A Co-write and Victory!

Apologies, I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog front*  – I’ve been focussed on getting through the Tune-A-Day challenge. Last night, arriving at the completion of Day 30 was almost an anticlimax – although I did try and write something a little triumphal sounding to go out on, as I’ve never got to Day 30 before.

After the first couple of weeks, I expected it to feel like a physical battle to keep going, as it has in previous years, but it didn’t really get that bad, thankfully, apart from a wobble early on, around Day 8/9. Maybe the previous years’ ‘training’ is starting to pay off, or maybe I was just that bit more accepting of the ideas not being 100% finished. The battle this time was more about ‘this is starting to feel a bit mundane’ or creating more than just a nice sounding intro riff.

Knowing that there was a small but dedicated bunch of people who would be waiting to check out the next tune was very good motivation to keep going. Not letting people down… So thank you if you’re one of those who followed along, commented, liked or retweeted: couldn’t have done it without you.

Oversized owl mug - a cuppa during songwriting session with Matt Steady

Enjoying a nice cuppa at Studio Steady

Day 26: First Stoneygate Co-write

A highlight was co-writing with Matt Steady for the first time on Monday (although I was ridiculously tired from a road trip to a family get-together the day before). Co-writing has been a mixed experience in the past: I co-wrote several songs with a friend at Uni, then there was a long gap. It was the first time I’ve co-written as Stoneygate, and I wasn’t sure if I should be using the electronics or the guitar. It is also the first time doing a co-write as part of Tune-A-Day. In case anyone is wondering, it is definitely not cheating – co-writing uses a whole extra level of skills that I need to work on, as well as the composition & lyric-writing, so it was more challenging than sitting down to write alone.

On the day, I didn’t think I’d keep pace if I tried to go with the electronics during the songwriting – I was rather low on brainpower, even after a large dose of Matt’s real coffee.  So I stuck with the guitar, to focus on chords, melody and lyrics and not slow myself down worrying about sound design and hitting all the wrong notes. Just as well, I think we were in a funny key (a technical term, honest)!

The song felt like a proper joint effort, and once we’d got past the we’ve-never-worked-together-before shyness, and worked out what we were going to write about, we were challenging each other’s ideas and throwing in our own. There was also the important matter of being made acquainted with the most curious of the Steady cats. The song, being essentially a blues piece, didn’t feel like a Stoneygate song, though, until I’d put it into the computer, messed around to get a bassline that contrasted with the chords, then put some trip-hoppy drums in, and then it all made a lot more sense.

July is looking very busy already. Plus, I’d like to try to get to grips with Unity, the games development platform, as I’d like to try and make a video using it.  (I’ve no idea if this is a realistic goal yet – it could turn out to be too big an ask, but I don’t think it will hurt to learn more about it).  I’m following a games music composition course at the moment. And, I’ll be doing cover-song swapsies this month with one or two of the other musicians in a Facebook group I’m in.  There’s also the small matter of progressing the album(s)! With more than an hour of additional material, the Tune-A-Day exercise gives me a lot more leeway selecting what makes the final cut for the next release.

 

*Not to mention the email and Twitter fronts.

Tune A Day June 2017 Update

I thought I’d write a quick update for you on Tune A Day progress (etc). It’s already Day 11 of the challenge, more than a third of the way through, and amazingly I am still going. You can hear the tunes so far via the playlist, above.

I feel more confident of making it to the end of the second week now. That is usually when it suddenly starts to feel like a total uphill struggle, from past years’ experience. This time around, I was quite rusty to begin with, so I had some days in the first week where I really didn’t feel like writing. Added to that, there was the distraction of a UK General Election on Day 8. I normally follow election results online or on the radio overnight, as they come in, so I worked late, when I was already tired, and then caught up on what had been happening in the news whilst I’d been concentrating on writing Tension. (In case you’re wondering the tune was a deliberate reflection of the feeling of being on tenterhooks that I’d had all day.)  With the results going the way they did, with no-one winning outright, I didn’t get to sleep until a little after 6am and the late night messed up my body-clock, which didn’t help me with the next day’s task.  The election has provided some inspiration towards making the tunes as well as being a hindrance, so it balances out.

Last year, someone stuck a referendum on Brexit in the middle of June, but it didn’t affect the Tune-A-Day June challenge because I’d, ahem, given up by then (gasp!), having decided I wanted to write more songs with lyrics. I was finding I was just rushing to write *something* to meet the targets and not making real progress. This time around I’ve only written one song with lyrics so far, but one of the earlier tunes, Day 6, keeps suggesting odd fragments of lyrics to me. I kind of know what it’s about, but haven’t got the words yet. Because I was so rusty, writing instrumentals is good for me, even if I don’t manage to write many songs.

I’m not 100% happy with everything that I’ve made, of course. There hasn’t been time to mix most of the tunes properly, and there are loads of things I would want to change if I had longer to work them out more. But I’m very pleased to have lasted longer than the first week, and I’m delighted with having made so much new music in so little time after a long hiatus.

Looking at the progress so far, I would want to develop at least some of the tunes further. Reviewing the tunes also showed up various really annoying things I hadn’t picked up on earlier, but that’s pretty normal – you always need to take a break and listen again, and that’s not possible with the Tune A Day timescales.

 

Oh *$&@, it’s got swearing on it!

