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Posts Tagged ‘songwriting’

  1. Not So Low after all…

    November 29, 2013 by RedSheep

    Ok, so here’s the deal.  The peer reviews came in for the awful song I wrote last week, and it turns out… It wasn’t as God awful as I thought it was.  In fact fellow reviewers seemed to like it!

    before I go any further, here’s the further development of the song from this week, if you are so inclined to listen :)

    I remember shortly after submitting last week I had a look at some of the work I’d then be reviewing(it works by having each applicant review 5, and get 5 reviewing them) and the First guy had literally said “I didn’t have time for the assignment this week, so have a joke instead.”  So I guess I wasn’t the only one that found this week a challenge.  I think I’m going to go back and watch the lectures again to get more of a grip on the concepts.  Having something I can focus on is a good thing, especially something I feel needs work like this.  Word-setting was a little tricky the week before, but this week was on another level because of the sheer amount you need to do in a short time.  Anyway, here were the overall comments that were left

    Well, being compared with Cohen is a compliment I will gladly take!   I spent so long trying to plan this piece that I never let it just rip forward.

    peer 1 → I don’t know where this comment belongs but this is a beautiful love song…way to go!
    peer 2 → Great! Sounds like Cohen to me. I would repeat all the chorus after the bridge and I think that the bridge itself needs some more melodic definition. A great song.

    Another problem I have, opposite to not spending enough time on pieces, is that I find it very hard to let a piece just be what it is.  To let it flow naturally, flaws dangling astray as it runs through polite society.  At some point you end up polishing perfect and going beyond what is needed.  Bob Dylan was a master of quickly writing songs at one point, as well as Queen.  On the other, long-time taking side of the coin you have Leonard cohen, who polished past perfect into masterful.  But it’s not about the time Cohen puts in, it’s about waiting for the natural beauty of the song to shine through so perfectly.  He said it in an interview and in the song A Thousand Kisses deep:

    You Lose your Grip

    And then you slip

    Into the Masterpiece

    I understand that people aren’t looking to these songs on the level like Leonard Cohen would write, and I appreciate your kind words, strangers, but with all that said I still believe the song has a long way to go before it can attain anything close to the feeling or meaning I intended to convey.

    I find myself jabbing characters into my blog, pontificating in bitter angst at your kind words facing me.  But don’t think I’m ungrateful, I have just seen what I am capable of in brief moments here and there.  I just haven’t found my voice, my way to share, but it’s there, somewhere.  in snippets of mind like the rhyming words behind this one, missed sometimes, and kissed on the border of poetry, blended with the mist.  It lacks shape.  formless most often, but still it’s there.  Most of my job is finding where, then painting, one stroke at a time, careful not to miss a line.  But misaligned, my process is behind my thoughts, so must be fixed until it’s not. And when at last the rope is tied between the mist and round my eyes I’ll be conduit of art, both from my head and from my heart.

    But until then, work still needs to be done…

  2. On Developing a Process

    November 19, 2013 by RedSheep

    It’s a very romanticised Idea to say that a song just came to you, the melody ‘just flowed’ Freddie Mercury said that as soon as they have a song idea the number one priority is to get it down as quickly as possible to keep the most natural flow in place. But then you have folks like Leonard Cohen and Steve Vai, and Bach.

    “That Song took me 10 years”Leonard Cohen
    “I’m more of a composer than a guitarist” Steve Vai
    “Anyone that has worked as hard as I have can reasonably assume to attain the same degree of success”Bach

    Do they sound like the sparks of inspiration engulfing their art?

    Spoiler Alert!


    And it’s the hobbyist, the amateur who relies entirely on chance. the pro’s need a process for their art, for that 80% of time when you’re not a genius artist legend. This partly comes back to the Stream of conciousness vs logical approach, but more than that it’s about actually picking a consistent way to grow. The hardest part about my work is keeping it playful yet productive. Simply saying ‘I need to get better’ or ‘I need to practice’ Just isn’t good enough for someone with limited time, and even without limited time, you’re working far less efficiently for not having a process than you would be if you did.

    To add to that, how do you decide what to read, and what to throw away. It’s all well and good in theory to read 12 books on composition, but one book might top the rest. one book might give you everything you need for now. I say this as someone that spent 18 months going through The Study Of Counterpoint, and only after doing that work can i now judge the next appropriate step(I believe it’s Tchaikovsky by the way)

    The songwriting course I’m on right now on Coursera with Pat Pattinson takes you through all that in the form of lyric writing. Starting at a clear, almost any point you like and building the high level Ideas. Then from there you work down and down until you have a wide list of rhymes, a purpose to each line and a rhyme scheme to play with, and the last part is just grunt work!

