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Musically related tips, insights, opinions & personal experiences.

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“Too Small To Save" was written & arranged in 2008….recorded & mixed in early 2009.

  • The original recorded tracks were remixed in 2014.
  • That 2014 version is the one you’re hearing now.

The Idea


My songs typically evolve from….

- a chord progression

- a riff/pattern

- a section of melody

- a central theme


In this case, it was 2 of those elements combined.

1. A guitar progression (riff/pattern)

2. A central theme, which was also served as the title (hook)

In songwriting, it’s essential for the subject matter to blend with the musical feel. In other words, one should complement the other. In my humble opinion, that is the case here.


Subject Matter


This particular lyric hit pretty close to home. It was loosely based on my wife’s employer, who shall remain nameless.

The lyrical message was inspired-by…and based-upon changing conditions following the financial collapse of 2008.

Simply put, none of those changes benefited the employees & most didn’t bode well for the financial future of the company.

Much to my surprise, the company survived. The employees however, were a different story. Most of what they lost was never returned.

The financial recovery that followed did little to benefit them.


The title “Too Small To Save” was applicable to both employer & employee. At the time this song was written, both fit the description…seeming doomed to failure.

As you may have guessed, the title was also a tongue & cheek play on that infamous 2008 headline - “Too Big To Fail”.

While banks & auto manufacturers were too big to fail, small companies & employees were “Too Small To Save”. Essentially, the yin & yang of monetary policy.


Structurally, the lyric is brief…with a generous dose of repetition. The message is heavily reliant on imagery & metaphors, which is not typical of my lyrics.

Because the subject matter was both current & dismal, I chose an artsy lyrical format.



Too small…too small to save

Just another business crushed by the wave

One more tiny fish…too small to save


A victim…of the economy

No golden parachute waits for me

Almost 80 years business don’t count these days

No friends in high places…too small to save


Last call…for 401Ks

Get ‘em while you can…they’re fadin’ away

It’s closin’ time cause we’re…too small to save


Copyright 2008- Tom Hoffman


Song Structure


Introduction / Verse-Refrain / Instrumental Verse-Refrain (guitar solo) / Bridge / Verse-Refrain / Ending


Musical Fundamentals 


Musically, the song was built around a single guitar progression. It’s the one you hear being played throughout the intro & verse-refrain sections. 

Key of Aminor….BPM 100

Genre-wise, I’d have to call it blues-rock.

The arrangement is guitar-based, utilizing 3 separate mono tracks. My Gibson SG was used for two of those.

The 3rd was a mixture of Strat & SG…with Strat being chosen for the bridge section. Its’ single coil pickups were useful in creating thinner sounding guitar textures.


      5a5a5910bf508_DSC02310(1024x733).thumb.jpg.6f346f25f01a5afadec2992243a64837.jpg       DSC02341_(1).thumb.JPG.163c8273c0138cc0fa0fd2b10f359f47.JPG


- One of those 3 tracks contains intermittent lead guitar.

- The other 2 are the primaries, heard throughout the song.

  • The verse/refrain sections consist of 1 guitar playing the primary progression, while a 2nd guitar plays 3-note power chords (I-V-octave).
  • The bridge was intended to have a unique feel, so both guitar parts change dramatically. The SG picks single notes within standard open chord forms, while the Strat strums triads (3-note chord forms…I-III-V).

The core drum track was creating using a Boss DR-670 drum machine.

After 13 years of recording with "real drums", I converted to the Boss unit in 2007.

Being a drummer, I had mixed feelings about using synthetic drums. But the additional control, flexibility & convenience of the machine method sold me on the change.

Suffice to say that recording live drums in a single-person home studio setup is a tedious process! Regardless, the marching snare used for the bridge section was an actual drum.

Since machine decay makes crash cymbals sound VERY artificial, all crashes were overdubbed onto separate tracks, using actual cymbals.


Final Production Notes 


The recording, editing & mixing were done on a PortaStudio 2488….a 24 track Tascam deck.

(*Tascam is on the right, between the keyboard & the rack-mounts)




Performance Credits

  • Drums, Guitars, Bass Guitar – Tom Hoffman
  • Vocals – Tom Hoffman

*This article is taken from a YouTube playlist series of the same name.

For anyone interested, I've pasted in a link to the video version, which includes the song in it's entirety. 

(FYI - the audio begins around the 15 second mark.)




Tom Hoffman
"About Me" Muse Member pg.


Tom Hoffman YouTube


Thinking back to my early days as a songwriter & the antiquated process I worked with for almost 6 years, it’s amazing that I toughed it out as long as I did. ^_^

Thing is, it didn’t seem like that big a deal at the time.


*Links to several audio examples have been placed in this article.

