Apr 8

Before I get into today’s post first a couple of housekeeping items:

I’d like to thank Tony Butterworth for his kind words (as always the diplomat) and the plug about this blog on Home Made Hit Show (www.homemadehitshow.com). If you haven’t visited the site, you need to. It’s very informative, usually entertaining, but always fun.

Second, I’ve heard that some of you have been having trouble reading the posts because of the Google Ads appearing in front of the posts. All you have to do is click on them and they go away. (just kidding, of course). It’s a little adjusting I need to do in the code to make it stay on the left. Apparently it’s got something to do with which version of IE you’re using ,or it could be the screen resolution, I’m not exactly sure but I’ll get it fixed quickly. Right, that’s enough of that, on to the post.

When I started writing my tools were pen and paper. My only way to do home recording was on a cassette recorder and there was no way to overdub. Well, not easily anyway. Eventually I got hooked up with someone who could record the band on a half inch 8 track reel to reel. (I remember those tapes costing $50 each back then.)

I was lucky though that not only did someone have the finances to get one of those multi track recorders, but a mixing board as well. You see before that, all I had to work with was an acoustic guitar, or a Univox imitation Les Paul with crappy wiring and an amp that popped like Orville Redenbacher’s finest.

So lucky for me all I had to do was write and play. I didn’t understand how to set everything up, much less how to properly mike the amps and mix the songs. I used to say “I don’t know from wires, I just play guitar”. I’m not saying that I was too proud to learn, I just couldn’t get the hang of it.

In a future post I’ll tell you all about how the guys built a drum room that could be assembled in 15 minutes, was wired for lights, had windows and a door and was air cooled by a 9 inch computer fan. It was state of the art. Well, the state of the art for us anyway. :-)

So over the years things have advanced a bit. Now, home recordings are made through DAW’s or Digital Audio Workstations for those unfamiliar, and through digital interfaces that take organic instruments like my acoustic guitar and allow me to connect to mixing software via my PC.

The problem for me is, I still “don’t know from wires” but I’m picking it up like someone who got sucked through a time door and landed in the future where a language of words had become a series of numbers, grunts and squeaks and I had to learn to assimilate fast or I’d starve to death.

I’m like freaking Rip Van Halen over here. :-)

So with a wealth of resources now at my fingertips I find myself learning new tricks. I’m actually surprised at how far I’ve come, but it’s a far cry from where my peers are. So I lean on them for advice constantly.

My pen and paper are still there, but these days are mostly replaced by Window’s Notepad. As far as equipment goes, I’m working with the following:

an Ibanez AEL10LEBK which is Newspeak for a sweet Acoustic Electric Guitar (Left Handed specifically)

a Black Fender Squire which I’ve had for a number of years. It’s not a high end guitar by any stretch of the truth, but it’s a workhorse.

I connect to my PC via a USB Audio Capture unit called an Edirol UA-4FX

I record directly into some free mixing software called the Kristal Audio Engine, from www.kreatives.org.

For drums, I use a program called Beatcraft that I downloaded from www.acoustica.com.

Ok, so now I’ve got some toys. I can’t wait till I’m proficient with them. For the time being I’m glad to be learning something new because I’ve always felt that when you stop learning, you’re dream is over. It also got my creative juices flowing again. I also can “see the music” with a wider scope than before.

Now, you might be thinking, “Just what does all this have to do with songwriting? Is he merely namedropping products to increase his Google ranking?”

Well, DUH! but that’s not entirely it. I think it’s good to show people just where I am to give a proper perspective into my life. It’s part of my “Adventure”. I also can’t remember watching an adventure that didn’t have some form of commercial ;-)

Ok, joking aside, I needed to establish a base from which I create. I will elaborate, though, on just how I use these tools in later posts.

For a quick and quite thorough tutorial on the Kristal Audio Engine (geez it sounds like a band that opened up for REO Speedwagon) you’ve got to see Mike Wich‘s Kristal Tutorial here:

http://homemadehitshow.blogspot.com/2006/08/mich-wichs-kristal-tutorial.html

For those that don’t know, Mike Wich and I go back to those pen and paper days. Actually it was his friend that bought the 8 track tape machine that we recorded with back then. Here’s a link to some of the stuff we put together in those days. Of course we’ve updated the instrumentation and completely re-recorded the songs: http://www.soundclick.com/eljam (a word of warning though, it’s very Eighties)

Presently, Mike and I are in the process of writing a concept album called “Obsessions”. Well, I don’t know if we’ll call it that but it’s a working title for now. As we develop the songs I’ll share the progress with you here.

Bow wow, all.

-V

Mar 30

A couple of years ago I found out rather accidentally that there was to be a “songwriters’ gathering” here in Phoenix. I tried to get a friend of mine to go, but ended up going alone. When I got there, I felt like I opened some door into a different world.

You see, in all my years of writing, I never considered how much power a group of writers getting together to share ideas would have. That’s because in my own little world, I had only been writing from my own head to my own ears.

Now, these events have been going on for years and they’ve got these groups all over the world. I just never knew about them.

I had a weird feeling walking in though. I can only compare it to what it must be like for someone who just discovered what an American Idol tryout was all about.

There were folks from all age groups, cultures, from neon punks that missed out on the 80′s to mullet wearing trailer park cowboys, to lawyers, doctors and of course, semi-professionals. It was seriously cool. (There were big ones, small ones, short ones, tall ones. Black ones, brown ones…..crazy ones.)

Since I had no idea how it was all structured, I literally wandered into room after room in the clubhouse. The first I walked into was a room full of folks who brought their insruments and just lined up to enterain everyone else at the room showing off their new tunes.

This one woman looked like Mimi from the Drew Carey show, and she was playing this country tune that was entertaining as hell. Well, I wasn’t exactly crazy about the tune, but man she really knew how to work that crowd! Another guy about 65 years of age got up and played a song about being a Norwegian, followed by a tune called “Age Assisted Attention Deficit Disorder”. I guess he left an impression, I can’t believe I still remember that title :-)

It was the most eclectic mix of characters, cohorts and cousins I’d ever seen. But they all had one thing in common: they were songwriters. Seriously devoted ones at that.

I left that room and wandered upstairs and that was when magic happened. I walked into a session that was in progress and sat in the back of this small room listening to a guy talk about what makes an unforgetable song. I didn’t know who he was but everyone was holding what appeared to be his book, The Craft and Business of Songwriting.

There I was, in the “Hall of the Mountain King“.

His name was John Braheny. I found out that John was one of the most respected names in the music industry and specifically the songwriting community. With his partner Len Chandler, they formed the Los Angeles Songwriters Showcase which coached and critiqued many “later to be successful songwriters” like Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham. Warren Zevon, Karla Bonoff, Stephen Bishop and Diane Warren. Diane is credited with being the world’s most successful songwriter. John and Len critiqued over 150 of Diane’s songs when she was only 15.

Wow.

Now when I walked into the room, John looked just like any of the other folks at this gathering. Very accomodating, down to earth, just a seriously cool guy. He was taking apart well known songs and talking about how what made them good, what made them unforgettable.

I’ll be breaking down some of the specific things I learned starting with my next post as I want this one to be more about sharing this epiphany I had.

He talked about his book, but he wasn’t pitching it. What sold me on it (and this was before I knew who this guy was) was this woman in the audience of about 35 people. She stood up and thanked him for helping her, and John told us that she had recently written a couple of songs for film and television. What struck me was that she was holding this dog-eared, yellow stickered, well highlighted copy of his book’ previous edition. I figured that if she was successful and had studied it that voraciously, then I might learn a few things myself.

Yeah, that nailed it for me, I had to get this book.

Later that day, John had folks handing over their music to be critiqued (of course I was unprepared at the time) and he, along with Alan Roy Scott would take a lyric sheet in hand, listen to a cd or tape, then critique each section of a song.

Seeing how they critiqued other people’s songs taught me a few things about my own. Most importantly, it reinforced what I was doing right and showed me how to improve in other areas. I’ll show some of those things in my next post as this one’s way too long as it is.

So, I strongly suggest that you “fire up your Googles” and look for events like this one or find some songwriters associations in your area. Most often, they’re not well publicized. You really never know what you’ll find.

You just might find “you get what you need” ;-)

-V