All posts tagged with songwriting

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On Getting Reviewed

Of course, if you never got a bad review, you won’t have the least idea of what this post is about. And how wonderful for you!

But most of those of an artistic bent who have ventured into the public arena, know perfectly well what a bad review feels like. Devastating, not to put too fine a point on it.

For example, early in my recording efforts, I read a review of one of my albums that began with “First of all, you should know that I hate this kind of music, but…..” and the reviewer went on to inadvertently reveal that he hadn’t listened to more than the first track. My music is very eclectic, a fact which marketers apparently hate, and my fans appear to love. So his detailed description applied only to the first track, and not to the rest, a clear sign that he’d based his review on one track. Be that as it may, it was still shocking and painful to read. Especially since it was my first foray into the public arena. (Fortunately, others liked the album better.)

More recently, a reviewer attacked the production on an album, describing it as “crying out” for more simple treatment. The word “tedious” came up. Ouch.

With any luck, after one recovers from that initial pained surprise, one learns from the legitimate points. Hopefully. And picks up the pen/brush/instrument and lives to write/paint/play another day. And it must be said that most reviewers try to publish well-thought-out, constructive criticism, not mean-spirited one-liners. But because of that, it can feel especially painful when their opinion of your work doesn’t include glowing praise.

OK. But how about when glowing praise is  included?  How about when the reviewer loves every word/stroke/note? How does one respond to that?

“Hah! I knew I was right!” doesn’t really seem appropriate, does it.

I know, of course, to post the good reviews where others can see them. After all, this is a business too, and I want to encourage people to take a chance on my music. But as far as what it does or doesn’t do for me as an artist, that’s kind of a mixed bag.

That being the case, I found a couple of quotes that I have hanging where I can see them easily in my work-space:

“Success is nothing more than going from failure to failure with undiminished enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

and

“Think of yourself as a sieve when it comes to the opinions of others. You’re going to hear wonderful things about yourself. You’re going to hear horrible things. Because you are a sieve, they’re all going to pass through. Do not believe the positive any more than you believe the negative. All feedback falls through the sieve. The only opinion that should matter to you is your own. That is the only opinion that should be solid enough that it doesn’t pass through the sieve.” – (no attribution, I’m afraid. If you know who said this or wrote it, please comment below.)

Both of these quotes speak to the point of not letting “failure” or “horrible things” derail you from your artistic efforts, and that, I think, is a good point to take to heart. (I have a musician friend who is a perfect illustration of that idea. When he started out, people used to wince at his music and smile behind their hands. Now he is an international household name.) But I also believe there is another point to keep in your heart. Don’t let the “successes” and the “good things” derail you either. Smile. Say thank you. Move on. With undiminished enthusiasm.

PS:  Here is one of the reviews for my latest CD.

“Beautifully arranged and sober orchestrated self-penned songs are forming the basics of Jan Seides’ newest record ‘Siren Song’. Her soft and relaxing lovely voice is the so-called ‘cherry on the pie’. She should not keep us waiting for another six years to hear her compositions on a new album.” – www.rootstime.be

If you’d like to hear the music, please go to http://janseides.com/music. There, you’ll find samples and instructions for purchasing. 🙂

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Great Books for Artists (of Any Kind) Pt. 4

Over the years, I’ve found a number of books that got me motivated, thrust me into action, or helped me resolve some of the many stumbling blocks artists are prone to.  I discovered them mostly in random fashion, or they were recommended by a friend, or mentioned in something else I was reading. Here is an aggregated list (about 5 at a time, so you’ll have time to investigate them) of all the ones I found useful, and usually entertaining. (Disclaimer: I am not financially involved in any of these. Just appreciative.)

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 12.57.11 AMJohn Braheny’s The Craft and Business of Songwriting is a comprehensive and eloquent instruction book for those who dream of a career in songwriting. In it are answers, fuel, anecdotes, exercises, and examples from talented and well-known songwriters. This is not a book to sit and read and finish, but rather a reference book that you will want to keep handy.

Much of the information is culled from John’s years of experience, the workshops he presented and from those he interviewed who became his fans and his friends. He has passed on, but his wife, JoAnn is still working on their common legacy and is very active in the community.

John’s book goes all the way from defining creativity and developing a good song, to marketing and making money from your music. An invaluable book to have in one’s collection.

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 1.13.55 AMThe plain, unadulterated fun of making art in any form is often overlooked in the serious discussions of making “good” art.  These two workbooks are about that fun aspect, and they are so appropriately named, I just love using them. Both Songwriter’s Playground, by Barbara Jordan , and Songwriters Coloring Book, by Bill Pere, seem to capture that quality of fun that is what keeps us all addicted to creating art.

 

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 1.12.57 AMBoth contain exercises, scenarios, challenges and the like, all very entertaining and absorbing, and …. well …. fun!

 

 

 

Screen shot 2014-02-18 at 9.38.21 PMAnd finally, a book just about creativity. Once again, an all-around explanation, defining the term, and how to develop it (We all have it!) How to ignore your inner critic.  What drew me to this one was the title: A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative.  It’s actually about using creativity in business, but applies to the artistic endeavor as well, of course. The author, Roger von Oech, Ph.D. wrote another one called A Kick in the Seat of the Pants.  Clearly this man understands the impact of a new idea!

 

If you would like to investigate how this played out in my own songwriting, please check out my music at http://janseidesmusic.com and I’ll send you some examples for free!

