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About this blog

Ever wonder what goes into creating a new song? For those who have, I've set up a YouTube channel dedicated to answering that question.

This blog serves as a supplement to that channel, offering text versions of the video song-stories. "The Story Behind The Song" channel

Entries in this blog

tunesmithth

Subject Matter

 

Written, recorded & copyrighted in 2003, "Borrowed Time" was inspired by an actual event…the death of my boss Fred Marshall.

 

Several years prior, Fred had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

Once traditional treatment had failed, Fred received the bad news.

There was little more medical science could do for him.

For all practical purposes, he was living on borrowed time.

He knew the "what", but not the "when".

 

Grant it, Fred wasn't the first to receive a terminal prognosis & he wouldn't be the last.

But, I couldn't help wondering....how does someone come to grips with that?

What's it like to live with that knowledge?

Questions worthy of a song, don't you think?

I did :thumbsup2:

In the end, Fred lost his battle with cancer.

The day of the funeral, our company closed so that everyone could attend.

 

He was laid to rest in his hometown, several hours North of St. Louis.

As you might expect, it was a very quiet drive back.

Since I was a passenger...with the back seat to myself, I made good use of the time.

I wrote the majority of this lyric. Given the circumstances, it seemed a fitting activity.

 

Lyric

Livin’ on borrowed time

Not sure how he’s gonna use it

Livin’ on borrowed time

Knows he can’t afford to lose it

 

When life gives you a surprise

It can open up your eyes

Should already be…part of history

Dead & gone before his time,

but he’s…

 

Livin’ on borrowed time

Not sure how he’s gonna use it

Livin’ on borrowed time

Knows he can’t afford to lose it

 

Livin’ every day

In a different way

Cause he’s never sure

How much longer he’ll survive

 

Told him he’d be dead last year

Doctors say the end’s still near

Still he’s tryin’ to…use the time to do

All the things he holds so dear,

cause he’s…

 

Livin’ on borrowed time

Not sure how he’s gonna use it

Livin’ on borrowed time

Knows he can’t afford to lose it

Livin’ on borrowed time

Livin’ on borrowed time 

Copyright 2003 – Tom Hoffman

 

Personal Insights

 

 Back-in-the-day, I participated in a number of songwriting competitions.

The Billboard World, Song of the Year, American Songwriter, USA, UK & Great American to name a few.

 Out of all the songs I entered, “Borrowed Time” scored the highest ...one of 5 finalists.

 

002.jpg

 

The most traditional, mainstream song I’ve ever created…and they liked it best?

Go figure! :eusa_think:

Take from that, what you will.

 

Musical Fundamentals

 

Genre was an easy decision.

Given the subject matter, traditional country was a perfect fit.

 

It’s set in the key of G…a commonly used country key.

BPM = 104 …a comfortable, easy-going pace for this type of song.

 

Structurally, it is different. Following a brief introduction, it flows immediately into a chorus section.

That’s not unheard of, but it’s certainly not the norm. For this particular song, I thought it was an excellent choice.

It allowed one of the primary “hooks” (the song title) to be heard almost immediately.

 

Instrumentation Choices

                Fender Strat                                       Acoustic                            Bass

DSC02341.JPG  Best, Clearest Shot.JPG Peavey Fury - full front.jpg

 

+ Harmonica (Hohner) & Keyboard Strings (Yamaha P-80 digital piano)

 

     Production: Tascam 788

sim.jpg

 

Performance Credits:

• Guitars, Bass, Drums, Harmonica, Keyboards – Tom Hoffman

• Vocals – Tom Hoffman

 

YouTube Video Version (*includes full song) - https://youtu.be/EbeVOh7m5FE

 

Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile
http://www.tune-smith.com
http://www.youtube.com/user/DrumStuffTH

tunesmithth

Back in the early 2000's, St. Louis not only HAD a football team...we had a winning football team!

The 99-2000 season, we were Super Bowl champions.

Flash forward to 2001-2002 & we were headed to "The Show" again!

 

In January 2002, a local radio station (the Steve & D.C. morning show) sponsored a Super Bowl song contest.

The winner would receive 2 free tickets to the game.

 

57b7b1bbda4e5_SteveDC.jpg.61d05060e6a34e 

 

For those who don't know, these tickets can go for thousands of dollars each...if you can get 'em.

I figured what the hey, I'll give it a shot!

 

Given the circumstances, contestants were allowed a few weeks to write, record & submit their entries to the station.

Best I recall, the rules were as follows:

- it had to be a song about the Rams

- it had to contain a reference to the Steve & D.C. show

 

57b7b28a1b7f0_SteveDC4.jpg.4991a5518b367  57b7b2cf0a84b_SteveDC2.jpg.d8d1a28b73731

 

Unfortunately, I didn't win! BUT, I did learn a valuable lesson. Actual songwriters don't enter contests like this!

Wanna know what won?

A cover song with rewritten lyrics, sung by a guy who got up on stage with his friend’s bar band & taped the performance with a boom box.

That's what won!

 

57b7b31a8bb6b_SteveDC3.jpg.4e58ca824f3cb 

 

NO...that's not me in the middle!

I was a good sport about the whole thing. 

On the plus side, I did have fun & the song did get played on local radio.

But....I DIDN'T get to go to the Super Bowl !

 

BTW the Rams lost.

I'm not sayin' that one thing led to the other, but who can be sure about these things? 

 

Certainly I got extra points for this ending! Very original, don’t ya’ think? ;)

 

YouTube Video Version (*includes full song) - https://youtu.be/V6oEIBB94eQ

 

Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile
http://www.tune-smith.com
http://www.youtube.com/user/DrumStuffTH

 

Lyrics:

 

St. Louis Rams  -  Mike Martz’s team
St. Louis Rams  -  Kurt Warner’s dream

 

They call us the champions

That’s become our name

We’ve earned ourselves a place in history

No one is…better at the game

 

Worthy opponents come & go

We send ‘em packin’, don’t they know?

That we were destined for “the show”

St. Louis Rams

 

St. Louis Rams  -  Steve & D.C.’s…

…show really jams – You should pick me!

 

Misc. justification & begging w. fade-out

Copyright 2002 – Tom HoffmanSteve & DC 3.jpgSteve & DC 2.jpg

Steve & DC.jpg

Steve & DC 4.jpg

tunesmithth

Subject Matter

 

"Fool Me Once" began as one thing & ended up as something else.

The first lyrical draft was about spousal abuse, written from the perspective of the abused woman.

 

Problem was, that type of lyric needed a female singer & I didn't have one.

Since there was no way I could do it myself, I chose the only other available option.

I rewrote the lyric. 

Honestly, I don't like this rewritten version as well, but it did fix my biggest problem.

It allowed for a male vocalist. 

This final version is deliberately vague & no specific cause for the break-up is ever given.

That remains open to interpretation.

 

Lyric

Fool me once, shame on you
Fool me twice, shame on me

I’m the one sayin’ goodbye to you

That’s the way it needs to be!

 

All along I’ve trusted you

Thinking you would never do

Anything to bring me to

…to this loveless maze

 

Looking out, I plainly see

What it is you’ve done to me

You should know I’ll never be

…willing to forget

 

Fool Me Once, shame on you

Fool me twice, shame on me

I’m the one sayin’ goodbye to you

That’s the way it needs to be!

 

I know that you’d like me to

Think of all that we could do

If I were to stay with you,

But it’s just too late!

 

Repeat Chorus Section Twice

Fool me again…shame on me!

