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.

Half Marathon Preparation

March 27, 2011.  That’s when I plan to run the Rock and Roll Dallas Half Marathon.  It will be my first ever half marathon and I am very excited.  I’m pretty sure I can do it.  Although, if I am being honest with myself, I’m not exactly sure what I am basing that on.  The longest race I have ever completed is 5k, so this is quite a significant jump for me.  Also, I don’t really have a training plan.  I just try to run on the weekends and each time go as far as I can go.  My best run so far has been 9 miles.  So I have about a month to get to 13.1.  I don’t think that will be a problem.

The odd thing is that when I ran my last 5k several years ago I was absolutely spent at the finish.  Today, I can run 5k fairly easily and yet I don’t really exercise any more frequently, or feel that I am in any better shape.  So what’s the difference?  How is it that 5k used to be so difficult and now has become routine?  It’s all mental.

Recently my wife has become very interested in health and fitness and has run several races over the past couple of years (she actually is running her first full marathon next week).  Having her as an example in my life has made a huge difference.  Watching her success has made me rethink what I am capable of.  This is going to sound really cheesy, but she has been a true inspiration to me.  Because of her I believe I can run 13.2 miles.  And that belief has made the difference in my training runs.  I’m almost there, and I plan to be ready on race day.

So if you are faced with a similar challenge, the one thing I would say is this… allow yourself the possibility in your mind that you can achieve whatever it is you are striving for.  If you have read any motivational literature you know its a common theme that you have to believe you can do something before you can actually do it.  I am finding this to be very true.  Just believe in the possibility, add in some hard work, and you might surprise yourself.  I am surprising myself every time I go for a training run, and it feels great.

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     

Fishbook 1.5 Submitted

I just submitted version 1.5 of Fishbook to Apple.  It should be approved next week, and to be honest this version is long overdue.  Some improvements include the ability to manually enter GPS coordinates (previously it only allowed you to capture current location) and much better handling of the photos (pinch to zoom, swipe to page, etc.).

Thank you to everyone who leaves comments in the app store.  Your constructive criticism is almost always helpful, and the changes in this version are all based on your ideas.  Thank you.

Anyway, like I said, I feel that this version is long overdue but like the saying goes, better late than never.