Sunday, December 05, 2004

Music Conference Lessons

Today, I learned that there is a difference between songs that an "artist" plays with good feedback from fans verses a song that has wider commerical appeal away from that live performance.

If you want someone else to cut your song, then you significantly increase your chances of this happening by writing songs that fit into a known formula. Like intro around 13 seconds. Do waste time with solos. Tell a story that builds throughout the song. Be descriptive. DON'T preach. DON'T whine. Describe something in a new way. Don't be lazy which means rewriting at least 6 times. Co-write whenever possible.

Doesn't mean you're not being creative, but you're framing the songwriting into that template to increase your commercial chances of success.

I heard a strong theme of advice throughout the conference that continued to reinforce this.

If you're artist that wants a record contact. Do the same things with your songs. If you don't write hits then find someone that has songs that fit into this. Pretty much all styles that we listened to during the conference fell into this same frame work. Very educational for me.

Music Conference (yet more to the story)

Next song up for critique was “Feels So Good”

I was back scribbling in my notebook as John listened. He liked this song better than my song Swing. “Good feel. This is catchy.” Then he got busy on those darn lyrics again. “The chorus doesn't need to totally repeat so much. You have room with the lyric echo to tell a little bit more of a story. It's too repetitive. Repetitive is good, but you could say more and still keep the fun of some of the repetition.” We got into a detailed discussion on how to improve the chorus lyrics. I immediately saw what he was saying. He was absolutely correct. He said, “you're only a rewrite (or two) away on this one. Music is really good. Don't really need those solos, but they are well done. This song could be used in TV or film with a bit more work.”

John went on listening and commenting on two more of my songs. One song that really didn't say much. He called it a list song. The last song he liked because it told a story in a conversational way. He suggested I put more effort into the story. He finally suggested that I consider co-writing. Maybe someone with experience writing great lyrics that's had some placements. Music is good.

The hour breezed by. The critiquing was extremely helpful. I didn't feel demoralized like some of the Broadjam reviews I had gotten. I felt...motivated!

Lessons learned:

1. Don't need solos in my Taxi song submissions
2. Need short intros (less than 15 seconds)
3. Since I'm not a big time artist my songs should say something that other people can relate to
4. If I have weak lyrics, all that music won't make a song
5. Repetition in the chorus can be a good thing
6. Don't over do the repetition
7. Do some rewrites. Do more rewrites
8. I shouldn't be lazy with the lyrics
9. The first two lines in the first verse gotta say something
10. I'm on the right track!

Gotta get myself registered. Find my brother, compare notes over dinner and then get back to watch and listen to the open mic in the ballroom. I'm sure there's some lessons learned there!

Music Conference (the story continues)

As the story continues, now it was my turn to get critiqued!

First up was my baseball tune called “Swing!” I've been working on this song on and off for months. This is a hit! First writing and demoing it myself on my computer with Sonar then getting some assistance from some musician friends. Real drums, keyboards, bass, guitar and people (including me) singing. I finally decided to take the plunge and even added some real horns. I knew (ok, just dreamed) this song was going to blow everyone's socks off. I had it first on my list to impress John. He's worked with a zillion other hit songwriters so he'll know how good this song is. Ha ha, or he'll hate it and tell me how bad I am. Tell me to get back on that plane before the conference even starts. Confidence is a hot and cold thing for me as a songwriter...depending upon the moment.

John popped in my CD (with fancy ink jet label I had printed just the night before). He hit play with his headphones on. I had my lyric sheet out in front of him. He started bobbing his head to the music as I scribbled John's name and the date in my note book. My scribbling took only a few seconds. I sat there pretending not to be nervous. I thought about how impressed he must be with those horns then thinking that he must hate my vocals then wondering how quickly he'd escort me directly to someone for a contract (any) then knowing he must think I'm an idiot for writing such a stupid crap song THEN pondered if I was the worse songwriter he'd ever heard then daydreamed about Aerosmith recording this song then knowing it sucked, it's awful. I'm not a songwriter I'm just pretending.

Swing!” runs only a little over 2 ½ minutes. He listened all the way through the song. He hit stop and said, “that was good, you didn't have any solos.” I started to tell him I could easily add solos. He went on to say, “I just fast forward through solos. Most people critiquing songs either fast forward through the solos or just stop listening to the song when a solo happens.” I've spent hours, weeks (months) working on solos. Note to self: solos are not needed for a Taxi “song” submission. Right there I saved a year of my life.

What about the song? “Excellent groove. Good length on the intro. You've got something clever going here in the chorus. Very good, but...” But? But what? “Tell me what is this song about. What are the verses saying? You have a nice rhyming thing happening, but it doesn't seem to really mean anything. What are you saying in this song? You're making some baseball references, but then making some pop culture references and music references. I can't really follow any theme or story that fits with the chorus.”

Wow, I had never looked at it like this. I didn't know I really needed to say much in the verses. This is an upbeat (140 bpm) fun song. Looking uncertain I said, “I'm just kinda taunting someone maybe kinda sort of.”

Verse 1
Slick as a whistle clever as a fox
Sharp as a tack you know I like to rock
Swinging like a jungle rollin' like a stone
Leapin' tall building everybody phones
Smart like Eistien throwin' like Ford
Stick by me you'll never bored
Life's a party New Years Eve
Tootin' my horn you know that's me

I'm a “Pour Some Sugar On Me” kind of guy. Lyrics are needed, but they can be whatever as long as I think it's clever or funny. I make references to things that only I get. Sometimes I go out of my way to do this. With the verses in Swing, I was just rattling off some things.

He pushed me on the song concept. What could be said? What might reach an audience? Instead of just saying nothing, John expected this song to have some moral to the story. Get up to bat. Take a swing. Life's too short to sit on the bench. Keep your eye on the ball. ANYTHING, but I said nothing. Then it hit me, the song should be about MOTIVATION! I said to John, “Thanks! I get it now! Duh, it's a song about taking a swing in life. Giving it a try. Take a little taunting and get back up there and swing! The whole reason I'm here.” I thought the song was done, but now I clearly could see it needed a rewrite. Wow, what a great simple idea.

John had a cassette rolling for me so that I could listen back to all his comments. This was helpful in matching up my notes to what he actually said since I selectively filtered when I was sitting there as he listened and commented.

Next up was my song called "Feels So Good".

Music Conference continues

The registration line was moving right along. Having some fun chatting with other people in line but I had to skip out for my 1 on 1. While I had been standing in the registration line drinking a Heineken, my brother was already meeting with John.

I had convinced my younger brother to make the trip to LA with me. His 34th b-day was happening during the conference so I told him I'd pay for a 1 on 1 consult for him with John. He took me up on the offer and diligently work on 3-songs. One was ala Nora Jones with a female singer, another was a jazz/guitar song with him singing and the third was a pop/rock groove song that he sang also. After skipping out of the line with the registration desk in sight, I called John's cell to find out where we were meeting. I was only a few feet away from the meeting room near the lobby.

I peeked slowly into the room, my brother was smiling sitting on one of two chairs across a small table from John. They were both into the conversation. I introduced myself and sat down since I was footing the bill. My brother is an experienced lead rock guitar player and a fine pop singer. He also has an English degree so his lyrics always seem cool. His songs have impressed me for years, but we live in Midwest. His songs just sit collecting dust.

I was surprised to hear John quizzing him about not working hard enough on the lyrics in the first verse. “You're settling for a weaker line for the sake of the rhyme. You're weakening the song. You need to write several versions of the first two lines to come up with an ending word that offerers more rhyming possibilities. Don't reach for the easy rhyme if it dilutes your efforts.” He went on to say, “you're speaking like Yoda right here. Inversions almost always feel awkward no matter how cool you think you're being. If you're an artist like Sting you can do this, but you're not Sting so you're better off being more conversational.”

My brother seemed pumped from an hour of discussion with John.

Lesson learned:

1. Work harder and rewrite those lyrics a lot
2. Don't settle for the first thing that pops into your head
3. Do talk like Yoda unless you are Yoda
4. Don't talk like Sting unless...
5. Make it conversational

Now it was my turn! I'll catch my breath and lay it out for you. This was GREAT.

LA Music Conference when I arrived at the hotel from LAX it was still early afternoon. I walked around checking out the hotel since I had time. On the wall past the lobby, I found a sign for the Ballroom. I was surprised to see SO many chairs in the ballroom. I had no idea so many people would be here. I checked out the registration area since I had read there might be a line when it opened. Only a few people milling around at this time. I guess what I read was wrong, no one camping out in line.

A few weeks prior to the conference, I had pre-scheduled a consultation with John. We agreed to a 1-hour consultation Thursday evening which was at the same time of the registration. I plotted out getting my badge, schedule and info then getting to my song consult. Still had a couple of hours before registration opened so I went to my room to get organized.

After a 15 min power nap and an hour ½ of figuring out which 3-4 song I wanted to discuss with John, I took the elevator from the 9th floor to the lobby. Checking my watch, I was still early. 5 minutes before registration opens. The doors opened to a sea of people. Hundreds upon hundreds in an endless line from all walks of life, some with guitars on their backs. I waded through the maze of people to find the end of the line which seemed to wrap around back into itself. I grabbed (bought) a Heineken as I came past the lobby bar for the third time searching for the end. By this time, I had 5 others joining my search. We ended up right back by the elevators laughing and introducing ourselves. A doctor from Michigan with one song, a love song, that he was sure is a hit. A lady from Texas with a new CD of political “show tunes”. A multi-instrument musician from NC mostly into R&B and producing. A singer/songwriter lady from New Hampshire with lots of songs AND me. A pop/rock guy trying to have fun writing tunes.

The registration area opened promptly on time. The line moved fast, but after 50 minutes in line, I had to skip out for my 1 on 1 consult. Next up, I can tell you want I learned from him.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Time Passes

Time flew by right while I was watching. I've been in LA on a music adventure. Not sure why I think I should be allowed to do music.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Business Day

I was just in the middle of getting 1-week's worth of work completed in one day. Meetings, a meeting, a meeting, a meeting, a meeting and yes, a meeting. All productive. Got a lot done. Trying to get things lined up so that I can head to LA for music fun. update from California tomorrow!

Monday, November 08, 2004

Harvard Buds

Yep, made a stop at a wedding this past month. This is me with buddies of mine from Harvard. I did the fishing the next day. By the way, I don't have black eyes even though the red-eye correction made my blue eyes look like black marbles. Posted by Hello

Feels So Good!

You could say THIS is my band, but actually these talented musician guys (Ron, Wally and Kurt) are just nice enough to help me out on my CD. They're complete pros with years of experience performing and/or recording with bands like Foreigner, Cher, David Lee Roth, En Vogue, Pink, Randy Meisner- The Eagles, Poco, Denny Laine- Wings, Moody Blues, Michael Monarch- Steppenwolf, Bobby Kimball & Fergie Frederiksen- Toto, Spencer Davis, Johnny Winter, Hoyt Axton, the late Sam Kinison, Jean Luc Ponty, Toni Braxton, Pink, En Vogue, The Chieftains, Tom Jones, Barry Manilow, Richie Sambora Band, The Storm and a host of others including the Gregg Rolie Band which is on tour now and it's fantastic live!

I'll put up one of the newer songs I wrote, sang and recorded with them. Here we're playing my song called FEELS SO GOOD! Posted by Hello

I went out fishing up the Cape while out with friends in Boston over Labor Day. This is a little Striper I caught. He was too small so we threw him back, but it was a great day and really relaxing. The Alantic Ocean is just over the horizon. We were out there for 15 minutes, but it was too rough that day.  Posted by Hello

Sunday, November 07, 2004

1/2 Marathon

"Sunday, January 9, 2005 8:30 AM Entire Marathon Field Start Based on feedback from the inaugural event, we made some changes that we think you're really going to like. The 2005 race will feature a more scenic (but still just as flat) Marathon, and a FLATTER and FASTER Marathon."

Yep, I'm gonna run this 13.1 miles race in January. I have never been a long distance runner. I wasn't even a short distance runner, but I started walking to get into better shape which lead to jogging after a year and a half of walking (mostly on a treadmill). Now I can actually run. Doing these races helps keep me motivated. This 1/2 marathon distance is a big stretch for me. Until last month, I had never raced more than a 10k. I did a section of a marathon replay. I did a section just over 7 miles. That went well and was fun. I ran that in an hour and some seconds. I think it was 1:00:48. I was trying for 1:05 so I did just fine. If had paid closer attention to my pace the last 3 miles, I could have run a minute faster overall. NEXT time!


this is an audio post - click to play

Just trying out a new option (feature) for this blogging. I can use a secret bat number to leave an audioblog. Kinda neat!


Went for a 7 miles run in the sun and wind this morning. I was going to do 14 miles, but decided I felt so good after the 7 that I would get a lot more done today and this week if I didn't do yet another 7 right now. As I got ready to start the run, I did an audioblog. I don't see it posted here so it might not have work. Hmmmm...thought I did it right.

I need some lunch!

Later on today, I need to burn some CD with 3 or 4 or 5 selected songs of mine. I'm headed to LA on Thursday to see if anyone likes my stuff. I also need to finish up some takes on the lead vocal on my new song called Swing. Maybe I'll do that later today too. Gotta design up a quick CD label too.

I'm off for food!

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Seein' if I can figure out how to send a photo to the blog. Let's try this of me on a Jeep Jam. Posted by Hello

What's up?

Seems like it's a good time to get a bloggin'. Let's see if we can make this thing work!