Song Sketchbook Season 1

The first season of the Song Sketchbook.

Song Sketchbook #20 – It Said Something Impossibly New

Song Sketchbook #20 - It Said Something Impossibly New

So this week’s song sketch is a big one. Not in trems of length, as it’s under three minutes long, but for another reason.

It’s the last one.

(For now.)

I’ve written and recorded 20 songs in 20 weeks. That’s a LOT of songs. The idea for this project was to create enough songs for an album. I feel I’ve done that and it’s time to move on. Right now I’m feeling an odd mixture of sadness, relief, and excitement. Sadness that this constant that was in my life is over. Relief that I now will have something resembling free time and less pressure. And excitement at the prospects to come.

When I set out on this project I only planned on doing 14-16 songs. Am I nuts? (Yes, but aren’t we all nowadays?) Why did I keep going? Well, for starters I didn’t feel I had enough solid content for the album. Second, I was starting to gain some traction with views and followers. Finally, I was also hitting a stride and finding a “sound” to call my own. It started in Where Are All The Jetpacks and continued from there. I veered here and there, but that distorted/synthy/folky sound carried through. I was (and very much am) digging it and wanted to see what else I could do.

I’m glad I did.

It’s very interesting to see where I started and where I ended up with this project. I grew a LOT in my abilities in these last 20 weeks. Look at Tattoo versus this week’s It Said Something Impossibly New. The music and songwriting are quite different. Having to work on a very strict schedule forces you to adapt and grow. If you don’t you wither and perish. I honestly feel I truly flourished. I am far more confident in my abilities now than I was back in May. Are all the sketches zingers? No, not by any means. Some are questionable at best and most have issues in one form or another. But they all made it out of my head and into the world. That’s HUGE. Would I do it again and make a season 2? Possibly. The circumstances were ripe for this project, so it’s hard to say if it’ll be feasible again.

So what now? Well, the main push will be going back to sketch #1 and re-listen and analyze all the previous sketches. Doing this will determine A) which will make the cut for the album, and B) what changes need to be made. Then I’ll take those sketches and re-record them as needed into final versions for the album. I plan to officially release singles along the way with the full album at the end. Beyond that I plan to up my Youtube game and release more videos of me either performing or talking at the camera. I really like the idea of seeing beyond the mic and I think it’ll be a fun way to engage with you all. (I upgraded my setup, so these new videos should be slightly better than the previous ones.) I also created an official Instagram account, so I’ll post stuff there too.

But for the right now, I’m going to take a victory lap and enjoy my accomplishment. While I’m off doing that, check out the season finale of season one of my Song Sketchbook series and enjoy.

See you soon.

Song Sketchbook #19 – Face The Day

Song Sketchbook #19 - Face The Day

This song sketch is a cover of the song by the band fedbysound. It is also my third folk cover. That officially makes the practice of folk covers a “thing” for me.

See, the story goes a bunch of us on Twitter were discussing a virtual open mic and who was going to attend. Mark from fedbysound said he’d lurk but not perform. I jokingly threatened to do a folk cover of one of his songs if he didn’t perform. He still didn’t want to (which I understand). I don’t think anyone actually BELIEVED me when I said I’d do a folk cover (even though I’ve done it twice before). So I decided to go ahead and record one.

I picked Face The Day, which is the closing track from the album Resonate. I find it to be a beautiful and inspiring song and one that would work well in a folk setting. I didn’t want to do a straight acoustic cover of the song, as that would be boring (and frankly I can’t sing nearly as well as Mark can). So I stripped it down to a few chords and built it back up from there in a manner that fit my abilities as well as how I personally “felt” the song. The persistent “you can face the day” is an uplifting sentiment that the singer drives home to the listener. They’re saying “yeah, life sucks, but I GET it; I’ve BEEN THERE, just hang in there and keep BEING YOU”. I wanted to try to capture that sentiment aurally by having it sort of swell into the chorus. Then at the end the singer repeats it over and over like a mantra, reminding the listener they GOT THIS.

