Canadian Musician

WHERE THE BLOG & THE SONG BECOME THE BLONG

James Linderman

Scene Music Festival – Note from an interview with Pat Murphy – Talent Buyer

June 19th, 2014

Scene Music Festival by James Linderman

At the time of the posting of this blog, the Scene Music Festival will be a mere week and a half away and so the top half of this post will offer you a quick rundown of what to expect if you want to go to this great local boutique festival in southern Ontario.

The Scene Music Festival takes place in and around Montebello Park in St. Catherine’s Ontario and this year is being held on the Saturday and Sunday of the Canada Day long weekend (June 28 and 29, 2014).

The festival will feature some top line artists such as Mariana’s Trench, Matthew Good, The Sheepdogs, Monster Truck, Arkells and Lights but also introduce audiences to a rich collection of local artists as well as some imported underdog acts that are a must-see. Artists to watch out for (in my humble opinion) are the Cardinals, Paul Federici, Serena Pryne from the Mandeville’s, Ben Zamora, and the Fast Romantics but every artist that has been selected helps fill out this very eclectic and brilliant roster.

This is the 19th year of the festival and the first year that it will span two days of solid music. It is a “one wristband sees everything” kind of event so you can explore and discover new acts as well as the main stage artists, seamlessly. There are over 100 bands on eight stages and so although it is the same kind of Scene vibe that has been enjoyed over the last 18 years by audiences, there is a general feeling that this will be a big year with some big moments.

I got to speak with Pat Murphy, principal talent buyer for the festival a couple of days ago and we talked about his impressions of this year’s lineup and about what he expects audiences should expect. I asked Pat right off the bat who he was personally most excited to see and although he scrolled through a lot of very worthy candidates he finally settled on the rapper Shad who is just coming off an appearance on BET and is being considered to be one of Canada’s premier artist in that genre. Pat is also excited to see Arkells and Lights return to the Scene Fest on day two of this years event as well as a lesser-known Australian band Boy and Bear that he believes will really surprise a lot of people…in the best way!

As the principal talent buyer for the festival, Pat’s first criteria for selecting the local acts is their songs; the quality of their songwriting and how the songs project from the stage. Another criteria is how active the act is in the area; how much they play in the region. Finally he considers how the acts sound meshes with the vibe of the festival but because Scene is such a diverse festival, this last criteria is actually not that challenging and over half of the artists playing at this year’s festival are local talent ready to be seen and heard by a larger audience.

Traditionally Scene, like many music festivals has been devoted to a younger audience but with the addition of acts like Matthew Good and The Sheepdogs, Pat believes that this year’s festival will also attract some more vintage music fans and this year more than ever before, a whole family can attend and find something to really like.

Pat, himself is originally from the Niagara region; originally from St. Catherine’s and he has witnessed the growth of the festival as well as the development of many of the artists that he is booking for this year’s event. He noted that many festivals of this kind have come and gone as they try and create a need for the kind of event they would like to be. Scene has endured, actually thrived, mostly because it grew from a very grassroots and local perspective and has built its place within the community framework. It doesn’t create a need…it fills one.

Because of this grassroots perspective Scene has been a launching pad for many acts like Alexis on Fire and City and Colour and holds a special place in the hearts of those artists as well as their audiences over the years. Holding close ties to the artists who have had epic moments at Scene, as well as holding close ties to the community that it exists in, has been a winning formula for this great little festival.

I asked Pat if there was a particular songwriting component to the festival and he mentioned that they have already begun talking about possibly adding a conference feature to next year’s festival that would include a focus on songwriting in response to their belief the quality of the songs can make or break an act and therefore also influence the outcome of the festival experience.

One of Pats favourite moments was a few years ago when there was a sudden rainstorm in the area and a few of the acts were worried about getting their gear wet and The Cancer Bats went on and really left it all on the stage, almost more inspired by the weather than intimidated by it and in the anarchy of the weather and the anarchy that the Bats bring to the stage, it was well…a great big moment.