Please feel listen as you read.

"Slow Down" mp3


My adventure in songwriting began in 1994. Digital home recording devices were making their way onto the market, but analog was still the dominant force.

It was also the more cost-effective option. That being the case, I decided on a 4-track cassette style recorder (Tascam 424 PortaStudio).




The PortaStudios were decent devices, but they did have limitations:

  • No onboard effects or compression
  • No phantom power
  • Very few microphone inputs


To help overcome those limitations, I purchased several supplemental devices:

  • An 8 channel Peavey analog mixer w. phantom power
  • A Peavey DeltaFex effects processor
  • A DBX analog compressor

These were used in conjunction with the PortaStudio, providing me with reverb, compression, multiple microphone inputs & phantom power for my overhead condenser mic.


      Peavey_Mixer.thumb.JPG.09caeabcde255e18388789c79db1f167.JPG        DCP_0010_autofixed_edited2.JPG.b20d7736a1c64ca270ca8219c4b75c31.JPG


Without getting too technical, here’s an overview of my setup back then…

  • Drum set mics fed into the Peavey mixer. Depending on the song, anywhere from 6-8 mics were used (Shure SM57’s + EV condenser overhead).
  • The Peavey EQ’d each channel individually, added a preset amount of reverb to each channel signal, combined all incoming signals into a single stereo output and sent that 2-channel signal to its next destination.
  • That next destination was the DBX compressor. It processed the signal, then sent it to the Tascam 424 recording deck. On its way to the Tascam, that 2-channel stereo signal was reverse-Y’d down-to a single mono feed, which was recorded to high bias cassette tape.

Unfortunately, with only 4 channels available, that final drum track had to be mono. Eventually, that mono track was bounced over (premixed) & combined with the bass guitar track.

Fact is, most of my analog masters are set up that way. The final drum & bass guitar recordings share a single mono track.


As you might expect, there were a multitude of issues associated with the process:

  • All drum mic adjustments had to be made pre-tape. That meant I had to balance each mic volume best I could…accounting for bleed, make EQ adjustments per-channel at the mixer, set type & desired amount of reverb for each channel, adjust individual & master fader volumes to non-distorting levels & balance the kit. Needless to say, once these parameters were set, I made only minor adjustments from session to session.  
  • Once a final take was recorded, it was set-in-stone. The BPM was locked in and mic volume, tone + effect were virtually fixed. If the ride cymbal was too loud or the snare sounded over-compressed, I had 2 options.

        1. The entire track could be re-recorded

        2. or I could live with the imperfections

Simple as that!

The decision always hinged on 2 variables.

        1. How much imperfection was I willing to tolerate?  

        2. How noticeable would those shortcomings be in the finished version of the song?

  • Because of the need for premix bouncing, my bass guitar recordings were also fixed. I had to estimate what EQ settings might be best once the other tracks were recorded. Same was true for the volume of the bass in relation to the drum track. Once drums & bass were bounced over, the combined mono premix was fixed. Unlike digital systems, analog recorders didn’t offer virtual track storage. Once a bounce was complete, the original tracks were erased. That opened up additional track space, allowing for new instrumentation/vocals to be recorded.
  • Since I worked alone, components which required monitoring were positioned as close to the drum stool as feasible. That way, I had line-of-sight to the meters as I was playing. Fortunately, once the initial parameters were set, the only thing I needed to monitor was the mixer input signal. That signal couldn’t venture too far into the red. The photo below shows where that Peavey mixer was positioned. The recording deck meters were too far away to see, so I had to trust the accuracy of my preliminary settings. Playback was the only way to verify results. If something had gone wrong, the track was rerecorded.


"Pain For Gain" mp3




As if that wasn’t difficult enough, there were other issues. Once a new song had been written, arranged & roughed-out…it was time to begin the final recording (keeper version).

If the song had drums, they were always recorded first. As is the case with live performance, better results are achieved when everyone plays to the same rhythmic center…in this case the drum track.

But, recording them first was no simple task ! 

  • With those old cassette style recording decks, click tracks weren’t possible. The track bleed was so bad, that ghosts of the original click would remain audible even after complete erasure. That being the case, the logical alternative was to play to an electronic metronome. That provided a timing center, but virtually eliminated the possibility of over dubs. Since the click was completely independent of the recorded drum track, there was no way to match the 2 for auto-punch patchwork. Bottom line -the vast majority of my drum tracks were start-to-finish takes. In other words, the entire part was played straight through with little or no patch-work.




