Monday, April 12, 2021

Haunted

Here is the song that I wrote yesterday. I recorded a preliminary version of it today, which I posted to my ReverbNation page. Click on the embedded link below to play it:


The lyrics should be on there as well. This song is basically about the memories left behind when a person is gone. I hope you like it. 

It looks like I might be working on another album after all. 

Thanks for listening. 


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Tributaries

My song Original Miles has been streamed on Spotify almost 10,000 times now. That many streams and I think that you can safely call it a river. Thank you to everyone who listens to and shares my music. A few hundred more and we'll cross that 10k threshold, which probably puts it on even more automatically generated playlists. This is how it spreads, and it all started with you. 

I've said it before, but you're the real rock stars; I'm just a guy who plays music. I am truly honored and humbled by your continued support. It feels great to know that people around the world are listening to my songs. That's why I wrote them.

Black Ribbon Day, also from Embers (2021), has been streamed a few thousand times now and continues to find its way onto playlists as well. Again, thanks to everyone for listening and for helping my music to reach a broader audience. I couldn't have done it without you.

If you're new around here, welcome to what I do. If you like my music, please share it with your friends, add it to your playlists and follow me wherever you listen. 

As always, thank you for supporting independent art. 

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If you want to check out more of my music but you're not sure where to start, here are my top twenty (of fifty-four total) tracks on Spotify in terms of all-time streams:

8.  Entropy
12. Particle 

If you use a different streaming service, you should be able to find these songs there, too. 

Friday, April 9, 2021

Fun Songs to Play

Happy Friday. Today's songs that I would like to share with you are among my favorite to perform live. Even though all three of these tracks are taken from my previous albums, they almost always find their way into my setlists, even if I'm just performing in an empty room of my house (as you can see in the videos embedded below).

The first song that I would like to share with you today is called Particle. It is the opening track on my 2017 album, Weather Patterns, and it is essentially about contextualizing our place in a very big universe. The chorus goes like this:

    When I look up at the stars
    So far away
    God, I feel so small
    Who am I, anyway?
    Just a particle of light
    In the sky tonight
    Is that a shooting star
    Or a satellite?


The second song that I would like to share happens to also be the second song on that same album. Gravel Roads is also quite fun to play. I hope you enjoy listening to it as well. I wrote it on my front porch, and I think that vibe comes through a little bit. Personally, I like the way that the rhythm section in particular turned out on this one, especially since it was one of the first songs that I recorded as a solo artist (as was Particle, for that matter). This song is about the unexpected places that life takes us. It's also about going for a road trip if only to get the fuck out of wherever. 

If you want to sing along, here is the chorus:

    Where do we go from here?
    It could be anywhere
    We don't know where we're going
    Until we get there



Continuing with this theme of songs that are fun to play, this next one is called Panic Attack. This is track two on Mechanical Bull, which I also released in 2017. It was a particularly busy year for me. This is another song that finds its way into most of my sets, whether I am practicing or performing. I wrote this song in November of 2016. I'll let you do the math in terms of figuring out what it's about. If you want a hint, though, I will say that it involves a certain orange shit stain on our body politic. 

    No one knows what's supposed to happen next
    So we just keep our fingers crossed
    And keep hoping for the best
    But I know if we unite
    Then together we can fight
    Everything we know is wrong
    We don't have to play along anymore 


(I recorded these videos not long after the songs were written. As you can see, four years of Drumpf put a lot a grey in my hair. No joke.) 

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As a bonus track, here's one that I tend to think of as my Friday song. This song does not yet have an album, nor is it available anywhere else to stream or purchase, but in recent weeks, it has become a regular part of my setlists as well. It is called The Regular, after all.

At some point in the relatively near future, I will post an embedded video of a more up-to-date and extended performance that includes this song, as well as some tracks from my newest album, Embers (2021). I encourage you to check back often, as I update this site almost daily. Even though I tend to think of myself as more of a songwriter, I do miss performing, mostly because it's a fun way to share my work. 

Enjoy the music. Spread the word. Thanks for listening and for supporting independent art.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

My Latest Obsession

On my Spotify artist's page, I recently discovered that I can see how many people are actively listening to my songs at any one given time. Upon learning this, I admit that it has been kind of hard to look away. 

It amazes me to know that, at least in recent weeks, there is almost always somebody somewhere in the world who is listening to my music. Right now, that person might be you. As far as I'm concerned, that makes you the reigning title-holder of "Coolest Person on the Planet," so congratulations. You probably didn't even know you were nominated.

So far, the most listeners I've ever seen at any one time has been sixteen, which might not seem like much, but to me, it's kind of a big deal. If you want to make my day, please share my music and we'll see if we can get that number up even higher. If it ever hits a hundred or more, I might just crap myself. I'll keep an extra pair of shorts on hand, just in case. 

Perhaps even more amazingly, my song Original Miles has been streamed almost eight thousand times over the past two weeks! I'm not the type of person to just throw around exclamation points, either, so I hope you know how completely blown away I am by this. I am honored and humbled by your support.

Thank you to all of my listeners and fans around the world, with a very special thanks to those of you who continue to share my music and add it to your playlists. As a one-man-band/DIY recording artist, I am also my own publicist. It probably doesn't help that I rather loathe social media. To get around this, I communicate with all of you by way of this blog. 