Who knows how many great big moments there will be this year at Scene Festival…. you will just have to be there for it to not just be a story you read about.

To find out more about the Scene Festival and grab up some tickets go to www.scenemusicfestival.com.

James Linderman is a music academic and music journalist from Newmarket, Ontario, Canada. He is an academic ambassador to The Berklee College of Music and writes a blog for Canadian Musician Magazine. James teaches and coaches in studio and also over Skype to musicians all over the world. To contact James e-mail him at jlinderman@berkleemusic.com.

Notes from an Interview with Diane Warren by James Linderman

June 6th, 2014

Notes from an Interview with Diane Warren by James Linderman

James A. Lovell once wrote, “There are people who make things happen, there are people who watch things happen and there are people who wonder what happened… and the most successful people are the ones who make things happen”

Diane Warren is a songwriter that makes things happen. Wikipedia can provide you with a rundown of all of the things she has made happen to date and a google search will lead you to a list of the details…a fairly complete and almost up to date list of songs she has had cut. It’s a long list of the “A” list of contemporary popular singers in the world and it spans almost every genre, almost every kind of song (not just the American romantic conversation) and many decades.

There are successful writers who love to talk about the process of writing and about their work and others who look like they would rather be doing the work rather than just talking about it and Diane Warren impressed me as that second kind of writer. Because of that she has outworked every other songwriter in her draft class and continues to dominate the contemporary music market. She has created a legacy of success in a business where most writers and many publishers are still not certain what a pop song should even sound like.

One of Diane Warrens mantras, that came up again and again during our interview was that she “shows up” to write. She puts in the time and does the work.

She often writes from a concept. she wants her songs to tell a story, she works a lot on the lyrics and she has completely mastered the single intent lyric; she gives her songs a single unified emotion giving that emotion the greatest chance to be powerful. However, in almost every other craft element of writing she is pointedly and intentionally, unintentional. She is a natural organic talent, able to write songs that sound natural and conversational, probubly because, in her case, the process does not need to be over analyzed and overworked.

Diane has her own ear for knowing when a song is great but she also has a small network of friends that she can “test drive” a song with. During our time together she laughed that she had taught her trainer at the gym how to critique a song and he was eventually able to discuss the merits of a particular verse concept or chorus hook of her newest song with a fair amount of confidence.

She is very excited right now about the song “Only Love Can Hurt Like This” that she wrote for Poloma Faith. It has a lot of the swagger and groove of some of my favourite Motown classics but is also very fresh and “of today”. Like many of her songs it is completely comfortable and evocative at the same time.

As great as it is…and it is great, this will probably not be Diane Warrens best song ever, since she continues to work at writing more songs and better songs everyday… it may not even end up being her best song this year.

Since I usually write about process and craft I thought it would be interesting to look under the hood of “Only Love Can Hurt Like This” and see what writing elements help make it great.

In an analysis of the lyric of this song, it is interesting right away. She uses an odd number of lines in verse one to create an uneasy feel that matches perfectly with the emotion expressed in the lyric. She uses an internal subtractive rhyme (mean/me) , an offset line and then a perfect rhyme (much/touch) to close off the section.

In the chorus she ends 3 lines with the word “this” in a balanced 4 line section but varies the 3rd line with the perfect rhyme word “kiss” which makes the chorus very sing-a-long friendly as well as super catchy. She adheres to the rule of 3; not having more than 3 lines say the same thing to break it up and make it more interesting for the listener. Not all songs follow that rule but it helps the chorus in the case.

Verse 2 opens with a perfect rhyme (away/stay) , has the same offset line in the 5 line unbalanced matching form and ends with an additive rhyme (go/soul). The 3rd verse features an assonance rhyme of “skin” and “this” (matching vowel sound but not related consonants), an additive rhyme (go/soul) and moves the offset line to the bottom making it unbalanced but the line then does double duty as a tag.

In the final chorus, the form shifts from a single 4 line form to 3 groups of 3 lines with the last line of each group being perfect (this/kiss), assonance (this/skin) and then perfect again (this/kiss).