My ultimate goal was to honor the original but at the same time add my own flavor (like most covers, duh, Michael Lee). I feel I accomplished that. Admittedly this cover is probably the most I’ve ever put myself out there, as I’m not in contact with the artists of my previous cover songs. However Mark will hear the song and will likely read this. So I hope you like it, Mark. Or at least I hope you don’t hate it.

Song Sketchbook #18 – Synthetic Man

Song sketchbook #18 - Synthetic Man

Synthetic Man is a song that seemingly came out of nowhere for me. I don’t have any recollection of HOW the idea popped into my head, but somewhere between late Saturday night/Sunday morning I came up with the first three lines of the chorus. Then lyrics-wise the rest fell into place over the next few days.

This song sketch is about a robot leaving home, so to speak, to explore the world and study humanity. It’s doing this because it’s becoming sentient and wants to be more. Whether that is a good thing or not is up to the listener to decide.

Stylistically this is my danciest number yet. It includes a fun mix of drum machine and “live” drums (it’s a loop pack, but they were played by someone live at one point) as well as a fun little synth riff that I admittedly quite enjoy. Also vocoder, because why the hell not? (Don’t answer that.)

If this song makes the cut for the album, I will definitely tweak the vocals. I like how they are on the verses, but the latter half of the chorus needs some work. I think if I make it more like the first half of the chorus it’ll work better for my voice. I’m also not 100% on the vocoder backing vocals as they’re kinda “wavy” and distract from the main vocals. I dunno. I like the idea so we’ll have to see.

For instrumentation, as mentioned I really like that synth line, so that’d stay. I’d likely clean up the bass a bit as well as tweak the overall mix.

Other than that I have to say I’m quite happy with it. Enjoy:

Song Sketchbook #17 – Take Me Back To The ’90s

Song sketchbook 3 17 - Take Me Back To The '90s

That is the most intentionally ugly thumbnail I’ve ever created… It certainly grabs your attention, though!

The idea for this song came from someone who frequently references things they did back in the ’90s. Many conversations would start with “You know, back in the ’90s” or “In the ’90s I…” It definitely seemed like their peak was back then, as if their point of reference for things NOW is all the way BACK THEN because they haven’t experienced anything new since.

Nostalgia can be a powerful thing. It can make millions as well as cripple a person’s emotional growth. Right now nostalgia is BIG, especially for the ’80s and ’90s. I think it’s all the millennials are “growing up” and trying to recapture their youth. The boomers did it, now it’s our turn. (Yes, I’m on the elder end of that spectrum but I’m a millennial.) BUT, nostalgia can be very dangerous. A little is ok, but get too far into the weeds and you can end up regressing as nothing new will seem worthwhile. It’s fine to keep an eye on the past, but your focus should be on the future.

Stylistically, for “’90s” I went with a doo-wop theme to invoke the nostalgia aspect of the subject. However I “updated” it with a synth and a fuzzed out bass. I also added that bit crushed guitar solo, which admittedly might be my favorite one yet.

If this song makes the cut for the album, I definitely want to adjust the backing vocals, specifically on the bridge. I’ll also tweak the EQ on the lead guitar as it sounds a bit muddy and a lot of the individual notes get lost in the mix.

What’s your favorite memory from the ’90s? Check out the song below and let me know in the comments.

Song Sketchbook #16 – Honey Badger

Song sketchbook #16 - Honey Badger

Be assertive! Be confident! Be yourself! Just don’t be a dick like the honey badger. Those things are not like the English badgers and are instead very MEAN and WILL chase you if you look at them sideways.

This week has been crazy, so this song sketch is a bit more rough around the edges compared to last week’s. It still very listenable, but it’s definitely “sketchy.” HOWEVER, it has… BANJO! Yes, I was finally able to get a decent deal on a good banjo. So of course it’s going in the song. Who cares if I’m learning the chords WHILE RECORDING.

Admittedly I had to mix the banjo down to hide all the mistakes, but it’s amazing just how much character it adds to the song even when “hidden.” I look forward to using it on some other songs once I’ve got the hang of it.

Other than fixing the banjo after I, you know, actually practice on it, if Honey Badger makes the cut for the album, I’ll definitely work on the vocals. They’re not quite there and I know I can do better (also doesn’t help I was singing through allergies, but I don’t want to make excuses). I also might tweak some of the chords, specifically in the bridge.

Besides that I do like it lyrically. And yes, I know full well the saying isn’t “honey badger don’t care one bit,” but I wanted to keep it PG. While writing Honey Badger, I actually wrote it in a jumbled order with each verse having four whole extra lines to them each. However that just wasn’t working, so I rearranged it and trimmed it down. Originally there was more explanation as to WHY the main character wants to be more assertive, but I realized I was trying to explain something in four lines that could easily be said in two.

So here’s Honey Badger:

Song Sketchbook #15 – Jet Jaguar

Song sketchbook #15: Jet Jaguar

For those not in the know, Jet Jaguar is the robotic friend of Godzilla from the film Godzilla Vs. Megalon. He was essentially an Ultraman clone who was designed to capitalize on his popularity at the time, but he’s gained a cult following in his own right.

This is also my second Godzilla-themed song sketch. Maybe I should just make the rest about different Godzilla monsters?… Kidding. Not gonna do that… Or am I? (No.)

Musically Jet Jaguar marks a growth point for me. Not only did I incorporate some new musical theory (like using the diatonic scale in my solos), I also, finally, turned off the “clean” filter effectively and achieved a workable “dirty” sound. I had tried that before on other sketches to varying degrees of success, but I feel Jet Jaguar does it the best. The utilization of occasional feedback, along with the subtle synth(!) bits, add a ton of character to the song.

Of everything, the only thing I think I’d change for the album is the vocals. They’re not QUITE what I imagined. I did imagine them with the effects, but I want them to be a bit smoother AND have energy. It’s a fine line to walk and I wasn’t able to quite get it in the hour or so I had for recording vocals. Other than that I’m surprisingly happy with the instrumentation here.

Give it a listen and let me know in the comments if you’d like more Godzilla-themed songs.

Song Sketchbook #14: Man, I Just Want the Pick

Song sketchbook #14: Man, I Just Want The Pick

This week’s sketch was inspired by something a drunk person yelled (quite loudly) to the mandolin player at a Yonder Mountain String Band concert a few years ago. He then proceeded to attempt to jump the stage blockade and steal a setlist. Security ensured he did not succeed at acquiring either the pick or the setlist.

But, that phrase “man, I just want the pick” stuck with me. That dude was SERIOUS about getting that pick (he told me so in a very slurred manner), and it made me think about someone with such devotion to a band that they’re inspired to greatness (or imagine they are). They just need that one taste of magic to kick things off. Kinda like Journey’s “Jukebox Hero” meets Tenacious D’s Pick of Destiny.

Musically I feel this song lacks quite a bit. It suffers from me not being able to accomplish the sound I imagined due to not having the instruments needed to get that sound. (I find myself doing that a lot lately.) I’m also not a fan of the vocals. However I feel there is certainly something here that maybe just needs a different approach. I do quite enjoy some of the lyrics (especially that first verse). I might tweak some of the verbiage in the second verse, though, as it loses some flow in places. In all I think that, if this song makes the album, I’ll keep some elements, but overall it’ll sound very different than what we have here.

Song Sketchbook #13: One Day You Will Wake Up

Song sketchbook #13: One Day you Will Wake Up

Yowza. What a week…. The derecho that tore through the midwest really threw a wrench into things and ALMOST made this sketch sound very different.

See, we lost power Monday morning and did not regain it until later Wednesday evening. I usually record Monday through Wednesday. By the time Wednesday evening rolled around, I was actually trying to record through the built-in speaker on a borrowed laptop, racing the clock that was the laptop’s battery life. Thankfully the power came on and I was able to quickly use my full rig to knock out this number in about two hours.

