There are more than a few well known songwriters who rarely if ever sing their own songs if they can help it. I remember hearing Neil Diamond being interviewed one time and stating he did not want to be a singer, but that he had to sing his songs because no one else would. As a songwriter I am often asked why I don’t work more on my voice to aid my songs in having a better audience. Years ago I received some vocal coaching in the studio and it helped that particular song have a better performance. So, I recognize that I certainly could benefit from working on it. But in the end my whole composer inner voice shouts out to me saying “I’m not a vocalist.” Now I can sing, but I’m not a vocalist and I am ok with that; more than ok, I actually prefer it.
When I was in high school I knew a young lady who had a voice like a songbird when she was younger. It was this natural thing of beauty which slowly died as she spent more and more time in choir. No offense to many fine professional choir directors, but in the case of this young lady my ears could slowly hear the music in her dying, until it was entirely gone. What came out by the end of senior year was beautifully enunciated and well projected notes carrying nearly perfect pitch and tons of proper breath all spent in conjuring up a nullity. To me it was a sad waste.
When I hear Randy Newman singing some of his wonderful songs I thank God he did not attempt to change his voice to suit his audience… it is quirky and alive. I don’t live in fear that I would lose myself if I tried to improve my voice, and I suppose it is better now than it was years ago, but still I am very wary about prioritizing myself into songwriting or composing rather than into becoming a vocalist. Heaven forbid.
Meanwhile I don’t know if I will live long enough to have a genuine vocalist ever properly take a song of mine and record it themselves. Perhaps one day.
As a songwriter, and as a romantic, it is not uncommon that I find an inspiration in something I see or hear or someone who bounces into me. And I never write something to aim solely at communicating to anyone in particular for I hope to paint a melody or song in such a way that it can be taken into an individual on their individual basis. I’m sure there are dozens of my favorite songs when growing up that my interpretation of them would make those songwriters wretch. But the disparity between how I heard them and invested my feelings and story into them and how a story actually brought them to life through them should not be a source of anything but happiness for us both.
Yet the rub as a songwriter can be how when anyone actually associated with the genesis of a song thought actually encounters the finished product however many years or decades later, when they don’t get it or simply can’t take it in at all, there is this awful sense of loss that can infest a song if I’m not careful.
For me anyway, songwriting should remain a one way street with audience participation being about how they receive it, if at all – and NOT about any sense of my satisfaction if they do or don’t ride the same road I thought they would inside of me. I suppose one nice thing about the infinitesimal and glacially slow progress my recordings have made in generating plays and listens over the past dozen years is that it has allowed me time to record and enjoy making the music without having to embrace this lonely disconnect as much as road performing songwriters do. My ability to avoid having a song performance interrupted by a cell phone going off, or hearing crickets to the best melody in a song while then watching a wild acceptance of some part of another song I know was weak and didn’t measure up to my mind’s ear – both of these pains I’ve been somewhat spared by anemic success thus far.
I accept how this may actually have been a giant blessing from God as regards my continued songwriting.
Remember now those times gone by
And the way your eyes did shine
And all those visions I rewind
How they play now on my mind
Go on home – Say goodbye
There is no anger I recall
But I’m sad after all
I lift my finger from the play
Close my eyes that is all
And you will slowly pull away
We both wish you could stay
It never dies – Say goodbye
Playing back old memories can be like looking at slides – almost like those you see in celebration of life moments. Until you take your finger off of the play button no goodbye can really happen. But allowing someone to back away after you stop calling them forth can be a haunting somber thing.
This song can be heard either way. Perhaps as a lover who, while not saying goodbye themselves, will none the less endure one by failing to call out and tempt any more; thus allowing the departure of one dear. Perhaps as a mourner allowing the memory of a recently departed friend to fade enough to move on. Either way there is a sad giving that is the theme and guts of the song. “I lift my finger from the play” is the spinal chord, get it. 🙂
Currently available via bandcamp site at CLICK HERE, it will eventually appear via the other slower usual channels.
The film “Dancing with the Wind” gave air to the fact that the Wind Ketcher is a beautiful sailboat. However, if you have taken an interest in the music of the film, then you need to know that the acoustic piano that generated the sounds inside DWTW is a vintage Victorian era Steinway grand made in 1875. Lovingly restored in the late 1980s and meticulously maintained, #31542 and my joy in playing her is largely how the music of DWTW came to be.
I’ve come to appreciate the kinship that often exists between sailboat enthusiasts, romantic music, and those who enjoy flying old kites (older airplanes of tube and fabric), and I think it is fitting that the piano in the film is every bit as classic and lovely as the sailboat.
There are really only 2 scenarios under which one would write an autobiography: 1) There is an outcry of interest for it which implies the person is already famous or notorious with a hungry audience of moochers interested in his secret past, or 2) There will never be such an outcry nor ready-made audience for it, but the poor bastard cannot help himself as the stories and anecdotal snippets of life that seem worthwhile and entertaining when told pile up.
One nice thing for me about being firmly unable to generate any type 1 scenario is how I’m utterly free from trying not to let down any fans who think they know me by revealing something that interrupts their being a fan. If I recall something ridiculous or laughably self-deprecating but interesting about my youth which also happens to reveal times when I was stupid or naive or just plain immature, but growing, it is a comfort to know it won’t stymie any sizable audience already garnered about my songwriting or other writings.