What makes this form and rhyme scheme work so well is that it is consistent in the same way a conversation or story has continuity but there are shifts and variances that stretch the listeners perception of what to expect which makes the song sound fresh and not predictable as you listen through…also like a conversation. A great balance of comfort and challenge for a listener; who will require a balance of those elements to enjoy the song through repeated listens.

The analytical concepts used here in the study of the lyric form of “Only Love Can Hurt Like This” are derived from the book “Writing Better Lyrics” by Pat Pattison (www.patpattison.com).

A question I get asked by songwriters all of the time is whether successful songwriters make these decisions knowingly or intuitively and in many respects the answer to that is of little use to the songwriter asking it. If any songwriter has the natural organic ability to write great songs or, on the other hand has a more clinical approach, it will not change the outcome of the writing, or help anyone else improve. I believe that if you can just write you should just write and if craft ends up being more of a help and not just a distraction to making writing happen then go learn some craft.

What can be learned from Diane Warrens approach to writing songs is simply that when you are a person that shows up and makes things happen….great things can happen.

James Linderman is a music academic and music journalist and an Ambassador to Berklee College of Music and interviewed Diane Warren for Canada Music Week. Contact James at jlinderman@berkleemusic.com

NXNE – 20 Years of Cool by James Linderman

March 28th, 2014

NXNE – 20 Years of Cool by James Linderman

It seems like everyone you meet in the music business preaches three basic central messages to artists. The first is to be yourself and have that reflect in your art. The second is to be great (sometimes creating an uncomfortably awkward contradiction to the first message) and the third nugget of pure wisdom………get out to events and meet everybody you can.

It seemed that for a while this advice was being heralded as outdated since you could replace showing up at everything with having a strong web presence. Although the web has augmented how we interact it has not replaced personal interaction and the value of meeting face to face just simply never went out of style. Meeting in person, seeing it in person, and hearing it in person was, is, and always will be the unparalleled way for people to connect, period.

What “being there” gets us is that connectedness and being connected fosters longevity of relationships. If you are 8 years old and have a youtube video that shows that you possess the same musical skill that 40 years of solid practice usually produces, you might get to spend 10 minutes on Ellen but otherwise your youtube moment is likely to be “under watched” and will prove to not be a straight line to fresh opportunities. Facebook messages with incripted vids of kittens dancing to your music…Cute…. but no.

So what events do you go to….In Canada we have a lot of boutique music events and some regional ones as well, but the two major national conferences are CMW and NXNE. They are commonly distinguished as; CMW is about what is hot in the industry and NXNE is about what is cool in music.

If you are an entry level music creator or performer NXNE is the best conference in Canada to learn how to build a sustainable presence in the scene you hope to enter. If you have been at music for a while you should still be attending, as you should already know the value of a conference that prides itself in being the place where virtually anything might happen and usually does. This is how artists like us recharge the batteries on our creativity, perspective and our career aspirations.

NXNE is simply a grassroots celebration of organized rebellion.

So now that we all want to go to it, here are the vital stats in a direct quote from the office of NXNE………

“This year is its 20th anniversary, and what began as a 3-day discovery festival for new music is now a 10-day event with five streams including music, film, comedy, art, and an interactive conference, that will take place this year from June 13 to the 22, 2014.

NXNE drew 350,000 attendees in 2013 and generates an annual economic impact of over $50 million on the city of Toronto. As a major cultural force in the city of Toronto, NXNE works hard to make the city a more welcoming and supportive environment for cultural events in general. Every time NXNE breaks new ground in executing a major component of the festival (free, major concerts in Yonge-Dundas Square and at Pearson International Airport etc), they pave the way for others to do the same in animating public space, and ultimately help create the kind of culturally rich city we all want.”

I also asked around and got some friends and colleagues to share their best NXNE stories with me and here is a short selection of what I got back.

▪ I think it was 2003 when I got to meet Johnny Rotten at NXNE and at that time The Pistols were the biggest influence on my own music and mostly why I became a musician in the first place. I offered Johnny my demo to listen to but never expected he would find the time to listen to it. A couple of weeks later he contacted me and told me he really liked track 3 and encouraged me to keep writing and recording and gigging. It is my favourite life moment to date.

