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Sunday, July 12, 2020

Beyond the lyrics: now you can learn to strum and sing any Scott Cooley song quickly for free!

I am pleased to let you know about a significant project I’ve recently completed that you may have interest in and benefit from.  A while back, you may have noticed I posted the lyrics for all of my songs on scottcooley.com.  Now you can find out the chords for them as well.  There is now a Scott Cooley songbook, believe it or not.  It’s available now to anyone, and it’s absolutely free.  Why would I produce such a thing, you might wonder?  Read on to find out.

This is more of a long-form news item covering in greater detail what I previously covered in the more condensed post on the News page of scottcooley.com "The new songbook is here!".

As a guitar player, if I ever want to learn how to play a popular song, I do what most of you probably do:  I google it.  Typically I’ll put in the song title, followed by the word ‘chords’ and click on the results.   We all have our influences, and learning from listening to recordings alone can be a tedious process.

There are issues with these guitar chord sites.  One is that they’re often wrong.  Another is that they don’t use the screen real estate smartly.  What happens is you get a bunch of annoying introductory information, and then usually the first verse and the chorus, but that is all that appears “above the fold,” which means you’re forced to scroll vertically down to see the rest of the song. 

Wouldn’t it be great if you could see the entire song on one screen or page?  That’s difficult even when you are trying to learn a song from printed sheet music.  You have to turn the page.  It impedes your progress to have to scroll or turn the page. 

I know some people back in the day would write with pen on paper the lyrics with chord above word where played, and they’d try to write small enough, sometimes using a two-column approach, to get it all on a single sheet of paper.  The online chord sites often try to cram in a bunch of tablature as well, sometimes tablature-only, when you expected lyrics and chords, presumably to satisfy the apparent demand for the lead guitarists of the world who want to master the riffs, solos and melodies.  The sheet music publishing companies throw in a bunch of notes on staffs to satisfy the people who read music. 

All that said, the average joes of the world just want to know the chords and words so they can play the song and sing it to close family and friends without the subtle detailed nuances of notation and tablature.  This is the dilemma for most, I suspect.  A great way to start is by knowing the chords and words and basic structure of a song first, and then you can always figure out the melodies, riffs and solos later on.

I realize a few people out there in the world will spend like a whole year learning one song on guitar, perfecting every single note exactly like the recording, becoming a true master before moving on to another one.  There are kids on YouTube who can play Eruption by VanHalen perfectly all the way through, for example.  Nothing wrong with that.  

I'll never be that kind of person.  If I learn part of a cover song at all, it's from looking up the chords with words online.  I have recorded and released for free recordings of me covering songs I like by other artists, however, and find it a fun thing to do when the songwriting muse is temporarily absent.  You can check some of those out here if interested.  

It's an extension of studying songs you like to become better at songwriting.  You try to figure out what about a song you like makes it good, which can inform your knowledge when you write your own originals, and then attempting to record a song you like by another artist takes it a step further and is always great practice and a learning experience.

With the internet, you typically don’t waste your time paying for sheet music or guitar books anymore.  I did buy one once though:  it was called The Beatles Complete Chord Songbook, and although it was too thick to hold it open to any song due to the binding, I thought it was designed and laid out well.  Most songs spanned two pages, though some were only one, while others were up to four.  Then an idea occurred to me.

What if I used the same way of notating the lyrics, chords and song parts as that book, but made sure every single song spanned exactly two pages?  Further, what if I then printed and bound it with a coil ring binding that would allow it to stay open?  I thought it would be possible, so I set out to make it happen – with my own songs.

The result is a book containing the chords and lyrics of every song I’ve released on my first 10 studio albums that can be opened to any page, set on a music stand, and have the even numbered page at left be the first half of the song, and the odd numbered page on the right be the last half of the song.  As a bonus, the electronic pdf version of it can be used on a computer, while taking advantage of search, electronic table of contents and index, so you can find and display any song in the same way – provided you have it set to show two pages side-by-side.

I’ve never memorized any of my own songs really, enjoying just writing them and recording them, then repeating, but never revisiting any of them to be able to learn them and play them live for people.  I’ve just always thought it was more fun to spend my time writing and recording new songs rather than be able to perform past songs from memory.  People think that’s weird.  They hear you write songs, hand you a guitar, and want you to perform them, understandably.  When you can’t do that, it’s embarrassing.

My motivation, therefore, was to properly type up both the words and chords so that I could at least open a book on a music stand in front of me and be able to perform my own songs in their entirety in front of people.  If I dedicated time to do that alone repeatedly, I may even be able to memorize some of them.  I guess since I’m not a live performing type of musician, I never gave it much attention.

In the back of my mind I thought someday, I’ll get out the scraps of paper I scribbled lyrics on and type them up, try to remember the chords and type those where appropriate on there too.  I guess I always thought I’d wait until I had a bunch of really good original songs first, before I even bothered attempting to actually learn them.  Still not sure if I’ve attained that yet!

For many non-musicians they figure that if you wrote a song yourself, well then you certainly should know how to play it from memory.  For me, that’s not the case.  I have it fresh in my head enough right when I complete it to get it recorded, then I promptly forget it forevermore thereafter.  Most of my songs I only played through once or twice before hitting record.  It’s hard for people to fathom, but that’s just how I’ve always approached the hobby, never intending to be a public performer.

Like most people, eventually, I could actually play several popular cover songs all the way through when I first started playing guitar.  That was the original goal – to just get good enough to play songs you liked by other artists.  Singing and playing at the same time was no problem for me.  I also knew a lot of little parts of famous songs, never learning how to play them entirely.

When I did jam with duos and groups, I always just sort of naturally gravitated to being the lead guitar player, the role in the band where all you had to know was the key the song was in, and you were good to go.  Classic rock and blues were the main types of songs we played, and playing some variation of a pentatonic scale worked well enough to entertain most crowds and appear somewhat competent.  The solos were no problem, and throwing in a few fills between chords here and there were adequate enough.  Somehow, I instinctively knew how to make it sound good and not interfere with the singer, while sounding like I knew what I was doing.

So, the background of being a lead guitarist, rather than a lead singer or rhythm player, was such that I could play with people and never need to know all the chords or words from memory.  After a few years of jamming with others playing covers, I realized I loved trying to make up my own songs.  Being primarily a songwriter and home recording hobbyist has always been what I love most about music.  Probably in the back of my mind I thought that some day when I had a bunch of really good songs, I’d learn them so I could play them in front of people, but I’ve just never gotten around to it.  The motivation just isn’t there.

Now the only excuse I’ll have for not learning my own songs is procrastination.  I’ll still focus on writing and recording new songs as my primary hobby, but now that I’ve got a songbook, it will be way easier if I ever decide to learn a few of my own songs.  I’ve heard you have to play them regularly too, or else you’ll forget. 

It’s why famous bands have to rehearse for a month before they go on tour.  Lots of famous bands and singer/songwriters actually use teleprompters when you see them perform live these days.  Practice and rehearsal would allow me to be the person who claims he’s a songwriter to be able to back it up when handed a guitar and play from memory some of the best originals.  Maybe enough to play a live set at a bar or coffee place sometime.  You never know, but the point is, if I had the desire, it’s more possible now for it to become a reality due to the tool of having everything properly typed up.

Publishing companies are traditionally into charging for songbooks and sheet music for their artists’ and songwriters’ songs.  Going against that norm, I thought in this modern age, why not make it free and easy for people to learn my songs?  It was never a motivation, and there’s never been any demand for it to speak of yet, but maybe, just maybe, someone other than me might want to learn how to play and sing my songs someday. 

Maybe in the future someone might want to record and release a cover of one of my songs one day.  It would be really cool to hear someone else’s version of a song I wrote, so why not make it easy if anyone ever had such a desire?  If that someone is you, you can easily fill out the simple form on the Licensing page of scottcooley.com to get official permission - that is, only if you intend to try to commerically sell your cover recording of one of my songs.

Check out the songbook here:  www.scottcooley.com/songbook.

It’s got 126 of my original songs in it.  It’s professionally done, and I should know, since I’ve been a professional technical writer for over 23 years now.  This is what is possible when you’re a skilled technical writer who has a period of unemployment. 

I did 100% of it myself – the design, the layout, the formatting, the typing up of the lyrics, the perfect placement of the chords, the electronically linked page numbering, table of contents, index, and discography, the acknowledgements, preface, and introduction.  A ton of work went into this – particularly listening back to the recordings with guitar and figuring out the chords and words I never bothered to write down for many of them, so it was a labor of love. 

It’s a passion hobby of mine.  I love doing it all myself – the writing, the singing, the multiple instrument playing, the recording, the mixing, the mastering, the cover art, the packaging design, the arranging, the producing, the web site design and maintenance, the social media and blog posts, copyright registration, various label and distribution duties, the production of videos, the rights administration, and now this expansion of song publishing in the form of a book.  It’s a passion to write songs, it’s fun to record them, and all the rest is in support of that hobby, including this songbook, and I’m proud of all of it.

Hope someone, someday (maybe you?) will actually want to learn one of my songs, and if so, find this book and appreciate the ease at which they are able to use it to do so.  If not, maybe I’ll learn some of my own songs as a result.  It was definitely worth the hard work, because at the very least I can lug a music stand and my printed version along to any place and open to any page, and have a complete song in front of me that I can perform in front of people.  Pretty cool.




Wednesday, June 24, 2020

New album "Bluebird Days" is now available


GRAND BLANC, MICHIGAN - The follow-up to 2018's Missing The Boat is out in web music services as of June 21st, 2020.  It has garnered praise from my innermost circle already, it features no guest stars, and already a few of the songs with videos have recieved play on YouTube.  

This is a true solo effort, with me doing all the work alone at home to make this album exist.  My loyal audience should not be disappointed, as this, like many before, is an album that includes the same great quality of songwriting and the same acoustic lo-fi sound they've come to expect.

As is always the case with any album, I’m excited once again to announce the release of my latest, Bluebird Days. It’s the 9th official studio album I’ve released since 2004, so it marks 16 years of me releasing albums on my pretend record label Scott Cooley Records.  I wrote my first song in about 1990, so this year marks 30 years of songwriting, one of my favorite hobbies.  

Bluebird Days contains 13 new original songs that I wrote and recorded.  As usual, I performed all of the vocal singing and instrument playing, which includes acoustic guitar, acoustic bass guitar, ukulele, piano, marimba, harmonica, drums, percussion and whistling.  I also did the production, arrangement, engineering, mixing, mastering, packaging design, etc.  

The cover photo was taken by my dad, Richard E. Cooley.  It was one of the first he ever took with a digital camera, many decades after he had let his family photography hobby lapse as my sister and I had grown up and moved away.  He was particularly pleased with and proud of this one, which I think reminded him that he had a particular artistic knack for taking a good picture.  

It is of a special place to my family, a ski chalet formerly owned by my sister that served as a getaway and an extended family gathering place associated with skiing, good times and fond memories.  As one might surmise, another favorite hobby of mine is skiing, one my immediate family have all had a passion for, and this album includes a few songs about skiing.  

When you release albums, you’re always excited that it includes the best you had available at the time, and this one is no exception.  As I look back on all of my releases, there are maybe one or two songs on each album I would now leave off, and there are maybe one or two little things that I could’ve improved about the ones I did include, but overall I am still pleased, and I have no reason to believe this one would be any different.  

An interesting fact about this one is that completing it got me on a roll of sorts to keep on with a similar theme, and I later came up with another album that also has songs about skiing.  I thought of releasing them as a double album, but then decided to do them separately, the first (this one) to be released now, and the other to be released two years later in June of 2022 in keeping with my every-two-years album release schedule.  

Due to a mistake by the distributor, Bluebird Days II actually came out before this one in 2019 when I submitted them both, so the sequel became a prequel.  It’s all good, so if you liked one, you will no doubt like the other.  

I officially described it as “bold, acoustic ski bum garage rock songs with traces of folk, blues, funk, punk, psychedelic, reggae, art rock, soft rock and Americana mostly about wanting to fly high and ski on sunny powder days in the mountains to escape the blues”.  

Several of these songs I started writing back when I was a ski bum living in Vail, Colorado, and I both revisited and revised them for this album.  Songs about skiing, songs about having the blues, songs with the word ‘blue’ in the title, the fresh powder and blue sky in the photo, all added up to a title that is used to describe a great day of skiing.  

Anyway, if all goes well and according to plan, this one should be available as a CD on Amazon and as a download or streaming album on Amazon Unlimited, Apple Music, YouTube Music, Spotify, Pandora, etc. on June 21st, 2020.  As of this blog post, I’ve checked the main places to get music online, and it seems that the distribution went off without a hitch this time.  

In addition to those “big 5” web music services, there are some others carrying this new album of mine as well, including Tidal, Deezer, 7 Digital, Napster, iHeartRadio, Anghami, and Yandex.  Also you should know I’ve uploaded 5 videos for 5 of the songs on the album that are on my YouTube channel.  

There is a related news post where you can get all of the links here:  http://www.scottcooley.com/news/newalbumbluebirddaysavailablenow, but you can also get them from the album page here: www.scottcooley.com/albums/bluebird-days.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Miniscule Following: Where to Go from Here? Self-Assessment May Reveal Insight

It’s cheap and easy for almost anyone to make music on a computer where they live, then put it on the web for people to stream.  Confusion about terms like indie, DIY, lo-fi, and bedroom pop aside, we’re all aware it’s possible to “go viral” which can catapult an unheard-of artist to instant popularity.  We’ve heard it can be lucrative.  If accidental, it’s usually a really catchy melody with relatable lyrics from a young person with a great voice who looks good.  If it’s more of a slowly-building, steady-growth situation,  maybe there was some investment in promotion along the way.

Breaking through the noise of all the home recording musicians out there now is a huge challenge.  The average music consumer might not realize traditional record labels will spend a ton of money to “break” an artist.  In today’s changed music business, if anyone is going to invest in helping to break you, they want some assurances it will be a good investment, understandably.  What do those assurances entail, one might wonder? 

