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SAC Blogging Challenge 2013


Photo credit: Mose (of Wiggly Toes Music Productions). All rights reserved.


Pat Pattison’s 6-week FREE online Songwriting course on coursera.org begins March 1

The course is about to start and I am thrilled!  I will spend six weeks learning from the great man himself!  Most songwriters have discovered Pat Pattison and Berklee Online before too long.

I’m proud to be a member of the Songwriters’ Association of Canada and I’m not new to the online learning experience.  I have the Studio Production Diploma from Berklee Music Online, which took a year of study with them over three terms, and was great value.   It consisted of a pair of 12-week courses on how to operate ProTools effectively, and a 12-week course on the more general topic of production/engineering.

Berklee gave me a quick start on the ProTools software version of the day (2007, I think it was) and now I use ProToolsHD 9.0.1 every day in my home studio.  At the time I was a veteran Logic user but that changed after the Berklee course showed me how well-implemented the automation features in PTHD were.   There are several courses at Berklee Online that cover songwriting, but I didn’t do any of them.  Now’s my chance!

I can’t recommend the Berklee Music online courses highly enough.  They are quite costly, a serious commitment, but you believe in yourself, don’t you?  It is the world’s leading online tuition in music  industry matters.  Go for it.   Being free at Coursera I’d say Pat Pattison’s course is a great place to start.

When I write something I really like, it’s the best feeling in the world.  I’m sure my fellow songwriters are the same.   It’s why we do it.  I am always excited to gain fresh insights into songs I already know, and love to find new ideas and concepts I can apply to my own work from previously unknown songs.

Thankfully, I really enjoy a re-write if I feel I can do better with an idea that I didn’t quite execute properly, which is key to making the most of a strong song concept!   Paul McCartney didn’t release “Scrambled Eggs” without a bit more work on the words.  He wasn’t born Yesterday!

This SAC blogging and songwriting challenge will deliver ideas and inspiration, and will introduce me to songs I did not previously know, songs that are educationally helpful as well as being exceptional songs.  I’ll learn stuff about songs I already know that casts them in a different light.  It’s very cool.

For me, the course will be a big step into the online world, where I have not really had a presence previously.

I have only been on Facebook since late January (2013).  I am building profiles and pages in different parts of the internet right now – and it’s a very big place!!!

I also joined TAXI.com recently and I can’t wait to see if targeting the listings is going to work for me.  It may be that I prefer to be an artist and then license songs I have recorded already through other avenues, as opposed to putting songs on hold with TAXI for ages with no clear end in sight, but I like the push I get from deadlines and clear directions.  It is a hard task to write to order, but not impossible.

Most of all, I look forward to developing as a writer into a truly unique voice – my own.

I LOVE hooks, so I’m always on the lookout for an interesting turn of phrase or conversational nugget for the lyric, or a memorable melodic twist that launches you to a new place.  I like genuinely hooky hooks, too, as I think it is spiritually unnecessary yet totally awesome to be commercially successful.

Pop hits are fun and largely disposable and that’s OK, I love them to death all the same.  Often, the production is as fascinating as the songwriting in a big pop hit, so I probably need a separate blog for that aspect!

At the moment, my writing influences are pretty apparent in my songs – the Eagles, Neil Young, Beatles, Bob Dylan –  all filled with interesting lessons and surprises on all levels.  I would like to take my writing to contemporary places.  I have a very strong commercial ear and I definitely want to have songs placed on the charts.  Nothing wrong with sales figures!

I particularly enjoy pop and urban production, since it’s a great playground for cool engineering and production ideas, although the majority of my songs (not all, though) are acoustic singer/songwriter things with a bunch of overdubbed instruments and sonic textures, rather than urban Ableton-type efforts.  I like those too, though!

In my studio engineering career, I’ve tracked and mixed 250+ professional sound-alike covers of chart hits for Zomba Music UK – just about every chart style you can imagine.   I felt like a hamster in a wheel in the end but I learned so much about song structures and production approaches that chart successfully.

Everything from Euro-dance to boy-band pop, from Queen to Depeche Mode, from Iron Maiden to Disney soundtrack songs.   It was educational alright, but not at all satisfying once the technical challenges of the extremely rapid workflow were mastered.

I needed to be myself, and I wanted my songs to attract listeners through the song’s quality more than through candy floss production, so I stopped doing covers in the mid 1990’s.

I listen to and buy a lot of new music (paying for music is a quaint concept, I know, but we should set an example to our non-writing friends).   I really like KT Tunstall, Sarah Harmer, Kathleen Edwards, Lucinda Williams, Dixie Chicks, Courtyard Hounds, The Decemberists and all sorts of other stuff from techno to folk, metal, pop, R’n’B, country, you name it.  Anything good is good, as they say.

Despite working with MIDI sequences and samples and drum machines since they first arrived on the scene, I’m now enjoying playing and recording acoustic instruments as much as humanly possible.   Songs breathe better this way.  I can play drums, bass, guitar, piano (even a bit of mandolin, ukulele or lap steel if I’m feeling adventurous and don’t mind a bit of editing!).  I program synths or drum machines when I need to, though I tend to default to using Spectrasonics’ Omnisphere in-the-box for synths, and I like to play all my drums and percussion by hand like the 1970’s Stones and Elton records, unless a machine groove is the order of the day.  Nothing wrong with artificial sounds though, just not my first choice any more.   The contemporary marketplace seems to agree with my desire for organic sounds in songs, especially since Adele and Mumford & Sons came along.

One of the biggest non-technical things I have learned from my studio work on the other side of the glass (30 years or so) is that the production style chosen for recording a given song warrants just as much care and consideration of prosody as any other aspect of writing and recording, and yet a strong song can be produced in all kinds of ways and still engage with an audience in each version.

Thanks for reading, your comments are very welcome.  I’m really looking forward to reading other blogs by folks enjoying this journey together with me.

Let’s write some great songs this year!   And I’ll write shorter blogs!

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One Response to SAC Blogging Challenge 2013

  1. Debra Alexander March 3, 2013 at 1:03 pm #

    Congratulations Michael on your first Blog post!

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dream beautiful music tonight