▪ I sat in on a demo evaluation session at NXNE and one of the panelists, Justin Gray stood up for one of the writers against the other panelists and defended a song that did not have a chorus by reminding everyone in the hall that the current Coldplay hit single also did not have a chorus. This fact silenced the dissenters and altered the whole rooms perspective. One of those moments when a single individual persons knowledge trumps a room full of opinions.

▪ At a NXNE in the late 90’s I was in the bathroom standing at a urinal and the guy peeing beside me asks me how I was enjoying the conference. We got talking and it ended up that he was an A. & R. Rep from Sony and had heard of my band. He said to me he would be happy to take my business card and CD but only after we had both washed our hands.

▪ I peaked my head into a conference room at NXNE one year and watched a band go through soundcheck and that soundcheck was better than most concert I have been to. People kept pushing past me to get a look at who was playing as well…..and it was just soundcheck!

My own favourite NXNE story was a couple of years back when I ran into my friend, Durham College Music Business Professor Marni Thornton and I was complaining to her about how much admin. I had to do in a day and how it was getting in the way of me being able to be a skilled musician. She walked me over to the Durham College booth down the hall and within about 15 minutes she had a co-op admin. intern all lined up for me and it worked out so great and changed what I accomplished that year. Without attending NXNE that does not happen.

Attending NXNE may not solve your admin. problems and you may not find you get to meet your life long music idol or urinate beside a rep. from a major label but it is a fantastic opportunity for discovery; discovery of some new adventurous music you did not know even existed, perhaps the discovery of you as an artist by others…maybe even an influential “other” and maybe most of all, the rediscovery of the pure joy of being there.

For more information on NXNE, please visit www.nxne.com.

James Linderman is an academic music educator and music journalist. He is a Berkleemusic Ambassador and teaches in studio from his facility in Newmarket Ontario Canada and to students from all over the world over Skype. Feel free to contact James at jlinderman@berkleemusic.com

Harmonic Quality and Function – Part 1 – Chord Quality

February 27th, 2014

Harmonic Quality and Function Part 1 By James Linderman
I would agree that the terms “quality” and “function” sound remarkably analytical and you may already be wondering if the concepts in this column will be too academic and theoretical for use in any real practical application in the writing of a song.
In this 2 part series I will attempt to prove that the understanding of chord quality and harmonic function can be practical cornerstones in real life songwriting and I would only ask that you give this article a good reading, give the concepts a descent try or, if you don’t write the harmonic portions of your songs, pass it on to your collaborators who are “dealing” with chords.
Chords have two main features, they have a quality and they have a function and we will discuss quality here in part 1 and look at function in part 2.
The quality of a chord is based on whether it is major, minor, diminished or augmented and the quality of the chord has everything to do with the mood it helps create.
Major chords tend to sound happy while minor chords evoke a feeling of sadness. Diminished chords can help create a feeling of anticipation or a discontented mood depending on their application and augmented chords tend to sound anxious or sometimes remind me of what a hangover would sound like…if a hangover made a particular sound…and often it does, just as a side note.
If you are not sure how to apply all of these kinds of chords to the guitar or piano or whatever your harmonic weapon of choice happens to be and want to hear how they sound, I would recommend a (guitar or keyboard) chord dictionary which can be picked up at any self respecting music store or ordered from HYPERLINK “http://www.musicbooksplus.com” www.musicbooksplus.com .
If we look at the Transposition Chart below it is interesting to note that in any given key there are 3 major chords, in the first, forth and fifth position, three minor chords featured in the second, third and sixth position and a diminished chord in the seventh position of the harmonized scale.
Once it has been determined that you are writing in a particular key you can begin to look at these seven chords as being like the primary colours a painter would use to paint the background if we also thought of the melody as being like the subject in the foreground of the painting.
The question you may be asking is, “what about augmented chords?”
Augmented chords are indigenous to minor scales and therefore are most prevalent in songs with a lot of other minor sounding harmony. To learn more about minor harmony seek some professional help…no not that kind of professional help, I mean book a few lessons with a music teacher with a reputation for being a theory brainer (there are more of us than it might seem).
If the quality of the chord has to do with the mood it evokes, then it stands to reason that the choice of chord quality could enhance the mood being conveyed by a certain note in a melody or a particular word in a lyric.
A great introduction to the application of this would be to take a song that already exists and, within the context of the key that it is in, alter all, or some of the harmony to a different quality. If it was in the key of “C” you could try changing “C “chords to “Am” , “Em” chords to “G” chords and replacing “F” chords with “Dm”. You would use the Transposition chart below as your guide for keys that are not “C”.
The theory behind this is that in any given key, the first and sixth chords, the second and forth chords and the third and fifth chords are considered to be related harmony and so these pairs can be considered highly interchangeable with respect to altering the quality of the chord within the harmonic structure of a song while keeping most of the other stabilizing features of the piece intact.
The purpose of an exercise like this would be to determine if the song implies something different when the harmonic qualities are altered. For instance, in places where there was genuine sentiment there might be some irony now implied based completely on the relationship between the lyric and melody, and the chord that is being heard behind it.
No matter how you use this information, any deliberate or deliberately random use of harmonic quality will enhance your songs by making your chord choices every bit as evocative as your choice of notes to sing, and your choice of words being sung.