Thanks for listening and thanks for reading. You rock.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Assignments

Some of you may know that I am also a teacher. Personally, I don't think of this as being entirely separate from playing music, as they are both rooted in the same fundamental desire to spread knowledge, wisdom and empathy to as many people as possible. These are simply different modes for doing so, with different ideas that I seek to convey.

I mention all of this because the songs that I am sharing with you today started as assignments that I gave myself, where I played the role of both teacher and student. 

The first song, Black Ribbon Day, comes from my recent album, Embers (2021). The assignment that I was working from was that I wanted to write a song about a specific historical event, something along the lines of Gordon Lightfoot's Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. However, instead of writing about a cargo ship that sank in Lake Superior, I wrote a song about the day that the citizens of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia declared their independence from the Soviet Union by holding hands between their capital cities. I thought it was a beautiful story that more people should know about, and who doesn't like a little bit of self-taught banjo in their accompaniment tracks?

The second selection that I would like to share is called The Fool, from my 2017 album Good Night, Fahrenheit. The idea here was to write a song where only the voicing changes at the chorus, but the underlying notes remain the same. Basically, I wanted to see if I could write a four chord song and make it interesting. As it started coming together, it sounded more and more like a bitter breakup song, so that's what it became. I would describe it as something that lands in the vast, mostly vacant field between punk, country and space rock, if that makes any sense. Even when I'm working within the parameters of a self-imposed assignment, more often than not, I try to let the song tell me what it's about.  

As was the case with Black Ribbon Day, this next song was also an exception to that particular rule. There are several other tracks I have written over the years that also began as assignments by and for myself, but the last one that I am going to share with you today is called Extra>Ordinary. It comes from my 2019 album, Better Days. With this one, the goal was to write a song that fits into the "small town girl moves away to the big city" subgenre of rock music, but I wanted mine to be a story where things actually work out well for her. Otherwise, that never seems to happen in these songs. To be perfectly honest, I'm not thrilled with the vocals on this one, but I do what I can with what I've got. It's all part of being a DIY musician

Enjoy. Share. Go outside. Be thankful for something. That's an assignment. Now get to it. 

Thank you for supporting independent art. 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Post No Bills

You may have noticed that this site is ad-free, as are all of my other blogs. Personally, I am not a fan of advertising and try to avoid it at all costs, including my own financial gain. With that in mind, if you want to support my work, then I encourage you to buy my songs and albums (and books) wherever you get your music. 

That, my friends, is the only advertising that you will ever see on these pages.

Don't get me wrong: streaming is cool and very much appreciated, so please keep listening to and sharing my music. I love that. It is worth noting, however, that streaming services don't pay the artist much of anything, and that's true no matter who you are. 

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Today's songs that I would like to share with you are essentially musical expressions of my overall distaste for the advertising industry and its corrosive effect on culture.  

Living in Oblivion is about the passive consumption of mass media and its byproducts. It comes from my recent album: Embers (2021).

    This is not a drill
    Passivity kills
    Perpetual pursuit of profits
    The side effects are toxic

Fever Dream is about a society that produces consumers and little else. It comes from my second to most recent album: Better Days (2019). 

    This fever dream's not what it seems
    The sweat stings your eyes
    Can't you see?
    It's temporary
    All these things that consume our lives

Thanks for listening to my music and checking out my blog. If you dig what I'm doing, please share it.

Monday, April 5, 2021

The Things We Need

Today's songs that I would like to share with you are all about companionship as a basic human need. To be perfectly honest, I didn't realize how many songs I had written like this until I went to compile them here, but let's just say that this is merely a sample of my work that deals with this particular topic. You can find more songs that explore similar themes among my five self-produced solo albums.

The first song that I am sharing today is called We Are All That We Need. It is the last track on Embers (2021). As of right now, it's one of my favorite songs that I've written -- which, of course, changes periodically. I tend to think of this as my soundtrack to being quarantined. I hope you like it, too. 

    Like the water we drink
    And the air that we breathe
    I do believe...
    We are all that we need

Song number two of today's selections is called Wanderlust, from my 2017 album Weather Patterns. It's basically about recognizing the difference between the things we need and the things we want, and the things that really matter versus those that are ephemeral. 

    Sometimes it's hard to see
    That we've got everything we need...
    Is this love or wanderlust?

The last song that I would like to share with you today follows a similar theme. It's called Go It Alone, and it comes from my 2019 album Better Days. Once again, this song dissects the idea that we don't necessarily need a lot of people in our lives, but it is good to have at least one person with whom to share your days. 

    It's funny how these moments disappear
    So tell me all the things you want to hear
    I will hold you near, I hold you dear...

Enjoy the music. Thanks for listening. If you like what I'm doing, please add my songs to your playlists and share them with others. This is how it spreads.

Thank you for supporting independent art. 


Sunday, April 4, 2021

Concealed Glock

When recording music, sometimes I like to sneak certain instruments into the background of a song as a way to fill out the sound spectrum. Several tracks from the three albums that I released in 2017 contain a hidden glockenspiel. Here are two of them:

The first is Cold Blooded, on Good Night, Fahrenheit. This song is about how human beings are fundamentally social animals. Thousands of years ago, we figured out that we're all better off together, but every once in a while, some of us forget that

Begin on Weather Patterns follows a similar theme. This song is about the need to see our words with action. It also contains some casual swearing. This is one of my favorite songs to end a set with, as I like to believe that the last line gives the audience something to think about: 

    If we don't take care of each other 
    We've only ourselves left to blame...

