Jun 15

We’ve all heard music that strikes us as special. Something slightly out of the ordinary or in fact, way out of the ordinary has made most songwriters including myself say “I want to write a song like that”.

Maybe you’re saying, “Dude, I NEVER do that. I’m all about being original.” Well as hard as you try to make me believe that, you’re either naive or you’re full of crap.

To be honest, though. Nothing is that cut and dry. Granted, no one wants to be thought of as a plagiarist. To learn about music whether through studying an instrument, or merely for enjoyment, you’ve got to have heard a few songs.

OK, I hear your collective “Duh, thanks Dr. Obvious.”, but stay with me here.

Some will say that in this age of information, we’re barraged by so much input that the output is sure to be tainted. Actually “flavored” may be a better term.

Let’s take a look at a definition (which could change at some point in the future as technologies advance).

Plagiarism:

The practice of claiming or implying original authorship of (or incorporating material from) someone else’s written or creative work, in whole or in part, into one’s own without adequate acknowledgement – the issue of false attribution.

Musical influence on the other hand is as inevitable as farming. Once the seeds are planted…well you get the idea.

If not for Leopold Mozart, we’d have no Wolfgang Mozart, if not for Haydn, we’d have no Beethoven all the way to Boogie Woogie giving us Swing and Blues which begat Gospel, R & B, Rock and Roll, Heavy Metal and Hip Hop.

Don’t forget, if not for Little Richard and Elvis, we’d have no Beatles.

I’m pretty sure that somewhere along the way, Swing had a threesome with the Recording Industry and Don “No-Soul” Simmons and Disco was born. ;-)

So obviously it’s all about learning and reinventing and pardon the American Idol reference, “Making it your own”.

Where does one draw the line? Well, it’s hard to say. Sort of like little white lies I guess. We all know its wrong to do, but sometimes it’s forgivable. We just have to listen to what moves us, and see how much of us we can put into it.

For me, when I started writing I was about 15 years old. I knew if I was going to write songs, I needed to really get familiar with how a song was put together. I would take a song I liked, re-write the lyrics, then put it away for long enough for me to have forgotten what the song was that I wrote it against.

I’d also take chord progressions right out of an artist’s songbook, see how I might trim off a chord or add one, or flip a sequence around, add in another sequence from another artist and do the same. Then I’d see how I might play it with different tempos, rhythm changes, trying to make it fit the lyrics until I got something I liked.

There always was the fear that someone would say “You stole that from so and so”, but no one was going to buy those tunes so I didn’t really care much back then.

Today, I write in a similar vein. I listen to as many varied styles as I can. Now, instead of stealing chord changes, I go for the feel of the song or a similar build up rather than copying specific phrases.

What I listen for now is for suggestions in style more than anything else. A surf music sound, or a 70′s Rod Stewart style rocker, or a late 70′s New Wave type of tune. Maybe a jazz infused ballad with a hard rock bridge.

No matter what I do though, I’m always going back to listening to stuff I like, so that I can write stuff I like. Rarely do things just happen naturally for me unless, well John Lennon referred to it as “Diarrhea of Rock”.

I’d rather call it a flow of prolificacy.

That’s the word for the day. Use it three times and there’s a penny in it for ya ;-)

Meanwhile, until next time, I’ll leave you with with this cool vid I found on You Tube. Check out Theresa Andersson

-V

May 5

If you’re like me there have been times when you sat in front of a blank piece of paper or screen, knowing that you want to write something, but nothing’s coming.

It happens to every writer, whether it’s music, lyrics, articles or a blog posting. ;-)

The dreaded writers’ block.

OK, so what? We all have it you say. You’re probably asking yourself, why would I want to read about writers’ block? Well, the point of this is not to explain how frustrating it is but to show you some ways you may be able to get around it. These have worked well for me in the past. Invariably, if I ever get blocked, it’s because I forgot about these little tricks.

There are many reasons people get blocked. Many aren’t having anything to do with whether or not you’ve got something to say. Often, you can be blocked because it’s not a convenient time to write, or  there are family issues or interruptions, or your tired or sick. Those situations you can’t always help.

Sometimes a block isn’t really a block, it’s just being undecided.

It’s on the tip of your tongue and it’s almost like your mind is flipping through channels trying to settle on something and there’s nothing on the tube.

Let’s face it, there are billions of subjects and settling on one is a daunting task. That being the case, realize it’s not your fault.

You’re not losing your mojo, your muse didn’t leave you for a younger writer with a better pencil and most of all, you’ve not gone blank. Basically you’re just at a crossroads on the verbal interstate and you don’t know which turn to take.

Consider this as I stretch this metaphor to the point of breaking: it doesn’t matter which road to take, you’ll still end up at a worthwhile destination. Even if you take a turn, double back and take another one you’re still traveling.

I’ve heard this before (it helps if you picture a whiny sarcastic voice)” It’s not the destination, it’s the journey”. As cliche as it sounds, it couldn’t be more accurate.

Try this: pick a subject, any subject and write a line.Then stop writing. Flip to a new page and write a line about something different and stop again. Flip to a new page, etc. You will automatically know when to stop doing this.

What’s happening is you’re getting your thoughts moving. Kind of forcefully, true, but they’re moving.

If you’ve ever gotten stuck in a snowbank, you’ll understand this right away. The best way to get out of it is to go forward, then reverse,then forward again. Rocking it back and forth until you gain enough momentum and before you know it, you’re on the road.

OK, so now  you’ve stopped turning pages because you got to a point where you could expand on the first line. Congratulations, you’ve settled on a subject. Realize that’s the biggest hurdle. Now decide what to say about it.

That’s not as difficult, but it can seem that way and if you still think you’re blocked you’ll be back thinking about your missing mojo and your pencil envy. Don’t let that happen.

Understand that everything you write doesn’t have to be wisdom handed down from the sages. Remember the Ramones? Lots of hits with simple songs.

You might say, “Well that’s not what I write. I write meaningful lyrics with well constructed passages, I write blah de blah blah blah.”

Big freaking deal. Take yourself down a peg or two. Your high horse is making you afraid you’ll fall.

Write a crap song and have fun with it. I once wrote a song called (I’ll be forever ashamed) “Sally No One Saves it Anymore”. Yeah, I know, I know…..ugh.

Ever hear the song “Wild Honey Pie” by the Beatles?

Here’s a clip: Wild Honey Pie

According to Wikipedia:

McCartney said of this song: “We were in an experimental mode, and so I said, ‘Can I just make something up?’ I started off with the guitar and did a multitracking experiment in the control room or maybe in the little room next door.

It was very home-made; it wasn’t a big production at all. I just made up this short piece and I multitracked a harmony to that, and a harmony to that, and a harmony to that, and built it up sculpturally with a lot of vibrato on the [guitar] strings, really pulling the strings madly. Hence, ‘Wild Honey Pie’, which was a reference to the other song I had written called ‘Honey Pie’.”[1]

According to McCartney the song might have been excluded from The Beatles album, but Pattie Boyd “liked it very much so we decided to leave it on the album.”[4]

So you see, it doesn’t take much rocking to get things rolling (sorry, that was bound to come out). Experiment with something unusual.

Another thing you may want to try is to listen to music from artists you’re not familiar with. Go to Amazon.com and search for someone you like, then look at the other folks they suggest.

You can also sign up for a free account with Pandora.com and create a radio station for a fave artist. They’ll play music from other bands with similar qualities. Listen for a unique sound or phrase, or structure.

Worst case, you might not get your car out of the snow, but you’ll hear some good music waiting for the tow truck to show up.

-V