strumzilla

​A blog/journal about my life and the stuff I like. Popular subjects include music, guitars, gear, books, movies, video games, technology, humor.

Filtering by Tag: Songwriting

Fanning the Embers...

It’s been a fairly busy summer, with a few new areas of focus in the wake of social media disconnection. As I said last post, I deleted my main FB account from the last ten years and I’ve been spending significantly less time on social media. I had a dummy account “Fred Garvin” (heyohhh) and I was using that to keep up with bands, etc. but I did want to maintain a page for Pyramid Grid so I ended up creating an account in my name for the band and deleted the Fred Garvin. This account will only be for the band and keeping up with concert announcements and the like. I haven’t added any friends and don’t plan on it. I’ll see how this works out. There’s significantly less time spent checking FB and it’s essentially removed all impetus to post the trivial.

This extra time has been shifted to more reading and starting to rekindle my interest in writing. I’ve been slowly going through Neil Gaiman’s Master course and there has been a lot of additional recommended reading. I also started another drawing course on Udemy and it’s my intention to keep slowly working on these renewed goals for my eventual plan of combining mixed media in storytelling. I’d love to combine original drawings with animations and video effects to use in music videos and short films/bits.

I’m also slowly making progress on the model building with the primary goal of finishing the soldiers and environments for the Christmas Armistice video. I’ve been watching a variety of miniature and diorama making videos and this is another area I intend to investigate further. I’ve loved miniatures since I was a child and I’m interested in this just as a pursuit but it definitely could be used effectively in filmmaking.

I probably don’t need any more interests, but I can’t help my nature. As of now, I’m regularly working on guitar, bass, drums, vocals, songwriting, production, filmmaking, video effects, drawing, model and miniature building/painting, as well as writing. This change in work status has really enhanced my ability to pursue those creative urges I’ve held dormant for so many years. I’m eternally grateful.

Below is my first ever proper drawing. The Udemy course starts fast with a tutorial on this eye and the instructor takes you through the various steps of line/shape drawing, shading, etc. I even surprised myself in that I’ve never been able to just spontaneously draw with any great realism, although I’ve never given it much effort. I think this particular task was well chosen in that it probably looks more difficult than it really is. The next step is learning to focus more on an object we are drawing than the page. I need to draw a variety of household objects with a focus on lines, shadows, perspective. I have a feeling these initial efforts will be a bit humbling compared to my relative sensation of success with the eye, but this first project was a nice bolster to my confidence.

Eye - 1st Drawing.jpg

Disconnecting

In a theme visited before, I’ve decided to break away from Facebook, at least as far as having a personal account. I find that at its best, it’s mostly a distraction. I don’t have anything significantly negative to say about it, just that most things related to FB are superficial and don’t provide long term value. I’m not condemning the superficial in general, I enjoy watching mindless movies and television (to an extent) that only provide the momentary entertainment, and will continue to do so. I find with FB that my hopes and aspirations are generally so self contained, that they don’t change through that lens at all. As Neil Peart so wisely wrote, “Sometimes our big splashes, are just ripples in the pool.”

That’s not necessarily bad, it’s just there’s such a disconnection between the amount of effort you put into a project compared to the typical feedback that it starts to dilute or obscure the value of your creative work. The long term value of anything I produce is admittedly only of lasting value to me, as much for the love of the process as the product. I had hoped FB would be a nice ancillary means of staying connected and socializing, but it just seems that for me I don’t typically get a benefit from the shared experience in that I’m either not interested in what people are posting, or I have a negative reaction to it. That’s totally on me, I’m not judging anyone else for what they post or care about, it’s very personal. I think it probably gets back to the fact I’m inherently a lone wolf by nature, and although FB was a nice controllable(ish) means of social interaction, it’s just never felt like it was enhancing my life. In fact, it’s mostly felt like a distraction that was taking my attention away from more important things with lasting value.

That’s not to stay I’ve sworn off FB completely. I have an anonymous account (friendless) that I use to stay up to date with bands, authors, etc. - essentially all the stuff I love that has a strong FB presence where they often choose to announce major events like concerts, album releases, etc. I’d hate to miss a presale announcement for someone I truly love just because I wasn’t checking in to FB in a timely manner. The nice thing about this account is that it’s purely for that, there’s no social interaction otherwise.

For my creative work, I’m obviously maintaining this blog and will continue to primarily use YouTube, although I may start posting more to Vimeo. No one really gives a shit, including my wife, so I’m just doing this for myself, which has always been the case in the first place. I’m already reaping some rewards in that I’ve been able to focus more on study and composition. I just started to flesh out another new tune after completing the recent “If Tomorrow Comes.”

