there’s a lot of hype on this water
a lot of promises flowing down
dam’s busted at the word of a noose
these harsh words playfully promise the bruises
this river’s made with care
these two banks grow farther apart
there’s confusion at the heart of it all
water white with heat is roaring out about its dreams
screams and flows into an empty bed
trickles and drips, the words all dead
but this river’s full of care
the foot of this stream is empty
a chapped crevice feigning signs
of having not been dry all its life
and it loves the violence, too
the rushing waves, crashing rapids, newly cooled
it moistens at the thought of a drink
but oh too soon forgets the taste
so what we both have left
is a reservoir’s worth of desperate-to-be-contained
beautiful, life giving waters that dry up
a waste of resources I’d never let run out on you
but you’ll want, and you’ll take
you’ll despise and then throw away
this river made with care
you’ll let it all evaporate
© May 2014
Here we are – off again
With less than love, but more at hand
Here we go – off alone
Separate corners of our secret world
While everyone dances in new dreams and kisses,
We’ll each be home, alone again, recounting what’s missing
‘Twas an amazing time
In me, your strength drew these amazing lines
Painted in new ownership, just to be retired
As if by design – permanently fixed to all the best of all its rides
We’ll reminisce together – live the fantasies all over
Feel again the best played of all the games
You make me feel it in my bones for days
And days… And days…
It’s yours and yours and yours alone
If no one’s ever told you so
You’re worth every bit of the work a girl could put in with you.
© January, 2014
There’s something about a faithless man
Something that a man who knows more and prays more and talks so much more
Could never understand
My hell-bound true love – you know where I come from
You’ll stand with me as I stand alone
But my poor restless soul wants to change you
If it did, it couldn’t run against the grain with you
We couldn’t swim upstream
Unless you saw the way you see me
In glory unfiltered by the shades the so-called light can cast
You’re not trying to teach me, and I don’t need to teach you
We’re so good at this – we like the way we are
But if we go further together, we’ll find the ill-fitted edges that keep us apart
You need saving like I need saving
Lord knows I don’t need no saving
I’m doing just fine with you in my life
But if we don’t change, it won’t ever feel right
Balls in my court – while my fate is in yours
We could never move forward
So when should we let go?
© November, 2013
All my friends keep taking these long trips
They’re not waking up from their dreams
They fly so high, they can’t hear the record skip
Shoot up all the silence you need
No more time, no more fears
Life is fine when no one hears
All my friends keep taking these long dives
They’re not climbing back up their ropes
Plummet so far down, they can’t see the light
Choke off all the hope that you know
No more tears, no more pain
No one hears till you’ve gone away
How are we supposed to make it through
When we don’t even know the truth?
We’re screaming inside, but we won’t let it show
I’m sick and tired of watching all my friends fight it alone
This was the first half of my song after about 3,972 re-writes. It’s since been re-written an additional 427.5 times. I don’t know it anymore. Like a child who goes off to college and comes back with long hair, failing grades, signs of drug addiction, and silence… It is unrecognizable, but it has to grow in its own way, and I have to love it no matter what.
I understand that, if I am never going to be a singer/songwriter – the type of professional that’s allowed as many cryptic words in their song as they can fit – I have to learn to re-write… And re-write and re-write. If other artists are going to be singing my songs – songs that I likely wrote without knowing a thing about them – my songs have to be generic enough to sell to anyone. To someone that needs a song about new love sans details, to someone looking for that lame ballad to fill the last spot on their newest pop artist’s first album, to someone – anyone – willing to buy my words in lieu of coming up with their own.
This means that my songs, in their infancy, are newborns that I will love and cherish and want to hold on to… but will throw away almost immediately after their birth so I can try again, this time, for a better baby.
Songs really are babies to those of us who started writing to relieve the pressure of thinking. When we write songs, it’s not “therapy” like many of the famed will tell you it is. For those of us with the weird, unromantic, sometimes disgusting compulsion to write, our songs are simply the byproduct of having too many things going on in our heads. Our music is an extension of our brains. The words don’t help us work through problems. Our notebooks are just extra space to think in. Writing songs just takes the problems – the thoughts, the anxieties, the over processed analyses – and it puts them down on paper, where we can read them again and again, and simply re-examine the same things we’ve secretly been examining for painfully long periods of time already. So when we write a song, it’s not really a song at all… It’s the innermost workings of the only part of our physical body that no one but us and whatever god we believe in could ever truly see.