(Copyright 2002 – Tom Hoffman)

 

Overview

 

Over the years, I've based a number of songs on well-known expressions or familiar phrases. Fool Me Once" is an obvious example.

Not only is it a well-known saying, but the title (hook) gives an instant impression of the subject matter.

In other words, the title lets you know what the song will be about.

 

Written & arranged back in 2002, it was recorded using a Tascam 788 Digital Deck

sim.jpg

 

The arrangement consists of:

-  Electric guitar rhythm track (Strat)

- Lead guitar track (Strat)

- Acoustic guitar rhythm track (Yamaha)

- Bass guitar track (Peavey)

- Stereo pair of drum tracks (7 & 8)

-  Main vocal track

- 1 premixed background vocal track

Best, Clearest Shot.JPG DSC02341.JPGPeavey Fury - full front (600x800).jpgDSC02249 (900x607).jpg

 

The background vocals you just heard employ a technique known as "call & response".

Not something I use often, but it seemed an appropriate choice here.

  

Musical Fundamentals

 

Since the song was written about a common topic...the break-up of a relationship, I wanted it to be musically different.

Mixolydian mode (flattened 7th) has an unusual feel, so it seemed a good choice. Hence the song is set in E mixolydian.

 

It's also different structurally. The brief musical intro is immediately followed by a chorus section.

Beginning with a chorus isn't unheard-of. It's simply not the traditional choice.

 

Structural Breakdown

 

Musical Introduction

Chorus

Verse / Verse

Chorus

Verse

Chorus / Chorus

…and the Ending

 

Far too many writers view endings & intros as minor details, rather than additional opportunities for creative expression.

Fortunately, I am not one of those writers!

...and this particular ending continues to be one of my favorites!

 

YouTube Video Version (*includes full song) - https://youtu.be/1FRRfLisz34

 

Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile
http://www.tune-smith.com
http://www.youtube.com/user/DrumStuffTH

tunesmithth

Subtitled: “Love, Hate & the White Whale”

 

Since its creation in 2007, “The Real World” has been my songwriting equivalent of a white whale.
Guess you could say I have a love-hate relationship with the song.
•    The “love” part has to do with the essence of the song….the lyrical message & my vision of how the finished version was supposed to sound.
•    The “hate” part is simple. I was never able to achieve that sound. Try as I might, I could never produce a version that lived up to my original expectations.

 

Unfortunately, white whales are something that songwriters encounter from time-to-time. That one finished product that’s never quite right.

You can allow it to swallow up huge chunks of your creative time & energy, or you can decide in advance how far you’re willing to chase the whale. 

For me, the chase has been a long, sporadic one. I’ve spent more time than I probably should have, but spread it out over a number of years.

Alternative arrangements, additional editing, rebalancing tracks & remixing have all been explored in past attempts.

In 2012, I re-recorded 100% of the vocal tracks. When it was all said and done, it still fell short of my expectations.

 

On more than one occasion, I swore I was done with it for good! 
Inevitably, I’d talk myself into just one more attempt.

 

For the past several years, there hasn’t been a version of this song available online. 
I was tired of being dissatisfied, had plenty of other material & was tired of thinking about it.

Then it happened….that nagging thought in the back of my mind telling me that one more time might make the difference. 

So I went to work on it again, incorporated a number of fresh ideas.

 

I finished it up last week. (April 2016) Only time will tell if this is the "final version", but I certainly hope so.
I can tell you this....it’s the closest I’ve come to what I originally intended.

So, with any luck….I’ve slain my musical white whale!

 

Production Notes
Recording, editing & mixing were done with a *PortaStudio 2488….a 24 track Tascam system. (*rear-center, photo below)

gallery_1454_7_147091.png

 

Performance Credits
•    Guitars, Bass, Organ, Piano – Tom Hoffman
•    Vocals – Tom Hoffman

 

Lyrics:

 

Since I was a child, I’ve been hopin’ to find 
Something that I’ve always had here in my mind
A niche, a place, a group, a time that lets me see
The world, the way I always thought, that it could be
A fair & honest world, a kind of Promised Land
The one, as children, we believed was close at hand
But instead, what I get is the real world
Cold & hard, it’s the let’s make a deal world
Fairness lives in fairy tales in the real world

 

Growin’ up, I learned about things wrong & right
Good & bad, no in-between, just black & white
Cut & dried, no shades of gray, all absolutes
No compromising of beliefs, no subtle truths
Older now, I look around & see a place
Built on rules I never learned, but have to face
Once again, what I get is the real world
Watch your back in the let’s make a deal world
Things are rarely what they seem in the real world

 

Life’s one never-ending surprise
Each day’s a lesson that opens my eyes
Watching, imitating success
Hearing what’s said, but learning what’s best

 

Now-a-days I view the world through cynic’s eyes
Skeptical, but hopin’ that I’ll be surprised
Still lookin’ for a niche, a place, a group, a time
The image of a better world, still in my mind
Mostly though, what I get is the real world
Suck it up in the let’s make a deal world
Still I hope for better days in the real world
    
Copyright 2007- Tom Hoffman

 

You Tube Video Version (*includes full song) - https://youtu.be/IOYcgVdICbs

 

Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile

http://www.tune-smith.com

The Story Behind The Song

tunesmithth

The Idea

Let’s begin at the beginning. Where did the idea for the song come from?

The process started with a central theme. As is often the case, that theme came from an outside source.

In songwriting as in life, good things come to those who pay attention.

That outside source I mentioned was a young lady named Adriana. She happened to work at the QuikTrip convenience store close to my home. Back in 2010, when this song was written, I was a regular customer at this particular QT. I’d occasionally buy gas, but my typical purchase was a cup of half cappuccino - half coffee.

Yeah, I know....I'm the last of the big-time spenders! ^_^

Anyway… one Tuesday, it was raining cats & dogs….windy, cold & generally miserable outside. Adrianna was behind the register waiting to take my measly $1.07, when I noticed something different! She seemed unusually happy! Being of a curious nature, I asked why? You can probably guess what she told me.

She said..."I just love rainy days"! Bingo…..that was all it took!

Her reaction was sincere, unique & completely unexpected. She actually loved rainy days….go figure!

It was a response worthy of a song.

So…I walked back to my vehicle, grabbed paper & pen, jotted down a title, a few thoughts on lyrical direction & message, started my vehicle and drove home.

 

Basic Premise

Adrianna unknowingly inspired the idea, but that was all I had. Somehow, I needed to turn that idea into a relatable song.

The first step was to shape & define a lyrical direction. I decided to use rain as a metaphor for hard times & troubles.

Unfortunately, that’s a fairly common songwriting metaphor. So my next task was to come up with a different approach….something to make the song uniquely mine.

I chose several paths to that end.

  • I utilized a unique song-structure
  • Adrianna’s answer was about "her love of the rain". So…despite my choice of metaphors, the lyrical message needed to be a positive one! Since I wanted to stay true to the inspiration, I wrote it as a life-lesson about learning to look beyond the bad times. A hopeful song, about weathering the storm we call LIFE.

 

Lyrical Overview

- Verse introduces the metaphor & sultry feel of “hard times”

- Pre-chorus begins the process of revelation…seeing beyond the immediate

- Chorus proudly displays new, enlightened outlook resulting from the learning experience.

- Bridge re-enforces the overall meaning & message

- Final pre-chorus & chorus repeat & reinforce the previously established emotional progression

 

Lyrics:

Troubled skies……all I could see

Dismal days……ahead of me

Fading dreams……of better times

Clouding out……a clearer mind

 

But, as I’ve come to recognize

Beyond the clouds lie clearer skies

 

I’ve learned to love the rain

I look beyond the pain

Through up & downs, I’m proud to say

I’ve learned to love the rain!