Hell Bent for the Cliff (lyric video)

This turned out alright. I ended up starting over on the mix because I hadn't gain staged appropriately in the beginning. This version is where I quit working on it, not necessarily the definitive version but I'm okay with where it's at for now. 

Hell Bent for the Cliff

Verse
The sea is rising we're casting seeds in fallow fields
Demagogues delude then doublecross in backroom deals
Arbiters of virtue claiming false dominion
Sycophants spinning vacuous validation

Chorus
Can you feel it slipping away?
Fragile fibers start to fray
Hell bent for the cliff
Constitution in decay

Verse
Millions starving, they're making bombs from baby food jars
Exalting the grotesque, ignoring the stars
Fear, lies and hatred have stolen the narrative
Waging war on the weak instead of live and let live

Chorus
So you chose to live and let die?
Universal truths you deny
Deadly decorum
Matrimony moribund

Verse
Gatekeeper Gladys adorned in apparatus so fine
Bankers stealing our gold businessmen drinking our wine
Orange orangutan squats on the ivory throne
The beds are burning and we’re staring at our phones

Chorus
Can you feel it slipping away?
Brittle bonds twist and break
Hell bent for the cliff
Constitution in decay

Verse
Mother, Mother I think they're going to build a wall
Nations rise and one day nations fall
Bent backs unbroken will stand again
A final reckoning comes to us all

Chorus
Can’t you feel it slipping away?
Karma gets the final say
Hell bent for the cliff
Constitution in decay

Back at it

I returned to the untitled riff rocker after last week's diversion for "Christmas Armistice" (a profitable one).  I managed to put together a fairly acceptable framework for the song and I recorded rhythm tracks on both the Tele and Les Paul. Using my standard wet/dry (AxeFx/SPDIF DI) approach, at any given time there up to 12 rhythm tracks. All together it's a bunch of mush, so I started some basic editing. I used my new(ish) best friends for mixing Neutron 2 and Ozone 8. The track assistant is perfect for artist oriented "producers" like myself. It's quickly become my go to solution for at least the initial rough mix so I can just hear how the song is shaping up.

I will return to the old school approach to mixing (well, digitally at least. I'm not going to get a console and tape machine) here in the future, it's still what I'm currently majoring at Berklee and I don't want to get lazy about the real art of producing and mixing. That being said, I chose production at Berklee because at the time the only other option was music business. As I've stated before I plan to add Guitar for the dual major once I put together an audition. 

Back to the riff rocker, I wrote basic verse and chorus vocal melodies yesterday and I'm pretty happy with them. I think they work pretty well with the tune, and it almost felt like the tune was written around them instead of the reverse. Now I need to write the lyrics and then record the vocals. My old friend Mike (Paramedic, Bassist, Rush Fan) had offered to help on a future project, so I'm going to try and get him to record a bass line for the tune. We'll see how that goes. I'm sure he can up with something much better (and more bass centric) than I can. 

Christmas Armistice

Last week was a reasonably successful week from a songwriting standpoint. I had to write a song for my acoustic guitar class final, so I endeavored to write and record the song/video within that one week. I had noodled a simple counterpoint idea (my first) on the keys a few weeks before and thought that might be useful. 

I ended up using that as the chorus and in short order came up with a basic chord progression for the intro, verses and chorus. It's a really simple tune in that sense, basically in A minor with occasional non diatonic wanderings. I ended up also coming up with a harmony line for the chorus melody and that's definitely an area I intend to explore further. Lots of untapped potential in counterpoint and harmony. I'm taking a basic rhythm section arranging course next semester, but I'm planning on taking a counterpoint course in the future. 

Since recording the instrumental version of this tune, I was inspired to pen some lyrics and so now I plan on recording a version with vocals in the near future. This tune was a nice surprise because I actually had people talking about how the song made them feel, which is a first for me. That's really the point, though. Causing an emotional reaction with music is all I can really hope to achieve. Complex and impressive arrangements are fun and I'll pursue those tunes as well, but as a listener I'm always drawn to those songs that make me feel something. I have loved all the technical players I've seen live, but nothing has connected as strongly as a show like David Gilmour, Father John Misty, or Tommy Emmanuel (he straddles that line, but it's his simpler and more emotive tunes that mean the most). 

Christmas Armistice

And in the bitter cold, they laid their weapons on the frozen snow
All quiet on the western front
Foes laughed and sang, then prayed
For peace a toast was raised
A fragile truce they did construct

And in the bitter cold, they laid their weapons on the frozen snow
A respite from the wars to come
A fleeting bloodless day
Brittle bonds doomed to decay
To doubt and fear they would succumb...

WBU is finished, on to the next song...