 

Transposition Chart 1

Danny Michel – The Visible Man

February 9th, 2014

Danny Michel– The Visible Man 
By James Linderman

 There is a sweet irony to Danny Michel’s song “The Invisible Man” as it is one of the songs that is starting to make him one of the most visible songwriters in Canada right now.

For Danny to consider this interview we did not plan to talk much about the hype surrounding certain songs, or Juno nominations, or any of the business side of it all, as he tends to present his work more like a working musician than like a musical merchant. 

When watching Danny Michel perform, you get the sense that he is not so much playing his songs for you but that perhaps he is a medium for the musical expression of another life force…possibly one that is steering a UFO.

When asking around about who is writing good songs these days you hear many writers described as being talented, some are even considered to be “gifted”. In the “gifted songwriter” category Danny Michels name seems to be coming up more and more often.

I thought it would be interesting to spend a bit of time finding out what might be lurking behind these captivating songs and the equally captivating mystique.

”I never used to take song writing seriously” Danny exclaimed. “For years I just was interested in playing music & being in a band. But I’ve found song writing to be like anything else and the best way to get better is to write more. The majority of my earlier songs were missing structure”.

“On the other hand” he continued, “I hear myself saying that and I think ‘who cares! Art isn’t about structure’ I guess it all depends on what you’re going for”. 

When asked about what elements of a song he gathers before starting the process of editing and arranging Danny explained,” These days I’m quite organized with a song, maybe even too much so. In the old days I blindly recorded songs as I wrote them & never looked back. I never even knew what arranging was. I still believe the best songs are written in 10 minutes and there is something to be said for you first gut instinct, but I’ve found the best way to flush out songs is to perform them live. Playing songs in front of an audience reveals the arrangement for me. You can see the actual point when people lose interest”. 

How important are the elements of “risk” and “surprise” in his songwriting? “I used to be all about that. I used to use these huge sonic landscapes like a trick to draw your ear away from the fact that the songs weren’t properly finished. I find my songs don’t need that anymore, although I still love to have things drop in and out when you least expect it. I love to throw in an accordion right at the most inappropriate time”.

At what point in the writing process does the message or point of the song become apparent to him?

“Sometimes I know from the top & have already decided what the song is about, but that’s rare. Most songs are written like I’m reading a book, I have no idea how they’ll end or what they ultimately mean”.

Danny’s songs are described as being very “cinematic” so what does he look for in a situation or setting that makes it worth writing about?

“I try to paint an image that everyone will know & understand, but would never hear in a song and then put them right there with me in the scene. I’ll sing a whole verse about a restless passenger in a car twisting their legs all around & adjusting the seat to fit their feet up on the dash board”.

