How do we build a new societal construct which works?
My thoughts go along the lines of- ok none of the old models have worked… but what nobody has tried yet (apart from some people in Denmark in the Netflix program called Happy which I’d recommend!) is deliberately forming community. Not off grid, not too big, with people having autonomy to a certain extent, and, very important, their own private space in their house. People now are living in amongst populations so big they are choosing their friends (often online) but don’t know their neighbours. The people still would have jobs (although maybe living wage could be utilised a bit too) but they wouldn’t have to cook very often, and when they did they would cook for everyone and they would eat together. People with children would have a) instant bank of potential babysitters and b) a great way of getting a bit of space while the children play together. It has been proven that people live longer with strong networks of friends. In today’s youth obsessed culture we are desperate for our elders but we don’t know it, meanwhile as people age, being subjected to the ‘concensus reality’ of the absurd media farce, are becoming more and more fearful of whatever the media is telling them to fear This time! What older people’s minds do, when not being subjected to right wing propaganda from all angles, is they think more broadly and far more lovingly than ever. It does still happen, these days, but generally only when they know they will die. They come back to what really matters in their lives and that is their connection to love, their community, usually just family by that age because life isolates old people now. We need them. They need us. I don’t understand the separation.
Human minds are only really ok with remembering and being close with about 120 people at any one time. That’s why I suggested building intentional communities. Not to go and live in a tree with no internet shitting in holes like fucking twats, but to actually think about what we DO want. A new structure we actually do want from society. And we need to start it small, because global structure is far too big. We have the internet for that. We are lucky because for the first time there is a collective human consciousnesses. For the first time we don’t need to conquer anyone in order to spread our ideas. We just need to make sure our ideas are of high enough quality, well enough expressed, that they get spread around. I do actually really like the idea of growing my own food though, regaining control over what is going into my body. I’m sure parents would feel similar if they knew about Monsanto or any of the modern farming practices in which poison is used to grow our food. Look at how broken the meat industry is. Pet pig, anyone?
New paradigm can be anything we want it to. Now the old system is blatantly failed. So we build it ourselves. And community is a necessity we are being told to forget. If we went to intentional community, as maybe a city or just a trial in a village somewhere first, I would worry about fighting or a sort of feudal competition between communities, but because of the internet now, we can all be linked. We could have an online voting system for justice. (Like jury service but you wouldn’t have to be there, you could Skype, perhaps.) The prison system needs massive reform to be effective.
The thing that puts people off about intentional community is the old idea of a commune. That too is part of an outdated paradigm. We are modern humans. Nobody I know wants to give up the internet to go live in a tent! (Okay actually Kimwei wants to live in a tent but she still has an iPhone.)
Point is, things can be totally doable now off grid anyway. Solar panels, wind blah blah, point is, we can do free/cheap energy now. A gym could power us for Christ’s sake! There are ways we can sort it out with a very good quality of life for everyone. How about we do work on certain projects in shifts? For sewage work, for example, which nobody in their right minds would choose to do, maybe we could rotate so each adult between 18 and 40 does 4 weeks a year or something. On rotation with other jobs which are nicer but just as necessary. Growing crops. Tending to animals. Watching out for the children. Cleaning everything. Running a drama project or an entertainment schedule for everyone. Taking on an apprentice in any of these fields when you’ve specialised for a few years. You could even have a rotation where you just have a month of no pressure, do whatever you want, or nothing, or work on being creative somehow. Shorter work days.
Anyway, that’s my idea. I have no idea how to tackle the corporate/elitist/fascist beast that controls our planet, but I have an idea how to take our power back as individuals and communities, and with that, people will have what they need. That is enough for now I think.
Category Archives: Observational
How do we build a new societal construct which works?
I Don’t know why I used this image, but I really liked the weird little metal nipples… Anyway, on with the blog post!
How not to be stuck in a rut? If your songs are suffering because you keep repeating old formulaic devices you always use, how the heck are you gonna get interesting again, damn you?!
I’ll suggest a few things now that will hopefully blow your crazy little song-wig.