I posted a lyric video of my recently a̶b̶a̶n̶d̶o̶n̶e̶d̶  completed song, Widow Black Unweeping. I decided to leave it as is, and although the mixing/mastering could probably use another set of ears I'm leaving it for now so I can focus on new music. I'm wondering if I'll eventually revisit some of these tunes in the future and re-record them from scratch. Possible, but not sure I want to go to that much additional work. I need to just keeping churning out new songs because I'm learning the process for all steps, not just the core of songwriting. Considering the end result, this song took entirely too long. I've heard Steven Wilson remark that if he can't finish a song in one day, he loses interest. That's an oversimplification since he's not talking about a completed song ready for release, but I imagine his demos still sound pretty amazing.

I'm going to strive to streamline my process. I decided during the last song that I want to try the writing/recording on Studio One and then send it to Pro Tools for mixing and mastering. Part of this was frustration with the Pro Tools interface and monitor management. Ironically, I've settled into a decent workaround for those issues that doesn't take too much effort so it may not be as critical. I'm still going to give it a go for the next tune and weigh the pros and cons after. I'm a fan of Studio Ones monitor management and that it can be altered for each song. There are still so many DAWs out there I haven't tried. I've wondered if Ableton Live, Cubase and a few of the other major players would offer me something I'm missing. My feeling is no, but the grass is greener, yada, yada, yada. I tried Reaper and it just wasn't working for me. Granted, I didn't put much effort into learning it. I really did like Logic and Final Cut on the mac, and if Apple releases a compelling desktop next year, I'll definitely consider using them again. Luckily PT and Studio One are cross platform so I could continue using those. 

Revisions and Additions

I've had a few days away from "Widow Black Unweeping" (the song formerly known as Languid Licking Lollipop) and I've decided to revamp the vocals and some of the rhythmic elements. I'd say the proposed changes dials it back to about 80% complete because I'm not planning any other big changes. There are parts where the vocals and the rhythm seem to work against each other and some of that is predicated by how wordy the song is. I'll try and simplify some of the rhythms in the more wordy sections and see if that helps. If not I may trim down the lyrics as well. 

The vocal melodies in both the verses and choruses are just not powerful enough (from an emotional standpoint, but that could probably also be said about the delivery). I need to work on some sort of slamming chorus that really notches up the energy level and it's probably going to overshadow what was the original riff idea. That riff is okay on its own, but it doesn't seem to work as the main energy of the chorus. The verse melodies might not need as much of an overhaul, but they need some work because I don't sound comfortable singing them and they need a little more emotional energy. 

As I've stated in the past, I really learn the best lessons by first doing things wrong or at least inefficiently. Before I invested any time into production and mixing, I should have really focused on core song structure and made sure that it was connecting emotionally. I'll have to develop a workflow for more efficiently demoing tracks before I invest too much time in recording and producing them. It seemed to work out okay with Rascal's Refrain, but maybe it was just a better song and maybe I just got lucky. 

I've also begun work on another tune that had been lying dormant for several years. It was also born of a riff, and I had previously put together an entire song structure minus lyrics/vocals. I'm still thinking I want it to have vocals, but I'm not sure what they're going to be about. Instead of working exclusively on one track,  I want to mix it up a bit so things seem more fresh when I come back to them. I'll still likely finish WBU first, but I want to give myself breaks from the monotony of one song. 

Rascal's Refrain Reprise

So, I "finished" this version of the tune. I started to work on a video with After Effects but quickly became mired since I don't know the program yet. I decided to throw together a basic lyric video and post that to Youtube and share on Facebook. I'll start watching some AE tutorials here shortly once I finish this semester's homework and finally get around to filing my taxes. I plan on revisiting the tune in the future. There are definitely things I want to add as well as things I'll likely re-do, mainly the guitar solo. I'll probably let it gel for now and start working on another tune. I think some time away will give me a better perspective on the tune. I plan on restructuring the ramped up intro and adding some small electric guitar accents to the later verses. I also still wanted to double track with my Les Paul or something different from my strat just to add some more color. 

 

Streets - my first(ish) online composition

This isn't really the first song I've written, but it's the first complete tune I've written and attempted to complete in a long time. I wrote it as part of the RPM/FAWM challenge previously discussed. It's of the ambient/electronic variety since I not only love that style, but it's also about the easiest to create on a digital audio workstation.

RPM

February has become a month in which two websites have held an annual challenge of sorts for musicians to write enough new music to fill an album. One website is called FAWM or February Album Writing Month and the other is RPM or Record Production Month. They have slight differences in their stated goals, but the overall intent is the same. This challenge was as good an excuse as any to get me off my ass in the composition department. I don't know if any of the music I write will be of the long term "keeper" variety, but it will help me grow further as a musician