Tuesday, April 14, 2020

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:  

Here is how you can donate, which allows you to own a copy of the song:  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 : 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.