Category Archives: organization

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!!! 🙂

 

RECORDING: Cable mess, disorganization, laziness

I’m pretty clean and organized, in general. I HATE WIRES and CABLES and all that fuckin’ SPAGHETTI MESS. I hate tripping over them, I hate running them all over my room and I hate when they lazily lay on top of some of MIDI controllers on my studio desk, when I’m running some mics to my audio interface (which is rack-mounted right below my monitors on the right side of my desk). No matter what I try to do, wires and cables are everywhere. And I’m just one lone dude… with not a lot of studio shit! A very modest, humble setup. But the wires always seem to be ten times the amount of gear I have. But this is a good thing….

What’s so good about cables all over the place? They’re running stuff that is ACTIVE and PLUGGED IN and READY. Allow me to explain…..

How much music do I work on or find myself completing when my studio is completely clean, with no visible wires to trip over? None. I don’t work on music when my studio is clean and picture-perfect. When I have wires and cables laying around…. (my guitar pedalboard plugged into my amp and completely in my walking path, drum trigger cables running haphazardly all over my electronic drumkit, all of my mics plugged in and mic stands completely in my way on most days (but not in the way at all on the days I want to record, bass plugged in, USB cables powering MIDI gear)…… I GET SHIT DONE.

If everything’s plugged in and ready to go, I am inspired to work.

So what do you do, if you’re like me and you friggin’ hate cables and tripping over them? Get longer cables. Run them against the wall. Unplug the gear (and put it on a shelf or something) that you know you won’t use for the next ten songs you write. Move the mic stand ever so slightly so it’s not directly in the walking path. Or just briefly unplug the XLR cable from the mic itself. Organize your studio so it is logically laid out where you WON’T have cables running across the middle of the studio. No matter what…. LEAVE SHIT PLUGGED IN. It’s not like it’s going to use that much more electricity…. Leave the shit plugged in, and always have your recording software open and ready with a template that suits your style/tracking methods best. Have fresh batteries in your little SD card field recorder (for those quick ideas… I love my damn Zoom H2, still).

I’m mainly writing this post because I hate being so friggin’ clean and organized…. because my head/brain certainly isn’t. When I just get down and dirty and IN THE MOMENT (headphones tangled up in the mic cable, guitar tangled up in those two…) I get shit done. Because I’m sitting there in my chair, making stuff happen and NOT GIVING A SHIT ABOUT THE MESS. I know the cables are tangled and in the way, but if I don’t need to get up immediately, who gives a fuck? Press record in my recording software and just GO. If I have to get up to piss or grab some water, then what I should do is slowly, carefully untangle the shit, or just unplug the cable from the source or destination, and just get it out of the way temporarily. When I’m back, I plug shit back in and stay in the zone.

Too much time is wasted, being a clean/neat-freak. It’s not like I have ten guests coming over, or I’m hosting a dinner party in my recording studio. If it’s a mess, it doesn’t fuckin’ matter. You’re likely to stay in the zone when shit’s plugged in and cables are everywhere. You see the mess and think… “cool. I’m inspired. Let’s do this.”

Right now, I need to finish some fucking songs. And guess what? So do you.

So get to it. And fuck the cable mess!!!