Archive for July, 2008

Album-a-Day

July 30, 2008

Album-a-Day is a project run by Tom Murphy VII, as part of his Crap Art movement, that was founded in 2001. Musicians must write either 20 minutes of music or 30 total songs within a 24-hour period, taking no ideas from before that period, and not allowing any re-writes of any music once recorded. It is a project set up to reward creativity and quick thinking, instead of the usual musical process of rewrites and polishing.

Murphy collects the completed albums on his web page, and has accumulated more than 300 to date.

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National Solo Album Month

July 29, 2008

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” — Jack London

Here’s an interesting challenge. Write and record an ‘album,’ start to finish in November. You get an entire month to do it.

November is National Solo Album Month: anyone interested will write and record an entire solo album in the course of 30 days.

Based on the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), NaSoAlMo is the brainchild of Douglas Wolk. There are no prizes because NaSoAlMo is a challenge, not a competition. There is no entry fee and there are very few rules. The album must be at least 29:09 minutes long and there can be no more than one cover song. Your album must be written, recorded and all instruments played entirely by you.

Sign up by the end of October by sending an email to Todd@nasoalmo.org. At 12:01 November 1, you can start work on your solo album. Let him know when you finish. If you finish, you are considered a winner of the competition.

Hip to be Square, good News from Taxi

July 28, 2008

Do you think your musical style is too square to get on the air? Do you think your instrument is out of style? Do you believe your niche is too small and that any or all of these things are obstacles that can’t be overcome? Think again.

Accordion Player Squeezes another Big Deal

By Rachel Laskow

Last year, Gary Sredzienski realized that even though he lives far from Hollywood in Kittery Point, Maine, and plays the accordion, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t get a deal through TAXI. His music made it into one of summer’s major motion pictures, Bad News Bears. And the good news didn’t stop there.

The music editor working at Paramount passed Gary’s music along to a music editor at CBS. “The cool thing about TAXI was that it established an initial connection for me. It got me in the door and who knows what else may happen,” Gary said.

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Your mailing list

July 25, 2008

If you are a performing songwriter, you need an email fan list. You need to stay in touch with your fans, keeping them up-to-date on news about you and your music.

They want to know where you’re playing and when you have a new CD or mp3. They want details about your successes, such as radio airplay, songwriting awards, cuts, collaborations, what band you’re opening for and stories from the road, etc.

Don’t forget your family and friends, former music teachers and bandmates. These are your supporters and they will be the core of your fanbase.

Fans want to feel special. So offer your fans access to stuff that’s not available to anyone else, whether it’s a download of your latest song, a live recording of one of your concerts, a T-shirt with your album art on it, a chance to win a backstage pass to your next show or whatever you can think of.

It doesn’t have to be a product. It might simply be an inside look at the process you went through to write and record your latest CD. Write about it for your next fan email. Most people have never set foot in a recording studio, and most have never written a song, so share your inside knowledge of both. To your fans, you are the expert on these matters.

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Creativity in the real world

July 24, 2008

Sometimes the problem isn’t writer’s block as much as a lack of something to say. Maybe that’s just another type of writer’s block. We can get so focused on writing, rewriting, arranging, recording and working the business that we forget we belong in the world community, to live life, have relationships and experience the real world.

We need to stay in touch with day to day emotions, the stuff of real life, if for no other reason than to give us something to write about. Don’t stop writing about love and truth and war and the big stuff. But don’t ignore all the little stuff, even unpleasant stuff like long lines, dirty diapers and irritating phone trees.

After all, your songs can’t all be about songwriting or the music business.

This is why I think being a part-time songwriter is not such a bad thing. If you have a day job and/or kids, you have a built-in source of emotional ups and downs, real life issues and problems, tragedy and comedy, the real nitty gritty.

Ear-hand coordination

July 23, 2008

Insightful multi-instrumentalist Don McFall refers to the issue of playing from sheet music or playing ‘by ear.’

…I have a “pet peeve” with people — let alone “musicians” talking about “Playing by EAR”!

