This song I wrote in around 1996 - it has evolved very little since then. I composed this back then on a 61-key Ensoniq SQ-1+ synth
There have been a few iterations of this track over the years, with the somewhat undecided track title originating from my high school nickname of Wombler (long story) and the fact that I played in a metal band with some friends in which we wrote lyrics to this song and fully "orchestrated" it, titling it "The Sweetest Lullaby" in that incarnation.
I love that this is a very "linear" song, there are no repeating sections, but an adventure from start to finish through various tempos and time signatures. Enjoy...
Some time ago I started using SugarSync
, a great tool for easily accessing, synching and sharing files across multiple computers and mobile devices.
While this sounds a bit techy, in reality there are some awesome things you can do with SugarSync. One of them I particularly like as a composer - and that's being able to carry my music portfolio in my pocket.
Now you might think you could just have a playlist setup in iTunes or something and have that stored on your phone, ready to play when needed. Sure, that would allow you to access your music on the go, but what if you wanted to quickly and easily share
one of your tracks with someone? Maybe you're a muso wanting to send a demo track or two to a venue manager you just met. A player looking to join a band you've just seen play live. Or a composer keen to share a demo of your work to a prospective client...
SugarSync not only enables you to access and play your music on the go from your phone, but you can simply tap a button to send a link to that track via email. Sweet.
Here's a rundown of a few steps I take each time I finish a new composition. These quick steps make it easy to access and share my music anywhere, anytime, with anyone:
- When I finish a new track, I use XLD to convert the large WAV file to a more transportable mp3 version
- I then drag the mp3 to an "mp3s" folder on my desktop, where all my project mp3s are stored
- This folder is automatically synched to SugarSync, which means that by just dragging the mp3 to this folder, the next time I open SugarSync on my phone I'll have access to the track - including the ability to play it and share it directly with others.
Hope you find this useful. Now get out there and spread your music to the world!
The Music Machine
Around a month ago I wrote an article titled "The Unknowns of the Top 40 Charts - Producers and Front-Liners
The post contained a summary of some less-commonly-known realities of pop music composition.
After some discussion, I ended the article with the comment "When the power to the machines is switched off, all the samples and pre-programmed loops are lost and all you have is your talent, what do you bring to the table?".
The response to this question was fast-received and overwhelming, including the rather comical to-and-fro which appears in the comments directly beneath my blog.
However some of the most interesting feedback I received was through other forums, namely various LinkedIn groups which are not publicly accessible. I wanted to share these as a follow-on to my original article. I hope you enjoy as I did...
- "Here in Nashville, it's all about the words almost to the point of negating the musical content." - Randy Gabbard
- "I'd rather see more musicians who are taking the risk of NOT using the template get in front of the same demographics of those who do. One of my fondest memories, in response to your last comment, Paul, was a time when the power went out at a Chicago venue I was playing. I stepped off the stage, walked into the middle of the crowd, and performed there instead. When the power came back on, the stage manager turned the lights back off. The machine, literally or figuratively, can bring out the best and the worst...and sometimes make you write too much." - Kevin Mileski
- "Had a great night once at a rock club in central Illinois. The power went out so the lead singer and I (on acoustic guitar) sat on the front edge of the stage and played to the crowd that gathered and sat down on the dance floor. Our soundman used a flashlight to "spotlight" us." - Bud Summers
- "In spite of all that is going on in Top 40 today, I believe that this phase shall pass and we will enter a period in the music business where talent and the ability to connect with an audience will be the defining characteristics of popular and successful artists. Adele certainly demonstrated this." - Tom Netzel
- "I think the pop charts have always been this way - a light sprinkling of genuinely creative artists with their own material interspersed amongst the plethora of manufactured pop stars. The latter often have their music carefully crafted for them by a relatively small group of talented composers and songwriters. Thee factory-line approach can produce music that is a little too similar at times, but that is sort of the point - creating or maybe sometimes just following current trends and cashing in. It can still create some seriously classic, memorable pop songs though and shouldn't necessarily be dismissed as less worthy than the more independent acts...
- Motown and Atlantic in the 1960s produced some great stuff with a seriously conveyor belt approach at times. Stock Aitken and Waterman had a few classics amongst their instant throwaway pop as well...