Plus I like the irony of the last song in my setlist being called Begin. I'll leave it to you to find the hidden glockenspiel in my other songs

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Original Miles has now officially surpassed Black Ribbon Day as my most streamed song on Spotify. Thank you to all of my listeners, with a special thanks to the tastemakers out there who are sharing my music. This is how it spreads, and I love you for it. 

Enjoy the music. Take care of each other. 

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Swear Jar

Today's songs that I would like to share with you come from my "casual swearing" collection, where each of these tracks was labeled explicit on Spotify and Apple Music, often because of a single swear word that I wrote into a verse for emphasis. 

It's called artistic license, damn it. Yeah, that's right. I said damn. Take that, the man. 

These songs also all happen to come from my 2017 album Good Night, Fahrenheit. I won't include embedded links to the lyrics of each song this time. I'll let you see if you can find the naughty words all by yourself. I guess the main thing is to not let them corrupt you. 

The first track is called Life Preserver. It's about always wanting to save the people you love. This may be my best example of dad rock yet. It also contains one of my favorite guitar solos that I personally have recorded. Now that I think about it, that might even add to the whole dad rock thing, as does my purposeful wielding of the f-bomb.   

Track number two is called Carry On. It's about getting through it, whatever it may be. 

The third track that I am sharing with you today is called Modern Inconveniences. It's about bullshit; I'll let you unpack it from there. In addition to spotting the only swear word in this song (but not this article), you get a bonus point if you can find the allusion to the work of French philospher Guy Debord.

Thanks again to everyone who has been listening to and sharing my music, particularly my tracks Original Miles and Black Ribbon Day, which have really been taking off in recent weeks. I am humbled and honored. 

Enjoy the music. Share it with your friends and add it your playlists if you dig what I'm doing. As always, thank you for supporting independent art. 

 
 

Friday, April 2, 2021

It is a Good Friday, Isn't It?

Happy Friday. Today's track that I would like to share with you is called Gravity, from my 2019 album Better Days. I wrote it with other corrupt politicians in mind, but I think that it aptly applies to Matt Gaetz and his accomplices as well: 

    They'd better start bracing for impact
    Because it's a long way down
    Don't think they're going to stay intact
    They'll break when they hit the ground
    And they are going down... like gravity

I always imagined the video for this as an elaborate pseudo-Rube Goldberg device that starts with cell phones falling over like dominoes and ends with a certain narcissistic sociopath behind bars. I'll leave it to you to fill in the middle part. This also happens to be one of my favorite songs to perform. 

(If you like that, here is a playlist of other songs of mine that are political in nature... and if that's not your thing, here's a playlist of pretty songs that I wrote.)

As a bonus track, here's a song that I recorded a couple of weeks ago. It's called The Regular. Basically, I wrote a bar song, even though I haven't stepped foot in a bar in well over a year. Let it be the soundtrack for your Friday evening:

    I am the regular
    Just an ordinary guy   
    Wasting my time
    Got nowhere else to be
    I just stopped in to see
    If I could get my usual, oh, oh... 

Enjoy. Share. Hold your elected officials to higher ethical standards. Stay cool always.

Songs with Exclamation Points in the Titles

In most forms of writing, I rarely use exclamation points. In fact, my use of this particular punctuation mark is pretty much limited to dialogue, but even then, I only end a sentence with an exclamation point to indicate that a character is yelling. Beyond that, I tend to believe that the emphasis should be clear in the phrasing. (Did I mention that I teach English to college students?) 

The two songs that I would like to share with you today happen to be my only two tracks with exclamation points in the titles. Wake Up! is the opening track on my 2017 album Mechanical Bull. It is about how an informed and engaged citizenry is a vital component of a functioning democracy. 

    Walk out of that door
    Open up your eyes
    Time is not the measure of a life

My other song with an exclamation point in the title is Make Some Noise! (Summer of '99), from my 2019 album Better Days. It is essentially an ode to power chords, and a nod to one summer in particular where I played a lot of music in basements and on front porches. 

    I played these chords until my fingers hurt
    Screamed at the top of my lungs without saying a word
    Banging on an electric guitar
    I don't need to be a superstar
    All going supernova, it only goes to show that
    No one will ever hear your voice
    Unless you learn to make some noise!

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Thanks to all of my listeners on Spotify for putting Original Miles and Black Ribbon Day on the charts. Both tracks are from my 2021 album Embers and continue to climb in popularity, which is both an honor and a thrill.

If you dig my music, please add it to your playlists and share it with other people who you think might like it as well. As a one-man-band/recording artist, I need and very much appreciate your help in propagating my songs amongst your friends and around the world.

As always, thank you for supporting independent art... and by all means: crank it up!!!

(Consider those bonus exclamation points.)

These Are All Original Miles

Today's song that I'd like to share is the opening track from my newest album, Embers (2021). I've posted about it before, but here it is again. Original Miles is essentially about accepting people, including ourselves, despite our imperfections.

    These are all original miles
    Some city, mostly highway
    You could even say
    I've been around a while... 

As a bonus track, here is my song Be Civilized, from my album Better Days (2019). It is a reminder that human beings need each other; in fact, this is exactly why civilization exists. I've written about this one before, too.

    I hope you realize
    What it means to be civilized
    It's not like they advertise
    You hold the truth behind your eyes

I hope you like my music. If so, please add it to your playlists, share it with your friends and follow me on Spotify and other streaming media platforms

Thank you for supporting independent art. 


Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Thank you

This past week, I've had a major uptick in Spotify streams, particularly of my song Black Ribbon Day, from my latest album, Embers (2021). Even though I just wrote in a recent post about how I don't really promote any particular singles, it appears as though listeners like you may have essentially done so on my behalf. Further, it seems that I am also rising in the singer/songwriter charts on ReverbNation. This is all very cool. I appreciate everyone who helped to make this happen and continues to do so. 

Thank you to all of my listeners and fans for supporting music that isn't corporately owned

You really can't get much indie-er or deeper underground than this, and discerning connoisseurs like you are vital to shining a sustained light on my work. I don't know how you found my music, exactly, but I'm very glad that you did. You must have cool friends. We should all hang out sometime.

If you like my songs, please share them with your other cool friends, add them to your playlists and follow me on Spotify (and other media platforms). This is how it spreads, and it all starts with you. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for the support that is so crucial for an independent artist to thrive in today's music industry. No joke

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Today's track that I'd like to share happens to be my number one streamed song on Apple Music, where, incidentally, you can also find a digital version of my first book. How's that for shameless self-promotion with a twist? This song was among the very first that I recorded, produced and mastered as a solo artist. (Unfortunately, I think this comes through somewhat in the production value, so please be forgiving.) It's called Baby Blue, from my 2017 album Weather Patterns

Fun fact: the writing of this song began with me lamenting about a light blue shirt of mine that my wife accidentally ruined by means of an act of kindness. By the time I finished crafting the tune, it had become a story of love lost. I've always imagined the video for this song as a slow dance in a high school gymansium, if you want to ride along in my mind with me. You can see me perform an unplugged version of it below:


Thank you again for supporting independent art. You're the real rock stars; I'm just a guy who plays music.



Sunday, March 28, 2021

Punk Rocker Tricks

I've always approached music with somewhat of a punk attitude, if only out of necessity. By that, I mean that I see music as a dynamic mode of creative expression, and I've always felt that the sentiment behind it means a hell of a lot more than how polished the final product may be. In the past, I have taken this same approach to documentary filmmaking as well. I believe that to create something, even if it isn't perfect, is infinitely better than making nothing at all. One is infinitely more than zero. 

When it comes to making music on cheap gear, here's what I've got for you:

Tip #1: Replace the stock hardware.


The most expensive guitar that I own cost about $450 new. It was a Christmas present from my spouse. That said, I did pimp it out almost immediately upon receiving it. In fact, with nearly all of my guitars (which isn't very many), I have replaced the pickups and the tuners, and in some cases, the switches and potentiometers (volume and tone controls) as well. 

The way I see it, the most important thing is to have an instrument that stays in tune. After all, if it doesn't, then it really doesn't matter how well you play it, because it will always sound like an instrument that only produces sour notes, mocking even the most meager attempts at virtuosity. Even Moonlight Sonata would sound like two cats fucking.

After the tuners, the second most important thing is replacing the pickups, as that can make a huge difference in shaping the overall sound. Stock pickups usually suck, and using a soldering iron isn't very difficult. Just don't breathe in the fumes when you're doing it and be sure to unplug it when you're done. (That's the dad in me talking.) I'm sure there are videos out there to walk you through the process.

I paid $220 for my Telecaster, used. That was about four or five years ago. It's Mexican-made, as are most of my Fenders. The thing is, when you switch out the electronics, all of a sudden a relatively cheap guitar sounds like one that cost a lot more. Seriously. I think the cost-to-quality ratio plateaus at a certain point when it comes to guitars. 

That is to say that a $300 guitar may indeed be twice as good as a $150 instrument, but never in my life have I played a $2,100 guitar that sounded seven times better than the $300 one. I have, however, played a $300 instrument only needed a few modifications to make it sound just as good as one that cost five times as much. In fact, I play an instrument like that every day. 

Tip #2: Thicker strings will make your pickups sound better.


I have found that I can get a much fuller and richer sound if I use thicker strings. They also stay in tune better, because they don't stretch as much under the tension. Personally, I always pull on the strings after I put them all on, just to try to get some of that initial stretch out of the way. It's also a good way to make sure everything is secure before you start tightening it down. 

Thicker strings will toughen up your fingers, too. They may not be the best for beginners, but once you've got decent calluses and finger strength, consider upgrading. You might be surprised how much bigger it sounds. Much like replacing your pickups, thicker strings give your amp and your effects pedals more defined vibrations/signals to work with, which is usually a good thing.