Since I recorded it in such a short amount of time, I didn’t have the luxury of doing multiple takes. Because of this the audio isn’t as polished as usual. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very listenable, but there are a few subtle audio bugs that I noticed that normally would have been corrected in another take.

One Day is based on the idea that every younger generation is seen as inferior to the one before it. That’s obviously not true, but when the generation below me is eating Tide Pods, one does have to wonder just a SMIDGEN. This song is a warning to my son that, while he might think it’s cool now, when he grows up he’ll look at those younger than him and shake his head in confusion and shame.

Musically this song was designed to be very folksy, however I didn’t imagine it as simple as it ended up. Oh well. I actually don’t mind the stripped-down nature of this version. If it makes it onto the album, I will probably throw in some bass and perhaps some more lead guitar flourishes to add some character.

Have a listen and let me know in the comments what you think:

Song Sketchbook #12: Godzilla

Song sketchbook #12: Godzilla

Yup. It’s a cover of the song by Blue Oyster Cult. It’s also a folksy cover. VERY folksy… It’s also quite chill.

I lasted 12 full weeks without doing a cover song. I hadn’t originally planned to do any covers as part of this project. However I knew this week was going to be a bit tight on recording time and needed something simple. I’ve had the idea to do a folksy version of this song for some time and figured why not? It’s a fun little number! Due to royalties and such, I don’t believe it will make it onto the album, so it’ll just have to live on Youtube (for now). Godzilla is also starting a trend as it’s the second “folk” cover I’ve done. The first being Wonderman by Atom & His Package (available here).

Musically this cover is extremely simplified. I originally planned to have two guitars, but at the 11th hour (literally at 11pm Thursday night) decided the second guitar didn’t work as well as the single guitar and scrapped it. That is why there’s that quiet section after the first chorus. There was supposed to be an acoustic guitar solo there! However, it works with just the one guitar in that part. The finger-picked acoustic and the bass are able to fill that void nicely. That portion really gives the song that “chill” vibe I mentioned above. It’s an example of letting the song dictate where it wants to go, and I’m glad I listened to my own advice!. I do somewhat feel there could be another element or two added to the song, but honestly I can’t think of WHAT they would be. Then again, maybe I’m just overthinking it.

Maybe I’ll do a follow up on children’s instruments called Son of Godzilla…. But for now, here’s the daddy of all monsters:

Song Sketchbook #11: The Struggle

Song sketchbook #11: The Struggle

This week’s song sketch is about a conspiracy theorist who’s life is not all that great due to his paranoia. I got the idea from all those truther folks in the news lately and how conspiracy theorists used to be a lot less harmful. I tried to steer clear of the more “hot button” theories in the song. We don’t want to start anything, now do we? (Says the guy who’s Twitter is largely exactly about “starting something.”) I also put a little twist in the character’s story, so stick around to the end of the song!

Lyrically this song changed quite a bit from the original idea. At first it was going to be about how the character’s paranoia was ruining his relationship, but it just wasn’t clicking with that idea. It wasn’t until I came up with the twist at the end that the song came together. If it makes the cut for the album, I do plan on tweaking some verbiage as it can use a bit of tightening up, like dropping a word or two for the sake of flow.

Musically I had originally planned to have some fingerpicked guitar in the song, but the sound in my head just wasn’t coming through. It turned out what I wanted was a banjo, but I don’t (yet) have one, so I scrapped that idea. (Lesson learned from last week!) I also had an idea for the slappy bass line, but that too wasn’t working, so I scrapped that and, after a lot of experimentation, ended up with the bit-crushed bass you hear in the song.

I will say I am quite partial to the guitar solo…

Next week I might try something a bit different (yet fun) for my song sketch. I’m still toying with the idea and am not 100% on it, but we’ll see.

In the meantime: