Monthly Archives: November 2015
I was curious to see what my friends wanted to know about songwriting, so I asked them ~ Here’s what I found out!
Bill B ~ What part does mystery play in your writing?
What a grand question to start off with! Mystery is always present in any art that grabs my attention. This counts for everything! TV shows I enjoy have to have a bit of intrigue otherwise I can feel my mind rotting as I watch them. I like to think that most of my work has a level of ambiguity to it that makes the subject(s) of the songs applicable to anyone who is willing to engage with the music.
Adrian B ~ What are your influences?
Like I said earlier, the musiocians I know personally are my biggest influence, however I do totally have a big sloppy great song-crush on Ane Brun, who is just always going to be miles ahead of me with everything she does. It’s really amazing to discover that a songwriter (whose music I like) is on a similar path psychologically. Well. I say that… But how could I ever know, right? Because I’m just projecting my own stuff on her work. But yeah, it sounds quite similar, and very much helped me to realise a few epiphanies along the way. She gives me a goalpost to head for in terms of which place to write and live from. ❤ Other really great influences of mine are Imogen Heap, Sia, Ani DiFranco, Tom Lehrer, Kirsty McColl, Dolly Parton, Cole Porter, The Beatles, Agnes Obel, Portishead, Bob Marley, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Regina Spektor, Macy Gray, and my cats.
Ulrika ~ What would be your feelings about other people singing your songs? I recently had someone tell me (after the fact) that they had sung one of my songs in a folk club and I had this odd mixed feeling. Feeling flattered but at the same time “but it’s myyyyyyy babyyyyyy”. Kind of leads on to what emotions, memories, thoughts charge your songs. Would love to know your take on it 🙂 xx
I would be really interested to hear other people’s takes on my songs. I’ve had a couple of really great singers do my songs before, but I’m not sure they were doing it because they were emotionally invested in the music itself, so it’s hard to judge it. I would love it it someone did a really analysed and emotionally integrated version of my songs. There really would be no higher form of compliment. I’d be fascinated to see where they take it! If there’s anyone reading this who really wants to do a cover of one of mine, please do!
Sue A ~ where do you get your best ideas?
I pretend that I am someone who inspires me, and I write as if I am somebody who is a better writer than I think I am.
Joe B ~ Not many songs are happy, why is this?
Not many people are happy when they write I guess. (Not many people are happy?) Most often for people songwriting is a cathartic way to express hidden messages from the subconscious, and the subconscious generally doesn’t wax lyrical about how marvellous it all is because it’s probably trying desperately to tell them that they are neglecting themselves in some way that needs some attention. Because happy songs are great, but they don’t necessarily inspire growth and change in the same way that a classic weepy does, whatever form that may take. I want to listen to, and write, music that expands the whole fucking universe inside me.
Remember, you are love.
If you also have a songwriting question you would like me to feature on the blog, either contact me by email or post in the comments and I’ll see what I can do!
Thank you to everyone who asked me questions! I have had a really good time answering them!
A good song is like an ecosystem. It supports growth.
Although obviously ecosystems are vastly complex, and have various symbiotic systems in place to keep equilibrium, they do what great songs do. Every element comes together to create the right environment for every other element, and the cycle of life perpetuates.
Do excuse me if I am overtly verbose this evening, I’ve had a few drinks.
There are rhythmic choices you can make which influence the meter of the lyrics, the meter then affects which kind of melody you can use, which affects the chord choices, thus pretty much affecting the whole songwriting process. And that’s without going into how changing the melody has an effect on the song’s meaning, and emphasis on certain syllables / words rhythmically can totally change the ‘grammar’ of how the song comes across, without changing a word of the lyrics.
Some say I think about this too much. And they would of course be right. But also, other people think about sport this much. Or taxidermy. So.
Anyway, about the thing.
What makes a mediocre song.
If there is too little in the way of melody, or if the melody is too repetitive, then I get bored easily. If the rhythm is lacking in drive, same thing, however this doesn’t always have to be the case. (With any so called ‘rule’ in songwriting, the opposite can often be just as true. It’s a personal preference thing really I guess, as it is with all art forms.) If the chords are too obvious, I tend to think I’m listening to Oasis and I start to want to stab pens into my eardrums, however, a two chord song is one of the hardest things you can pull off as a songwriter, and I thoroughly recommend that you try it! If the lyrics don’t quite catch my imagination, because they are not as visual or sensory as they could be, or they just repeat or bumble around a topic without any real insight or self discovery, I get bored. Basically, I get bored of songs really easily. What makes a GOOD song, then, is something quite rare.
~ On a side note, I just called my cat a “little Honklehooter.” Just thought that was a particularly good term for that reprehensible animal as he bit my sleeve. If you should need it, I give you my express permission to coin the term. ~
What makes a good song.
