Some Tunes

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Writing Life

I don't believe that I've every written so much in a short time frame in my life. It is really a privilege to have the time to do so. That being said, I am also dealing with what I'll refer to as 'Writer's Speed Bump" (WSB Syndrome) which is less paralyzing than writer's block. It is an interesting process for me. I have to learn when to walk away, do something else or even do the same thing just with a different subject matter.

Sometimes I find that words and music just flow at the same time. Sometimes its just some music and sometimes just words or even phrases and that's it. I log everything and occasionally go over what I have logged to see if it stirs anything. It's an absolute trip the things that will wake up the left side of my brain (harder since the lobotomy).

I realized the other day that I have been a right-brained person trying to function in a left-brained world (I write with my right hand right? - got it.) for quite a few years. If I would get a therapist, I'm sure I could write this with much more elegance, but I'm too troubled to do something like that. So read and moan just the way this is.

Nothing more to add today, time to hit the speed bumps going 60.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

First Industry Feedback

It only took a few days from the time I electronically submitted requesting a critique. I really didn't think I'd be that nervous to open the file, but I was. The suspense was killing me, for sure.

The song I decided to go with was the first "completed" song in my studio. I put that in quotes because, as I'm learning, they are always a work in progress. At any rate, "Can't Say No" was the one. I'm going to drop in the lyrics here and see if you agree with the comment given around the lyrics. I haven't made any changes yet, because I was already aware of the mentioned concern.

copyright 2009 - Gary Todd

There’s something in the air
Moving on the ground
Feeding on the night
Making no sound

A deer in the headlights
Frozen in your tracks
Can’t keep moving forward
And you can’t go back


Can’t trust what you’re seeing
Can’t trust anything that you know
Don’t believe what you’re feeling
But you can’t say no


A shadow ‘cross the moonlight
A ripple in time
Sporting double vision
Just another sign

As you knew your life, it’s over
Never be the same
No way to recover
Can’t find the reigns



The lyric comment was that I never stated what it was that this person is afraid of, running from, etc. and this might frustrate the listener. I understand that, but I left it open on purpose - yet still, I can see the concern. Not sure if I'll adjust or not. One thing to remember when getting critiques is that it is from one person and is there opinion. Granted, it is an educated opinion from someone who is an A&R (artist & repertoire) person in the industry - so I don't take it lightly.
The other comment that I'll share was that I could have had a more dynamic release going into the chorus from the verses. I definitely hear that, but not sure yet how I can fix. Feel free to check it out on MySpace if you want to hear it (at least its posted there as of today). By the way, there were more comments/suggestions, but these are the ones I'll share today.
Bottom line was that for me, this was a very positive critique, giving me hope to continue and some advice for changes I may want to make for the song to be a better fit for promoting. I've got a lot of work ahead and I'm excited to move forward.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Out in the World

A couple of steps forward this past week. I've been planning to join a community and avenue for publishing exposure by the end of the year. I decided to jump the gun a little bit and joined Taxi this week. My reasoning was that I do have a couple of songs ready to heard and it would be great to start getting some feedback in the industry. Based on some research, this may be a good way to get that started.

I also think that some exposure in a couple other areas would be good, so with that in mind, I opened a MySpace account for musicians as well as posted songs on SongRamp which is for musician feedback. We'll see.

Looking forward to getting feedback in all areas so that I can evaluate, redo, upgrade, scream with joy and/or disdain, etc. Not sure how I'll react to industry feedback, but I'd better learn. I, of course, want to hear, "Oh, my gawd that's great, where have you been?" But I just might have to settle for something less - way less. Again, we'll see. I'm just ready to move forward, whatever that means.

Friday, November 27, 2009

On the Road

My little 16 track recorder is mobile, but once I get everything hooked up, I dread the idea of moving it for any reason. However, I have a piano in another room in my house, so today was the day. Moving day. On the road again. It was tough, it took about 6 minutes to get set up and give it a try. Here's a picture of where I went.