1st of all, I have never seen someone strumming their guitar; playing glissandi on a piano; nor blowing a trumpet with their “EAR”!!! (literally, it just doesn’t make sense!)

And it doesn’t make sense cognitively either.  When I play my instrument using sheet music — I still have to ‘use my ear’ to hear whether I’m playing the right stuff or not!!!

But when I don’t play with music — I’m actually using my “mind’s ear” (much like using one’s “mind’s eye” to SEE something which doesn’t exist to the naked eye).  I have developed what I shall term: Ear/Hand coordination = much like Eye/Hand coordination, which is why ‘sports people’ get good at what they do.

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Dynamics for songwriters

July 22, 2008

We often speak of highs and lows in songwriting. Emotionally, exuberance and dejection are polar opposites, and have a LOT of energy that can be channeled into a song. These are not only for the benefit of a good song, either; they help us to manage those feelings. But, wait. There’s more.

Think of dynamics (highs and lows) not only in emotional terms, but in volume, intensity, depth, pitch or energy level. Have you noticed how effective it is when the volume (and intensity) is reduced for a verse after a loud, energetic chorus?

These dynamics can draw a listener in. Similarly, a person giving a speech will use this technique – by building up the volume and speed at times and then practically whispering at other times — this change-up causes the audience to get very quiet and strain to hear what is being said, lest something be missed.

This idea of ‘highs and lows’ can be used for a double-whammy effect, too! Imagine a song that starts out quiet and depressed. You know, love’s gone bad or something. Then, hope is aroused with a longing look, and the music picks up energy to match this. When the ecstasy of love arrives, your listeners are at the pinnacle of feelings, excitement and high energy in the song. The words and the music both follow the same dynamic flow.

Dynamics are not just for performers. You can use the idea to improve your songwriting. It’s gratifying to know that techniques like this are just as powerful as $ thousands worth of effects processing.

The Real Secret to Selling Your Music

July 21, 2008

I love to read business books — especially marketing books. One theme that is repeated throughout many of my favorite marketing books is that you (or your product) need to represent just one thing. If you can’t describe what or who you are as an artist in a single, succinct sentence, how can you expect anybody else to?

Why does that matter?

Imagine that you’ve just discovered a new artist that you’re absolutely head over heels about. You tell a friend. The friend responds with, “What do they sound like?” If your answer is, “I can’t really describe her,” there’s little chance your friend will run out to buy the CD.

On the other hand, if your answer had been, “She sounds like Lucinda Williams meets Sheryl Crow,” then your friend would immediately have a mental picture and be able to decide if that type of artist would be appealing enough that he would go buy a copy.

I’m not saying that you need to change your music. I’m suggesting that you find a way to label it or describe it in such a way that it makes it easier for word of mouth to work in your favor.

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Play Time

July 18, 2008

crossword puzzle

As a songwriter or lyricist, you may think of yourself as a wordsmith. To increase your word power, you probably already read a lot of books, magazines and newspapers. (If not, try it.) You may also read poetry and study the great writers. For an avid wordsmith, this is all fun.

On a lighter note, I suggest you also do crossword puzzles, play Scrabble and other word games. It may be rest and relaxation, but it also keeps your mind sharp and develops that part of your brain that deals with words.

All paths to a finished song are valid

July 17, 2008

How do you write songs? Currently on the STJ forum, that question is being answered by a variety of songwriters. It seems everyone has their own unique methods, their own favorite ways of getting it done.

Somebody else’s method may seem odd or not applicable to you. But there also may be a gem in there that will help you. And your unique way of getting from start to finish may help someone else.

How do you do it? Where do you start? And how do you move to the next step and the one after that? How do you get from a tiny spark, an inkling of an idea, all the way through the creative bursts, the editing, the rewriting, the waste bin full of crumpled papers, the dark night of doubt, and all the way to the place where you have a complete song that you’re proud of?

Check out the thread called all paths to a finished song are valid for specifics. And if you have a method that works for you, leave a post. Or leave a comment here on the blog (click Comments» below).