I think this one came out pretty well. It’s the only “hard rocker” of the bunch for this February project.
My three random songs for inspiration were as follows: for chords and structure, Stevie Wonder’s “Livin’ In The City”, for arrangement, CSNY’s “Ohio”, and my third song, to throw in some lyric ideas along with the first two, was “Welcome to the Jungle”. Haha! Another eclectic group of songs.
And yet…each one did indeed contribute something. I entered Stevie’s chords and structure into Band In A Box and while in the program used BIAB’s database for some of their built-in song styles that would emulate “Ohio”. I listened to several, particularly paying attention to electric guitar “robot musicians”, since I wanted distorted guitar to drive the song–much as they do in “Ohio”.
The rhymes and phrases I jotted down during this pre-production phase ended up not being used much by the time the actual song-writing came along a week and a half later, but looking at my notes I see that I had already decided–with the influence of the lyrics in the three songs, specifically, “tin soldiers” from “Ohio” and “jungle” from “Welcome to the Jungle”–to make this song about child soldiers in Africa. (I’m a huge Idris Elba fan–I think he should be the next James Bond–and loved his Oscar-nominated movie “Beasts of No Nation” about the subject).
Once again, allowing some time to go by from original idea (Title and Theme) to actual song-writing, I had enough ideas percolating to make the lyric writing go pretty quickly. I then generated a number of tracks in BIAB–again, concentrating on good distorted electric guitar sounds–imported them all into Cakewalk SONAR and then started editing, mixing, and mastering.
I imported the final mp3 into Magix Vegas (formerly Sony Vegas) video editor, put in the lyrics, then uploaded to YouTube. Since there is a lengthy Outro, I decided to put some photos of child soldiers in the video toward the end–adding, I believe, to the “emotional experience”. (P.S. One critique I received on this song mentions that I have the lead guitar mixed way too low. Duly noted for the eventual remake. Absolutely correct!):
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This one is my favorite of the 14 songs I did for the February FAWM project.
You’ll recall my methodology is to pick three random songs, use the first one for chords and structure and the second one for arrangement. Then I look at the lyrics for all three for some title and theme ideas.
This time the chords and structure were taken from Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold”. The second song was “Bittersweet Symphony”. I didn’t really use much of it as an arrangement, but it did lead me in an “80’s” direction. The Band In A Box style that I found had a wonderful sounding drum track to it and it greatly inspired the rest of the track. BIAB has tons of “soloist” tracks and I went with a tenor sax “soloist” and generated the fantastic solos for the middle and the outro. All three songs–the third was “House of the Rising Sun”–were depressing reflections on life and I was going through some relationship challenges at the time (all-fixed, thanks for your concern) and it was Valentine’s Day so that’s the direction I went lyrically. Just as yesterday’s source material gave me the title “Midsummer’s Night”, based on the Shakespearean play, the downer lyrics I had in front of me got me thinking of Viktor Frankel’s MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING about his life in a Nazi death camp, and I went with “Search For Meaning” for my title. Interestingly, I paid homage to the full title in the song’s refrain: “MAN, you gotta SEARCH FOR MEANING”. I think that plaintive “Man…!” helps make the song.
The day I did preproduction for this song–to be written approximately a week and a half later–I printed off the lyrics to the three songs and jotted down some phrase/rhyme ideas: “Everybody chasing gold…Everyone cut from the same mold…just when you think she’s the answer, turn around there’s nothing there…boy, you’d better keep on searching…crossed to see the other side, turned to look at where I’d come from…wanted to be one in a million…”, etc., some of which ended up being in the song. I found these early “inspirations” to be very helpful days later when actual lyric-writing was on the agenda. They gave me a starting point and, per usual, lyric writing took only half an hour to 45 minutes for pretty much all of these songs. As I’ve discussed before, by deciding to keep things simple and not go for “Epic Lyrics” I believe things actually came out better than if I was writing to impress. I particularly like how these lyrics came out.
I ended up actually singing the upper harmony live rather than cheating with Melodyne–and I think it sounds a lot better for it. When I redo these songs, I’m going to use Melodyne very judiciously, if at all. Miracle software that it is, there can be a certain artificiality when over-used, and which is noticeable in some of my song sketches.
Tooting my own horn as I am wont to do, I think this has good lyrics and a good arrangement–it’s an overall very good song. IT’S MY FAVORITE!! I hope you enjoy listening as much as I enjoyed composing it:
This one was fun to do. I’ve always been a huge Beatles fan, so went with a kind of Magical Mystery-vibe on this one.