I asked Danny if it was easy or difficult to avoid being self conscious when writing songs that are so self revealing.

“When I write personal songs I don’t even think about it. I pour my guts on the table & will expose anything & everyone. Later on I think ‘My God, that’s private, should I be saying that?’”

“I think that, as long as what you are writing comes from an honest place, it’s all good”.

To attempt to further demystify Danny Michel visit HYPERLINK “http://www.dannymichel.com” www.dannymichel.com

Thought of the day

January 28th, 2014

I don’t watch The Grammy’s because they are more about the tv show and I am more into music.

School of Rock by James Linderman

January 13th, 2014

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School of Rock by James Linderman

For most people, the movie “School of Rock” is just a light hearted comedy about how we often find our place in the world in the most unlikely of settings.

For musicians, however, this movie is more of an instructional video; a rulebook, not only on how to achieve success in music but also on how to define that success.

This does not mean we should all go to a prep school and pretend to be a teacher….illegal and also not the point. It means that we should know what we are really looking to achieve and what we value in those we want to achieve it with.

What Jack Black’s character in the movie School of Rock succeeds in finding at Horace Green Prep School, is fellow music enthusiasts, however discussed as stuffy and unenthusiastic snobs in a school that prides itself on etiquette and academic achievement. He manages to uncover an inner rock and roll spirit and a musical skill where it has not otherwise been denoted or celebrated.

When he builds the class into a rock band he is instantly intrigued by the natural synergy of their differing musical experiences, influences and cultures and the skills and attitudes he does not find….he builds. What he also finds is good learners with a curiosity for a world they believe is not available to them. Jack Blacks character reframes music as something we all own and not a corporate product delivered only by pre packaged celebrity entertainers.

In his previous band the members are portrayed as cardboard cutouts of what a typical corporate rock band gets assembled from. If typical is the term we would use to describe the parts, than it is very likely that typical will be how they will sound as a unit.

Whenever I am on a panel at a music conference and asked to explain what music needs to be great I never use the word “typical” and I am always reminded of the student band from School of Rock.

Great music has….

• Risk
• A secret weapon
• A synergy of different (if not opposite) elements
• A reverence for tradition that can be heard in the music
• Time and practice to produce a consumable performance from the blended elements.
• Genuine passion and a love of playing music without projecting a single concern for career propulsion or trend capture

If you do this, your music might have millions of fans or it might just have one, but at least that single fan will be you.

Cello?!?!?!?!?!?

January 1st, 2014

Premise? What Premise?
By James Linderman

I had a hard time learning the lesson…that all of my writing has an underlying premise.

Sadly, it was a lesson I learned from many mistakes rather than a lesson I learned from learning. Now that I’ve fully, yet painfully, learned it, I will endeavor to now write this column about it, to see if it is as relevant for you, as it has come to be for me.

The lesson of premise is that you are responsible for what your lyric implies, regardless of your intent. In other words, you can write words with no intention of passing on any pearls of wisdom but listeners will search for premise in every word that crosses their eardrum.

In the words of Pat Pattison, Head of the Lyric Writing Department at Berklee College of Music in Boston and author of Writing Better Lyrics, “We are as responsible for what we do not intend in our lyric message as we are for what we do intend”.

So, after writing many strange little songs, I can now see that, unbeknownst to me, they expressed many a strange premise to my listener.

It also now occurs to me that if I were to write from a solid premise and work on my lyrics from there, then my listener would feel the impact of my single, universal message and it would be a message that I had intended, and one that every word in my lyrics could be written to support.

There are a lot of premises to write from but a few of my favorites are listed below.

Don’t judge a book by its cover.
To live big, you have to dream big
We miss most, what we no longer have
People who live in glass houses, shouldn’t throw stones

Once we have established a premise we need to determine what we want our verse materials to describe.

Don’t judge a book by its cover could start with a description of a subject – He wore a polyester suit, 2 sizes too big and his hands were weathered and dirty.
To live big, you have to dream big could begin with a description of a particular time – It was January 6th 1910 and the new world stood just beyond the starboard bow.
We miss most what we no longer have could start with a description of a setting – It was a half dead farm house held together with old paint and rusty nails at the end of a road no one ever drove down anymore.
People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones could begin with a description of relationship. The other parents of the PTA in Harper Valley looked down on someone because…hmmm, that one sounds awfully familiar!

Once the descriptive material in the first verse is locked in, we now need to connect our listener emotionally with some personal, narrative perspective.

Don’t judge a book by its cover with our subject – He wore tattered and dirty clothes but my grandfather meant the world to me.
To live big, you have to dream big with our description of a particular time – We left everything we knew, to start a new life for our family in the new world.
We miss most what we no longer have with our description of a setting – The old farmhouse was where I grew up and now that I live in the city, I miss the honesty and innocence that place represents.
People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones with a description of relationship – Try an internet search for the lyrics to Harper Valley PTA by Jeannie C. Riley sometime and you will see how premise can build a message into a lyric that can resonate across universal cultural, social or generational boundaries.

The wonderful thing about writing from premise is that we, as artists can influence how our audience will respond to our song based solely on our intent to influence them but we can also instill in our songs a way of thinking or a particular morality that we would like to see become more prevalent. Some would call this cultural manipulation but we have seen this sort of influence help bring about some wonderful shifts in contemporary thinking too.

Some examples of songs that have done this from an obvious cultural premise would be tunes like…

Southern Man by Neil Young
Blowing in the Wind by Bob Dylan
Imagine by John Lennon
American Woman by The Guess Who
Where Have All the Flowers Gone – Traditional
America by Paul Simon
The Universal Soldier by Buffy Sainte-Marie
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot
Allentown by Billy Joel
Father and Son by Cat Stevens
Four Strong Winds by Ian Tyson

There are thousands of examples we could list (and these kind of just came off the top of my head) but they do represent, fairly well, how writing from premise can make art that instills a soundtrack to a cultural phenomenon.

In this regard premise influences public perspective, public perspective gets woven into the popular culture of the day, and the popular culture of the day marks a page in human history.

jlinderman@berkleemusic.com

Bellson Rhythm String Quartet Experiment / James Linderman

December 12th, 2013

I am presently working on an experiment that uses Louis Bellson’s book; Modern Reading Text in 4/4 Time to create string quartet compositions. The Bellson book is almost 100 pages of a single note applied to almost every rhythm used in western art music. The primary platform for the experiment is to randomly select pitches from a single key (i.e. key of C) and apply them to 4 randomly selected bars of rhythm chosen from the Bellson text. Each bar is then inputted into a DAW (i.e. Reason, Cubase, Garageband) each assigned to one of the 4 instruments in a traditional string quartet (cello, viola, 2nd violin and 1st violin). The purpose is to first determine if any combination of pitches in a single key and any combination of rhythm in time can produce a generally likeable and therefore potentially useable bar of ensemble music. In the larger context, the imperial data from the experiment will be used as a smaller component of an academic argument for the value of knowledge of form and theoretical context over natural inspiration when creating music. For more information and to get a chance to participate in this experiment please contact jlinderman@berkleemusic.com.

What I Learned from my Very First Song Assessment by James Linderman

November 23rd, 2013

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What I Learned from my First Song Assessment by James Linderman

My first experience with the process known as song assessment was, unfortunately, not a positive one. I often refer to it as my first collision with the assessment process and have sometimes combined the word assessment with the word assassination and call it my assess-ination.

I was a young, enthusiastic, well educated, confident and ruggedly handsome yet very sensitive songwriter with a small collection of songs that my friends and family had informed me were nothing less than spectacular additions to the great Canadian songbook.

I picked the best of the best of the best from this collection of early work and presented it to a panel of song wiring experts at a conference.

One panelist was gracious enough, but I could instantly tell that my song had under-wealmed him and that his polite response had more to do with his good manners and less to do with whether my song was any good.

