Archive for September, 2008

Deisel drum machine

September 30, 2008

Turn it inside out

September 30, 2008

Take an old chestnut, any old song you know well, and give it a new twist. There are many ways to do this. We’ll get to a few in a minute.

But first, why would you do this? Not to find a creative new way to perform an old song, although there’s nothing wrong with that. You do this to warm up your creative muscles, get those creative juices flowing. It’s much less intimidating with someone else’s material. And once you get going, once you’re on a roll, creatively, it’s easy to let the old song slip away as you develop your own original ideas. And before you know it, you’re working on a completely new and original song.

Here are some ideas to get you started. Think of an old rock standard, but imagine it with a reggae beat. Start to develop that idea. Or convert a Motown hit, making it hip hop. Or find a corny old love song from the 30’s, drop the moon/June rhymes, update the language and turn it into a something more current.

Here’s another one. Find a song in 4/4 and play it in 3/4 or vice versa. It’s amazing how that can transform a song. You’ll find yourself automatically getting creative with the phrasing so the song makes sense in the new time signature. You could challenge yourself to keep it as close to the original as possible, except for the new waltz time. Or you could let yourself go, straying as far from the original as much as you want, taking the melody in a totally new direction and letting the chords follow.

The point of this exercise is to get your motor started, jump started, if necessary. Think up some of your own tricks to get your creativity flowing while ostensibly working on existing tunes, all the while knowing it will lead to a new melody, riff or rhythm that you can develop into your own piece.

Let us know if you find this exercise helpful, and if you have any that work for you — we’d love to hear about them!

Staff Writer

September 29, 2008

Want to find out what it means to be a staff writer? Read this book. The chapter titles alone are intriguing and the book delivers on its promises. I finished it in about two hours.

If You’ve Got a Dream, I’ve Got a Plan by Kelley Lovelace (subtitled How to Get Your Songs Heard by Music Industry Professionals and Get your foot inside a closed door business) is a quick read, but it’s so full of practical information that I’m sure I’ll keep it close by to read again and again.

The author lays out the nuts and bolts of how it works being a staff writer in Nashville. Although his focus is on Nashville and country music, much of it applies to the music industry in general.

He asks all the right questions and gives straight forward, thought provoking answers. Here are some examples of the questions. I wish I could reprint the entire book here, but I can’t.

– Do I have to live in Nashville to make it as a songwriter?
– How do I get the right people to hear my songs?
– What is a demo and how much will it cost?
– How do I prevent someone from stealing my songs?
– What are mechanical royalties and performance royalties?
– What is a Song Plugger?
– What is a single-song contract?
– What are the advantages of cowriting?

Lovelace co-wrote such hits as “He Didn’t Have to Be,” “Wrapped Around,” “Two People Fell in Love,” “The Impossible,” and “I Just Wanna be Mad.” The book’s forward was written by Brad Paisley.

I checked on and it looks like you can get it new for $2.99, which is amazing and way less than what I paid.

How to get your song to A&R

September 25, 2008

First, what does A&R stand for? Artist & Repertoire. The term was coined to describe the function of people at record labels who are in charge of finding and developing new talent.

Development typically includes finding the right material for the artist to perform if they don’t write their own songs, hooking them up with the right producer, engineer, studio, etc., deciding which of their songs are the most viable, and shepherding the making of the record.

After the record is done, it’s not unusual for the A&R person to be responsible for getting the other departments such as retail sales and radio promotion excited about the record so that they do their jobs well. If all the parts of the record company “machine” work well together, the act just might have a hit.

Today, A&R people seem to concentrate less on developing artists, and often look for artists that have “developed” themselves. It’s not unusual for the boards of directors to look more at the bottom line and less at talent development. Hence, A&R people are under pressure to find hits, rather than finding potential hits and nurturing them until they bear fruit.

How do I get my music to an A&R guy/gal?

The best way to get your music to an A&R person is to cause them to come to you. You can do that by building a fan base through constant touring and relentless self-promotion. Couple that with making, marketing, and selling several thousand of your own CDs, and it’s likely that you’ll show up on their radar. When you do, they’ll call you.

Can you get through to them with an unexpected phone call? Very doubtful. If they took calls from every person who wanted to pitch their music to them they wouldn’t have time to do any of their other work.

Can you send an unsolicited demo? Yes, but it will most likely come back to you or end up in the round file. A&R people are extremely busy, and generally listen only to the material that comes to them from a trusted resource such as a high-level manager, a publisher, a music attorney, and if you’ll forgive the little plug — TAXI.

What makes an A&R person want to sign you?

Hit songs and “star” quality. Those are requisites. Beyond that, you can increase your odds by doing your own artist development and proving that the public loves you and is willing to plunk money to buy your CD.

© 2006 TAXI. All rights reserved.

Tell a story

September 24, 2008

Storytelling is an ancient art form that crosses all cultures. Before the written word, storytelling was the only way to preserve the accumulated knowledge of the tribe. (OK, there were cave drawings, but try putting your kids to sleep with a bedtime cave drawing.)

Despite the invention of the printing press, we still tell stories. Stories are a powerful way for parents to teach children their values. Even in this day of TiVo, DVD, the Internet and other mass media entertainment, we still tell stories. Perhaps that helps to explain the success of the Chicken Soup series.

I suspect the first song was simply somebody putting a melody to a story he or she was telling (maybe with a little prehistoric hip hop). And I contend the best songs are those that tell a story. A song that tells a story draws the listener in and communicates your message with subtlety and power.

Some songs don’t lend themselves to a story line however. In this case I would still advise, if not a plot, at least some movement, some change or transition. Another way to think of it is that the lyrics bring the listener to a new point of view by the end of the song, building a case as the song progresses from beginning to end.

Yet another way to create some movement in the ‘story’ is to think in terms of conflict and resolution. I’m not saying your song should consist of a conflict and a simple happy ending like a fifties sitcom (Father Knows Best comes to mind). I mean conflict and resolution in a more literary sense.

Finally, you don’t have to make up your own story. You can base a song on any story that moves you, whether you heard it from a friend or in the news, read it in a book or an email, found it on the web, or remember it from childhood, maybe told at bedtime or around a campfire…

Derek Sivers

September 23, 2008

Songwriting advice from Derek Sivers, from a talk given to incoming first-year students at Berklee College of Music (September 5, 2008).

If you are a writer, you should not only write a song a week, but spend twice as long improving it as you do writing it.

See the entire talk on YouTube:


September 22, 2008

This exercise is akin to collaborating on a song, although the other person or persons involved need not be songwriters.  The concept of brainstorming is not new. BrainSURFING, however, is a little different. Let me describe what I mean.

There are only 3 rules.  To begin, be sure everyone is in agreement on the following intentions:

  • Together, we will pull ideas right out of the ether
  • We will bring forth everything that comes to mind, no matter how mundane, silly, bizarre, or unmusical they seem, and
  • This is going to be fun.

One person will be the designated scribe to write down ideas as they fly.  Better yet, turn on a recording device to capture everything.

Now, start talking about any song idea, concept or lyric and the feelings or images that come with these. Strive to play off each other, adding to and enhancing each new idea that emerges. Be conscious of the rising energy within the group and revel in the good feelings as excitement grows. As Jana Stanfield says, ‘stay in Yes.’

A sense of humor is definitely welcome here, and, although optional, some people will relax with a sip of wine or tea.  It will not detract from this process. (I have personally had a lot of success with Red Bull…) Allow your minds to synchronize and begin to work together.

Feel the rush that comes from connecting and supporting each other with focused communication and keep surfing until the ideas seem to have run their natural course. At this point there will be a wealth of ideas on paper, some useful and some not. But just as important is the exercise of minds linking together in joy and excitement, inviting and nurturing our innate passion and creativity.

Minds working together like this form a MasterMind — a power greater than the sum of the parts — the mind power actually increases exponentially. Be careful…Brainsurfing can become habit forming!

