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gradual

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gradual last won the day on October 16 2011

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About gradual

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  1. How often do I write...I don't have a definitive answer to that question, because there's so little consistency to my routine. How often I finish a song is a different story. I can say on average every three months is how often I finish one. And that's from a song's inception, all the way through sitting down and recording and mixing it in my DAW, because I'm always making little adjustments to it as I go. I wish it took me less time, but becuase I have a full time job, most of my music making happens on the weekends. Because finishing just one takes me so long, I tend to focus on only one project at a time. So usually I find little reason to write a whole bunch of them at once. When I've finished my last one is when I begin thinking, "Hey I haven't written one in a while, better get to it again." That's when I pull out my notebook and start working on lyrics. (I'm a lyrics-first guy.) I can't really relate to the notion of finding it difficult to write when happy. For me, that's the easiest time to write. Not that I necessarily have to be Happy with a capital H, but I do have to feel calm and balanced. When I'm feeling too bad or too negative, I find it hard to focus. Maybe it's because I've never used songwriting as therapy, or as a way to purge my innermost feelings. For me it's more like building something. I'm more interested in the craft side of it. I may use bits of my life for lyric content if I think it'll make a song work. If not, I'll just make stuff up (which inevitably will be filtered through my own life and experiences, so they're always gonna be about me in some way, whether I like it or not).
  2. Almost always. That just happens to be what works for me. It takes off the pressure of having to come up with a subject to write about. My life really isn't all that interesting...lol...but a cool title can almost always conjure up some type of story or scenario if I think about it enough, and it's interesting to imagine the possibilities, musically and lyrically. I like figuring out ways of turning it into the hook, and you can get really creative. For a while I was actually collecting lots of pontential titles by opening books to random pages and writing down phrases I found. It's a fun exercise. I save them in a computer file, which is still my go-to source when I need an idea. I think I'm actually starting to get to the point where I've used most of the phrases that strike my fancy, and it may soon be time for a restock.
  3. This is a good question. There's a saying that goes "projects are never finished, only abandoned", or something like that. Personally, when nothing bothers me about a song anymore, then I consider it done. But like someone else said upthread, sometimes a month later, I'll hear some minor thing that bugs me. I think one thing that helps me commit to the final result is to post the song online, because even though I'm not releasing it commercially, there's the feeling that it's out of my hands now and in other people's ears. That said, there have been instances where I've taken down the original version of a song much later, and posted the "improved" version after making minor tweaks. But that doesn't really happen too often. Most of the time, I just accept that I've gotten it good enough to convey the feeling I want it to convey, and at that point it's time for me to move on. Instead of endlessly tweaking it, just take what I learn and apply it to the next song. Otherwise I'd never finish anything.
  4. Great thread. I can relate to this topic. I worry about this sometimes too, not because I expect commercial success for any one of my tunes, but just because it's tough to come to the realization that one of your "babies" isn't actually yours. I'm usually not comfortable sharing my work until it's complete, so there are other ways I deal with it. For one thing, I never trust the first idea that pops into my head, because those are the ideas that will have the most danger of being derivative of something else. My initial idea is the starting point, but I revise a lot. If theres a part that sounds a little too obvious, I will change a note here, change an interval there, change the chord underneath. At the same time, the changes I make still need to flow and sound natural, so it's a delicate balancing act. But by the time I finish it, it will have gone through enough revisions for me to be reasonably confident it doesn't sound too much like any one particular song. Some other things that help: I tend to write lyrics first, because then I'm not starting from nothing. The melody I create will be derived from the meter of the words, so I know I didn't just pull it from thin air. Starting with chords can work well, because again, you know that's the harmonic foundation that will determine what the notes of the melody will be. A lot of popular songs have the same chords, so trying something other than your standard basic chord progressions can sometimes help to avoid melodic similarities between yours and another song. Though a lot of unique songs have been written with just standard chord progressions, so it isn't a necessity. Having a basic knowledge of music theory can be invaluable (and I admit mine is fairly basic), because knowing your scales and intervals, major, minor, diatonic, non-diatonic, etc., and being able to play around with them can make it easier to "construct" melodies, rather than just stumbling on to one and hoping it's yours. It allows you to better understand the different musical possibilities that can be taken. Recording myself helps too, because it gets me off of the playing/singing part of my brain, and onto the purely listening part. I can take a step back and more objectively hear what I've got, and what changes I might need to make. I don't claim to be an expert, but seeing as this tends to be an issue I think about quite bit when songwriting, and I've had to find ways of dealing with it so that it doesn't block me from writing, hopefully some of what I write here will be helpful. Funny, it's gotten to the point now where often I'll hear a song on the radio and think, "this sounds way too familiar; they should have revised that." Lol So clearly, a lot of songwriters--even professional ones--don't worry about this issue as much as I do.