- Speaking from personal experience - working to guidelines / a tight structure / a formula can often be quite motivating and an actual aid to creativity - gives the mind a specific focus. " - Mark Taylor
The Music Machine
I recently read this fantastic post from The New Yorker - "The Song Machine: The Hitmakers Behind Rihanna
It was an excellent read, albeit lengthy, so I want to share some of the main points I took away from it:
- Perhaps showing some ignorance for the hit machine approach to pop music, I had never heard of Tor Hermansen and Mikkel Eriksen, the team of Norwegian writer-producers known as Stargate. These guys have written the music behind some of the biggest tracks in recent pop / RnB including "Rude Boy" ("Come on, rude boy, boy, can you get it up / Come on, rude boy, boy, is you big enough?") and “S&M” (“Na-na-na-na-na come on”) from Rihanna, "Irreplaceable" from Beyoncé, and Katy Perry’s "Firework".
- Stargate are one of a relatively small number of highly successful hit maker producers, who write the backing tracks to many of today's Top 40 songs. However the vocal lines are generally composed by an almost exclusively female group of "top-liners".
- The top-liners listen to the music created by the producer and within a short amount of time come up with the main melody, lyrics and the general "catchiness" of the songs we end up hearing. The outcome of this is a demo track which is then shopped out to keen stars such as Beyoncé, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga.
- Importantly this helps explain why so much Top 40 and commercial radio music is so same-y, familiar, and to many (including me) - mundane. The music is not drawn from a planet full of inspiration but from a very small pool of highly efficient producers and top liners, a small pool of professionals who survive by churning hits out quickly.
- Because of this, sometimes the musical output on the charts can be too similar. In 2009, both Beyoncé and Kelly Clarkson had hits (Beyoncé’s "Halo" and Clarkson’s "Already Gone"). Both were created from the same track from producer Ryan Tedder. Clarkson wrote her own top line, and Beyoncé co-created hers with Evan Bogart. Tedder didn't mention to either artist that the other was working with his track, so both went to market and both were hits. Crazy.
- Successful top-liners include Makeba Riddick, Bonnie McKee, and Skylar Grey - none of whom are household names like the performers who make their work famous. However it is pointed out that creating the hit melody does not mean the top-liner wants (or deserves) the fame of the stars we know - after all, the Rihannas of the world are the ones everyone looks at when they walk into the room, dealing with manic publicity and touring, and needing to produce live what people come to expect from a highly polished studio album.
I enjoyed reading at the end of the article the reality check felt by these hit-making producers, especially in the wake of the monstrous success of Adele and her huge single "Someone Like You". The emotional lyrics and raw acoustic accompaniment in this track are nothing like the digital, arpeggiator-created, effect-laden music typical of the charts and these producers.
With an arsenal of studio equipment and production hours, it is still not possible to formulate a timeless "classic" that will really connect with people.
When the power to the machines is switched off, all the samples and pre-programmed loops are lost and all you have is your talent, what do you bring to the table?
John Butler (by John Dudelson)
In the past 24 hours, much attention has been given to a case of potential copyright infringement
- the track in question being Zebra by John Butler Trio
(official video below).During this week's Super Bowl, an ad for yoghurt made by Dannon in the US has featured music sounding very similar in feel and melody
to Zebra (video of this ad also below) . Was this a case of unauthorised use of the John Butler Trio track? No, it is clearly a different
recording. Is the music similar between the two? Yes.
Now here's the kicker. Is this an infringement of copyright?Well...? Who's to say. Really - who's to say? Who will make a public, legal ruling that there has been an infringement of copyright
in this case? I strongly believe NO ONE will. And I will stand corrected and surprised if this uproar amounts to anything more than an undisclosed out of court settlement between the two parties. Why? Simple. Because music is very complex and questions of similarity are incredibly hard to quantify. The instruments used, pitch, speed, melody, number and placement of rests, time signatures, additional layers added or subtracted all have an impact on how "similar" one track may seem to another - and it is all subjective. But what is the threshold beyond which a track could be seen to infringe upon another?As I discussed over 18 months ago, there is not likely to be a legal precedent set on music copyright infringement in cases like this any time soon, due to the inevitable opening of floodgates which would follow. All manner of claims of
"this sounds like that" and "this bit is almost exactly the same as that bit" begin choking courtrooms. When it comes to copyright infringement like this, who'll be the judge?
15 year old Korean girl, Park Ji Min
, singing a cover of Adele's "Rolling In The Deep"
on the Korean talent show KPop Star.
This is a talented young singer who did a great cover of the track. However I have a simple question: Would we be as impressed by this performance if she was singing an original song?
Here in Australia I've seen this footage countless times this week and there are blogs all over the web mentioning the video. The media are certainly captivated by what she has done. But let's just be reminded that this is a very loyal performance of a song we have all heard before. Are we impressed by how like-sounding she is to Adele's original? Impressed by the young age? A combination of both?
I have written before of the way people listen to commercial radio and popular music
- as it is generally easy, non-challenging and most of all familiar.
A greater level of talent would be required to not just nail a vocal performance, but to have actually composed the song. Again, I'm not discrediting this girl's performance. I am simply lamenting my belief that if she did compose an original song and perform it to the same level of expertise, we would probably never hear of it.
The sad, beautiful truth is that so much of the world's great original music will never find its audience
This past week has seen countless mentions of the
Last weekend I recorded a performance of my composition "Before April". In a strange coincidence, a few days later I read this post about the "Out Back Project"
, a 15-minute audio piece to be composed from the memories contributors have of their backyard. I immediately contacted the talent behind the project and am pleased to contribute my track as the score. The title "Before April" refers to the time shortly before the arrival of my first child.
At the time I was living in Sydney, in a unit, with a tiny grassed area flanked by a very tall graffitied concrete wall, the only thing separating us from the Gore Hill Freeway into Sydney.
I composed this track thinking of the complete unknown that lay ahead for us with the pending arrival, as I looked out to our very limited living space outdoors. That April we moved to Newcastle, returning to our roots, closer to family, in our first home with a large and varied outdoor environment for our little guy to explore. We have not looked back since, and the concrete wall I once saw from the window of my studio has been replaced with the top of citrus trees, rooves and an expanse of sky.With that, please enjoy the track via the YouTube clip above. If it connects with you, you can download the track in the format of your choice from here. Enjoy.
In the past 24 hours I've stumbled across two sites in particular which have lead to this post. While I may lose several readers with this sentence, my intention is not to prescribe rules with which to make a hit song, but to question some music industry trends.
Yesterday I read the blog post "The Ten Second Rule: What is it and Why It’s Important!"
. In summary this article explains why a track needs to grab the listener in the first 10 seconds in order to be successful (generally). My first reaction was to disagree, but then I realised my disagreement was not with the rule itself but with the outcome of an adherence to it
. Anyone who has listened to my music would appreciate that the old adage of "don't bore us, get to the chorus" doesn't generally enter into my composition process! I don't approach music from a perspective of needing to grab attention and impact from the get-go.
However, I also appreciate that I am not composing with the express purpose of achieving commercial success - something The Ten Second Rule is clearly a catalyst for.
I agree with the suggestion that there must be near-instant appeal for music which is aiming to be played on commercial radio. The reality is that deviating too far from familiar territory will lead to the listener changing the station quickly. But I question the value of this rule in creating fresh, interesting and truly original music – rather than more of what’s been heard before.
The second site I've come across today is SoundOut
. As the website explains, SoundOut offers an online service to provide objective, reliable and rapid music insight. Artists are encouraged to upload a track via the site which is then reviewed by music fans (registered "scouts"). As detailed on the site:"Every track submitted to SoundOut is fed randomly and in real-time to 80 independent reviewers on our sister site, Slicethepie (or 200 reviewers for SoundOut Pro reports). They are asked to respond objectively with their rating and honest feedback. These reviews and ratings are then automatically analysed by semantic technologies and compared against over 50,000 other tracks that have already been processed through SoundOut to produce a detailed SoundOut report."
Among other things, one outcome an artist is said to be able to gain from the SoundOut report is "How good a track is overall, with guaranteed 95% accuracy".This service may be the absolute delight of artists looking for a way to receive constructive (?) feedback on their tracks. It's certainly an innovative tool. I must say though that I am wary of the outcomes of a largely automatic reporting tool determining "how good a track is overall".
For an artist with the sole objective of achieving commercial success with their music, this would seem like a god-send. Once you have the big success tick against one of your tracks you just need to figure out exactly what commercial success is - how to monetise the popularity of your track in a world gone crazy for free downloads and music piracy!
As a composer putting heart and feeling into creating music, this tool leaves me cold. But again, I acknowledge I am not SoundOut's target market. Why formulate and automate the art of creating music?"I am the entertainer, I come to do my show.You've heard my latest record, it's been on the radio.Ah, it took me years to write it, they were the best years of my life.It was a beautiful song. But it ran too long.If you're gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fitSo they cut it down to 3:05".- Billy Joel, "The Entertainer"
I got up this morning to find two updates via Twitter which at first I saw as unrelated. On further thought, I believe they are closely linked...The first was a great post titled "The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We're All Going To Miss Almost Everything"
. I strongly recommend reading the original article in full - it is a fascinating and thought-provoking read. In very brief summary, the article comments on the reality that we will never come close to scratching the surface of taking in all that has been created before us. Even with the most dedicated effort, no one will ever have time in their life to read even a fraction of all the books which have
been written, see all the films which have been made, hear all the music which has been composed.
As the article's title states, the sad, beautiful truth is that almost everything which has been created, even before we each grace the planet ourselves, we will never have the ability to take in.A big realisation. And the second post? An update from Mashable titled "Metal Band Teases New Drummer on Facebook To Create Buzz, Score Fans"
. This article refers to the steps taken recently by progressive metal band Dream Theater to create a "buzz" around the pending announcement of their new drummer, following the departure of Mike Portnoy (something I discussed back in September 2010
). Since Portnoy's announcement to leave the band, they have become more engaged in social media through the creation and active updating of personal band member Twitter accounts and an increased Facebook presence.
In this latest move, the band's record label Roadrunner Records
has encouraged fans to connect with the Dream Theater Facebook page
and provide their email address, to receive updates on the announcement of the new drummer. A 3 minute video teaser is provided as a reward for signing up. How did I see these two articles as related?
It all comes back to what I see as a the most asked question of all musicians - how can my music cut through all the noise out there and find a listening audience? Virtually every band now has a Twitter account, Facebook page and website to promote their music. Just like every other band competing to be heard. The sad, beautiful truth is that so much of the world's great music will never find its audience. Unfortunately I don't conclude this article with the silver bullet, the solution to making the connection with a keen listener base. If I could, I would probably be sitting at my musical keyboard right now rather than the one that allows me to type these words!Personally, I will continue to create, continue to connect and keep expressing myself. If what I'm doing connects with you, brilliant! Enjoy.
I was recently asked to prepare a piano and vocal arrangement of a piece of music as a gift. In order to do so, I had to work through a series of steps: learn the music by ear, record the music (in data form) and transform that musical data into sheet music. As this was a piece I had never heard before, something became evident when learning the music by ear - especially when playing my private recording of it alongside the original. There were slight but noticeable shifts in tempo.So what? Well, I believe there is something inherently human about music, and as you remove elements of "human-ness" you diminish the emotional connection with the listener - and in turn the appeal. I have written before about quantizing, a process often used in music to sharpen up the accuracy of timing. This can be especially useful in projects such as music notation where timing must be spot on to produce an accurate result.
This tool certainly has a value.However the process of quantizing takes away one of the human elements of music. As mentioned in my Auto-tune commentary, we are not robots and should not strive to sound that way! It is natural to
move slightly ahead of or slightly behind the beat from time to time when performing. A perfect snapping into the strict timing of the beat simply sounds un-natural.Take for example the song "Forever" by Ben Harper (below). The song generally sits around 83-85bpm
, however in some sections this becomes more swift, in a way not likely to be noticed unless you are clicking a metronome of some kind along with the track. These subtle variations help give the song life and help strengthen the connection between performer and listener. The listener is washed along with the song. Let your music have life.