Tuesday, December 13, 2011

songwriting 101 (part 1)

this post is about 2 new songs:
1. picture show
2. back in the day

since returning from our fabulous 6-week extravaganza
I have been utterly preoccupied with two things.
my first preoccupation has been songwriting.*

there is an excitement in the ongoing journey which begins
with the germ of an idea (a melody, a set of chords, a riff)
and more or less plagues the writer until the big payoff,
which is the day the song is finally completed
and righteous enough to be communicated to others.
what a sweet moment it is when you finally
hear your idea fully realized.

songwriting is all about communication.

as I said elsewhere in these posts
there was a string of 5 years when I all but abandoned
songwriting and doubted I would ever write songs again.
then one day I suddenly remembered one of the oldest
songs I had written, in fact it is the oldest song of mine that
I can remember from my early days of trying to write songs.
I believe I wrote it in 1970 at the age of 19.
it's called picture show.

for some reason picture show reappeared in my mind
just like a record being played and I was able to recall
not only the melody, chord changes, and lyrics
but also my ideas for the production of the song.
it would be another full decade before MTV arrived
but I remember deciding to write the song based
on a very clear idea I had for a "short film" (i.e. video)
to go along with the lyric of picture show.

the song is about a lonely guy who rides
the downtown bus to a noon matinee of the latest
"picture show" and ends up alone in the second row
imagining himself to be the star of the movie
"with his name across the screen" only to end up
realizing once again he's really just "a nameless face".
I had blocked out each camera move in my head
and could clearly visualize the piece.

songwriting is all about visualization.

remembering picture show is what caused my reawakening
back into the world of being a songwriter.
so I tried to work out on acoustic guitar how I had played it.
it wasn't easy since I knew it had been in an alternate tuning.
but by remembering the finger-picking method I had used
I was eventually able to recall the alternate tuning.
D A D E B E.
(I have always preferred simply alternate tunings
which don't require changing string gauges.)
it's an easy enough tuning,
you tune the low E down to D and the G down to E.

what happened next surprised and amazed me.
the more I fooled with the new chord shapes I could
achieve with this new tuning the more songs began
to pour out of me like someone had turned on
the creative faucet. I was inspired again!
the melodies came along at the same time
and uncharacteristically for me, so did many of the words.

songwriting is all about inspiration.

another inspiration I had was to do a hand tremelo effect
over the sound hole of the acoustic taylor
to make what sounds like a leslie slowing down.
I've never seen anyone else do it
so it was an exciting discovery.
I'm going to post a yourtube of the effect.

naturally the first song daniel and I recorded was picture show.
but the first version was too slow and in the wrong key
so last week I re-recorded a much better take.
this week I plan to add the vocals, orchestration, and bongos.
it is only 2 minutes long.

in the new studiobelew a yamaha motif keyboard
is the centerpiece. able to be utilized for everything from
samples to midi sequences it is the perfect tool for arrangers,
or songwriters, and is used in many movie and tv scores.
as soon as I got my yamaha motif I began writing with it.

the second song daniel and I recorded was written entirely
on the yamaha and has a "synthesizer pad and groove track-feel"
unlike anything I normally use on my records.
back in the day is a phrase I often encounter watching
one of my few favorite tv shows: pawn stars.
the old man on the show (known as "the old man")
uses the phrase repeatedly in reference to better times.
though I watch very little tv I never miss pawn stars.
I'm a history nut and the show manages to be highly
entertaining while teaching wonderful nuggets of arcanery.

the song back in the day is about my boyhood.
the simplicity of loving to be outside, to ride a bike, and so on.
it's a yearning for a time of innocence.

"back in the day we used to play, even if it rained
we couldn't wait to run outside or ride our bikes at night
man, I wish it could be so simple again
I wish it could be innocent

there was a time when boys would climb
to fall into leaves
back in the day when money meant nothing
and love had not come into play..."

it's one of my favorite songs I've written in a long time.
I plan to do a second guitar-based version for the record.
back in the day is 2.5 minutes long.
it's a trend I intend to follow throughout the record:
short songs connected in quick surprising ways.
(a la op zop too wah)

don't go away, I plan to continue this dialogue about
each and every song we are adding to the ever-growing list
of new music you will (hopefully) someday have in your earbuds.

*the second preoccupation could be so amazing it keeps me
up at night just thinking about it though is not something
I should talk about now (in case it ultimately doesn't work out)
but believe me it's an extremely exciting prospect,
one I have dreamed of for many years.


  1. This sounds SO exciting. Can't wait to see what new gems come from Studiobelew!

  2. Ah I will wait... impatiently captain crawfish.

  3. Great to hear you're writing again. I truely love your humor and rhythm of albums like twang bar king and lone rhino. Can't wait to hear the new songs. Who know's maybe you'll have a pop hit! (even though you swore in Cleveland you'd never write a pop song!) Thanks for making me smile.

  4. Just listening to The Bears August 11th 1987 full concert on Youtube. What a gem. Did you really lose the rights to these great songs? Looking forward to your new songs.

  5. Sounds amazing and a tiny bit nostalgic, I love that. Looking forward to it :):)

  6. I am soooo excited for you, Adrian, and for all of your fans. I hope that your next CD is another Op Zop too Wah type of album.


  7. Staggeringly excited to hear the new record! And about the "second preoccupation!" I'm writing an album now and running on tons of inspiration from the last 5 months (Camp-ChicagoHumanitiesFest). Thank you for it Adrian. Cheers!

  8. That's awesome Adrian. I got to meet you briefly backstage in Baltimore at a School of Rock Show. I recall being introduced to Paul as well. But I was there to see my old friend Ken whom I had not seen in about 16 years. I am glad I made the trip.

    I have always enjoyed you from the very first time I heard of you. That old instructional video with neck bending. Sorry to say you got me with that. All I saw as the TV commercial but that was enough to get me bending my Les Paul's neck and liking the results. It's fun!

    Anyway, I am very happy to see you doing your thing and I like the lyrics to back in the day very much. Conjures up distant memories. Very cool.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. The biggest challenge facing musicians who want to make a living today is the amount of music that fans have access to. A musician needs to do something really special and creative in order to make it in music. Musicians really need to compete for fans because we have such a choice but, sadly, there are those in the major record labels/RIAA/BPI who do not want to compete. They want to rely on their monopolies of bygone days and this is why we are seeing a rise in independent musicians, because they are coming up with creative new ways of making and distributing music.

    It is my opinion that we are living in a golden age of music.Songwriting