Category Archives: excuses

SONGWRITING: Quick power tips

1. Get it done. Don’t make everything perfect.

Write all the time, and stop striving to reinvent the wheel. You’ll never write “In My Life” or “Fix You”. Neither will I. They’ve already been written. Just write. A lot. Daily. Slow and fast songs. Silly stupid songs. Serious ones. Get it done, and stop giving a damn what people think.

2. Get opinions from those you care about.

You made a 5-song digital EP? Awesome. Check in with friends. Send mp3s via email. “What do you think of the EP? Which song is your favorite? Am I onto something, here?”

3. Contrast.

Low-sung verses. Higher-sung choruses. Slow guitar strums with a fast beat. Or the opposite. Piano songs. Acoustic songs. Mix it up. Maybe a song entirely with bass guitar, sax, and drums (the band Morphine made a career of a similar sound).

4. Forget what you know.

Know a lot about music theory? Who cares? Forget about it, when you write. Detune your guitar into some weird altered tuning so you are forced to try new shapes with your fingers. Go into a sound in your keyboard that makes little sense. Don’t always run to the grand piano preset. Throw an effect pedal in between your keyboard and computer, and see what comes about. Experiment with a loop pedal. Take chances!

5. “I’m not as good as…”

Never compare yourself to others. Friends of mine are insanely talented. INSANELY. Their keyboard skills make me want to quit playing keys. Their singing voices are insanely trained. So what? I am not a trained singer, but I can sing, and harmonize. I can play basic piano stuff, but I cannot play difficult passages or songs. I can’t shred a blues solo, and my fingerpicking is capable, but nothing spectacular. Doesn’t matter. I focus on my strengths. Do the same for yourself.

6. Focus on the end result, the goal, the reason you do this.

Stop dissecting every step along the way when you’re writing and recording. “Too much string noise when my finger scraped the strings, there”… or “my voice cracked a little, in that part”…. “my harmony sounds a little weird, but ok…” Who cares?! Roll with it. Then listen to the song when it’s done, then make new decisions and choices. I wrote a song years ago. Recorded it in late 2014. It was cool, but I decided I hated it when listening to it again, last week. I changed the keyboard parts, and sped up the song while retaining the same key (thank you, computers). Now I love the song, and it’s infinitely better. Took two years to tweak it. Needed to give it a rest… listen, and then all the “here’s how I need to change it” brainstorming came out, within one listen of the song. I’ll release it soon… hopefully. End goal, right?

7. Be YOU.

Be yourself. Always. Stop singing like John Mayer or Ben Howard. Sing like YOU. I taught myself to sing listening to Green Day, Third Eye Blind, Ben Lee and Jimmy Eat World a lot in the late 90s. My voice is similar to theirs, and I love that. My songwriting style is similar, in some ways, too. It’s simple. It sounds like me. I can’t do Sigur Ros, and I can’t do Jason Mraz. I can’t do Bon Iver unless I’m playing with my vocal harmonizer pedal and lots of reverb. I fuck around, and roll with whatever sounds good to me. I love so many singers (and TONS of female singers, too) but I can’t do them. I can only do me.

8. Minimalist. Simplicity.

I saw an acoustic singer-songwriter a month ago. Too many fancy chords, rhythms, fancy-pants nonsense. His shit was forgettable. Then a few days later, I saw another dude. Lots of G and Cadd9 chords with a capo. His lyrics, delivery, and vibe of the song spoke to me way more intensely than the first guy.

Matthew Sweet wrote “Sick Of Myself” in 10 minutes. He thought it was a stupid song. Turned out to be one of his biggest hits, and he never regretted putting it on his 1995 album, “100% Fun.”

Jason Mraz… most of his really easy shit… A Beautiful Mess, I Won’t Give Up… SIMPLE AS HELL. And perfect. John Mayer’s “Gravity”? NO ONE CAN ARGUE HOW FUCKIN’ GREAT THAT SONG IS. Simple, and perfect. People like shit that they can just vibe to. They don’t need masturbatory musicianship. They want something that speaks to their souls. Make music like that, and change the world.

9. Collab.

I can do shit solo. And often do. But I also come up with some great shit, working with people. Don’t be afraid to. It’s important.

10. Rest. Think. Watch TV. Read. Kill it, but chill, too.

Rest. Rest. Rest. REST. Stop working so hard. Hell, just yesterday, I killed it with my friend Mike. We tracked three new hip-hop songs to beats we threw together in a few hours. We shot a video session for YouTube. We shot video as he tracked vocals, so we can have material for YouTube. We ate food and talked about nutrition and working out. We took a break and hung out. But in 8 hours, we did a LOT, and killed it. Today, I plan on doing the same. But first, I needed four hours to chill, blog, and help all of YOU. Then I’m going to hit the studio hard and work on shit. It’s 5pm. I have til about midnight. I’ll get it all done, and I’ll take a break in between. Don’t forget to fucking REST. Seriously. Ok? Cool. Get to work. Or chill.