I love my piano - a lot of memories for me. This was my grandmother's for as long as I can remember. I pretty much learned to play this in her living room. When she passed away a number of years ago, I asked to get it and my family was gracious enough to oblige. About 3 years or so ago, my wife and I had it refinished. It took about 7 months, but got it back and was just thrilled. I had it tuned last week and, for a 120 year-old, it is sounding great. It's a 6'4" Chickering and build tough.

I learned a lot from the piano tuner, who's been tuning for 45 years and is an absolute piano freak. He talked as if he knew Mr. Chickering personally (age was close). A downside to an older piano is that, at least this old, they were not tuned to the same frequency as they are today. An A is now at 440 BPS, but this is a little lower at around 435, which means after you record, you either have to adjust the pitch or tune your other instruments down to match. A small price to pay.

I don't know yet how much I'll use it to record, but I love writing, especially ballads on my old friend. More to come for sure.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Getting Some Tunes Down

I feel I've been successful so far writing, with probably 3 or 4 songs that I think have good potential and some others that maybe aren't as likely to get picked up somewhere but I like, so there. As with playing everything, I'm finding some challenges to getting material digitized. As I mentioned before, I bought some equipment, but owning is only one part. Now I gotta play the dang things.

I'm getting better, but patience has never been a strong suit (getting better there too I think). I'm doing okay with rhythm tracks and setting up drum sounds that I want. The biggest challenge right now is getting some good lead guitar tracks. I've never been a lead guitarist and my first efforts to get someone to put these down for me haven't worked so well. So, I'm diving in, figuring the more self contained I can be, the fewer obstacles I'll blame for lack of results. Now I'm not talking about being a killer guitarist, just clean enough to not distract from the end product, which for me is song demos. Don't distract from the song. Give it just enough enhancement to make sense. This is true for all the parts I'm planning on putting down.

By the way, here is a picture of my current instrument of death. I think this Gibson Epiphone will work fine for my needs. Guitarists are freaks, for sure. If you're one, you know what I'm talking about - five or six killer axes is just a start. Well, for me, I'll just lay low a bit until or unless my chops get too good for me to stand it, but I'm not holding my breath. Just want to get some clean tracks and move on to the next fun project. Okay, enough time waste "talking." Back to the studio for me. Break is over.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A New World

I know, sounds like a Disney song or something, but it really is a whole new world for a songwriter from 30 years ago. Not just the new musical avenues, but also ways to gather information, make contacts, learn and get exposure. So, I'm reading and researching. Here's a couple places I've found on the web and am looking into.

First is SongRamp which is a songwriter community for listening and getting feedback. I haven't submitted anything yet as I'm still getting my studio things together, but my plan is to do so by the end of the year.

A second avenue I'm exited about as far as getting good industry response from as well as possible publishing exposure is Taxi. Taxi is for songwriters as well as performing artists and as I said, appears to be a good place to start without having to move back to LA or to Nashville. We'll see, but after some research, again I think its a good place to start.

I'm a list kind of a person. If I don't have it on a list, I don't usually get it done. So, included on my list of to-do items is joining these services and when I plan to do so (as well as look into other opportunities, communities, etc.). I'm also in the process of learning (in the new world) how to get my music files on either my website, blog, Facebook, Myspace, etc. So far, I've found a free service in Facebook called DivShare that works at least for Facebook.

By the way, if you read this and have any better ideas, suggestions or comments on what I mention, I'd love to hear it. Feel free to comment or email me through this blog. I know there's a lot more out there and for right now, when I find something I take some time to sign up or at least check it out. I can only handle one at a time, then I hit overload - I'm old and a blew out a lot of my brain cells years ago.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Tools for Restarting

I still had some songwriter studio from a former life and my initial intent was to not "gear up" as this what I have a tendency to want to do when starting anything new (or renew); you know, like beginning to exercise - buy all the stuff you "need" then it ends up in the closet for 20 years. I had a recently (within the last couple years) purchased a Fostex MR16 - a digital recorder pictured here. I already had leftovers to get started, like a Roland Workstation (pretty dated, but still may work fine for me), an Ovation acoustic/electric a great set of headphones and a rack effects.