I should note, though, that if you are changing to heavier gauge strings, it can affect the action, since it's putting more tension on the neck. To accommodate for this, you can adjust your truss rod. Again, you might want to watch a video to feel more comfortable with what you're doing. The basic rule is: don't turn it too far too fast, and I highly recommend doing it when the strings are off the guitar. Let the neck ease into the adjustments by doing them in increments of about a quarter turn. If it's still not quite right when you string it back up, you can always make some more adjustments next time you change the strings. 

Tip #3: Stop buying new bass strings.


If you happen to play bass, you know that the strings are kind of expensive. They also hardly ever break, and if they do, then congratulations, you may already be a punk rocker. Breaking bass strings is hardcore. 

A long time ago, a good friend of mine told me that if you take the strings off and put them in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes and then put them back on, they will be as good as new. This really does work. I have gone years without actually changing the strings on my bass just by boiling them every once in a while. Just make sure they're dry before you put them back on. Water and frat dudes are a string instrument's worst enemies. 

Tip #4: Clean your guitar strings and you won't have to change them as often.


I'm happy to report that there's a similar trick when it comes to guitar strings. Although taking them off and putting them back on is nearly impossible (and would probably weaken them considerably even if you could), what I usually do is take a paper towel, fold it up and spray it with a little bit of WD-40, and then I put the towel under the strings so that the oily side is facing up. I'll go up and down the strings a few times, and it never ceases to amaze me the amount of crud this takes off, a nasty combination of corrosion and finger gunk (and it's not like my hands are dirty when I play, either). Generally speaking, the more humid it is, the more often I have to do this.

I should offer the disclaimer that I have never heard or read of anyone recommending the WD-40 method before, but I can attest that I do this on my guitars on a pretty regular basis and have never had any problems. If anything, I think that the oil actually helps seal the wood on the fretboard (the WD does stand for water deterrent, after all). 

Then again, as mentioned above, it's not like I'm playing a $2,000 guitar or anything. I wouldn't recommend doing this on coated strings, either, because it would probably take the coating off -- but I have been doing this for years, such that most of the time when I change strings, it's only because I broke one of them (which doesn't happen as often now that I use thicker strings). Clean them up every week or two and they continually sound almost as good as new.  

Tip #5: Learn the lighter trick.


As long as you're fixing to be a punk rocker, at some point, it might be a good idea to learn how to open a beer bottle with a disposable lighter, too. Otherwise, I'm not sure that you can actually call yourself a punk. It's one of those technicalities. As for how to do it, it's essentially about creating a lever with the lighter by using your bent thumb as the fulcrum. Then you pop it off with the bottom edge of the lighter. Oh, and try not to crack it in the process, especically if it's someone else's lighter. You lose a few punk points for that.

Tip #6: Treat your instruments well. 


One last tip for today, which I admit is slightly less punk, though more closely related to maintaining decent instruments: if you want to clean up the fretboard, use 0000 grade steel wool (I'm pretty sure that's the "softest" that you can get). Once you've scuffed up the whole fretboard, wipe it down with a damp towel, but then dry it immediately afterward. 

Always remember that one of the worst things for a guitar is for there to be any absorbable water on the fretboard, as this will warp it, rendering the instrument utterly useless. Second to this, as alluded to earlier, is to let it fall into the hands of someone who intends to use this instrument for evil purposes, like Jimmy Buffett songs. 

When it's completely dry, rub it down with some lemon oil. Wipe away any excess. It might even look like brand new when you're done. You'd be amazed. Granted, like I said, I don't know how punk rock it is to have a clean, new-looking instrument, but personally, this is something I do to my guitars about once a year or so. It probably helps to take off any remaining residue from the WD-40, too. 




Friday, March 26, 2021

The Algorithm

I made three playlists on Spotify today. The first is composed of songs of mine that are political in nature, the second are what I would (and did) call my pretty songs, and the third is a setlist of stuff that I practicted yesterday on acoustic guitar and piano in my sunroom. The neighbors have yet to applaud. 

Enjoy. Please follow these playlists and share them. That's how my music finds its way into the algorithm... which sounds like it could be the name of a live music venue in Germany. Of course, I think it would have to be spelled Algorhythm.

I'd go there. 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Bronze Medal

My songs Original Miles and Black Ribbon Day have gotten an astounding number of streams on Spotify recently. Thanks to all of you for listening to and sharing my music. This is how it happens. Your enthusiasm is contagious (in a good way). 

On a sidenote, I thought it was funny that while these two songs are steadily inching their way toward the stratosphere, at a very distant third is another song from Embers (2021), which happens to be called Going Nowhere. It was meant to be a title, not a prophecy. 


Thanks for listening. If you dig what I'm doing, please share it with others, add it to your playlists and follow me wherever you can find my songs. 

You are beautiful.  

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Singular

As you may have noticed, I don't really think of my music in terms of singles. Whenever I feel like sharing a song, I write a blog post about it. This is more or less how I might introduce it to an audience -- but I don't continually promote any one song over the rest any more than I would play the same song repeatedly in a live set. 

"Thanks. You're a great crowd. Now who wants to hear Gravel Roads for the eighth consecutive time?" 

While I do enjoy playing that song, it is merely a singular component of a broader setlist.

I want people to like whatever they like, so I leave it to my listeners to decide if any one song is going to rise above the rest. I'm not going to tell you which songs should be popular. 

