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Page 15 of 17 pages ‹ First  < 13 14 15 16 17 > 

Writing the Blues

Ya gotta start somewhere

I think most people who write songs, especially for themselves or their own band, just write what comes out. I know I've done it. What you write on will be based on what you know and what's familiar to you. However, if you like a certain style of music but have no idea how to play it, you probably won't be able to write it. You may be able to mimic it, but how well you are able to do this will depend on how knowledgeable you are about it.

For me, the music that moves me the most, the one that I feel reaches to my core, is the blues. Despite what some people think, there is a lot to the genre. I've previously discussed some of the studying I've done of some artists. What I've also done is to focus on writing pure, straight, blues tunes. I've actually ignored some ideas I've had that looked to be other types of songs, because I want to focus on the blues songs for now. My goal is to make the blues part of the core of what I write so that when I write something that's not pure blues, it comes out "bluesy." I want to write songs that are blues songs without even trying, just what comes out naturally.

To be honest, I don't even know if it's possible. Now that I think of it, it kind of sounds like I'm trying to program myself or something like that. I guess it doesn't matter, though, as long as I write good songs and learn in the process while I'm at it.

Wed, 2008 07 23 at 11:01 AM |Permalink for this entry

Practice Space

If I could afford a bigger house, I might not be hanging out with you lot.

Last Saturday Blue Funk played at a practice space about four miles from here. Since the beginning, we've been playing in a room at our house that's about 11 foot square. Even worse, it has hard-paneled walls, which are pretty reflective acoustically. We struggle a bit for space, as well as balancing the mix. What would be normal volumes for instruments such as electric guitar and drums can be quite loud in such a small space. It is difficult to get the vocals loud enough without them starting to feed back.

So playing in a larger space, even one we had to pay for, seemed like it could be a solution. The rehearsal space was about 27' by 16' and as it turned out, not bad at all acoustically. We were able to play at more natural volumes for most instruments, and get a good balance overall. There were some glitches, the PA was noisy with my keyboards plugged into it, I couldn't hear the drums the way I would have liked, and while the recording came out decently, the left/right balance of some of the instruments wasn't where I would prefer them to be (drums and vocals should be in the center, not to one side).

For me, this was the first time I've ever had to move all of my gear. When we've done the open mics, I've just taken some basics, but this time I pretty much took my full rig. Loading that and Lori's gear into our car got us soaked. That's living in Houston for you. But this also meant that for the first time, I was the last person ready to play instead of one of the first. I suppose all this is something I'll just have to get used to.

However, the biggest negative that came out of the session was that it seemed that none of us "felt it." I can't say why for sure, just some guesses. For me, being sweaty and sticky can make it hard to do something "comfortable." Also, once I got set up, I had to start playing more or less right away. I suspect that in most cases, if I was playing out somewhere, I'd usually have a chance to set up, relax for a few minutes, and then go play. But none of these reasons explains why the rest of the band didn't feel it either. Some suggested the new space, just because it was something different. But I'd argue that a band that plays out has to deal with that all the time. Maybe it's just something you get used to. That would explain why some musicians/bands bring a "little piece of home" with them on the road and stage, to make themselves feel more comfortable.

Another theory I have relates to the rhythm section. If the larger room made the drums and bass less distinct, that may have "drove" the band less than normal, and without that drive, we may have floundered. It wasn't that I couldn't hear the rhythm section, but perhaps we weren't feeling it.

The good part is, we sound fine on the recordings. If someone came to see us play and we played like that, I don't think there would be complaints. That says something good about us, I think!

There were a few voices that said they didn't want to spend the money to play every time we got together, so it looks like it's back to our house for jams for the most part. Lori and I are talking about other options we may be able to do here, but deciding on what will not happen overnight. I don't mind not having to move my gear, that's for sure.

Mon, 2008 07 21 at 7:44 AM |Permalink for this entry

Houston is “Special”

Houston Press article discusses the scene, or lack of it.

I thought this cover article in this week's Houston Press was interesting and worth sharing.

One thing he only briefly touches upon is the "relative shortage of traditional college students." I think that's a big factor. While Houston has tons of colleges and thus many college students, most of the students are commuters and thus have very little sense of community with their college or with their fellow students. The only school that seems to have an area near it is Rice, and a) that's a relatively small private college, and 2) the area is mostly shopping, not really places for college students to hang out. Compare Houston to cities like Ann Arbor, Lawrence, Austin, and even San Marcos and you'll see what I mean. Combine that with Houston's sprawl (which he does mention several times) and you have students who don't get involved nor look for anything to do together.

