Saturday, November 10, 2018

Short Summer Skirts

Monday, October 15, 2018

Lessons Learned As A Singer - Songwriter

By the numbers:

1. If you sing in a style that no one can harmonize, you are a stylist, not a singer.

2. If no one leaving the room can remember a word of your performance, you are a poet with a guitar, not a songwriter.

3. If you are the only person who can "perform your song". see item 2. A good hook with a standard structure beats a long monotone self-confessional every time.

4. Kris Kristofferson wrote with only three chords too. But the lyrics and melody are memorable. See Loving Her Was Easier.   Find the version by The Glazer Brothers.  Then look them up.  Fascinating fellows.

Your job is to write melody, lyrics and chords. Somewhere in those you have to do something really original. Rewrite until you do. Quality over quantity.

5. If what you have are raw songs that you can't actually sing well but a pretty face, you can be labeled as "an innovator" but your producer has to do all the musical work. What you are is "product" or as the pros say, "meat". That's ok but you have a very short career ahead. Have an exit strategy known as "a day job". There is no shame in it. In fact, in these post-CD-album days where the song is worth almost nothing and the recording has a little bit more than nothing value, more do it than don't.

6. If you pay for the recording, you own the master. Don't leave it behind. Don't take handshake deals.. You will get screwed. I know that seems cynical and well, yah, these are your friends but listen to Cyndi Lauper, The Wise: money changes everything.  Wait for the contract and go over it with a music lawyer.

7. Training. Music lessons on the instrument and voice, analysis of other songs that you didn't write, transcription, all of these pay off big time. You can steal but if you don't make it your own work by knowing how to do that, you can wind up being sued into poverty. It happens. See George Harrison and Ed Sheeran.

8. There are these things called rhyming dictionaries, chord catalogs and yes, progression catalogs. Knowing how different styles of music apply these is your ticket to a long career as a songwriter. The markets change about every ten years and you will have to adapt or retire. See Item 4. The three chord progression is less than a quarter of a page of a progression catalog. Maybe expanding your vocabulary, understanding extensions, substitutions, resolutions, etc. is worth your time. A performer may be stuck in the style that made them famous. You don't have to be and shouldn't be.

Part of your education should be Figured Bass, aka, the Roman Numeral chord system.  Yes, Nashville uses the Nashville Number System, but figured bass is the most common way to write a progression without an assigned key center anywhere else.   You don't know what a key center is?   Ummm... ok.  Good luck with arranging.   No, the main benefit is you will learn chord functions as standalone units of thought.   This is very nice to have when you are writing more advanced work.  Just a thought.

9. Any time an experienced and usually older writer, musician or producer takes the time to give you feedback, LISTEN AND REMEMBER. That they do that is a grace and a blessing. If you are one of those "don't listen to anyone over fifty" folks who love their own generation and like to disregard what came before or who, you are an idiot. That light at the end of the tunnel of your quest for fame and a seat on the square is a train.

If you are one of those people who curls up in a ball and hides in your room anytime you are criticized, YOU ARE IN THE WRONG BUSINESS.   Please, your mental health conditions may interest your therapists but they are wasting your producer and band's time.   Being a head case really shouldn't be part of your "brand".   We all get it that mental health is a serious issue but if you understand the ADA (disabilities act) as applied, it is possible to have a disability and not be disabled because you can do the job and do.  That is your goal.

Stop trying to be cool and start connecting with honest emotions:  yours.  You will get better at that as you age, so be prepared to write a long time before you write well.  Persist.

Don't take journalists too seriously.   A puffer in the music business has the same description as a fluffer in the porn industry, just a different shaft.  Puff pieces are a regular part of marketing and quite legal, but the advice not to believe your own press is good advice.   Trust your ears.  As Duke Ellington said, there are only two kinds of music, good and bad.   If it sounds good, it is good.   Puffery is one means for mobs to take over music scenes.    Puffed acts tend to deflate quickly when exposed to enough audiences.   As they say in the album "We're All Bozos on this Bus", please deflate your shoes.   A big ego is terrible for your posture.

10. Busking may get you noticed but it also means you are a street panderer. It is honorable but come winter, you are just out in the cold sucking in carbon monoxide. The city isn't doing you a favor. It is helping room owners get free music so they can pay real estate developers. You are being used.

An agent that gets you gigs reliably is worth shredding the natch with because they are doing the legwork and political stuff you may not be good at or want to do. Take Care of Business (TCB).  Otherwise, it is a good rule to play every gig you can get.   If you are planning to be a performer as well as a songwriter, you need a fan base.   Live streaming is your friend.

The idea that only the song matters, not the performance, is a ticket to nowhere.   There certainly are those who aren't great players or singers, but they are the exception on the other side of the sidewalk. 

11. If you turn up to Eleven and are Proud to Be Loud, for God's sake, tune the guitar. Pretty please.

12. Tracks and loopers are fine as long as you know how to make good recordings. See items 1 through 11. If you don't, you aren't trying. These days a home recording setup costs bupkus compared to what you will pay to demo your songs in a commercial studio.  The more you can do yourself, the more money you get to keep.   

Get a copy of Guitar Pro or something like it and learn to write out parts.  Get a copy of Finale (easy) or Sibelius (powerful but hard) and learn to score.   This takes time so if you don't have serious classical chops, start with Guitar Pro.  It is a tab editor for midi.  It has chord catalogs and scale possibilities.   Spend time writing out progressions and copying progressions.   Use the import/export function to push the midi to other editors like scoring editors.  You will learn more that way than almost any other.  You can learn what other instruments sound like in your song.  You can discover sounds.   You can expand your vocabulary,  Best of all, you can hand a trained musician a written part.   They may not like it but you will learn from that too.   This is long term studying but very very worth it.

There may come a time when you have access to professional recording.  Very cool.  Better gear, better ears, better sound.   You will know when that time comes and as long as you can afford it or someone else can, very very cool.  Pay attention, don't interfere with the elves at work, do your job and let them do theirs.

Don't be a diva and do prepare.   It can be very scary and the time is limited to the budget.  The more you do your own recording, the more you know about your sound.   Unless you have signed a deal that puts the producer in charge (not a bad thing unless they are bad at this), it's up to you to get your sound.   Relax and understand this really is a chance to learn every time you do it.   Ask questions but during breaks, not while the engineer is engineering.  Above all, keep your hands off the knobs.

13. If you do it for a passion, be passionately good at it. The world is full of mediocrity.  No your Mom is not your best critic. You are. Don't compete with the other writers. Compete with the you you were yesterday.

It is ok to play in "old styles" out of the current trends as long as you can play them well.  The word "tight" has meaning and being tight has value.

Rehearse.  Record your rehearsals and listen.   Use that smart phone to get a video of how you look.  For songwriters, that last bit isn't too important.  For performers, which is what a singer-songwriter is particularly with a band, it is important.  Don't let it get you down or rob you of confidence.  Just work at it.

It's not ok to stare at the floor.

14. Drugs make you stupid. Sometimes stupid is good. When recording, stupid is never good. Party later.  The songwriter drug of choice is:  coffee.

15. Take care of your body. I buried friends. It sucks.

16.  Collaborators.  Some say always.  I say only if you have a good productive relationship worked out on paper, signed and notarized.   Trust but document.   Again, money changes everything including, sometimes, the writer credits.   The money is in the publishing and the masters so be very very sure what you are signing up to.  Music lawyers may be a nuisance but they are necessary.

17.   Some say "always be positive and avoid being negative".  I differ.  Be honest.  Be yourself.  Be strong.   Sometimes you will go it alone.  As they say, the bird flying solo has the strongest wings.

Be wary of those who hide their feelings in music or any business.  Often, these are the snakes, the sociopaths who haunt every hall where money is made and who suffer no pain because their ability to be empathic was wiped out before they were out of short pants.    It seems smart to be inward when you are hurt and in some situations, it is.   But there is a difference between self-control and sociopathy.
Take a lesson from the #metoo movement.  In situations where you are being used or abused and you keep that to yourself and do not confront that abuser immediately, you will have a very hard time doing it later and meanwhile, you are being damaged.  Sometimes irreparably.   God gave you a mouth and a temper for a reason.    DO NOT ACCEPT IT AS THE PRICE OF SUCCESS.  It never is.  Then get out of that room and don't go back.

Trust your judgement and step up.  It is your song and you are the champion of your song first and always until someone joins your team.  Find them by being open to them and going where they will be.

Avoid clowns and haters.   Take care of business as I said above because if you are unhappy and desperate, it shows.  Desperation is the worst.   It is the grime on your windshield and any serious person will notice it and ask themselves if you are a burden instead of an asset.

18.  Study the craft of songwriting.  That above all else:  get better.  Never stop learning.  There is a book by a master, "Tunesmith".  Written by Jimmy Webb, it covers many aspects of the craft and the business.   It is worth every penny and more.  See Amazon.  Be aware that many many of the veterans are not happy about The Web.   They are right.   No, it isn't going away, but they are right.

19.  You don't have to be a star.  In fact, you may not like that as much as you want it.    One of the best folks to explain it to me was an old country gentleman named Chet Atkins.  He said, "You have talent.  Come as a songwriter.  I have lots of great guitar players but not enough good songwriters."  I didn't listen.  I was young and stupid.  Don't be me.

20.  Live long and leave a beautiful body of work.   Your songs may outlive you.  That's success.

21.  Hi!

Friday, September 14, 2018

Not Marty

I went to a reunion of old picking buddies and some folks I'd not met were singing songs on Tom Shepard's cabin porch when we stopped by to say hey. Tom handed me his guitar saying "len's been known to pick a song or two" and reluctantly I did (unless I warm up, I have vocal control issues these days, so I don't like to do this).   After some kidding from these folk, I played one of mine, Mandy Blue, because I can actually remember those lyrics. 

When done there was a discussion about my voice and these folks all decided it was Marty Robbins. That's no insult but nor is it particularly true. My thought was they keyed on the song being a sort of tex-mex mariachi which it is. The studio version is even more mariachi but I get what they said although I don't and wish I did have a voice like Marty. 

That sound is associated with Marty but is really the sound of the Glaser Brothers who were the session players and backup singers on many of Marty's hits. Also, they were one of the unsung groups who founded the so-called Outlaws who tired of Nashville slick and went their own way. While carefully copied by others, they were an original sound more derived from cowboy music (thus Tex-Mex) than what prevailed in country at the time. Here they are in their last performance in 1990.

Sunday, September 09, 2018


What is the profile of a Trumptown? Political rallies are not random events. The locations are meticulously selected to ensure the biggest and most overly supportive audience. So what about a town makes it delicious for Trump rallies?

There is a wide perception that Trump supporters are ignorant.   This photo was taken in the so-called, Rocket City, Huntsville, Alabama.   Huntsville touts itself as an example of the New South, progressive, well-educated, and frankly, very very rich.   The last two are certainly true; yet, Trump held two of his largest rallies in the state here and in neighboring Madison Alabama.  So that perception is wrong in the particulars of these events.

Because I was born and raised here, I can speculate but having lived under the dome all of my life, I am too close to the subject.   I am appalled and that is not an objective state of mind.   But I do wonder if anyone has looked at the cities where Trump can get such energetic support and asked that question:  what makes a Trumptown?  More important, what happens to that city after Trump leaves office?

Just for historical reference, Huntsville is where Nixon came to start his fruitless comeback and was christened "Fritters, Alabama" in Doonesbury.   Whatever the profile is, it is baked in.

Friday, August 31, 2018

So Will I

Last week I performed this song with a lady at church.   It is a Hillsong United song from their latest album.  I enjoyed the performance and decided to record it myself.

Contemporary worship music is often some of the better pop music on the market.   I recommend that you listen to the versions from Hillsong United.   This one is very well written.

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