If you like a song that I wrote, first of all, thank you. Second, please share it with someone else who you think may like it as well. Spread the word. Be a tastemaker. If enough people do that, then it's kind of like promoting a single, except it comes from the ground up. 

Part of being a one-man band means that I am also a one-man public relations and marketing team. That is to say that I don't really have the time, resources or wherewithal to promote my work much further than this blog. This is where I need your help. 

(Incidentally, I have been waiting years for a valid reason to use the word "wherewithal" in a sentence, so thanks again.)

If you enjoy any of the fifty-four tracks from any of my five self-produced albums, please share them with others. That's why I wrote them. Music is meant to be shared.

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Perhaps another reason that I don't really think of my own songs in terms of singles is because I am such a strong proponent of the album as an artform. That's how I tend to conceptualize music. The order of the tracks, the lyrical and sonic content of those songs, the cover art, etc. It all contributes to an album, which in my my mind, serves to tell a broader story than what is articulated by any one individual track.

Although I did write a song completely out of the blue last week, I will almost certainly re-record it when it comes time to put it on an album, once I get a better sense of the other tracks that will be accompanying it. That's just how I roll. 

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With all of that stuff in mind, today's song that I would like to share with you is called Mixtape. It comes from my latest album, Embers (2021). I've posted about this one before, but since it fits with everything else that I was just talking about, it makes sense to include it here. Basically, I sing about how each song is important as a distinct contribution to the compilation as a whole, but that in many ways, the true artform is the collection of songs and the manner in which they are assembled (almost like people and civilization, right?).
    
    When you listen to these songs in order
    Eleven on side A, ten on B
    I hope it tells a bigger story
    Of what you mean to me

Fun fact: the bassline is me playing my Telecaster through an octave pedal. That's probably the only way that I can play bass that fast. 

--------------------

The B-side of today's "single" comes from the same album, a track called Welcome Back, Jack Kerouac. It's about improvisation and experimentation, and how art can connect us to something bigger than ourselves.

    And who wants this spontaneous prose?
    Nobody knows where it goes
    Our bloodied lips and acid trips
    We think we drink therefore we are
    Connected to the universe
    It could be worse...

I hope that you enjoy my music. If so, please share it with someone else who is roughly as cool as you are, if you can even find somebody like that. Thanks to both of you for supporting independent art. You rock.

How to Write a Song in Ten Steps

This was something that I wrote on one of my other blogs a couple of months ago, but since it's all about songwriting, I thought I'd share it here, too. 

For anyone out there who may find this information interesting and/or useful, I have outlined below my usual ten-step process for writing a song. I share this not only as a potential insight into the mechanics of creativity, but also with the hope that you might employ this approach in your own songwriting. 

We will always need people to write songs that can move us in one way or another, and to promote positive change in our communities and throughout the world. Why not you? 
 

1. Practice. 

Whoever said that practice makes perfect lied. Practice makes better. But there's more to it than that. When I practice, I'm constantly looking for interesting chord progressions, riffs and rhythms. When I find them, more often than not, that's what I end up practicing. Most of the time, I also record them with a handheld device for my own reference. Loop pedals can also be incredibly helpful here. The way I see it, a musician has to practice, so why not work on your own stuff when you do? The more I practice, the more of these "song parts" I accumulate, which I file away for later use. There have been riffs that have sat in my back pocket for months or even years before I did anything with them. That's just how it is sometimes. (It's also how I wrote three albums in 2017. I already had most of the pieces from years of rehearsal material; it was just a matter of putting them together in ways that made sense. For more on this, see steps 2-10 below.)


2. Build a song from spare parts. 

As I continue to practice, over time, these various parts start intermingling and coalescing into songs. Hey... this riff fits with this progression. This part can be played in the same key as that other thing I was playing, etc. That said, as a self-taught musician, I should note (pun intended) that I seldom know what key I'm playing in. I usually have to work it out afterward -- but my ear knows what fits together and what doesn't. I suspect that yours will, too. Keep in mind that most pop/rock songs, when it comes down to it, are often composed of maybe five or six chords at most. That's it. It's how you play them that matters. Knowing that, in my own songwriting, once I've got enough chords or whatever to form a verse part and a chorus part, then I've got the basic components of the song, at which point I can safely move on to the next step.  


3. Let the music tell me what kind of song it is. 

Once I've got that basic song structure of a verse and a chorus (and every once in a while a bridge), then I play it over and over, trying to listen objectively in order to determine what kind of song it is. Is this a love song? A protest song? A song about road trips? Old friends? Independence movements in former Soviet Republics? What emotions does it evoke? Figuring this out gives me somewhat of an idea in terms of where to look when it comes to writing lyrics, but I always start with the music and then write the lyrics. To me, the notion of doing it the other way around would be like starting with the paint before you even have the canvas set up. Besides, lyrics without any music is called a poem, and while these two forms are closely related, I find that they are generally not interchangeable. I tend to believe that the lyrics should be an integral component of the song, complementary to everything else. 


4. Start with the vowels. 

It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that all we really sing are the vowels. Consonants may be used to add emphasis on a beat, but the notes are all vowels. So when I go to write lyrics, I start with the vowel sounds. As I'm playing these chord progressions/riffs/song skeletons mentioned above, I audition various vocal melodies, exclusively through the use of vowel sounds -- lots of oohs and aahs amd eees, etc. Over time and with repetition, certain vocal melodies will stick. I find that whistling to myself can also be useful at this stage, as good vocal melodies tend to be inherently whistlable.


