Archive for April, 2009

Facebook for songwriters

April 29, 2009

Whether you are a musician, songwriter or member of a band, you can use Facebook’s Public Profiles for publicity, promotion, sales and communicating with fans.

I’m talking about the feature formerly call Pages. It’s not your personal user profile on Facebook. If you want to use Facebook as a promotion tool, you need a Public Profile. I’ve been scouring the web for good information on the relatively new Pubic Profile feature and I finally found something that I can share with you.

Some of the tools available to musicians: discography, music player, blog, discussion boards, photos, video, Flash player, events.

One benefit is that anyone, including people who don’t have a Facebook profile, can see your Facebook Public Profile.

Use this to get started: Facebook Public Profiles for music and bands

Beat writer’s block

April 27, 2009

We got an email from a 14 year old who did a good job of describing writer’s block and asked what she could do about it.

You could start by writing almost anything that comes into your head, without pausing to wonder if it’s any good. Think of it as an early draft that, with appropriate editing and rewrites, can become great.

The key here is the phrase ‘without pausing to wonder if it’s any good.’ It’s easy to start editing, criticizing and judging your work too early on. Hold off on that as long as possible, because it can kill the creative spark.

Some of the best songwriters go through many, many versions before arriving at the one we know from the radio. Of course, no one ever hears the early versions except the songwriter.

The other part to that tip is, don’t rush your songs. If it takes 19 versions to get the lyrics right, that’s OK. Don’t let your band, yourself or anyone else rush your process. Sometimes they come out fast, other times they need to brew awhile.

From my own experience, I have several times started a song and gotten stuck. So I set it aside and ended up coming back to it a month (or 6 months or a year) later and at that time I had an inspiration and finished the song.

Trying to force it to happen faster than it wants to happen is usually a disaster (faster=disaster). The inspiration comes on its own schedule.

My advice is, when the inspiration does come, hop on it, even if it means staying up all night or canceling previous plans.

If you are committed and passionate about music, you’ll get over writer’s block, not that it will ever completely go away.

One more tip to beat writer’s block: every writing coach, will tell you to ‘write what you know.’ Another way to say it is ‘write about a subject you are passionate about.’ It could be a person, animal, thing (TV show, sports team) or an idea (freedom, peace, equality, etc.)

Passion can also be love or lust. You can also hate passionately. Anything that incites deep feelings in you, positive or negative, is a good subject for a song.

Usually, when you’re passionate about something or someone, you can’t shut up about it. Use that in your song.

Downward spirals and possibility

April 23, 2009

Benjamin Zander

The only conductor to ever lead the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, Benjamin Zander is a prophet of human potential and an unrivaled champion of joie de vivre. Watch as he helps unlock the boundless potential of a 15 year old cellist and teaches the entire Pop!Tech audience what it means to live in a world of possibility.

Metaphors

April 22, 2009

Tip # 4922

In your notepad, along with your song ideas, titles, lyrics and other brilliant thoughts, keep a list of metaphors. Include ones you make up and any other interesting metaphors you hear.

It doesn’t matter what format you use – a pencil and pad, digital voice recorder, cell phone or PDA. You can even save your thoughts by leaving yourself a voice message.

The key is to have a quick and easy way to save these gems wherever you may be (in the car, in line at Starbucks or the DMV, in a movie theater, lecture hall or on a roller coaster).

Let the world know you’re a songwriter and proud of it, with Songwriter’s Tip Jar caps, T’s, sweatshirts, mouse pads and other swag. Check out the swag here.

stj-official-white-t-front

Where are you headed?

April 21, 2009

I love the Lao Tse quote “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” It’s so obvious, yet we all ignore it from time to time and we find ourselves on a path that leads only tangentially to our supposed goal.

We can get distracted from our goal easily, especially if our commitment is iffy. The people who succeed (at anything) are the ones who keep focused on the goal. There are plenty of ways songwriters can get distracted (and sometimes, when the writing isn’t going well, we look for distractions). Keep your eye on the goal, so that if your direction is drifting off, you can realign yourself.

Here’s an example. Bob wants to be a songwriter. He does his homework, he writes lots of songs. And he feels he has some songs worthy of radio airplay. His current obstacle is getting demos of his songs – he can’t afford what the studios are charging.

So he puts together a home studio and starts to learn how to use it. Bob happens to be a quick study and soon he is beginning to master his recording equipment. But of course, there is still a lot of equipment he doesn’t yet own and a lot of features he hasn’t learned. After all, audio engineering is a career in itself. If he isn’t careful, Bob may end up on a path that is leading to a career in studio engineering, rather than songwriting. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as that becomes his new goal.

Keep focused on your goal, even while attending to these necessary tasks:

– creating/updating your band’s press kit and web site, which could lead you to a career in graphic arts
– recording demos, like Bob above
– playing live performances/touring, which is important, but not primary for an aspiring songwriter
– managing the money, taxes, etc.
– booking gigs

Pursuing a career in music can be discouraging at times. Often friends and family are not supportive. And the music industry can be daunting. Sometimes musicians get into a habit of complaining about how unfair it is, how the other band gets all the breaks, etc. This line of thinking is also a distraction. Don’t go there.

We will continue to print stories of people like you, who had a goal, stayed focused (and patient) and achieved the goal or a milestone toward a goal. This week we report on long time STJ member, Ande Rasmussen.

My Songwriting Dream Came True

The following is taken verbatim, with permission, from an awesome songwriter newsletter called IFS (Inspirations for Songwriters). IFS is put out by Ande Rasmussen and this is his story.

If you want RECEIVE IFS, SEND an EMPTY email to difs-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

On Thursday February 19th, 2004, I was driving home on IH 35 in my green Ford F-150 truck after a dinner meeting. At 7:10 pm Austin’s KVET 98.1 FM was playing the Texas Top 10 and I heard “Home Made of Stone” for the first time on the radio. I started whoopin and hollerin. I grabbed my cell phone and tried to reach my wife. Because right there one of my songwriting dreams came true.

My dream was to hear a song I cowrote on the radio. I’ve been chasing that goal since I started writing songs in October 1997.

Recently I went through my journals and old IFS to piece together and consolidate its story.

the story of “Home Made of Stone”

Cowriting with john Arthur martinez and Steve Seskin

by Ande Rasmussen

John Arthur Martinez has been a friend of mine for several years now. I think he’s a tremendous talent and one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. I met him at an ASG conference and in 1999, his songs sounded great and later that year one of his songs won a category in the ASG Austin Song Contest. So I asked John Arthur if I could send him a few song ideas and lyrics to consider cowriting with me and he said yes. I sent him a list of titles and asked him to pick a few. He choose “Married to your Memory,” “Karma” and a chorus fragment that contained the lines “I fell from a tree and broke my arm you ran ten blocks to get my mom I never saw you run so fast you were first to sign my cast” which wound up becoming part of “here’s to boys.” John Arthur, Donna Aylor and I wrote “Karma” first. John put “Here’s to Boys” and “Married to Your Memory” on his 2001 “Stand your Ground” CD and all these songs wound up in his set list. We continued to work on other songs. In December 2002 jAm and I started working on a song that began with the chorus fragment “where dust devils dance and coyotes call where tumble weeds tumble and ran never falls.”

Which for me was influenced from summer boy scout camping trips in 2001 to Colorado, where we saw many dust devils dance in the Texas Pan Handle. I saw them again as I drove out to scout camp in West Texas near Balmorhea. I loved camping in the Mountains. John and I worked on the song much of late December and in January 2003 it turned into “Lone Starry Night.” I really love how this song turned out. It’s so peaceful and jAm created such a wonderful melody. I love what he does on the word “hand” in the chorus.

In November 2002, john Arthur tried out for Nashville Star at Hills Cafe in Austin Texas, He got runner up, the producers liked him so they invited him to Houston for the regional competition. In Houston at the regional competition Miranda Lambert won. Later in January 2004 john
Arthur received a call and was invited to be one of the 12 finalists. During January and February I tried to step up my efforts to finish several more songs with jAm.

The Nashville Star producers took each finalist in the studio to record with Don Cook producing. jAm recorded a version of “When You Say Nothing At All” He wrote Spanish lyrics for the second verse. It’s really gorgeous. Each week on Nashville Star he managed to survive getting cut.

He did receive a lot of help, he won fans from being on the show, Sam and Bob on KVET 98.1 FM plugged him each week and I plugged him through ASG and IFS email lists.

From talking with and cowriting with John Arthur I’ve learned he looks for ideas that feel real to him. Ideas he feels connected to. On Saturday March 15th, 2003 I was watching the Nashville Star episode, they were showing snippets from each artists life then they did a brief
interview right before they performed. When John Arthur came up, they showed him at home, John Arthur lives in a manufactured home. Live on TV jAm said “Right now we live in a double-wide but my dream is to buy a home made of stone on a foundation.”

I loved the idea and sound of “a home made of stone.” So I emailed John Arthur including his quote and asked him if he would like to write the song with me.

Here’s what john Arthur emailed back:

Subj: Let’s write it
Date: 3/19/03 9:05:38 PM Central Daylight Time
From: john arthur
To: AndeRasmussen@a…
Sent from the Internet

“right now we live in a double wide
but I want to buy her a home made of stone”

~ ~ ~

While he was on the show his emails were short, cause he was swamped. So I started thinking about his upbringing, where he lives, what he might want, what I’d want, where I live, and what would lead him to say “a home made of stone” and ideas started to arrive. I pieced together a first draft lyric and emailed it to him. I waited for a couple weeks, feeling kind of curious to hear what he’s did with it. I knew the idea meant a lot to him because a “home made of stone” is his heart felt dream.

On one of the Nashville Star shows he sang a line from the chorus of “home made of stone” and on March 28th he sent out an email to his fans and friends saying he and I were working on the song.

OK now, now we need to back up a little, when John Arthur went to Nashville I sent out emails to several top notch songwriters I’ve met and corresponded with over the years.

Steve Seskin was one of the writers I contacted. I told them that John Arthur was a friend and cowriter of mine. He was a Nashville Star finalist and a fan of their work. I gave each writer info on how to get in touch with jAm. I may have suggested they might want to contact him, ask him if they wanted to cowrite, and tell him Ande gave you the
info.

I met Steve in March 1999 in Nashville at NSAI’s song camp 101. Then when he and Allen did a workshop in April 2002, I helped promote it through the ASG and IFS email lists. I attended the workshop. Also from time to time on IFS I plugged Steve’s new CD’s or mentioned on of his songs as an example.

In early April 2003 Steve Seskin contacted John Arthur. Steve said a cowriter cancelled so he asked John Arthur if he’d like to get together to cowrite. John said absolutely and they scheduled an appointment. Shortly there after, John Arthur called me. He told me he’d just scheduled a cowriting session with Steve Seskin and asked me, if I
minded, if he offered “Home Made of Stone” to Steve as an idea to work on at their appointment. John Arthur assured me that I would be included on the song as a cowriter. So I said “Sure.” And that’s the last I heard from John for a while. I didn’t hear that he met with Steve or how the appointment went.

But on the Saturday April 19, 2003 just after 9:00pm CST Nashville Stars host, Nancy O’Dell called John Arthur first to perform. Here’s what he said while introducing the “Home Made of Stone,” which was written for his wife, Yvonna.

“She decorates our beautiful manufactured home and man, I feel like a prince, but I’ve been promising her I’m gonna build her a home made of stone.”

As he sang that beautiful song my eyes teared up and I got shivers on my arms. It was the first time I got to hear it too. And I was a cowriter on the song!

On Sat Apr 26 he survived the next round of Nashville Star and made it to the final 3. I had a brief appearance on the show. My sound bite was “I’m glad the world gets to discover who john arthur martinez is.” Later in the show John Arthur thanked his cowriters “Mike Blakely, Stephanie Urbina Jones, Steve Seskin, and Ande Rasmussen.”

The week before the final show he went in the studio with Clint Black and recorded “Home Made of Stone.” If John Arthur won it would have been the first single.

Thank you John Arthur and Steve Seskin for making my songwriting dream come true.

In November 2003 john Arthur finalized a deal with Dualtone with distribution by SONY. In December 2003 john Arthur went in the studio with producer Matt Rollings and recorded “Home Made of Stone.” Later he announced it was going to be the first single.

In January 2004 I helped promote and attended a workshop with Steve Seskin and Allen Shamblin, and Steve thanked me for introducing him to jAm.

In January 2004 Dualtone released “Home Made of Stone” to radio. In early February, 2004 “Home Made of Stone” debuted at #56 on the Billboard Country Charts.

On Thursday February 19th, 2004, I was driving home on IH 35 in my green Ford F-150 truck after a dinner meeting. At 7:10 pm Austin’s KVET 98.1 FM was playing the Texas Top 10 and I heard “Home Made of Stone” for the first time on the radio. I started whoopin and hollerin. I grabbed my cell phone and tried to reach my wife. Because right there one of my songwriting dreams came true.

My dream was to hear a song I cowrote on the radio. I’ve been chasing that goal since I started writing songs in October 1997.

Many surprises lie ahead, like a Christmas tree packed with presents. The time will come and I’ll get to unwrap each one. I can’t wait to find out what’s inside!

Thank you John Arthur, Steve, KVET, and the many many people who helped me reach this dream.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Looking back here’s a few actions that helped me:

1) join your local songwriting organization,
2) volunteer for your local songwriting organization,
3) attend songwriting events, meet fellow members,
4) constantly look for interesting song ideas
5) start cowriting,
6) enter songwriting contests,
7) get professional critiques,
8) attend songwriting workshops,
9) read songwriting books
10) network on the internet,
11) make friends and do favors for people,
12) get professional demos
13) keep finding talented collaborators,
12) don’t give up, keep writing

How Can I Turn on My Creativity?

April 17, 2009

People ask us this, but framed in a specific way. They say “I want to be a better songwriter. How can I be more creative when writing a song?”

People assume our creativity is what we use when we’re drawing, composing, sculpting, designing or any of the other accepted ‘artistic’ endeavors. And we assume we don’t need creativity when doing any other tasks.

But the most creative people I know are inventive and creative in all aspects of their lives. Contrary to what you might expect, childrearing, tax preparation, taking out the garbage, repairing the plumbing and being a good friend are all things that can be approached creatively.
You are limiting yourself if you only exercise your creativity when doing some things and not others.

In any career or personal endeavor, creative people are the ground-breakers, the idea people, the ones willing to try crazy sounding, impossible new approaches. Inventors are creative, entrepreneurs are creative, good teachers are creative and good parents are especially creative.

Understandably, workplaces that don’t support creative thought among employees are the most depressing places to work.

When you open yourself up to being creative any time, in any situation, then you are letting your best inner self out. When any time is a good time to create, then it’s not so hard to ‘turn it on’ when you sit down to write a song. It’s already ‘on.’

The creativity you express in one area of your life feeds the creative juices in other areas. They build on each other in an ever-widening spiral. It’s like one of those vicious cycles you hear about, only this is a fun cycle, a productive, virtuous, creative cycle.

So don’t make the mistake of ‘saving’ your creative energy for songwriting sessions exclusively. As you’re doing some mundane task creatively, you’re already setting the stage for your next song.

Busking in the Subway

April 16, 2009

Nick Thompson is a songwriter who plays solo instrumental guitar in the subways of New York. He believes CDs should be cheap. He allows people to pay whatever they want for his CDs. He says the median, mean and mode are all $5 and he figures this is what people are willing to pay for unfamiliar music from an unknown artist.

In five years of doing this he has learned something about CD buyers and he offers some advice for the struggling music industry.

Thompson draws some interesting parallels between his experiences with music buyers in the subway station and the music industry. Hear them and hear why he supports file sharing in his audio commentary on National Public Radio.

A Contemplation on Music

April 15, 2009

Welcome address to parents of the incoming freshman class at Boston Conservatory, given by Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of the music division at Boston Conservatory.

One of my parents’ deepest fears, I suspect, is that society would not properly value me as a musician, that I wouldn’t be appreciated. I had very good grades in high school, I was good in science and math, and they imagined that as a doctor or a research chemist or an engineer, I might be more appreciated than I would be as a musician.

I still remember my mother’s remark when I announced my decision to apply to music school-she said, “you’re WASTING your SAT scores.” On some level, I think, my parents were not sure themselves what the value of music was, what its purpose was. And they LOVED music, they listened to classical music all the time. They just weren’t really clear about its function.

So let me talk about that a little bit, because we live in a society that puts music in the “arts and entertainment” section of the newspaper, and serious music, the kind your kids are about to engage in, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment, in fact it’s the opposite of entertainment. Let me talk a little bit about music, and how it works.

The first people to understand how music really works were the ancient Greeks. And this is going to fascinate you; the Greeks said that music and astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects, and music was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us. Let me give you some examples of how this works.

One of the most profound musical compositions of all time is the Quartet for the End of Time written by French composer Olivier Messiaen in 1940. Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered the war against Nazi Germany. He was captured by the Germans in June of 1940, sent across Germany in a cattle car and imprisoned in a concentration camp.

He was fortunate to find a sympathetic prison guard who gave him
paper and a place to compose. There were three other musicians in the camp, a cellist, a violinist, and a clarinetist, and Messiaen wrote his quartet with these specific players in mind. It was performed in January 1941 for four thousand prisoners and guards in the prison camp. Today it is one of the most famous masterworks in the repertoire.

Given what we have since learned about life in the concentration camps, why would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy
writing or playing music? There was barely enough energy on a good day to find food and water, to avoid a beating, to stay warm, to escape torture; why would anyone bother with music? And yet, from the camps, we have poetry, we have music, we have visual art. It wasn’t just this one fanatic Messiaen; many, many people created art.

Why?

Well, in a place where people are only focused on survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must be, somehow, essential for life. The camps were without money, without hope, without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were not without art. Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are. Art is one of the ways in which we say, “I am alive, and my life has meaning.”

On September 12, 2001, I was a resident of Manhattan. That morning I reached a new understanding of my art and its relationship to the world. I sat down at the piano that morning at 10 AM to practice as was my daily routine; I did it by force of habit, without thinking about it. I lifted the cover on the keyboard, and opened my music, and put my hands on the keys and took my hands off the keys. And I sat there and thought, does this even matter? Isn’t this completely irrelevant? Playing the piano right now, given what happened in this city yesterday, seems silly, absurd, irreverent, pointless. Why am I here? What place has a musician in this moment in time? Who needs a piano player right now? I was completely lost.

And then I, along with the rest of New York, went through the journey of getting through that week. I did not play the piano that day, and in fact I contemplated briefly whether I would ever want to play the piano again. And then I observed how we got through the day. At least in my neighborhood, we didn’t shoot hoops or play Scrabble. We didn’t play cards to pass the time, we didn’t watch TV, we didn’t shop, we most certainly did not go to the mall. The first organize activity that I saw in New York, that same day, was singing. People sang. People sang around fire houses, people sang We Shall Overcome. Lots of people sang America the Beautiful. The first organized public event that I remember was the Brahms Requiem, later that week, at Lincoln Center, with the New York Philharmonic. The first organized public expression of grief, our first communal response to that historic event, was a concert. That was the beginning of a sense that life might go on. The US Military secured the airspace, but recovery was led by the arts, and by music in particular, that very night.*

From these experiences, I have come to understand that music is not part of “arts and entertainment,” as the newspaper section would have us believe. It’s not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pastime. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can’t with our minds.

Some of you may know Samuel Barber’s heart-wrenchingly beautiful
piece, Adagio for Strings. If you don’t know it by that name, then
some of you may know it as the background music which accompanied the Oliver Stone movie Platoon, a film about the Vietnam War. If you know that piece of music either way, you know it has the ability to crack your heart open like a walnut; it can make you cry over sadness you didn’t know you had. Music can slip beneath our conscious reality to get at what’s really going on inside us the way a good therapist does.

I bet that you have never been to a wedding where there was absolutely no music. There might have been only a little music, there might have been some really bad music, but I bet you there was some music. And something very predictable happens at weddings – people get all pent up with all kinds of emotions, and then there’s some musical moment where the action of the wedding stops and someone sings or plays the flute or something. And even if the music is lame, even if the quality isn’t good, predictably 30 or 40 percent of the people who are going to cry at a wedding, cry a couple of moments after the music starts.

Why?

The Greeks. Music allows us to move around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so that we can express what we feel even when we can’t talk about it. Can you imagine watching
Indiana Jones or Superman or Star Wars with the dialogue but no music? What is it about the music swelling up at just the right moment in ET so that all the softies in the audience start crying at exactly the same moment? I guarantee you, if you showed the movie with the music stripped out, it wouldn’t happen that way. The Greeks: Music is the understanding of the relationship between invisible internal objects.

I’ll give you one more example, the story of the most important concert of my life. I must tell you I have played a little less than a thousand concerts in my life so far. I have played in places that I thought were important. I like playing in Carnegie Hall; I enjoyed playing in Paris; it made me very happy to please the critics in St. Petersburg. I have played for people I thought were important; music critics of major newspapers, foreign heads of state. The most important concert of my entire life took place in a nursing home in Fargo, ND, about 4 years ago.

I was playing with a very dear friend of mine who is a violinist. We
began, as we often do, with Aaron Copland’s Sonata, which was written during World War II and dedicated to a young friend of Copland’s, a young pilot who was shot down during the war. Now we often talk to our audiences about the pieces we are going to play rather than
providing them with written program notes. But in this case, because we began the concert with this piece, we decided to talk about the piece later in the program and to just come out and play the music without explanation.

Midway through the piece, an elderly man seated in a wheelchair near the front of the concert hall began to weep. This man, whom I later met, was clearly a soldier-even in his 70’s, it was clear from his buzz-cut hair, square jaw and general demeanor that he had spent a good deal of his life in the military. I thought it a little bit odd that someone would be moved to tears by that particular movement of that particular piece, but it wasn’t the first time I’ve heard crying in a concert and we went on with the concert and finished the piece.

When we came out to play the next piece on the program, we decided to talk about both the first and second pieces, and we described the circumstances in which the Copland was written and mentioned its dedication to a downed pilot. The man in the front of the audience
became so disturbed that he had to leave the auditorium. I honestly figured that we would not see him again, but he did come backstage afterwards, tears and all, to explain himself.

What he told us was this: “During World War II, I was a pilot, and I was in an aerial combat situation where one of my team’s planes was hit. I watched my friend bail out, and watched his parachute open, but the Japanese planes which had engaged us returned and machine gunned across the parachute chords so as to separate the parachute from the pilot, and I watched my friend drop away into the ocean, realizing that he was lost. I have not thought about this for many years, but during that first piece of music you played, this memory returned to me so vividly that it was as though I was reliving it. I didn’t understand why this was happening, why now, but then when you came out to explain that this piece of music was written to commemorate a lost pilot, it was a little more than I could handle.

How does the music do that? How did it find those feelings and those memories in me?”

Remember the Greeks: music is the study of invisible relationship>
between internal objects. This concert in Fargo was the most important work I have ever done. For me to play for this old soldier and help him connect, somehow, with Aaron Copland, and to connect their memories of their lost friends, to help him remember and mourn his friend, this is my work. This is why music matters.

What follows is part of the talk I will give to this year’s freshman class when I welcome them a few days from now. The responsibility I will charge your sons and daughters with is this:

“If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student
practicing appendectomies, you’d take your work very seriously
because you would imagine that some night at 2:00 AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you’re going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8:00 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.

“You’re not here to become an entertainer, and you don’t have to sell yourself. The truth is you don’t have anything to sell; being a musician isn’t about dispensing a product, like selling used Chevies. I’m not an entertainer; I’m a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You’re here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.

“Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don’t expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that’s what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives.”

The Advantages of Using Session Musicians on Your Songwriting Demo

April 14, 2009

By Cliff Goldmacher

Why do professional recordings sound, well… professional? There are a number of reasons including high quality microphones, pre-amps, an experienced engineer and a well-designed studio space. But one of the single most important elements in a great-sounding, professional recording is the performance of the session musicians. There is a reason that the job of the session musician exists. It’s these musicians whose talent and studio experience contribute in a major way to the polished sound of a recording. Because there are different rules that apply when you’re recording an artist demo, I’m going to limit the scope of this article to songwriting demos specifically.

Shouldn’t I Be Able To Do This Myself?

While I am a big proponent of wearing as many hats as you can in your musical career, there are certain areas where it makes much better sense to rely on experts. First of all, it’s extremely important that you take ego out of the equation. There is no shame in having someone else play on your demo. Remember that a songwriting demo is supposed to put your song in the best possible light in order to “sell” it to prospective artists or place it in films and TV shows. It is not supposed to be proof of your studio musicianship. Recording your instrument in the studio requires an entirely different skill set than playing live. For lack of a better description, studio recording is more like music surgery than a musical performance. While you might be comfortable playing guitar in your living room or even on a stage in front of hundreds of people, it’s an entirely different ballgame to sit in a four by six-foot booth wearing headphones and listening to a clicking sound. Giving a note-perfect, dynamic and in-time performance in this kind of unnatural setting requires a special set of skills.

Isn’t It Cheaper if I Do It Myself?

Given that we all have to keep an eye on the bottom line when it comes to our recording budget, there is the temptation to save money by playing on the demo yourself. The problem with this method is that often it will take an inexperienced musician twice as long to get a viable take as it would a pro. One of the many advantages of using session musicians is that they are not only good at what they do but fast. In other words, the price you pay to hire a session musician translates into savings on studio time compared to playing the part yourself. Being fast in the studio is useful for another reason as well. When a session bogs down with take after take, it starts to feel a lot more like work. When things go quickly and smoothly, they stay musical and fun. Don’t discount the need for a session to stay enjoyable. My experience has been that everyone does his or her best work when the atmosphere in the studio is light and productive.

Great Expectations

When it comes to recording a demo, it’s essential that you keep your listening audience in mind at all times. In the music industry, there is a certain level of “polish” that record labels, publishers, managers and producers have come to expect from the demos they listen to. By bringing in the same musicians that play on hundreds of songwriting demos and major label record projects, you’ll be giving these industry types what they’re used to hearing. We’ve all heard from time to time industry professionals say that they can “hear through” your rough recordings. My recommendation is NOT to take that chance. You’ve only got one opportunity to make a first impression and you should give yourself every advantage. Also, even if there is one industry professional willing and able to hear through a rough recording, you’ll hopefully be pitching this song to a number of industry people many of whom will be expecting a professional sounding demo.

The Care and Feeding of Session Musicians

When it comes to working with session musicians, there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, if you’re not comfortable writing out a chord chart, professional session musicians are perfectly capable of listening to your rough recording (also known as a work tape) and writing out their own charts. (See my demo preparation article for more details.) For them, charting is quick process that should take no longer than 10-15 minutes at the most. Then, when it comes time for the musicians to play, always suggest that they try it their way first. There are two reasons for this. First of all, you’ve hired them to make your demo sound great so you should give them a chance to go with their instincts before you offer any direction. Secondly, by letting them do what you’ve brought them in to do with a minimum of interference, you’ll create goodwill that will go a long way towards the overall vibe in the studio. In almost every case, what the session musicians come up with will be better than you ever expected. HOWEVER, if you’re still not getting what you want after they’ve tried it their way, you’re 100% entitled to politely ask them to try it the way you were hearing it. The ONLY appropriate response from a session musician to your request is “absolutely.”

Conclusion

It can be intimidating to work with such talented musicians, but remember, they’re working for you! One of my favorite expressions is “the best ones have nothing to prove.” In other words, when you hire pros not only will they be great at what they do but they should be a pleasure to work with as well. There is no reason to hire even the best session musician if they have a bad attitude. This is extremely rare but if it happens, I’d recommend never using that musician again. There are way too many wonderful, friendly and talented session musicians out there to ever settle for one with a chip on their shoulder.

If you’re not in a major music city like New York or Nashville but still want to use the best musicians those cities have to offer, it just so happens that I have a way of helping you do exactly that.

Finally, if you’ve never used a professional musician on your songwriting demo, do yourself a favor and try it out. You’re in for a treat and you’ll end up with a great demo.

Cliff Goldmacher is a producer & songwriter with studios in New York and Nashville. For more information go to http://www.cliffgoldmacher.com

Trying to get your Song Demos to major artists? Or your band’s Demo Tape/CD, to a Record Label? Then check out TAXI The World’s Leading Independent A&R Company.

Napping for ideas

April 13, 2009

I was listening to a program about “songwriting” while cooking my breakfast today; and the fellow said “If I get ‘stuck’ on some lyrics, I merely take a 15 min nap! At the end of that nap, the words are usually there (at the end of the tunnel!!!)”

Sounded like a novel, yet effective way of “tapping into” the subconscious.

Submitted by multi-talented musician Don McFall

Thanks, Don. Dreams, too, can be a rich source of material.