If the song supports growth in the listener, it has done what it is supposed to do. If it has connected the listener to a previously unacknowledged aspect of their emotional reality, and increased their insight just a little, however consciously acknowledged that may be, the song is working. If the song makes someone happy, it is doing a good job.
All of the elements of the song supporting each other, but still leaving enough space for it to breathe.
Unless of course you DO live more than once, but that’s not a good enough reason to cop out, so just get on with it already!
Balance is key.
Art reflects life innit.
More alcohol for me. My cat has shunned me. I think I got sweetcorn on him.
The Test Of Time.
If you can get to the stage where you can write from a place that is so true to you that you can engage emotionally with the song EVERY time, for years, then you have won at life. If you find your songs going in and out of relevance, that’s fine, as long as you can convincingly deliver them with consistent emotional presentation. If you find other people’s songs that resonate with you in a consistent way, then THEY have won at life and you need to try and figure out just how the shiny great fuck they did that! I guess my advice for figuring out how to write coherent and emotionally congruent songs would be: Get to know yourself better. Simply that. If you can meditate, do that as often as you think of it. If you can’t, don’t worry. You’re already doing what you need to do. Just write as much as you can. Be where you are in life and try to hold yourself in equal regard to your loved ones.
Remember, you are love.
My cat has fallen asleep on my feet.
Symbolism ~ a really good way to say what you mean without being super obvious.
Since I was a kid, I have been fascinated with hidden meanings. It’s always seemed to me that there is so much MORE to the world if you just take the time to look for it. That could be summed up by the phrase: “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” And I both love and hate not knowing things. I suspect that is because I am a human.
When I was 16, one of my teachers was showing us how to analyse TV adverts. He said that the script, the colour schemes, the little pauses in the speech, the font and size of writing, the choice of camera angle, lighting, music, background sounds, the race, age, costumes and face types of the actors had all been designed specifically, methodically and deliberately in order to target the emotions of their purchasing demographic ~ to get their audience to want to buy their product. Now, I realise that in one way, this is a totally fucking obvious thing to say, but at the time, the idea, to me, that so much thought could go into something that taps into people’s minds on a subconscious level was a total revelation. It seemed way more significant than my previous understanding of advertising, which, until that day, went like this: “Here’s a thing! Buy the thing!” The fact that psychological human truths were being exploited by these companies to say such fucking stupid materialistic bullshit blew my furry little mind. They can affect people on an emotional level very easily. For me, it’s mainly their use of music. That was the day I began to discover what a big, powerful (and terrifying) machine the media really can be. Over the course of the next decade, watching the media affecting people in various ways (6 years ago my TV broke and I haven’t missed it) I had one thought which has surfaced again and again regarding symbolism and its affect on people, namely: “If the media can do it, so can I.”
I will never forget that day at school, or the teacher who helped me to open my mind.
Another person who really helped me open my mind was Ane Brun. I met her at one of her gigs in Feb ’16 and did a fairly passable impression of a stuttering twat. She is a Norwegian singer and an excellent songwriter, and her work is the most influential art I have ever had the privilege to experience. I don’t fangirl all over the place too easily, so here’s why I mention her. The woman uses the most open language possible, and English isn’t even her first language. Wherever they are emotionally in their lives, she writes in a way that allows the listener to project their own version of events over whatever she is saying. It’s phenomenally skillful. It also only works as songwriting providing the listener already shares a certain level of understanding with her. If the listener isn’t receptive in the right way, it can totally turn them off. I was one of those kinds of listeners when she brought out her It All Starts With One album. Before she had released that, she wrote perfectly nice songs. She has a distinctive voice and a way with visual imagery and melody/harmony and key change that I found very pleasing as a fellow songwriter. When I didn’t understand the album at first listen, I felt disappointed. None of the obvious images were there, and if they were, they didn’t create a linear structure of narrative, they just sort of hung there, awaiting confirmation, disjointedly. Or so I thought at the time. My own misanthropy had led me to such a dark mental place that I could no longer experience the symbolism from her work that I had so thirsted for as a kid. In order to interpret Ane’s new album for myself, my whole life had to be rearranged. This was in 2012.
I went away to another city for a weekend, and in the process had the most profound experiences I could ever hope to acquire! One of those was that I realised I had to start meditating. I’d tried meditation before, but had always hated it and given up within minutes because it seemed pointless. Now, when I tried it, I really needed it. My mind was working at such a pace that I could be having two conversations with the same person at once and they wouldn’t notice. Or maybe I was just going a bit crazy. Either way, it doesn’t matter. The point is, in meditation, I realised that if I focussed my attention on my individual Chakras, (for the non-hippies, this means certain energy-centres within the human body) I could get a whole load of information from them about what was going on with me, physically, mentally and emotionally. The colours of the Chakras revealed themselves to me at the time as well. Suddenly everything made sense about what made each Chakra relate to each colour. Colour symbolism played a big part in my life then. To this day I let my eyes decide which is their favourite colour on which day. It gives me an indication of which areas of myself and my life I need to focus on. That is an example of how symbolism helps me write. If I ever use colours in songs, that will be why. I won’t put the colour meanings I found here, just in case they are different for you if you decide to meditate on (or just think about) them. I’m sure not everyone’s perception of purple is what I would call purple after all, because actually, I’ve decided that my job here is to let you discover this stuff for yourself. If meditation isn’t your bag, then I guess Google can take care of what the colours mean to you!
I was having a kind of mental breakdown/breakthrough/awakening at that time, and Ane Brun’s It All Starts With One album helped me change my life so much for the better! I gained the understanding of myself that was necessary to understand her album… Or maybe the album helped me to understand myself… I’m not sure which! All I know is that there were revelations clicking their way into place in me that I had long since given up on. I still get something new out of that album nearly every time I listen to it. I really, honestly felt like I was reborn back then. Given a fresh start and a hundred thousand new perspectives… And let go of being who I thought I was. Let go of being anyone, really. Since then I have never looked back, and I have even started creating songs which, at least to me, affect me in a similar way and remind me of what I learnt during that time in my life. I had needed more from life than I was allowing myself to experience back before this shift in my perception of reality… And before I stopped taking myself so seriously! (I can’t believe I haven’t said shart for WEEKS!)
Another type of symbolism I love to use is elemental. Air = Thought, Water = Emotion, Earth = Body + Physicality, and Fire/Light = Awareness/Spirit/Consciousness. This gets used in nearly every song by me these days! It’s such a wide field, I love it!
I am also quite a fan of using animals as symbolic elements in songs. There is so much in the realm of animal symbolism that I won’t be able to put it here. There are too many animals for a start! I love using birds, as they are such a perfect mixture of thought, emotion, and body.
Buildings can be used as a good metaphor for the self. A castle, particularly, can be useful, or two castles could represent both the conscious and the unconscious minds of the writer. All of this is dream symbolism as well.
I am constantly attempting to learn more about symbolism, so I may post more about it in the future. If you have any suggestions of your own, or any comments about this post, I would love it if you left a comment at the bottom! If this post was a little “far out” for you, I hope you got something out of it anyway!
Remember, you are love.
A break in songwriting service as usual today, to bring into perspective the recording process.
Suppose you’ve written some songs. Suppose some of them are already pretty representative of where you’re at in life. Suppose some of them make you feel pretty nifty as a songwriter. Suppose, like so many songwriters, you feel a need to make a record of your work, perhaps to prove to your unborn grandchildren that you were once worthy of something other than their disdain for the unrelenting odour of your own urinary, verbal and fecal incontinence. Good. Now we are ready. Are you sitting comfortably?
I went into this recording process with a wary optimism. When I home recorded my last EP, Confide, I was living with my sound engineer, and although it was a hell of a lot of work to get everything right, it was easy to get things sounding good straight away because I pretty much had help on hand 24/7. This time, although I had learnt such a lot about recording from the last process, I was on my own. This was less intimidating than I thought it would be for the first few weeks of putting down ideas. If I had an insurmountable problem I had people I could call, and things went relatively well for the tracking. (Tracking = actual recording of instruments and noises.)
I had bought an old – 2008 – MacBook and the equivalent version of ProTools (a recording programme) for making the first EP, and carried on using it for this one, Coincide. I had finally learnt how to almost fully navigate the programme for the bare bones of recording, I’d pretty much sussed out how best to not sound like a tone-deaf sow suffering from quite a lot of gas pain, and I was quite happy with how things were going. I was so confident in my own abilities that I was almost convinced I could release two EPs instead of just the one. (Impudent fool that I was!) I was nearly at the end of my tracking process when the MacBook decided to overheat and die every 45 minutes. Then every 35. Then every 20. The bastard. I even took it to some people for them to look at it, but they couldn’t do anything about it. Sigh. I should probably take it to some more people now. Sigh again.
Just before the overheating process began, however, I realised I was going mad. I had been quite happily tracking and editing and everything, and then, quite inconspicuously at first, I began to doubt myself. The tracks weren’t sounding as good as I’d like. I’d try to add instruments but for some reason everything I tried made me feel sad. I was putting in four hours a session, and I needed something to change. I found myself lacking the discipline to do a whole session. Then I found myself lacking the discipline to do all the sessions I’d planned! I was skiving from my own life’s work, like an utterly spunk encrusted knob-hole!