But if I’m not going to be a singer, I don’t get to do that anymore – I don’t get to let my innermost workings hang out like they did when I was an angsty teenager with a journal and a gel pen. I can write all the personal, mysterious, self-indulgent lyrics I want — but they will never sell. If I want to make a living, I have to treat my newborns like scratch-offs. My babies, as perfect and as beautiful as they are when I finally get them down on paper, are far from what I should be looking for. My newborn songs are just my thoughts, and no one’s looking to buy my thoughts. I am, after all, going to be giving these babies to other mothers – other artists – artists who need to love these babies as if they alone birthed them… They need to bond without any effort. It has to be love at first sight, and everyone in the world has to believe that these babies belong to these artists. If the world doesn’t believe it, then I don’t get to work anymore. I have to birth these babies, kill them off, birth replacements, kill those replacements, birth replacement replacements, and continue on in this fashion until I finally birth a super baby… A baby completely devoid of my most distinguishing qualities. A newborn for whom I went into long labor, yet bears almost no genetic link to the womb from which it came.
It’s sad, but it’s money.
I’ve been told that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the final version of my aforementioned song. But I hate it. It’s not as beautiful as its long-lost siblings were… Nothing close to touching the splendor of the original. But the original was too harsh – too straightforward – too telling… “It will definitely draw a lot of people in, but it runs the risk of putting some people off.” (An accomplished songwriter/My songwriting professor, 2013) My original was a lovely drag, my final draft is a boring pop-rock delicacy, and the 3,972nd version was a happy medium. But these are just my opinions.
The numbers don’t lie, my opinions don’t sell, and the formula to crafting hit songs remains unchallenged. The best song I will ever write about a tearful break-up shall be heavily inspired by my having to let another one of my babies go.
A few nights ago, I went to record an artist that seemed to not want to be recorded. He plays, he writes, he sings, but he seems to think he has nothing to offer the world in the way of music… Or maybe he knows he does, but he did plainly state that no one has any obligation to the world around them to share their art. I get this. But as a producer, I feel that I have a duty to capture the beauty that I hear when no one else is listening. I have a duty to make people listen. But he was right. No singer/songwriter/instrumentalist has any true obligation to share something so personal with anyone else.
Trying to record with this kind of discord is going to be something I’ll undoubtedly have to deal with often, but what a terrific exercise in making the artist comfortable and coaxing out the best performances. It was frustrating, but I think I learned a lot about my deficiencies as a producer. I’m happy I’m identifying them now. This boy – this beautiful artist – was so inspiring in his reluctance.
What a crazy dance producers and their artists engage in when trying to put something together. I’m sure it’s a fairly pleasant process in most cases, but what happens when the producer uncovers something the artist doesn’t want exposed? Then what? The producer is in love with the concept, and the artist is now more defensive than ever. Where do you go from there?
About my boy – this truly beautiful creature…
The conundrum of this ghastly world, the ugly hurt, and roses that grow from lifeless dirt.
I don’t know him or his pain. I just fully understand how his voice makes me feel.
He’s so positive, so chill. But there is a screaming out through his soft sung, half whispered words.
His taste in music is the playlist Kurt was scanning when he stared out into his own mind, from the unplugged stage, during that one song after that chilling last line.
I can’t give my body to someone uncommitted, and I won’t give my heart to someone that doesn’t have a heart like mine.
But, last night, I gave him both for just a moment, and I came home with more of him than I think he meant to give.
I haven’t loved in a very long time, but I could love him. I could love the creative. I could record his thoughts, take his broken heart, and show him the light peaking through the cracks. The music inaudible under the rumble of his turmoil.
He won’t love it as much as I, and I know he won’t love me back, but I’ll love the process of trying to teach him his own beauty.
I wonder if anyone’s ever told him.
It’s obvious no one’s ever told him.
I wonder if he’s ever let them hear.
I could soak him up all day long, fight with my mic to make it pick up on all the things his songs make me feel, and then spend the whole night and my whole life trying to make the world listen.
But I know he won’t love it as much as I do. It seems he doesn’t want them to know the world he’s let me peek into.
He won’t love me back, and he won’t love the record, but I’ll demand he let me let the world know the love I have for his words.
I’ll fight to make him move them all, and I’ll push until he sings “stop.”
But I’ll keep trying until he’s ready to go.
This is from a writing assignment I completed today. I take classes from an entertainment school, and I am currently in a math class. You can gather from the context created by the answers what the questions most likely were. I’m sure I’d violate some sort of copyright by posting the questions here.
The majority of this assignment was based on the edited version of a speech made by Courtney Love in early 2000. (You can view it here.)
5) As I was reading the article, I found myself repeatedly going back to check the date the speech was delivered (even referring to other sources of information to corroborate). I was shocked at the accuracy of her “predictions” (or proposals):
“With unlimited bin space and intelligent search engines, fans will have no trouble finding the music they know they want. They have to know they want it, and that needs to be a marketing business that takes a fee.”
“We’re about to have lots of new ways to sell our music: downloads, hardware bundles, memory sticks, live Webcasts, and lots of other things that aren’t even invented yet.”
(… and the one that made my heart stop…)
“Why can’t MP3.com pay each artist a fixed amount based on the number of their downloads?”
It has become much easier for fans to discover new music and “make” their own tastes. Search engines allow users to type in just a few words of lyrics they may have heard in the background of a television commercial, and immediately access message boards of other users discussing the same exact song, pages with the full lyrics of the song in question, or even the Amazon.com page allowing the user to buy the mysterious song that, just a few seconds ago, they weren’t even sure was a real full-length song at all. Songs are definitely not just sold as singles or full-length CD albums anymore. Individual songs from an album can be purchased for download, or even for streaming only. Songs can be paid for when they are wrapped up in a bundle of music sold as part of a software package. And, as of late, it has become very en vogue to be counted among the tens of thousands in attendance at one live set that may be part of a online broadcast of a group of live sets from different locales. Courtney love had a very sharp eye when she envisioned where the connection between artist and audience was headed, and how technology would facilitate its rapid evolution.
I don’t believe the evolution is as rapid for television and film, but drastic changes are taking place, nonetheless. For instance, Kevin Smith launched a full-on, independent assault on movie goers (in a good way) when he purchased the rights to his own film and limited the ways in which audience members could access the film before its “official” release. Though this may not have been a huge financial success for any major distributor (or Kevin Smith, himself), it did create a uniquely intimate connection between the film and any fans that got to view the film before its official release. It also shed much light on independent film (and the plight of the independent filmmaker), gaining the attentions of those that may have known Kevin Smith’s work having never viewed a truly independent film before “Red State.” The internet played a huge role in helping Smith shed this light.
Countless television shows are now streaming online the way music was almost exclusively just a few short years ago, and the rights to these episodes, the pay for these episodes, and the math of the money involved in all the different avenues of distribution now available are constantly, and very publicly under scrutiny.
Websites and applications like Hulu, iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, and the ever-evolving Amazon.com have all proven the validity and feasibility (or sensibility) of Courtney Love’s propositions. Whether or not these new models take the artists into account remains to be seen. Whether or not these companies take the artists into account is a completely different story.
Many independent (non-tv) shows and films are popping up all over the internet. Many new music acts (and an increasing number of well-established-turned-independent artists) are now producing their own work and by-passing The Industry altogether by negotiating deals directly with these websites to sell their music. I could sell my own music via iTunes right now if I wanted to. Even YouTube facilitates unsigned and independent artists to profit by allowing advertising during playback of the artist’s work.
When these websites work directly with the creators of these types of works (the creators very often being the writers, producers, rappers, actors, singers, directors, and musicians in themselves), they help to make sure the real artists are being paid for their very real art. These websites become Patrons of the Arts. And since the artists are being paid in full for their work, they then have the resources needed to expand their art and deliver better, more entertaining (and more distributable) content. These new models will continue to change and evolve as time goes on, but so far, it seems these new models can work to the advantage of the artist if the artist understands how to fully access the websites’ flexibility, and capitalize on the direct link they provide between art and audience.
Of course… prospective artists are going to have to learn that it is now impossible to make Beyoncé money with one Britney Spears single.
Engineering is hard. And the word “producer” just doesn’t mean the same thing it meant 20 years ago. Producers used to be genius engineers – now they’re just beat-makers. I have been reading a lot of material on engineering/mixing/producing, and almost all of the books I have read start off with a brief history of engineering/mixing/producing. And almost all of these brief histories made me painfully nostalgic for the beautiful, now quirky, traits that could only by captured on tape or CD.