  • Another standard practice for drum-first recording is the use of a guide track. Guide tracks give drummers a basic outline to follow. That way they’re hearing a roughed-out version of the music while playing along with the metronome (click track). It helps in remembering the feel of a song, where various sections begin & end, etc. Bottom line – no guide tracks were possible! The reason…track bleed. Ghosts of the roughed-out guide were still audible on the finished drum recording. So, I became very good at memorizing the structure & flow of new tunes. By the time I was ready to record the drum track for a new song, I knew it so well that I could hear it playing in my head, beginning-to-end.
  • 2 measure count-ins were recorded at the beginning of every song. This was an absolutely must! Since drums were recorded first, there had to be a way to accurately tell where the song started. How else would I know when to begin playing or singing as additional tracks were added? Obviously, that section of the tape was later erased. Since beginning sections were trimmed off in final production, track bleed didn’t matter.




OK, I’m finished whining about how hard things used to be:rolleyes:

The reason for this bout of nostalgia is simple. A while back, I set up a YouTube channel called “The Story Behind the Song”. Several of those videos were based on early songs/recordings.

A few made passing reference to the fact that I’d transitioned from real drums to electronic creation, but they don’t talk much about the “whys”.

This blog seemed a good way to do that! If nothing else, it may serve as reminder of how much simpler things are for home recording enthusiasts today.


* Video Examples of early drum recordings:





Tom Hoffman
"About Me" Muse Member pg.


Tom Hoffman YouTube


"YouTube & Copyright"

Until recently, I knew very little about how YouTube deals with copyright violators.

Sure…I’d heard stories from friends & colleagues, but I’d never actually dealt with it firsthand.

Now I have!


For those who aren’t aware, I’m a long-time YouTuber. I set up my first channel in January of 2010 & currently administrate five. Even with 5 channels, I’d never had occasion to post work I didn’t own or, at the very least, have permission to use. A few weeks back, I decided to try something new…a series called “Play Along”. The videos consist of me playing drums to a prerecorded song. Not exactly a revolutionary concept, but it was new for me & sounded like fun!


My original intent was to post each video without the copyrighted audio. That would have avoided the legal quagmire, but it would have made the finished product less interesting. After some deliberation, I decided to roll the dice & include the audio. If nothing else, it would serve as a learning experience.


When I formatted my video, I used an mp3 iTunes version of the audio (song). Typically, mp3s of this type contain tagging which allows the track to be detected on platforms like YouTube. I uploaded the project & classified it as an “unlisted” video. This is standard practice for me. Once I view the upload & verify that it’s intact, I change the classification to “public”. Since it was late, I put that final review off till the next morning.


By the time I logged back on that next day….

·  YouTube’s technology had detected my use of the copyrighted material.

·  They’d sent me a Gmail notification listing my options.

·  My video had been tagged & set up for AD monetization…pending my approval.


Remember, at this point the video was still classified as “unlisted”. I hadn’t even checked the viability of the upload yet. It seems the wheels of progress turn quickly when there’s revenue at stake! :rolleyes: 

Fortunately for me, this was the outcome I was hoping for. Most of those 2nd hand stories I mentioned earlier described a similar process.


Here’s a copy of that actual YouTube notice…..  



Your video has been blocked in some countries.

Copyrighted content was found in your video.

Because of the claimant's policy, this video can't be played in some countries.


·         Video blocked in 1 country 

·         Unavailable on some devices 


·         Monetized by claimant 

If you agree with these conditions, you don't have to do anything. 
Learn more


Copyright details





·         Look Away (Album Version) - The Ozark Mountain Daredevils

·         Sound recording

·         0:02 - 3:29 play match

·         UMG

·         Blocked in some countries 

·         Remove song 

·         File a dispute 



Additional details:

·  When you hover over the Video blocked in 1 country” statement, it tells you which country…in this case - Germany.

  • When you hover over the “Monetized by claimant” statement, this notice appears – You can use the copyrighted content in your video, but ads might appear on your video.”
  • As you can see, the poster is given 3 basic choices:

1.    Do nothing, indicating that you agree with the arrangements already negotiated.

2.    Remove the copyrighted song

3.    File a dispute over the ownership of contested material, in this case the play-along audio track.

* Clicking on the “Learn More” link took me to a page containing this statement –  



“Am I in trouble?

·         In most cases, getting a Content ID claim isn’t a bad thing for your YouTube channel. It just means, “Hey, we found some material in your video that’s owned by someone else.”

·         It’s up to copyright owners to decide whether or not others can reuse their original material. In many cases, copyright owners allow the use of their content in YouTube videos in exchange for putting ads on those videos.”



In the spirit of full disclosure, that page also contained information pertaining to other potential outcomes. Occasionally, the owner of rights can strongly object.

In rare cases, your standing as a YouTube member can be affected…. negatively & permanently.


So…the bottom line is this - doing what I did is a bit of a crap-shoot. ;) 

There is a chance it could affect your standing on YouTube.

BUT, the vast majority of the time, you’re likely to get an outcome similar to mine.

In my case it was win-win. They allowed me to use the audio + I gained first-hand knowledge of their procedures.

Once I finally viewed the upload & changed the classification to “public”, I placed this statement in the liner notes… 


“The ADs you see here are not mine. The registered owner of "Look Away" chose to allow use of their audio content in exchange for placing ads in my video. Since I had no commercial aspirations for this project anyway, I thought that arrangement was more than fair!”

 For anyone interested, here’s a link to the video discussed here. https://youtu.be/VRdqL_UCQz0


Tom Hoffman

"About Me" Muse Member pg.


Tom Hoffman YouTube


It’s common knowledge that both music & musical notation have their basis in mathematics.

Each note within the system is assigned a specific time value and each relates to the others in a logical, mathematical way.

·   One 1/16 note is equal to the value of two 1/32 notes

·   One 1/8 note equals two 1/16 notes

·   One 1/4 note equals two 1/8 notes……and so-on.

All very consistent, right? At first glance, it would seem so. Until you examine the way in which we deal with triplets. ^_^


For those of you not familiar with the concept of triplets, I’ll explain.

Essentially, triplets occur when 3 evenly spaced notes are played within a musical space designed to accommodate 2 notes.

For example…

·   In 4/4 time a 1/4 note occupies the space of 1-full-count, which equates to 1/4 of the total measure.

·  As was indicated previously, one 1/4 note = two 1/8 notes

·  But if 3 evenly spaced notes are played in place of those two 1/8 notes, the result is a “triplet”.

The way in which triplets are played doesn’t pose a problem for me. It’s our traditional notation of them that I question.


In my mind, the problem is simple. When the actual time value assigned to a note changes, so should the numeric value of the symbol (note) used to represent it.

But, that’s not the case with triplets!

When a 3-note-triplet is played in place of two 1/8 notes, the resulting triplet is shown by inserting three 1/8 notes in place of the original two.


So…to quickly summarize, two 1/8 notes = one 1/4 note…except in the case of a triplet??????

Who in the world thought that was a good idea? :blush:

It’s every bit as consistent as saying that two 1/8 notes = one 1/4 note, except on Tuesdays…when the moon is full.  


Wouldn’t it have been better to create a 12th note? If three 12th notes had been used to fill the space of a 1/4 note, that would have been mathematically consistent.

So why wasn’t it set up that way?


In recent years, I’ve constructed several video tutorials on shuffle rhythms. “Shuffles” happen to be built upon the same framework as triplets. That’s what got me thinking about this debacle.

Honestly, I haven’t a clue about why it was set-up this way. But, if we ever hope to inspire a change to the current system, I guess we need a viable alternative. As luck would have it, I have an idea or two.

·   As a drummer, I’m aware that 8th note triplets aren’t the only type in use. Double-time triplets (16th note triplets) are also common. Given that, we’d need a 24th note to use in conjunction with our 12th note. Simple enough!

  • So, how would we write our new notes? Our current system shows triplets in several ways. Generally, the number “3” is combined with either a half-moon shaped arch, or a straight-line bracket shown above, or below the staff. Well…we wouldn’t need that number “3” anymore, but it might be useful to hang onto one of the familiar remnants from our current system. So, what if we incorporated that traditional half-moon arch?




Could that work?                                                                                                                             

·         It’s no more difficult

·         Players wouldn’t need to look above & below the staff to identify a triplet

·         It would re-establish mathematical consistency within the system


So, what’s your opinion? Is it worth changing?

After all, I’m just one guy with some impromptu thoughts on the subject?

Does it make sense, or have I neglected to consider some major obstacles in my quest to reinvent the wheel? :rolleyes: 

What’s your take on this & is it worthy of further consideration?

As always, comments are welcome!


Tom Hoffman

"About Me" Muse Member pg.


Tom Hoffman YouTube



Nothing too dramatic here...thought I start by introducing myself. ;)


Hi y'all...my name is Tom Hoffman (aka tunesmithth). 

Believe it or not, I've been a member here since December of 2006.

Despite my lengthy tenure, I haven't been around much in recent years.

That absence was due primarily to affiliation with a different forum, which shall remain nameless. :rolleyes:

There, I was a regular participant & staff member for more than a decade.

Long story short...that is no longer the case!

For reasons of my own, I have permanently severed all ties & will NOT be returning. 


The thing is, 10+ years is a long time.

At this point, daily forum interaction is more of an ingrained habit, than a passing dalliance.

Honestly, if I removed it from my daily routine, I'd miss it.

Hence my return the Muse Forum...pleased to be back BTW :D


Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays to all !


Tom Hoffman





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