On Songwriting | Musings On How To Write a Song

Musings

Stand By Me

Stand By Me

Single-track recording. Virtual bands. Long-distance collaboration. Digital recording has opened up a world of possibilities that never existed before, well, digital recording. I’ve used this capability on most of my own recording projects. On my first CD, for example, I recorded several songs in Twain Harte, California, downloaded the WAV files and sent the tracks to Rob Ickes and Dave Pomeroy in Nashville. Dave recorded Rob’s Dobro and sent the WAVs back to me. Upon synchronization/integration of the digital audio tracks, it sounded like we recorded everything in the same studio real-time. The following video takes this concept to a whole new level, combining audio and video tracks from musicians from all over the globe: One street performer recorded the original track, and then additional instruments and vocals were laid down by different singers and musicians from around the world. The song itself is the classic Stand By Me, which was originally released in 1955 by The Staple Singers and then released again in 1961 by The Drifters. This composite version is a real toe tapper, so turn up the speaker volume and prepare yourself for a warm and happy feeling. How cool is that? People who may never have a chance to travel great distances to personally meet can collaborate digitally to create just about anything they can imagine. What a wonderful time to be...

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Silent Angel

Silent Angel

A friend has asked us to play at a fund-raising event for Rett Syndrome this August in Teton Valley. A little research has revealed that Rett Syndrome is a heart-breaking disease that affects mostly girls. The symptoms only become evident when the baby is between six to eighteen months old. So far, there is no cure, but they’re close. We wrote this song to play at the concert, and decided last weekend in Carmel to video the first draft to share with our j90.aad.myftpupload.com community. More on the process of this particular co-creation in a blog to come soon. For now, here’s the video… and the lyrics: Silent Angel © 2009, Rick Jamison and Kathy Schmidt Hope in a blanket Tiny in pink Coos and blows bubbles Maybe she’ll sing, someday She’s our angel Just hold the moment Stars in her eyes Shine with a promise Limitless skies, today Little angel Chorus: Change happens slowly Unless, it never comes at all When was the moment The promise of her star began to fall Don’t see it coming Hope clouds the view Suddenly helpless What can we do? We pray For our angel Reaching for answers The future is near While we are searching I’ll sing for you, my dear Silent angel Change happens slowly Unless, it never comes at all When is the moment The promise of their stars return to...

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The Community Decides

The Community Decides

Congratulations Barack Obama on this, your first day as President of the United States. One of the mantras of social media and the blogosphere is “The Community Decides,” which simply means that the interaction between people enabled by the Internet has the power to override the starmakers, the record labels, the gatekeepers and the tastemakers. You are the community, and you get to decide what manner of music resonates with your sensibilities, which artists give expression to things you care about, what stories and ideas — told through song– have meaning to you. The collective you… us… we have the power to trump the craftiest hyperbole and give a full measure of air to the authentic. The peaceful transition of power that took place on the steps of the U.S. Capital today culminates a journey that began with the first campaign speech in a democratic election process that at times seemed endless. Through our votes, throughout America, the people (AKA the community) decided on who will lead us as the head of government through the serious challenges ahead. Those challenges, of course, are far bigger than any single person can solve. But not only has the community decided who will lead, the community is also speaking to how we want to be led. Even with storm clouds all around, this day feels bright and hopeful — due in large measure to the rhetoric President Obama expressed in his inaugural speech… “Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. “What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task. This is the price and the promise of citizenship.” Do these words inspire, motivate and empower? Do they resonate as authentic and true? The community will decide. Do they invigorate your hopes, sense of urgency and passion to create? The answer to that is completely up to...

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New Song… Key of D

New Song… Key of D

As I was laying around last weekend working on a Sunday crossword puzzle, I encountered a clue that said Hired Gun. Sometimes a simple word or phrase is all it takes to set the mind awanderin’. I’ve always enjoyed a good western. Lonesome Dove. Silverado. Unforgiven. The Wild Bunch. The Long Riders. As I closed my eyes and tried to think of a six-letter word for Hired Gun, I wondered how and why someone would want to become one of those, and I thought about westerns and origins and unintended consequences, and then I came up with this… Jack McGee was a ringer A wannabe gunslinger Audacious for a boy of seventeen He was good at shootin’ tin cans Quite accurate with both hands He saw himself as able, fast and mean Young Jack thought he was ready His hands were calm and steady The time had come to greet his destiny In his mind he looked amazing Standing tall with guns ablazing A legend of the West named Jack McGee Chorus: Jack McGee wanted to be A legendary outlaw ridin’ free His downfall was the thing he couldn’t see Be careful what you ask for, Jack McGee So trouble he went courtin’ With the six-guns he was sportin’ Looking for a shooter bold as he A fight he soon created Got a hothead agitated That legend in the making, Jack McGee His foe was mad and surly Drew his gun prematurely But his aim was straight and true as it could be Jack said, “Wait, I wasn’t ready” On legs no longer steady No glory — just the end of Jack McGee Chorus Rest in peace, Jack McGee Too bad you couldn’t see Tin cans are slow and their aim ain’t up to snuff When a boy’s imagination Leads to real-life confrontation A wannabe ain’t the same as good enough It turns out that the answer to the Hired Gun clue had nothing at all to do with westerns or origins or unintended consequences. But though the actual answer was HITMAN, the clue took me somewhere else altogether — and that’s one of my favorite parts of coming up with a new...

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Something to Be Grateful For

Something to Be Grateful For

There you are, thinking abstract thoughts, humming catchy little melodies in your head, trying to be creative. Conjuring up a brand new song. Back on planet earth, the world just keeps on turning. Newspaper editors debate “Do we call it a crash? Maybe it’s more like a ‘scary drop’ or a ‘runaway train of a sell-off.'” Meanwhile, 90-year-old Addie Polk shot herself in the chest before Akron deputies arrived to escort her out of her foreclosed home where she has resided for the past 38 years. Then there are the misguided souls who have begun shouting scary things at incendiary political rallies. Flip to the next page of the paper, and there’s typically something still worse happening somewhere else. So how do we do it, this songwriting thing? How do we stay connected enough to observe and participate, yet insulated enough to remain sane — much less creative? Blow up the TV Throw away the paper Move to the country And buy us a home… Mighty fine advice from songwriter John Prine, if it were only that easy. Could it be that the answer to “How do we do it?” is connected to something as basic as how we define ourselves? Reflecting on the current state of the global economy, a dear friend recently wrote “The very rich who have lost millions will just have to redefine themselves in other ways besides their money, cars, houses and clothing. The rest of us will just carry on perhaps with a few less bucks but ‘who we are’ intact.” As a songwriter, I’ve been thinking up new music for years with no hit records or fat royalty checks to keep me motivated. I actually write songs for the love of doing it. Whatever happens from there is a bonus — and mostly out of my control anyway. When I read those words from my friend, I paused to embrace how precious and fundamental the creative spirit is to “who we are.” As the world turns round and round, that’s something to be truly grateful for, always. PS: It turns out that Addie Polk survived her own bullet, and her cause fueled blogs on reckless lending practices rampant during the housing boom. Fannie Mae dropped the foreclosure, forgave her mortgage and said she could remain in the home. “Sometimes you have to shoot yourself to get help,” lamented a...

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