1) SONG ORDER
Song order is a lost art – like, a REAL – ART. A classmate of mine released a mixtape in December (see below). It was your typical hip-hop mixtape, with probably the majority of its downloads taking place on DatPiff.com. The music was well above average for a mixtape, but the thing that stood out to me the most was… the song order.
I remember telling him that, in the days of the 99 cent download, it was very impressive to find a mixtape that told a lyrical story – ever so graciously moving from track to track, theme to theme – and, even more importantly, a sonic story. The total sound of the album was cohesive, and not a single song took a far leap from the character of its predecessor while it skillfully turned to the album’s next page. So easy it was to let each track play out and feel yourself being carefully slipped out of the resonance of the last beat and ever so smoothly slid into the opening bars of the next.
Even if you didn’t have the same feelings for every song – even if there were some songs you just plain didn’t like – you listened to them… because, somewhere between the intro track, the powerful and proud Track #2, and the inquisitive, almost-sinister, but equally as powerful Track #3, you come to the realization that this is not a mixtape at all… It’s a collection of paintings in a gallery… It’s a runway show… It’s a five-course meal. Each track has its special place in the collection and each piece deserves to be enjoyed individually, but in the light of its counterparts. It’s an album… with impeccable song order.
2) SONG FADES and SEGUES
For a good fade, I am nostalgic. Given the way the industry functions today, the segue is not a feature considered as artful (or important) as it used to be. It’s almost impossible to get the masses to notice the way an album’s track-to-track outros, intros, fades, beat changes, et cetera push the story forward and help the listener easily transition between moods and tempos. No one listens to albums anymore. If I am on Pandora, how in the world am I supposed to interpret the abrupt cut in the instrumental outro of the song to which I was just listening? Because I am a music geek, it would, in fact, be my first assumption that the album from which this song was pulled (before its cruel relocation to my playlist) features a subsequent track that builds on this outro and into a whole new song.
If I were listening to the album (instead of my cruel, piece-work playlist), I would be listening to an extended musical work of art that – yeah, sure – could be divided up into smaller songs… but since the songs were so magnificently blended together, the seamless transitions would not allow me to find a clean spot in the music that would allow me to make an aurally pleasing dissection.
If we were to assume that an expert segue was not my first guess at why my music abruptly stopped, the effect the abrupt stop has on the listener becomes even more disastrous (and annoying). It almost pays to make sure that each track stands alone.
However, well produced transitions between songs serve (at least to me and Music Geeks alike) as incentive to listen to the whole album. I hesitate to admit this: The Black Eyed Peas album, The E.N.D. is one of my favorite albums. I hate all the singles – HATE them! – but the album as a whole is one of the best produced pieces of work I have ever listened to. As someone that aspires to be successful in the music industry, I can’t help but wonder if there is progress to be made in this area. Is it possible to demand a listener purchase your whole album by simply releasing a single as a stand-alone, while giving the single a more elaborate, meaningful, complex, full, rich meaning by allowing a different version of it to be featured as a seamless patch in the album’s quilt? For only a dollar more, you can have all 12 songs and the 15 seconds of musical magic that happens between them!
3) THE HIDDEN TRACK
When I was very young, I lived in my headphones. My Discman was my best friend. And the ‘program’ button was my nightly lullaby. I had discovered a group called Les Nubians. I was completely in love with their music, and listened to their album, Princesses Nubiennes, over and over again… but I only listened to my favorite tracks, as there were a few that I just could not stand, as well as a few that I had to listen to two or three times before skipping to the next. When I would go to bed, I would program my Discman to play Demain, Les Portes du Souvenir, Sourire, Embrasse-Moi, Si Je T’Avais Ecoute, and Desolee. I would have a few of the songs programmed to play twice in a row, and I would often be well asleep before I reached the end of this “playlist”.