Two of the remaining three panelists were shades less polite but every bit as unmoved by my greatest musical and lyrical accomplishment to date.

The last panelist had apparently not been equipped with the same sense of decorum or apparently any form of filter when it came to expressing exactly how they felt about the value of a particular song. That day my song was that particular song.

This panelist (who is still a prominent figure in the Canadian music business) first tore into the music element of my song claiming it was boring; the melody was not diverse enough in it’s phrasing, did not have a discernible hook where a hook should be, was mismatched with the emotional tone of the lyric and had a flawed relationship with the chord progression. I remember thinking that this panelist sounded like an expert on flawed relationships so I was willing to accept their expertise on that point, at least.

She then ripped through my lyrics which she felt were not original enough, trite and trivial since they expressed a too common human experience in a too common way. She also expressed that the lyric was unfocused and also used a rhyming pattern that incorporated too many perfect rhymes. I almost asked why they were called perfect when they appeared to be less than perfect for every application. I did, however, not ask this question and at the end of their critique of my work, I thanked the panel for their time and interest in helping me improve my work. I sat down and cleared the way for the next sacrificial songwriter to face their personal assessment destiny, that day.

I clearly remember feeling embarrassed, humiliated, wronged, victimized, discouraged, and confused. If I had not been in a room full of people I would have easily been brought to tears by the natural conclusion that my songs were only of worth when the listener cared about me as a person and that therefore meant that the songs had no real value in the larger world of impartial listeners. People loved my songs only if they loved me and not for their own intrinsic quality. I did not see how this was possible since I had devoted my whole life to date on a singular goal, to be a respected craftsman of song.

Once I was less upset (a number of days later) I began to determine whether this assessment was going to encourage me to improve, or discourage me enough to quit. I also wanted to determine the intent of the person providing the most pointed critique. Was some of the harshness of it delivered to provide some dramatic flair to the assessment proceedings, was the assessor looking to seem grand in their ability to see through my songs somewhat innocent charm, was the assessor just having a bad day and my song was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or was my song in fact deficient?

I was also interested in reflecting on how I felt my song stacked up against the writing of my peers and to that end I started to listen more carefully to my fellow songwriters work. Whether it be the work of writers at my local open mic night, other songs at assessment clinics or how my songs stacked up against say….a classic Cat Stevens song, I became a focused and intent listener.

I started to self assess where I stood as a writer so much better, and discovered that there wasn’t necessarily anything hugely wrong with my early songs in that they were likeable enough and could be liked by perhaps even a large number of listeners…had I ever figured out how to get my songs in front of them back then. I did, however, also learn over time, much more about the craft of writing and now see that my earlier songs certainly utilized the information and abilities I had acquired thus far but also displayed prominently, what I still had yet to learn….what I still did not know about songwriting.

During those years I have also learned a lot about life and a lot about people – one of the few benefits of the natural aging process. These insights have helped me write songs more relevant to the human experience and I believe songs that even the panelist at that conference, that ripped through my song all those years ago, might even like. I have also adjusted my goals as a songwriter and have come to realize that most of the writers who I have met who have had commercial success with their songs are not always satisfied with the results of that success whereby I at least have become a songwriter who truly likes his own collection of work. Not so satisfied with it that I want to stop writing and stop learning and improving but satisfied that I have written songs that do a good job of expressing what has been, and continues to be, relevant to my existence here on earth.

I am certainly still not the greatest songwriter ever, but I am now my own favourite songwriter; a true fan of my own work, and that is something I would not trade for more success or fame. I suppose the most important thing I learned from that assessment of my work so long ago is that the assessor was a potential fan that I did not earn, (for perhaps a lot of uninteresting and unimportant reasons) but that I and my family and friends have been loyal fans all along the way and I now realize how much value that has to me.

James Linderman lives and works at theharmonyhouse, a music lesson, songwriting and small project studio in Newmarket, ON. He teaches guitar and coaches songwriting in studio as well as over Skype, to students all over the world. Contact James at jlinderman@berkleemusic.com

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