Song Sketchbook

Song Sketchbook #10: If Only

Song sketchbook #10: If Only

If only… This were a better song. So far in this project I have steered away from disparaging any of these songs. The idea is they are not complete and will grow with time. But, with If Only, I feel it is so rough and failed so much that it warrants an analysis into WHY it is not a good song.

Buckle up, cuz here we go.

After hitting what I felt to be a stride with a string of songs that had personality and were quite enjoyable (and yes, I’m including the weapon-grade earworm that is Drip), I decided to try something different. I thought to myself “let’s write an acoustic rock number”. This was the first big mistake, because the previous weeks were largely organic creations that were allowed to grow and mutate. Doing a complete 180 and severely limiting how the song should sound knocked me off the creative path that I was treading.

The second mistake was that I decided on the acoustic rock pigeon hole without having any idea what the song would be about. I landed on the “loser thinks person they’re lusting after can fix them” motif mid-day Sunday after I came up with a few lines while walking my dog. While this is by no means an abnormal occurrence, I now had the task of quickly cramming this idea into the sound I wanted to make. Side note: the vape/frisbee golf store referenced in the song DID actually exist. While that might be surprising, the implication in the use of past tense should surprise no-one.

This is where the wheels started to come off. While writing the song I simply could NOT get a rhythm to work with the lyrics. Instead of saying “screw the acoustic idea, let’s do this differently,” I pushed on and forced it into the acoustic style. Doing this was akin to cramming two puzzle pieces together that don’t fit. Because now that two of the pieces didn’t fit, the rest of the “puzzle” couldn’t work.

I didn’t land on a rhythm until I recorded it. Even then I ended up re-recording it with a slightly different rhythm. At this point I was already behind on my recording schedule and the warning lights were flashing. But instead of heeding the blatant warning signs, I covered up the check engine light with tape and pushed on.

At this point I’ve laid down the drums and guitar. Now for the vocals. Problem is, I’d changed up the rhythm, so the lyrics I wrote didn’t entirely work anymore. At this point it’s Wednesday and too late to rewrite, so I crammed them in. I pushed and smushed and jammed them into the framework of the music. The chorus fit fairly well as that was largely unchanged. But the verses… Yikes. I did something like 10 takes on the vocals and what you hear in the song is the best one. The vocals by and large are terrible. I think this is because, subconsciously, I knew the song wasn’t working and I just wasn’t putting in the usual care. I know I’m not the strongest singer out there, but this is bad even for me.

Now it’s just laying down the bass, adding a last-minutes shaker to add some personality (which didn’t help) and mixing it down.

That’s all that went wrong. Was there anything that I feel went “right?” Yes, admittedly I don’t dislike EVERYTHING about this song. The chorus isn’t too bad as it has a nice hook with the “why oh why” bit. I also am somewhat partial to the main riff, despite it being obviously influenced by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I also like some of the lyrics. Lines like “minimum wage ambassador” and the day drinking bit are decent, just executed poorly.

In the end, what did I learn from this experience? First off, I learned the creative process (for me) needs to be organic. While fitting a subject into a style isn’t usually difficult, I need to write with that in mind so the process is more organic. I also learned to watch for the warning signs. If the song just isn’t working, either change gears on the song or shelve it for a bit and record something else, like a cover (which would have sounded way better than this). Don’t try to cram disparaging ideas together and hope they work. You wouldn’t tape a cell phone to a duck, would you? (Would you?!)

So here it is. If Only.

Song Sketchbook #9: Drip (Drip Drip)

Song sketchbook #9: Drip (Drip Drip)

Fair warning: this song is a heck of an earworm. (It’s been stuck in MY head and I wrote it!) As the name suggests, Drip is about dripping water. More specifically, it’s about dripping water at 3am when sleep just won’t come.

Drip was designed to be a simple song due to the fact I knew I wouldn’t have as much time to work on it this week. I believe its earworm-quality stems from that. I hadn’t originally intended to repeat the chorus so much, but in the end I think it works well with the idea behind the song.

If this song makes the cut for the album, I may change out the synth-like guitar for an actual synth. I had originally wanted to use a synth here, but was not able to get my hands on one for the recording (long story). I have computer programs that can do that, but they’re a real pain in the butt to use. I think the buzzing guitar works well in its own right, but I was hearing a synth part when I wrote it. Maybe I’m just too stuck on that and need to live with the guitar? I do enjoy how it goes into a lengthy “jam” over the end part and fade out. That was purely on accident as I just started soloing over it during a take. I’m sure I’ll have a completely different take on it when I revisit all of these songs at the end of this project.

And on that note, cue the music:

Song Sketchbook #8: Interrobang

Song sketchbook #8: Interrobang

The idea behind this punchy little number came about when I discovered what would become my absolute favorite punctuation mark. A combination of a question mark and an exclamation point, the interrobang is an efficient and fun way to denote an excited question in type. Problem is, it’s rarely used, because despite it’s cult following, most computer programs and operating systems require you to jump through hoops just to type it (Chrome even has whole add-ons just to use it). WordPress does’t even include it in their native symbols selection. (But I CAN insert little playing cards. 🂱 ) So since I can’t type it (even if I did it may or may not even show up on your screen), here’s a big ol’ picture of one, care of Wikipedia:


See? Isn’t that just FUN!? (<– An interrobang should have gone there.)