But, once fast asleep, I would have dreams of this crazy, tribal version of the song, Demain. I loved the jazzy, single version of the song, but this song I was hearing in my dreams was big, powerful, beautiful. When I was dreaming, I was almost crying as the song crescendoed and the voices multiplied. I would wake up to dead batteries, completely confused as to where this tribal remix of Demain was coming from. Until one day, I noticed that the song, Désolée (the last track on the album) popped up on my Discman’s display — with an absurd time listed as its length. Most songs are between 3 and 4 minutes long, but Désolée was like 15 minutes in duration (or 8 or 12 – ‘twas years ago, I don’t recall!) I skipped through it, past the end of the song, into the silence, and finally, I arrived at the sound of crickets chirping. It was the intro to my Tribal Remix of Demain (see link below). This time when I heard it, I did cry. It was such a beautiful song – so rich and moving, so emotional and authentic – I was so happy that it wasn’t just all in my dreams. I could go back and hear this beauty whenever I wanted to – now that I knew it was there. And that is the art of the hidden track.
It’s a gem, a surprise, a gift! A prize rewarded only to those who listen to the album in its entirety – those that pay attention to the album’s detail.
Early today, my sister and I were sitting in my living room, each on our own laptops, Facebooking and Tumblring away, not speaking, just listening to Ed Sheran on Spotify. We had reached the end of the beautifully perfect and incredibly powerful “Give Me Love”. I noticed an uncomfortable amount of silence and clicked on my Spotify icon expecting some pathetic plea that I pay attention to some useless ads. But I was in the middle of an 8-minute track. “Give Me Love” had ended some time ago, but I was still listening to it. I skipped forward to hear the – sing it with me if you know the words – HIDDEN TRACK. Recalling Demain, The Tribal Remix, I was so giddy and excited that, by the time I finished listening to Sheran’s hidden track, I was actually devastatingly disappointed in comparison. It wasn’t as big, and bold, and beautiful as “Demain Roots” (aka, The Tribal Remix). But — here I am, listening to it again. And I realize something now.
The Art of the Hidden Track is still an Art. The Hidden Track serves different purposes for different artists, and is open to interpretation – the audience chooses the impact. On Princesses Nubiennes, the Hidden Track was an organic reimagination of one of the album’s hit singles – a reimagination that took the song from Jazz to Fire-Side Drum Circle. Ed Sheran’s Hidden Track was a quiet, but (I admit) equally as beautiful nod to music of a different genre that would not have otherwise fit in the album. Les Nubians went Tribal. Ed Sheran went Gregorian Jig. Both hidden tracks truly are gems, and the fact that these two tracks are featured on albums fifteen years apart serves as a great source of hope, and, for me, inspiration. You can, in the digital age, still leave easter eggs, production details, and other sonic gems on an album. The listeners that pay attention will still appreciate them. They’ll still benefit from them. Your album can still be a better work of art because of them.
perfect song order on The Purple Smoke Project’s The Day After the End of the World mixtape:
the perfect track to hide on an already gorgeous album, Les Nubians’ “Demain Roots“
Where are you? I miss you! Something tells me you and I should have been married. Don’t ask me why I’m thinking about you now after all these years. I haven’t the slightest idea, my dear. But I think I could have loved you.
I’m so deeply sorry my attentions were all turned to all of the Bad Boys by which I was surrounded. I was young, dumb, and convinced that a thug was what I wanted to love. It was. But I wasn’t that same person for very long. I’ve since moved on to here, where I sit now, in front of my MacBook – strong, wise, alone and online.
But strong enough now to contend with the great personal strength I recognized and appreciated and feared in you. I could never understand why you liked me.
Now that I’m a better Me, a Me that knows with great certainty where she is going, I can’t picture myself ever settling down with anyone less than all you.
And did I mention that I eventually got that same tattoo?
It’s bigger – much bigger. It takes up a good portion of the top part of my back, extending from shoulder blade to shoulder blade. Every once in a while, I’ll catch a glimpse of it in the mirror and remember the first time I saw it on skin. I remember everything about how we first met. I will never, ever, ever forget.
And I still love Jehovah with all my heart. If you do too, then I think I can love you…
I read an entry from one of my school’s blogs. In this entry, the author (a film producer, from what I gathered) identified producers as directors – leaders. He said the producer’s job is to be whatever is needed to make sure the project comes together. I completely agree with this. No matter the project, the producer’s job is to make sure everything comes together in an effective manner. In my chosen profession, it will be my job (on a small scale) to make sure all the instruments in my songs come together to produce something (excuse this in advance) ‘greater than the sum of its parts’. On a larger scale (and if I ever get to be the kind of producer that I truly desire to be), I will be charged with making sure the artists are as comfortable as possible, that they give the best performances they can, and that everything is captured and assembled in a way that will move units… I have to do whatever it takes to make the project happen.