This post is purely personal opinion.  I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about why I don’t typically like songs with swearing in. I don’t think I’m a huge snob… I’m not terribly bothered when people use the occasional swear in normal speech. Well, I might be a bit shocked if it was the vicar doing it, I suppose, or my mother. But normally if I hear something when I’m out and about, I’d just think of the swear words as being part of the person’s everyday vocabulary and mentally translate, without considering the words’ literal meaning.

 

I get the argument that art needs to reflect life, and in real life lots of people swear. Most, maybe, in the UK, where I live. It’s not like I never use any swears myself for emphasis either, when I want to make a point and underline how something makes me feel. I’m not ruling out ever using strong words for making a point in my music, even. I just don’t like there to be swears in the music I listen to, as a general rule… it seems unnecessary, usually.

Part of the issue is that listening to music creates a kind of personal space. Swears in music can feel like a violation of that boundary. Another reason is that I pick up language and absorb it like anything. If I surround myself with foul language, it’s bound to seep into my mental vocabulary, even if I don’t verbalise it. I’d prefer for the strongest language to not get in that far, even, and with music I have an abundance of choice about what I can listen to. Why choose something with swears in?

Music, to me, is a beautiful form of art, as well as being a means of expression. I feel that some swear words are particularly ugly, especially the f-bomb. Given the choice, I prefer to listen to something that reflects my idea of beauty… I don’t automatically reach for the off button the instant there is a swear, but will do if there are lots of them in a short space of time.  If a song is littered with swearing, if it is intended for the swearing to help get a message across, in my view, the song loses impact.

Some songs seem to get away with having the odd swear in. I can’t think of a good example off the top of my head, but, like film violence, if it’s not gratuitous, if it makes sense in the context of the story that is being told, or is done in a humorous way, I can stomach it. I was thinking Fairy Tale of New York might be a good example, but when I checked the lyrics, I found the Pogues hovering over the fine line of using strong insults and coarser language without actually swearing. You might disagree and conclude that they cross the line with some words. It’s a close call.

On the other hand, I object somewhat to cleaned-up versions of songs for the radio, if a version that is available to buy is not going to have the expletives deleted, e.g. if it’s going to be the version on the album. I heard and liked the Ce-Lo Green song Forget You on the radio, but was disappointed when I heard that it was a clean version of the song and discovered what the ‘real words’ were. Some people got caught out buying the ‘non-clean’ version on the basis of radio-play, as well, and were even more disappointed than I was, as I understand it from the grapevine.  I’m not sure what Ce-Lo Green did with his album, but I would feel cheated if I bought an album based on liking a cleaned-up single and then the version on the album was a different version of the song I liked, with expletive non-deleted lyrics. It would mean they were a different artist to who I thought they were. It would almost be a betrayal.

Apparently there is already technology available that would allow you to bleep out offending words, when it works.  Apple also have a patent on software with a similar aim. No problems of course with instrumental music…

Niagara & Album Progress

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Fountain in Lincoln Arboretum. (I’ve never been to Niagara Falls, so have no photos of it that I own the copyright for).

Earlier this week, battling a migraine, I tried to take stock of what material I have for Albums 2 & 3 and get myself a bit more organised towards getting these both out of the door.

Album 2 is a ‘fake filmscore’ based on a book that is quite well known in the UK. It needs another track mixing then all tracks mastering, one of the trickier parts of the process for me, that could delay its release. It’s looking like it will be 35 minutes long, unless I have some last-minute inspiration for a further track or add any bonus items. (Either one of those scenarios could happen at this stage – I’m planning to get a significant portion of Album 3 ready before I release Album 2.)

There’s already quite a lot of potential material for Album 3, but the styles are rather mixed, so I could need to prune it back drastically to make it a coherent body of work, and I may, therefore, need to write some more new tunes to make it hold together better. There is a huge amount of work that still needs doing on most of the tracks for Album 3: many are in just the early stages of production and some are currently just a loop of an idea.

When the migraine had subsided, I finalised the lyrics & I put down guide vocals for another new song Thieving Autumn^. This song has been in the writing stage since about September last year. I was really pleased with how the vocals went and may even use them as the final vocals with a few tweaks, if I’m not satisfied with how a ‘proper’ recording goes using a condenser mic.

I’ve been arranging a new song that I’m calling ‘Niagara’ this afternoon, and recording some vocals – it has gone from being just a snippet with the main ideas in to a full demo. It’s not easy to sing this one in tune all the way through (I have failed thus far) so I’ll need to practice it a lot more to get the required level of pitch control in the parts that are going wrong.

I also realised today that I have another couple of songs I forgot to include on my list of potential tracks for Album 3. Ooops! With the work on Niagara today, that brings the total duration of the demo tracks to 1hr . It’s starting to look like I could end up with more than an album’s worth of material. There seem to be a couple of different overall genres which don’t necessarily complement each other. Basically, it’s 70s influence and indie-folk-electronica versus 80s synthwave and its progeny. It’s not clear how it will pan out though (no pun intended) as the draft playlist I created doesn’t clash as violently as it threatened.

^Thieving Autumn was provided as an instrumental exclusive with last month’s email news.  If you’re not yet on the email list, sign up so you don’t miss out! I only send one email out around every month or so. With definite emphasis on the ‘or so’.