 

The yin & yang, good & bad

The overjoyed & the terribly sad

Things in life, I now embrace

My strength derived from problems faced

 

And as I’ve grown to realize

Life goes on & I survive

 

I’ve learned to love the rain

I look beyond the pain

Through up & downs, I ride the wave

I’ve learned to love the rain!

I’ve learned to love the rain!

I’ve learned to love the rain!

Copyright 2010- Tom Hoffman

 

Structure

I've written a lot of songs over the past two decades, but there’s only been one with a single verse section.

Immediately following that verse, the song introduces a more positive feel & flow.

Those changes are intended to move the listener beyond the surliness of the initial intro & verse. Variations of that revised feel are maintained throughout the remainder of the song.

Bottom line – once a person grows beyond their negative outlook, they generally retain what they've learned.

They don't digress. With that in mind, it didn't make sense for the song to digress into another negatively flavored verse.

So it doesn't….hence my choice of a single-verse structure!

 

Here’s an overview of the final song structure:

Introduction / verse / pre-chorus / chorus / bridge / pre-chorus / chorus / ending

 

Brief Evolution of the Song

I took advantage of the critique boards at SongStuff.com in developing this tune. Preliminary versions were posted on the boards & member feedback was useful in screening for potential issues with both structure & content. Outside perspectives often prove very helpful. The trick is to remain open to them!

This current version is actually the 3rd mix of the song. These mix efforts were spread several months apart….each addressing a list of deficiencies discovered in the previous versions. Elapsed time often results in improved perspective. As tedious as this process is, it's common & effective......particularly for singer/songwriters who work alone.

 

Performance Credits

  • Guitar, Bass, Keyboard Strings & Piano, Soft Shake – Tom Hoffman
  • Vocals – Tom Hoffman

 

Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile

http://www.tune-smith.com

The Story Behind The Song

tunesmithth

I guess you could say that “Pain For Gain” is my “Dirty Laundry” (Don Henley).

Written, recorded & copyrighted in 1998, it’s a rant-rock song about the modern day feeding frenzy known as *TV News*.

 

Overview

The original 4-track recording was done on a Tascam 424 analog cassette deck.

Tascam PortaStudio 424

 

Years later, when I converted to a digital setup….

  • The original 4 analog tracks were transferred a digital deck
  • 2 partial guitar tracks were added to the original arrangement. Both were recorded using a mic’d tube amp. One was comprised of lead licks….the 2nd doubled some of the existing rhythm guitar parts, helping to build the track by creating thicker sounding guitar textures towards the end.
  • The song was remixed, yielding the version you hear today.

Subject Matter

This song was written following the death of Princess Diana on Aug.31, 1997.

In the aftermath of that event, my personal feelings about TV news changed considerably. I transitioned from an attitude of mild disinterest…to one of absolute loathing. They couldn’t, or wouldn’t talk about anything else….for weeks & weeks!

 

Please don’t misunderstand…the tragic, unexpected death of anyone is sad. But my inability to escape the endless coverage & speculation that followed was absolutely ridiculous! I literally couldn’t turn on my TV without hearing about it on every single channel. Each and every day that passed, I found myself caring less about the event itself…and more about the fact that they refused to leave it alone. That’s when it occurred to me. Since they had done their level best to drive me crazy, I’d put my feelings to productive use in a song.

In a nutshell, that’s the story behind “Pain For Gain”. Call it “musical retaliation”!

 

Lyrics

Can’t believe…what just happened

Terrible thing…took place today

On TV…newsman tells me

Not much yet, but don’t go away!

 

Day & night…talk about it

Coverage…of every kind

They explore…every angle

Drivin’ me…out of my mind

 

I can’t even turn on my TV

Without hearing ‘bout some tragedy!

Why do we crave this insanity?

My God, why don’t they leave it be?

 

What a shame…when things happen

I think less…about the pain

Dread instead…the news business

Who’s goal is…”Pain For Gain”!

 

Repeat Chorus

Copyright 1998- Tom Hoffman

 

Song Structure

Introduction / Verse / Verse / Chorus / Musical Interlude / Chorus / Ending & Fade

Length of song - 3 minutes 55 seconds

 

Musical Fundamentals

The song is set in the key of A minor….BPM 132

The arrangement is traditional guitar-based rock. Given the subject matter, which was chosen first, a fitting musical backdrop was needed. Something that would support a frustration-filled lyric.

  • The verse sections were built around a picked pattern, consisting of 3 notes (roots, 5ths & octaves). A 2nd verse guitar plays 2-note power chords (5ths), which have been mentioned in previous song-story videos.
  • Chorus sections switch to full Barre chords.

My Gibson SG....complete with its coffin-style case

  • I broke tradition with this bass guitar part by using a pick. To my knowledge, I’ve never written another picked bass guitar part. I typically use my fingers.
  • Real drums were used on this recording, as was the case with all my early efforts. Because the original recording was only 4-tracks, drums & bass guitar ended up sharing a single mono track on the final master.

Current Drum Kit

 

Performance Credits

  • Drums, Guitars & Bass – Tom Hoffman
  • Vocals – Tom Hoffman

Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile

http://www.tune-smith.com

The Story Behind The Song

tunesmithth

“I Hope To Be" was written & recorded back in 2004.

Despite its’ simplistic melody & country-pop textures, it’s played a lot !

 

March play-stats - www.tune-smith.com

 

That partial slide was taken from statistical tracking data on my primary website (www.tune-smith.com). It lists the 5 most-played songs in the month of March, 2014. As you can see, “I Hope To Be” was played 922 times…in its’ entirety. Just goes to show…..writers are often the last to know what others will like. This song has NEVER been one of my favorites, yet listeners seem to prefer it. Go figure! :eusa_think:Don’t get me wrong….I’m delighted when someone likes any of my songs! I’ve simply given up trying to predict which ones. 

 

Overview

Over the years, I’ve experimented in a variety of genres. Back in the early 2000’s, I was dabbling in country. Of the 6 songs that dabbling produced, “I Hope To Be” is the only one I’d call county-pop.

Songs in that genre are typically….

  •  Up-tempo
  • Written in a major key
  • Positive in tone & message
  • “Twangy” sounding

This songs qualifies in all 4 categories, which may have something to do with its’ overall appeal.

The title probably doesn’t hurt either! “I Hope To Be”….short, sweet, positive & lyrically descriptive.

 

Subject Matter

While the title & hook line have a very positive tone, the overall lyrical message is a mixed bag.

I probably should have called it – “I Hope To Be, BUT…” :yes:

Yes….it’s a relationship-based song, BUT…a deliberately different one!

The lyric is tentative and full of contrast. For instance……

  • “Love’s left its’ mark / Still life’s not a walk in the park” - In other words, as great as love it is, it does NOT conquer all. “Life” presents challenges of its’ own.
  • “Hopin’ that things go our way / But I know, that if they don’t, we’ll still be OK” – hope contrasted by realism & the importance of rolling with the punches.

To summarize my intended lyric message…

“I realize you have goals for us, I hope to help you achieve those, but it’s important to recognize the unpredictability of life because sometimes sh** happens!”

 

Lyric

Love’s left its’ mark

Still life’s not a walk in the park

You’ve planned each step that we make

Tryin’ to help me down the path you’d like me to take

 

I hope to be

Everything you want me to be

But, we need to see

How it works out eventually

Whatever life you’re dreamin’ for me

Life can turn out so differently

Still, I hope to be !

 

Your hand in mine

We reach for the life you designed

Hopin’ that things go our way

But I know, that if they don’t, we’ll still be OK

 

Sometimes…even the best plans

Don’t quite come to be

Sometimes…your life’ll take ya’

Somewhere you never planned to see

 

Still…I hope to be

Everything you want me to be

But, we need to see

How things work out eventually

Whatever life you’re dreamin’ for me

Life can turn out so differently

Still, I hope to be !

Copyright 2004- Tom Hoffman

 

Song Structure

Introduction / Verse / Chorus / Verse / Bridge / Chorus

Length of song - 3 min. 20 seconds

 

Musical Fundamentals

The song is set in the key of E major….BPM 126

The arrangement consists of 7 total tracks, 6 mono & one stereo pair.

  • Mono Tracks assignments - 3 separate guitar parts, bass guitar, keyboard strings, single vocal
  • Stereo Pair – live drums

My Yamaha acoustic was used for the primary guitar. Aside from the intro section, this part is made up entirely of strummed chords. When the song was written, this part & the vocal melody were created first. Lyrics were added later, which is typical of my process. Together, these 3 elements represent the core of the song.

 

22 year old Yamaha Acoustic

The musical structure of this primary guitar is unusual in a number of ways.

  • All 3 song sections (verse, chorus, bridge) end on the same chord…an E.
  • Both verse & chorus sections begin on the same chord….an A.
  • The chorus sections contain a generous helping of sus 4ths
  • The acoustic guitar for the intro section consists of muted 2-note intervals (alternating 4th & 5ths).
  • Both secondary guitar tracks were done with my Fender Strat.
  • One track is entirely lead guitar licks, while the other is a combination of strummed chords & single picked notes.

My Strat in-studio

 

Final Production Notes

The recording was done on a Tascam PortaStudio 788. It’s an 8-track digital recording deck.

Blog attachment - Tascam PortaStudio 788

 

Performance Credits

  • Drums, Guitars (acoustic & electric), Bass, Keyboard Strings – Tom Hoffman
  • Vocals – Tom Hoffman

You Tube Video Version (*includes full song) - https://youtu.be/owSCMudfMao

 

Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile

http://www.tune-smith.com

The Story Behind The Song

tunesmithth

“Pentatonic Playground” was originally called “Romantic Guy”. It had a vocal melody, lyrics and told a tongue-in-cheek tale of a dysfunctional relationship masquerading as romantic behavior. If you’re curious, those original lyrics are listed at the bottom of this article.

  • “Romantic Guy” was written & recorded back in 1998. Honestly…I liked portions of the arrangement, but the song as a whole didn’t work.
  • In May of 2009, I began work on this instrumental version (“Pentatonic Playground”).
  • With this new format, came structural changes. The original verse sections were cut in half, making this instrumental version 48 seconds shorter than it’s’ predecessor.
  • The 2 versions were copyrighted…separately.

About The Song

Structurally, “Pentatonic Playground” is pretty basic.

verse / chorus / bridge / verse / double- chorus / ending

It’s one of four instrumentals in my entire catalog. Of those four, two began as lyrical works, eventually becoming instrumentals.

My songs generally evolve from one of the following:

- a chord progression

- a riff/pattern

- a section of melody

- a central theme

This one grew from a riff that I stumbled on while practicing stretch scale patterns. Major pentatonic patterns to be exact.....hence my choice of song titles. Both verse & chorus guitar parts are variations of that pattern, played in the key of G.

 

Musical Fundamentals

The song is set in the key of G….BPM 116

Alternative genre

Total run time - 2 minutes 42 seconds

It’s a guitar-based arrangement, built around that primary progression mentioned earlier.

  • Guitar #1 plays the primary riff (progression) for both verse & chorus sections. For the bridge, it changes to picking single notes within chord forms.
  • Guitar part #2 is made up of 5ths (2-note intervals) played throughout the verse & chorus sections. It switches to strumming full chords during the bridge.
  • The 3rd guitar part plays what was originally the vocal verse melody. For the most part, the chorus sections double guitar #1. Guitar #3 drops out for the bridge section, allowing simulated strings to take over performance of the melody.

My trusty Gibson SG was used for all the guitar work.

My Gibson SG....complete with its coffin-style case

The core drum track was creating using a Boss DR-670 drum machine. I converted to synthetic drums in 2007, after 13 years of fighting with live drums in a home studio setting. 

Suffice to say that it’s a tedious process!

Despite my use of the machine, the drum parts are still written the old way….sitting behind an actual drum kit.

Crash cymbals are overdubbed live, on separate stereo tracks. Unfortunately, the Boss decay rate made the machine versions sound VERY artificial. Try as I might, I was unable to live the results, so I continue recording those the old way.

 

Final Production Notes

The recording, editing & mixing were done on a *PortaStudio 2488….a 24 track Tascam system. (*top-center of photo)

Blog attachment - Story Behind The Song (Not-For-Profit Life)

 

Performance Credits

  • Drums, Guitars, Bass Guitar, Tambourine, Keyboard Strings & Breaths – Tom Hoffman

Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile

http://www.tune-smith.com

The Story Behind The Song

 

“Romantic Guy” (Lyric)

Verse

Came home again late…third time this week

Smelled like a barroom…too drunk to speak

Next day he’s sorry…what a surprise!

Sends her some roses…Romantic Guy

 

Chorus

Romance...is a temporary patch on a bleeding life!

Good chance….that it fills the vacant place in her heart, for just one…

 

Bridge

…Night

He’ll make her feel like she’s a queen

He’ll be her slave for a night

He know…tomorrow brings

Time enough…to spread his wings

They’ll pretend for now that things are alright

 

Verse

Lost his whole paycheck…out at the track

Borrowed more money…to win it back

Next day he’s sorry…what a surprise!

Sends her some roses…Romantic Guy

Double Chorus

Copyright 1998- Tom Hoffman

tunesmithth

“Love Will Find Me” was originally written & recorded in 1997, using a Tascam 424 analog cassette deck.

Tascam PortaStudio 424

 

Revisions were made in 2005........

- The original 4 analog tracks were transferred to an 8-track digital deck (Tascam 788, shown below).

- Keyboard strings & organ were added to the arrangement.

- Some of the secondary guitar work was re-recorded & the song was remixed.

Blog attachment - Tascam PortaStudio 788

In 2014, some minor editing was done on the 2-track master & the ending was shortened.

That final effort yielded the version you’re hearing now.

In recent years, I’ve come to view all my songs as works-in-progress. “Finished” means…”Finished for now”.

Truth be told, change is NOT the enemy of artistic integrity!

 

Subject Matter

This is one of my few "relationship" themed songs. It's not that I dislike the subject. Commercial music is simply overrun with it! Since life is about much than the emotional roller coaster ride of 2 star-crossed lovers, my songs tend to focus on other aspects of it. That being said, “Love Will Find Me” was an exception.

  • The lyric is set in first person narrative, so the story’s being told by the individual experiencing the loss.
  • Essentially, it’s a look back at his recently failed relationship…a new version of the unrequited love theme.
  • It covers an array of emotions….
  1. The grief-stricken pain of loving someone who doesn't love you.
  2. A fleeting glimpse of self-pity
  3. Then finally, the realization that life goes on, coupled with a belief that eventually….love will find him.

Most songs of this type have a commonality. They describe a universally understood experience. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone beyond the age of puberty who hasn't dealt with similar feelings, including me. That’s why it’s such a common songwriting theme…because listeners easily identify with it.

