Canadian Musician

EXPLORING YOUR SONG ROUTES

Dale Boyle

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Write What You Know

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

In this entry I offer a short passage (food for thought) from my PhD thesis where I cite two of my favorite songwriting books: Song: The world’s best songwriters on creating the music that moves us; and, The Billboard guide to writing and producing songs that sell: How to create hits in today’s music industry.

Here is the except from my PhD thesis:

In songwriting, some feel that the art “demands authenticity” (Beall, 2009, p. 126) and advise songwriters to write what you know (p. 126). Perhaps this is why many songwriters, such as renowned artists Guy Clark or Travis Tritt, feel that their best and most sincere songs are about subjects they know well (Waterman, 2007).

 

Beall, E. (2009). The Billboard guide to writing and producing songs that sell: How to create hits in today’s music industry. New York: Billboard Books.

Waterman, J. D. (Ed.). (2007). Song: The world’s best songwriters on creating the music that moves us. New York: Writer’s Digest Books.

LESSONS FROM KENNY, JACK & DIANE

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

Aronoff - Jack & Diane

 

 

 

 

Foremost, the role of a drummer is to come up with the beat that’s gonna get the song on the radio…I am paraphrasing none other than, drummer extraordinaire, Kenny Aronoff! In part, this is how Kenny sees his role and from a songwriting perspective, Kenny makes a very interesting point.

To use a much cited example, when you hear a song like “Jack and Diane” (which was a huge John Mellencamp hit) we think, “John wrote a great pop/rock song.” And he did, but he wasn’t alone. As a point of reference, check out the “writing demo” version of “Jack and Diane” included in the John Mellencamp “On the Rural Route 7609” Box Set. It’s a stripped down, acoustic guitar and voice demo and while the basic melody, working lyrics, and chord structure are pretty much there, it is a far cry from the full-band arrangement that appeared on the “American Fool” album.

Click HERE to check out excerpts of the solo acoustic “writing demo” version and the album version of “Jack and Diane.”

It’s really cool for me to listen to this stripped down demo because I imagine it is, more or less, what was presented to Kenny when he was tasked with the role of delivering the beat that would lift and transcend the song from a folk ditty to the radio hit we all know. And indeed, that’s what Kenny’s drumming did for “Jack and Diane.” And this is just one of numerous examples which could be used to illustrate the role that a drummer can have in shaping direction and breathing life into a song.

It’s an important lesson in the power of instrumentation, arrangement and creativity. At the very least it is a reminder to always treat drummers (all musicians actually) very well! If you write alone and your songs will eventually be recorded and realized with other musicians, those musicians will play a key role in shaping those songs before they reach the public, so appreciate and respect that fact!

That’s the lesson I take from Kenny’s “Jack and Diane” story. And as you can imagine, with Kenny’s long and jam packed career as a drummer, there are many lessons to be learned from his many stories. Thankfully, a number of these music and life lessons are interwoven throughout Kenny’s new book, “Sex, Drums, Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

Visit www.kennyaronoff.com to find out all things Aronoff, drop by Kenny’s Twitter page https://twitter.com/AronoffOFFICIAL for updates, and be sure to check out the new book at: https://www.halleonard.com/product/viewproduct.action?itemid=140763&

All the best,

Dale

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Writing Holiday songs!

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

I resisted writing seasonal/holiday songs (particularly Christmas songs) for some time. I’m not sure why this is, but I finally caved and wrote a song called “Come Christmas Time.” It was a particular challenge to avoid typical clichés and to come up with lyrics that felt somewhat unique. Even if this remains the only seasonal/holiday song I ever write, I am glad that I made the effort to do so. So, even if only for a songwriting exercise, try to write a holiday song!

Happy holidays and happy writing!

Dale

 

Music Lessons: Demos, Drafts and Dissertations

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

In this blog entry, I’d like to share an essay I wrote called “Music Lessons: Demos, Drafts and Dissertations.” In the essay I discuss and demonstrate what dissertation writing has in common with writing and recording songs. Check it out HERE!

All the best,

Dale

The “Right” Musicians to Realize Your Songs

Friday, July 15th, 2016

As a songwriter, I spend a lot of time “in my head.” I typically work alone to compose music, write lyrics, and establish a working arrangement for my songs. Those steps are lonely! Oftentimes, it is only at the point of being in a recording studio that I work with other musicians to realize my songs. That step can be tricky! If the musicians are not a good musical fit, you may find yourself trying (and perhaps not fully succeeding) to coax out a particular type of performance. That can be both frustrating for the artist/producer, and, at a certain point, really unfair to the musicians on the session. However, pick the “right” musicians and more or less, things can fall into place. And by “right” musicians I mean people who instinctively play in a manner that you admire and that you feel is fitting with your music.

Case in point: A year or so ago I set up a recording session with an incredible rhythm section: drummer Kenny Aronoff and bassist James LoMenzo…and I recently had a second in-studio recording session with Kenny and James. In both instances, the sessions flowed seamlessly. And the reason for this goes beyond them being great professional musicians…That’s important of course, but they were also stylistically the “right” players for how I envisioned the music. Their musical sensibilities resonate with me (which is why I contacted them in the first place), so at most I was a facilitator on those sessions…I just let them do what they do and the end result was even beyond what I envisioned.

While I tend to write alone, I’ve come to see the careful selection of session musicians as such a key aspect of the songwriting process: A final step in documenting and realizing the songs. As a songwriter, it is incredibly gratifying to feel that a song has been well served, or as with Aronoff and LoMenzo, not just well served but elevated!

– Dale

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Songwriting Starting Points

Friday, June 10th, 2016

Just came across this blog entry that I’d like to share…”5 starting points for songwriting (with advice and anecdotes from Joni Mitchell, John Fogerty, Rodney Crowell, and more).” Some interesting points are covered. Check it out HERE!

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Jam Tracks: A Songwriting Tool

Saturday, May 14th, 2016

Playing along to “Jam Tracks” which has your instrument of choice removed is a great way to practice and explore songs in a contextualized manner. However, “Jam Tracks” can also be great songwriting tools. Now, we naturally gravitate towards jam tracks of songs that we know and wish to play. Makes sense! But the key to this exercise is to select jam tracks of songs that you do not know. Preferably, these tracks would also have the vocals removed (this is pretty common). So what you are left with is a rhythm track to which you are totally unfamiliar. Perfect! Listen, jam along, compose a melody, write some lyrics, etc. This can be a lot of fun, especially since you can eventually compare your melodies/lyrics to the actual song! And perhaps most importantly, some of the ideas you may stumble upon may be transferable to your own original compositions.

Happy jamming!

Dale

The Blues Had A Baby…

Sunday, April 3rd, 2016

While the blues is the foundation upon which rock music is built (and at times the blues influence is very apparent…think John Mayor for example), sometimes the blues can have an impact in very idiosyncratic and less overt ways. Case in point: The guitar intro to Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell was based on a blues turnaround riff! Very cool! Check out this video of Steve Stevens discussing how he wrote the intro:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fpq3YyfiJ9o

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Exploring Drum Loops for Songwriting Inspiration

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

For the past few years I’ve been working more and more with drum loops. Initially, I was looking for specific loops to realize the drums and percussion ideas in my head. But I quickly discovered the potential for drum loops as a songwriting tool. Rather than searching for a drum beat to fit an existing song, I began exploring drum loops to inspire new songs. For me, doing this has inspired all sorts of riffs, structural arrangements and grooves that I would not have thought of otherwise.

My absolute favourite drum loop source is Drums On Demand.

As an exercise, try this: Visit www.drumsondemand.com and select a drum loop style and check out the audio samples. As the samples play, have an instrument in hand and just play and/or sing along…play something, anything! See what happens! Because the demo audio samples have all sorts of fills and changes, all sorts of fun and wacky things will happen…and some cool things might happen too! I recently did this very exercise with the Drums on Demand “Indie Pop Drums” set and I stumbled upon some really cool riffs and arrangement ideas. Once you discover some drum loops that inspire you, you can purchase the complete set to fully explore your new song ideas!

Give it a try!

Five Songwriting Habits…

Friday, February 12th, 2016

Just came across this: “Five Songwriting Habits You Should Drop Today” by Jessica Brandon. I think point #5 on collaborating is key. I like writing alone, but if you have song ideas that you’ve continuously worked on and it just seems to not go anywhere or resolve well, share it with someone! See if a co-writer can provide a fresh perspective and take the song in a direction you never imagined. Check out Brandon’s piece here: www.songwriting.net/blog/five-bad-songwriting-habits 

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