As previously discussed, I went to my spreadsheet for the random songs to determine which direction to go. This time chords and structure were going to be based on the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have To Do Is Dream”, and the arrangement would be based on “Stairway To Heaven”. Hmmmm…interesting.
Math major though I was, my favorite class in college was a Shakespeare course I took so I was reminded of “Midsummer Night’s DREAM” by the Everly Brothers title, and the “Stairway” arrangement and lyrics made me decide to go in a “cryptic lyrics” direction. I had a ball! Jotting down lyrics and phrases (during the pre-production phase) that came to mind roughly a week before the actual song-writing, I came up with “Queen of fairies (still thinking in a Shakespearean mode)…insects humming…doves are calling…night is falling…is this what it’s like in heaven…smell the flowers, taste the nectar…for a while, in denial…breathe the smoke, it makes you stupid…the satyr blows a tune of dreaming…hold me lightly, I am floating…blown away…love contagious in the shadows…”, many of which ideas made it into the final song.
When the time came I put the chords and structure into Band In A Box, picked some styles and instrumentations inspired by “Stairway To Heaven”–which, you’ll note, has flutes in the intro and which inspired my whole “satyr with a flute” idea. After recording, learned that “satyr” is pronounced “SAY-ter” and not like “satire”. Oops!
I had the Everly Brothers’ words in front of me while I wrote the lyrics to get the meter right. Note that you can sing the words of their song to this one without too much difficulty–but again, it is so “mutated” that you’d never know it was used as a source.
Generated a bunch of musical tracks in BIAB and imported into Cakewalk SONAR for editing and mixing and recorded my vocals. One thing I did differently to the vocals this time is to put a “telephone effect” on the lead to make it sound more…ethereal.
This song is just a sketch–put together in about 4 hours–but, I believe, has some promise. One thing I’ll do when “fixing” it is to add a harpsichord somewhere–maybe in place of that harp at the beginning, which I’m not sure I’m wild about. Dontcha think? I do like how the lyrics came out on this one.
If you’ve read the previous posts about my experience with FAWM, you know that I start things by picking 3 random songs to “constrain” my creative process and keep me focused.
For this song, my randomizing came up with “Baby, I Need Your Lovin'” to use for chords and structure, “On The Road Again” for arrangement, and my wild card to contribute lyric ideas with the first two ended up being “Comfortably Numb”. An interestingly eclectic group of songs. Willie’s arrangement meant this was going to be a country song, so I input the chords and structure to “Baby” into Band In A Box and selected some BIAB country styles to determine the music tracks that I wanted to use.
“BABY” and “ROAD” inspired a title of “Ridin’ With My Baby”. (Sorry, “NUMB”–I didn’t find much inspiration from you this time around. Good thing I pick three songs and not just two).
One of the things I worried about by “borrowing” chords and structure is that my final result would be suspiciously close to the original and folks might notice. I don’t think this ended up happening at all, though. I remember an experiment I read about somewhere where people were to tap out the rhythms to a very common song and see if someone listening could guess what it is. Try that with “Jingle Bells”, for instance. Tap out the rhythm and to you it will seem obvious–but nobody will get it. Seriously, try this out. Well…same thing happened with my methodology on these songs. To me, the original song’s influence frequently seemed to be there–in fact, you could generally sing the original song’s lyrics to my song comfortably–but it had been “mutated” too far from the source for folks to catch on. (Although there remained a song or two that I still worried about–I’ll comment on them as they come up).
Again, I wrote down some rhymes and phrases that I thought I might use when it would be time to write the song in a few days (usually about a week’s gap between the initial “pre-production” I’ve described above and writing the actual song).
When the day actually came around to write “Ridin’ With My Baby”, I again had the lyrics to “Baby, I Need Your Lovin'” in front of me to remind me of the meter of the verses I was going to have to come up with myself. Typically on these songs, I had lyrics pounded out in half an hour to 45 minutes. Rather than a rhyming dictionary I used software called Rhyme Genie to help me out of rhyming binds. This program is a bargain at about thirty bucks or so and I use it on everything. One of the features I liked was its “Intelligent Rhyme” mode where if you cannot find a “perfect rhyme” such as moon/June/spoon you can come up with a “close” rhyme that will work in the song. A real lifesaver–highly recommended.