When I finally realised what I was doing, my self-esteem was already nearing its lowest point. In desperation, I set up a meeting with my sound engineer, masterer and mixer extraordinaire, Kimwei. We sat in the pub near her house one lunch time, with the headphones on her head, and me, in trepidation and silent anxiety, sitting quietly opposite her, biting my fingernails. She adjusted a few levels here and there. She put some reverb on the vocals. When I had a listen, suddenly I could hear music again, where once there had only been the chilling cacophony of my own worthlessness and despair! She said “It’s really not as bad as you think.” And that phrase in itself was more like music to my ears then perhaps I could ever endeavour to compose. She gave me a few tips on recording. Here are Kimwei’s pearls of widom:
1 ~ If you listen to it really quietly and you can still hear every part, then it will do as a rough mix.
2 ~ Don’t let your vocals be too dry. Try and put a little bit of reverb on them, because otherwise you will think you are a terrible singer if you have to listen to that over and over again.
3 ~ To add musical depth to a piece, try recording the same chords, but in a slightly different rhythm, on a different guitar than your main guitar track is recorded on. So if it is a finger-style main guitar, try strumming underneath it. If it is a strumming line, try just arpeggiating the chord at the beginning of the bar and letting it ring for the duration of the chord. The reason you need to use another guitar for this is so that the frequencies don’t clash and cancel each other out weirdly. (If this does happen, however, you have to do something on the programme which every Doctor Whovian will understand – Reverse the polarity. Seriously. I know, right?!) Anyway, once you’ve recorded that, the idea is to have it subliminally quietly in the background of the track. It works like a dream. It’s wonderful. I will ALWAYS do this in future because it’s the best thing in the world. I love a bit of extra atmosphere, me.
4 ~ You can also do this subliminal thing with your vocals. (Although use the same voice, unless you have two of course, like that woman with two heads in that rubbish series of American Horror.) If you sing the chorus, say, with the same timing and gusto, and have one vocal just very quietly underneath the first, it adds body to the sound.
5 ~ You can do the same as point 4 ~ but whispered, and it sounds like you are very close to the listener. It’s a really intimate sound. You have to be very careful with the timing for the vocal double tracks though, because otherwise it can sound like total pants. Or be very good at editing.
When I went home, I tried a few of these things out, and by god I felt vindicated and amazing! I realised I hadn’t been working in vain and that actually this EP had the potential to be as good as I’d hoped it could be when I finally decided on which songs to record!
I felt so good about it that I booked a session cellist to play on two of the tracks, and was delighted when she came up with the goods and gave me some amazing work!
So this is how knowing a few little gems helped save my arse with the new EP, Coincide. But the process wasn’t finished yet…
Kimwei came round every day for a week, and together we worked on (further) editing and mixing the tracks. It was a very important process, and I can’t recommend highly enough getting someone who you trust to help you with this. I think if I had felt at all judged, or pressured for time, I would have ended up with a far worse product. Every detail was accounted for, and adjusted, and adjusted again and again, until I was happy with it.
At the end of the week, (after a few setbacks of sending it to people and them hearing hisses in tracks that we’d not noticed before, or other suggestions from people, and then getting rid of those faults and then re-mixing and re-mastering… For the 89,047th time,) Kimwei actually moved to another country. I can’t say I blame her.
She had been planning it though. I just said it like that to be all dramatic. Oh yeah, above is some artwork to distract you. It’s gonna be on Coincide.
So when she had moved to Wales, we had to do the rest of the mastering by email, which was somewhat arduous, as we work far better in the same room as each other. However, I can say that today, a full week of stress after I intended to send it to the printers, I have finally sent it!
I am approximately 98.64% happy with it as a finished product, and I hope that you are too, should you choose to experience it! Some taster tracks are coming soon, and I shall put them up on reverbnation and Facebook. Here are the links so that you can have a little listen at your leisure, should you decide that now is the right time! reverbnation.com/rynmusic and facebook.com/rynacoustic or find me on Twitter: @rynacoustic
Thank you for bearing with whilst I shamelessly self-promote!
I really hope you like the music, and I hope what I have shared with you today will help you in your own creative processes. Self-doubt is a normal part of any creative endeavour, and I think with the idealisation of life and careers as seen on Facebook etc, it’s important to remember that what you see there is only the best 30% of people’s lives. The rest people don’t see as worth mentioning because it’s as boring, mundane and depressing as YOUR life! Hooray! So when people say on social media that they are releasing another Official Music Video or they’re being interviewed on such and such programme, just remember that they have also probably felt nuts about stuff too, they have probably been depressed about themselves as human beings, and it is essential for you to remember this – for even your heroes – the inside of their left butt-crease has at times been unrelentingly and almost maddeningly itchy.
Remember, you are love.