It’s All About The Music

Today’s song is:

Still Blue

I’m changing the structure around here this week. The weekly song will be getting the main spotlight, coming before everything else. I noticed that many people are reading the posts, but not downloading the music, and this blog is, above all, about the MUSIC, MY music.

Anyway, I was supposed to discuss song structure this week, so I’ll go a little into that.

Most pop music is basically a variation of the intro/verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge-middle eigth/chorus/outro. You may see variations like intro/verse/verse/chorus/verse/chorus/solo/chorus/outro and others, but it’s basically the same. Most pop songs that seem on the surface to stray from this *rule*, in deeper analysis, are a variation of the same thing.

It’s nothing set in stone, at least not to me. You can write your songs without thinking of anything like that, as I personally do. It’s only as an afterthought that I analyse whether my songs have intros and bridges and fancy stuff like that. I’m getting more into doing it on purpose now because I’m actually studying other people’s songwriting styles and their songs’ structures.

If you’re writing pop music, I’d advise you pay special attention to your chorus parts. I don’t. And that’s something I’m trying to change. There’s nothing like a catchy chorus to give a song some afterlife in the memories of listeners.

Writing music has always been a very intuitive process for me, and I’ve never gone further than thinking “this sounds good, I need something else to go with it” when composing. It doesn’t have to be this or any other way. It can be whatever works for you. I’ve been doing it that way, but I’m trying to do it with a bit more method now, pondering song structures and the overall effect the song will have on listeners.

I’ve always been more concerned with pleasing myself when writing, but if I’m going to actually subject other people to what I write, I might as well be a little accomodating. To many that may sound like selling out, but I think of it as being a good host. I’m inviting people into my imagination when I let them hear my music, and I might as well offer them a chair during the visit. A reasonably comfy one is the probably ideal. Neither a box for people to sit on nor a fluffy sofa. Just make sure they don’t fall sleep.

Now have a sit.


Home Recording Is Changing Music

Home recording has already changed the music industry. I thank God for that everyday.

Fifteen or twenty years ago, someone like me would never be able to release a record due to incredibly expensive studio rates.

Nearly twenty years ago, when I first started making music, studio rates were around $20-50 per hour. It usually got very expensive very fast to make an album when at least 10 hours are needed to record and mix a single song.

This, as everybody knows, and I won’t bore you any further by rehashing all the news stories of yesterday, is not the case anymore.

What I’m getting at here is not that nowadays you can actually record a whole album in your bedroom for spare change, but that you can actually become a better songwriter because of all that.

Having the possibility of immediately recording an idea, then adding drums, then all the other instruments plus the kitchen sink, is very useful. At least to me.

If you are a Beethoven (or Brian Wilson) style genius who can hear a hundred different arrangement possibilities and structure a whole song without even playing a note, it might not make that much of a difference. But if you’re a less than naturally gifted songwriter with scant musical knowledge, you can rest assured that this IS a great advance.

Not only can I record a rough sketch of my song, and make dozens of tentative overdubs and accompaniments, I can also edit my song to my heart’s content. With modern computer recording platforms, I can switch a song’s structure around as I like. Add a couple more repetitions here, cut short the chorus there, it’s amazing.

That in itself is enough to not only make a songwriter’s life easier, but it can also increase one’s output by making everything more immediate.

Of course it can also work the other way, and make one lazier. I can see how having all that available at arm’s reach is probably keeping many from actually working on their playing and/or studying music. But the positive aspects far outweigh the negative, I hope.

Anyway, here’s a song that will be in our upcoming CD on Cloudberry Records. Again, it’s a demo recording with scratch vocals and a rough mix. Comments, as usual, are very much welcome.


You Should Keep It To Yourself

So You Wanna Be a Rock’n’Roll Star


Before we continue my songwriting saga, I must first warn you that I’m not and I don’t pretend to be a master songwriter. I’m still learning, and constantly trying to improve. What I’m trying to do here is to share what I have learned already from experience, and hope that it will be useful to someone.

*End of disclaimer*

So here we go.

If you want to be a songwriter, you need to learn how to play at least one instrument to accompany yourself, especially if you have aspirations as a singer/songwriter kind of artist.

I suggest you learn both the guitar AND the piano. Although any instrument with polyphonic capability that you can play and sing at the same time will do.

I picked the guitar first, since I was a big rock fan, and it looked much cooler than sitting behind the piano like a dork (or so I thought at the time – I was a teenager, for Chrissake).

Later I decided I needed to learn how to play at least some piano in order to make my life easier, as I usually record a bunch of tracks using midi on my computer. I came to like it a lot, though, even if I still suck at it.

I’d have done it the other way around if I could go back now, and if a piano wasn’t so expensive.

I found it MUCH easier to learn the piano than the guitar, maybe because I’d been making music for many years already. Your mileage may vary, of course.