    I genuinely believe a process like this can take your songwriting time down from months/years down to days. In theory you could churn them out in hours, but of course a first draft is unlikely to be the final product!

    The point of this is, that with a process that you already have developed and ready to go, you can vastly improve your output, with less head grinding with the wall and more efficiency. If you need more elements of freedom, build them into the process. Eddie Izzard deliberately leaves gaps in his comedy for him to improvise, to make something up.

    There’s no shame in doing things that have been done before, trusting in methods that have worked for the big boys and girls in the past. When you eliminate the glut from your creative process, you give yourself the clarity to build something entirely new. Entirely you.


  3. RedSheep Album #2 – A New Beginning

    November 15, 2013 by RedSheep

    The time has come my friends, to commit to the next chapter in my musical saga.  I’ve been preparing for months through chordal knowledge, Lyric writing courses, Books, research and grit, but now it is time to put it to good use.  I don’t know how long it will take, but the album is now set in stone(metaphorically at least, it’s literally a goal listed on my main Goals Evernote Page)  My criteria for what is a completed album is as follows

    • Length = 60+ minutes
    • 45+ minutes of entirely new material
    • up to 15 minutes of covers


    Aside from that, It’s no-holds barred.  At the moment I’m thinking that it would be nice to start all acoustic, so that the bare bones of the songs are solid and I can play them live.  Also makes recording far simpler!  I’ve been listening to a lot of Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, and Bob Dylan of late, so the opportunity to channel some of their songwriting spirit onto the page is one I’m greatly looking forward to.  I’ve also been indulging in more than enough Opeth, and seeing as I was at their gig when I committed to spending time on my own writing, It seems the honourable thing to do to write something with them in mind.

    I have endless reams of scraps and fleshy little scrapes of paper with Ideas and lyrics on them, but the following picture just about sums up what’s been influencing me these past months.  I have now my starting point, though when it came to be I cannot say.  Somewhere between an old man dying and a young man growing up I found myself looking back on myself.  There is a shadow unexplored, a melody implied, a word unspoken there.  All I must do is follow it’s mumblings to it’s natural end and there I will find what is there to be found.  If you’ll join me, dear friend I would be most touched.    I have come to accept that I need no more than what I strive for, though I may need less.  That knowledge allows the hard work and consistent failure to drive me forward, even if my path is ultimately a circle.

    A Starting Point

    I know that I don’t have much to say

    But I thought I’d say it anyway

    And that’s my life

    One word at a time 

    Why should I say any more?


  4. What Makes Pop So Poppy?

    June 6, 2012 by RedSheep

    It’s all in the word, It pops up at you, grabs your attention. It exists as a single entity, gives you a quick message and then cuts.

    From a psychology standpoint a pop song will build and build with a great payoff and end before it can be fully resolved. This makes the listeners brain want to listen again for that resolution and therin lies the elusive ‘catchiness’ of a pop song.

    Give it a go, it’s harder than you might think.

  5. On Writing Lyrics With Meaning

    July 19, 2011 by RedSheep

    all songs have a meaning, in this case I’m talking about lyrics which address big issues.  Ideas like free will, mass manipulation, racism, war, terror, cynicism,self doubt, improvement or faith.

    Powerful ideas change the world

    Freedom, Injustice,  Narcissism, Discipline, Power, Authority, Superstition, Sexuality, Indifference, Obedience, Nationalism.  All concepts that people have wondered about for a long time, and considered from many, many angles.  By stepping into the world of your own thoughts and beliefs you can write lyrics that change the world.

    I’m not a big listener of Bob Dylan, but his lyrics are extremely powerful and have been hugely influential in their time and ours.  Songs like “The Times They are a Changing“, “Hurricane” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” reflected how Dylan viewed the world, and undoubtedly changed the world.  There are also many ways to play with meaning and interpretation for example Growing On Me by the Darkness.

    Song plots can get extremely complex when you get to bands like tool who write songs about the eternal constant phi – a number that recurs throughout nature, but the underlying meaning they try to convey is that our nature is inescapable, like we are trapped in a foregone conclusion.  Parabol/Parabola

    The message I seem to be finding recently around the place is that few artists write about big issues anymore. The anti war movement of the 60’s, the punk revolution, the rebellion of rock and roll.  The last modern song I can think of was Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” way back in 1995.

    Unique ideas make for unique lyrics

    I’ve recently been watching alot of George Carlin, Bill Hicks and Bill Maher.  One of the messages they put out there is that American citizens are losing all their privileges of freedom and are too comfortable to do anything about it. George Carlin calls it ‘circling the drain

    What’s special about these 3 is that the message they convey is incredibly compelling and powerful.  It’s the same as the punk rock, the 60’s protest songs and Rage Against the Machine.  The only difference is the method of sharing the message.

    It doesn’t have to be a message of outrage or apathy, it doesn’t even have to be a massive issue with every song, but write about what you really feel strongly about, and bring back that spirit of power in your songs.

    The number one song on the day I started writing this was Louder, and the meaning is… bullshit.  I guarantee you this song will be completely forgotten about in 2 months.  Compare that to Blowin in the wind, Sweet Child of Mine and Candle in the Wind, songs that are powerful enough to change the way you think, songs that lasted lifetimes even to this day.

    Some songs have even changed my life, and I’m sure you can relate. A big one for me was Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror.

    Writing this way adds new depth to your lyrics, hope to hear them soon.

  6. 7 reasons to write music on your own

    July 19, 2011 by RedSheep

    Before I begin this I’m not saying you should always write alone, because working with others an important part of being a musician. Though there has to be some time where you develop progressions, riffs and your own sound as an individual.

    1. Music you write is YOURS

    If a band splits up and they wrote all the songs together, who gets to play them after they split? the answer is usually no-one.  If they’re playing a song that is majority yours and you break up guess what, it’s still yours to play again!

    2. You have control over everything

    Great music has the words and music in sync.  If there’s a group of 5 involved there are 5 viewpoints on how the song should sound, but if there’s one person calling the shots on everything there can be more of a definite direction on what’s happening in the song and when

    example Kevin Moore – Space Dye Vest

    This was a song written for Dream Theater by ex-keyboardist Kevin Moore and brought into the studio as a fully finished song.  Mike Portnoy said the song was 100% Kevin’s and has become a legacy for Dream Theater fans.

    3. You’re forced to work through your songwriting weaknesses

    If you have song writing walls and you rely on everyone else to climb over them, what do you do in your next project, when the new group cant help you.  If there’s something you really struggle with, do some research and find out why that might be.  Look for new ways to try it and persevere, it will be worth it

    4. You can play to your strengths

    I find when I’m jamming with people the person most suited to my style… is me! you can come up with jams in the rhythms you’re good with and the styles you’re most proficient at.  I can have a great Lydian/Mixolydian jam to just playing between the I and II chord, or I can mess with a pitch axis and a droning bass note underneath, something that other members may get bored by jamming to.  You can write and play with harmonies without having to teach the theory to another guitarist.

    5. You can spend time on more complex parts to get them right

    I got interested in the idea of pitch axis, which to me is quite tough to immediately jam on with a band.  Trying to write a middle section with lots of time signatures, or playing with chord voicings can get very time consuming to get them just right.  work on them on your own till you have what’s happening really solid, then when you take it to the band you have a clear picture of how the song goes including rhythm, melody and feel.

    example: Not Of This Earth – Joe Satriani

    A great example of the pitch axis theory, where rather than being based around a key the music is based around a single note, this means the chords can switch over E and play in various modalities eg E mixolydian, dorian, aolean while still sounding in key and really interesting

    6. Ideas you come up with on your own can be a great starting point when playing with others

    There’s nothing worse than jamming with a group of people when no-one has anything to play.  For that I always have a few chord progressions or jams that I can pull out whenever we want to jam.  The great thing about pre-scripted jams too is that you can spend time getting the coolest chords beforehand, and  the more you jam it over time the more ideas will sprout naturally.

    7. You develop your own sound as a musician

    When you write with a group there is a tendency to come up with generic riffs and lines.  We’ve all been in a mindless jam that goes nowhere and sounds completely the same as hundreds before.  To get a unique sound with other people you need to come up with a unique sound on your own.  This is a whole topic in itself.  Allan Holdsworth used to try and imitate a saxophone on guitar to develop his style, Vai will spend hours playing with a sound he’s never heard before to develop his style, Vangelis twists knobs on his synthesiser.  Whatever your instrument is, find ways to differentiate yourself, in every way you can