- Just play. That is absolutely essential for music to have the freedom it needs to breathe. Kids are SO creative when they play, because they don’t impose any boundaries on themselves, and there are no such things as mistakes – everything is learning. So if you make a “Mistake” whilst going through your song, try and remember what you did, and make “Playing Music” be music at play, not some super-serious rehearsal. Dick around more. Do more stupid shit that might not work. Don’t worry because everything’s gonna work out fine, even if you don’t get anything ‘Productive’ done for that session. You’ve been building your skills that whole time, and there is no such thing as wasted time when it comes to creativity, as long as you’re playing.
- If you usually do one thing to start writing a song ~ do another thing! If you usually write chords first, try making up a riff. If you riff first, start with a bare acapella melody, or lyrics. I find when I’ve just got home from work and nobody is in ~ I have a little sing to myself in my kitchen while I’m making myself a cuppa, and sometimes it turns into an actual song! (Mostly it just makes me think about key changes though.)
- Don’t spend all your time polishing a frankly exhausted turd, go do something else! The turd will go fertilise some roses you can show off at a later date. Flogging a dead horse is a really good way to become covered in rotting viscera. (You may quote me.)
- If you play guitar, mess with the tunings. DADGAD is great, so is open D Major – (DADF#AD) DADF#GD is pretty fun too but not for the faint-hearted! Also, get a spider capo or a 3 or 4 string capo… The possibilities are so limitless! Because you might not be used to those tunings, working by ear becomes the dominant way of doing things, and therefore chord progressions become more instinctive and less habitual or formulaic.
- Don’t overthink.
- Go for a walk, tidy your kitchen, have a nice relaxing poo, do some free-writing, go spruce yourself up a bit, or give your pet some smooch-time for ten minutes and get your brain out of expectation mode. If you’re anything like me, creativity comes out of freedom, not obligation. Do something that is different from your normal approach to writing.
- Let the ideas cook. Don’t even try unless it’s ready, when you’re writing lyrics. Do riffs instead and work on instrumental skills. I have been finding more and more that unless I have something particular I want to say, it’s best not to say any old shit that springs immediately to mind. Having said that, for over 12 years of songwriting, I HAD to say any old shit that came to mind, because I tended to believe everything my brain threw (up) at me, and I didn’t know what I thought about XYZ unless I’d either said it to someone or written a song about it. (Duh. God life was so hard when I thought I had to believe all my thoughts! I guess that’s the difference between an external and internal emotional processor.)
- Don’t let the Internal Critic have its say until you’ve got loads of ideas down ~ then you can cut your song down to size. There is no point in being precious about keeping a verse that just doesn’t quite work. Get rid of it. If it wants to be said (and it has to be in that particular song) you can always edit it into shape. What works best for me is getting quantity, rather than agonising over quality, and then making sure that the cream of the crop is used to show your song off in the best light. (Wow ~ overuse of sayings. Don’t over use sayings. Ha!)
- One thing I did that really inspired me to write some of my best songs is just to write a really long list beforehand. I wrote down every single thing I could think of about a certain subject ~ The Elements ~ But starting with half a page of words for water, then moving onto everything I could come up with to do with air, then earth, then fire. By the end of it I’d managed to get my brain into puzzle-solving mode, and I came up with a couple of my best metaphors ever.
- Along the same lines, either research a topic that catches your interest already, and just make a notes page in your notebook about it, or just use your notebook to doodle in, and write inside the doodle, incorporating it into the structure somehow. This is also sort of getting your brain into puzzle-solving / free creativity mode, and it works wonders to shut the internal critic’s shitty little face hole. If you rely on writing to happen, that’s a really good way of accidentally telling it to fuck right off. It’s like herding cats. But I do hope those are some nice ways you can get the songs to come to you, so let me know how you get on in the comments!
Hope that helps, song-buddies! Until next time.
Remember you are love.
Confidence, like grammar, is the difference between
knowing your shit
and knowing you’re shit.