Regarding the song itself, it is indeed a punchy little number as mentioned above. It clocks in at just over two minutes and doesn’t waste a second. However, I feel it’s another song that really encapsulates the whole “sketch” idea. I feel it still needs some work and could definitely be punchier in places. If it makes the cut for the album, I’ll definitely punch up the vocals. Besides tweaking some cadence here and there, I feel they are missing a bit of je ne sais quoi… Just a bit of something to give them an edge and really drive home the feel I’m going for in the song.

That’s one of the downsides to what I’m doing. While I personally feel there are more upsides, working in a vacuum with a (self-imposed) time limit doesn’t really allow for an atmosphere to figure things out like the vocal quandary. If I revisit this song, I’m banking on time and a fresh perspective to allow for a solution.

Instrumentation-wise, this song is interesting because it changed quite a bit from its original draft. I had originally wrote it with one chord structure, then at some point early on I changed that structure. Because of this I had to re-write the electric guitar parts as they were being recorded. The bass was safe because I usually write that on-the-fly anyway. (Admittedly I quite enjoy the bass riffs in this song.) I also kept adding little bits here and there to pepper more personality to the song. I definitely dig the song more now than I did earlier this week. But, unlike the vacuum/time issue, that is something I really enjoy about this project. When writing under strict conditions, the Muse strikes suddenly and some interesting things tend to happen.

Now I present to you an interesting thing: Interrobang.

Song Sketchbook #7: Where Are All The Jetpacks?

Song sketchbook #7: Where are All The Jetpacks?

This song… It’s way out there and different than anything I’ve done previously.

Jetpacks started as an excuse to use a new pedal I got (the WMD Geiger Counter). I figured out the hook and nothing else to start, thinking I’d figure it out. Sure enough I did, but not in the way I expected! On Saturday a few of the lines from the chorus quite randomly popped in my head. Then Sunday afternoon I actually wrote out all the lyrics in about 15 minutes with only a very rudimentary idea of the melody. I then created the drums and built the rest up from there. It was definitely a new experience. I believe my working in that odd manner allowed me to break free from the structure I tend to rely upon (i.e. writing on acoustic and building from there) to create something wholly new for myself.

By not following my standard writing structure, I ended up “tinkering” on this song more than the others in the Sketchbook. I just found myself going back and adding a bit here and there. (There’d be more bits if I knew how to play piano!) It got to the point where I had to stop and be happy with it where it is. That’s not to say I DISLIKE it, far from it, but rather I keep coming up with ideas for the song. If it makes the cut for the album, I legitimately don’t know what specifically I’d add, because there’s so much I feel I could do to it.

Another point I’d like to make on Jetpacks is it’s the longest song sketch to date, clocking in at over four minutes. This wasn’t intentional, as I had created a longer second “heavy” part with a plan to slowly fade out the ending. But I ended up liking the very end so much I kept the whole thing!

And now, Jetpacks:

Song Sketchbook #6: RSVP: Party In My Bunker

Song Sketchbook 6 RSVP Party In My Bunker

This week’s song sketch is about a paaarrrtaay! Also the end of the world… Because that’s not on anybody’s mind nowadays AT ALL.

I had originally written this song a while ago and largely forgot about it. It wasn’t until it popped into my head over the weekend, totally out of the blue, that I decided to “do it up” for the sketchbook. I shortened it by quite a bit (I scrapped most of what was a second verse and re-worked my favorite lines from it elsewhere), upped the tempo and added a little solo. I still hear things I’d like to tweak if it makes the cut, but I’m enjoying it a lot more than I did previously.

RSVP also includes a nod to one of my favorite musicians. I’m not going to say who or where the nod is in the song, because where’s the fun in that? If you know, feel free to post in the comments!

Song Sketchbook #5: Disappearing Daughter

Song Sketchbook 5: Disappearing Daughter

I want to start this post by saying I have NOT, I repeat NOT lost my daughter at any given time. These are characters loosely based on real people, so don’t go calling DCFS because of this song! I take that as assumed, but you never know.

What I have done here is reached out of my comfort zone and tried out the finger picking I’ve been practicing. It’s not perfect, but then again this experiment isn’t about perfection, it’s about GROWTH! Trying new things, pushing my creativity/abilities and really working to lay the groundwork for (what I hope) will be a solid first full-length album. All the while bringing you along for the ride with the hope that it will inspire others the way I’ve been inspired by those who have done something similar.

If Disappearing Daughter makes the cut for the album, I’ll definitely go and tweak the lyrics and the cadence in which they’re sung. One of the things with doing a weekly song is that you really don’t have the time to let the song grow, so often times the lyrics end up a bit loose. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t totally dislike them. I just know they might need some tightening up.

I’ve heard it said, and I firmly believe, that great songs are not written in one go. They live and evolve over time to become great. Imposing a seven-day time limit to create a song doesn’t really allow a song to grow. BUT, what it does do is plant the seed for great music.

