Week 3: Cowrite

The cowrite was a challenge for sure. It’s not that I haven’t cowritten before, but that I took on the challenge of adding music/melody to existing lyrics, which is pretty much backwards to how I write. I, normally, either get the lyrics and melody simultaneously, or form lyrics around an existing melody. I welcome new approaches to songwriting as a way to grow as a songwriter, since I believe songwriting is life long learning.

I played with a lot of melodies, but it was over the course of a week more full of  distraction than anticipated, so getting down to the task of completing it was a challenge. Aren’t all of life’s complications just future song material, though? I appreciate more than ever the importance of the marriage of melody to lyrics, in terms of the lyrics having a natural fit and feel with the melody. No doubt, having someone else’s lyrics made it especially complicated, since we all have our own sort of natural rhythm or meter that we tend to defer to. These lyrics came from someone else’s natural rhythm and meter, so I had to step outside my natural tendencies to find a fit that didn’t feel or sound awkward.

I decided to approach it by attempting to get a feel for my cowriter’s natural rhythm and meter. I did actually, audibly talking the lines out, in an almost exaggerated form of reciting poetry, repeatedly, until the flow felt natural. Now, that was a welcome epiphany! From there, it was easier to sense how I should be strumming my guitar, rhythmically. Then I played with some chord structures until something felt right, and a general melody idea just sort of emerged from there. I tweaked it a bit, and flip flopped between a couple of melodies for a while, still undecided.

When I thought I’d settled on one, I went to tweak some wording a little bit, thinking that was all I had to do… But in classic songwriting fashion, something else came to me just as I thought I was almost finished.  I had to make a judgment call, at a time of day a bit too late to discuss with my partner, to make greater changes to the lyrics and song structure than I had initially intended, in order for it to fit with my new idea. Basically, I decided to expand on a theme touched on in the original lyrics, where the love story was referred to, metaphorically, as a book.

After some technical difficulties with my computer, I realized I’d have to record with Garage Band on my iPhone, which actually did an adequate job last time. Time constraints due to family commitments meant I didn’t have the time to be as picky with the recording as I might normally be, plus I’ve got a bit of a scratchy throat, but I think it still turned out okay. I hope my cowriter is happy with what I came up with…

 

The Book of You and Me

By Gordon Gow and Shauna Specht

 

All our better days won’t go forgotten

They’ve been etched across my mind

Our love has been our sanctuary

Even in our darkest times

 

Our story changed direction

Not that we don’t care

We grew in ways that found us miles apart

 

We’re not a tale of woe, just lovers letting go

Leave that for the broken hearted

The chronicles of us have all been written now

From the magic to the day we parted

In the book of you and me

The book of you and me

 

Just look at all our love created

We built a family and a home

And the years we gave weren’t all for nothing

I’m still proud of us, you know

 

I hope your new direction

Finds you love and joy

And even as we journey miles apart

 

We’re not a tale of woe, just lovers letting go

Leave that for the broken hearted

The chronicles of us have all been written now

From the magic to the day we parted

In the book of you and me

The book of you and me

 

Spare the sadness-

Spare the tears

spare the anger-

there was always something good

 

We’re not a tale of woe, just lovers letting go

Leave that for the broken hearted

The chronicles of us have all been written now

From the magic till the day we parted

In the book of you and me

In the book of you and me

In the book of you and me

The book of you and me

 

Every story has to have an end

The book of you and me

 

We’re bound forever more

In the book of you and me

 

We’ll put it on the shelf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SAC Challenge 2016 #1

My second year doing this challenge! Last year was a great experience and I learned a lot, so it’s great to do this again. Last time, I found the recording a bit of a learning curve. This time, the recording is a challenge again, but more, this time, due to timing. We’re in the middle of a household project of upheaval proportions, and I don’t have a suitable space set up for recording. Then I discovered that when my computer recently went in for servicing and they were forced to wipe my memory, the updated OS they put on it did not seem to include GarageBand. (I can actually download it though, I’ve learned)

But guess what? I have GarageBand on my iPhone, and I’ve been meaning to play with it, anyway, so see how it works and if it is something useful to me. Looks like it could be  super handy songwriting tool when I’m on the go. I really didn’t expect it to be half as good as it is, especially the vocals. I am pleasantly surprised! Time constraints means recording #1 didn’t get the time and care I intended, but I think it gets the gist of the song across well enough.

I immediately knew when I saw our choices for the challenge that the 2 chord option was for me. The very simple chorus kind of popped out of thin air as soon as I started playing the chords, and I knew it was a keeper. The verses I have visited and revisited over the course of the week.