 

Lyric

Can’t believe you’ve left me all alone

All alone, no one to care

Wish you’d learned to love me so I would

Have someone with whom to share

 

Why should I….even try

When you’ve already said goodbye?

Life goes on….so will I

Someday….some way….love will find me!

 

Tried so hard to grant your every wish

Every wish was my command

Thought in time you’d learn to love me too

Guess you’ll never understand

 

Wonder what….I did wrong

Wanted you….for so long

Maybe I….pushed too hard

Just not….sure anymore

 

Why should I….even try

When you’ve already said goodbye?

Life goes on….so will I

Someday….some way….love will find me!

*Repeat Chorus Section

Copyright 1997

 

Song Structure

Brief Introduction / Verse / Chorus / Verse / Bridge / Double Chorus / Ending & Fade

Track Length - 3:05

 

Musical Fundamentals

The song is set in D# minor.

Since most of my songs aren’t relationship-based, I go the extra mile to make the few I have unique. I see little point in creating new versions of “the same old thing”.

Unlike much of my material, “Love Will Find Me” was built around a syncopated chord progression…played on my Strat.

  • The chords are all 5th & 6th string Barre forms
  • Much of the progression is played staccato, which is why barre chords were chosen. They can be muted by simply relaxing pressure on the frets.

My Strat in-studio

 

Secondary guitar parts were done with my SG. They consist of 2-note intervals (primarily 4ths), single note patterns and licks. While the primary guitar chords are the songs’ foundation, these secondary parts were created to fill, add color & support the vocal melody.

My Gibson SG....complete with its coffin-style case

 

Keyboard strings & organ helped to fill out the arrangement. Since there was no secondary guitar part written for the chorus sections, something additional was needed. Both were played on a Yamaha P-80 electric piano.

As was the case with all my earlier songs, live drums were used. If I do say so myself, this serves as a great example of how to get creative with a drum track! It’s syncopated, generates a unique rhythmic feel and works nicely with the other song components.

Because the drums were part of my original 4 track recording, they share a single mono track with the bass guitar. Shame it had to be that way, but compromises of that sort were common back-in-the-day.

Current Drum Kit

 

Performance Credits

  • Guitars, Bass, Drums & Keyboards – Tom Hoffman
  • Vocals – Tom Hoffman

You Tube Video Version (*includes full song) - https://youtu.be/7Y8ycXZY4gI

 

Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile

http://www.tune-smith.com

The Story Behind The Song

tunesmithth

“Middle Class Blues” was originally written & copyrighted back in 1998. As is often the case, I liked the song, but felt that the arrangement was lacking.

In 2001 I did a partial rewrite of the song, adding…..

  • a 40 second introduction
  • a 2nd guitar part (rhythm)

The song was then re-recorded, in 8 track digital format.

 

The Idea

The song evolved from a guitar progression, set in minor pentatonic block form.

  • I stumbled upon the pattern while practicing scales
  • Eventually built a song around it
  • Chose a subject that was an appropriate match for the music
  • Created a lyric

*Video Demonstration & Tab of Primary Guitar Progression -  https://youtu.be/PcbYFyIM39o

 

Subject Matter

In a nutshell – it’s about the plight of the middle class in America. As you might expect, it’s written from my perspective & based largely on personal observations & experiences. Completely appropriate, since songwriting is a means of creative self-expression.

Over the years, the timeless nature of this lyric has been brought to my attention more than once. Simply put…..it’s as relevant now as it was when it written back 98.

  • The purchasing power of the middle class hasn’t improved.
  • Middle class tax burden hasn’t decreased.
  • I still pay into a tax base for schools I’ve never used. NO, I’m not advocating a school voucher alternative, or promoting a specific political agenda! I simply have no children. No children = no use of the school system.
  • It’s an indisputable fact that the “war on drugs” has been a failure, yet we continue funding it with tax dollars year after year.
  • Pharmaceutical companies are ABSOLUTELY getting rich from supplying our Medicare program. Again…now more than ever, since our government is no longer allowed to negotiate the cost of Medicare drugs.
  • More tax loopholes exist for the wealthy today, than in 98.
  • The poor are no more able to contribute to the tax base than they were back then.
  • Leaving the middle class to shoulder the lions’ share of the tax burden.

The end result being – “We’ve got the Middle Class Blues!” :yes:

Not a single one of those areas has shown improvement in almost 20 years. I’m sure there are conclusions to be drawn from that, but I leave those to you. I’m just a songwriter stating the obvious.

 

Lyric

Got those middle class blues

 

Well when I look at my economic state

With what I make I ought to be livin’ great

You gotta know my heart gets to feelin’ down

When tax time comes around

 

I pay for schools that I don’t even use

I fund a war on drugs that we’re bound to lose

You got know that I keep-a-waitin’ for

Some way to even the score

 

Got those middle class blues!

 

Well now I know that I need to pay my share

But while suppliers get rich from Medicare

I’ve got to ask myself what it’s all about

I just can’t figure it out !

 

The wealthy don’t pay much, cause they know the game

The underprivileged can’t, the end result’s the same

That leaves the middle class to pay & pay

Hope we get our someday!

 

Got the middle class blues!

Copyright 1998 – Tom Hoffman

 

Song Structure

Introduction / Verse – Verse - Refrain / Guitar Based Verse-Refrain Section / Verse – Verse - Refrain / Ends on Repeat of Musical Refrain

 

Musical Fundamentals

The song is set in A# minor. For whatever reason, I find it easier to craft interesting melodies in minor keys. Consequently, many of my songs share that characteristic.

Back in 2001, when I made the decision to add a 40 second musical introduction to this song, I also doomed it to commercial failure. For those who aren’t aware, long introductions are strongly discouraged in commercial songwriting circles. The average listener tends to focus on the vocal, so delaying its’ entry into a song is tempting fate. Industry folks will tell you that anything over 20 seconds is viewed negatively. Attention spans being what they are, you run the risk of the listener going elsewhere.

Since I’m not a professional songwriter, my focus was on creating a well written song….not a commercially viable one. When you make your living elsewhere, you can afford to make decisions based on personal preference, rather than industry norms. That being said, I did build in something to help with damage control. The song begins with a single vocal line, which happens to include the hook (title) of the song. “Got those Middle Class Blues”!

By doing that, I accomplished several things:

1. Immediately announced to the listener that there WOULD BE vocals in the song. Long instrumental intos leave listeners wondering. “Is there a vocal coming?” Some get bored & won’t stick around to find out. A single line of vocals up front removes that uncertainty. Listeners know that eventually……it’s coming!

2. It re-enforced the song’s lyrical hook….the thing you want to stick in the listeners’ head after the song has ended.

“Middle Class Blues” is a guitar-based arrangement. If I do say so myself, some of my more creative guitar work!

  • 4 individual tracks were used for guitar….all done with my SG
  • 1 track for bass guitar
  • 1 for vocal
  • The only stereo pair of tracks was used for the drums

Current Drum Kit

 

Final Production Notes

This was one of the first songs I recorded after upgrading to the digital realm.

My Tascam PortaStudio 788 had a total of 8 recordable tracks….6 mono & one stereo pair (tracks 7 & 8 ).

Blog attachment - Tascam PortaStudio 788

Overall, I wish the production quality of this final version was a little better.

That being said, the song itself remains among my favorites!

 

Performance Credits

  • Guitars, Bass & Drums – Tom Hoffman
  • Vocals – Tom Hoffman

YouTube Video Version (*includes full song) - https://youtu.be/fQDOSaXpmsc

 

Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile

http://www.tune-smith.com

The Story Behind The Song

tunesmithth

“Too Small To Save" was written & arranged in 2008….recorded & mixed in early 2009.

