My Songwriting and Producing Process

I work in academic medicine during the week and my evenings are packed with workouts and band rehearsals so Saturday and Sunday are ideal for composing and getting deep into my craft.  I’m coming down to the final process of my instrumental CD, 12 songs are mixed and ready to be looked at for line up, transitions and mastering.  I accidentally fell into my 13th composition for that CD last Saturday and I think I’ve decided on a name, Delandia.  Naming instrumentals is much tougher than a lyric based song so I look for a word or group of words that conveys the color/hue/vibe of the piece.

I’ve also started recording the tracks for my next CD, which will include, Sweet Delta Breeze, Fly, Oops I Fell Off the Barstool, Miss Understood, Got my One Good Eye On You and a bunch of other tracks.  As a sound engineer, I am extremely interested in the mix and the tricks, continually asking myself, what can I do to make it better, richer and sonically clear. I see so many folks listening to songs right from the speakers of their phones so I think about that mix as well.

My songs are born from all sorts of methods.  Sometimes I get the music first, sometimes I get the lyrics first.  Sometimes some sort of event occurs in my life that is so vivid, so strong it becomes the catalyst for inspiration.  I often get the song all at once, as if I opened up the front door to discover a beautifully wrapped gift left on the porch.  All I have to do is pick it up and unwrap it.  Sometimes it’s so simple it’s downright silly.   Other times it’s silly but not quite as simple.

Oops I Fell Off the Barstool took a little longer and it belongs in that vivid life event category.  Here’s how it went down: A very nice looking blonde lady was sitting at the bar of One Speed restaurant in East Sacramento and enjoying dinner and beers.  She looked a little tipsy but not drunk.  She was laughing and chatting and having a nice time.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw her hand fly up and then heard a big commotion and looked over and she was on the floor and the barstool was on it’s side.  The servers and busboys came running over to make sure she was okay and she popped right up, red in the face and embarrassed.  She went back to her meal and things settled down.

About 4 days later I was sitting in that same barstool.  I had just finished teaching yoga and was enjoying a nice cold beer or two and don’t quite recall exactly how it happened.  I may have leaned back a hair and not realized it, but the next thing you know, I’m on the floor and the chair is on it’s side and I was like, “What just happened?”  I got up and pulled myself together and did a mental review of the incident but couldn’t quite believe it.

The next morning I was in the shower getting ready for work (I get a lot of songs in the shower) and I heard the melody and the line, “Ooops, I fell off the barstool last night!, Gave the poor bartender a terrible fright…the chair flew out and I fell down, people the restaurant turned around when Oops I fell off the barstool last night.”  The rest of the song came over the next few days and involves a bump on my head, a sore butt cheek and one or two beers too many….  Bright fun harmonies and a nice rowdy feel with humor.

So tell me, have you ever fallen off of a barstool?  Or seen someone else fall off of a barstool?

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Easy Money

I should have known that by writing a song called Easy Money, folks might think that I was trying to hook them into some sort of money making scam.  I guarantee, that’s not the case.  My uncle was a paramedic at Miami Jackson Memorial Hospital and he used to love his El Camino.  He used it as a pushcar for racing.  When I was a kid I used to clean his house (gross) for extra loot.

It seemed to fitting to include the El Camino in this song.  I made the video as well, using an online program that got scooped up by Disney unfortunately so they closed up shop.  It’s amazing what you can accomplish on your own these days if you’ve got some technological prowess.  The tools that are available have rewritten the manual on what we can accomplish individually.

I’ve got two major projects that I hope to wrap by the end of the year.  It’s a good thing I get two weeks off from my hospital job over the approaching holidays.  I’m going to use that time to wrap up my instrumental CD and try to finish recording the music for my next lyric based CD, “Wild West Medicine Show.”  The songs are written and crowds are already responding to my new songs, “Sweet Delta Breeze” and “Fly.”

My head is a broken record

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“Just how lonely can lonely be?” by Southern Culture on the Skids is one of the covers I’m learning.   I’ve got it down, guitar parts memorized.  It’s pretty simple, just rooting the words down into my brain so they’ll stick and I can get off the page.  I really like the structure of this song and it fits right in with my material.

I’ve never had much of a memory for certain types of data – the order of presidents, important years of historical events (minus the depression 29-32) have always escaped me.  One thing though that does not escape me is a song.  Especially a song that I’m working on.  I can hear all the parts in my head and when it’s really bad it’s like a pinball machine on tilt.

I had a super interesting conversation with my father recently.  He brought up this story from my past and asked me if I recalled it… I had come home from Neva King Cooper Middle School with a less than stellar report card.  He was displeased.  I was in my parents walk in closet and he was yelling at me.  His exact words were, “What in the hell goes through your head all day?”

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One thing about my father was that he could smell a lie.  And lying to him was akin to an enormous betrayal.  I weighed the consequences and decided immediately that the pure truth was in order.  I looked up at him and said, “Songs.  Songs go through my head all day.”  He looked at me utterly confused and was unsure what to say.  I think at that point I was wanting to audition for Annie so it was songs like, “It’s a Hard Knock Life, Tomorrow, You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile,” etc.  I would hear the melodies and the songs as if they were on repeat.  And it was impossible to get it to stop.  Sometimes it was the last thing I heard as I got out of the car.

Now here I am, three CD’s later, songs placed with publishers and on apps and my dad said to me, “It didn’t make any sense to me back then, but it sure makes sense now.”  And it does.  Perhaps it’s just part of my creative process.  I had a voice teacher along the way say, “It’s not how much you practice but how well you practice. Sometimes the best practice is mental.”  I never have to worry about not having a radio.  😉