You have to show proof of things like:
An interesting backstory
Evidence of being “on the verge”
A popularity trajectory
Lots of existing fans, “fan engagement”
Lots of existing streams
Lots of likes and follows on social media
Lots of subscribers
An appealing web site and online presence
A strong “brand”
Press attention in blogs, news, magazines
Self-generated internet buzz
Radio airplay
Film/TV placements
A marketing plan
Drawing live performance crowds

How do I rate my current situation?  Undeterred by a lack of success, and still trying to write and record great songs.  Like most creatives, not excited to self-promote.  Like many songwriters, not excited to "pitch" songs to famous artists, but would love to be able to boast "cuts".  No real press clippings to boast about at all, no email mailing list subscribers to boast about at all.  No live performances (caveat:  in the novel Corona/Covid age, playing field levelled) at all.  Still chasing the dream of writing really good songs, still haven’t yet (arguably).  No radio play, no idea how to achieve this.  No film/TV placements due to the DIY sound quality.  Still trying to improve on my home recording ability to achieve better sound quality.  A poor physical appearance due to being old and overweight – hence, intentionally not a lot of pro photos of myself out there, and no videos featuring me. 

Overall, just some old fat white guy in Michigan who can’t sing very well who likes to think he can write and record interesting songs in his house in his spare time.  Would love it if some famous major label artist would record one of my songs and it would become popular, which would then spur other artists to want to do more of the same.  More of a songwriter than a solo artist.  Not out to get famous, but would love more popularity and appreciation of the recorded output.  Secretly hoping the slowly-building discovery and appreciation will ramp up a bit, despite the reality that the style is almost the total opposite of what is popular these days!

I find myself in 2020 to be someone who has a catalog of released albums that is larger than most famous major label artists, a musical artist without youth, looks, professional videos & photographs, or a great singing voice on my side, a prolific songwriter/recording artist who doesn’t perform, a solo artist who has a really small following by fans who buy and/or stream my music on the world wide web, an independent musician who does everything myself without help from anyone.  When you find yourself in such a situation, the glass half empty part of yourself might advise you to be realistic and find another passion, but the glass half full part of yourself might advise you to keep at it because a following and some sales translates to success, however miniscule it might be.  So far, I go with the half-full approach, refusing to give up, while admitting the harsh realities of my abilities, talents, and skills. 

I'm happy to continue to hope it takes a long time to infiltrate people's attention spans for discovering new music like mine, let my music slowly seep into getting recommended via playlists and word of mouth, let it percolate down into more people's music consumption habits over the long haul.  It is highly likely it's all a pipe dream, and after I'm dead and gone, there will be no trace evidence that I ever put new music into the world at all.  I'm cool with that.  Maybe self-assessment can help me narrow down what it is I like about making music.  Maybe you can identify and relate to my self-assessment:

Marketer/Publicist:  Self-promotion is something I have no talent for or desire to do, not wanting all the negative things fame and celebrity would bring, yet still wanting increased awareness and sales of my music, having no budget for such things whatsoever, while remaining unwilling to do anything that would help like losing weight, getting dressed up for pro photos/videos, pitching, networking, playing live, seeking publicity, or advertising, happiest doing absolutely none of these aforementioned things.
Performer:  Not bad with stage presence despite lack of confidence in singing, like the applause and attention as everyone does, realize it’s not as fun as songwriting and recording, happy to have the ability and some experience, but choosing to not ever do it very much at all.
Singer:  Not naturally gifted at all, no formal training, realize training and practice likely won’t help much, happy to be able to record own lead & backing vocal tracks on own songs and have them pass as real singing, just not very good singing.
Instrumentalist:  Possibly a little bit naturally gifted, no formal training, not willing to put in the time, money and effort for lessons and practice, realize playing in a band would mean focusing on getting really good at one instrument, happy to be self-taught and adequate at playing several different instruments, able to make multi-track recordings myself to sound like a full band.
Producer/Engineer/Recording Artist:  Possibly a little bit naturally gifted, no formal training, self-taught via experimentation, happy to be able to make my ideas of how I imagine a completed song become a reality.
Songwriter:  Possibly naturally gifted, self-taught in the craft via listening closely to songs I like, can begrudgingly do it on assignment, enjoy it more than any other creative endeavor, possibly a little better with lyrics than melody, happy to be able to do it, but only when the urge strikes.

So, there.  I did it.  I self-assessed the main aspects of music I’ve undertaken.  What did I learn?  I guess it helped me to be honest with myself in thinking about and typing those, and although it confirmed what I already knew, the act of writing it down is an act of being realistic about it, and then to know the areas in which I could enlist pro help if I ever had extra money laying around.  Even more profound is as a result of this little exercise in this little blog post, I wonder if I would hire pros at all - even if I hit the lotto and had plenty of time & money suddenly to help with things like marketing.  I might still choose not to market and secretly just continue to hope I accidentally get popular or magically go viral somehow, but who knows?  You don’t know what that’s like ‘till you’re in that situation.  I know I wouldn’t want the pressure of a loan I’d have to pay back via endless touring like a record company would offer, that’s for sure.  There’s a satisfaction in doing it all myself, but it’s also overwhelming at times. 

I said you can’t be great at everything, but well, Paul McCartney can write beautiful, timeless melodies literally in his sleep, can play a lot of instruments well, can sing well, is a great performer, and is still a way above-average lyricist, so he’s a popular artist who is a rare exception in that he appears to actually be good at everything.  Bob Dylan is a great lyricist, is perhaps underrated at writing melodies, can play several instruments competently, but you wouldn’t ever list him as a great vocalist, and you probably wouldn’t find very many people who say he’s pleasantly appealing as a singer or performer for that matter.  He can sing though, and does in fact sing.  I’m a lot closer to Bob than Paul, no doubt, but dare I even compare myself to either in any way?  Well, I just did, so I’m bold.  Why not, I say.  The drastic difference in the size of the fanbase shouldn’t prevent a comparison.  Any combination of strengths and weaknesses can result in mass appeal.

Another grand revelation of this honest self-assessment is that maybe I’m a little too self-deprecating, rating myself lower than I should, and not accounting for how big an accomplishment it is to be able to teach yourself to do all these things I’ve done.  I should be prouder, and not be afraid to reveal it.  On the other hand, glass half empty self is chiming in that maybe hidden in my self-assessment is a bit of inherent humble-bragging I secretly hope will be revealed by reading between the lines and looking at the overall accomplishments by the astute readers among you.  That would require a pro shrink to help me decide…which is another thing I’ve never been willing to pay for. 

I am proud that I can figure out a lot of things on my own without anyone’s help, including how to stay fairly sane, and how to write and record a bunch of acoustic rock songs that don’t just sound kind of like real songs, they actually are real songs, and they’re pretty damned good.  What else have I learned?  Don’t be afraid to state your opinion of the music you come up with, be both honest about your weakness and strengths.  Stick to your instincts to please yourself with your involvement in music, do the parts you enjoy that make you happy, and don’t stop because you’re not popular….yet!  Not giving up the dream is the same as living the dream.  I like to pretend there are real people out there who are either songwriter/home recording hobbyists like me, or who are simply fans of my music, who might enjoy reading about my random thoughts like this about the hobby and/or craft – whatever you call this thing that I like to do.  Hopefully some of the imaginary people I envision who read this blog will find this post to be inspiring in some way. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Austin's Story


https://singmeastory.org/stories/austin-s-story
I recently got involved with the Sing Me A Story (SMAS) Foundation.  It's a website where they post stories that kids write, and songwriters turn them into songs, then people can donate to the charities the kids are associated with (organizations for children in need).  

The story I picked jumped out at me immediately.  It was a simple, four-sentence story written by a kid named Austin, and it so far had zero songs.  It was called Austin's Story, and its title became the title of the song I wrote and recorded, and its content became the chorus.  

Austin is age 11 and the charity is Gilda's Club, named for Gilda Radner of Detroit, Michigan and Saturday Night Live fame, and co-founded by Gene Wilder, which is a free program of social and emotional support for those feeling the impact of cancer.  The idea is to expand on the child's initial imagination in their story by making it into a song that is then shared with the child and others within the organization. 

Here is Austin's story:  https://singmeastory.org/stories/austin-s-story.  

Here is how you can donate, which allows you to own a copy of the song:  https://singmeastory.org/song-payments/1332.  I've set an initial goal of $1,000.00.

Here are the song lyrics:

Austin's Story

Words by Austin and Scott Cooley, music by Scott Cooley
Sometimes life is short as we all know Sometimes there’s danger everywhere you go Sometimes we all get hungry, and want to survive Sometimes after you’re gone, you were just a guy Chorus (by Austin): There was a guy He went into a cave A bear ate him The end. Some people are careful, some like to explore Some simple stories leave you craving for more Some authors know details they don’t include Some people are spared, and some become food There was a guy He went into a cave A bear ate him The end. Austin saw the whole thing, he saw it from afar This is Austin’s story, in Austin or wherever you are He didn’t know the guy, no he didn’t know the bear He lived to tell us all about it, thank God Austin was there Some like to hideout, some like to hibernate Some are just innocent victims of fate Maybe the bear was good and the guy was bad We’ll never know if it made Austin happy or sad There was a guy He went into a cave A bear ate him The end. No one knows why Maybe he was brave No one will hate him My friends There was a guy He went into a cave A bear ate him The end.


All the proceeds from the song's jukebox will go toward Gilda's Club - Simcoe Muskoka in California and The Sing Me a Story Foundation. It has been sent to the organization the child is a part of for the kids! Don't forget, everyone who donates will receive the song as an Mp3 with their donation receipt. Hashtag :
#SingMeAStory Twitter : @SMASFoundation Instagram : sing_me_a_story Facebook : www.facebook.com/singmeastory I am extremely grateful for your support!

Friday, April 3, 2020

Perfection in music is boring, pandemic brings positive change

Scott Cooley:  Keeping it first-take fresh, and all-acoustic for no apparent reason?

“Perfection has one grave defect: it is apt to be dull.” – W. Somerset Maugham

A great thing is happening with music these days:  because of Coronavirus, musicians are streaming videos of themselves online singing and performing on acoustic guitars live in their homes.  You get to hear what people sound like without their bands, without their sound systems, and without their digital effects you would normally hear them using if you went to one of their shows where they performed on a stage.  You get to hear what the songs sound like in their purest, most naked and real forms as opposed to the artificially-enhanced recorded studio album versions.  It might be one of the greatest things to happen to music ever in our lifetimes!

Things are getting back to a style of music delivery I love as a music fan and consumer, harkening back to the days before electricity.  It’s hopefully making people realize it’s the best way to enjoy music.  It might even make the general public collectively more appreciative of music like the kind I make.  Maybe more will understand all of the good reasons why I prefer to keep it first-take fresh and all-acoustic as a general approach to recording.

It takes guts to write songs, record them, and then offer up those creations for public consumption.  When you do it, you pat yourself on the back that at least you tried, and reassure yourself that trying is better than never starting at all.  You have to start somewhere, and I hereby argue, you have to finish somewhere too. 

By that I mean you need to raise up the babies that are your songs and use a gut instinct to know when to quit trying to perfect them, then send them out into the world to fend for themselves.  Opening your creations up to judgment and criticism is about intentionally being vulnerable without being ashamed.  I’ve done that a lot, and I’m proud.  That said, are there still little things in retrospect I would change here and there?  Yes, a few, but surprisingly, not that many.

My motto is you can’t be great at everything, but you can try, only when you do, it’s better to not try too hard. I have the sweet sound effects and software to make the fake music on my computer.  All the bells and whistles at my disposal.  It doesn’t make sense to most people why I wouldn’t want to use them.  Why try to play all the instruments yourself?  Why not fix your out of tune notes?  Why not do take after take until you finally nail it or at least comp the best parts to a perfect track?

It wouldn’t be a total waste of my time, but it’s not the best use of my time.  I know wrong notes and off-key vocals and off-beat drums can be cringe-worthy.  I’d rather be working on writing more new songs instead of lining everything up to a perfect grid.  Perfection is overrated, and even though I believe that, I’m still one to let people know it’s intentional and I know I’m not great at everything.  It’s important to be able to admit your weaknesses and laugh at your mistakes and be proud of your approach and style, even when it defies common sense.

I am probably a little over-conscious of my imperfections.  I also like to think I have a good sense of humor.  Like most stand-up comedians who quickly like to get it out there what it is about them that makes them different or imperfect, I’m quick to do that about my music as evidenced in this blog.  It’s rare to see a fat comedian not do a fat joke, or a minority comedian to not cover racism in a funny way.

Self-deprecation and being able to laugh about yourself and your flaws is healthy, and arguably, can contribute to people liking you.  In the same way, flaws in music can arguably make that music more enjoyable to listen to.  Mine definitely qualifies as being flawed, but it was the best I could do at the time, and I know from experimentation that endlessly tweaking things in the interest of perfection can reduce the likability.

Quantizing is a thing you can do with music recording software that makes music perfect.  A majority of popular, mainstream music today is artificially perfected in this way.  They use auto-tune for vocals, virtual instruments, drum loops, synthesizers, and then they automatically align everything to be evenly spaced to a certain number of beats per minute.  To me, it’s disappointing and not very interesting or fun to listen to as compared with the old-fashioned ways of making music.  There doesn’t seem to be much room for improvisation anymore. 

“Bands” are increasingly made up of a digital keyboard player, a person with a laptop, and a singer.  It makes me yearn for the days before technology became so prevalent, when live music was a bunch of people playing real instruments.  Bands were recorded live, while all played simultaneously.  Things that would be considered “mistakes” to be corrected today were left in – and they were often happy accidents that were pleasingly imperfect and human and real. 

I personally prefer real drawings and paintings vs. works of visual art created with software.  I like to see real human actors and natural scenery in movies as opposed to computer-generated characters and imagery.  I like human-crafted physical objects vs. those manufactured by robots or 3D printers.  Imperfections are a part of what makes art beautiful.  The more you learn about music, the more you listen to music with a trained ear, and the more likely you are to hear imperfections you may not have noticed when you knew less. 

Great instrumentalists make great mistakes.  There are recorded solos by Jimi Hendrix where you can hear what you might at first think are errors, but it’s how he blends them in as if intentional, how he rebounds from them so brilliantly that you think they were there for a good reason – to send him off into a different, previously-unpredictable direction that is delightful. 

Great singers make great mistakes.  Even the greats like Elvis or Aretha or Robert Plant are able to do the same type of thing – hit some incorrect notes that might at first sound “pitchy” which they can then bend and riff into some unexpected, soaring surprises that are pleasing to the ear while still satisfyingly resolving to the home territory confines of the key the song is in. 

Similarly, great songwriters make great mistakes.  There are recorded songs by Neil Young for example, where at first I detect areas where I think I would’ve done a little editing – rewritten a few lines here and there maybe, but then I realize he did the best he could at the time, and left in things that preserved some spontaneity and freshness and character that over-editing would’ve wrecked.

Imperfections define us as much as our attributes that are closer to perfect, I suspect, and they both contribute to what makes others appreciate us.  A part of what makes me like certain musical artists more than others is their recognizable flaws because it makes them easier to relate to, I think.  We’re all human, we all make mistakes, no one is perfect, and music cannot and should not be perfect.

The greatest live music listening experience I’ve ever had was at Preservation Hall in New Orleans.  That was a real as it gets.  Old building, old music, real instruments, wood floors, close proximity to musicians, no PA system, no amplifiers, no technology, intimate.  Dixieland Jazz at it’s finest and most authentic.  Live and in your face and wonderful. Imperfections?  Yes, but great bands cover for each other, fill in gaps so well, that only musically-trained ears could detect the small flaws – astute listeners could detect them if they wanted to, but it would be hard work – and who wants to listen that intently and critically? 

The more you know about music, the more you’re able to detect flaws in music, but at the same time, the more you appreciate great music, and the more you hear past the flaws to enjoy the whole – it’s the sum of the parts that make for a great listening experience.  It’s the overall listening experience that matters – the atmosphere, the other fans in the audience, the interaction, the give and take, the banter, the reaction, the movement, the spontaneous applause, the backstory, the history.  The weaknesses in addition to the strengths are what makes an artist – and a person for that matter – likeable.

You can come up with some really cool sounds with technology that didn’t exist before nowadays, and that is by definition creative.  You can make great dance music with perfect beats.  You can fix mistakes.  These are arguably good things, but I think when computers and artificial intelligence write and record our music for us, we’ve gone too far and we’re close to that now, which means we’re in trouble.  We’ve come a long way, perhaps too long, from those important traditions of our roots.  I’d like too see the trends head back from where we are now is all.

There’s a part in the studio version of If I Fell by the Beatles – one of the best recordings of one of the best songs ever written – in which Paul McCartney screws up part of a harmony vocal and his voice cracks.  My wife Lenore loves that part of the song, and it’s actually one of her all-time favorite records to listen to as a result.  Enough said.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Big Egos and Grandiose Notions: How Songwriters Act in Times of Crisis

We’ve never seen anything quite like this in our lifetimes.  As songwriters shelter in place, they are no doubt contemplating writing, recording and releasing songs to make people feel better during a sad time for the world.  I’m not an exception. 

Instead of some sort of save the world through song, Live Aid-style thing, I’ll probably want to get out a few more songs from my bedroom here in Michigan somehow.  Maybe another album, maybe a single, maybe just hit record on the computer webcam and upload a solo performance of a new previously-unreleased original to YouTube.

When the lucky, famous, wealthy and privileged people seemingly have advantages to get tested before the rest of us regular folk, you dread the inevitable indulgent all-star jam for a worthy cause, and this cause is different.  Thankfully, you won’t get all those celebs on the same stage together for quite a while.

Don’t die with the music in you.  That’s from a t-shirt I saw a while back in a songwriter magazine.  I’ve got some good ones in progress, and some completed ones I haven’t released yet.  The thought has crossed my mind that I’ve got some risk factors, and when dead and gone, my wife won’t be able to figure out how to get my recordings of my songs off my computer and put them online, so no one will ever hear them.  Not that there’s a big demand in my case, but these are the types of thoughts that can cross our minds lately.

You can bet that the recording artists with a certain level of self-importance like that perhaps misunderstood Bono guy from U2 for example are going to record a video or house concert with a new, uplifting song, and those who were already generally annoyed by him will be more annoyed than ever.  I predict you’ll see a wave of similar popular acts and famous artists hit the internet and YouTube with something similar in the coming months, and the pretention levels will be high.  That said, it’s all good.

Whether we can relate to a sad song about loss, or feel uplifted by a song with a “stay positive, we’ll get through this” sentiment, such new music will be a welcome escape for those of us with internet connections, and for those without, at least for those who still have electricity, we’ll take solace and comfort in our old CDs and records on a home stereo of some kind, or maybe even the now-old-fashioned thing called a radio. 

In an unprecedented time when Amazon has stopped selling CDs and vinyl records, might as well take advantage of the seclusion and alone time to get inspired and “re-kindle” the creative fires.  So when you’re stuck in the house, and your guitar is there, and there’s a computer to type and record on, songwriters are going to do what they do, whether they really think their songs can truly make a difference in the world or not.

I’m no different.  If you have this hobby, you can’t help it.  It’s a way to get your feelings off your chest, and a creative outlet is a good way to spend your time instead of constantly consuming the latest sad news and living in fear.  I’m on a bit of a roll of late, having written and recorded a few new songs this year.  It’s fun, and it takes your mind off worrying about the future. 

You can’t help but wonder if your latest new inspirational song could catch on and make a difference to people by cheering them up or providing a calming influence or temporary escape from the fear.  Few can make money from writing and recording songs these days, but that’s not why you do it anyway – it’s out of pure passion.

When you think you’ve written a good one, and one that would be particularly impactful during tough times, you’re tempted to put it out as a single right away, rather than wait for enough songs to release a whole album.  You’re also tempted to just record a solo video of yourself singing and playing it live because the reality is you might not be around long enough to release that next album.

It occurs to you in times like these that you won’t be around forever, and little will remain, but maybe some of the songs will still be floating around the internet.  That’s the hope.  Long after I’m dead and gone, this little blog nobody knows about or reads might still exist, and if so, its posts will collectively tell some type of larger story about some dead guy who used to write songs and record them while he was alive.

The optimist in me believes I’ll survive, and the songwriter in me thinks it’s one of the reasons I was put on this Earth.  I seriously have this grandiose notion that it’s part of God’s plan for me – to stick around and keep putting new music out into the world.  It may be funny to some to hear that because I realize I’m not famous or even particularly good.  I’m aware I’m not a great singer or musician, but it could be that my ego is telling me I’m a decent songwriter, and that’s a part of my life’s purpose.

Praise is a strong word, but if you’ve interpreted positive feedback from people about your songs, the realist in you might chalk it up as being “kind and polite,” but your ego reassures you that it’s genuine.  If you’re at all like me, you know you have these thoughts from time to time, and that you’ve been spared so far because it’s a contribution you make, and further, that it might even be important in some way. 

When you’re confident enough to call yourself a songwriter, whether you qualify in the minds of experts or not, you keep on with it regardless of your abilities because you can pause for a while, but you can’t ever stop completely, even if all you can do is write in your head.

Indeed, I have had people tell me they enjoyed my songs before, and that fact tells me I’ve already made a small difference in people’s lives.  Just a little of that serves as fuel to keep going.  You can’t help but want to help, and writing and recording a song is a way you can help. 

It comes naturally to people like me, so you can expect that in a much smaller way, sad and pathetic as it may sound, I’ll probably be jumping on the bandwagon and joining the ranks of all these artists you’ll be getting inspirational songs from during this challenging time in the world.  We’re all going to die eventually, but it’s going to be okay.  You keep doing what you do in whatever time you have left.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Why acoustic guitars are so much better for songwriters than electrics


It may be that playing an acoustic guitar instead of an electric is doing it the hard way, or a wimpy way, depending on how you look at.  Electrics are tougher, meaner, wilder and more aggressive sounding, but they’re easier on the fingers to play.  You don’t have to press as hard, the necks are thinner and faster.  Bronze wound acoustic steel strings build up calluses on your fingers and thus kind of get you in better shape for playing.  Higher action and heavier strings on acoustics, lower and lighter on electrics.  Hard rock on an electric is easier to play, soft rock on an acoustic is harder to play, one could argue.

Depending on your preferences, acoustics can perhaps sound harsh and rougher on the ears, whereas electrics have a slick smooth sheen about their sound.  The sustain and effects can hide a lack of good playing technique, whereas acoustics leave you naked and can easily reveal the little mistakes.  On the other hand, acoustics played well can be simply beautiful.  The music they produce may be lighter sounding, and the actual weight of them is physically lighter.  Electrics can be uncomfortably heavy to play and the necessary shoulder straps can hurt your shoulders and give you neck and back problems, especially when you’re older.

To use an all-American baseball analogy, acoustics could be considered like practicing batting swings with several wooden bats in the on deck circle before throwing them on the ground and stepping up to the plate with a light aluminum bat.  Maybe electric guitars are aluminum bats, and maybe amplifiers and effects pedals are like swinging with corked bats.  I have a preference throughout my playing and recording "career" to stick with acoustics, not for practice to get in shape for electric playing, but even when I have electrics available at my disposal, I almost always choose the old dreadnaught.  It’s more handy for writing, and I just prefer the tone they make more when recording.

I’ve stayed true to a signature sound that includes the acoustic guitar as the primary instrument in my music.  It evolved naturally.  I was not a musician until several years into adulthood.  Before that, I was a music fan.  Early on, I was a fan of music my parents liked, which included early 70s folk rock, an example of which was the John Denver records they had in their collection.  His music also featured acoustic guitar, his lyrics were about the beauty of the natural world, he was an environmentalist, he seemed like a nice guy, and he liked skiing – all things I appreciated, even as a young boy.

As I got a little older, I got into the hard rock of the late 70s with my peers, which included musical acts who also had acoustic songs like Neil Young and even Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.  On the radio, I’d hear the soft rock artists like America, Gordon Lightfoot, James Taylor, Paul Simon, CSN, Jim Croce, Cat Stevens, Van Morrison, and Bread.  This is what I grew up on.  The late 70s brought a myriad of changes that lasted through the entire 80s that were not great for acoustic music – with the exception being the Violent Femmes, a huge influence on me.

Disco and punk faded out as new wave, pop and hair metal came and went along with grunge in the early 90s.  Then came the unplugged MTV show and related album releases of the early 90s – it was getting appealing again – with rock bands playing rock music on all acoustic instruments.  From about the turn of the century onward though, acoustic music has been off the beaten path and underground for the most part.  Mainstream country sounds like bad rock music sung with a southern twang accent, which I don’t have a taste for.

There’s always been this undercurrent of serious folk – last popular in the 60s and slowly dying since with the baby boomer crowd – that’s just somehow not cool or fun enough for me.  It should be no surprise the singer-songwriter genre leans more toward rock than folk, and features the acoustic guitar.   Along the way, I somehow discovered the good stuff from before I was born – the early acoustic blues and hillbilly music., the acoustic songs of the Beatles, etc.  Online discovery and recommendation has led me to discover the odd gem I somehow missed along the way like Elliott Smith.

The cheap, used acoustic is a typical first guitar for many, and I’m no exception.  It’s easier to find sheet music or chords online for guitar than other instruments when you’re learning covers of your favorites early on.  Because I was raised on rock, the guitar is a natural choice, because there was at least one in all these bands I liked.  It’s great to learn on, and there’s just something about the immediacy of being able to just pick it up and make sound without the hassle of having to plug anything in.

When the creative urge strikes, you want to capture what you can as soon as you can so you don’t lose the magic.  Over-editing and over-producing can achieve slick perfection, but I like the rough edges.  On the other hand, I have a soft side, I’m a mellow laid-back kind of person, so it’s just a part of what suits my style and personality I guess.

It’s also a lot easier to emulate the songs you like as opposed to playing a bass, drums, or a horn to sing along with, so it’s the ultimate solo instrument.  It’s made of trees, so it’s pretty organic.  They’ve been around a long time.  They’re portable, and you don’t need extra stuff like an amp and a cable to get sound out of it.  You don’t need to be near electricity, so you can hike into the wild and entertain around a campfire.

For all these reasons and more, it’s possibly the best instrument to write songs on as well.  You get a faster idea to recording transfer.  They tend to stay in tune better than electric guitars.  They rest on your leg easily while sitting without the need for a shoulder strap.  You don’t have to turn knobs to dial in a sound first – just grab it and start playing.

I love me some loud electric guitars from time to time so don’t get me wrong – I’m not knocking them.  In early jazz and blues bands, acoustics weren’t loud enough to be heard live, so amplification helped with volume.  It’s arguably cool to get more sustain for certain styles, as it is to add effects like reverb and distortion.  Too much of that can get annoying in a hurry though.  I guess it’s just more pleasing to my ears than electric – that’s the bottom line.

It could be that as people get older their music tastes might tend to mellow a bit, and that would be true with me to some degree, although as already stated, I’ve always been a fan of the mellow stuff.  Another factor is that I don’t want to impair my hearing further, and want to preserve what I have, so I’m cautious about excessive volume as I get older.  I have played electrics in bands, some of which accompanied acoustics, and I like me some crazy digital noises on occasion, but I like the honesty of an acoustic guitar better, and both as a fan of other music as well as my own, I gravitate toward an all-acoustic unplugged overall sound in general.

As a songwriter, I want to put my ideas to music quickly, before I lose the muse, and an acoustic is great for that.  A typical way to record is to lay down a rhythm guitar track first before you add bass, drums, vocals, or keyboards, so my first track is often an acoustic rhythm track.  Due to my tastes, it just so happens that I like to hear my songs in an acoustic style as well, so I don’t replace it with electric.  I also enjoy knowing I’m not using digital, electronic and technological trickery.  It feels more true and real and authentic with an acoustic, like I’m not cheating.  No covering up imperfections with fake sounds or software fixes.

In the back of my mind, I know it’s a little harder to play than an electric, and for some reason, I like knowing I’m doing something that’s a little more difficult.  Some of the primarily electric guitar musicians who went on the unplugged show revealed they weren’t that good on acoustics, and you don’t want to be like them in that way.  I’m not a take the easy way out person.  In several areas of my life, my personality has been such that I’ve intentionally and perhaps even stupidly, done things the hard way as a general approach, but there’s a greater satisfaction in it for me knowing that.

It has been said that if a song is really good, it sounds good with just a single guitar, as if when stripped of additional instrumentation and studio polish, the true quality of the songwriting can really shine.  Some songs are band songs, and don’t sound great when performed solo on one instrument.  So, in this way, a songwriter has a better idea if the song can stand alone that it will possibly be even better when doctored up with accompaniment.

In it’s pure, raw form a good song will sound good on an acoustic guitar, so it’s a good test, and a way to get immediate feedback when playing live or listening back to a demo recording.  For me, I always opt to keep the initial scratch rhythm acoustic track in the mix, and take it from there.  I even prefer to play fills and solos with an acoustic as well, just because my ears like what I hear better.  So it’s through this preference based on many aforementioned good reasons that I’ve evolved into a primarily acoustic solo recording artist, and why I feel strongly that the acoustic guitar is better than an electric for writing songs.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Pennies From Heaven – 2019 Year In Review


As an independent musician, you record at home and upload digital files to the cloud, and then when people buy/listen, you can get micro-fractions of pennies that can add up to actual pennies eventually, trickling down like a soft rain over time from the heavenly skies of the world wide web.