For me (and I know others) the hardest part about writing is showing up for it. There are so many distractions available these days that if I didn’t impose a time limit on my work, I’d never tend to my musical “garden” and sit down to write. But gardens don’t grow overnight, so while the songs might not be quite there yet (hence calling them “sketches”), I’m at least planting the seed for something potentially great.

So enjoy this little sprout of a song and I’ll see you next week.

Additional Thoughts on “You Never Really Saw Me Anyway”

Right off the bat, I think the most nagging thought I have about “You Never Really Saw Me Anyway” is it needs a banjo and mandolin. Two instruments I do not own (but would definitely like to own). To fill that void, I ended up using a capo and playing a C major chord structure in G major (which is the key of the song). I think it was largely successful in this instance (although I mixed it way down to mask it), but if this song makes the cut for the album, I’ll definitely want to do it up right.

Another interesting thing about this song is the tone. I believe I would want to add more spite to the vocals, but the bluegrass feel almost makes it seem MORE spiteful due to the fact it’s an angry song with an upbeat sound. I can’t quite put my finger on WHY, but that’s what I’m getting.

Finally, the length of the song is noteworthy. When I embarked on this weekly song sketch project (which, yay me, I’ve maintained for one whole month without missing a week) I decided to actively work towards shorter, punchier songs. The shortest song on Hold Still is under two minutes, with the rest clocking in at three plus minutes. While I like Tiny Crab > Big World, six minutes is a long time for a song to last. So, when writing these songs I’ve been looking at the structure and thinking what it actually needs. Does the song NEED three verses? Does that solo REALLY have to be there? When I wrote the songs for Hold Still, I was very much stuck on the standard song structure because I was learning how to write songs. Since then I’ve become more comfortable with writing and can (at least I think) better say just as much in fewer words/musical phrases.

As an artist it’s important to continually grow/learn and actively work towards self improvement. If you STOP trying to grow you’ll stagnate and eventually wither as innovation is the lifeblood of art. Don’t worry about what your fans will think. If they’re truly fans the’ll appreciate your work regardless of how different it is from everything else you’ve done. So keep moving, keep changing and keep innovating.

Song Sketchbook #4: You Never Really Saw Me Anyway

song sketchbook 4 you never really saw me anyway

This week’s song sketch… It kind of came out of nowhere when I was processing the Black Lives Matter movement that has (rightfully) been brought to the forefront of everyone’s attention. It’s a breakup song, and the euphemism of black Americans being in a toxic relationship with white Americans clicked when I heard an analogy made between an impromptu song sung by the artist/national treasure Jean Grae from the perspective of her cat and the centuries-old struggle of the black American population. Her line “why isn’t anybody looking at me” as a euphemism for the struggle is very apt. Just look. They are your friends, neighbors and loved ones. SEE them and SEE their daily struggle against the systematic racism that is so ingrained in this country. As a white dude I can’t even pretend to begin to begin to begin to understand. But I, and I hope you too, can SEE and ACT. Everyday. Because white America never really LOOKED at the struggle until it was thrust onto the national stage. And it’s long past due we did.

I do have notes on the song, but I will hold off on posting those so the above can sink in. In the meantime, check out the song below then feel free to go here and do some good.

Song Sketchbook #3: One Wasted Day

song sketchbook 3 one wasted day

This week’s sketch is an interesting one for me because it would not have been possible without some of the recent upgrades to my recording setup (specifically the drums). It’s also interesting (again to me) because of how I wrote it. I started on bass where I figured out a few lines for the chorus and verse. I then wrote the lyrics and THEN wrote the chords (which were only somewhat matching up to the original bass lines I wrote since the song had mutated by then). Usually it’s chords > lyrics with the bass as an afterthought. I should really make a point to give the bass more love in my song writing…

The subject matter of the song is pretty straightforward and is something I feel is quite relatable. You have stuff to do, but there’s a world of distractions tempting you away, and when you finally DO get around to your task it’s too late. I wrote it because I really didn’t feel like writing about anything. I have a bunch of ideas, but at the time I needed to start writing the next song I wasn’t really feeling up to tackling any of them. Something clicked in my brain and this song emerged. Maybe it was the backwards approach to writing I mentioned above. Who knows? The muse works in mysterious ways.

Anyway, here’s One Wasted Day.

Song Sketchbook #2: It’s All Been Done

song sketchbook 2 its all been done

Before you ask, no this isn’t a cover of a song by a certain Canadian band. What it is, however, is a good example of what this project embodies. It’s is definitely a “sketch” of a song. Now, don’t get me wrong, it is a full song that can be listened to, but I don’t believe the concept of the song is fully formed yet. There are bits I like, for instance the dirty, drunk electric guitar and the chug of “it’s all been done” in the chorus, but overall I believe that if this song makes the cut for the album, it will mutate quite a bit both sonically and lyrically. 

This song also incorporates some new tricks as well as a few technological advancements. For starters it changes key not once, but twice (A major > G major in the chorus, then to E major for the bridge). I also experimented with the song structure to make it shorter. Finally, incorporates a new drum program as well as a new mic for the electric and bass. 

That’s all for now. See you next week!