I can't bring myself to agree with the statement that Houston has, "about five (if that) really good bands." I've heard that before, and let's be real, that's a matter of opinion and depends on what you like. It also depends on what you mean by good bands. Is that bands worth seeing, or bands that you think are going to "make it big," or something else?

While I do agree that Houston does not have the music scene it should for a city of its size, it's not non-existent, either. It does require that a band that wants to make it here work a bit harder, and probably drive a bit more to cover the places around town they are suited for. Other cities that have music scenes likely evolved them naturally, and only later received general help (such as Austin promoting itself as "The Live Music Capital of the World"). I doubt that any music scene consciously was created anywhere and I don't expect it could happen here without a lot of time and investment, investment that would require multiple investors (a.k.a. rich guys I don't know and can't convince to spend their money).

If you have any comments, agree or disagree, use the Contact Me link above. I may add the ability for people to comment in this blog at some point, but I have not got a round tuit yet.

Fri, 2008 07 11 at 2:58 AM |Permalink for this entry

Work work work

Hello boys, I missed you!

Sheesh, I have not posted in a while. It's mostly been because I've been tied up with work. Web work. I recently got a new client through a designer friend, so much of my time lately has been taken up by that. The money is good ("bad money" mostly only happens in nefarious professions) so I'm not complaining about that. Also, it's a pretty cool client who, if I was still focused on being a web designer, I'd be looking forward to bragging about to everyone and probably will anyway. It's just that I was starting to feel like I had a rhythm going with the various musical activities and this has disrupted that. Lori thinks I should be able to balance music and web, but I really have not been able to. For instance, I've found myself much more productive musically if I work on it in the morning. But, when I have a project I'm working on and thinking about, I tend to want to get right to that first thing. I also want to get the project done ASAP so I can get back to the music. Yet I still have all those other clients I need to finish up sites for. So I'll need to start bugging them again when this project is done.

Musically, not a lot has been going on. The band has had a couple of good jams lately, and having the two guitar players available has been nice. Jeff has brought some good new songs with his return, and I'm jealous that he's been more productive as a songwriter than I have been.

Oh well, time to go practice.

Tue, 2008 06 17 at 5:14 AM |Permalink for this entry

Another Week Down

Dang. This was another one of those weeks. I'm in discussions with a potential new client for web work, and that has taken a lot of my time. I don't want to sound like I'm whining, but it sucks because it's made it difficult to spend time on music. I've gotten some practicing in, but little or no writing nor composing over the last couple of weeks. On top of that, I need to push some of my existing clients to get their sites finished. I've been putting that off as I've been busy enough with the estimating for the new client.

There is some good news, however. Saturday will be a full reunion of the band, and I mean full! Not only will this be the first time all five of us will be playing together since we did the Meetup in March, but we will have a sixth person playing with us. If you've been following the news on the main Blue Funk site, you know that our old guitar player Jeff and his family have moved back to the Houston area and Jeff may be rejoining the band. Lori and I played with him at the May Meetup, and it was a lot of fun as well as good to see him and his family again. Saturday should be very interesting and fun, and we're all really looking forward to it.

Fri, 2008 05 30 at 4:01 AM |Permalink for this entry

Hearing Thru Humming

I made more progress on Kathy's song today. After doing some of the melody with Keri last week, I've found that while I'm having trouble picking out the pitches I've been singing, if I hum them, it's much easier. So that has been really cool. I wonder what it is about the words that is keeping me from hearing the pitch. I guess the whole sound is a bit too complicated for me to discern, though I have done it on occasion. I'm hoping and expecting that as time goes on, I'll get better at it overall. I mean, today I completed the first verse and part of the chorus, then I suddenly became completely incapable of doing it at all. I suspect that I wasn't really incapable, just that my mind went somewhere else or that I was a little tired at that point. I also still need to work out the rhythm of the lyrics.

Earlier this week, I did some work on my own song, "Willow." I wrote out what the piano part is supposed to be, the way I could play it, and the cheater version which is the way I usually play it. I also wrote out the bass line Lori has been playing. Unfortunately, my music notation handwriting is so poor it is even worse than my normal handwriting. I keep thinking that I could really use a copy of Logic for this. Then, I'd be able to send Kathy a nice clean copy of her song as well when I was done. But "business expenses" for musicians can be tricky, and my CFO is a stickler…

Wed, 2008 05 14 at 1:58 PM |Permalink for this entry

How’s the Band?

It's more than that, but I appreciate you asking!

This past weekend I had a few people ask me how the band was doing. I guess to most people, that's what I'm doing. I suppose it's only natural to assume music=band, especially since that's what the focus of music has been for me for the past few years, and what people have seen of it so far. Don't get me wrong, I love this band, I really do, both on a personal and a musical level, but it's only part of what my new life as a musician and songwriter is right now. If the band becomes a big enough thing that I spend the majority of my time on it, that would be great, but in reality, I don't expect it to become much bigger than it is now, because of everyone's day jobs, mortgages, etc. So, I will occupy my time with other musical pursuits and see what comes of all of this.

Speaking of other pursuits, when Keri came by last week, she left me some lyrics for some songs she's working on. I've begun completing lyrics to one as well as tweaking some of the words she already had in that one. It's more fun stuff! I also need to finish that first song for my sister, but I'm doing a little more research on melody writing before I do.

Mon, 2008 05 12 at 12:07 PM |Permalink for this entry

Songwriter’s Evening with Keri

Last night, Keri Richardson came over so we could work on some songs together. It’s good to get the input of others, as they may have strengths where you don’t, other perspectives, etc. Unfortunately, there is a part of me that wants to do it all by myself right now. I think it’s mostly because I’m still trying to build my skills in a few different areas. If I let other people help me, then I have to be careful I don’t let those areas slide. It’s really nothing against them, in fact I’m probably envious of what they can do, but I need to make sure I push myself to become a more complete songwriter.

That being said, I think we had a fairly productive evening for the first time really working together. She helped me quite a bit with the first song I’m doing with my sister, especially in the bridge. Her melody for the bridge lyric completely blew away what little I had, so we’re going with that! We also talked about some ideas for some of her songs where she feels unhappy with them or that they’re not complete.

Generally speaking, it was cool just hanging out with another songwriter and talking about how we each go about what we do, where ideas come from, what inspires us, etc. Not everyone knows what it is that makes a songwriter (I certainly don’t! 😉) so it’s cool to find a sympathetic ear that understands what you’re talking about. Most of the time, I’m alone when I’m working on songs, so this is equivalent to talking shop with a coworker. I hope to do it a lot more, both with her as well as others who are just as cool about it.

Thu, 2008 05 08 at 12:03 PM |Permalink for this entry

Opening Acts

Getting there early is half the fun

There seems to be some people who for whatever reason skip out on the opening act and show up for just the headliner. My experience has been that checking out the opener is something I'm more than happy to do. I've found out about some of my favorite bands because they opened for other bands I went to see. Back in the 80s, I first saw John Hiatt and Joe Ely when they each opened for Little Feat. In fact, Joe Ely had David Grissom in his band at the time, and Grissom has since been one of my favorite guitar players.

In the 90s, it was Storyville who introduced us to Breedlove, Vallejo, Beth Black, and probably a few others. (Ironically, I came to Storyville from an ad in Musician magazine that highlighted the fact that the Double Trouble rhythm section of Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton were on the album. I only found out about Grissom's contribution later.)

Thursday night we went to see Gov't Mule. These guys are one of my favorite bands. But, opening for them was Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. I checked out a little of their stuff before we went and thought, "this could be good." I was wrong. They were incredible. She came out for her first song and started it off a capella. It takes some serious balls to do that, and the commensurate talent to back it up. She had both, in spades, and had the crowd in her hand the rest of the show, deservedly so. It did not hurt that she played great keyboards, guitar, and is fairly pretty as well. When she came out to join Mule for a song during their set, the crowd went nuts. I hope we can catch her again, she and her band are a killer live act.

Yeah, I'm going to keep getting there early for the opening act. Some have been duds, but the excellent bands I've seen have more than made up for those.

Sat, 2008 05 03 at 5:21 AM |Permalink for this entry

Here Goes

I've spent a part of today (finally) writing some music for lyrics my sister sent me. I've noticed some interesting things happening. For one, I have pitch, sort of. I'm singing her lyrics along with the chord progression, and hitting some notes and recognizing them. I'm not much of a singer, so it's good that it's not just the rhythm of the lyrics going with the music.

At first, I was really liking what I came up with, but now I'm second guessing the crap out of it. That's really annoying, because it's not done yet. Her structures are a bit odd (she knows that) so it's a little harder coming up with parts. I'm trying to determine what key the bridge is in, and if it's different from the rest of the song, it might need a transition. But if part of me is thinking it's no good at all, another part then says, "why bother if it will change?" Stupid inner voices. I guess I need to spend some time away from it and see how it sounds to me when I'm fresh. Ah, creativity.

I probably will have to touch up her lyrics somewhat, just to get the rhythm to work. But, I have to admit, this is kind of fun. I hope she likes it.

Wed, 2008 04 30 at 12:27 PM |Permalink for this entry

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