As someone who doesn’t necessarily find confidence easy to come by, as a musician or in general, I often find that when I am actually confident, I fear that I’m coming across as overtly narcissistic and rubbish as a human. This week however, I’m struggling with the opposite end of that particularly slippery spectrum… I notice that my confidence crumbles if I don’t perform enough, and unfortunately, through chance and circumstances beyond my control, my last 3 gigs have been cancelled.
I realised a while ago that in order to be confident, I need to make sure I have given myself the best opportunities possible to actually be good at stuff. This means, as I said in my last post, practise as much as I need to. This also means put myself in places emotionally that make me feel good about my music. I recommend going to open mic nights for this, if you don’t have much of a chance to do regular gigs. I notice personally that if I haven’t performed for a week or two, suddenly I forget that actually I feel natural on stage now, and I revert to my default state of ‘self-conscious-and-rather-chubby-stuttering-paranoid-15-year-old.’ If you’ve never been one of these, I really recommend that you don’t try it any time soon. When I was said painful adolescent, however, I was lucky enough to receive the very best advice about manufacturing confident behaviour that I think I’ve ever had:
“Fake it until it’s real.”
This is actually backed up scientifically by an amazing Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy: ‘Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,’ which I sincerely recommend for anyone who might get nervous about anything ever in the world.
Also, I’ve been super confident at some stages of my life, and at those times I’ve thought to myself: “Yasssss!! I’ve finally managed to be confident! I’m going to be like this for EVER!!”
And gone around in some variety of glowing chutzpah haze until the next time I don’t perform for a while (or indeed until maybe I look at a picture of one sad kitten too many on the internet, and find myself quivering in paroxysms of self-doubt for seemingly very little reason.) The thing is, mentally I haven’t done much differently than when I’m a radiant picture of self trust and certainty.
Cultivating a mental attitude of confidence is always going to be a work in progress.
The same very wise and dear man who gave me the wonderful advice on confidence when I was a teenager had something more to tell me in my early twenties. He said that even he (as a successful musician and composer for many years) constantly has to monitor and encourage his own confidence. He said it is a lifelong thing. ~ This newsflash, coming from someone whose work I really value and respect, (who has a collection of rather bodaciously shiny gold disks on his wall) and who I really see as a musical success, works as the ultimate validation for me in times of anxiety.
So actually, the first picture I posted was a big fat lie. Everything isn’t necessarily going to be okay… Confidence will be a constant struggle for some people, and may be a piece of piss for others. There is one thing we can do though ~ we can make it okay in our own minds, by accepting that it will always be a challenge, and that this is normal even for very successful people. So in that respect, everything is going to be okay.
Remember, you are love.
(If anyone has anything to add to this, or has any questions, please don’t hesitate to comment!)
To celebrate my first double figured blog post, here are my thoughts about how to perform like you have just become a marvellous and transcendent unicorn.
I’m writing this as if I’m writing it to myself ten years ago, so I apologise if some of this is basic…
Firstly ~ and blindingly obviously ~ you practise like a fiend. You practise like an absolute fucker. If you don’t practise enough, you will have not given yourself enough of an opportunity to be as awesome as the transcendent unicorn you know in your heart you are capable of becoming. This could ultimately affect you psychologically, probably more so than the lack of actual practise.
You practise until your facial and vocal muscles know the songs better than your actual memory. Then you practise more than that.
You make sure you have newish strings on your guitar or you will keep going out of tune on stage, and that is always a bugger. Remember to stretch your strings a few times and then tune back up until they stay tuned. Always have a spare tuner on stage. That goes for capos and plectrums and strings.
You make sure that you have sung for at least 45 minutes the day before, and for at least 45 minutes earlier in the day before the gig. Then somehow magically your voice is still a bit warm from the day before, and it is much easier to control. If it is a big gig, practise more. Don’t strain your voice though. Try not to smoke, you penis-breath!
Remember that when you are on stage you will never be faultless. You are human and that is great. Your songs are also relatively unknown, so if you fuck them up, generally only you will have a clue, which leads me to my next point.
I’m so glad I got good at looking like nothing has gone wrong when everything has gone wrong!
If I’m playing solo, and I cock up a chord sequence, I can just do that shit again and people will hopefully think I’ve done a segue into some avant-garde, hyper-intellectual jazz… Unless they know me, of course, or have read this ~ in which case they know I’ll be playing it twice because I’ve bolloxed it up.
I’m so glad that if it’s obvious to everyone that I’ve totally screwed up on stage, I can do a little cheeky smile, carry on, and people will remember how hard it is to be a live performer and hopefully not think that I’m massively shite generally as a person. If I personally start to think I’m massively shite generally as a person, it means I haven’t meditated enough and I’ve forgotten how to feel fantastic. I can say things like this with some authority as I have been slacking lately and it’s really obvious to me because of how shitty I feel.
Meditate. Come ON.
Chakras open before you get on stage.
The on stage banter is planned, to some extent. You will work out anecdotes for your songs and deliver them fluently as if off-the-cuff. Quite a big difference between professionals and hobby performers is their comfortability talking to an audience.
Take no shit.
Remember to acknowledge people properly when they pay you a compliment. Their comment is more for them than for you. It is best that you nod and thank them gracefully, even if you felt awful about your standard of performance. The urge, I know, is to reflexively elbow them in the throat and screech: “Did you not even HEEEEAR me?! I was performing at the musical standard of an arid and dried up mud-flat in sub-Saharan wilderness! That wall over there is far more entertaining than me! I have had POCKET LINT with more stage presence!!” But it really is rather better for everyone if you refrain from active self-sabotage, look them in the eyes and thank them. Eventually this becomes genuine.
In order to really become the magical space-chicken you truly are, practise making the atmosphere. It may sound strange, but as the focus of the attention of the audience, you can be responsible for holding the space for them. You can focus on unfolding big angel wings and encompassing the space, or you can build the love and energy in the room by imagining that this shape (toroid)
is circulating the mood you want to create out of your heart. I’m sure that some people do this naturally. When I discovered this circulation system that the planet uses with the energy of its magnetic poles, it seemed logical at the time that people could also use this shape to circulate their own energy. This is also the shape of the magnetic field of your heart. I tried out imagining the shape when I was writing the song Strong, particularly the chorus, and it seems to help me perform it… When I remember to think of it!
Applause is best acknowledged for a few seconds as well. You can tell the difference in experience between a performer who ends their song abruptly without acknowledging applause, and someone who lets the audience show appreciation, and appreciates the audience back.
Remember, you are love.
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.
We’ve all been there…
So, this happened to me this week. I accidentally stole one of Sarah McLachlan’s lyrics, used the same number of repeats in my chorus, and even did a similar melodic inflection on the second repeat. Either I had heard the song before and subconsciously “recycled” the lyric, or I hadn’t heard it before, and it was just a coincidence, as it is a common phrase, and a common melodic change to use. Either way, I was pissed off, and swore a lot when someone pointed this out and sung Sarah’s song to me. I do swear a lot generally. But in this case, I really went the extra mile.
The whole reason I started songwriting, when I was a kid, is because it occurred to me that there are only so many scales in Western music, only so many notes within them, only so many time signatures and rhythmical combinations to use… I was an oddly jaded 13 year old, and I was sort of convinced that all of the songs that had been written had used up all of these possibilities already ~ (thankfully, I’m absolutely fucking terrible at maths, so I didn’t think about the odds…) Anyway, that’s what musically started me off. I wanted to prove my-world-weary-self wrong. Turns out, when you’re that absolutely shamefully shite at examining statistics, proving oneself wrong is really easy to do. Hence why I’m still writing songs, and not basking in the glory of a mathematical doctorate from somewhere expensive.
So with all those odds in my favour, (or not in my 13 yr old favour, really, if you think about it.) Let me rephrase… So with all the odds in creativity and musical combinations’ favour, it seems double-annoying that I had to steal the same words as someone else. I thought, you know, with ALL the THINGS it is possible to say in the entire English language, that my lyrical abilities would not succumb to anything so base as saying the same thing as someone else! Poopy-poopy-parp-sharts! (There – if that last phrase wasn’t original I’ll deliberately soil myself. …I just had to Google it just in case. My trousers are safe and so is my dignity. And my originality, come to think of it.)
I mean it’s not like I haven’t stolen melodies like the craven thieving harpy that I am… I unintentionally steal melodies all the TIME! I just usually realise in time to change a vital note or two ~ thus generally improving the song and actually making my sound a bit more interesting. Some could argue that a bit of self-aware pilfering could improve one’s melodic game entirely, but you didn’t hear it from me, okay? Great. Ta.
But words. Words are different. If you change a word, you change a meaning, a concept even, change to the wrong syllable and you change someone’s perception, or you snuff out a perception that someone will have that would have never occurred to you. I do love that about certain songs. To one person they could be about a tragically broken heart, and to another, about how to fall in love, with integrity ~then in the next year to the same person~ a way of looking out for one’s own mental health. Songs can be so wonderfully open and abstract, whilst holding the listener emotionally, even if said listener don’t have a clue as to which concept was originally the main focus from the writer’s perspective. I try and write like that. I try and write as openly as I can, and in that way I suspect it’s a bit like abstract paintings, in that you can project whatever world you inhabit onto it, and it still seems entirely congruent and emotionally real. I can put so much of myself in the work like that, because every time I sing them, the songs mean something subtly new and still relevant to my life. It doesn’t matter how many times I sing them live. To me, then the work is doing its job, and is alive, for me as much as it is for any audience. The music itself holds the emotions, and the lyrics can go where they will. That’s why I’m not a poet, I guess. Music holds your heart, while your mind can wander around nuances of meaning from the lyrics, in a more leisurely way than in poetry, and actually, somehow the meaning can be either secondary to, or can utterly inspire, the emotional reaction in the process. I often wish poets would savour their phrases like singers do. It’s too fast, usually, for me to squeeze all the meanings out of the words in a satisfactorily thorough way. I am a woman, therefore I’m utterly skilled in the art of “how to unnecessarily over-analyse,” which means my brain gets snagged on certain phrases and generally can lose the plot if I don’t make it behave. Woman-brain should really be a recognised medical affliction. Especially if the woman in question, like me, happens to be a lesbian. Then, if you’re lucky enough to have a lady, you have to deal with double-woman-brain on a daily basis, and then you’re totally fucked! (But you’ll probably like my music, so there is a consolation prize!) Of course, that is a good skill to have if you like getting creative with words ~ or as some might say, becoming a cunning linguist. (Badaboom-tssssssch! ~That was an old favourite lesbian-joke, by way of explanation for those who have never heard of cunnilingus. Wow… How did I start talking about this? What’s going on?! Oh. Songwriting. Right. *Flustered.*)
So yes, with my lyrical choice dilemma of this week, I did change one of the words. I was experimenting with just putting entirely different lines in, but that didn’t seem to fit what I had to say. What happened eventually was that I said the same line, then left out a word in the second repeat and changed the melody completely from the original similar variation I started with. In the third repeat of the line it is completely different anyway but I still changed it to keep myself happy and plagiarism-free until the next time my subconscious mind chooses to be a bit of a cock lord.
I think ultimately every songwriter will have had a similar experience of their own at some stage in their lives. Sometimes you can’t tell if you’ve come up with a timeless archetype, or if you’ve accidentally ripped off Frank Sinatra’s more obscure work that you heard in the background of a musical that was on TV when you were 6 and thinking really hard about whether or not you could fly if you jumped off the arm of the sofa. Either way, unless you are likely to be facing a lawsuit any time soon, I wouldn’t worry. Your friends will probably do that thing of haltingly, wincingly breaking it to you, and then you are within your god given rights to swear like a young Glaswegian woman whose eyelid has just been stung by a wasp.
Your subconscious only did that to you so you can write better songs anyway. So I’ll close this post by saying:
“Dear Subconscious and brain in general,
I’ve finished some of my swearing now, and I understand that you’re coming up with your best stuff, even if most of it is probably a bit similar to that-thing-I-can’t-quite-put-my-finger-on, but you do a great job when you’re not shamelessly filching other people’s ideas, and that’s what really counts. Thanks for not always being unoriginal. And when you are, thanks for giving me other people’s ideas to adapt the ideas I’ve just realised are other-other people’s ideas with.” (If you can interpret any meaning from that last sentence, you’re doing better than the majority of my brain.) “And thank you for when you are original. And thank you for being funnier than when I used to try to put jokes in my essays at school. And I just wanted to say you are very well versed in adding all kinds of meaning into my life, so thank you for that. And also, why do you keep mentioning those things you always mention? RSVP.
Remember, you are love.
Okay, I want to write a song. I have no idea what I’m going to write. Where do I start?
Chords. They are lovely when they’re weird. Like people. But if you’re just starting out, you need to establish some ground rules before you develop delusions that you are Claude Debussy… Or at least I needed to! I learnt a three chord sequence and went wild with that when I was first starting out. Wrote about 20 songs all in D major before I got extremely bored of myself and decided to improvise a bit…
I still absolutely love just having a play around with some ideas on my main songwriting instrument, the guitar. For this particular post, I’m going to be talking about guitar, as opposed to piano, or uke, or the Vietnamese nose-whistle. (That’s a real thing, I just Googled it.)
Because I’m mostly self-taught, when I discovered E minor at the age of 13, I thought I was some kind of mystical genius. I ran to show my dad this new amazing thing that I’d discovered, only to be cruelly thwarted by the discovery of the fact that everyone else who had ever spent more than 16 seconds with a guitar had also discovered it. But I was a stubborn little sod, so I carried on trying out new things until eventually they challenged my dad’s musical theory, and then I was smug, and stopped trying so hard.
Ever since, though, the smugness has at least residually remained, and I have continued to pick out weird chords that make my spine all tingly. If you want my advice on writing harmony, I guess that would be it. Play around until you get a spine tingle. Then if you can sing something even more tingly over the top, (and by that I mean using unusual melodic phrases or big jumps in intervals to 7ths, 9ths or to other unexpectedly delicious places) you have won! Congratulations! Imogen Heap puts lots of very delicious harmonies into this acapella track, Hide And Seek:
She frequently makes me feel like I’m on music drugs with her use of harmonies and incredible vocal range. Buy all her stuff now. Also, if you haven’t seen this… It might not help you with songwriting unless you’re really into tech, but it is just so fucking awesome that I have to show you:
Basically, I have been doing weird chords since I was a nipper, and I would heartily recommend trying out random shapes along the guitar neck. This will also help to hone your sense of relative pitch, which is always useful for remembering melodies and making up harmonies.
I started using DADGAD tuning, as opposed to standard tuning, a few years ago and haven’t looked back. I love experimenting with new tunings when I have no idea what the theory is. I just don’t engage the theory side of my brain when I’m “in the feeling” of creating a piece, or even just a mood, and I like being surprised as to where it wants to lead me. A few months back, I started playing in DADF#AD tuning, and I’m still having loads of fun figuring out what the hell is going on and which shapes lead to which sounds!
Some people really like structure. They love putting limits on themselves and challenging their sense of music. For me, I think the biggest challenge I could set myself these days is to write a good, musically interesting and engaging two chord song that keeps you listening. I used to be able to do that when I was about 15, but I seem to have lost the knack! (Probably because when I was 15, I didn’t know how hard it was so I did it without thinking! Curses.) So I guess I haven’t put enough exercises in these here posts yet… Here’s one, if you don’t feel like writing a two chord song… Write a song with no normal chords in it. By that I mean no major or minor traditional happy or sad chords. Only use made up chords that you have not thought about. And if your sense of theory is such that you have to think about it or nothing will come out, play blindfolded or with your eyes closed, don’t think about being musical, and just make weird shapes with your hands on your preferred instrument until something sounds like it would like to become music. This, on the guitar, doesn’t always work if you’re playing all the strings at once, so maybe devise a plucking pattern if your chords are a bit “far out” and that usually registers as melody for people then, and isn’t as overwhelming!
Remember, you are love.