Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Progress of the Album: Sharing (Chapter 8)

There’s always a point in the album production process when the artist/writer has to start sharing responsibilities with others. I don’t know that I would generally consider myself a micro manager, but when it comes to producing an album, I struggle a bit when it comes to handing off duties to other people. Why? Put simply, it’s just hard to “let your baby go” when you’ve poured so much time and effort into it. A dramatic shift of thinking is required when you cross that line where it’s no longer just you moving the process along. Suddenly, you find yourself depending on others to meet deadlines and expectations of quality. Nevertheless, this stage is crucial, and can be one of the most significant dividing factors between a good product and a great product.

It’s been humbling for me to accept the fact that I need others to make my music what I want it to be. I keep going back to a phrase a good friend of mine once etched in my mind – “aces in their places.” There are a few artists out there who do it all (playing all the instruments, mixing the project, etc.) and do it well, but I would argue that generally, the best albums are the ones that have been birthed through a group effort. It’s funny to me that for the most part, musical artists get all the credit when a team has helped to make that artist sound his/her best.

With this being said, I’m extremely excited about the people who will be involved in the development of this new album. Some of these individuals include Dave Bechtel, Rich Barrett, Robert Nugent, Matt Meyer, and 7-8 Nashville studio musicians (drums, bass, guitar, and strings). I will say more about each of these people in future blogs (you can read a little about Matt Meyer in the previous blog).

“Up next… Musician Spotlight: Rich Barrett”

Progress of the Album: Musicians: Matt Meyer

Joining us on the June 18th drum and bass session at DarkHorse Recording studio will be Hilliard, OH native Matt Meyer (in this picture, he is the one to the far right playing the red guitar). Matt is a good friend and an accomplished guitar player, and will be cutting guitar rhythm tracks (and possibly some leads) while we are recording drums and bass at DarkHorse. Here is a YouTube video of Matt demonstrating some of his guitar tones:


Friday, March 26, 2010

First Session at DarkHorse - June 18th, 2010

IT'S OFFICIAL!!! We're heading to DarkHorse Recording in Nashville to record drums & bass on June 18th!!

Pictured is Steve Brewster at DarkHorse's Lodge studio during the tracking of Backstage Pass in October 2003.

For more info on DarkHorse Recording, visit: http://www.darkhorserecording.com)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Progress of the Album: Emotions (Chapter 7)

I spent about two years writing and recording my last rock album Backstage Pass – a long and challenging process which included a number of emotional highs and lows. Some of you understand the artistic temperament. If you’re an artist, you know what it’s like struggling to come up with ideas. You can relate to the feelings of excitement and let down which accompany the road of creation. One moment you’re pumped about a new song you’ve written and the next minute, you’re discouraged when you play the song for someone else and don’t get the reaction you’re looking for. You know what it’s like to compare yourself to others, all the while wishing you were better at singing or playing your instrument. If you’re an artist, you’re familiar with the vulnerability that comes with releasing your baby to the public. Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Waiting for the Rain
Personally, I underwent a creative drought between the years of 2004 and 2009. For five years, I attempted to write songs, but nothing came to me… or at least nothing I was proud of. I’m still not sure why I had so much trouble writing songs for such an extended period of time. I can only guess. I’m thinking initially it had to do with the fact that I wasn’t motivated to produce another album. I really began to feel that God wanted me to step away from music, mainly because it seemed that everything I was trying was failing, and I just didn’t sense God’s blessing on what I was doing musically. I basically threw in the towel for about a year or so starting in 2005. Then towards the end of 2005, I started trying to write again, although I was more or less journaling about what I was going to write, without ever actually penning any songs that represented what I was hoping to output. Here is an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote in late 2005.

“Right now, I am wrestling with a lot of emotions...fear, doubt, cynicism, confusion. There are days when I wake up and wonder what I’ve done with my life, if anything. As a 30-year old, I’ve begun to feel that I am “outdated”...maybe even “lost”...wandering the wilderness of singlehood, not knowing where I am to turn. If there were one thing I wish I had right now, it would be hope. Hope that God still has great things in store for me. Hope that I am making a difference in the lives of those around me. Hope that I will not grow more and more cynical and withdrawn as years pass. Hope that I can find intimacy in friendships, or even a lifelong mate. Hope that I can truly open up and be accepted for who I really am inside. Hope that I can overcome the evil one and the sin in my life with the strength of Christ. Hope that I can actually make friends and keep them...hope that they will stick with me even when I am unlovable. Hope that I will find a mentor and/or partner who will be a musical sounding board, and will push me to be a better musician/writer/performer and hopefully, a better man of faith. It’s interesting how hope is the one thing which combats so many of the emotions I face these days…

…I think I’ve been brought up in an environment that tells me to make myself as presentable as possible. I don’t think you can really appreciate the beauty of life until you come to grips with how evil man is, how dangerous the world is, and how loving God is.

…My point is I want to write from an adult’s perspective...I may be finished with writing cute songs. If anything, I feel that this project needs to be more transparent and more penetrating emotionally. I don’t want to limit my wording to a particular audience necessarily and I don’t want to over analyze my approach. In the end, I want to write what I know and what I feel honestly, from the heart, from the spirit...without the limitations of what “Christian music is supposed to look like.” My faith and my wrestling’s, and the Word of God will be the guide, not the expectations of others.” – written 12/26/05

As I look back, I can see how God was stretching and building my faith. Those years of drought were actually years I wouldn’t dare trade. I learned a lot of life lessons through those low points that transcended my musical journey. I believe the Lord brought me through a number of doubts and trials so that I could encourage others that may be going through some of the same things I’ve been through. No, I’m not single anymore, but I distinctly remember how difficult it was wondering if I would ever find my soul mate. No, I wouldn’t consider myself depressed now, but I’ve been depressed in the past, and I’ve learned that the voices in my head are not always necessarily speaking God’s truth. Regardless, even now as I work on this new project, I have to be careful to stay balanced emotionally. It’s been incredible this time around to share the creative process with my wonderful wife Crystal. She has been such a great support and encouragement, and quite honestly, I wouldn’t have started this project if it weren’t for her pushing me to do it. The simple words “you can” from someone you love can make all the difference.

Your Feelings are Your Friends
Those of you that know me know I am an analyzer. I probably drive some of you insane, but diversity is what makes the world go around, right? For me, the writing process is like nothing else I have experienced. Why? It demands that I dig deep inside my heart to see what I’m really feeling and what really matters to me. Any other time, it’s easier to ignore your feelings, but when it’s time to write, you have to look those feelings right in the face because for once, whether good or bad, they are your friends. Those feelings are the parents of your newborn songs.

For me, clarifying and filtering my feelings can be an extremely difficult task. It’s one thing to feel something. It’s another thing to communicate those feelings to others in a constructive way. If I straight out told you I was sad, you might not care (just for the record, I’m not sad… I’m just using this as an example). However, you might stop and listen if I wrote a song that made you sad, or embodied your own sadness. All this to say… song writing pushes me to a new level of analyzing. I never throw a song together… every lyric has been stewing for months in a creative crock-pot.

Two is Better Than One
Being married has been awesome… on many levels… even creatively. For one, I have a Godly wife who is extremely supportive, but along with this, Crystal has taught me a lot about balance. I used to write and record whenever I wanted to, but now I need to (and want to) think about what is best for my wife. Usually, we have one day and one evening during the week which are set apart as “music times.” Having a schedule like this has caused me to be both more intentional (setting musical goals for each week) and more balanced (as I’m usually not working on music every single evening and weekend). Even years ago, I began to realize the importance of taking breaks. Good songs come through life experiences, and many of the most life building experiences happen outside of the studio. In other words, it’s important for the artist to get outside, smell the roses, play a game, take a trip… whatever it takes to keep his/her life in balance so that his/her purpose of helping others through music isn’t snuffed out because he/she is never engaging in the lives of others.

The Mental War Zone
I recently spoke with a writer friend who said he also had to “battle many voices inside his head,” especially throughout the creative processes of writing his books. I think it’s probably a common thing for artists (and even non-artists) to wrestle with thoughts of self-criticism and doubt. Here are some lessons I’ve learned (and continue to learn) which have helped me to maneuver the landmines of the artistic mind’s warzone.

First, you can’t live your life trying to please everybody. Some people won’t like you and/or your art no matter what you do or change. As the old Steven Curtis Chapman song says, “You’ve Gotta B True.” I believe the best and most powerful art happens when we’re willing to be ourselves. Second, as important as it can be to analyze, don’t think yourself to death. We can be our worst enemies by thinking ourselves into a corner of self-paralysis (analysis of paralysis, as the saying goes). Think constructive thoughts, not destructive ones. Third, realize that your art is not nearly as important to others as it is to you… and be ok with that. As an example, moviemakers spend years and millions of dollars making a movie that people (usually) watch one time for two hours. After the movie is over, the audience is on to something else. So it goes with music. Some people may play your CD over and over, but they’ll never play it as many times as you’ve played it trying to get everything just right. For you, your music may be your life, but for most people, your music is entertainment, a point of interest that often turns as quickly as the turn sty of a box office hit. That can be a tough one to stomach. Forth, and this is critical… though art may be an extension of you, it is not what makes you who you are. In other words, you as a person have much more value than your art. As Christians, we need to be confident in who we are in Christ. That’s where our real value lies.

The Best I Have To Offer
I like how one artist put it at the release of his new album… “This is the best I have to offer right now.” It’s important to see the creative process as a journey. We’re all on the road to becoming better, and no one project is going to completely sum up what we want to say or where God is ultimately taking us.

Up Next… “Meet the Musicians: The Team Behind The New Album”

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Progress of the Album: DarkHorse (Chapter 6)

Tentatively, I’ll be recording drums and bass at DarkHorse Recording in Nashville, Tennessee this coming June (this is where Dave Bechtel and I recorded much of my last rock album Backstage Pass in 2003-2004). However, a number of things need to happen before I move to this next stage in the production process.

Financial Planning
First, I need to save enough money to pay for the trip. I’ve actually built some buffer time into the production schedule so that I can focus a couple months on doing side jobs to fund the recording sessions (If you or someone you know is in need of audio/music work, please let me know! This is how I am mostly funding this project – with side jobs). I’ve decided to approach this project in stages both for production and financial purposes. Production wise, the audio editing process is going to be easier if I first record and edit the drums and bass (I find it's trickier to edit a lot of instruments together. The guitars, strings, and other live instruments are easier to edit if they have been recorded to a solid drums and bass track). Also, financially, it only makes sense to divide the recording process into several Nashville trips, specifically over 5-6 months. (The cost of food and gas with multiple trips is minor compared to the accumulating recording costs). I will probably take two additional trips to Nashville in the late summer or fall – one for strings and guitar overdubs, and a final trip for mastering. I’m praying God will provide the money somehow in His time and in His way.

Chord Charts & Sheet Music

Throughout the last eight months of writing songs and creating demos, I’ve also compiled chord charts for each of the 13 songs on the album. For now, these charts function to help me remember what chords go where as I arrange the demos. However, before I go to Nashville in June, I will need to write out basic sheet music that notates where the chord changes happen, and I’ll also need to identify any specific drum and bass licks. Certain instructions may include “bass with overdrive” or “kick on all four” or “use toms instead of high hat.” In addition, all of the chord changes need to be notated in the Nashville Notation System, which substitutes numbers for chords. For example, a G in the key of G would be written as a “1” and an E minor in the key of G would be written as “6-“ (as E minor is the 6 chord in the key of G, with the “-“ symbolizing a minor chord). Nashville studio musicians use this system as it simplifies songs to a basic structure, allowing for faster sight-reading and on-the-fly key changes.

Moving to Pro Tools
I generally use Apple’s Logic Pro for music creation and recording (that’s what I’ve used for years, and what I’ve used to create all the MIDI demos for this project). However, in Nashville, we will be recording using DigiDesign’s Pro Tools. This means I will need to prepare in advance a basic Pro Tools session for each song (and will need to transfer some audio elements over from my Logic demo sessions). What audio elements will be included in these Pro Tools sessions? First, each song will have a click track, which will assist the drummer and bassist in keeping with the tempo of the song (even if there is a retard in the song). Second, for each tune, there will be a mix of all the fake instruments minus the fake drums & bass. This will allow the drummer & bassist to play along with the demos and simply replace the fake drums & bass. There will also be several other audio tracks, including the lead vocal, and another track for the background vocals. These elements will be separated, allowing the volume of the vocals to be boosted or lowered depending on the needs of each player (they will each be wearing headphones, and will be able to make various volume adjustments to their liking).

Up next… “The emotional side of recording.”

(Pictured is DarkHorse Recording in Nashville. This photo was taken in 2004 during the recording of Backstage Pass. For more info on DarkHorse Recording, visit: http://www.darkhorserecording.com)

Check out my 2004 album Backstage Pass on iTunes.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Progress of the Album: The Sound (Chapter 5)

I’ve had a few people ask me, “What is this new album about?” and “What will it sound like?” I’d be glad to answer these questions, but I’m going to speak broadly as I don’t want to completely spoil the surprise.

The Lyrics
First, I’ll begin by saying this is not a rap album. It is instead a modern rock album which springboards off of my last project Backstage Pass, yet delves into some heavier topics, including depression, addiction, self-esteem, troubled relationships, and a variety of other tough subjects. The 13-song album is filled with stories of struggle (many of which are struggles I’ve observed in the lives of others, and some of which are struggles I’ve dealt with in my own life). Amid these candid stories of struggle is an overarching purpose of pointing the listener to the purpose and hope we can only find in Christ. However, this doesn’t mean every song ends happily. Some songs end with resolve, while others end with some tension (as is common to the Christian experience). Scripturally, the album draws a lot from the books of Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes (but there is some New Testament inspiration as well). I guess you could say this project offers hope while remaining honest about the tensions of life.

The Music
The overall sound of the album will be a good bit darker and at times heavier than Backstage Pass, and instrumentally, it will rely even more upon the piano. Some musical influences include The Fray, ColdPlay, Daughtry, Switchfoot, Muse, Keane, U2, and RadioHead, to name a few. In addition to piano, you will hear plenty of drums, guitars, strings, and synths. I will also be using a different set of musicians for this project which will help to vary the sound a bit.

More To Come
I plan to release the title of the album in the next several months, and will also share some lyrical and musical clips as we get closer to the release date (early 2011). In the meantime, keep checking the blog for new entries, not to mention photos and videos (including some from our first Nashville trip, tentatively in June).

Thanks for following along!

Up next… “Preparing for the first Nashville session.”

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Progress of the Album: Vocals (Ch. 4)

Unlike Backstage Pass, I am tracking all of my vocals at 10x12 Productions (in Columbus) instead of in Nashville. For those who don’t know, much of Backstage Pass, including the vocals, were recorded at DarkHorse Recording in Nashville. Why would I track vocals at home when I could record at a beautiful Nashville studio? First, it’s free to record at home. Second, there is no hourly rate to worry about. I can do as many takes as I’d like and I don’t have to look at the clock (unless it’s time for dinner). Third, I can arguably get the same quality of sound at home as I might get in some Nashville studios. Forth, I just feel more comfortable and at home… well, at home.

The Signal Chain
As far as signal path goes, I am using a Shure SM7 mic in conjunction with an API A2D pre-amp. The API output is running digitally into a MOTU UltraLite and from there, the signal travels through FireWire into Logic Pro (which is running on a 2.4 GHz iMac). I’m recording everything at a resolution of 24 bit, 48 KHz. I’m also using a number of sound panels in the studio, which help to mute the reflections in the room (sound reflections).

Background Vocals
I’m also doing something slightly different this time around in that I am recording all the background vocals as I assemble the MIDI demos. With Backstage Pass, I only recorded scratch lead vocals with the demos (no background vocals). I didn’t get around to recording background vocals until after I had recorded all the live instruments in Nashville (and I actually tracked many of the background vocals at home, although I really didn’t have the gear to do it right at that time). In fact, it’s possible I may even keep some or many of the background vocals and lead vocals I am currently recording, and you will hear them on the finished album. We’ll see once all the real instruments are recorded. The live instruments (starting with real drums and bass this summer) may add a new level of energy that may cause me to re-think some of my lead and even background vocals. We’ll see. If anything, I am working now to nail down all the vocal arrangements before we head to Nashville. Why go through all this trouble at this early stage? My reasoning is that these vocals will ultimately affect what the live musicians play or don’t play. I want to leave space for background vocals (they are a crucial part of many of the songs), so I’m arranging and recording them before we add any real instruments.

The Best Way To Sing a Song
Every song is unique. Some songs call for a lot of background vocals. Some don’t. I’m currently working on one tune where I’ve stacked my own voice about 40 times. Some other tunes on the project have no background vocals, or maybe one simple harmony. In addition to the background vocals, the sound of the lead vocal may vary quite a bit as well. Recording these demos has really helped me in discovering and shaping the vocal sound for each song. This may include adjustments to phrasing (where to breathe) and tone. One song may contain a lot of falsetto. Another may call for a whisper, while another may be in need of a more aggressive sound. During the process of creating these demos, I’ve even had to change the key of the song to better fit my vocal range. Actually, there are probably 3-4 songs that are now a ½ step or a whole step above the original piano and vocal demo. They are now much more comfortable to sing.

Vocal Continuity
Even with scratch (potentially temporary) vocals, I try to only record 1-3 takes of the lead vocal. I find that usually I lose the flow and believability of the vocal if I piece it together with too many small “best takes.” Generally, I’ll record the entire vocal of a song 1-3 times and pick the best take, and then I may record a couple additional takes of any trouble spots, but I try to keep this to a minimum. If I can’t sing something well within 1-3 takes, I’d better alter the melody and/or lyrics to better fit my voice.

Up Next… “What is this new album about and what will it sound like?”

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Progress of the Album – Demos (Ch. 3)

Why a Demo?
Every musician is going to have a different definition of the word “demo.” For some, a demo is nothing more than a scratchy cassette recording of their vocal and a guitar. Ultimately, one has to decide what the purpose of a demo is, and construct the demo with that purpose in mind. Sometimes, a demo is simply the initial capturing of a song’s melody and chord structure, and is used only to help the songwriter remember the basics of a song before it is fully committed to memory. At times, a songwriter may record a demo with hopes of sending that recording to a professional, possibly a producer or even a record company’s A&R rep. Depending on the purpose of the demo, a musician may keep the recording as raw as possible, or may work to make the demo a bit more polished.

Each of the 13 songs on this new album started with a very raw vocal & piano mp3 recording. Starting last August, I began using a Tascam DR-07 recorder to capture all of my song ideas. Along the way, these recordings have been transferred to my laptop and have been sorted into folders depending on what song each recording belongs to. Some of the recordings are only small sections of songs (for example, the chorus only when I was first writing the chorus melody) while other recordings are of full-length songs (piano & vocal only). For each song, I may have recorded anywhere from 25 to 100 mini demos, each a progressive snapshot of what each song would eventually become.

Back to the Drawing Board
Generally, after a piano and vocal demo was complete, I would email it to my friend Dave Bechtel (who is helping to co-produce the album) just to get a second educated opinion. His input has been extremely helpful. Often, he really liked the songs I sent him. However, from time to time, he would give me suggestions of how I could make a song better. There were even times when a song was completely shot down as it didn’t fit with the overall feel of the album, or was weak thematically or melodically. I’ve really appreciated Dave’s honest feedback as it has only helped me to improve.

The Elaborated Demo
For this album, I’ve taken demo creation to an extreme. The above-mentioned piano and vocal recordings were only the first stage of a much more involved process. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I am now working to develop full MIDI mock-ups of each song. The reason? I want to go into the Nashville recording studio as prepared as possible. Every minute costs (literally) when you are working with studio players, and it should save me a lot of time and money if I step into the studio with a solid plan of what I want each song to sound like. This doesn’t mean I won’t be open to new ideas that arise in the studio, but I want to at least walk in the door with a good blueprint of each tune.

Assembling a MIDI Mock-Up
Here is how I go about making a MIDI demo. After opening a new session in Logic Pro, I begin by selecting a tempo and a time signature (if the song is not in standard 4/4) and then I play in the piano part of the song (remember this is MIDI, so no audio is being recorded, only MIDI data) using my 88-key controller. Next, I add markers for each section of the song (verse 1, pre-chorus 1, chorus, turn-around 1, etc.). These markers assist me later in jumping quickly to any portion of the song.

Usually, after I set up the song session (tempo, time signature, markers) and record the piano part (via MIDI), I add a drum pattern. I have a smaller MIDI controller that I use to trigger everything but piano, including the drums (this smaller controller has un-weighted keys, which makes it easier to play organs, drums, etc.). Often, I begin by adding a 2-bar drum loop that I repeat throughout the entire song (on occasion, I’ll even add this before I play in the piano part), but other times, I will start by playing the drums real time from start to finish. It really depends upon the song. The point is, I usually try to get some drum pattern established at least right after I record the piano part (or sometimes before). I usually try to pick a drum patch that is appropriate for the song. For example, a slower heavier song may call for a deep kick drum, a meaty snare, and heavy high hats while a faster pop song may demand a snappier kick and snare, and small high hats. These choices should later direct the real drummer as he adjusts his drum kit(s) to fit each particular song. I also may add electronic drums behind the “real” drums for additional rhythm texture.

Generally, the second instrument I record is bass. Hearing the drums, bass, and piano together helps me to visualize the overall groove of the song. It’s important to note that everything I record initially is a very rough pass. This means there may be wrong notes here and there, but the goal is to simply get all the colors on the page, in the same way a painter may start a masterpiece out by selecting his color palette. Typically, I will later go back and re-record most of the instruments (or correct wrong notes as needed).

From here on out, the order of instruments may vary a lot, but often, I will start adding guitars after I have recorded piano, drums, and bass. The question I subconsciously ask myself is, “What instruments make this song come alive or set it apart from other songs?” These are the instruments I usually add immediately after the rhythm foundation (meaning piano, drums, and bass). If a song is going to be very ambient, I may next add some synth pads to give the song an ethereal feel. If the song is going be carried by strings, I will record a rough string pass just to get the mood in the right ballpark. If the mood is ethnic, I may add a Japanese flute or a sitar. If the mood is to be grand, I may add some large taiko drums or timpani.

Up next… Demos P2: recording vocals and background vocals.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Progress of the Album - Songwriting (Ch. 2)

I’m not one to write songs anywhere or anytime. In fact, there are some days when I just don’t want to write, usually because I have nothing to say or I’m just too tired or emotionally worn. Those are the days when I’d rather go to the pool or watch a mindless movie. However, there are days and nights when I am really inspired. I may be inspired by a powerful church message, a passage of Scripture, or more often than not, a personal frustration that is begging to get out constructively. On the other hand, there are those times when I’ll write a song out of the blue, without any premeditation. At times, an innocent tinkering at the piano may unexpectedly grow into an album-worthy song. With every song, I try to write about something that I am passionate about (and something which others can relate to). For example, a song about my struggle with being an introvert may not go as far as a song that deals with a broken relationship.

I would say most of the songs for this new album have been written in the middle of the night in my home studio. It is not my general practice to stay up all night, but from time to time, I can’t sleep because I’m creatively wound up, and just need to get it down on paper (or computer). I prefer to write lyrics using Microsoft Word (for Mac), as it’s easier to cut and move phrases around on the computer compared to editing lyrics which have been written by hand on a notepad. I usually prefer to be sitting by a keyboard (or piano), as I tend to work on the melody, chords, and lyrics at the same time.

Chorus & Verses
I generally aim to write the chorus of a song first, as it is the most crucial and the part that most people usually remember and sing in the shower, or on the way to work. Most often, I’ll start with a general topic and a title (or working title, basically a place holder for the eventual title). I’ll then try out various melodies while experimenting with chords and rhythms on the piano. During this process, I always do my best to make sure the melody, chord progression, and tempo is varied from other songs I’ve written.

After I land a good chorus melody and a few words or phrases that seem to reflect the feeling of the song, I enter the lyrical brainstorming process. As I brainstorm, I write down anything that comes to mind… descriptive words that fit the topic at hand, phrases that help to communicate the feeling of the song, even verses which seem to embody the message. As I write down these words and phrases, I likewise write down any rhyming words, whether they are related or not. This helps to give me some ammo when I later attempt to assemble phrases into rhyming lines.

Sometimes, I write a chorus in a half hour. Other times, I may piece a chorus together over a couple weeks, or even months. However, usually, I’ll come up with a chorus over a couple days. Once I am happy with the chorus, I begin to write verses. I almost always find that the first couple lines of the verse are the most difficult to write as they are what ultimately establish the overall feel and rhythm of the rest of the verses. They also play a key part in grabbing the listener from the top of the song. I really struggle with making verses distinct and catchy. It’s tricky as you want the verses to be strong and unique, but they can’t overpower the chorus. The chorus has to be the top of the rollercoaster. Often for me, the second verse is much easier to write compared to the first verse as the second verse usually plays off of or contrasts the first verse (and the feel of the verses has already been established).

The Bridge
Usually, after the chorus and verse have been written, I tackle the bridge (if the song calls for a bridge). The bridge can do a lot of things. It can further reveal what the song is about (similar to the explaining of a parable). It can change the perspective or direction of the song (like a surprise scene in a movie where the true plot is revealed). Sometimes, it simply works as an alternate chorus (it says the same thing, but just takes the theme from a different angle). Musically, the bridge may sometimes transition the song into a new key. Occasionally, the bridge is instrumental and is an easy way to turn a 2.5-minute song into a 3-minute song. I find that bridges are usually easier to write than choruses or verses. However, there have been times when it’s taken me several weeks to write a decent bridge.

A Relationship of Songs
Typically, I have no idea what the overall theme of an album will be when I write that first several songs for the album. However, there comes a point (maybe after I’ve written 5-6 songs) where the songs begin to fit together (hopefully). As I get further into writing an album, I sometimes discover the need to write connecting songs or contrasting songs. A connecting song may serve to bridge two completely unrelated songs together, while a contrasting song may give some variety when variety is needed (for example, a faster positive song after several darker slower songs). Just as there are various scenes in a movie (a quieter and slower moment after a chase sequence, or a heartwarming family moment before the aliens take over the earth), albums need to have variety to keep the listener engaged and emotionally balanced.

It’s Fun (But It’s Still Work)
Song Writing is usually never easy. Sometimes, one can forget about that fact when one has been away from song writing for a while. Rarely does a complete album-worthy song fall from the sky (although there have been occasions when I’ve written an entire song within an hour or two, and it turns out to be one of my strongest, but that is rare). I find that some songs do come more naturally and quickly, while others develop over time. Most often, I find that relationship songs are the most challenging to write, and typically, those are the ones that take longer to evolve. I may compose an entire song rather quickly, yet may find that it takes several months to nail down one or two questionable words and phrases. I’ve heard it said that every word in a song should count. Just as scenes are deleted in movies, lines that add nothing to a song should be eliminated.

Up Next… “What Goes Into Making a Demo?”