  • Those original recorded tracks were edited & remixed in 2014.
  • That 2014 version is the used for this SBtS video.

The Idea

My songs typically evolve from….

- a chord progression

- a riff/pattern

- a section of melody

- a central theme

In this case, it was 2 of those elements combined.

1) A guitar progression (riff/pattern)

2) A central theme, which was also served as the title (hook)

In songwriting, it’s essential for the subject matter to blend with the musical feel. In other words, one should complement the other. In my humble opinion, that is the case here.

 

Subject Matter

This particular lyric hit pretty close to home. It was loosely based on my wife’s employer, who shall remain nameless. The lyrical message was inspired-by…and based-upon changing conditions following the financial collapse of 2008. Simply put, none of those changes benefited the employees & most didn't bode too well for the financial future of the company.

Much to my surprise, the company survived. The employees however, were a different story. Most of what they lost was never returned. The financial recovery that followed did little to benefit them.

The title “Too Small To Save” was applicable to both employer & employee. At the time this song was written, both fit the description…seeming doomed to failure. As you may have guessed, the title was also a tongue & cheek play on that infamous 2008 headline - “Too Big To Fail”. While banks & auto manufacturers were too big to fail, small companies & employees were “Too Small To Save”. Essentially, the yin & yang of monetary policy.

Structurally, the lyric is brief…with a generous dose of repetition. The message is heavily reliant on imagery & metaphors, which is not typical of my lyrics. Because the subject matter was both current & dismal, I chose an artsy lyrical format.

 

Lyric

Too small…too small to save

Just another business crushed by the wave

One more tiny fish…too small to save

 

A victim…of the economy

No golden parachute waits for me

Almost 80 years business don’t count these days

No friends in high places…too small to save

 

Last call…for 401Ks

Get ‘em while you can…they’re fadin’ away

It’s closin’ time cause we’re…too small to save

Copyright 2008- Tom Hoffman

 

Song Structure

Introduction / Verse-Refrain / Instrumental Verse-Refrain (guitar solo) / Bridge / Verse-Refrain / Ending

 

Musical Fundamentals

Musically, “Too Small To Save” was built around a single guitar progression. It’s the one you hear being played throughout the intro & verse-refrain sections.

The song is set in the key of Aminor….BPM 100

Genre-wise, I’d have to call it blues-rock.

This arrangement is guitar-based, utilizing 3 separate mono tracks. My Gibson SG was used for two of those.

My Gibson SG....complete with its coffin-style case

 

The 3rd was a mixture of Strat & SG…with Strat being chosen for the bridge section.

Its’ single coil pickups were useful in creating thinner sounding guitar textures.

My Strat in-studio

 

- One of those 3 tracks contains intermittent lead guitar.

- The other 2 are the primaries, heard throughout the song.

  • The verse/refrain sections consist of 1 guitar playing the primary progression, while a 2nd guitar plays 3-note power chords (I-V-octave).
  • The bridge was intended to have a unique feel, so both guitar parts change dramatically. The SG picks single notes within standard open chord forms, while the Strat strums triads (3-note chord forms…I-III-V).

The core drum track was creating using a Boss DR-670 drum machine. After 13 years of recording with "real drums", I converted to the Boss unit in 2007. Being a drummer, I had mixed feelings about using synthetic drums. But the additional control, flexibility & convenience of the machine method sold me on the change. Suffice to say that recording live drums in a single-person home studio setup is a tedious process! Regardless, the marching snare used for the bridge section was an actual drum.

Unfortunately, the machine decay rate makes crash cymbals sound VERY artificial. So… all crashes were overdubbed onto separate tracks, using actual cymbals.

 

Final Production Notes

The recording, editing & mixing were done on a PortaStudio 2488….a 24 track Tascam system.

Blog attachment - Story Behind The Song (Not-For-Profit Life)

 

Performance Credits

  • Drums, Guitars, Bass Guitar – Tom Hoffman
  • Vocals – Tom Hoffman

YouTube Video Version (*includes full song) - https://youtu.be/8A6W4OarAWY

 

Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile

http://www.tune-smith.com

The Story Behind The Song

tunesmithth

“Don’t Lie To Yourself" was written & recorded back in 2002. I filed the copyright as a single work, rather than a collection.

Time was of the essence, since I was entering my very first songwriting contest. The "Billboard World Song Contest".

Since the Billboard was one of the larger contests, I had no idea what to expect.

While it didn't win, it didn't go completely un-noticed.

 

Blog article attachment

 

The Idea

My songs typically evolve from one of 4 starting points:

- a chord progression

- a riff/pattern

- a section of melody

- a central theme

 

When I began writing “Don’t Lie To Yourself”, there wasn‘t much to work with.

· A simple chord progression I liked, which evolved into my chorus section.

· The hook (title) – “Don’t Lie To Yourself” and a tentative melody for that one line.

That was about it!

 

Subject Matter

Titles like this one paint a clear picture of the intended message. Simply put, it’s lyrical advice – “be honest with yourself”.

Typically, lyrics with a ‘telling” tone are discouraged in songwriting circles. Folks don’t enjoy being told what to do, or how to think….even in a song.

Regardless, I decided to make an exception.

The hook line….

· flowed nicely

· was memorable

· contributed to the overall mood I was hoping to achieve

Since the title was my central message, the chorus sections were used to re-enforce that message and expand upon the “whys”. Both repetition & harmony proved useful in that process.

The verse sections for this song were written last. The chorus was the message delivery vehicle, but something needed to set the stage for that message. That was the goal of the verses. They would be used to creatively describe the circumstances which gave that message importance.

 

Video Demonstration - Lead Guitar / Instrumental Verse (34 seconds long)

https://youtu.be/i3GuchS8Kgg

 

So….back to that lyrical message!

Here it is in a nutshell.

Verses..........

Regardless of what we’re taught as children, lying is one of those undesirable realities of life. The older we get, the clearer that becomes. In polite society, it goes by many names…. fabrication, mis-speaking, embellishment, selective omission, spin, stretching the truth. But when you strip away all the niceties, it comes down to varying degrees of the same thing – "something other-than the absolute truth".

Choruses...........

Despite the fact that lying is such an ingrained part of our existence, we need to be honest with ourselves. The lie that you tell yourself is a sucker’s lie & YOU’RE the sucker!

 

Lyric

Spend our lives…tellin’ tales

Stretch and bend…the truth

Learned that when…reality fails

A lie may do

 

But don’t lie to yourself

You’re the only one to lose

Don’t lie to yourself

A lie only a fool would choose

 

Life demands…shaded truths

Hype & spin…abound

As we grow…beyond our youth

Truth is rarely found

 

But don’t lie to yourself

You’re the only one to lose

Don’t lie to yourself

A lie only a fool would choose

 

Don’t lie to yourself

You’re the only one to lose

Don’t lie to yourself

A lie only a fool would choose

Copyright 2002- Tom Hoffman

 

Song Structure

Introduction / Verse / Chorus / Instrumental Verse (guitar solo) / Verse / Double-Chorus / Brief Ending

 

Musical Fundamentals

The song is set in the key of E minor….BPM 116

Unusual as it seems, the “introduction” was the last part added to this arrangement. What can I tell ya’? It happens!

Fortunately, I remembered a guitar didi I’d written the year before. It fit the song nicely, but I needed something to help merge it with the first verse. The solution was a single bass note, sounded on the last stroke of the intro section. In the final mix, that sustained note begins quietly, then gradually becomes louder.

