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ASK A SONGWRITER: WHAT INSPIRES YOU TO WRITE MUSIC?
JUNE 14TH, 2018
Being a songwriter is a difficult yet incredibly rewarding art form, and everyone has a different way of doing it. It’s one of the few things in this world where you can be taught the tools and formulas, but still be totally lost in the woods when trying to do it yourself. Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t study the great songwriters of the past, or take their techniques into account, but not everyone’s music fits into boxes, or even sounds like what you’d consider “music.” So before we can really talk about songwriting, we have to answer a much larger question… What makes a song a song, and What makes music music?
Take, for example, the Genre of Noise Music. Iannis Xenakis is a famous noise music artist. You’ve probably never heard of either the genre, or Iannis, but I encourage you to click his name and take a listen to the song I linked. You may listen to this, and think, “well this isn’t music at all! It just sounds like a plane taking off and the background music to an old horror film!” Honestly, I’d be tempted to agree with you. I learned about this genre of music in my time at Berklee College of Music’s Valencia Campus, and I honestly looked at it as just some weird experiment some mathematician did to make music… but then I realized that those prejudices were built up in my mind of what I thought music was. I was able to recognize a barrier that I built up around my idea of music, and what progressions it should follow, what tempos songs should be, and what notes to use. I realized how predictable my brain had become, after firing neurons along the same path for so long. This is when it hit me:
Music isn’t about the final product, because people will always be interpreting it in different ways. Music is about the intentions and emotions that brought it to light in the first place.
So, after breaking down my ideas of what music was, I was able to approach songwriting more freely. Yes, I still had some of the formulas, rhyming schemes, and techniques engrained in my mind, but I didn’t see them as rules anymore… I chose to see them as tools. I used this mindset to start creating my upcoming album Not for You (coming out July 27th, 2018!). I needed a fresh start, in more areas than one, to write about the concept I chose. I wanted to write about my last long-term relationship which was extremely emotionally manipulative, and psychologically abusive.
…and let me tell you. Writing the album (only THREE tracks and three spoken word pieces) took me FIVE MONTHS.
I was the definition of writer’s block. I wrote songs over and over again. I found musical elements that I was happy with, but the lyrics were wrong. The melody was wrong. It all just felt wrong. I was trying to stay out of my rules I had learned, and I was… but it was a complete disaster, and I got extremely discouraged.
But stopped, for a few weeks. I needed time to breathe and figure out what was going on internally. I stopped thinking about the songs like a product, and I started to think about what the album meant to me. Why was I writing it? Why was it important? I wanted to heal. I wanted to unite people who had been through something similar. I wanted to show what it’s like. I wanted to share my story.
So I started over, and wrote the entire album from the bottom up. I put myself 100% into it. It still isn’t perfect… but it’s completely and totally me. I could hear my authentic self in every track, and I was speaking freely and truly through music. I was able to create art from something that was so devastating, and heal during the process. I made a light in the dark, even if only for myself. What I hope for as a songwriter, is that someone will hear my story, and feel moved in some way. I hope it or gives someone the courage to get out of a bad relationship, or just helps them through a dark time. If my story can do that, it’s worth every ounce of work. That is what I do it for. That’s the reason why I make music.
ASK AN AUDIO ENGINEER: DO YOU SUPPORT AT-HOME RECORDING?
MAY 24TH, 2018
Right at this very moment, recording is more accessible than it has ever been. Just about everyone carries a smart-phone microphone in their pocket everywhere they go. Home-recording equipment and Digital Audio Workstations like Logic are more affordable and user-friendly than ever (just check out this insanely easy to use interface by Spire), and internet can teach you just about everything you need to know to start making songs.
But you might be wondering… how do audio engineers feel about all of this? Will it kill the business of recording studios? Will home-recordings eventually replace studios altogether?
Well, this recording engineer is totally in favor of at-home recording, and let me tell you why.
When I was in high school, I didn’t know anything about audio engineering or recording. At that time, I was simply a musician and a budding songwriter; but even at this age I had an interest in recording covers and some (very bad) original songs. That’s when I started to experiment with garage band, and some cheap USB microphones. At first, the recording programs were difficult to grasp, but after I got the hang of it, I was able to make some pretty decent demos for myself. I even ended up winning a radio competition that led me to open for Blake Shelton, and I made it to the finals of a cover competition for the band Karmin… and all of this with a free DAW and a cheap mic? I couldn’t believe it!
After high school, I went to Berklee College of Music, and studied Songwriting, Music Business, and Music Production. I received my Bachelor of Music and then continued studying Music Production, Technology, and Engineering at Berklee’s Graduate School program in Valencia, Spain. Through all of my studies, and education in Music Production and Audio Engineering, I have learned the ins and outs of recording, and all of the intricacies that go into it inside the studio. My graduation is in about a month, where I will receive my Master of Music degree, and I can tell you coming from a point where I didn’t know what an EQ was, to running full sessions with 8-12 people, the learning curve was massive. However, the reason behind recording the songs didn’t change. I was always just trying to translate the integrity of a live song to a recording, so I could share with others.
In school, I learned how to manipulate the recorded tracks, mix, and master, but even before I studied these things, I had a general awareness of what sounded good and what worked with the covers and original songs I was recording. Chances are, if you’re interested enough in music to start recording, you’ll have a general awareness of how things should sound. I ended up going to school for it, but with internet resources like Lynda.com, YouTube, and tutorials specific to products produced by their companies, you can get to a point where you’ll be confident enough in your skills to actually start producing demos.
Now back to the question from earlier… will at-home recording kill the business of recording studios, or replace them all together?
Personally, I believe this answer is an obvious no. You may get to a point where you’re even releasing your own music, but you will never be able to fully recreate a recording studio experience or sound in your bedroom. Now, I’m not saying this to discourage anyone from recording at home, but the fact of the matter is that recording studios have insane collections of microphones, outboard recording gear, consoles, instrument libraries… I could go on. These places are built for record production, and the people running them have been doing this for years on a professional level.
That being said, I still fully believe that at-home recording will give you an advantage, when or if you decide to get your music professionally recorded. You’ll have demos to show your engineer, and you will have a better understanding of the process and tools you’ll need to use to achieve the sounds you want. This will better inform your conversations with people in the studio, producers, and others involved in your recording experience. Even if you never step foot in a professional recording studio, you’ll have the tools and knowledge to produce an album yourself! That’s what I did for the first time two years ago with my first album, Guidelines. Having something that I made on my own was such an incredible feeling, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.
So in short, at-home recording will absolutely benefit you! The knowledge you will gain in the process of learning how to do it yourself will only better your understanding of music production, help you communicate with industry professionals, and give you a chance to express yourself and share your music with others! You might surprise yourself with how much you'll end up loving this aspect of music like I did! So get out there, and start recording!