When you write songs, record them, and then distribute them to online music stores, there are ways you can check in with some of them to see if any of your music had sales.  Mine did in 2019.  Again, I earned enough to cover the distribution cost, and so theoretically at that point I’m only out my labor cost.  Since it’s a labor of love, it’s all good.

Sales reporting with these stores/services is a little sketchy, but most of the big ones at least paint a positive picture for you, with some even offering stats and demographic data.  In case you were curious, and because I believe in being somewhat transparent about my humble achievements (or lack thereof), I thought I'd share some of the details about what I consider a small but true success in the music industry.  It may be sad or funny, but for those of you who were customers, I sincerely thank you!  Here’s a summary of what happened with my music last year:

CDs

Amazon Music

It appears that I sold a whopping 4 total CDs on Amazon.  Guess it’s true that hardly anyone buys CDs anymore.  It may be a bit sad, but if you consider 2019 was not a year in which I offered a new album, it may be seen as a positive.  The good news is there were some royalty payments from Japan’s Amazon store, so that’s cool.  Not sure what was sold or bought exactly, or how the yen transfer from Amazon.co.jp, but there were some micro-transactions of some kind.  I can’t really say I’m big in Japan as I’d like to be able to, but I think I can at least safely say I’m small there now.

CD Baby

The total sales here amounted to around $67, which is probably around 5 CDs, although there’s some digital mixed in, and I’m not quite sure about the accounting breakdown.  The biggest selling album continued to be Lakeside Landing (released in 2004, which has the “hit” Mackinac Island on it), followed by “Missing The Boat,” my 2018 album.

Radio

Pandora

I made the astronomical amount of $0.02 – yes that’s two cents – from Pandora Premium, but I was just recently added in late 2019 to this store/service/radio station or whatever it’s called.  I posted a news story about this here:  http://www.scottcooley.com/scott-cooley-web-site/news/thumbsupscottcooleymusicnowonpandora

iHeartRadio

Didn’t really know if this service was going to fade away or not, but it didn’t, and people bought my music on here too.  Or at least they listened to it via “radio” streaming, which somehow actually resulted in a few pennies for me.

Video

YouTube

I uploaded a total of 37 videos and gained 16 subscribers.
My videos had a total of 18 watch hours and 18 likes.
Overall, there were 673 total views.
For me, this was kind of a big deal.  View them all here:  https://www.youtube.com/c/scottcooley

The Big Four Streamers 

YouTube Music

I earned $0.07, seven cents, from this new service, which ain't much, but not bad if you consider this does not include sales from the former Google Play Music, which I had previously directly distributed to.  I can’t say enough good things about this new service though.  It “pulls in” my actual YouTube videos from my official channel, and the service gets you ad-free audio and video for your ten bucks a month.  I highly recommend this as the best way to stream now.  Google really got it right with this one.

Amazon Music Unlimited

I hear these guys will be at the forefront of the hi-res or hi-def audio in the future, so they are one to be on the lookout for.  It’s different than buying my actual CDs on Amazon’s main online store though.  This is an actual streaming service.

This was split into two pools of income called Amazon US Premium and Amazon UK Premium, which I’m happy about.  Being discovered somehow online by people in the United Kingdom is encouraging.  I also got one from Amazon DE, so maybe that’s Denmark or Germany, not sure.
Amazon Prime:
I also had one sale from Amazon Prime IN, which I think means India, not Indonesia or Indiana, so that’s an exotic far-away place that has me excited.  Big and growing online music market over there, so I’ve gathered.  Assuming this was not from the streaming service though.

Apple Music

131 plays
Reached a high of 10 daily plays in Canada!
Other top countries included:
South Africa 5
Germany 3
Russia 2

Top 5 Songs:
  1. Against the Tide
  2. Mackinac Island
  3. In My El Camino
  4. I Did a Bad Thing
  5. Cooley’s Rap


Top Cities:
  1. New York
  2. Toronto
  3. Detroit
  4. Memphis
  5. Grand Rapids


Spotify

My single “Too Late To Turn Back Now” was submitted to Spotify Editors.
My top 4 biggest streams were:
  1. Mackinac island – 53
  2. I Did A Bad Thing – 34
  3. Puttin’ Up A Pole Barn – 30
  4. Shred Betty – 20

Fastest rate was 14 streams per hour on July 3rd.

Upward trends included the following percentage increases:
^33% playlist adds
^44% followers
^14% total listeners

Total stream time for the year: 12 hours
My music was heard in 43 countries from Argentina to Taiwan
My audience grew 84% in Netherlands!

Others

iTunes

Apparently, there’s still an iTunes in both Japan and Canada, or at least it did exist in 2019, as I did have some very minor sales in those countries.  There was also one in Mexico which I’m thrilled about, and some place just named “other territories” in addition to Europe.  There’s also a micro-payment from iTunes Match – Americas on there, whatever that is.

Bandcamp

Someone bought the entire “Cherchez La Femme” album which was a bit unusual for this service, and a bunch of people bought the single download of “Mackinac Island,” as usual.  My top three free stream plays, however, were as follows:
  1. Coney
  2. Used To Be Good Looking
  3. Watchin’ The World Go By 


Napster

Quite a few pennies achieved on this site.  Didn’t know it even existed anymore, let alone actually paid artists, but that’s what happened.

Deezer

Surprisingly, I made quite a bit of micro-fractions of pennies adding up to a few dollars on this one.

Tidal

I actually had a few sales, not just plays, but downloads, from Tidal, which paid me a few pennies as well.

Facebook

I have no idea how the dreaded Facebook sold my music and then paid me a couple pennies for it, but somehow it happened, despite me not ever putting my music on there.

United Media Agency

No idea who these guys are, but they paid me a bunch of times, mostly for less than one penny each time.  OK, just looked them up and they are Russian and own email and social networks there.  UMA, I approve. 



In Conclusion

Overall, not bad (for me)...and not bad for a non-release year.  It's exciting to know that people far from my home base here in Michigan have discovered and purchased my music.  It's also exciting to know the sales have helped offset some of my investment in instruments and recording equipment.  Most of all, it's exciting to know that there is a small and steadily-growing fanbase.  Check in again to learn more about my next album slated for release this coming June.  Thanks again for your support!

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Riding the Drought Out


Thanksgiving is a time of abundance ‘round here, a time of overeating and napping and leftovering and bulking up to survive the winter ahead and watching a favorite movie like The Big Lebowski, and yet, it can also be a time of doing without and being hungry.  We reflect on our fortunes, thankful we’re able to contribute to the world in some way.  A big contribution of mine has been the ability to put music out into the world that didn’t exist before, even though I know all art is derivative of other art in small ways.  Having learned a little about writing and plagiarism over the years, I’d like to think if I’m copying, I’m not creating, but I know some can be unconscious.  None of us are immune to influence.