Of course, my efforts to remain in the status quo did not work out and as any musician will tell you, I'm still in transition and acquiring as I can. I wasn't happy with bass sounds I was getting through my keyboard, so I purchased a used Schecter Bass. My mic broke (I dropped the damn thing) so I was "forced" to buy a new one - but much better and worth the dollars - a Sterling ST55. Wow, big, big upgrade - I'm really pleased so far. Since I used to do mostly acoustic, I had no electric capabilities for guitar so, the next adventure - I'm borrowing an electric until I find one that is versatile, perfect and affordable. Meanwhile, I want to record direct, so I needed some amp sounds with a pre-amp for the guitar. I just got a Line 6 POD, which so far, seems to be able to do what I want.

Now, with all this stuff, I still have to perform well enough to get clean sounds on a recording. I'm working my aged chops and I think this will take some time. I do see and hear glimmers of hope so I will trudge forward. By the way, it took me about 2 weeks to quit having finger-tip pain that made me stop playing. Now I'm spending more quality time playing and kicking my fingers' butt.

I am finding so far that a generally good approach to this overall process is to write at least a couple times a week if not daily. I've been connecting up with a buddy to help with ideas and expanding my playing field (fun too). Play every day to help improve on the instruments and voice. Record a little every day to be able to listen back for likes and dislikes as well as areas of improvement and needed work. Don't rush. It'll take some time, just keep enjoying the process. So far, I'm loving it with minimal frustrations - mostly do to getting myself back in musical shape. So far, so good . . .

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Toys to Organize

I used to spend hours upon hours hand writing out musical lead sheets; which is one way I now know how dang old I really am. Just recently I decided to do a Google search for songwriting tools and found a program that really is going to fit the bill for me - Finale Songwriter 2010.
The picture here shows on the right the handwritten lead sheet from the 80's. On the left, my first attempt with the new software. I'll bet I spent about 6 hours getting this noted down, this includes the fact that I haven't done this stuff for many years and I didn't have much of a clue as to how to use the software. Very cool.
I've still got a lot to learn with this new organizational tool, as I've just scratched the surface, but man, so far I love it. I figure a package to put together to submit to publishers needs to include a professional looking lead sheet along with a clean recording (not elaborate, just clean enough to get the song across and not distract) and a lyric sheet.
I'm learning from many sources, but a book that I'm finding helpful to get me into gear and hopefully in the right direction is "Songwriter's Market" 2009 edition that I bought on Amazon. I'm sure I'll get the 2010 soon to get up-to-date source information.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Kicking it off - Some history

I thought that this would either be interesting some day or just really bad-ass-boring, but if my music songwriting career takes off, maybe at least a glimpse into how it can be done, even when you're really past your supposed prime. Well I'm past my prime, certainly in some respects, but after years of musical non-activity, I finally felt like I had some things to say and just gradually got excited again about writing, singing and recording (modestly). So here I go, kicking it off.

Here's a little history:

I have had some musical involvement just about since I could walk. I was given piano lessons from about age 5, took up guitar on my own when in around the 6th grade. I sang in choir in junior high and high school. Went to college for a couple years and studied voice and composition. I left college to pursue playing in rock and roll bands as well as acoustic smaller groups - 13 over the years. Some were working bands, some took a studio approach with strictly original material. All of them had their tasty parts. I learned to love group efforts - but they could be double edged swords. (This pictures shows 3 out of the 4 in the group Finale; I'm the one in middle with the acoustic guitar - Jay "Bird" on my left and Rik to my right - I had hair back then.)

During all this I started a family. Having a wife and two kids to support made the decision making a bit different. At one point, I felt I needed to turn down an offer from Motown to be a staff writer due to the low initial pay. Maybe not the best choice, but the road I have taken to this point has had great personal rewards, which is really what motivates me now. Toward the end of my active playing days I really started burning out on all of it, including the politics in the LA music scene. I really just wanted to be "normal" and spent a number of years since that time going in that direction.

Recently, I've decided I'm not "normal" and actually like it. I don't fit in the corporate world as you can tell by my Work Redefined Blog. So much of it irritates the crap out of me and I know its my take on that lifestyle, not the lifestyle itself.

Anyway on we go. I plan to document some of my adventures along whatever the path is that I've stepped onto. We'll see . . .