  5. Yes, I'd say that's your answer right there. I think a common mistake of beginning songwriters is to think there is a right or wrong way to do anything. Of course, it helps to have a basic knowledge of song structure, which you seem to already have. Beyond that, it's about what sounds right to you. Best approach is often just trial and error. Just try a bunch of stuff until you find something you're happy with.
  6. I agree that going back and removing parts of finished songs after the fact could run the risk of making them sound awkward or incomplete.I say if the songs you've written sound right at the length they are...keep them that length. But for the songs you've yet to write...if making them shorter is your aim (which it sounds like it is), then always make a point to be mindful of length from the very beginning. That will inform the choices you make. Something as simple as limiting the number of lines in the verses or the chorus can go a long way. Commit to writing song sections that do not go over a certain number of lines (or measures, if you're a "music first" writer). Also keep intros short...avoid the temptation to add too many instrumental breaks or solos...a lot of these can add unecessary fat to a song. Listen to Beatles' Revolver for a good example of how it can be done...not a song on that album that went over the 3 minute mark.
  7. Do what the Beatles did, and learn how to play as many songs as you can. Then when it comes time to write your own songs, try and forget everything you learned, and write. Your influences will come out in what you write, but it won't be forced. I think finding your own voice has to happen organically. Not by trying to copy anybody, and not by trying too hard to be original. You get better simply by doing. Don't worry about trying to be as good as "x artist". Just keep writing, and you'll naturally get better.
  8. I really wish I could get inspired more often. Or at least know how to get it when I can most use it. Often, the thought of writing a song inspires me, but when I actually have time to do it, I'm just tired, or not in the mood. So really the key for me has been to learn to keep at it in the absence of inspiration. Just go over to my keyboard, or get out my pad and pen and do it, whether I feel like it or not. I get inspired once I hear it start coming together. So I guess my answer would be I get inspired by actually doing it. But I have to rely on things other than inspiration to get me to do it.
  9. Yes, absolutely. I feel like I've described my own process many times...so I don't feel like going into it again. But I think it's probably less important the specific process one uses, than simply having one. Everybody's is going to be different...it's about finding what works for you. For me, it's helpful to know, even if I might decide to break routine and experiment, there will always be certain things that consistently get me results. I think I'm fortunate in that I'm never knocked out by the first spark of an idea...I've learned to just trust the process and know by being patient and working on it little by little, I'll eventually wind up with something I'm happy with. The real inspiration for me comes after it's finished, and I can hear how the work paid off...which encourages me to write another one. These days, I'm averaging about a song a month. But if I simply waited for magic to strike, I'd probably get nowhere.
  10. My process is similar, in that I prefer to take a more methodical approach. There’s a series of steps that get me consistent results, so I stick with what works. Everybody’s process is different. What works for me might not work for somebody else, and vice versa. Mine tends to go like this: 1. Write lyrics. Experiment with different accents and rhythms to see if they flow, if words need to be cut, or moved around. Adjust accordingly. 2. Sit at an instrument and come up with chord progressions. 3. Play around with intervals on top of the chords until a melody forms. (This is where I find my rudimentary knowledge of music theory and scales comes in handy.) Keep changing stuff around until I’m satisfied. That said…I’d say melody writing is probably the hardest thing to describe to someone how to do (as opposed to chords, rhythm, etc.), because I think a lot of it comes down to instinct, rather than technique. I wouldn’t be able to describe in technical detail what makes a good melody…I just know what sounds right to me. I think most songwriters are the same way. Most people just naturally get a feel for what works, based on hearing hundreds of songs over their lifetime.
  11. It's been about a year since the last time I wrote a new song, so I'll try my best tor remember how I do it. In recent years, I've gotten into the habit of writing lyrics first, usually starting with a title, and building the concept of the song around it. I always keep my trusty thesaurus and rhyming dictionary at hand. I don't necessarily use this method because it's easier, but because I've simply grown fond of doing it that way. It allows me to imagine the possibilities of what the music could be. I even speak the words in rhythm, experimenting with their meter to see if they flow. Kinda like rapping, I guess...lol. It's fun. Then by the time I sit down at an instrument, I already kind of have an idea of what the musical structure will be. So at this point, I'll just try different chord progressions, which suggest to me melodic ideas. I'm not one for whom melodies simply pop into my head (if they do, I don't trust that they're mine), so the melody will almost always go through quite a few revisions before I'm satisfied. Sometimes, I may adjust the lyrics to fit the melody, or vice versa. I think it all depends on what your strengths are. Even though I consider myself primarily a music guy, I've always been fairly competent at writing lyrics, and have never found it too difficult. So the lyrics first method works for me. But if you've always struggled with writing lyrics, it can help to have the structure of a pre-existing melody to guide you along...I've done it that way too. Some songwriters have said that music and lyrics come to them simultaneously...I admit that generally doesn't happen for me, but it's just another example of a method that can work for some people.