That intro guitar didi I referred to consists of 2 separate acoustic guitar tracks. The first plays nothing but 2-note intervals.

The 2nd is comprised of open string harmonics, which generate an eerie texture.

For anyone interested, here's a copy of that 20 second intro. -  Don't Lie To Yourself intro..wav

 

The guitar arrangement for this song was a bit of an experiment. Other than bass, there are no electric guitar tracks. It contains 3 separate acoustic guitar tracks,

each performed on my trusty Yamaha…recorded through a condenser mic.

The simulated string track you hear wasn't in the original version. Back in 2002, keyboards weren't part of my musical arsenal. Some years later, in an effort to add diversity to the arrangement,

strings were added to the existing mix.

Real drums were used for this recording. The part itself employs both half-time & full-time beat structures.

- Half time is used exclusively until the 2nd chorus section.

- Both the 2nd & 3rd chorus sections are set in full-time.

- Finally, it switches back to half-time for the ending.

 

Final Production Notes

The recording was done on a Tascam PortaStudio 788.

It’s an 8-track digital recording deck, consisting of 6 mono & 1 stereo channels.

Blog attachment - Tascam PortaStudio 788

- Drums were recorded to the only stereo pair of tracks (7/8)

- Everything else went to single mono tracks....no doubling of any parts

 

Performance Credits

  • Drums, Acoustic Guitars, Bass, Keyboard Strings – Tom Hoffman
  • Vocals – Tom Hoffman

You Tube Video Version (*includes full song) - https://youtu.be/WcEvMjt3Ek0

 

Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile

http://www.tune-smith.com

The Story Behind The Song

tunesmithth

For this installment, we’re looking back at 2008. “Not-For-Profit Life” was the first of my songs to be played on internet radio.

Back when Jango.com was kicking off their “Artist Airplay” program for unsigned artists, they contacted me about adding this to their playlist.

 

Blog attachment - Story Behind the Song (Not-For-Profit Life)

 

The Idea

As sometimes occurs, this song began with a Hook (title) and evolved from there.

 

Subject Matter

My intended message was a simple one…..Life is about much more than “the pursuit of money”!

It’s never been a driving force in my life and with any luck, it never will be.

No child was ever born thinking about it. We don’t come out of the womb that with dollar signs in our eyes.

The importance of financial success is systematically sold to us.

Don’t get me wrong, having “enough” money allows us to live financially responsible lives. But…beyond the point of “enough”, it becomes a non-essential & a matter of contention.

As Sly and the Family Stone so famously said, “Different strokes for different folks”.

 

Lyrical Structure

Simply put, it's different!

All 3 verse sections, the first pre-chorus & first chorus are written in 3rd person narrative form.

The final pre-chorus & chorus shift to first person perspective, thereby taking ownership of the thoughts being expressed.

 

Lyrics

Voices of children enjoying the sunshine

Laughing & playing with friends

Livin’ out days as if each was a lifetime

& Losing themselves in pretend

 

No plan for riches

No thirst for fame

Young lives so simple

Less greed, less pain

 

They’re livin’ not-for-profit lives

No sleepless nights, no worries or fears

They live it one day at a time

Livin’….not-for-profit…..lives

 

Then come the years of bigger & better

The quest for success at all costs

Convincing themselves they’ve gotta keep pace with

The neighbors, the times & their boss

Squandering life for the sake of achievement

More money, more stuff, but no time

Chasin’ the dream, the one they bought into

The one with no reason or rhyme

 

No thanks, you keep it!

That’s not for me!

Things I hold dearest

Mostly come free

 

I’ll take a not-for-profit life!

No sleepless nights, no worries or fears

I’ll live it one day at a time

Livin’…a not-for-profit…life

Copyright 2008- Tom Hoffman

 

Song Structure

Introduction / Verse / Pre-Chorus (Rise) / Chorus / Musical Interlude / Double-Verse / Pre-Chorus (Rise) / Chorus- Brief Ending

 

Musical Fundamentals

The song is set in the key of E minor.

By the time 2008 rolled around, keyboards had been added to my musical arsenal.

This particular arrangement contains both organ & piano tracks. Since I've never been a MIDI user and haven’t utilized software patches or VSTs, the keyboard tracks were played on my Yamaha P-80 Electronic Piano.

The guitar part is a mixture of picking & chords. With its single coil pickup textures, my Fender Stratocaster (Strat) was the natural choice.

It's rare for me to create an arrangement with a single guitar track, but that was the case here.

Just the one Strat track.

My Strat in-studio

 

Additional Instrumentation......

- Harmonica (intro-only)

- Bass Guitar

- *Congas

- *Drums

*The core drum & conga tracks were creating using a Boss DR-670 drum machine.

After 13 years of recording with "real drums", I converted to a drum machine in 2007. Being a drummer, I had mixed feelings about the decision. But the additional control, flexibility & convenience offered by the machine sold me on the change.

Unfortunately, the Boss decay rate made crashes cymbals sound VERY artificial. So… crashes were overdubbed, using live cymbals.

It was an inconvenient method, but it improved the sound quality significantly.

 

Vocal Details

In each of the chorus sections, the phrase “Not-For-Profit Life” employs what’s known as vocal doubling. Simply put, the part is sung twice on separate recorded tracks.

When both takes are played together, the small differences in pitch & timing produce a thicker sounding vocal texture. It’s a common recording technique....widely used for decades.

A single harmony vocal track was used for:

- the entire 3rd verse

- the final line of each chorus section

 

Final Production Notes

By 2008, I had traded up to a 24 track system. Another Tascam, but this time a PortaStudio 2488.

Having 24 available tracks opened up a whole new world of arrangement possibilities.

Blog attachment - Story Behind The Song (Not-For-Profit Life)

 

Performance Credits

- Guitar, Bass guitar, piano, organ, harmonica & Soft Shake – TomHoffman

- Vocals – Tom Hoffman

 

YouTube Video Version (*includes full song) - https://youtu.be/wB-yIHfg0NA

 

Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile

http://www.tune-smith.com

The Story Behind The Song

tunesmithth

This is the 2nd in a series of new videos/articles, intended to give a glimpse behind the creative curtain at the how’s & why's of songwriting. For this installment, we’re flashing back to 2002. “Not Quite The Same” was my attempt at a different kind of 9-11 song. It's one of several tracks that were written & recorded, but never promoted or made available online.

 

The Idea

My songs typically evolve from one of 4 starting points:

- a chord progression

- a riff/pattern

- a section of melody

- a central theme

In this case, the starting point was a combination of 2 elements.

• a central theme – 9/11 and a different approach to the topic

• a basic chord progression, which seemed a good fit for the subject matter

 

Subject Matter

Long before this track was finished, the onslaught of 9-11 songs from major artists had begun. Typically, they were overtly patriotic....cliché ridden attempts to take commercial advantage of our national tragedy. At least that's how I saw them. Don't get me wrong....I recognize that artists need to make a living. But attempting to profit from tragedy is right near the top on my list of unacceptable behaviors.

Depending on the genre & artist, they evoked feelings of sorrow & pity, or testosterone & anger. Songs about "why us" or "how dare you"! Both attempting to cash in on existing emotions ....neither striving for anything productive.

Bottom line - If I was going to write a 9-11 song, it wouldn't be like that!

My messages would be different!

More like............

- Nothing here was quite the same after 9-11. We shouldn't expect it to be.

- We'd allowed ourselves to believe that it couldn't happen to us. Other counties....yes, but not us! That was a flawed assumption.

- Freedom isn't free....it has a cost.

Hopefully those thoughts come across in the song.

 

Lyrics

Something's changed

Kind of strange

Lots of talk.....speculation & doubt

Can we find comfort when....life feels inside out?

 

History's shown

Safety at home

We've assumed it would always be so

Life has no guarantees....guess we never know

On we go!

 

(Refrain) Just not quite......the same

 

Until we realized

It could be us that died

We never recognized....it could happen here!

 

Buildings fell

September Hell

We know now...what we didn't know then

Freedom comes at a cost...and payment never ends!

 

(Refrains) Just not quite.....the same! (repeat)

copyright 2002-Tom Hoffman.

 

Song Structure

Introduction / Verse / Verse / Refrain / Bridge / Verse / Refrain / Ends with variation on a 2nd refrain

 

Musical Fundamentals

The song is set in the key of G minor.

At its core, a basic rock arrangement ....single rhythm guitar, lead guitar, drums, bass guitar, lead vocal and

a single harmony vocal on the refrain sections.

BPM – 138

The rhythm guitar part consists of "power chords".

For those who don't know, power chords are 2-note intervals....possessing neither major nor minor characteristics.

Strictly a root note with a 5th on top.

The bare-bones framework of this song is a I-IV-V progression.

That being the case, I did what I could to make it my own. Unusually timed chord changes & slides help to set it apart from similar progressions. At least, that was my intent!

The intro, verse & refrains sections are strictly power chords. The bridge section is not.

Since bridges are meant to sound different, the rhythm guitar part shifts to full chord forms.

My trusty Gibson SG was used for all the guitar work

My Gibson SG....complete with its coffin-style case

 

A number of elements contribute to the unique feel of that bridge section. I've already mentioned the change in chord structure, but there are others.

- The drum part shifts to a half-time feel.

- Both the emotion of the vocal & the lyrical meter change.

 

Final Production Notes

By the time 2002 rolled around, I had converted to a digital setup.

A Tascam PortaStudio 788 was my tool of choice.

Blog attachment - Tascam PortaStudio 788

 

Performance Credits

  • Drums, Guitars & Bass guitar – Tom Hoffman
  • Vocals – Tom Hoffman

Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile

http://www.tune-smith.com

The Story Behind The Song

tunesmithth

This is the first installment of a blog series. The series is intended is to provide a peek behind the creative curtain, taking an in-depth look at the process itself.

For this installment, I'm going all the way back to the beginning. "Slow Down" was my very first song. Originally written/arranged & recorded in 1995, it was re-recorded in 98.

 

The Idea

In past articles, I've pointed out that my songs typically evolve from one of 4 starting points:

- a chord progression

- a riff/pattern

- a section of melody

- a central theme

In this case, the idea was a basic progression I stumbled upon. Not really a chord progression in the strictest sense, but never-the-less a progression. While experimenting with combinations of 2 and 3 note intervals, an interesting pattern began to emerge. It's built upon traditional I-IV-V framework, but layered changes within that framework give it a unique flavor.

Rather than try to explain it, I'll show you in a brief video which......

  1. Shows a tablature rendering of the primary pattern positions
  2. Demonstrates the actual progression

http://youtu.be/yxWZMHQy10c

 

Fundamentals

  • The song is set in Mixolydian mode. For those unfamiliar with the term, Mixolydian mode is essentially a diatonic major scale/key, with the 7th flattened. The flattening of that one note alters the fundamental step pattern of the key. That single change in structure has a huge impact on the flavor of the resulting composition.
  • It's common practice for songwriters to step outside of strict key structure. In other words, it would have been OK for me to employ notes not contained within the basic 7-note scale (A mixolydian). That being said, I chose to remain within the confines of that scale! The vocal melody, bass guitar, 2nd & 3rd guitars were set in A mixolydian, as was the entire arrangement for the bridge section.
  • The secondary guitar part is comprised of 2-note intervals. Guitar #3 is single-note leads and fills. The 3-note combinations played at the outset of each A, D & E section, are the only things vaguely resembling traditional chords. Each combination is comprised of a root (tonic), a 5th and a 9th. Definitely chords, but by no means traditional.

Structure

Introduction (8 sec.) / 8 Bar Musical Interlude / Verse-Refrain / 4 Bar Interlude / Verse-Refrain / Bridge (Middle-8)8 Bar Interlude / Verse-Refrain / Ending w. fade

 

Subject Matter

Because of the feel established by that primary guitar progression, the song wouldn't have worked with an uplifting lyric. Serious, darker subject matter was called for. Substance abuse (specifically alcoholism) was my final choice.

The lyric was written from the perspective of the alcoholic, in this case a male. It's intended to depict the typical downward spiral of both the substance abuser and the relationship.

The idea was to reveal the changing mind-set of the abuser as the addiction progressed & the relationship disintegrated.

As is the case with most of my songs, the melody was written before the lyric. I also had a specific meter structure in mind. The downside of this particular structure was that it wouldn't allow for a wordy lyric. I had to rely heavily on subtle changes in the person, tense & exact wording to get the lyrical message across. Personally, I enjoy the challenge that comes with this style of writing, but it does present obstacles.

  1. The message/meaning isn't as obvious as it is with other styles.
  2. A greater burden is placed upon the listener to listen intently.
  3. Unlike more popular lyrical styles, the listener can't cherry-pick key words and phrases. The lyric needs to be taken as a whole for the message to come through as intended.

 

Lyric

I smile and start another day

You smile and tell me it's OK

We should have known we would get through it

You'd think we'd know by now

I promise I....won't drink much tonight

 

I know I blame my life on you

You tell me I don't have a clue

You should have known not to back-talk me

I'd think you'd know by now

I know that I....said I would slow down

 

Should slow down

Must slow down

Will slow down

Next week swear I'll slow down!

 

I get up & start another day

You're not here to tell me it's OK

I should have known you didn't love me

You'd think I'd know by now

I don't care if...I ever slow down!

 

Final Production Notes

Both the 1995 and 98 recordings of this were done on a Tascam 424....4-track analog cassette recorder.

Tascam PortaStudio 424

 

Some years later, when I upgraded to a digital recording setup, I dumped the original 4 analog tracks onto 4 empty digital tracks, cleaned them up a bit, compressed & remixed the song.

To give you an idea of what I was working with......

  1. The drum track was recorded all at once. No overdubs were possible, because it was done using a freestanding electronic metronome. With the old analog decks, if you tried to record a standard click-track, you'd get ghosts of it bleeding through to other tracks. Even after the click track was erased, remnants of it remained and would be heard on the final recording.
  2. The drums & bass guitar shared a single-mono track on the cassette recorder. Drums were recorded first, then primary guitar, then bass. At that point in the process, a combined premix of drums and bass were bounced over to the only remaining track. That allowed the original recordings of each to be erased....opening up two additional tracks. The 2nd guitar was recorded on one of those, lead vocal on the other. The final lead guitar bits were recorded last, wherever open track space remained.
  3. All the guitar parts were recorded through a mic'd amp, with effects already applied. Drums had to be recorded with individual EQ adjustments & effect already applied.

Compared to current standards, this was the equivalent of working with stone knives & bearskins. :yes: Honestly.....given the limitations of the process, I'm amazed that it sounds as decent as it does. Overall, it's a bit muddy, the vocal could sit a little higher in the mix and there are several predominant "s" sounds in the first verse vocal. Hopefully, you're able to overlook the production shortcomings and enjoy the song. 

 

YouTube Video Version (*includes full song) - https://youtu.be/RCk-QW_smaw

 

Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile

http://www.tune-smith.com

http://www.youtube.com/tomhoffman1