I definitely knew I wanted to begin with a strong sense of place and imagery. I find that when I have strong mental images from which to draw when I’m writing a song, it gives me a place to revisit in my mind when I get stuck. I can go back to that place again, and explore my senses to see what else might emerge. A vivid imagination is a valuable tool.

I’ve struggled a bit with the melody, which is not where I usually struggle. I guess this is the challenge of a 2 chord song…it would be too easy to fall into a repetitive melody throughout, and I am consciously striving to avoid that. To me, that means a great learning opportunity.

I consider this song to be, still, a work in progress, and look forward to the feedback on what I have so far. Maybe I will have time to work on a better recording before the challenge is over. Here are the lyrics:

 

Talk to Me

On the edge of night, the light through the trees outside

Reveals just a piece of the sky, but I want more

I want clarity, the truth about everything

The blatant reality of open doors

So talk to me, I wish you would talk to me

I wish you would talk to me, ’cause I let you down

I’m all tied up in strings, obsessing on everything

I hang on the walls in the wings, but you just walk on

But just stop and turn, say it all even if it hurts

The darkness is worth the brand new dawn

So talk to me, I wish you would talk to me

I wish you would talk to me, ’cause I let you down

The sun is on the edge, the sun is on the edge

The sun is on the edge, I’m waiting on the edge

To break through, to break through

So talk to me, I wish you would talk to me

I wish you would talk to me, ’cause I let you down

Visitors please read…

If shaunaspecht.com has brought you here, it means my domain is still in limbo. Any day now, it will direct you to my REAL website. This blog page was created for the purpose of a songwriting challenge that required that I journal my experience with the project. Until shaunaspecht.com directs to my music page, you may want to check out the following:

http://shaunaspecht.bandcamp.com

http://facebook.com/ShaunaSpechtMusic

SAC Jinxed the weather

It’s true, SAC jinxed the weather. A week ago, most of the snow had melted and I was wearing capris. Now it looks like January again…not as cold as January, but not fit for capris either. And it’s all because of this week’s challenge: write a Christmas song. Mother Nature was listening, and, as we know, she has a sadistic sense of humour.

So, yes, I did write that Christmas song, but I had many false starts. Actually, I also attempted the other option for the week and thought I’d write and edit a song for pop or rock radio, but that just wasn’t happening. I really felt like I lost my mojo over the past week, and maybe my creative juices were frozen by this very unwelcome return to winter after having had a taste of spring. But, alas, as the temperature finally rose just above freezing and the snow began melting, the creative juices began flowing.

I wrote many partial songs over the past couple of days, but it took until early afternoon today for something to finally come together. By dinner time, the song was complete….or as complete as I have time for. I’d have liked to have redone some of the vocals and added some bells. After all, this Christmas song is called Hear the Bells, so I thought they might be fitting.

I’m really glad, though, that I finally got to see through the process of adding and mixing in background vocals. I had recorded some for last week’s song, but when technical difficulties took up too long to work through, I was left with not enough time to mix them in. I will still get back to that when I have time. I want to hear how it could have sounded.

The background vocals for this week are imperfect, but good enough to get across what I had in mind, I think. Plus, as always, it was a great learning experience. Once again, as with every week, I feel like I’ve learned a lot. I can’t wait to see how I’ll be doing with the recording in the coming months if I keep at it. Maybe I need to impose some recording deadlines of my own, just to keep me practicing, learning and improving.

Trust and Technical Difficulties…

I’m listening to my freshly uploaded song (The One You Trust) on SoundCloud as I type this, to make sure that a) it’s the right version and b) there aren’t any issues with it. I hear a couple of small issues, but it will have to do. Yes, it’s been that kind of night. My song for week 5 of the SAC Challenge was posted exactly on the deadline – midnight eastern time on the nose. This journal will be a late add on.

Unfortunately what I’ve put up is incomplete because I had to leave a couple tracks out and wasn’t able to finish mixing. Somewhere in the process of working with multiple tracks and moving bits around, I really messed up. Some parts were out of sync and just hitting undo a bunch of times was risky given the number of changes I had made since my last save. I wasn’t sure where I had gone wrong and didn’t have time to waste trying to undo my error. My best option was to realign the 2 most important tracks, which were quite chopped up due to overdubbing, so it took a fair bit of time to make them work.I had a second guitar that I may or may not have kept in, and 2 tracks of background vocals that had to be left out, unfortunately, and I would have liked to have played with the tracks a bit longer to get them sounding how I wanted. Instead I was fixing my mistake in a panic, while warning my household that trying to talk to me would be a bad idea. Yes, I was a little grumpy, but feeling better now.

On the bright side, I learned TONS today about overdubbing and recording background vocals…and how to fix it when you bump everything out of alignment, haha. Being a novice, fixing mistakes was a slow process, but I was getting the hang of it as I went. Regarding recording background vocals, I love that I can look at my computer screen and actually see exactly where to come in and finish with additional vocals by following the visual representation of the lead. Now that I can see that some of this stuff isn’t as scary and complicated as it seemed, I’m kind of excited about future projects, and the possibilities…

One more lesson…listen to the song on Soundcloud before posting the link because this isn’t the first time the levels were not what I expected…like somewhere in the process of sending the file to iTunes from Garage Band, and then uploading to Soundcloud, something changes. My vocals sound just a smidgen softer on Soundcloud than they do on Garage Band. Also, in this instance of relistening to Soundcloud after the fact, I can hear that my realignment of bits of the guitar track were not smooth in a couple of places. I wish I’d had time to have a listen before posting.

Anyway, here’s the song:

Dogs and Coffee – SAC Week 4

Well, would you look at that…I’m done my track for the week with an hour to spare. It’s uploaded and everything.It’s kind of a rocky, bluesy sort of country song.I am not sure if it’s really edgy, but it’s written and recorded, and it’s up on SoundCloud.

I actually wrote 2 country songs this week, which is pretty good considering that I wasn’t sure I’d have one at all. I had received some upsetting news about the health of my dog last week and suddenly the songwriting challenge seemed unimportant. I was pretty upset, but in a lighter moment, I turned that darkness into a pretty light hearted country song called Sicker than a Dog. Yes…that’s right…my dog is seriously ill and I wrote a light hearted song called Sicker than a Dog. Strange. The song I wrote, though, needed work and wasn’t really edgy. I was going to call it my song for the week anyway, because I wasn’t sure I had another one in me, but I was wrong…

Driving my son to school this morning, I suddenly had this notion that I was going to write a song about black coffee. Surely, setting the clocks ahead over the weekend and my resulting drowsiness was an influence…I needed a jolt of something to wake me up (though, actually coffee doesn’t wake me up, just makes me jittery if I have too much). I, actually, don’t usually write from a song title, but I guess I did today. I decided to tune my guitar to open D, just barre it, and have fun with it, and eventually the song emerged.

I had to play it a bit low for me, because I already barred so far up the neck in some parts that it would have been awkward playing to go any further. As a result, the vocals are noticeably too low for me in a couple of spots. I thought about bringing the melody up instead of down, but decided to leave it, because I wanted to show how I actually imagined the song being sung instead of altering it for my own vocal range.

I was also going to add some background vocals and additional instrument tracks, but after a full day of recording and rerecording and technical difficulties and interruptions, I was spent. The only other thing is that maybe the song needs an instrumental bridge for a solo. I didn’t put one in because I’m a rhythm guitarist and not really skilled in the lead guitar department. The essence of the song is there. Speaking of guitar, though, I think my rhythm guitar sounds pretty cool. It was super fun to play.

I still need to work on some of the finer points of recording and mixing, but these are skills I can see I will continue to learn. I still need to find out why my vocals record so quiet, and what I can do about that. Even my soft and airy spoken “alright” at the start of the song records, oddly, louder than my singing. That’s really strange, but there must be a reason for it. I may have to do some digging or asking or learning or all of the above.

And so ends the challenge for week 4. Bring on week 5!

P.S. I just uploaded the song to SoundCloud before writing this, and it’s already been favourited and reposted a few times. Well, well…

SAC Week 3 – OMG! My Homework is Done!!

Aye Carumba!! *Deep breath*

It is 9:29 pm my time, which means it is about half an hour from midnight eastern time, which means I have half an hour (less now because I type slow) to hand in my project for week 3. An amazing thing has happened…I finished it!! As long as technology doesn’t fail me, and the universe doesn’t interfere, I might actually be handing in my project for the week…and on time!!!

Did I have challenges? Pffft, of course! The challenges were entirely technological, though. The actual song just sort of happened, really easily, so the songwriting part was a breeze. As we know, this is my first completed project. The incomplete recordings of my incomplete projects from week 1 and 2 (I will remind you that week 1 is not due yet, though) did not involve any external recording (yet). That is, what tracks I have recorded for these two songs have all involved the arrangement of instrument sounds on my computer. Since I’ve had a lingering cough from a flu I had a few weeks back, I haven’t attempted any vocal recordings until this week (any deep breaths would result in coughing, so singing was difficult). This week, my cough is almost completely gone, so I was finally able to record a vocal track. Yeah, about that vocal track…

This is definitely a song that should be sung by a 5 year old and I don’t have any 5 year olds handy. However, my natural singing voice is very young sounding. I am 44 and I sound about 14. Since I already sound about 14, it wasn’t a stretch to make myself sound a little younger still. I just went into character and really simplified how I sang. I think it worked not bad. I will be curious to hear the feedback.

The recording of the vocals had a couple of technical issues. Though recording with the mic worked well the first couple of takes, a delay (between singing into the mic and hearing it in my headphones) suddenly developed. I asked my fellow SAC members for advice, and with their help, I discovered the cause. I wish they would always be there waiting to answer my recording questions! Another issue was that the mic volume was really low, no matter what I did. I just worked with it as best I could, but will want to address this issue for future projects. Maybe I need a preamp of sorts, or maybe there is something in the settings that I need to learn about.

The recording of the guitar was also not without its issues. One of my cords (a brand new one at that) does not plug in as snugly as it should and was cutting out. I ended up borrowing the one from my husband’s from his bass guitar, and it worked fine. Even though I was not using percussion on this track, I wanted my timing to be reasonably good, so I did use the clicker. Being out of practice playing with the clicker, it took some practice, but I think it turned out okay. Not perfect, but not bad.

And actually, I didn’t want the recording to sound TOO tight. I wanted it to have a looser, acoustic feel, with some minor imperfections, because I felt it suited the song. Whether it would suit what the advertiser wanted is another question. With regards to what was required of us, I think I came pretty close. It was a few seconds over, but that time includes a brief pause at the start of the song (my first strum kept getting slightly cut off, so I added space at the beginning and cut as close to the start as I could in the after editing), and a fade out at the end. I probably could have made it fit perfectly if I had made it just a smidgen faster, and if this were a real pitch, I would do just that.

So there are my thoughts for this week’s submission. I have 7 minutes to submit, so away I go…

SAC Challenge week 2: Frustration = Education

Give me a guitar and a quiet space, and I’ll play with some chord progressions until something moves me. Often times, it will coincide with a mental image, and I’ll absorb myself in the feelings I attach to that mental image. Sometimes, I don’t even know what it means. When the words start to form, I’m often mystified as to where they are taking me, but gradually they lead me to the big picture…the theme or the story. I let the words just flow freely, without questioning or editing, but trusting that something interesting has been unlocked in my subconscious. If I come to a block, I return to the mental image…who am I in this image? What can I see? What do I feel? Where am I? What is happening? As I mentally explore the image, something new will emerge, and, once again, I’ll just let it flow, freely. Song structure happens very naturally for me, so I don’t need to be thinking about this…it will just happen. Somehow, the verses, chorus and, sometimes, bridge, will just all fill in without a lot of intention on my part. All conscious construction is a retrofit, after the flow of inspiration has passed and once I’m evaluating what has been written.

When songwriting is really working for me, it happens just as easily as what I’ve described. Often times, I only get little pieces that don’t develop beyond that. Or I’ll write a verse and a chorus, get stuck, and not be able to get unstuck. Or when I try to finish a song that is stuck, everything that comes feels wrong or forced. Songwriting is both the easiest and the hardest thing in the world for me. Often times, it is hard until I “break through” and then it becomes easy. Or it starts out really easy and becomes really hard. Regardless of how I get there, a finished song always satisfies like nothing else.

Normally when I write, there is no recording. There are only words on paper with some chords, and a melody in my brain. Usually, once I read the lyrics, the melody easily reemerges from memory, but sometimes I’ll make a very rough recording into something like the voice memo on my phone or a rough, live recording on my computer, just so I don’t forget the melody. I may have additional music in my head…how I imagine the song being arranged, but they stay there, in my head. There is no demo. This songwriting challenge turns all of this on its head, and I’m struggling.

I’ve had a mix of song writing experiences the past couple of weeks. On paper, I have one complete song, one almost complete song, a few snippets of songs. On Garage Band, I have three partial demos….unfortunately, they don’t fit any of the songs on paper. When I’ve gone onto Garage Band to begin making demos for my songs, the process of trying to find the right drums, the right bass, the right sounds, etc, ends up taking me on tangents, as I struggle to find drum beats and sounds that fit, and they end up not working with what I’ve been writing on paper. The result is that I have no finished demos. I’m frustrated and disappointed, but trying to turn this into a lesson.

At least while I’m learning my way around Garage Band, it may need to be my starting point instead of my finishing point. If I can finish the demos I’ve started…write the lyrics and melodies to them, instead of trying to do it the other way around…I might actually be able to complete a song! In the process, I will become more familiar with the program, so that when I do go to add music to my lyrics and melodies, I won’t be experimenting so much with sounds that I get off track, I’ll go in knowing what I’m looking for.

Right now, I’m so frustrated that I was tempted today to throw in the towel. I hate it that at the end of week 2, I have nothing complete. I feel like I’m failing, but the truth is, I’m not. I have accomplished a lot, just nothing that I can put up to be heard. I will still finish this song, even though it will not be eligible for feedback. The good news is, I have four songs to choose from: two of them on paper, needing music and two on Garage Band, needing lyrics and melody. This has been a huge learning curve for me. I feel like a first grader who has been bumped up to junior high, but I’ll figure this out. I am learning, just not quickly enough to keep up.

I also need to be more proactive in setting myself up to be able to focus on music. My small but busy household, with everyone on varying work and school schedules, means that it has been really difficult to consistently find the solitude I need to focus. Something needs to change with this. I don’t have time to wait for ideal moments to arise, I’m on a deadline!

Maybe it would be easier if my first year doing this challenge was one of the previous years, because I get the impression that the demos did not have to be as well done. On the other hand, maybe this is the best way to make me learn. Frustration = Education.

SAC Challenge – Week 1 Progress

Week one of the SAC challenge has come to a close, and, yes, it has indeed been a challenge, but a fun one. This is something I will be puttering away at over time (it is not due until the end of the six weeks, thank goodness), since not only is this song requiring me to learn some new things, but I also think it is best served by altering my approach to song writing. I’m very much a lyrics and melody sort of songwriter, and the song assignment is very much about a certain groove and feel. I’ve been playing with my daughter’s keyboards and some of the preprogrammed sounds and drums, when, usually, I write on acoustic guitar. I’ve also been playing a bit with my husband’s bass guitar. The things I’ve been coming up with are very different for me. That is definitely a good thing.

I am actually enjoying this different approach. I have a pretty good idea as to the general feel and structure of the song, but it has no set lyrics yet. The bits of lyrics I have come up with have mostly been just that…bits…and I’m keeping those aside to go back to and build on. I’m actually not worrying too much about finishing the lyrics at this point because I think it is important to make sure the song feels right to sing, and, unfortunately, that is something I cannot test at the moment with the lingering cough from my recent flu. Unfortunately, when I try to sing, the coughing starts, but maybe this has been okay (temporarily….it can end any time now!!)…maybe it has forced me to focus on the music.

Funny…when we were given the sample songs to give us an idea as to the sort of song Matt Dusk was looking for, I thought I would be inclined to write something with a feel similar to Pumped Up Kicks, because I really like that song, but I think it will have more of a Big Bang feel. I want to write something fun to sing (and I want to be able to sing it…go away nagging cough!!).

If the cough continues throughout  this week, I’ll just have to sing really softly on the demo for the song for week 2. Interestingly, I’ve had to do this once before for something SAC related. I brought a demo to the first songwriting conference I attended in Calgary several years ago, when we had the opportunity to have demos heard and critiqued. Anyway, I had this nagging cough that just wouldn’t go away, and it was already the day before the conference. I spent the day figuring out how to record just a lead vocal and acoustic guitar on Garage Band and threw together the demo pretty much in the nick of time. I had to sing extremely softly to avoid coughing, so my voice sounded really weak and airy on the recording, but the demo was still well received. Weak and airy won’t work for a Matt Dusk song, but maybe it will for a song for week 2. Somehow, I’ll make it work.

Beginnings…

Well, today I received assignment #1 of the SAC song writing challenge, and I have to say…I called it! Last week, as I wondered what the first challenge would be, knowing that it was an actual song pitch to a known Canadian artist, I actually said that I bet it will be outside the genres I’m familiar with….I bet it will be jazz! Well, guess what? I’m pitching a song to a jazz singer! I should point out, though, that he does want something a little more contemporary than what he typically sings, and gave a list of some contemporary songs that he likes, to help guide us.

Now don’t get me wrong about my feelings on this assignment; this is not a bad thing. I joined this challenge to be…well…challenged, and I’m really looking forward to it. My head is actually full of ideas. Also, whereas all other challenges are due at the end of their respective weeks, this challenge is not due until the end of the sixth week, so I have lots of time to figure it out. I can do this!

Meanwhile, things are going really well with my other music. My very newly formed Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ShaunaSpechtMusic?ref=aymt_homepage_panel is really growing in its number of followers, and the demo I posted is being well received. Things are going really well, and I could not be happier about all of it. I am so lucky and so grateful for the supportive people in my life. Thank you, all.