(Does anyone say that anymore? “Move units”?)
This month in class, my classmates and I were split into groups and instructed to complete a group podcast. Before we were even given the details of the assignment, I immediately begged my classmates to vote for me as the Group Coordinator should they end up in my group. I knew each group would have one, and I naively assumed it would be an exciting position. We were introduced to Wiggio, a Web 2.0/collaborative site designed to serve as a platform on which parties in different locations (and possibly on drastically different schedules) can all keep up-to-date and continuously contribute to a group project. I love this site. I loved it from the moment it was introduced to me. It’s a fabulous tool. It’s an effective tool. It is a tool that only two of my nine group members have used.
It was made clear to us, early on, that the role of the Group Coordinator is just that: to coordinate. They aren’t leaders, they aren’t directors, and they aren’t producers any more than collecting mixtapes from local barber shop counters makes you a record exec. My only job is to create an introduction for the group podcast, at least once encourage my group members to submit their individual portions of the podcast, and create an outro. The group members’ portions were due last week. So far, only two members have submitted work.
Even though I was specifically instructed to avoid taking on “an aggressive leadership role,” I can’t help but feel as if I’ve failed. I was excited to be Group Coordinator before the project even started because I thought of the role as an opportunity to start figuring out how I would “coordinate” the efforts of different personalities in different locations with different availabilities and abilities. Not all music projects will have to be worked this way, but it is more and more the fad to collaborate over long distances. Even if we’re all in the same physical workspace, I need to know how to motivate artists to take the time, get on their computers, and examine the progress of the work I’m trying to do for them.
One of the tasks assigned to Group Coordinator was to post contact information and an encouraging remark in the Wiggio group feed. I’ve posted like 5 times already, with my contact information at the bottom of each post. The most recent post practically begged my group members to contact me.
Good morning everyone! We have until Friday to get those podcasts in! Please let me know if you need help with anything. I'll do my best to help you with any aspect of your podcast; Just let me know you need the help! ********.*****email@example.com **********@********.edu aim: ********.***** cell: 480-***-****
… It is now Thursday night. They were given a whole entire extra week… No responses… No additional submissions.
What am I going to do when I’m sitting behind the glass with a drummer, a bassist, and a manager, waiting for the singer and the lead guitarist to take an interest in the recording process and come back to the studio?? My job as the producer, the director, the leader, the magician, is to convince the artists that each session is important, not impossible; valuable, not mundane; exciting/therapeutic/euphoric — and not boring… Even if I have to lie to them.
I need to figure this out.
I wonder what it was like to work with Oasis.
In other news, a Haitian artist from Alaska, Sande-O (an artist I plan on working with very closely over the coming years and developing personally) put some beautiful rap lyrics to the least hip-hop of all my songs. You can take a listen here:
http://reverbnation.com/sandeo (“mellow fellow” is my favorite.. but i think he took it down… ill encourage him to repost)
The melodies were amazing… The song, even more so… But the two never came together…
When I first bought all of my equipment, and started making ‘beats’, I had this unacknowledged dream floating around in the back of my mind. I was going to be the first huge female hip-hop producer. I was going to be widely known and well respected. I was going to completely change the game.
But I don’t love hip-hop the way hip-hop producers love hip-hop. I love music in general. I love certain hip-hop songs because the music is on point. I do take preference to hip-hop, but I don’t know what neighborhoods all my favorite rappers grew up in, or how they got their big breaks, or what crews they ran with before signing solo. I just know I really love a well produced hip-hop beat coupled with a well written verse. But I love ANY well-produced/well-written song. Hip-hop just happens to catch my attention more often.
Now that I’ve been taking my production seriously, that weird dream I had has disappeared. I want to produce for tv shows. I want to score movies. I want to make commercial jingles (I’ve already made a better Kia song than LMFAO ever will). I want to make a living by doing a lot of little, different, fun projects… And then I want to be able to share my “hip-hop” beats with all my rapper friends completely free of charge… forever…
Working in the industry as a non-hip-hop-producer means I will always be dealing with concrete deadlines. Maybe a movie has to be released by December, but the director is just handing me the completed film right now with no idea of how/where he wants the score to go. Even if, creatively or technically, it seems impossible — IT HAS TO BE DONE! What better way to get used to this than entering a bunch of music competitions with do-or-die deadlines??
I read about Talenthouse.com on my school’s website. They host contests for the arts: music, photography, graphics, everything. It’s a terrific website with a huge variety of music challenges. I was excited about one in particular. The group Dragonette had posted lyrics to a song called “Untouchable.” The challenge was to produce a song (and its accompanying melodies) around the lyrics alone. It took a couple weeks for me to complete the song, but the final instrumental turned out to be the best song I had ever created…
The vocals were a completely different story.
The melodies I had were immaculate. I figured out how I was going to sing the song before I ever even started work on the beat. Once I had a solid idea of how the song was to be sung, I created a basic beat. Then went back, perfected the melodies, and accented the song around them. The lyrics, melodies, and music all fit snugly together in a beautiful, dark, multifaceted piece of music.
I completed the song the night before the close date for the contest… I dragged my microphones, preamp, and macbook upstairs to my bedroom closet, and knocked out the vocals in about 45 minutes. (side note: closets are terrible for sound – don’t do it. get a good mic, maybe some wall foam, and record in your bedroom. but if you have a sleeping toddler and it’s 3am, go to the bedroom closet). I sat down to start mixing and then realized I had no idea what I was doing. I decided to nap and start with a fresh set of ears in the morning.
Here’s a tip to my aspiring producers: TAKE AN ENGINEERING CLASS OR MAKE REAL NICE WITH AN ENGINEER!
Hip-hop vocals are easy. You don’t want a whole lot of effects changing the actual sound of the vocals, because, once the song is completed, you’re going to be more concerned with understanding what the rapper is saying and being entertained by how they’re saying it more than you will be with how fancy the vocals sound mixed into the music…
Singing is completely different. Rapping is giving the music a reason for being. Singing is completing a musical picture that’s already there. That’s why hip-hop beats tend to be so simple (and why my extravagant, complicated, over-thought, over-produced butt will never make it in hip-hop).
The deadline for submission of the Dragonette song was 10am. I went to bed at 4am. I woke up at 6am. By the time I had made breakfast for my two-year-old and convinced him that his toy cars were more entertaining than Momma was going to be, it was 7:45am.
I rushed through some online blogs and articles on mixing vocals. No help. The kind of people that blog about engineering are the kind of people that mix rap vocals for local hip-hop artists on ‘trap music’ songs that they, themselves produced.
I did find a good article about EQ and decided that I would take those pointers, find a good EQ for the verse and chorus, and then just reverb and effect the heck out of everything… And then pray it would all end up sounding like a real song.
I kept the first verse clean with soft, easy reverb, and an obnoxious delay in all the right parts. The chorus was a single voice with a lot of air. It was sounding pretty good.
The second verse never happened.
It was 9:45 and I was just starting to mix the first chorus. I hadn’t even picked out which parts of which takes of the second verse I was going to use. The song was 5 minutes long and I had only finished about 2 and a half.
I was about to start crying, but stopped short when I realized what had just happened. It was my first deadline and I was going to miss it. It wasn’t a paid project; It was a passion-project. It was completely free work that I was sweating over as if, at 10 a.m., my son and I were going to die of starvation. From 7:45 to 9:45, I taught myself more about treating vocals than most of my fellow at-home producers will ever even begin to understand. In less than 24 hours (had I completed the vocal mix), I would have completed a full song, with a professional sound… first ever… all by myself… no producers… no singers… no engineers…
Just me and my “studio.”
I know I can never miss a deadline in the professional world, but I now know what I really am capable of. I missed this deadline because of my own lack of education, but recovered quickly. If I hadn’t slept, I wouldn’t have missed the deadline. That is NOT going to be the story of my life.
I’ll sleep after I hit “submit” — every time. I’ll learn as much as I can about everything I don’t know once it becomes apparent that I don’t know it. And I’ll never cry over what I can’t do. I’ll just make myself do it.
The song would have been entitled “Untouchable” and would have featured myself singing the lyrics Untouchable by Dragonette… if I had submitted it and won the Dragonette competition.
It is now called “Dragonette and Deadlines”. It has no vocals and can be enjoyed by clicking here: