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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


"Pentatonic Playground” was originally called “Romantic Guy”.

It had a vocal melody, lyrics and told a tongue-in-cheek tale of a dysfunctional relationship masquerading as romantic behavior.

I’ve included a copy of that original lyric at the bottom of this article.

  • “Romantic Guy” was written & recorded back in 1998. Honestly…I liked portions of the arrangement, but the song as a whole didn’t work.
  • In May of 2009, I began work on this instrumental version (“Pentatonic Playground”).
  • With this new format, came structural changes. The original verse sections were cut in half, making this instrumental version 48 seconds shorter than it’s’ predecessor.  
  • The 2 versions were copyrighted separately.

About the Song


Structurally, “Pentatonic Playground” is basic.

verse / chorus / bridge / verse / double- chorus / ending


It’s one of four instrumentals in my entire catalog. Of those four, two began as lyrical works, eventually becoming instrumentals.


Typically, my songs evolve from one of the following:

- a chord progression

- a riff/pattern

- a section of melody

- a central theme

This one grew from a riff that I stumbled on while practicing stretch scale patterns.

Major pentatonic patterns to be exact…hence my choice of titles.

Both verse & chorus guitar parts are variations of that pattern, played in the key of G.




Musical Fundamentals


The song is set in the key of G.

BPM 116

Alternative genre

Total run time - 2 minutes 42 seconds


It’s a guitar-based arrangement, built around the primary progression mentioned earlier.

  • Guitar #1 plays the primary riff (progression) for both verse & chorus sections. For the bridge, it changes to picking single notes within chord forms.
  • Guitar part #2 is made up of 5ths (2-note intervals) played throughout the verse & chorus sections. It switches to strumming full chords during the bridge.
  • The 3rd guitar part plays what was originally the vocal verse melody. For the most part, the chorus sections double guitar #1. Guitar #3 drops out for the bridge section, allowing simulated strings to take over performance of the melody.

       My trusty Gibson SG was used for all the guitar work.



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

I converted to synthetic drums in 2007, after 13 years of fighting with live drums in a home studio setting. 

Suffice to say it’s a tedious process! :rolleyes:


Despite my use of the machine, the drum parts were still written the old way…sitting behind an actual drum kit.

Crash cymbals are overdubbed live, on separate stereo tracks.

Unfortunately, the Boss decay rate made the machine versions sound VERY artificial.

Try as I might, I was unable to live with the results, so I continue recording those the old way.


Final Production Notes


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

(*rear-center, directly under the wall poster)



Performance Credits

  • Drums, Guitars, Bass Guitar, Tambourine, Keyboard Strings & Breaths ^_^ - Tom Hoffman

And last but not least, here's a direct link to the YouTube video version of this article.

It includes the song in its' entirety.



Tom Hoffman
"About Me" Muse Member pg.


Tom Hoffman YouTube



“Romantic Guy” (Lyric)


Came home again late…third time this week

Smelled like a barroom…too drunk to speak

Next day he’s sorry…what a surprise!

Sends her some roses…Romantic Guy



Romance...is a temporary patch on a bleeding life!

Good chance….that it fills the vacant place in her heart, for just one…




He’ll make her feel like she’s a queen

He’ll be her slave for a night

He know…tomorrow brings

Time enough…to spread his wings

They’ll pretend for now that things are alright



Lost his whole paycheck…out at the track

Borrowed more money…to win it back

Next day he’s sorry…what a surprise!

Sends her some roses…Romantic Guy


Double Chorus

Copyright 1998- Tom Hoffman


“Don’t Lie To Yourself" was written & recorded in 2002.

(*Song title is an mp3 link. You're welcome to listen as you read.)


The Idea


When I began the writing process, there wasn't much to work with.

· A simple chord progression, which evolved into my chorus section.

· The hook (title) – “Don’t Lie To Yourself” with a tentative melody for those 4 words.

That was it!


Subject Matter


Titles like this one paint a clear picture of the intended message.

Simply put, it’s lyrical advice – “be honest with yourself”.

Typically, lyrics with a ‘telling” tone are discouraged in songwriting circles.

It seems that people don’t enjoy being told what to do…even in a song. ;)

Regardless, I decided to make an exception.

In my mind, the title’s strengths outweighed its weaknesses.

It was memorable, flowed nicely & would contribute to the mood I was hoping to achieve.


Since the title was my central message, chorus sections were used to re-enforce that message & expand upon the “whys”.


Verse sections were written last. They were used to set the stage…creatively describing why the chorus message (lyrical hook) was important.


Lyrical message in a nutshell



Regardless of what we’re taught as children, lying is one of the undesirable realities of life. The older we get, the clearer that becomes.

It goes by many names in polite society…fabrication, mis-speaking, embellishment, selective omission, spin & stretching the truth.

But once you strip away the niceties, it boils down to varying degrees of one thing – "something other-than the absolute truth".



Although lying is an ingrained part of our existence, we need to be honest with ourselves. Self-delusion benefits no one…least of all “you”.



Spend our lives…tellin’ tales

Stretch and bend…the truth

Learned that when…reality fails

A lie may do


But don’t lie to yourself

You’re the only one to lose

Don’t lie to yourself

A lie only a fool would choose


Life demands…shaded truths

Hype & spin…abound

As we grow…beyond our youth

Truth is rarely found


But don’t lie to yourself

You’re the only one to lose

Don’t lie to yourself

A lie only a fool would choose


Don’t lie to yourself

You’re the only one to lose

Don’t lie to yourself

A lie only a fool would choose

Copyright 2002- Tom Hoffman


Song Structure


Introduction / Verse / Chorus / Instrumental Verse (guitar solo) / Verse / Double-Chorus / Brief Ending


Musical Fundamentals


The song is set in the key of E minor.

BPM 116


Unusual as it seems, the “introduction” was the last thing added to this arrangement.

What can I tell ya’? It happens! :rolleyes:

Fortunately, I recalled a guitar didi that I’d stumbled upon the year before. It fit the texture of the song, but I needed something to merge it with the first verse.

My solution was a single bass note, sounded on the last count of the intro. In the final mix, that note begins quietly, then grows into the verse…gradually becoming louder.


That intro guitar didi consists of 2 separate acoustic guitar tracks.

  • The first plays nothing but 2-note intervals.
  • The 2nd is comprised of open string harmonics, which generate an eerie texture.

The guitar arrangement for this song was a bit of an experiment. Other than bass, there are no electric guitars.

It contains 3 separate acoustic guitar tracks, each performed on my trusty Yamaha & recorded through an MXL condenser mic.




The simulated strings you hear weren’t part of my original version. I had no keyboard capability back then.

They were added to the existing 2-track master a few years later.


Real drums were used. The part itself employs both half-time & full-time beat structures.

  • Half time is used exclusively until the 2nd chorus section.
  • Both the 2nd & 3rd chorus sections are set in full-time.
  • Finally, it switches back to half-time for the ending.




Final Production Notes


The recording was done on a Tascam PortaStudio 788. It’s an 8-track digital deck, consisting of 6 mono & 1 stereo channels.




 - Drums were recorded to the only stereo pair of tracks (7 &8)

 - Everything else went to single mono tracks....no doubling of any parts


Performance Credits

  • Drums, Acoustic Guitars, Bass, Keyboard Strings – Tom Hoffman
  • Vocals – Tom Hoffman

Supplemental Video (50 sec. clip of guitar solo portion) - https://youtu.be/vHfuWSaYYYI


Tom Hoffman
"About Me" Muse Member pg.


Tom Hoffman YouTube


*BTW that MP3 link at the top is set-up as free download.

If you'd like a copy for your personal use, you have my permission.


Online Credibility

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”.


Sound familiar?

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! :rolleyes:

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.


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






Learning a 2nd instrument can be incredibly beneficial, particularly for drummers.
Most drummers possess a reasonable understanding of rhythm, timing & dynamics, but drums don't offer much exposure to concepts like melody, pitch & harmony.

Because they lack relevance, they’re rarely taught.


The thing is, that lack of knowledge leaves a gaping hole in one’s ability to understand, appreciate & create music.

It did for me!

I simply didn't realize it at the time. :rolleyes:


During my 9 years as a drummer/singer, I was content to focus exclusively on those 2 skills.


I'm not altogether sure!

I guess I’d convinced myself that widening my scope would somehow detract from my current abilities.

Looking back, I can see that was a load of crap.

But as we all know, hindsight is 20/20. :blush:

If I had it to do again, I wouldn't hesitate to take advantage of the excellent musicians around me.

Several of whom would have been happy to share their knowledge for free.

Fortunately, in the final analysis, if we learn matters more than when. 

Eventually I did expand my musical horizons.

Specific Instrument Recommendations


Both guitar & piano (keyboard) deal with melody, pitch and harmony.

While there are other instruments to choose from, guitar & keyboard offer one big advantage over many others.

Both are capable of playing multiple notes simultaneously.

In other words - chords.

Chords & harmony are inseparably linked…synonymous parts of the larger musical puzzle.


Guitar & keyboard offer a wider range of practical applications.

Either should qualify you to:

· recreate recognizable parts of your favorite songs

· play strictly for your own enjoyment

· function as part of a band

· write your own songs

· accomplish combinations of the above

An overwhelming majority of songwriters choose piano or guitar as their primary writing instrument.

I chose guitar.

Last, but not least, learning a melodic instrument aids in developing your sense of pitch. 

As a drummer…even a singing drummer, you may think you hear pitch well.

I did ^_^

But it's amazing how much improvement occurs with the addition of a melodic instrument.


I began noticing a difference after my first year of guitar.

I was listening to some of my old vinyl albums & started hearing pitch imperfections in vocal tracks I’d listened to hundreds of times before.

Was I listening differently…was my turntable out of adjustment?


All that had changed was my perception.

Pitch imperfections which had always been there, I was now able to discern.


Unfortunately, to truly understand what I’ve tried to describe, you need to experience it.  

So, don't take my word for it…find out for yourself !


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


Tip #1 - The music industry is a business.

  • If you've had little business experience or lack a basic understanding of how the community operates, you should learn. Why? Because you cannot succeed at something without possessing an understanding of what it is.
  • Talent, musical proficiency, dedication to your goals & self-confidence are prerequisites, not your ticket to stardom. Think of them in as you would a college degree. The degree guarantees you nothing, other than an opportunity to compete.
  • Intangibles like "creative integrity" may be of value to you & your peers, but NOT to most businesses. Typically, they care about 2 things - making money & saving money. When you present yourself to industry representatives, keep that in mind.
  • If you're unclear about how someone might "save" a record label money, I'll list a couple examples:
  1. Think about the huge growth of the pop, rap & hip-hop genres in recent years. The bulk of the music & arrangements for those genres is created via software & sampling. That means fewer session musicians, less studio time and lower overall cost of production.
  2. If you happen to be an artist with a huge online fanbase/following (Justin Bieber), that's tangible selling point. A ready-made fanbase means lower promotional cost for the label…once again, saving them money.


Tip #2 - Beware of the "Scamortunity"


As you might guess, the term is meant to describe a scam disguised as an opportunity

What does a scamortunity look like? Not an easy question to answer, since they come in many forms. 

Typically, the better it sounds…

  • the more skeptical you should be
  • the more extensively it should be researched
  • the more reluctant you should be to participate

Most cons (scams) are designed to take advantage of existing vulnerabilities. 

In the case of songwriter/musicians, those vulnerabilities are well known & numerous. Don't allow belief in yourself, belief in the uniqueness of your creations & your desire for recognition to become liabilities in your quest for success. 

Remember....in business, opportunities rarely come looking for you. With very few exceptions, they won't!


Tip #3 - Nothing is owed to you.


Many in this business develop an attitude that the world/industry owes them something. Simply put, that is not a productive mindset & will do nothing to further your career.

  • As I mentioned earlier, countless hours of dedication to your craft, skills, talent & creative ability are prerequisites, not entitlements! Most of your competitors (fellow musician/songwriters) have worked just as hard as you have.
  • Forget about concepts like fairness. The world of business is based on many rules, but fairness isn’t one of them.


Tip #4 - For God sake, spend a couple dollars & get your finished material properly copyrighted.


We're only too happy to spend hundreds of dollars on a smartphone that'll be obsolete next year. ATM fees, wireless streaming fees, credit card interest, bank overdraft fees, apps....all things we've come to accept as unavoidable expenses.

BUT, when it comes time to spend $55 on legal protection for your artistic creations, we'd rather not.

Seriously....$55 ???

That's the current online filing fee for the U.S. Library of Congress (multiple works by a single author). 

To the best of my knowledge, a Library of Congress registration is the only universally recognized method for proving legal ownership of a work.

There are legitimate legal reasons for choosing this method & I encourage you to verify that for yourselves.


Here are a number of resource links:

United States Copyright Office http://copyright.gov/

Why Should I Register My Work? FAQ page http://copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-general.html#automatic

Copyright FAQ - http://copyright.gov/help/faq/index.html

Online Copyright Registration - http://copyright.gov/eco/


Tip #5 – Remember….it's all about the vocals !


It’s common for recording songwriters/bands to underestimate the importance of the primary vocal track. Bottom line, vocals are "Priority #1" & should be treated as such.

Why you ask?


To the ordinary listener, vocals are the most important element of a song.  

Sure…everything else matters! Just not as much.


Common Reasons for Substandard Vocals: 

· Internal Band Dynamics - every band member wants to feel like their part is essential to the success or failure of a project. But nothing outranks melody & the singer's presentation of it.

· When recording demos or finished material, vocals are one of the last things to be dealt with. If you’re working in a pro studio, you’re probably paying an hourly rate. If that is the case, you should budget your session time carefully.

  You can’t afford to blow your budget on preliminary musical tracks.


Take whatever precautions are appropriate. When it’s all said & done, the vocal track will represent your song.

My advice…shoot for the highest quality you can reasonably achieve. :)


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 to open in a new tab & listen as you read.

Drum-Only audio ("One More Time")


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


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


A collection of 5 videos dealing with various aspects of new song arrangement.

The cover photos below are encoded as a hyperlinks, so clicking on them opens the video.

















Hopefully, you find this new playlist helpful ;)

BTW none of the videos are monetized...comments & suggestions for future videos are welcome.


Tom Hoffman
"About Me" Muse Member pg.


Tom Hoffman YouTube