  12. I do master my own tracks specifically for the purpose of posting them on the web. But I won't pretend my feeble attempts at it are anywhere close to pro-level. I just try to get them to sound decent enough on cheap computer speakers or headphones/earbuds, which is how they will likely be listened to on the web. Usually, there is an annoying build-up of muddy low-mid/midrange junk that gets magnified on these cheap devices, so I will try to filter out the problematic frequencies. But on a decent stereo system, it would sound overly bright and pretty terrible. So for officially releasing my music (which I am planning to do very soon), I will definitely be using the services of a professional. Part of what you are pay for with a professional services (besides an objective set of ears and better gear) is a proper acoustically-controlled environment, which is an extremely important factor. In your average basement or bedroom studio (or even some professional recording studios), it's near impossible to get an accurate representation of what the music actually sounds like, because the room colors the sound.
  13. I know there are a lot of musicians with the attitude that if it is too simple, or if it isn't clever enough, or doesn't break new ground, it isn't worthy of their time. So I suppose it is easy to assume this is the attitude I hold. However, I thought I'd made it clear enough in the OP that this is not how I feel. I like a lot of songs that use those four chords. I'm also a big believer in the pop song format...verse-chorus, under 4 minues, catchy singable melody, relatable to the average audience. Those are the kinds of songs I'm interested in writing. I'm not a big fan of jazz or metal, or anything "progressive", really. So why should I care about the parts of the song that a listening audience does not? Well, I'm a "musician", for lack of a better term. Music is how I exercise my creativity. It's like saying to a painter that they must only paint using red and blue, or that they can only use straight lines, no curves, otherwise the public will not like it. It isn't necessarily about "chords", any more than about instrumentation, or beats per minute....what I'm really talking about is creative restriction...like being used to having a full toolbox to work with, only to have half of them taken away. It sometimes appears as though the rules and regulations for what's acceptable in a pop song are tightening and becoming more strict. Which I imagine would be a little alarming to any creative person. And if chords didn't matter to the audience at all, then writers should be free to experiment a little more, knowing that people wouldn't notice it anyway, right? The fact that so many songs follow such strict guidelines would suggest to me the opposite...that to someone out there--be it people in the industry, or the public at large--chords matter a lot, if not consciously, then on a subliminal level. So much so, that writers feel they can't take the risk of merely substituting the vi with a iii (or even leaving out the fourth chord), for fear that the public may reject it.
  14. I don't want to this come off as a "mainstream music sucks" diatribe, because I actually like a lot of pop music, and I think it often gets an unfairly bad rap. There's some good stuff out there, but it tends to get lumped together with the crap, just because it's popular, and I don't think that makes sense. I also don't necessarily dislike a song or think it isn't any good just because it uses the same four chords. A good song is a good song. Mainly what I'm trying to get at is what the implication is for songwriters...how pervasive is the idea, either in the industry or the culture at large, that the only way your song can be successful or reach people is if you use that one chord progression. I just feel like it can severely limit the musical palette that we have to work with.
  15. So there's this comedy band called Axis of Awesome...and I'm sure most people have seen their "4-chord song" routine by now...there are quite a few versions of it floating around YouTube. If you haven't yet, here it is: Basically, the argument that is the basis for their routine is that all the hit songs from the past 40 years use the same four chords...I'd say that's a bit of an exaggeration (I believe it's more like ten years, and there are always exceptions), but nonetheless it seems more than ever that this is becoming increasingly true. I'm aware a lot of early rock 'n roll used the same three or four chords, so of course this is nothing new...but then Beatles, Beach Boys and others came along and introduced a lot of different possibilities into pop music about what could be done with harmonies and chord progressions. Take "I Want To Hold Your Hand" as a good example. But now it seems in recent years, we've actually gone backwards, where nearly every popular song uses the same four-chord progression...specifically I, V, vi, IV. The implication is for me that this has almost become a rule, where a song has a very small chance of being successful anymore unless it uses those same four chords. If you listen to almost anything on the radio these days, that certainly seems to be the case. And if you are a songwriter with ambitions for your songs to get recorded by other artists, or reach a mass audience, that can put some serious restrictions on how creative you are allowed to be. So I'm wondering what other people's thoughts are about this? I'm actually split on this...I'm a little bothered by the lack of variety these days...on the other hand, I'm a believer in keeping things simple in songwriting, and it really doesn't get much more simple than that. Also, I sort of believe music trends are sort of like a pendulum...once people get sick of hearing too much of one thing, it starts to swing in the other direction. Then it swings back. So we may be near the end of this particular cycle already. But who knows?