Speaking of perfect rhymes, by the way, lyric-writing is very different from poetry writing. In music, you can “get away” with close rhymes and, as a matter of fact, too much perfect rhyming can be jarring. One song I’ve always hated the lyrics to is the otherwise fantastic song “Kiss And Say Goodbye” by The Manhattans. Check out these lyrics:
I had to meet you here today
There’s just so many things to say
Please don’t stop me till I’m through
This is something I hate to do
We’ve been meeting here so long
I guess what we done was wrong
Please, darling, don’t you cry
Let’s just kiss and say goodbye
Many months have passed us by
I’m gonna miss you I can’t lie
I’ve got ties and so do you
I just think this is the thing to do
It’s gonna hurt me I can’t lie
Maybe you’ll meet another guy
Understand me won’t you try, try, try
Let’s just kiss and say goodbye
Every time I hear those words sung, I want to puke. Otherwise, a great song though. Avoid too many perfect rhymes!!
Anyway, “Ridin’ With My Baby” is not my favorite effort. I like country music a little, but I’m not sure my heart is in the genre. You’re going to hear about three country songs in all in these posts and, to me, all three were my weakest efforts. Sorry, country fans.
Anyway, here’s “Riding With My Baby”. Again, all music tracks generated in BIAB, imported into SONAR for mixing (and lots of musical cuts so that there isn’t too much “going on” at once), vocals added–generally in one furious take–and then pitch corrected (poorly) in Melodyne–all as has been described in previous posts:
After my first three experimental but sucky songs, I finally wrote one that wasn’t bad: “Dreary Day”.
Per the discussion in my previous post, I went to my spreadsheet, and my column 1 song–for chords and structure–was “California Dreamin'” by the Mamas and Papas. The column 2 song, which I intended to use for arrangement purposes, was The Who’s “My Generation”. The 3rd column song, the lyrics for which I would examine along with the previous 2 for title and theme ideas was “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers.
The Who’s song was no help to me and I ended up scrapping it entirely as an influence. However, the serendipity of the “California Dreamin'” lyrics beginning “All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray”, along with Wither’s bemoaning “Ain’t No Sunshine” gave me my title of “Dreary Day”. I jotted down some phrases and rhymes: “gray/day…walking home/all alone…no sensation/hibernation…the awful wind/my coat too thin…” along with some imagery “abandoned houses…empty playgrounds…empty parks…” some of which I ended up using in the eventual song–which would not be written for another several days.
So I input the chords and structure (song structure has to do with where the verses, choruses, and bridges end up) from “California Dreamin'” into Band In A Box–the miracle software that substituted for my studio musicians. As mentioned, I did not use The Who’s arrangement after all–didn’t seem to fit–so I kind of went with the more acoustic style of Withers’ and the Mamas and Papas’ arrangements. I’m not sure I had discovered this feature of Band In A Box (BIAB) yet, but it has a pretty good-sized database of songs (including, it seemed to me, most of those Rolling Stones 500 songs I was using myself) that you can input and BIAB will suggest some of its styles it believes to be most appropriate for the song. (There are well over a thousand, and over a thousand different instrument tracks–my studio musicians–to choose from). My modus operandi was to test several styles and make notes of which “musicians” I liked in the top several styles to be eventually incorporated into my own song. Frequently, I’d decide to use a dozen or more instruments.
I would then generate a full track–the entire song–for each individual “musician”, even though in the final version particular musicians might only play a handful of measures, the drummer being the only one who would likely play throughout the entire song.
Once generated, every single instrument playing the entire song was then imported into Cakewalk SONAR to be edited and eventually mixed and mastered after the vocal tracks were laid down in SONAR.
Since “California Dreamin'” determined chords and structure, I had to base my own lyrics on the phrase length and meter of that song–although I played it pretty fast and loose. I WOULD have a copy of the song’s lyrics in front of me while I wrote my own so that I did not stray too far from where I was supposed to be. I had decided early on not to try too hard for Pulitzer Prize-winning lyrics, and to keep it simple. (I remembered an old Beatles interview I’d seen–actually, I just now GOOGLED for it and got this quote from Paul: “Our early stuff is more simple than our later stuff, and that’s one of the great things about The Beatles,” says McCartney. “This was a very simple song that fell into the category of ‘fan songs.’ All our early songs contained ‘me’ or ‘you.’ We were completely direct and shameless to the fans: ‘Love Me Do’; ‘Please Please Me’; ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand.’ A lot of people are fond of ‘Love Me Do’ because it evokes a period — and hey, it was No. 1, so it’s OK by me.”)
So lyrics generally came pretty easily. I started these lyrics not knowing where I’d end up. I guess if you’re going to call your song “Dreary Day”, it’s probably not going to end well…
Recorded my vocal in one take (as I generally did) and did some pitch correction with Melodyne. Whenever I listen to my vocal on this song, it reminds me a little of Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat”. Anyway. I chopped out a lot of the music so you don’t have too much cacophony at one time. Instruments play and drop out from verse to verse. Effects that I use on instruments and vocals are different things from Toontrack’s EZMix 2, particularly on the bass and drums. For the vocals I have a chain consisting of WAVES Vocal Rider, which “rides the fader” automatically to account for volume changes in my singing, followed by Izotope’s new Neutron plug-in for EQ, and then Izotope’s Nectar2 for vocal effects and enhancement. I also–erroneously in most of my songs–“sent” vocal tracks to way too much Delay and Reverb, since I didn’t like how I sounded. I’m getting over that and will cut back on drenching everything in reverb next time around.
After things were all arranged and mixed, I mastered the song myself using Izotope’s Ozone and PSP Vintage Warmer, and voila (video made by importing the mp3 of the song into Magix Vegas–formerly Sony Vegas–adding the lyrics, and uploading to YouTube):
So there I was, sitting staring at my computer one morning early in February, 2017, thinking “How the heck do I get 14 songs done in the next 28 days?”
“The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution.” Igor Stravinsky
I’ve come across that quote and its derivatives many times reading about creativity. It’s why we have “writing prompts” to inspire a writing exercise, for instance.
So what I decided to do for my “constraint”–and which actually saved me a lot of time that would have otherwise been spent gnawing on pencils and scratching my head trying to come up with ideas, was to decide not to reinvent the wheel. I would “copy” song structures and song arrangements that had stood the test of time. Is that cheating? Naw… Everybody does it, and it is not a violation of copyright.
Specifically, I GOOGLED around and found ROLLING STONE Magazine’s list of the 500 best songs ever and put them into a spreadsheet. I then duplicated the list two more times in the spreadsheet and randomized all three lists. Once this was done, my methodology was to take the song in column 1 and use it for chords and structure (the chords of a song cannot be copyrighted–many, many songs have been written, for instance with the old “C-Am-F-G” pattern common in the 50s. From column 2’s song I would try and copy–or at least pay homage to–the arrangement, i.e., was it a country song with pedal steel and strings? Heavy metal? Ballad? If so, my song would be, too. Then I downloaded and studied the lyrics to the column 1 song, the column 2 song, and the column 3 song to come up with some kind of overlapping “theme” or, at least, a “song title”. Titles actually came pretty easy doing this, and set the tone for the upcoming lyrics. I would print off a page of all 3 songs’ lyrics and then, based on title and what I was seeing, I would jot down some early ideas for rhymes, phrases I wanted to use, etc.
Doing this for all 14 songs took up a chunk of time, but was worth it–probably 10 hours or so over the course of my first 2 days. At the end, I knew the titles to my 14 songs, knew the chords and structure to each, and had some ideas of rhymes and themes I would use in the upcoming lyrics.
Now that I had chords and structure, I could put them into software I have called Band In A Box–an amazing aid to composition that allows you, along with its companion software RealBand, to work on your songs pretty much the way they do it at a recording studio with studio musicians. The producer says, “Hey, Phil–we need an acoustic guitar here. John, play some kind of a bossa nova drum beat. Andy, a little rock organ for the second chorus. Stan, can you put a sax solo in between the second chorus and third verse? Etc.” But my musicians are “robots” that will generate accompanying tracks based on the chords input into Band In A Box. Truly an amazing technology and a tad expensive–but again, for me, so worth it. Vocals aside, when you listen to the completed album, you have to be impressed with the quality of the accompanying music.
There were songs that I “generated” as many as a dozen different instruments for, then imported into my main software “digital audio workstation” (DAW) for editing and mixing: Cakewalk’s SONAR. I’ve used Cakewalk’s software from Day One of my computer music “career”–since the early nineties. There’s nothing you can’t do in it.
So now I was ready to start the album. I did three songs that I was none too proud of, but during the writing of them I learned a ton about the composing process and the software I was using. Time well spent, but I won’t bore you with the results–my Facebook friends have already had to suffer through them. On Day Four I finally felt like I had come up with a decent song. It is called “Dreary Day” and the process of writing and recording it will be the topic of my next post.
Yes, it’s been a couple of years or so since I’ve posted to the old blog. Been off doing other things and pretty much taking care of my need to rant on Facebook.
But I just had a life-changing experience after signing up for “February Album Writing Month” at FAWM.org, and I wanted to share it with you with the hope that it might inspire others to do something like this themselves. (Full disclosure: I first signed up at FAWM.org back in 2012–but never got around to following through. This year I did!)
I retired back in 2007 (OMG–almost 10 years ago), with every intent of doing something creative: music, writing, whatever. I’ve read several hundred books since then, but haven’t written, and haven’t done much music–although I’ve continued to spend a ton of time reading about writing, reading about music, buying books, buying software…waiting for the day I’d get over my Creative Blocks.
This year I got over it music-wise. February having been such a success in breaking through the music block, I have my sights set now on NaNoWriMo in November.
Because I did, indeed, completely write and record 14 songs during the month of February, 2017–and some of them weren’t half-bad. Here’s a playlist of 11 of them that I’ll lay claim to and which I have posted to YouTube (the first three are not in this playlist– they suck, and I’m chalking up to “learning curve”):
They are flawed. The vocals were pretty much always done in one take, with lots of pitch correcting done in Celemony’s Melodyne–leaving some unpleasant “artifacts” ala “Cher effect”/”T Pain effect”. (Not sure that they are any more unpleasant than listening to my raw vocals, however!) Trying to do 14 songs in 28 days made me feel rushed, and so I took some short cuts in some areas. With the benefit of hindsight, when I do it the next time I’ll do multiple takes on the vocals until I have something satisfactory that doesn’t involve physically moving audio around with a mouse trying to make things more “musical”.
Anyway, my intent is to, over the next weeks, describe for each song, how these “sketches” (as I intend to re-record them someday to get a finished product) were inspired, written, and recorded. I hope you enjoy my journey as much as I did.
Pardon my absence since just prior to Thanksgiving, but I had some website issues which I neglected and only recently got fixed (hired a freelancer in New Zealand–ah, the times we live in!)
Much has happened since then. For one thing I was featured at FORBES online. Marketocracy–of which I have written much here–approached me out of nowhere to remind me how brilliant I’ve been with my picks (I now have an 11-year record with them, far surpassing the market as a whole, in 2 different mutual funds I ran there).
I had been neglecting my Marketocracy funds the last several years after they shut the investor forums down. My funds suffered accordingly (I guess “Buy and Hold” doesn’t really work that well), but with the impending article I started getting active again, sold off my losers, and picked up others to match my “real world” holdings.
Marketocracy started offering a “mirror fund” to my own picks (and my own real world holdings) December 11, 2014, and as of this writing a little over 3 months later I am up 16.47% compared to the S&P500 increase of only 3.95% during the same period. Information on investing in this mirror fund–all buys and sells managed by me–are available at the Marketocracy site. (Minimum investment amount is $100,000. HOWEVER, “friends and family” can get in for $25,000. You can contact me at the blog to become my “new best friend”, I suppose, by commenting below–I will have your email then and we can private message…)
Just to get up to date here at the blog with my picks since Thanksgiving: they are China XD Plastics Company Ltd. (cxdc), Altisource Portfolio Solutions S.A. (ASPS), Methode Electronics, Inc. (MEI), PRA Group, Inc. (PRAA), Panhandle Oil and Gas Inc. (PHX), Bancolombia S.A. (CIB), The McClatchy Company (MNI), and InnerWorkings Inc. (INWK).
Interesting development for me in that FORBES Magazine interviewed me last week in connection with their upcoming December “Retirement 2015” issue. I remain one of the “stars” at the Marketocracy site I’ve written about here (although not lately), and Marketocracy had passed along my name. I have given the FORBES writer the following 2 stock picks, which I will be purchasing myself today: Fonar Corp. (FONR), which engages in the design, manufacture, sale, and servicing of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners, and Maiden Holdings, Ltd. (MHLD), which is an insurance company.
I now have a 10+ year record with Marketocracy. Those of you who are curious can see the records for my 2 “star funds” at the following links: