Archive for category Songwriting

“Kiss me”

My new single!!

 

It’s been awhile since I released any new music. I started working on this song during a huge creative spurt last year. I recorded a demo, and really liked it, but it need some tweaking.

So, what did I do today? Lots and lots of tweaking! LOL And paperwork. And scorewriting. And editing and editing and more editing. Proofreading. Computer work. Computer glitches. Computer file formats. Rendering. More computer glitches.

But here it is.

This is the first time I have released a song that was created in my home studio. If you recall how many times I complain about audio engineering…it seems like it’s amazing that I even got this far. (And yes…full disclaimer..I do comprehend how much farther there is to go – in terms of me learning and being adequate in audio engineering.)

But something about this song captured me from the beginning. It’s one that I play over and over. It touches me on some base level. For me…music is about generating a response in the listener – whether that response is to tap your toes, or dance in your chair, or make a tear come to your eye, or touch your heart in a way that says, “I have felt that way before!”

I guess that’s why I’m not at the top of the charts. It seems to me that modern music has taken away the emotion. Modern music (ie the ‘popular’  tunes that are controlled by mega media companies) has taken away emotion. It seems to have no human connection. It is a commodity – manufactured to the lowest common denominator.

This, THIS is my stand.

Music – no matter what the genre, is about capturing the human condition.

As to the song itself…

every artist needs a muse.

This song is both inspired by…and dedicated to…

my muse.

You make me smile.

 

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Composer

The process:

Last night, I texted a friend. He texted me back – but his words are arranged in a way that make me smile. So, I think about it, and that idea bounces around in my head for 20 hours.

Boom! That’d be a damn good song hook. Let’s go see what evolves:

To the piano I go. I compose by singing into a cassette recorder. I write lyrics and notes and scribbles and chicken scratches that only I can decipher, in a spiral notebook. The notes and shortcuts are in a language only I can understand. (And I’m getting in real trouble now, because as I age, my handwriting only gets worse. When I can’t read my own writing…then where will I be? LOL)

The song, slowly, evolves. Now, keep in mind – this one has only been in my head for about 20 hours. As it’s pouring out into the notepaper/cassette recorder – it’s mostly happening live. This isn’t stuff that I’ve thought about for days or months, and working to get it …just so. It’s new! fresh! unthoughtof!

It’s a shuffle. Dance-able. Makes you grin. Makes you smile. The hook and theme is universal – if an old flame is standing (in a bar) before you and asking you to take them back – do you do it? Especially when that person was the one who dumped you last time?

We’ve all been there, right?

What makes a song connect to people? Universal themes of life?

So, yeah. Now a song exists, one that didn’t exist an hour ago.

Cool!

And I was the one who got to ‘hold the pen’. I was the one that the universe gave this song to.

This was the 405th time that has happened. #405 in my catalog. When I was working on the musical (code name P/P) I knew I had gone over 400. When I hit 200, I said we’d have a party. We didn’t. When I hit 300, I said we’d have a cake. We didn’t.

Well, damn, 400 deserves something. A cake! Confetti. Balloons! But alas…#400 came and went in February, in a rush of composing and a huge catapult of creative energy.

So, where are we now?

It’s August 1. In 8 months, I have completed 8 major projects. When I finished P/P which was #7, I was sooo depleted. I am still not “recovered” or “replenished”. So, what do I do? Not 5 hours went by, and I thought up another project. So, 17 days – on that one, and it was done, and oh boy, was I in trouble. I had used up my energy. I had used up my creative wellspring. More than that, I had used up ALL my insides. I have never ‘pushed’ myself to that limit before. 8 projects in 8 months.

I finally google: “How to replenish Chi”

The answer: sleep, rest, eat well, drink lots of water, don’t poison yourself with processed food or negative energy. The bottom line: TIME!

Time fixes my sprained foot. Time replenishes Chi.

Well…yeah. I knew that. It’s the answer to everything: take care of yourself. Drink lots of fluids. Eat right. Be positive. Sleep. Rest. Breathe.

For every action – there is an equal and opposite reaction: Extreme creativity – and its opposite: existing as a lump of clay, unable to get out of your chair and cook your own dinner.

No, it’s not that bad. (Who am I kidding? Yes, I DO have days like that.)

To live life at this extreme…

I am amazed when someone says they are bored. How can you be bored with so much life out there – waiting to be experienced?

So, we are about three weeks into me – trying to not “drive it” so hard, and rest.

I’ve done a lot of “lay on the sofa and watch sci-fi” (my chosen downtime). But…like last weekend, when the opportunity arose – I got it together and went to the movie audition. And today…when there is an idea – grab it with both hands and RUN WITH IT.

So, what if –  I’m now sitting in my LazyBoy, with a quilt over my stomach, to quell the ‘wobblies’ of having expelled too much creative energy?

I think I existed 4 days without this “hole in my gut”. But, now, here we are – back at the extreme again.

It’s worth it. The toll to the human. The toll on the psyche. No matter what this whole process does to the human, does to the body, does to the soul…it’s worth it.

Because song #405 now exists.

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Um, recharge the recharge?

So, um, yeah. June 29,  I complete the finalization of the last musical, code named P/P.

And as I blogged about last time, I was worn out, used up, gutted, and unable to stand vertical. The project was that big. It took that much out of me.

And what do I need to do next? Rest. Take a Break. Recharge.

What do I actually do next?

Well…it’s been in the back of my mind, that I am perhaps a bit uncomfortable with not having more musicals planned, in my head, waiting to come out. When P/P got finished, we had 2, which is still quite an accomplishment, but…

So, what if we conduct an experiment? Take existing songs from the catalog (I have composed over 400. There’s plenty of material there to work with.)…and build a musical around it.

But this last one took the stuffing out of me. So, why not try for a one-act. Maybe 3 songs, and just 25 pages or so, and write TO whatever songs I chose – which are already composed?

I mention this to my writing parter, as an experiment, and which songs do we pick?

She came back with a novelty song, we had composed some time back.

And immediately inspiration kicks in. And I compose 2 new songs, to go with the 1 existing one.

My next segment of days off from the day job, and without prior planning or thinking it up, or anything at all—I write the damn musical. In its entirety. I went slow and would do a scene, then walk around and think and come back to it. And the thing just…was there.

I am AMAZED when that happens. The first new song, I could remember all week. And I’d go to the piano and just sing the living daylights out of it. It’s one of those that is super fun to sing and perform. Some songs are like that–they just soar out of your soul.

But, problem. I could not remember the music for the second new song.

When I compose at the piano, I have a procedure I have used for years. I write the lyrics on paper, and I sing and play into a cassette. Then you have to have some sort of cataloging system to be able to go back and find them. But this is a chronological thing.

If the time comes when I compose in a digital realm, and have to store these on a hard drive, I think I’d go mad. Yes, the work eventually ends up digitized. But my system works and I can’t deviate from it.

So, when I can’t remember the tune, that isn’t a problem, because I have an initial composing and notes in the cassette.

But it baffles me that I have these lyrics and I can’t remember the tune. So…finally I get to my days off again. I edit the manuscript. I need to record demos. I go to the cassette: which has NO MUSIC on it. I didn’t WRITE the music in the first place. Just the lyrics.

So, I compose music, which happened rather quickly and then that gels around in my head for a couple of days, and boom! I lay down demos. Boom, I finalize the manuscript. And…

BOOM! Another project is done.

17  days, start to finish.

This is #23.

23 plays in our catalog. Some I solo wrote. Some I co-wrote.

Why do I keep doing this?

Beacuse, of all the aspects of creativity in which I work: Playwrighting is the most open. There are so many opportunities to submit your work and places to be heard.

All the other aspects of creativity:

Screenwriting: damn hard to break into

Songwriting: the corporate controlled music business has taken the ‘soul’ of an artist out of the equation. They have killed anything “human” from the music, and it’s all about hook, groove, beats, vocal manipulation, etc

Try as I might, I can find no wedge to break in. Not to mention the fact that my music has soul. My music touches people. That is the opposite of what is happening in the current music environment.

Poetry: Yes, there are opportunities, but, really, if you are a poet, how much of a future can you build out of your art? I love poetry and love being a poet. But it isn’t a life that can sustain itself.

Filmmaking: This one is tough. Yes, there are tons of opportunities. If you make films, there are so many places to send them, share them, etc. But, at the present time of my life, I can’t seem to pull that off. I can’t seem to have a day job and make a film at the same time. When I make a film, it needs to be the ONLY thing I have going. And for now, that isn’t an option. But, there was a time, when I could not write a book and have a day job. If I was writing a book for however many months, I could not have split focus. Well, I built up the…whatever, and now I can have a day job. I can write on my days off. I can write on a day when I actually work day job, but on off duty hours. So, I agonize that I am not making films, enough. We do one, maybe two small projects a year. I just try not to drive myself crazy with the ‘waiting for the time to come’ when I can make more.

Acting: Acting is a passive business. As an actor, you do your best to build and hone your craft. But, ultimately, you are the one waiting for the phone to ring. Someone else makes a decision about whether to hire you or not. As an actor, I get 1 or 2 gigs a year. I enjoy it.

Photography: Fun to do. Amazing to work with. And there is a future in it. But I haven’t taken the time to invest in turning it into a profit. You only have so many hours in a day. And photography seems to be a creative hobby, rather than a full-focus opportunity.

Fiction novelist: So yeah, this is where I’ve had the most success. And it’s a solo gig, which means I can write on my own time without having to adjust to the time management needs of others. So, writing is where I seem to be spending the most of my creative time as of late. And I’ve been lucky, that people have found my books and the ebbs and flows are still working. But it’s really easy for things to go the opposite way: to put all the effort into a project, and it just sits there. You can’t make a person read a book. They have to want to.

***

So, to recharge the recharge? Here we are again. 17 days later, and I have poured my soul into a project, and what is left, but an empty shell?

And as difficult as it is to “get thru” that gutted phase of a project…

What is even more difficult? Not having a front burner.

I had thought about moving a video project to front burner.

But it’s 100* out. I can’t work outdoors (not since the heat stroke a few years back). I cna’t take the heat. Even by 9 am, it’s too hot to be outdoors, and to try to film? Yeah, we could film indoors, but lighting sucks, and we don’t exactly have a studio set up as we need. And my garage and my parter’s shed, both of which we have used for filming in the past, are not air conditioned. And I would really hate to subject other actors to working conditions that I, myself, cannot tolerate.

I don’t know that I have enough “umph” or whatever you call it to go to the recording studio. It, too, takes “insides” and mine are kinda jumbled and depleted at the moment.

Oh well, the next project will leap to the forefront.

In a way, the not knowing is rather amazing (and scary), but you never know where this journey will take you.

I am but a vessel, floating along on the shifting currents of the universe’s ocean tide.

 

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The musical – finalized; finis; accomplished, completed, done and done!

The musical, which I have referred to as P/P is finished! This was a relatively short gestation period, perhaps 2 years.

I got the initial draft and composing done in February (where it just poured out of me in one of those miracle things where you say “All I had to do was to hold the pen!” …which, these days is a metaphor, because it’s more about the computer keyboard LOL.)

Then, once the initial draft is done, I ‘put it away’, and let it gel. Then you come back to it with fresh eyes, and evaluate.

So, in this last week, I have worked and fixed things and recorded and evaluated and built.

I hoped to be finished by June 30. When this happened, it happened quickly.

So, all week, I ‘shored up’ demos that needed ‘more’. There were so many steps, I can’t seem to even remember them all.

I pulled an all-nighter night before last, just working the steps, but I actually got the musical DONE. Who knew?

This one is complex. The story isn’t just told in dialog. The songs add to the story, advance the story and tell the story.

The project feels fairly tight to me. 15 songs – 13 of which were newly written specifically for this project. 2 I had already written in my catalog and were able to be incorporated.

This musical has 4 main cast members, 2 male and 2 female. Each role must be a true singer (and actor and dancer) (The men especially on the dance part). The scene settings are house/bar/house/bar/house/bar. So, I envision a lot of visible, on-stage quick scene changes, where people carry in tables and chairs and we wheel in a bar, and boom! The scene change has happened.

This one will be fun to see. You can dream up these shows in your head, but when it comes to staging them, the possibilities of what you can do – are endless.

I spoke to an acquaintance yesterday, who asked me what the musical was about. It’s a grown-up subject matter. And while I have completed the musical – the writing and composing; I have not completed the ‘sales’ things you need -, the synopsis, the character description, the descriptions you need in order to ‘pitch’ it.

What’s next? I have no idea.

That statement works on two levels: What’s next for the musical? I have no idea where it goes next. I will pitch it, and pitch it, and pitch it. As with our last major stageplay, my plan is to “Wallpaper the universe” with it =  send it every place that I can.

What’s next on the creative forefront? I have no idea? Honestly I didn’t expect this musical to be ‘done’ so quickly. I am ahead of the game time-wise, and I have no idea which project will come to the forefront next.

One thing’s for sure: I have expelled so much creative energy (and gone without sleep) I can barely stand up straight. Pushing that much of your own life force into a creative project, in order to bring it to life, it takes the stuffing out of a human. I need to recharge.

Peace.

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Technical perfection vs. emotion

I’ve been in studio the past few days, (my home studio, not the real one), working on demos for this musical I’m writing. The whole project has happened very quickly. It seems like the universe delivered this project to me–as if it were fully formed and ready to be presented.

I am a pianist. I do  most of my composing at the piano. I do most of my “work out how the songs go…” at the piano. And I do my singing, by accompanying myself at the piano.

But, for a musical, which has…you know…actual music…you need…representations of that music.

So, with trepidation, considering my software issues and lack of recording engineer skills, I fire up my recording studio, roll up my (figurative) shirt sleeves and dive in.

First goal: Create demos that don’t make me cringe.

Now – that is a huge, HUGE dividing line. I’m not even talking about approaching any realm that could be named ‘good’. I’m talking about the realm of ‘barely adequate’.

The first demos I did were…maybe, barely adequate. And the musical has a whole bunch of songs, so this is a big project. So big–in fact, that it almost seems paralysing to think of trying to accomplish such a thing.

Not to mention..on this…there’s just me. When you divide yourself up between recording engineer and musician/singer…your abilities are halved. When you just engineer, you can focus all your efforts on the engineering. When you just play and sing, you can focus 100% of your being on the music.

But, when you record yourself, you are half engineer and half musician. It diminishes the quality and…unfortunately…it shows.

And, in my studio, with just me there, and with the (not top of the line) components I have, you record one thing at a time. One line. One instrument. One track. So…I worked, diligently, and assembled multiple tracks–just like putting puzzle pieces together.

(And that doesn’t just refer to building ONE song demo, but the puzzle analogy works on another level, since all of these demos and manuscript and actors and story and orchestration, etc…it all is a giant puzzle that (hopefully) comes together to create an entertaining musical.)

Hence, we arrive at the subject line for the blog post: Technical Perfection vs. emotion

When I wrote the musical…I was not at the piano (I started there, but ended up working ALL on the computer.) So I had written out lyrics and I had sung them into a cassette recorder. So, I needed to figure out each song and work them out and tweak. But, when that happened, for ALL of the songs of this project, it ‘did’ something to me. The emotional content of these songs, together, which build into an entire story…wow. I sang the musical, in its entirety, for four consecutive days.

Then I had the songs ‘down’ enough…to start recording. And you want, you need, you have this insane wish, for the demos to be good enough to let them go out into the world. The general public won’t ever hear them, but the musical producers, the artists, the actors…they will. They have to hear them, to know how the songs, go. Right?

So, I’m fighting these problems, and building things with the ‘technical’ side more to the top of the scale, and the ‘performance’ side, more to the bottom of the scale.

And yesterday, I’m about done for the day (recording, I mean). And I think “to hell with it”, and I just clicked record on the software and played the piano and sang the song–at the same time. This means, major bleed. You can’t mix. You have severely limited your post production options.

But, in this instance, I performed the song, as if I was sitting at my piano. Performed. Sang the living daylights out of it.

And on these last two tracks…I captured…something. The emotion was there. The technical stuff…(I’m shaking my head as I write this paragraph, because I just don’t…know…) The technical part of those two demos is soooo – what’s the word–lacking? Non-existent?

But…to capture the emotion. Not once, but twice. In the moment, performing those two songs, on ‘tape’, just as if I had performed them live…it captured something.

So…where do you draw the line? Are people going to listen to these and cringe at the (obvious) technical issues?  Or will people respond to the ’emotion’, and that’ll be the ‘hook’ that ensnares them into the project?

[If the latter is the case–then I’m really screwed…because these demos are at the END of the musical. If I had the emotion, or the ‘whatever’…to _hook_ them into the project–at the beginning (something to make them keep reading, keep listening…to want them coming back for more)…then that’d be ideal. But alas–the emotional content comes at the end…at least in terms of what I’ve recorded so far…]

The manuscript–the basis for the musical, is…done. I mean…it should be the most difficult thing, right? Pulling a book/story/screenplay/stageplay – out of  a human, that takes a huge toll. (By comparison–the last project we completed (me and a co-writer) took five years. FIVE YEARS. And it was just words. No music. And it was AGONIZING trying to get it accomplished and get it right.)

Back to the musical…

On this…it was just _there_. Now, I need to find a way to represent the music–so that people can hear it and learn how it goes. To put this in perspective:

My recorded, released catalog of tracks (both solo artist and band) is 17 singles. And that took the better part of a decade to compile.

This musical: 15 songs. There’s no way I can reserve all of these to go to the real recording studio and output in such a short amount of time. I can probably do a few there. But…

As composer you need to be able to communicate what’s in your head. Other people need to know how to represent and present a song that you, as composer, wrote. So, I need to find a way to get what’s inside my head…out to the world.

I have so many thoughts. Orchestrations; arrangements; harmonies. Ways to ‘perform’ these roles; ways to present the play. Staging. Blocking. Lighting.

You create this whole world, yet other people are going to be the ones to present it as entertainment. Does it work? Does it not? As playwright, you are working in a vacuum. You don’t know if a project will ‘hook and capture’ an audience, until it’s already set and locked and performed.

To use the phrase “flying blind” is an understatement.

 

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P. The Musical

So, this week, I had another one of those “miracle” writing sessions. I have had a musical in mind for about a year now. I had made some notes on it, but then put it away. And it bubbles around in my head, until it’s done “cooking” and it’s ready to come out.

I never know when these things are going to happen. But when they are done, then they are done. So, this week…guess what? I started writing a full length, whole size, intended-for-Broadway, musical.

We’ve written two musicals before. One is on the short side of full-length, with 4 songs. One was a ten minute play, with one dialog song and one dance.

So, this time, I’m flying solo, and writing it by myself, and it’s planned for 15 songs. (I added one, which brings the total to 16). And you have to write to the story. You can’t just write a random song, and stick it in this play. It’s got to fit. It’s got to advance the story. It’s got to be one piece of a puzzle–yet not so far out there, that the people hear a song and go, “What? WHY?”

This was yet another “miracle” writing session, in which, the story flowed. Words poured out me. They don’t happen very often, but when they do–you just gotta go with it. When you’re done writing for the day-you collapse. You can’t stand up straight. Literally. Some of these days, I have poured so much life force energy, into the writing and the story, that I may have to lie in bed, in some semi-state of unconscious, for hours afterward.

So, I estimate that 80% of this project is done. Just this week. Of the 16 songs, I have 12 completed. 2 were from my catalog, already written, that I could incorporate in. (On one, I had to add a bridge today, to fit the story.) But ten are new, and styled to the doctrine of the musical.

It’s one more “project” (almost) ready to go. I’m building up this arsenal of creative projects: ready to go out and slay the world.

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Chasing Hats – the music video

photo by Karen Ball

photo by Karen Ball

Chasing Hats – the Music Video

I love this song. I soooo wanted that groove, and we got it.

This Dorian Mode, and gee…what other songs are Dorian mode? Green Onions. I love that song too. It has a Hammond Organ lead (you never find organ leads in a mainstream song). So, when we record Chasing Hats, why not lay down a Hammon Organ lead?

I love the way this came out. It’s different.

Just what I was going for. I’m really struggling to make things sound different in studio. Well, this is different, for sure!

When we were working this, the engineer asked, “Where did you come up with ‘Chasing Hats’?”

I started the story, then backed it up a bit.

My best friend in the world was named RIchard Sutton and he died 6 years ago. But, he was amazing and so supportive of all of this. We were librarians together back in the day. One day, he visited, and I had this hat rack behind the door. He walked in, turned around and said, “I wonder if these are the hats of all your conquests!”

I busted out laughing and said, “RICHARD!!!!”

It was hilarious. But, then the phrase “Chasing hats” became a euphemism for chasing men.

Then…I went to see a movie. I came out of that theatre going, “I can write a screenplay.” So, I wrote the screenplay. The title of that screenplay: Chasing Hats.

I was going to submit it to festivals and competitions (and did). But…hey….it’d be really cool to have a theme song, right?

And the song: ‘Chasing Hats’ was written.

Fast forward a few years, and boom—recording studio is working. So, we lay down a groove.

I have a master track.

When we have a master, I have been releasing a music video. (I will do many, many other forms of release and promotion, but this…at least…gets me started.)

So…what to do on the video? I’m running out of ideas. What if we use hat pictures? When in the world do I have time to set up and shoot that photo session?

Idea!

I will contract with a professional artist/photographer to shoot them for me.

Here’s the way that conversation went: I’m at work and I took a break and made a personal phone call. “Mom, I have an idea. Gee–what if you shot photographs of hats for me, to use for the video for ‘Chasing Hats’? I’ll take anything you send me.”

Famous last words. First of all–she said yes. Then she proceeded to take photographs. And I started rejecting them and critiquing them. Finally, the photo above met my standards! I’m so surprised she is still talking to me, but she seemed to really enjoy the project. So, thank you for the photographs! In spades!

***

I believe with all my heart that this creative stuff is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. I was born knowing I was a musician, and when I learned to talk, I started telling people. It seems like a higher power is steering this journey, and I welcome it. I was born for this.

But…sometimes things happen to kinda make you think, and really realize that these aren’t just random events. You can call it fate or Kismet or religion or higher power or spirit or whatever word you want to choose.

But, there are times when something happens that really cements the feeling that this is the purpose of my life.

We were in studio recording this song. I knew my basics: groove, chord progression, piano bass line, tune, singing dynamics, etc. I knew I had decided on a Hammon organ lead line. But I didn’t have it written. I went in there cold, figuring I’d either write the instrumental lead line on the fly–or I’d let it ride a few weeks and come home and write the lead line, then go back and finish it the next session. I was sitting at the keys, and noodling around with it.

But, then something happened. I was sitting there. My hand(s) were on the keyboard. But it wasn’t me playing. It was my body. But that lead line did not come from me. Some other-higher power-took over and created that. It was my hand playing it, but that lead line did not come from me. It was the most amazing, wonderful, profound, experience.

You can believe me or not. Roll your eyes or not. It’s fine. I live my life as fully as I can, and I try to respect the rights of others to live their lives as fully as they can. But, I know that I had this amazing experience, and it’s one more thing to point me in this unknown direction. It tells me to stay the course, and keep going.

i don’t even know what I’m aiming towards. I use the cliché: “I want to be rich and famous!”

I don’t want to be rich for money’s sake. I want to be rich for freedom’s sake. I want to have the freedom to spend my time as I want to spend my time. But..these last few years, and everything that’s happened, I don’t think creative success is the ultimate goal of my life. It’s a step along the way, but it seems like there is something else bigger at the end of this journey.

In the meantime–I stay the course. I keep creating. Each week seems like I’ve lived a month. This week, I’ve shot and edited a live action video and released it, released today’s video, and worked on a very difficult writing project, accomplishing quite a bit.

Today I’m just about horizontal. No energy. I’m splayed back in my easy chair, and decided to pull the photos out and start going over them, and once i was started, I built the video anyway. So, at least that got accomplished. But…man…oh…man…oh…man…I’m bushed!

Is it okay to take a break for a day?

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