From the point of view of someone who is not naturally musically gifted, one huge advantage of piano and keyboards in general to me is that you can just press the keys, and they will make a sound. No need to grow callouses or get your left hand (if you’re right-handed) much stronger than your right one. You can play with only one hand, dammit. 😉

Anyway, at the risk of sounding like your dad here, learning the piano first is what I think would have been much better for myself. I’d probably have been forced to learn music notation if I had learned the piano first (I only learned it a few years ago), because you don’t NEED any of that formal stuff to play the electric geetar, do ya? You don’t need it to play pop music, it’s true, but it’s VERY useful.

Ok, so you have a guitar or a piano, a teacher or a good book (I personally like the ones that come with CDs) , now you can start learning how to play.

I’ll see you back in six months.

…fast forward to six months from now…

Now that you have some basic skills on an instrument, you can start writing your own songs. Of course you can write songs without having any music knowledge whatsoever, you just have to do it. It’s just much easier if you can play something. That being said, there have been singers/songwriters who didn’t and don’t play any instruments, like Morrissey, for example.

If you intend to sing your own material, you might need some singing training, since not everyone is American Idol material. If you think that you do need it, the best option is to hire a coach. If you can’t afford it, you may try, again, getting a book, preferrably with a CD. The only one I have is this. I can’t compare it to any others, because it’s the only one I have. It did help me a lot, and I wish I’d bought it 10 years earlier. I still have a long way to go to be a good singer, but I’m getting decent at it at least.

Again, taking singing lessons is not mandatory at all, you can do whatever you want as long as you write your damn songs, I’m just trying to make your life easier (or harder, depending on your point of view), just like your dad would.

Since I’m playing this whole songwriting series by ear, I’ve written two posts already, but they’re in reverse order. Now that you have some basic music knowledge, you can go back to last week’s post, and see how I write my own stuff. Maybe there’s something that can be useful to you.

Next week I’ll discuss topics like basic song structure and chord progressions. I’ll even get to the fun part of dissecting specific songs so you can see what each part actually is and what makes some songs work, in my opinion, at least.

Now back to the weekly song post. This time I’m uploading a song that’s going to be on my next single, coming out next May 1st on Cloudberry Records. This is not the actual single version, I still need to finish recording some bits and mixing it. But it’s at least halfway there. I’d love for you to comment on it, and on this whole songwriting business.


Laughing and Crying

DIY Songwriting

I’ve been asked more than once to write about my songwriting process, so I’m going to give it a shot. This will probably develop into a series.

I believe that anyone can write a song. Not only that, but anyone can learn how to sing, anyone can learn how to play an instrument, anyone can learn how to draw, and so on. You just need proper guidance, you also need to really want it.

Not everyone can be Beethoven or Mozart or even Burt Bacharach, but anyone can do these things considered a priviledge of the creative God-inspired beings that are artists.

When it comes to songwriting, it involves as much skill as it does inspiration and knowledge. You need to practice. Every art has that as a corolary, you need to PRACTICE in order to be able to unleash your creative potential.

You practice not only by writing music, but by listening to music, by analysing other people’s music, and trying to understand what makes it work, why you like it so much, why it sticks in your memory more than other tunes do, stuff like that.

I’m going to cover a little of what my methods look like in this first installment. Later we can talk about song structure, arrangement, analyse songs in detail, stuff like that.

My methods run the gamut, so to speak. I’ll do anything from chords first to words first to both at the same time to copying someone else’s songs, and changing them so they’re mine.

Each method has its advantages and disadvantages.

By writing the music first, you run the risk of having your vocal melody run after the music or have it just as a complementary instrument that can’t carry the tune by itself. However, songs that are written chords first usually have well resolved chord progressions. Progressions that actually go somewhere, and chords that go well together.

By writing the vocal melody first, you have a better chance of creating a memorable melody line, but you might run into trouble with chord progressions that don’t click, like having too many chord changes and a chord progression that just seems to be all over the place. I’ve done that often enough.

You can do both at the same time, and that’s more or less what I do most of the time. I usually come up with a chord progression that I like, then immediately hum something to this accompaniment until I have something I like in both fronts, then I move on to the next part.

Copying is another method that not many will admit to. Some people who have declared to do this are New Order and Oasis (obviously). If New Order have admitted, so will I, and I’ll even confess what songs I have nicked. For example, the chord progression for “The World Doesn’t Need You” was lifted off The Close Lobsters’ “Foxheads Stalk This Land”. This is nothing much, you just have to change it around until it sounds like you want, preferrably not at all like the song you’re using as inspiration. “Weather Sensitive” started off inspired by a Birdie song, I forget which one right now, but it ended up sounding nothing like them.

As far as registering ideas goes, you need to either have some music notation knowledge or be able to carry a recorder with you for when inspiration strikes. There’s nothing worse than being in the subway when suddenly an amazing melody pops in your head, and you have no way to take note.

Anyway, I’ll write more about this later. If you’re a songwriter too, feel free to chime in with your methods. If you’re just starting out, let me know if you have any questions that I might be able to answer.

Here’s a freebie, a song off our album. It’s a different version of “Weather Sensitive” from the one I usually see around the internet. It’s a shame because this one’s much better. I hope people catch up, and start downloading and distributing this one instead.

Weather Sensitive

Brand New Day

Monday is new song day at the Weather Sensitive lair. So inkeeping with my original plan, I’m posting song number three today.

This is another one of those click-through-arrangements, like the other two I already posted. It was all done within Cakewalk Sonar with soft synths, the b-4 organ plug in and soundfonts, so everything you hear in this recording apart from guitar, bass and vocals is digital.

I have nothing against real instruments, in fact I’d love to have done this recording with a few thousand-dollar tube mics on live drums and some vintage gear, like a real B-3 organ, and some analog synths like a Prophet or a Moog Opus. But, alas, I lack the wherewithal.

However, that has (partially) changed since I now am the proud owner of a vintage Farfisa Mini Compact (that I actually had to do a lot of work on, but that’s for another post) and a snazzy piece of digi-analog sound called an Alesis Micron. I love those two pieces of gear. You can’t hear them on this recording, though. That’s reserved for a future and more recent recording.

This particular tune was recorded a couple of years ago, but is only now surfacing because I have been away from music for about a year, and previously I had my mind set on releasing this (and the other songs I posted previously) as a solo record. I have actually already released a solo song in the compilation “Hey, Where’d the Summer Go” on Humblebee Recordings under the name Adélie. I’ll probaly post that tune here in the near future, as it’s a great song, and not many people have heard it. It actually deserves a proper release for itself, as I think most of the songs in this blog do. That is why I plan on re-recording them in the future.

Back to the song of the day, this one is also a number I’m firmly intent on including in an upcoming release, as it’s one of the first I recorded all by myself. Yes, all you hear in this is yours tryly, playing guitar and bass, clicking away at the sequencer and singing. This is one tune that I’m also planning to make into a video that will probably be surfacing on youtube or wherever soon.

Anyway, you now know a lot more than you did before about this song and my gear, so let’s get to the fun part:

When You’re Not Here

Postal Blue video

I don’t want to take away the attention from the totally new and absolutely unreleased song that I just posted two days ago, but I have come accross the realization that not many people have ever seen Postal Blue in action. So I decided to showcase this video shot by a friend at our very first show a couple of years ago.

It was at a quite large venue, incidentally, which added a lot of tension to our debut. I was actually freaking out there, unable to look at the audience, partly because there were these freaking strong stage lights straight into my face, but also because I wanted to run away from all the eyes following my moves, waiting for me to stumble just to snicker. You can tell how nervous I was by how wobbly I sound, which doesn’t take away from my realization that live I sound a LOT like Arthur Lee circa Forever Changes.

Besides my nearly disastrous performance, our first show went down mostly uneventfully, thank goodness. I wish I had some more footage of that day. This wasn’t even uploaded by any of the band members. If anyone out there has Postal Blue live footage, which I doubt, send it my way or post it somewhere.

Anyway, I promise you won’t hear from me again until Monday, when I’ll upload another brand new song (with vocals this time), and when I shall reveal all the details of our next release, which should be coming very very soon. Much sooner than anyone (even I) expected.

New song

Not actually new, as I recorded it a couple of years ago. But this one has actually never been floating on the internet, like other songs of mine have been.

This particular song evokes feelings of both accomplishment and failure. I’ll explain: for those of you who are musicians, and have worked with midi, you know what it’s like to work with a sequencer, and program backing tracks on a computer with some sort of midi controller (usually a keyboard). There are many ways to do it. You can put the software on “record”, and play the track as you want to hear it or you can go “step by step”, taking passes, recording each part in different runs.

Or you can do as I did, with NO midi controller, CLICKING your way through each note in a track, and playing it multiple times until it does what you want it to do. This track was ALL done like that, drums and keyboards. The only instruments I actually played were guitar and bass. It was just arranged like that, through mouse-click. I hope everyone who listens to this track can appreciate the hard work that went into it.

As I said, I feel a great sense of accomplishment in the fact that I managed to finish it using that “procedure”, and it still turned out great.

The failure is in the fact that I never could come up with vocals for it. I tried a bunch of stuff, different lyrics, different melodies, ba da bas, pa pa pas, everything, but nothing added to it. I decided to make it an instrumental, and I think it works great that way, but I believe sometimes it takes another musician to appreciate that, and I’d go as far as make a bet that many people reading this will actually go away WITHOUT listening to the track because I just made the mistake to say it’s an instrumental.

So, everyone, please DO listen to it (you’ll see I’m using a lot of UPPER case in this post to get my point accross) . For those who are not Postal Blue fans, you can go ahead, and listen because it sounds nothing like PB. It’s actually a snappy new wave synth-driven tune. For those who are Postal Blue fans, you can indulge me (I’m your pop icon, remember that), and give it a try. Let me know what you think of it, and don’t mind the very loud keyboard part in the ending. I still haven’t come around to fixing the mix, but I will before and if I decide to release this one.

Without further ado, I give you: