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In this age of FREE advice, suggestions & web tutorials, how does one go about differentiating the credible from the questionable…the legitimate from the bogus?
“The internet is full of bad advice & information”.
Unfortunately, it’s true!
Our online world has more than its’ share of misdirection & incompetence…some deliberate, some not.
So, what’s a poor site surfing seeker of information to do?
My suggestion is simple.
We need to become more discriminating consumers.
How do we accomplish that?
By forcing ourselves to examine & evaluate the sources of our information?
Anonymity is one of the biggest advantages to operating online.
It’s also one of the biggest obstacles to the validation of information.
As long as you talk a good game, you can masquerade as whoever or whatever you chose.
And while there are valid reasons for masking online identity, there are just as many questionable ones.
That being the case, I propose that internet trust be earned, not given indiscriminately.
For musician/songwriters, the web is a useful tool. Forums like this one provide an environment for people with similar interests to learn and interact.
But they also serve as a breeding ground for posers. It takes a while to figure out who’s legitimate & who’s not, but that’s a necessary part of the process.
So, how does one go about verifying online credibility?
Hopefully, the individual in question has made that a simple process.
I’ll use myself as an example.
- I have little need or desire to mask my internet persona. In a nutshell, what you see is what you get!
My name is Tom Hoffman…I chose the member-name “tunesmithth” because my primary website is tune-smith.com & my initials are TH.
I deliberately avoid exaggerating my musical credentials. What credentials I do claim, are easily verified.
- The “About Me” section of my member profile is detailed & publicly available. It contains both member name & real name, as does my “Tips & Tidbits” blog.
It also provides a link to the Metro St. Louis Historical Site http://www.stlmusicyesterdays.com/Nickels.htm. You’ll find my name listed near the top.
- My member signature, which displays at the bottom of every post, includes 4 links….3 YouTube channels + Tune-Smith.com.
- Accessing those links, pages & blog gives you access to original mp3s, drum tutorials, guitar & drum demonstrations, music videos, an “Arrangement 101” playlist, published articles, photos, etc.
- The Library of Congress website is searchable by title (*Songs by TEH), or registrant name. Either will yield a history of copyright registrations for Tom Hoffman...a matter of public record.
- What I never volunteer is exact date of birth, where I went to school, political preference, religious affiliation, etc.
The only ones who benefit from data like that are Identity thieves, data collection entities, marketing firms & special interest groups.
So, given that I’ve provided all the resources necessary to assess my musical qualifications, does that mean you should trust my advice implicitly?
In a word, NO!
But it does mean that I’ve done my part.
All I can do is make the information available.
It’s your responsibility to research, evaluate & decide who to place your trust in!
No one can do it for you and you shouldn’t want them to!
When it comes to my own online interactions, I operate by a simple rule. Unless you’ve done your part, I’ll probably disregard your advice.
Sorry, but if I can’t verify that you’re qualified to offer me the advice, I won’t be taking it seriously!
I’ll probably respond courteously, thanking you for your insights. I simply won’t act on them!
Why would I?
If you’re a relative stranger and you haven’t bothered to provide some sort of qualifying credentials, how would you expect anyone to take you seriously?
In fact, shame on anyone who does!
So where does that leave the individual who’s determined to maintain online anonymity? As I mentioned earlier, there are legitimate reasons for choosing to do so.
But, those reasons don’t outweigh our need to verify. Bottom line…if people aren’t in a position to supply something, they forfeit their right to be taken seriously.
Life’s a trade-off!
People who truly have the need to operate anonymously should be willing to recognize the limitations imposed by that.
Fair or not, I simply don’t know a better way.
As always, comments and feedback are welcome.
This is something I wrote a while ago and it appears elsewhere on the site (but it's pinned, which means it is invisible to the average human). If you are reading this I appreciate that you must be bored out of your skull and searching for
somethinganything to fill the soulless void of your existence so I do hope that it at least entertains a little - or maybe acts as an emollient while you wait for your wife/husband to finish doing whatever the fuck they need to do when it's time to go out and do something a little more interesting than the mundane routine that we all fall into eventually...
Here goes ...
So, you’ve listened to songs for a long time now and you’ve decided to write lyrics of your own. It doesn’t look hard. Hell, it can’t be hard – just look at some of the stuff that gets recorded!
What’s more, you are a damaged individual. It may be that you had a bad childhood, you were excluded at school, your marriage failed, you can’t get laid, you had problems with substance abuse, and any or all of myriad reasons that people decide to write songs - choosing that path from all the other masochistic pastimes they could choose.
You see, what that dreadful former life made you was ... a keen observer. You are a walking empath. You can see the big picture and the tiny details of people’s lives. You don’t judge – oh, no! You bear witness to the fumbling, daily slapstick and you can relay truths about life and the pitiful vanities of our existence with good humour, wit and kindness, lending insight and wisdom that helps us to laugh at ourselves and love one another just a little more than we otherwise would. You are a latter-day saint and a poet and a warrior, all rolled into one (yes, women can be warriors too).
But, more than that, it made you want them to understand you. Admire you. Whatever. They have to think you are pretty goddamn cool. That’s fo’ sho’.
So you write. And you find that it’s not so easy to do all that. In fact, it’s hard to do all that - in 3 minutes, especially.
And people aren’t quite as bowled over by your genius as you expected. And, because you are a damaged individual (hell, we all are), you don’t like that one ... little ... bit.
Help is at hand.
Here’s a handy list of the 10 things you do wrong when you write a lyric. I’m guilty of all of them (sometimes in the same lyric! I'm that talented).
There are more, but 10 is a catchy number ! Which is why I wrote 11. I despise “catchy”.
1. You use the wrong pronoun
You visualise who is talking to who in the song itself - and you also take into account the fact that, when the song is sung, there is a singer talking to an audience. Go, you!
However, if you paid too much attention to the latter, you still got it wrong. “I said this and she said that” can sound like a whine or a rant (see point 7, below). It also doesn’t really help the audience to connect. If it was simply “you said that”, it would work so much better and be more immediate.
Wait. You went for third person.
Third person can work for stories (but the story HAS to be interesting,and yours wasn't - not really). In all other circumstances, you need a good reason to move away from 1st and/or second person.
Mind you, 1st person can get you into trouble with point 7, too.
But let’s talk about that later. The point is, you chose the wrong pronoun(s).
2. You use the wrong tense
Past tense, in particular, is boring.
Some parts of the song can be in the past tense but it needs to be made relevant to the present and, ideally, we would have a time progression that would lead at least to the present and, possibly, into the future.
Stories can be past tense – but are they REALLY interesting? If not, don’t bother singing them to me. What if they were related to the present, at least in the bridge?
It would be slightly less boring, at least.
Or you could make the story funny. That works in whatever tense.
3. You lose rhythm by cramming words in
If you don’t understand meter, maybe this thread will help (but read it later. I'm talking.).
Even if you do understand it, aren’t there times when you try and cram in two syllables where only one fits?
People will say it’s OK. Singers will even cram it in for you. Friends will say it sounds OK.
Songwriters will say nothing, and simply be glad they weren’t that guy. Do you want to be that guy?
4. You don’t change rhythm between sections
You have a great rhythm running through the song. Still running. Getting bored with it now. Where’s the chorus? Oh! We had it already and I didn't even notice! It had the same rhythm. Please give me a bridge. And change the damned rhythm!
Words make rhythms. Words can force a change in rhythm. If the words don’t do it, the musician (maybe you) has to be much more innovative in changing rhythm and/or melody than he/she would otherwise need to be. Think of the musicians
5. You don’t grab attention early enough
Your lyric has a killer line (or twist or idea or something). The trouble is that it’s in the third verse or the bridge.
People won’t listen that long. It’s like a joke that needs over a minute to explain before it can be told. The listener turns off.
You have maybe 30 seconds to grab some sort of attention – give a surprising line or an idea that draws attention. It needs to be in the first fifteen seconds of singing.
You then have another short space of time before you need another – and it’s not long.
6. You forgot to write the first verse
The listener doesn’t know who these people are. You do. So you wrote the meat of the song assuming they did too. You started with the second verse. We often write the second verse first. It needs a first verse to set up things and invite the listener in. It’s your introduction, if you like.
And see point 5.
7. You are preaching (or venting or whining) - and you aren’t being funny about it
I don’t want to be preached at, whined at, or vented at – unless you make me laugh. I bet you don't want that either, do you? No!
So don’t write songs that whine, preach or vent. Simple. Unless they make us laugh.
I mentioned something in the part about using the wrong pronoun about using 1st person. A lot of songs written in the first person can be whiny, venting or preachy if we aren’t careful.
So are a lot of songs about “them”, “They did this, they did that ... they are bad”.
It’s a delicate line to tread. A confessional song can work but it has to show the singer as insightful and sensitive – not as a bad person, or a whiner.
A song has to make the singer look good. See point 11, below. So, be careful.
8. You included details – but you included the wrong details
So, you know you need details (it said so in a book) and so you put them into your song.
What colour is the sun? What about the grass? Let’s say “golden” and “emerald” because “yellow” and “green” sounds boring, right?
Wrong. The colour is boring, period. It adds nothing to how I feel about what’s happening. In fact, adjectives should be used sparingly. Just find better words, damn you. English has so many of them - for a reason. Mind you, only use words when you know what they mean. Dictionaries help.
Details are what bring a picture to life or, better still, an emotion to life. They aren’t what’s in the picture. They are the parts that show how we feel about the picture.
They are metaphors for feelings – or they are nothing. They can be sounds, smells or objects or textures. Or they can be one of those that prompt others.
“Car wheels on a gravel road”. I can hear them. Now, what do they make me feel?
9. You use too many words
What it says above. Trim them. ‘Nuff said.
10. Your rhymes lack reason
You paint yourself into a corner with a rhyme scheme and now you have to find a rhyme for “Drove me in his truck”. You don’t want to use the obvious rhyme so you decide to rhyme with “luck” instead. And you contort things a bit and get a line that kind of half-works and then you convince yourself that it’s fine.
There is always that one line you aren’t satisfied with in a song, isn’t there? Maybe more than one?
Why not just change the word "truck"? Or the whole verse? Or the whole song? You made the corner you are painted into. You can un-paint it.
And never (never!) start turning sentences around into "yoda-speak" to get a rhyme. It's just crap.
11. You don’t write for women
All songs are written for women. Even songs that are written for male singers are written for women. They are written so that the singer can look good to women. Don’t believe me? Fair enough. But don’t say I never told you.
The only exception is that small demographic of teenagers (of all ages) who wear black T-shirts and listen to doom-laden heavy metal genres in their bedrooms at full volume. Guess what? You can’t write songs for them anyway. They are either writing their own or they can’t hear you over the screaming of Megablood Death Spasm (or whoever they are listening too). If they do show any interest it is only because they want you to give some attention to their own written-down angst stuff (i.e. lyrics, but not as we know them, Jim).
So, leaving them aside (it’s for the best, trust me) – all songs are written for women.
So write songs for women.
If you don’t know how to do that, ask one (preferably not your mother). If you are one, ask yourself what you want to hear when you are stressed out. If you don't know any women, buy a black T-shirt.
I hate rules. Are these rules? Not at all. Songs can work perfectly well without them – but they are less likely to do so outside of a particular setting.
That setting might be a late evening after a few drinks. It might be in front of a group of friends or family. Whatever the setting, it will be in a situation where the song fits the environment or suits the mood the listener is in – but only at that moment, in that place. Only there.
But ... but ... don’t the songs you love have the power to change the environment? Don’t they change your mood when you hear them?
Yes, they do. But they don’t do that by accident, and most listeners aren’t too forgiving. Give them an excuse not to listen and they will take it. A flighty, fickle fiend is what an average listener is. Including us.
This list could also be headed “10 excuses a listener can use to stop listening”. Except there are 11 of them!
Some songwriters advise us to give a song room to breathe, give it space, and make it less busy.
While I agree this good advice, I also like to think - give things a chance to "sink in".
Often listening to lyrics is like drinking from a fire hose. You can't do it, so plenty of water doesn't make it down your throat
To avoid this, we need to meter out the lyric so it gets absorbed by the listener's brain, not discarded because the listener isn't ready for more information.
A repeating chorus, a musical interlude or even a stop or breakdown in the song can give the listener a break.
Is there a poignant line in the lyric of your song?
Is there a climax in the storyline?
Is new information flowing too fast for a typical listener to keep up?
If so, add some room to allow things to sink in. You'll make a better connection to your listeners if you do
Thought I had the Lazz Last Gasp Set Two sorted.
But I suddenly ran into big juicy trouble with it.
Fred had made me the offer, and set me the task, just before Christmas. Our first window for wrestling with Set One happened at the beginning of February. It didn’t seem to have been a long wait. Neither did Christmas seem so long ago. But the New Year had already brought me back into messing around with the eighteen-piece “Narwhal” ensemble on the North Shore across the inlet. That’s how I ran into trouble.
Members of this “Narwhal” unit are all disconcertingly young and talented. (Except for way older and less skilled Lazz.) Participation has me teetering on the edges of my competence: having to shut-up and follow directions, attempting to blend smoothly with the other voices, and struggling to sight-read the notes placed before me. The other singers all sight-read. When I brought in a song for which I had voiced the vocal melody in fourths, they had no problem. When the musical director brought in another with tight close voicings, that was fine also. My envy is as large as my inadequacies.
Invitation to join the group had come from M.D., Jared Burrows, multi-instrumentalist head of the jazz department. His plan was for part of this semester’s focus to be songs from Lazz (once again an unexpected and enormous compliment) and somehow suddenly he and I were writing together…
And thus the trouble I run into regarding Set Two is the result of having a pretty incredible brand new writing partner and a consequently unexpected abundance of new material. Well – seven new songs seems like abundance to me – seven tunes could constitute one set all on their own.
· A pentatonic Irish-style folk-song on a drone.
· A laid-back rock-ish groover.
· A rousing 6/8 gospel-style hand-clapper.
· A Cahn-Sinatra style swingin’ love song.
· A 32-bar standard-style moaner.
· A silly playful tango.
· And one serious heavyweight epic.
The way we work is quite fresh and new to me. After I send a finished lyric to Jared, he places an order with his sub-conscious (that’s how he describes it) and the next morning when he wakes, the tune is ready to be written down. He credits my lyrics for the inspiration. Very reassuring to discover that he finds my intentions so transparent – because they all turned out unbelievably close to how I imagined them. Uncanny.
The setting for our heavyweight epic was the exception which took more time – maybe two weeks – but it still hit that same E.S.P. target. My overblown pretentiously dramatic tear-jerker lyrics, full and heavy with meaningful self-importance, had actually caused him to weep, and to develop a moody waltz like that from a romantic French movie – in the style of Michel LeGrand. Again, it was what I had envisioned – like a cross between Jacques Brel and Kenny Wheeler. Wow!! I love it.
And the extra bonus is that Jared - a fabulous guitarist and luthier with deep background in a broad range of different musical traditions - expressed a wish to be part of the project I am working on with Fred.