5. Words will eventually emerge. 

As I sing these vowel sounds, the vocal patterns will inevitably make me think of certain words. "Ah-oh" may mutate into "alone," for example. I write these words down, always on the lookout for certain words or phrases that I think might fit with the mood of the song. Generally speaking, I find that it's easier to start with the chorus, since that should be the biggest part of the song. When I sing the vowels of chorus, I write down approximately how many syllables I need and what vowel sounds fit most naturally in whatever vocal melody that I found myself going back to. When figuring out the rhyme scheme, it's worth remembering once again that the only parts that really need to rhyme are those vowel sounds. Anything else is just a bonus. It's also good to be aware that plosive sounds (like "b" and "p") should probably land on the beats whenever possible.  


6. Build the song around the chorus. 

Once I've got the nuts and bolts of the chorus figured out, then it's a matter of writing verses that logically lead to the repetition of these lyrics that essentially form the gravitational center of the song. When writing the verses, I use that same method of starting with vowels and counting out the syllables on my fingers. 


7. Use the first verse to establish the pattern

Music (much like comedy, metaphor, etc.) is fundamentally about establishing patterns and then disrupting those patterns in interesting ways. So once I've got the syllable count and rhyme pattern of the first verse figured out, I use that as a template for the other verses. The first verse is always the hardest to write, even if it ends up being moved over to the third verse by the time I'm done. If the song seems like it's getting too repetitive, to the point where it starts to feel predictable, then I might add a bridge and/or an instrumental break to disrupt the pattern.


8. Continue to refine the lyrics. 

First drafts are seldom the best versions of anything. That's just as true with lyrics as it is with research papers. Personally, I find that first drafts are less intimidating if I just keep in mind that I can (and probably should/will) go back and revise my work. Does the song have a POV? Does it tell a story? Are there words that stand out like speed bumps when I sing them? The more objective I can be at this point, the better. I believe that it's crucial for an artist to be able to separate art from ego, and this isn't always easy. Sometimes I have to walk away from it for a few days and then come back to it with a fresh perspective. In the meantime, I might work on a different song, or some other project altogether.


9. Own the song

Once I've written a song, I usually play it over and over until I know the lyrics without having to look at a piece of paper or stop and think about it while I'm playing. If I can then play the same song on a different instrument, then hot damn. That's usually a pretty good sign that it officially works as a song and that I know it well enough to record it for real and/or perform the song in front of an audience. 


10.  Fill out the sound spectrum with other instruments

If you play in a band, this is where your bandmates can come in. In my case, however, since my last five albums have just been me, I record the basic chord progresson or riff or whatever the song is built around and then listen to see where it needs more. It's like cooking and figuring out which ingredients you need to make the dish shine and be properly balanced -- and I like to taste it as I go. If it needs more upper-mid range, then maybe it's time to bust out the banjo or the glockenspiel. As indicated in Step 7, I'm not above throwing in a guitar solo here and there, either. Usually at the end of the recording process, I then go back and re-record that original part that the song was built around. I generally do the same with the drum tracks. 



At the end of all of that, I will have created something that did not exist before and that can now be shared with others. Through the use of digital platforms that did not exist even ten or fifteen years ago, I can now reach audiences that I never could have imagined before. While it's arguably harder than ever to make a living as a musician, it keeps getting easier for independently produced music to reach a broader and more diverse audience. 

Follow these ten steps, and you can do it, too.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Peaceful Revolution

According to Spotify, my number one streaming song at the moment is Black Ribbon Day, from my recent album, Embers (2021). I've posted about it on here before, but this song is about the day that the people of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia declared their independence from the Soviet Union by holding hands between their capital cities. I thought that it was a beautiful story that I wanted to share, so I wrote a song about it. 

    Peacefully united, have you heard?
    We cannot be divided and conquered
    Or whatever, any longer
    Because together, we are stronger
    On Black Ribbon Day
    
As a bonus track, here's my song Imperfect Creatures, from my 2019 album Better Days. It's about being the best people we can be, while also recognizing that nobody's perfect. 

    So much wasted time
    Trying to turn a dollar on a dime...


(Sorry for the bad lighting. I guess that's the thing about filming these myself...)

Enjoy. Share. Be kind. Be brave. 


Saturday, March 20, 2021

Songs about Road Trips

Today's song that I would like to share is called Gravel Roads. It comes from my 2017 album Weather Patterns. It is about the winding road of life and the unexpected places that it sometimes takes us. 

This happens to be one of my favorite songs to play. The chorus goes like this:

    Where do we go from here?
    It could be anywhere
    We don't know where we're going
    Until we get there...


As a bonus track, here's another song about going for a drive with somebody you love. It's called Meand'er, and it comes from the same album. Fun fact: it is the song on any of my five self-produced solo albums that doesn't have a percussion track.

    Me and her meandering
    We're not lost... 


Enjoy. Share. Be safe. 

Long live the great American road trip. 

