A reader and fellow songwriter recently asked if I could offer some basic thoughts on the nuts and bolts of creating and recording vocal harmonies for a song (a source of frustration for said reader). Harmony is certainly a lengthy and complex topic to distill down to a few paragraphs, but here goes something...
One night, mid-Nineties, after catching a great set by singer-songwriter (not yet children's music superstar) Dan Zanes at New York City's Fez, I stuck around to take in "a bit" of the next act on the bill, the still-unknown-to-me Candy Butchers. Thirty minutes later, much to my surprise and delight, I was still glued to my chair.
Every producer imparts special information; Emile Kelman encouraged minimalism. Brad Jones taught me about layering. Larry Klein has deep intuition. Rick Parker conjures a vibe. Pete Min is a master of process. John Alagia understands how tonality impacts songs. Steve Rosenthal knows history. Ed Ackerson rewrites it. Buddy Miller captures lightning in a bottle. They all do.
Though often reserved for the mundane realms of the shopping cart or office Post-It note scene, a good checklist can be a helpful tool in any situation — a collection of stripped-down, simple reminders that quickly focuses the mind toward the core of the matter.
In my musical travels, I’ve found there are generally two types of songwriters; those who create solely when inspiration calls and those who write via a structured work schedule. If, like me, you fall into the former, waiting-for-that-lightning-to-strike category of writers, this blog post is for you.
For better or worse, over the years I’ve come to find that when writing music for myself (as opposed to other artists or projects), I’m not a disciplined, “Write something every morning” kind of writer. Instead, I generally find myself reaching for the guitar or sitting at the piano when I feel in the mood to play, if not necessarily in the mood to “write."
As more and more songwriters set up Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) at home to demo their ideas or make full-blown recordings of their work, they find themselves face to face with a myriad of tools, options and choices they may never have encountered before. Today I’d like to talk about one of those tools: the virtual instrument.
As the demands and distractions of our modern, ultra-connected existence attempt to claim every minute of our day, it’s often hard to find the time to do what we, as songwriters, want/need to do the most: write. Texts, email, phone, the web, etc. As important and as necessary as each may be, they can also sometimes act as mini-detours on the road to creative productivity.
While your average songs usually exhibit an era-specific quality influenced by the zeitgeist of their time, the truly great tunes, those considered by our culture as such throughout history, actually exhibit the opposite; a quality of “timelessness."
Within the songwriter’s universe much attention is given to the chorus section or “hook” of a tune, but perhaps of equal, if not obvious, importance is a song’s verse section. When you really think about it, it’s pretty crucial to have strong verses. Most popular song structures feature a verse on their song’s timeline before their venerable chorus makes its grand entrance.