Writing A Song – Part 5

When I sat down to write the lyrics for this song, I knew generally that I wanted to write something upbeat and positive.  So I started thinking about what makes me happy.  The obvious things came to mind… spending time with my family and friends.  Around this same time I happened to be commenting on Facebook about how much I loved mint chocolate chip ice cream when I was a kid.  It got me thinking about how important it is to appreciate the little (and big) things in life while they are happening.  Time passes and if you don’t appreciate the good in your life you might not even remember how good you had it.  And if you do remember, you might regret not enjoying it more.

That sentiment is essentially what this song is about.  The lyrics are pretty transparent, maybe too much so, but they are from the heart.  If anyone gets anything from this song, I hope it is a decision to spend more time with the people they care about.  I can’t imagine anyone would ever regret following this advice.  So here’s my song, for anyone that would care to listen.

“Love In Your Life”

do you ever feel like you don’t know where you’ve been, sometimes
do you ever feel like a stranger in your skin, sometimes
do you ever feel like it all goes by too fast
my friend you’ve got to take the time, live in today, and not the past
do you ever feel like you don’t know where you’ve been, sometimes

the air, you breathe, all the people in your life to see
don’t wait, delay, take it in don’t let it pass away
the love, in your life

through my day to day, I sure don’t want to miss
the real moments of my life, the hugs, the laughs, and each sweet kiss
there will come a day, when I’ll be moving on
don’t want to look back at my life and feel my focus was all wrong

the air, you breathe, all the people in your life to see
don’t wait, delay, take it in don’t let it pass away
the love, in your life

when you’re not feeling alright
don’t know where to begin
remember don’t lose sight
look into your heart
take comfort within

the air, you breathe, all the people in your life to see
don’t wait, delay, take it in don’t let it pass away
the love, in your life, today

© 2011 Mike Cendana

Writing A Song – Part 4

A lot of progress has been made on my song since I last wrote on the topic.  Actually, it’s pretty much done.  And I’m not exactly sure how or why it happened so quickly.  When I last wrote, I was struggling with the melody.  Well, I just kept playing around with notes and gradually the lines in my head started to resemble You and Your Heart by Jack Johnson.  The kind of melody that is paced, deliberate, and to the point in its delivery.  It just felt like the right style of vocals so I went with it.  In fact, the phrasing and melody in my chorus is extremely derivative of You and Your Heart.

At this point I had a verse, a chorus, and a pretty good idea of what the melody was going to sound like.  I decided to add a bridge to add a change of pace, especially considering my verse and chorus used the same four chords.  I had read somewhere that it was usually a good idea to keep your bridge extremely simple.  I have no idea if that’s true or not, but following that advice I came up with a simple G#m C#m bridge and it seemed to fit well enough so I kept it.

The only thing I was missing now was lyrics.  And really that was the part that I sort of expected to struggle with.  As it turns out, writing the words was not only easier than I thought it would be, it was also the most enjoyable part of the process.  I think most of my anxiety around writing lyrics was not knowing what I wanted to write about.  And it makes perfect sense… if you don’t know what you want to say, how can you come up with the words to say it?  Sounds obvious I know, but somehow I think I didn’t get it until after I finished the song.  I’m going to write more about the lyrical content, and I’m also going to post a much better recording of the finished song.  But first, here’s one last look at the list of deliberate (or maybe not so deliberate in the case of Bieber) influences…

  • Baby by Justin Bieber (verse chord progression)
  • You and Your Heart by Jack Johnson (phrasing and melody in the chorus)
  • Firework by Katy Perry (some lyrical bits in the first verse)

Writing A Song – Part 3

Slight change of plan.  I started thinking about beats and decided to change the rhythm a bit.  Instead of the straight eighth note pattern in the previous recording, I decided to go with a two eighth note quarter note feel.  I added some bass drum and claps in Garage Band to help convey the rhythm.

Also, I realized (after I had decided to use this chord progression) that my verse is essentially the same chord progression as Baby by Justin Bieber, only in a different key.  Now I can’t claim to be a big Bieber fan, but I would be lying if I said his music was not played often in my household and in our minivan.  My 4 year old son idolizes him.  So whether deliberate or not, I’m pretty sure that I had Baby in mind when I decided on these chords.  Maybe it was subconscious.  Bieber fever affects you and you don’t even know it.

I also was feeling a pre-chorus of A B, which honestly in my mind was reminiscent of Better Together by Jack Johnson (one of my favorite songs).  So an updated list of influences would be a follows…

  • Baby by Justin Bieber
  • Better Together by Jack Johnson

As far as a melody is concerned, I haven’t come up with anything at this point that I am really crazy about.  To mess around and hopefully stir some ideas I picked some notes out of the E major scale and recorded that as well.  But I think the next steps will be really tough.  Right now I don’t have much… a chord progression, a basic beat, some thoughts on how the chorus might begin.  I need to add a melody, perhaps an instrumental hook, and lyrical content.  I need to evolve it into something that is more mine, a true original song.  This is typically where my previous song writing attempts have started to fall apart.  I will do my best to follow through this time.

Here is the updated version.  Once again, please excuse the quality.  Not only was I recording this with the mic in my MacBook, but it was recorded during the day which means you may hear the Fresh Beat Band in the background or my kids playing with various toys.  The timing is off, the quality is bad, and normally I wouldn’t think it was worth sharing.  But like I wrote in part 1, I want to document the songwriting process, including all the rough cuts along the way.  So here it is.  I promise if I ever finish writing this song, I will record everything from scratch and it will sound a lot better.

Writing A Song - Part 3     

 

Writing A Song – Part 2

Ok.  I picked up the guitar and somehow settled on this as the basic chord progression for the verse…

E  C#m7  A  B

I really don’t know how I came up with those chords other than its a fairly common chord progression and I was trying to come up with a key that I can sing in.  As soon as I came up with the chords, the next thing that popped in my head was how I wanted to play this rhythmically.  Should it be acoustic strumming?  Or more of a clean, on the beat, pop sort of rhythm?  Which got me thinking, I’m really not thinking about rhythmic patterns as much as I am thinking of how I ultimately want to record the song.  Is it going to be more of live band type of arrangement, or more of a pop song?

All of this I found kind of crazy.  I have four chords, no melody, no lyrical content, and already my mind is jumping to what genre of music I am going to record it as.  Is this how the creative process is supposed to work?  I always thought the song came first, and the arrangement and recording were secondary.

To make matters worse, not only am I thinking about genre of music, but I find myself thinking about what existing songs I want my song to sound like.  I promise you I’m not straight up copying anything, but where do you draw the line between being influenced by another song, and plagiarizing it?  Certainly its ok to be influenced by other songs, right?  Isn’t everything derivative of something else to some degree?

Well, wrong or right, I’m not too worried about it.  Actually, I’m quite happy because my creative juices are flowing, and that is way better than being stuck.  However, I do think it might be interesting to keep track of the various influences that I am consciously bringing into my song.  So here is a list of deliberate decisions on my part – kind of like a game plan for writing (and recording) the song.  This list will surely change, but as of right now here it is…

  • Definitely want this to be upbeat and not dreary in any way.
  • For some reason I have Firework by Katy Perry and Dynamite by Taio Cruz in mind as songs I want to emulate.  Two pop songs that I think are superbly produced and kind of infectious.
  • Since I don’t have much in the way of professional gear, my recording is going to have to make use of less than ideal instruments, mics, effects, etc.  I’m going to try to embrace this and use it to make my recording sound unique (hopefully in a good way).

Lastly, I said that I would have some audio of what I came up with.  Its only 4 chords and just a guitar, so it’s not much, but here it is.  As the song develops, these should start to sound a lot better.  Also, please excuse the audio quality, this was recorded with the built in mic in my MacBook.  I’ll break out the gear when the song takes more form.

Writing A Song - Part 2     

 

Writing A Song – Part 1

I would love to be able to write a great song.  I know I’m not alone in this desire either.  Its seems to be part of the natural progression in a human being’s interest in music.  You start by enjoying listening to music, then you want to play an instrument, then you want to be in a band, then you want to record, and then you want to write original songs.  It doesn’t always happen exactly in that order, but more or less this seems to be the progression.  Well, I am definitely in stage 5 of this series of interests, and have been for some time.  The problem is I haven’t quite been able to get it done.

Now I have written songs before… joke songs, jam songs, the kind that are almost inevitable when you play in a band.  And I have collaborated with others in writing songs that have turned out quite good.  But I have yet to write a song, on my own, that I have been really proud of.  And to be honest, I may never do it.  Not everyone is capable of writing a great song.  I might not have it in me, and I’m ok with that.

But I am going to keep trying.  And for my next attempt I’m going to document the creative process along the way.  My hope is that by doing so I might help someone else in stage 5 that is struggling with the songwriting process.  Here’s the thing though… I’m not a professional song writer and I don’t have a degree in music theory.  So I am going to struggle with a lot of things that a more experienced or knowledgeable songwriter would have no problem with.  I am hoping this will help, or at least be interesting to, others with backgrounds similar to mine.

Speaking of background, I mentioned that I don’t have a degree in music theory.  However, I do know a few things.  Let me quickly summarize what I know so that anyone who is following along closely has some sense of where I am starting from.  I know the major and minor scales.  I know what notes constitute a major and minor chord.  I know how to fret and play countless other chords on the guitar that I don’t necessarily know the name of, but have some sense of how they are used in a song.  I have learned to recognize basic chord progressions from learning to play covers over the years.  That’s about it.

Ok.  Now comes the hard part – where to start.  If you don’t have the benefit of having some idea or melody pop up in your mind to give you inspiration, then what is the best first step?  Do you start with a melody, a chord progression, lyrical content, a rhythmic pattern?  Or, do you start with figuring out what type of song you want to write, what tempo, or how you ultimately want to arrange it?  I suspect that if you were to ask an experienced songwriter these questions they might tell you that there is no right answer.  Since I don’t really know what will be the best approach for me, I’m just going to start with my guitar and try to come up with a basic chord progression and the beginnings of a melody.  I’ll just have to see where this goes.

The next time I write on this topic, I’ll try to have some audio of what I came up with.

My Latest Favorite Song To Cover

Have you ever been in a band and when you get together to jam you end up playing the same song a bunch of times, yet you never seem to get tired of it?  Well for me, these days that song is Many the Miles by Sara Bareilles.  I like the words.  I like the harmonies.  I like that you can arrange it in multiple ways and play it in different styles and its all good.  It’s a singer’s song in my opinion – it lends itself to singing with feeling, and there’s ample opportunity to belt it out if you are capable (which I am not, but I play with people that are).  It’s totally subjective I know, but I think its a great song to listen to, and an even better song to play.

I’m sure there are other songs that I can’t remember, but here are some of my more memorable “favorite songs to cover” along with the year they were most heavily played on my iPod and in practice sessions.

  • Many the Miles by Sara Bareilles (2010)
  • I’m Yours by Jason Mraz (2009)  I must have listened to this song a few hundred times while writing Fishbook in the wee hours of the morning.
  • What Am I To You by Norah Jones (2006)  The centerpiece of our setlist when we were playing out often.

Remembering the 404 Live Days

Five years ago I was in a band called 404 Live.  We weren’t big, we weren’t even that great, but we were together.  We got to play out in front of people.  We covered songs that we genuinely liked.  All in all it was super fun.  Let the reminiscing begin…

We got together kind of by chance.  The company I worked for was having a holiday party and there was a desire for some musical entertainment.  So I volunteered to play and so did a couple of my coworkers.  It’s funny that I had worked with them for years, but I don’t think I even knew that they were so musically inclined.  Anyway, we rehearsed a few songs for the party, had a good time, and decided it would be fun to do some recording.

We ended up giving that recording to a guy who owned a restaurant in my neighborhood.  He liked it and asked us if we wanted to play Saturday nights at his restaurant.  So we did.  Now for me personally, this was a pretty big freaking deal.  A lifelong lover of playing music (I thank my mom and dad for that) at the time I hadn’t picked up an instrument in years, and I certainly hadn’t played in front of people since college.  I think I had forgotten how fun it was.  So to go from no live music in my life at the time, to a regular gig performing in front of people, was kind of mind blowing.  It was really cool.

We went on to play that Saturday gig for a summer, and played various other parties here and there.  It was great, it was just fun, I don’t know how else to describe it.  After a year or so, we all kind of got busy with other things, and eventually it wasn’t practical to keep practicing and playing, so we stopped.

These days, I still keep in touch with the singer, and the drummer, and we jam from time to time, and its just as fun as it ever was.  I think we miss playing in front of people, but we’ll probably string something together in the near future.

Every now and then I’ll listen to a recording from back then and remember how fun it was.  Tonight was one of those nights.

Our cover of What Am I To You:

What Am I To You     

Our cover of Time After Time:

Time After Time