Saturday, March 13, 2021

The Regular

I spent much of today and yesterday mastering that song I wrote earlier in the week. As part of the process, I uploaded multiple versions to my ReverbNation page, but I think I've finally settled on a version that I'm happy with for now. You can listen to it at the embedded link below:


Here are the lyrics, if you want to sing along (it seems like the type of song that welcomes audience participation, even if only in the privacy of your own home):

Walk in the door
Feels like I've been here before
Some kind of deja-vu
But I feel fairly certain 
That I'd remember you
We're just sitting alone
It seems like everybody's
Staring at their phones
It's hard to see beyond yourself
But look at me
I'm just looking at everybody else

I am the regular
Just an ordinary guy
Wasting my time
Got nowhere else to be
I just stopped in to see
If I could get my usual, oh, oh...
My usual, oh, oh...

Turn the jukebox on
Play all my favorite songs
And when you're sitting next to me
I'll try not to sing 
All the melodies out of key
With just a little help from my friends
I take my seat down at the end
I know the servers all by name
Even though their schedules
Aren't always the same

I am the regular
Just an ordinary guy
Wasting my time
Got nowhere else to be
I just stopped in to see
If I could get my usual, oh, oh...
My usual, oh, oh...

[This is the part where I wrestle a wicked lead riff on my Telecaster. Buckle up.]

I am the regular
Just an ordinary guy
Wasting my time
Got nowhere else to be
I just stopped in to see
If I could get my usual, oh, oh...
My usual, oh, oh...

Turn on the ugly lights 
I guess it must be getting to be
That time of night
Everyone's putting on their coats
While the bartenders
Are calling up a toast
To all the regulars at the bar
Hope you don't have to go too far
Someone can always call you a ride
We'll see you back here
Again tomorrow night

We are the regulars
Buzzing like barflies 
Wasting our time
Got nowhere else to be
I just stopped in to see
If I could get my usual, oh, oh...
My usual, oh, oh...
My usual

(© 2021 Zach Sands, PhD)

Enjoy responsibly. 

Friday, March 12, 2021

Orphan Song

Don't worry. This isn't a song about orphans. It's a song that is tentatively without an album. It's the one that I wrote about in my last post, the one with the catchy hook that I couldn't get out of my head. You win, song. I recorded it yesterday and then re-recorded it today and added all of the other tracks. 

It's called The Regular. It's about that guy at the end of the bar. You know the one. 

Basically, I wrote a bar song, even though it's been over a year since I've set foot in a bar. 

I intend to get back to work on other stuff just as soon as I can get this song out of my head. The recording process is like an exorcism in that sense. Hopefully this isn't like Song #2 by Blur. That goddamn song has been bouncing around in there for twenty years, thank you very much. 

Enjoy the song. Thanks for listening. I hope you dig it. 

Ether-Net

The other day, I was practicing guitar, and I came up with a chord progression that I rather liked. This kind of thing happens fairly often. What was unique about this particular occasion is that as I was playing it, I started singing the chorus along with it, as if I was just snatching it out of the ether with a butterfly net. After that, I sat down and wrote three verses to it, one right after the other. The whole process took about ten or fifteen minutes. In many ways, it felt more like I was transcribing this song than writing it.  

I'm presently about halfway into an original feature-length screenplay that I intend to have completed by the end of next month. As such, I did not plan on writing any more music for a while, especially considering that I just came out with a new album in January of this year. However, ever since that day that I plucked this fully ripened song from the universe, it has been stuck in my head. Multiple times this week, I have awakened to the chorus playing in the soundtrack of my sleep. 

Deciding that I shouldn't (and on some level, couldn't) ignore this any longer, I recorded a basic version of the song yesterday evening. I'll probably add a few tracks to it today. After that, I'm not really sure what to do with it, other than essentially set it aside until I've got about nine or ten more songs to go with it and can release it as another album. 

I don't usually write just one song and then go back to what I was doing before. Ordinarily, I work on other projects most of the year. When I need to take a break from writing or grading papers, I practice an instrument. As I rehearse, I come up with riffs and chord progressions that I like, and then once I've got about a dozen or so "song skeletons" saved up, I start writing lyrics to all of them. Each album usually has its own corresponding notebook. This is when I essentially switch into music-making mode for a period of time, during which songwriting becomes my primary creative outlet.  

That said, in addition to the peculiar way this song came to me, as well as its unusual timing, one of the other things that I think is particularly odd about all of this is that it's not really the type of song that I usually write. Not that I necessarily have any one genre of music that I adhere to, per se, but if I heard this song and didn't know better, I probably wouldn't think it was me. I conceptualized this song as something a person might hear coming out of a jukebox in a crowded bar, which isn't really my scene, even before the pandemic. It's called The Regular, and it's about That Guy who sits down at the end, the one who is always there. Every bar that I've ever been to has at least one of these guys, so it seems like it's probably a fairly universal thing. 

If I end up posting the demo version of my new song somewhere, I will include a link on this blog. [See above for more information.] 

Since this song isn't quite ready to share just yet, here's a song from my 2017 album Good Night, Fahrenheit called Carry On. (I didn't think I had a favorite album of my own work, but this seems to be the one I share the most songs from.) This track started with a piano riff, along with me thinking that there should be a song with that title. 

Thank you for supporting independent art. 

Happy Friday.