Let us know if you find this exercise helpful, and if you have any that work for you — we’d love to hear about them!

Robert Cote

What’s wrong with American idol?

September 21, 2008

Bleary eyed and fuzzy headed, I just got back from Sound Connections NT Music Conference in Kansas City. My head is full of songwriting, performing and marketing tips, names, faces, new songs, song ideas, recommended artists, books, recording gear, etc. Once I get some sleep, I will sort it all out for future posts.

Meanwhile, I want to mention one resource that will be instrumental to your marketing efforts – Bob Baker’s The Buzz Factor. I’ve been following Bob for years. His books and articles, his web site, ezine, podcast and blog all focus on innovative, up to the minute information for the self-marketing indie musician, often based on the experiences of real indie bands and singer/songwriters.

Here’s an article he wrote.

What’s Wrong with American Idol?

Bob Baker’s updated manifesto on how the popular show is creating widespread misconceptions about what it takes to succeed as a musical artist today.

It’s one of the most popular TV shows of recent years, drawing tens of millions of viewers every week. Even I admit, American Idol is fun to watch. The show provides all the elements of good pop culture entertainment: passion, emotion, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, dreams attained and lost …

So, what’s wrong with American Idol?

Considering it’s lumped into the “reality” TV category, the show is doing a great disservice to aspiring musicians (and the public at large) by distorting perceptions of how the music business really works. It sends an outdated message of “dependence” on the industry vs. the more realistic “independence” that artists have today to control their own careers.

The Talent Discovery Myth

For instance, the program leads you to believe that there are hundreds of people like Simon, Paula and Randy out there searching for raw talent they can mold into the next big pop star. Not true. Sure, record companies employ A&R people whose job it is to sign and nurture new artists — but as major labels consolidate, cut staffs, and get nervous about the bottom line, they no longer have the time or money to develop new acts.

Instead, labels look for artists who are already developing themselves, attracting fans, and selling CDs on their own. There’s less risk with an act that has a track record.

Also, the American Idol auditions, in particular, create the illusion that most aspiring musicians lack talent and are delusional, struggling and starving. In reality, there are thousands of talented performers across the country who make good money, have hundreds of devoted fans, and are steadily building careers.

Here’s just one example of this modern reality: Over the past seven years, the web site CD Baby has sold more than $12 million worth of CDs (1.3 million units) by independent, unsigned acts. A tremendous amount of quality music is being produced and sold outside the mainstream.

The Danger of Waiting for Your ‘Big Break’

One of the biggest myths American Idol propels is that you need the approval of industry gatekeepers to “make it” in music. Sorry, you don’t need Simon’s or anyone else’s permission to be worthy of a career in music. If you wait for someone to give you the green light to create and perform music, you’ll be waiting a long time.


The sweet spot

September 16, 2008

When I sing a heart-felt song that I’ve written, I want to express all the passion I feel. My singing sometimes gets a little too emotional, as if the lyrics and the music don’t fully communicate the message.

To prevent this, I use the dial back method. In rehearsal I keep singing it over again, each time making it more emotional until it’s clear I’ve gone over the top, then I dial it back a notch. Taking it over the top in rehearsals is a way to discover just where the sweet spot is.

This tip was provided by Andrew Coupe of eVirtualStudio. Check out his bands – Tyfoo and Chapter Three.

Dial it back for tempo

September 13, 2008

This tip was provided by Andrew Coupe of eVirtualStudio. Check out his bands – Tyfoo and Chapter Three.

One way to determine the right tempo for your song is to increase the tempo by a few beats per second and try it out. If it’s not too fast at that tempo, increase it a little more and try again. Continue doing this until you feel it’s about right, then go up just a bit more. Once you find a tempo that is clearly too fast, dial it back a bit. This is easy to do if you’re using a DAW.

Don’t worry if you don’t use a DAW. The method still works using an old-fashioned, low tech solution: a metronome. Possibly a bit more convenient than an actual metronome are the free metronomes available online. Here’s my current favorite, called Metronome Online, powered by emusicinstitute.