Archive for January, 2009

Cover your bumper

January 30, 2009

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Hide dents with a Songwriter’s Tip Jar bumper sticker.  

Or use it to re-attach engine parts.*  Also good on skateboards, riding mowers, baby strollers and guitar cases.

Let the world know you’re a proud songwriter with Songwriter’s Tip Jar caps, T’s, sweatshirts, mouse pads and other swag. Support our efforts to support songwriters. Check out the swag here.

*Not guaranteed to hold as well as duct tape.

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100 Recording tips

January 29, 2009

The now defunct Home Recording magazine shared their Top 100 Recording Tips and Tricks with Virtual Studio Systems, makers of Lyricist. Here are a few of the gems.

1. Add the ambience last in your mix. Get it pumping with no verbs or delays, and then introduce them to taste. You’ll be surprised at how many boxes you don’t need.

3. Nothing digital exists unless it is in at least two places. In other words, until your files, performances, audio, and presets are backed up, they can all be gone in the blink of an eye.

8. Normalization is a great tool, but can work against you if the audio track hasn’t been recorded properly (i.e., if there is unwanted noise on the track, it will just get louder when you recompute the overall track level).

17. Bounce tracks only when it’s absolutely necessary, especially when you’re recording on analog tape. Not only do you lose a generation, but you’re also locked into the bounced mixes and about to erase the original tracks! Better to mix to a second machine– even the native 16-bit audio of a computer— and transfer that back to a new multi track tape.

32. Have your gear set up and ready to go. When inspiration hits, you don’t want to lose an hour hooking up your mics or fiddling with MIDI cables.

52. Eschew perfection; respect performance – a year from now you won’t hear the “mistakes,” but you will notice if the performance is lifeless.

60. Today, virtually all recording musicians are posting music on the web in the form of MP3 files. In order to create an MP3 file, you need an encoder, and there are many shareware versions of MP3 encoders available on the web, with varying degrees of quality. If you care about the audio quality of your music, purchase a full version of your favorite MP3 encoding software. This usually costs only about $30. It will make all the difference in the quality of music that you post on the web. Try Audio Catalyst as well as Music Match encoding software.

65. Want to get that telephone voice sound? One kHz is the magic frequency here. Equalize and filter out all your highs and lows, and just boost the hell out of 1k. You can even overload the channel to get some pleasing distortion.

95. For acoustic guitars, nothing beats a mic. Going direct from your piezo-powered acoustic/electric guitar may be convenient, but as of today, the technology has not been able to surpass a good non-cutaway acoustic (ye olde Martin and a fine condenser mic).

96. Get a chair that doesn’t squeak. Almost everything today is made of, or with, plastic. In the case of office chairs, most squeak, especially when you pivot or tilt. An open mic will pick it up, even if you’re oblivious to it. Get a solid, non-swiveling chair. Instead of bells and whistles, opt for solid and quiet.

See the complete list of 100 top tips and tricks at Virtual Studio Systems.

Big words

January 27, 2009

In a recent email, a songwriter asked if it was necessary to use big words and flowery, poetic language in a song. From his email I could tell he was not comfortable with it. Here’s what I said.

Lots of great songwriters use plain language and still create great songs that tug at our heartstrings. So I advise you to be yourself and write lyrics that sound the same way you talk. That would be honest and boy, do we need that now, in songs and everywhere else. People long to hear honesty in songs. Whether it’s about your pain or joy, if it’s honest, it draws us listeners in.

If you write honestly from your heart, about things you feel, your songs will reach people. People will start to feel (at least a little of) what you feel. And if you can do that, that’s better than anything technical I could teach you.

If you still desire to expand your writing skills, I suggest you read the ‘great’ books. It will expand your vocabulary and expose you to examples of good writing.

Capo tricks

January 26, 2009

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First I want to dispel a myth. Somewhere along the way I was told that capos are for amateurs.

Maybe it was my elitist tendency, but I bought into the idea that a good guitarist doesn’t need a capo. That’s a bit like believing that nothing good comes without pain, which I don’t buy. In some cases, good begets more good and pain leads to more pain. But I digress.

As a songwriter I use a capo all the time, for example, to try out new keys without relearning chords. It’s also a quick way to try out a different timbre on your guitar. You can be sure your guitar will sound different when you put a capo way up on the 9th fret.

So use a capo. Experiment with it. It can save you time when searching for the right key for your song.

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Say it loud, wear it proud

January 24, 2009

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Let the world know you’re a songwriter with Songwriter’s Tip Jar caps, T’s, sweatshirts, mouse pads, stickers and other swag. Support our efforts to support songwriters. Check out the swag here.

Barbara Kingsolver

January 24, 2009

barbara kingsolver

“Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.”

— Barbara Kingsolver

Too much freedom

January 23, 2009

Writing a new song from scratch can be intimidating. The blank piece of paper seems to taunt us. Where do we start?

We have complete freedom to write any type of song we want and maybe that’s the problem. Lyrically, there are too many different possible directions; harmonically, there are too many chord options; and there are way too many notes to make writing a melody easy.

One method that helps me is to arbitrarily reduce the number of choices. If I limit myself to using only one guitar and one voice, that relieves me of the burden of choosing instrumentation. If I limit the range of the melody to my own meager vocal range, that also gives me some boundaries to work within. And if I arbitrarily decide on a style, say a children’s song or a blues, that further narrows my
palette.

This artificial narrowing of choices helps me to focus in and gives me a more comfortable place to start from. I can always loosen these self-imposed limits later, when the song is clearly well on its way.

Try it next time you’re staring at a blank page. Limit yourself in one or more aspects of your song. Here are some aspects and examples of how you can reduce your choices.

Mix and match and make up your own.

lyrics – limit yourself to words that children understand
lyrics – follow a common rhyming scheme, i.e. limerick
lyrics – tell a story from your own life experience
lyrics – adhere to a strict genre, say traditional bluegrass

chords – limit yourself to using 4 note chords (or less)
chords – try using a pedal tone
chords – think only of the bass note and the melody, you’ll
be surprised how much that delineates the harmony/chords.
chords – write a melody without your instrument, add the chords later

melody – emulate an artist’s style, i.e. a ‘Sting-like’ melody
melody – restrict your melody to diatonic notes
melody – decide to make it a driving, rhythmic melody
melody – make melody is paramount, thereby relegating all
other aspects to the back burner. You’re strictly limiting
everything, but the melody.

instrumentation – simpler is better during early stages
instrumentation – make it sound good on one instrument first
instrumentation – try two that you don’t often hear together
instrumentation – write for the ensemble that you are most
familiar with

Remember these are not rules. They are only suggestions to
get you going, to overcome the intimidation of the blank page.

Songwriter’s Tip Jar now has swag, those promotional caps, T-shirts and mouse pads emblazoned with the STJ logo. Support our efforts to support songwriters. Check out the swag here.

Lower your standards

January 22, 2009

Sometime when you’re really stuck, try lowering your standards. I don’t mean compromising your art. I mean, for a brief period (however long it takes you to get unstuck), cut yourself some slack. We can be our own worst enemies. We sometimes set impossible standards and then punish ourselves when we don’t meet them.

If you idolize an artist, say Stevie Wonder, and you want to write music at that level, that’s a great goal. It can work to motivate you. If applied too harshly though, the goal can also be a constant reminder that you are unworthy.

So lower your standards. Just as an exercise, emulate some other artist that might be a little closer to your current abilities.

If you’re really stuck, take a song from this artist and write a completely new set of lyrics. If the lyrics turn out great, you can then write new chords and a new melody, based on your lyrics, which gives you an entirely original piece.

Lower your songwriting standards temporarily and see where it takes you.

Performing introvert

January 16, 2009

A news article about circus performers triggered some thoughts about performing musicians, especially performing songwriters, especially introverted performing singer/songwriters. Extroverts can skip this post.

It’s not usual for an extrovert to be a performer. Extroverts get energy from the applause of the crowd. Introverts who perform are a whole ‘nother story.

Introverts (and I speak from experience here) do not get their energy from the applause and attentions of others. We introverts refuel in solitude. Being the introverted on-stage performer takes a toll on us, quite the reverse from the affect it has on real extroverts.

The article talked about a pair of performers in a cirus that does two shows a day. So the couple does their routine twice daily, but here’s the kicker – their part of the show takes only six minutes. They are required to be onstage and emotionally ‘on’ for only twelve minutes a day. I figure even an introvert can handle this.

To extrapolate that to a traveling singer/songwriter situation, the on-stage time might be sixty, ninety minutes per performance, but it’s still a limited amount of time. From an introvert’s perspective, it would be an intense period of forced extroversion after which we are physically exhausted and emotionally spent.

The good news is, the performance is finite. Even introverts can gear ourselves up to put out the energy it takes to be onstage, schmoozing the audience, delivering the songs and patter with gusto and essentially becoming an extrovert, as long as we know it’s only going to be an hour and then we can retreat, maybe not into complete solitude, but at least to a smaller group to interact with. The personality assessment folks call us ‘professional extroverts’ (introverts who can act like extroverts when needed for our careers).

Songwriter’s Tip Jar now has swag, those promotional caps, T-shirts and mouse pads emblazoned with the STJ logo. Support our efforts to support songwriters. Check out the swag here.

Iconize yourself

January 15, 2009

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In honor of the hoopla in the news over the inauguration plans, I posted myself in the iconic Obama poster style. You can get your own photo redone this way at Paste Magazine’s site.

Washington, DC is in full swing, inauguration-wise. It’s like everything iconic about the city is now happening all at once:

traffic nightmares,
bad weather,
DC government working with the Federal government,
tourist influx (largest ever),
news media influx,
political pageantry,
dignitaries, including former U.S. presidents,
a parade,
at least one military band,
formal (and not so formal) balls and celebrations,
scads of police:

Including the Secret Service, 58 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies are providing security. I don’t know if that includes the military troops, which will also be present. I also don’t know if it includes the mounted police, bomb-sniffing dogs, undercover officers, air patrols, Coast Guard and countersnipers that I read about.

It does include the U.S. Capital Police, Maryland and DC police, Montgomery County police, U.S. Park police, chemical response force, Pennsylvania State Police, Philadelphia Police Department, Metropolitan Police Department Harbor Patrol, National Guard troops and more.