’s one evening a week for the month of June.

Tonight was the first class – it focused on acoustics and microphones and the importance of both when it comes to recording a song. (And it made me realize just how un-ideal the conditions of my recording situation are and, hence, how unprofessional my current recordings must sound.)

Next week the topic is mixing and recording (so maybe I’ll understand some of the vocabulary if I ever get to work with said producer), then the following week there will be a singer-songwriter performing and we’ll learn about how recording conditions and equipment changes the sound of the recording and the final week is about electronic music.

Meanwhile, I’m in the process of writing a new song – this time my husband is playing lead guitar so it is sounding better than ever – and I am really excited about how that is turning out.