-Chris Caulder
http://oustedrecords.bandcamp.com
http://seldomfamily.bandcamp.com

 

Have a tip to share? COMMENT!!! 🙂

 

Advertisements

RECORDING: Trim the fat

What do I mean by this?

Stuff everyone knows, but what no one does: stop buying shit. Stop assuming the next piece of gear will make your recordings more professional and completely make your songwriting a thousand times better.

I think back to 2002-2004. I bought SO much shit.

I got a steal on a Novation Nova IIx synthesizer in late 2002. It was $999 from Sam Ash. Retailed at the time about $2500. I have no idea why it was so cheap… maybe a closeout or something. But I bought it. I loved it. I used it for a cool pad sound in the Beauty’s Confusion song “Blue Deluge”, in the chorus. And that’s all I used it for.

2524t2ec16jhjgie9nnwphdbbqvqpski252b2521257e257e60_57

A thousand dollars for a cool patch sound, and an arpeggiator that was extremely fun to fool around with. The patches were all insanely fun. It was a great analog-modeling synth.

Luckily, I was able to sell it for about $1250 after getting bored with it, a few months later.

I also remember, a few months before picking up the Nova IIx, I bought an E-Mu Proteus 2000 rackmount for $800 from Sam Ash. I even bought a $200 “super-realistic strings” chip upgrade, that allowed the rackmount to add a bunch of sounds to it. $1000 for sounds that ultimately sounded pretty damn dated, a few years later.

proteus_2000
The rackmount soon grew to be a pain in the butt, so I sold it at a loss, and instead, bought the E-Mu Proteus Keys, which was the “keyboard” version of the Proteus 2000:

This keyboard moved with me to the Philadelphia area, in 2004. I sold it about a year later, for around $300 (with the $200 string chip).

You want to hear the best part? Several years ago, E-Mu released the Proteux VX virtual instrument for free, with all the sounds from the Proteus 2000. A mere 65MB download. And it sounds exactly like the hardware.

facepalm

In late 2002, I also bought a used Fender Rhodes Mark I Stage 73 (had to drive three hours to pick it up). It cost only $450. I sold it about a year later for exactly the same price (someone drove two hours to pick it up). I loved that thing. They now sell for $1500 used. Should have hung onto that one. But I’ve found that cheap or free virtual rhodes instrument VSTs/plugins sound as good as the real thing.

I bought a Roland Juno-60 analog synthesizer five separate times in my life, and sold it five separate times. First one I got for only $300 (broken joystick/pitch bend). Sold for $400. The others, I bought for slightly more and sold for slightly more about 6 months to a year later. Last one I bought in 2011 cost me only $650 (locally through craigslist). Turned around and sold it for $900 five months later (also through craigslist). I’ve found the TAL U-No62 virtual synth, and its big brother, TAL U-NO-LX sound EXACTLY like the real thing. The first thing is free. The big brother’s only $40 or so. Get a cool midi keyboard that has assignable knobs, buttons and sliders, and you can control every parameter of the virtual version, and hot damn, it almost feels like and plays like the real thing.

I have a habit of doing this a lot. Oftentimes it’s just to make ends meet and pay bills. Sometimes it’s all about checking out gear and messing with it, and then parting ways with it with someone more excited and/or experienced.

Since I play everything, I’m prone to buying a wider variety of gear. But…

These days, my studio is so damn stripped-down, it’s ridiculous. I own a handful of gear, but only the shit I truly, truly need.

In the early 2000s, I collected synths, almost… Juno-60, Casio CZ-1000, Roland Juno-1 and Juno-2, Proteus Keys PK-6, Kawai K4, Roland D-50…. what the hell was the point? None of that shit was helping me finish songs.

I owned one microphone (one) from early 2003 to 2009. An AKG C2000B. I still use it. Past few years, I’ve bought more and more mics. They’re always useful.

Keyboard-wise? An M-Audio Oxygen 61, to control ALL of my virtual synths (most of which are freeware/great-sounding). The other keyboard I own is a Yamaha P-60 digital piano (weighted keys). I teach on it and love the feel of it. I’ve owned the same one since 2005.

Drums? I have a Pacific CX kit I play out with (white marine pearl). Got it on trade. I record all my acoustic drum stuff with a Sonor Safari bop kit. My cymbals are cheap, but awesome-sounding Paiste 404 crashes and a ride, and New Beat hi-hats by Zildjian. I own a second Sonor Safari, that I converted into an electronic/triggered kit on the cheap.

Guitars? Not many. A couple acoustics (Martin and Yamaha). I have an Agile Les Paul clone ($300 with custom Seymor Duncan pickups), and a Gibson SG Special. I used to own a Fender strat, which I miss. I have a Fender jazz bass for all my bass needs. I have a modest pedalboard with relatively cheap pedals. I have a Vox practice amp, and a Fender Deluxe Reverb ’68 reissue, for live use.

I have your typical “must-haves” for any home studio in 2015/2016– a good USB audio interface, studio monitors, dual flat-panel widescreen  displays, mic stands, different mics, a harmonizer, cheap mic preamp, and a midi drum pad (Maschine MK2)… and that M-Audio Oxygen 61.

That’s it.

Anything else is just not necessary.

Trim the fat. Utilize negative space in your home studio. Basically everything you need to record good music can be found “in the box” (on your computer). All of my effects (reverb, delay, compression, etc)… all “in the box” (mostly the stock plugins included with Reaper 4 and Reaper 5). The less options, the better.

It took me like 15 years to realize I didn’t need most of the shit I bought. Don’t be stupid like me. Research, and buy only what you need. Even if you’re a multi-instrumentalist…. you don’t need much.

 

 

 

 

 

SW/RECORDING: Things to make your life easier.

Didn’t get a chance to get your gift in time? On a deadline?

1. Order it from an ebay seller. They usually have new stuff for 25% to 40% less than Amazon and stuff… or “open box” versions… especially NYC’s “ProAudioStar”.

2. Order from a seller that lives in your region. If you live in NYC, and the closest seller lives in Virginia… buy it from him. It’s usually 2 days tops, sometimes a day (assuming they ship the next morning after you pay, or same day).

Can’t keep track of your files? Document types?

3. Use an app or program like Evernote. It is fucking awesome. Read about it, or watch videos. I can’t live without it these days. From lyric-writing, note-making… budget stuff, “who’s borrowing stuff from me”…”I need to watch this shit… I need to listen to this band…” etc. It RULES.

Can’t finish a task in time or keep getting distracted?

4. Buy an egg-timer or any “analog”-style timer. Not some app, not some crazy digital monstrosity. Seriously. Keep things simple. Portable, easy… “I need to get this shit done in 30 minutes… (TWIST)”. Done. The more simple a timer is, the more frequently you’ll use it!!!

Want to buy music but can’t afford it?

5. Use SPOTIFY… seriously! Add entire albums in playlists named your choice. I have gigantic playlists called like.. “CDs I actually own” (so I can have this music constantly on my phone)… or “Recommended By My Girlfriend”… etc. Costs NOTHING to use Spotify (or $10/month if you want to use the phone app and also “make available offline”… seriously, it fucking RULES. What are you waiting for?

Can’t finish songs?

6. Read all of the articles in this blog! Buy songwriting books! Watch songwriting tip YouTube videos! Join a songwriting group where each person has to finish like 3 songs a week…. meet up on Sundays, and share your music!

Scared of confrontation?

7. Don’t be afraid to say no or disagree with someone about anything, most importantly, DON’T offer an explanation why you’re saying no. Just say “no, can’t do that… sorry.” Even when they ask why. If you absolutely need to give them a reason, say quite frankly, “because I don’t want to.” This one comes from my girlfriend. Best advice I’ve ever received.

“Stop texting me! Seriously, what the fuck?!”

8. Turn off your phone completely after 10pm. Usually nothing’s an emergency. And if people text you to death, or you keep getting email notifications when you’re trying to get ready for bed (or relaxing, whatever).. just turn off your damn phone. Nothing can’t wait. If it’s an absolute emergency, chances are someone in your house will get a phone call and wake you up, or you’ll hear the news in the morning. I don’t know. I just HATE this shit… seriously. Phone. Off. Now.

“I can’t relax. No matter what I try to do.”

9. Oh yes, you DEFINITELY can. See an acupuncturist, see how amazing it is…. and learn how to take care of yourself, internally… before you try to take care of yourself externally. Meditation and just laying down for an hour every day, just BREATHING, helps tremendously. And then, there’s exercise. And going outside for a walk. DO IT. Your bullshit email means NOTHING in the long run. Your stupid friends’ facebook updates are bullshit, too. If you aren’t healthy from the inside out, none of that bullshit matters… it has never mattered, and it never will. Fuck technology. And fuck this fucking blog, too!

Having a lot of arguments with your significant other?

10. Try to treat them a little better. Try to be more conscious of your actions, responses, and behavior in general. We’re all guilty of this, man. Life is too fucking short to be up each other’s ass about stupid shit. Give your significant other a hug daily, and…. be giving in other areas of your relationship. Take the fucking time, people. Facebook, blogs, The Onion, Buzzfeed, HuffPost….. who gives a shit. Live in the now. Look into your lover’s eyes. Make out more often. Go for more walks. Enjoy life. At the snap of a finger, you could lose it all. So don’t waste any more fucking time.

Love to all my friends, family, and everyone in my life who is good to the core. I am not friends with anyone who isn’t genuinely good/kind/sweet to the core. And you shouldn’t be, either.

Happy holidays. Get shit done.