Feeling bad about past mistakes, mostly those of the foot-in-mouth or impatience variety, I’m coming to realize those are normal, and it’s okay that they happen.  I’m at that age where I’m taking notice of the inevitable decline of my parents’ generation, the decline of loved ones, of people’s bodies wearing out, of time being precious.  It’s also a time in which I’ve paid closer attention to advice about aging gracefully, and that includes not stopping what you’re passionate about.  Keep working, they say.  Don’t retire.  Stay active.  Have a purpose.  Do the things that get you excited to be alive.  For me, one of those is writing songs and recording music.  I’m thankful I have this hobby.

It’s been a while since I updated you in this blog on my activities.  I’ve been hanging out, enjoying life, going to the day job every day, boldly trying new things, tolerating, abiding.  Not much going on as far as creative output for a while, blogging or otherwise, but I remain convinced the future holds more.  You may have already become aware of the recent addition of more music videos on my official YouTube channel for your enjoyment.  The good news is there’s at least a couple more new albums on the way, and a lyric/chord songbook project.  As another winter approaches, you can hunker down for the holidays, get out and ski, and be assured that droughts don’t last because they never do.

Writer’s block or not, focusing on other things and waiting works, important things like family and survival, and the tension of expectation and demand can motivate.  I can only assume from the analytics that there are people who want to know about these things, that I have actual readers of this blog, that there are actual fans of my music and that they might be curious to learn more, although I know not who you are.  With all the competition for our free time and all the creative works out there to discover, it’s a wonderful thing.  I’m fortunate to have creative outlets, but as I’ve said before, just knowing there’s the potential for appreciators is an exciting boost to wait around for more inspiration to arrive.

Throughout my pretend “career” as a songwriter and recording artist, I’ve felt the need whether in blogs or real conversations with people to use my self-deprecating style to downplay the quality of my music secretly hoping it will make people pleasantly surprised should they actually make a decision to check it out.  Maybe the wisdom of age has taught me such an approach protects me from negative reaction pain, but at the same time it has taught me that talking about it at all in the first place helps it happen.  Telling people about creative projects you’re thinking about taking on makes them more likely to happen.  The fake-it-‘till-you-make-it approach works.

When you tell someone about a project you might take on, that in itself becomes a seed that can lead to germination.  Similarly, experience has also taught me that it is the ideas for songs that are the most important part.  Have a good enough idea for a song, and it will practically write itself, I’ve found.  The same theory applies to an idea for a blog post, a book, a project of any kind.  Writing this post will probably get me back on track, because I’m admitting to you and myself that if experience is a guide, more will materialize.  The complete opposite approach can work as well.  The prolific Stephen King doesn’t believe in ideas or outlines, and instead just starts typing his way through to completed works.  I guess I’m sort of doing that here in this post, with no concrete point in mind yet.

I am currently experiencing another prolonged period of abnormally low occurrences of songwriting, leading to a shortage of new material to record.  I’ve ridden out many since I wrote my first song back in the winter of ’89-’90, my first living in Vail, Colorado.  Many of the early songs I wrote in my ski bum days have made their way through rounds of revisions to become “release worthy” by my own weird standards, and new recordings of them in their final states will be making appearances on my next two albums – Bluebird Days I and II – which not surprisingly will include several that are either about skiing, mention skiing, or that were inspired by skiing.  If you’re into skiing, Vail is an inspiring place.

Speaking of inspiration and rocky mountain winters, riding out creative droughts for me is usually a microcosm of life in that it’s a temporary low, and like life, it’s full of highs and lows, peaks and valleys, strikes and gutters as the fellow says.  Dudes, and I’m talking about ski bums here, back in the early 90s, like me who were out there at that time and place, skiing, fitting in, takin’ ‘er easy for the rest, were easily inspired to write songs.  I was young, everyone around was young, the mountains were beautiful, the girls were beautiful, the powder and vertical capacity abundant, weed burning, beer flowing, etc.  I was also flat broke and in debt the whole time.  I learned life is about balance:  don’t get too high when things are going your way, don’t get too low when they’re not.

I try to not worry when the hobby of writing/recording is on hiatus.  Just like the weather, the situation is guaranteed to change based on history.  With a couple albums ready to release (one of which got pre-released already due to a distribution snafu beyond my control), it’s even easier to take it easy.  Everyone needs and benefits from time to reflect to get a fresh perspective, just as they need time off from a regular day job.  Time away makes you appreciate it more, as can be the case with love relationships too.  Most of us with a passion this hobby don’t do it for a living, and so we wait for the muse clouds to show up again. 

I feel lucky every time they do, as if it’s an honor and privilege to be chosen, so I am careful about not abusing the power or taking the gift for granted.  I realize that could arguably be construed as a self-deprecating sarcastic or ironic joke to those who don’t like my songs, but I assure you it’s unintentional.  It’s truly a blessing from a higher power to be able to write songs and record music at all.  Sometimes you deserve a break, and sometimes that break really sets you up better than ever to be prolific again.  Weather the dry as you do the stormy, appreciating the upside of both.  Balance.

Some claim you can force it, treat it like a job, schedule regular time for it, which can work.  I’ve tried that here and there, and the ratio of keeper to weeded out material is about the same.  You end up with more recyclable bits and pieces of songs that way, which can be good.  On the other hand, I tend to just wait and go with the flow when the songs rain in again.  It’s not unlike a ski bum waiting for a powder day.  It’s going to happen again whether you pray for it or prepare for it or not, and when it does, you’ll know what to do and be “stoked” which is far from some kind of Eastern parlance.  Here in the lukewarm midwestern swing state of Michigan, there’s a lot of abiding going on.  You’ve got the guitar, the computer with word processor and audio interface, the microphones, etc. all ready to be fired up again.

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then certainly a temporary lack of creativity will make you like it even more when the new songs show up again.  Meantime, you find other free time pursuits, keep busy, try to help make a difference in the world in other ways.  Yes, adding songs to the world that didn’t exist before is a contribution to society, one that is in my humble opinion, a noble pursuit.  It shows you have fine personal qualities and high moral principles and ideals if you want to put new artistic creations into the world for people to potentially enjoy.  Knowing even just a few people out there are entertained by your music is very satisfying, and it’s worth riding out the droughts to be able to do it again.

Good art imitates nature, and it’s natural for seasons to change, and good art imitates good art, and to everything there is a season, mistakes happen, shit happens, dudes abide, all things must pass, and in turn whether it’s a movie or skiing or music, the world will not run out of it, you just might have to wait for a little while is all.  Re-use clich├ęs, be not tired of the trite and contrived, everything is a re-hashing of everything that came before, and whether the art be high and fancy or lowdown and dirty, or not someone’s cup of tea, there’s nothing to worry about or fear – that would be a waste of time.  Live each day like it’s your last, seizing carp, and you might die in a song drought, but overall, you died with many songs because you rode out many a drought.  

I’m not clear on the psychology to explain why I always feel the need to warn people my music likely won’t be their cup of tea.  Lowering their expectations and hoping they’ll be pleasantly surprised is the opposite of tooting your own horn.  The confidence to admit you think your own creative work is pretty good is the same confidence that kicks in when you say you’re going to do something and then end up actually doing it.  Being true to your word aside, sometimes you have to commit yourself to things in life, dive in and start swimming, whether you think you know how to keep yourself from sinking or not.  Go without fear of failing, I say, because failing is not the end of the world.  Don’t freak out about the ideas not materializing, be calm knowing they will eventually, and when they do, run with them.  In times of creative famine, know a feast of excitement will return.