With that said, I am actually enjoying spending a little time in collecting my short narrative essays and clustering them into some semblance of theme and order. It is self-indulgent of course, but then again no writer can be anything but.
It is worth starting with how for me each song has its own story, both in inspiration and also in how the process of crafting it may have worked through me. Some songs come in a flash almost complete with melody and lyrics already dancing together in harmony; some arrive with snippets and starts and stops, full of interruptions and backfires; some remain melodies without a lyric for years until a lyric one day leaps unto it in my mind for some reason beyond my really knowing exactly why. Less frequently a small lyrical line attacks my attention with perhaps a hint of cadence, and then I try to fill in the missing pieces of melody and lyric over time.
When melodies come first, I can generally weave lyrics unto them once I’m inspired in that direction. And mating lyrics to an already existing melody can almost feel easier to me than trying to do the reverse. If the lyrics are first it is for me the harder method. But several of my past songs were crafted in that way. But I generally dislike bending a melody to fit a lyric for there is so much structure in a good chord properly anticipated and accentuated musically. Somehow to me it seems as though bending a phrase or altering a word with a synonymous turn of lyric upsets the art of a song less than monkeying around with a melody.
Part of the reason I mention all of this now is how I’m currently embroiled in struggling with a song concept that began with a lyrical idea which I fleshed out in way too much of a hurry such that I now face the daunting task of finding the melody inside it. Ahhh, such is the joy of the work inside it all.
The word “Epic” has been tormented in the last decade or so; becoming synonymous with ‘cool’ and having lost much of its charm in the fall from grace. What once was a single word that embodied how a story or poem would contain multiple settings across large spans of time featuring a character of gravitas and import, now is used simply to imply a Wow.
An explosion cannot be epic. A hot rod cannot be epic. I suppose it is quite possible that a video game can be, although I don’t wish to research the notion.
Part of me wants to say that a song cannot be epic in the pure sense of the word, but some knock on the door of it. I would argue that if a song wanders across multiple themes, enjoys tempo changes and rhythm swapping to create entirely differing emotions while yet remaining “the song” somehow, then I can see applying the descriptor ‘epic’ to it.
A song of mine entitled “My Frozen Heart” is one of the songs I might consider as a contender for ‘epic’.
Click on the picture to give it a listen and you tell me – does it cross geography, emotion, and lines without losing the theme?
I finally finished a book project long in the back of my mind, thematically.
The Anatomy of an Affair project represents a body of work that spans eight plus years of effort across five main artistic modes of expression, namely, poetry, writing, musical composition, songwriting and graphic design. It has its own web page and associated links for purchase etc. CLICK HERE to have a look.
Meanwhile, thanks to all who worked on this with me. The list is long, but a few photos are included below.
In 2007 I recorded original music for a sailing documentary film project.
It was the first time I had been in a professional recording environment since the late 1970s. 30 years prior, as a teenager, I was asked to play keyboards for a band with a pipe-dream and saw first-hand how monumentally expensive and out of my reach was studio recording a song. Now 30 years later I discovered the modern digital recording world and began to learn my place in it.
During the summer of 2009, after finishing the sailing film project, I began recording my singer-songwriter songs in a professional studio. Over the next 3-4 years I worked part time, but devotedly, to record and release albums.
Soon I added a home studio partial setup for recording my acoustic Steinway grand piano in collaborations with studios and artists across the digital realm.
By 2013 the consistency and level of my music work had risen. This combined with an intentionality to get away from album song clusters and focus on each release individually led me to remove old works and rebrand.
Many of even my earliest recordings remain proud accomplishments which I did re-release, but there were a few I happily put on the cutting room floor. During this time I also enjoyed original score work for another short documentary film and found renewed inspiration not only to continue my singer-songwriter recording, but to go further with instrumental composition.
During the rebranding and shift of process in 2013, I made a studio and producer change that took my recording to Pennsylvania and studio musicians of the northeast. Now when recording I would cease all other business or work and focus entirely on the sessions. To me there was an immediate positive result, and the feel of my music coming back to me was more satisfying.
As of the end of 2018, there are 103 original studio artist songs, 39 instrumental works, and 14 covers or adaptations of covers behind me.
Over this weekend I enjoyed working with my son on recording a song of his. I put myself to work with all seriousness as a technician and “producer” with my home studio set up; focusing on him and his song in the same way that the good producers from my past have with me and mine.
And though I knew it already, producing and arranging a recording session is a completely independent art form. It is separate from the skill of arranging the music itself, or being a songwriter.
Now sure, it helps as a producer to understand, and to be able to hear the music not only as it is, but as it can become, etc. Sure, it helps to be able to know each instrument and its dynamic range. And I suppose in many ways the truly great producers are likely closet songwriters. But beyond all of that comes many other aspects to helping someone record.
In effect you must also channel your inner:
– coach – preacher – teacher – fan – critic – passerby – and more
And the exhaustion that ensues as you work in such a way with someone is utterly different than the spending of energy associated with being they guy performing and being recorded. I truly enjoyed doing it with my son and look forward to next week when we go at it again. In addition, I am happy to report how working with my ears, and the +s and -s of the digital arena, and the cables and the mics, and the art of finding the sweet spot for a mic placement in a wood room all helped re-inspire me as a songwriter. I’m not sure how it will sound when it finds its way back into my muse, but briefly being a producer helped my inner songwriter.