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Great Books for Artists (of any kind) Pt. 1

Over the years, I’ve found a number of books that got me motivated, thrust me into action, or helped me resolve some of the many stumbling blocks artists are prone to.  I discovered them mostly in random fashion, or they were recommended by a friend, or mentioned in something else I was reading. Here is an aggregated list (about 5 at a time, so you’ll have time to investigate them) of all the ones I found useful, and usually entertaining. (Disclaimer: I am not financially involved in any of these. Just appreciative.)

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 12.53.22 AMFirst and foremost, the Artists Way by Julie Cameron. With weekly exercises and challenges, good advice and moments of relaxation and enjoyment while one’s artist absorbs energy.  You can do the suggestions in this book multiple times and it will help you in a different way each time.

My favorite quote from it: “OK, Universe. I’ll take care of quantity, and you take care of quality.”

Indeed.

 

 

 

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 12.55.52 AMI have met Pat Pattison in person, and taken many songwriting workshops from him, including one online course (at Coursera.org).  He is a professor of poetry and songwriting at Berklee School of Music in Boston. He is so knowledgeable about what goes into a good song, how to set lyrics so that they “follow the natural contour of the language”, and lots of other aspects of songwriting.

John Mayer was one of his students, so that should give you some idea of the level of quality we’re talking about here.

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 12.56.13 AMAnd he never stops exploring the ways in which a good song becomes a great song. Every time I encounter him, or one of his books, I learn something new and my songs become noticeably better.

 

 

 

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 12.54.04 AMOf all the aspects of making art that prevent creativity, fear is probably the most prevalent and least understood, since we are all so good at putting a good face on it.  This book not only explains why that happens, and what it looks like, it offers suggestions on how to overcome that fear and get busy making your art. The authors are David Bayles and Ted Orland. To quote their introduction: “It is about committing your future to your own hands, placing Free Will above predestination, choice above chance”

And that’s just the introduction!

 

 

 

and finally (for today):

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 2.28.31 PMWhile this book is Jimmy Webb’s personal sojourn through some of his most brilliant songs, it is also practically an instruction book on songwriting. I have read it more than once, loaned it to friends (and gotten it back!!!), and thoroughly enjoyed his retelling of his circumstances, trials and triumphs. And who would know better how to write a great song?

 

 

 

 

 

If you would like to investigate how this played out in my own songwriting, please check out my music at http://janseidesmusic.com and I’ll send you some examples for free!

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Tales of 14-Songs-in-14-Days: Last challenge for 2013!

I haven’t actually finished this one, because I still have one song to go and I’m late.  We’re all a little more lenient with one another in this tribe these days, but I still feel a little guilty talking about it before I’m done.

Nevertheless, here I am talking about it.

One thing I’ve realized out of this 14-Days challenge is that there’s never going to be a time when I have two weeks in which there is nothing else going on.  There will always be another big project at the same time, or traveling I must do, or house guests, or any number of other reasons why I can’t complete.  But they’re all BS.  Long ago, someone told me “If you want to call yourself a writer, than you gotta write.”  And that’s even if you’re not feelin’ it right now, or whatever the current excuse is.  It’s just like every other desire.  If you want to be the kind of person who makes her bed every morning, well, make your bed every morning. Duh!

Well, so this time, I had family in town (Well. Sorta.  They were in San Antonio.), and one of them kicked his childhood to the curb by graduating from the Air Force Basic Training and getting married in the same day. I’m still a little shocked, and eventually, I suppose I’ll write a song, but the song that came out right afterwards is below.  It’s got peculiar origins, as it was based on the names of subdivisions we passed in the car on the way home. Fanciful names in the middle of Nowhere, Texas.  I was delighted. That was Day 13 for me.

Y’know …. I used to think that I had to be high to write, or at least to write well. A lot of illusions have been dispelled since we started doing these challenges.

I was going to try to list my favorites of the other writers involved, but there’s really too many.  But I did want to mention Pattie Stuart who, not 3 weeks ago after some big changes in her life, was saying she didn’t feel like writing.  And then wrote 14 lovely songs.  Way to go, Pattie!

As I said, I still owe one song, so this missive will be a bit shorter than usual, but here’s Silver Valley, with all the usual sound caveats.

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Tales of 14-Songs-in-14-Days: What? Again?

The title of this post was my response when I realized that what we were talking about was doing another 14-day challenge.  I thought we’d proven our point already, and that was more than enough stress for one year.  But, no. Apparently, it wasn’t.

(Pat Pattison actually suggested in one of the workshops that we should do the two weeks, take two weeks to rest after, and then rinse and repeat. This was met with a change of subject by our class.)

Even though I thought I’d already learned everything that was to be learned from this ICU for songwriting, I have to admit that I thought saying no would be a mistake.  What if there was a really good song (I mean, a REALLY good song) lurking somewhere in those next two weeks, just waiting for me to get there.  I could see it now, dressed to the nines, checking its watch, tapping its tiny glass-enclosed tootsies.  Well, maybe not quite. But the truth is, I was afraid to say no and miss it, regardless of what it was wearing. So I said yes.

You may or may not remember, but in one of my earlier posts (Health Issues), I mentioned that I’d been taken to the emergency room for the second time within a short number of years. Like two. The issues weren’t the same, and though the first one turned out not to be very traumatic, the second trip was pretty upsetting and had long-lasting consequences. I suddenly found myself with a giant blood clot in one leg, and for the first time, had to spend several days in the hospital, had surgery, and dealt with my life being totally out of my control. That had happened just before the first 14-day challenge. And by the time this second challenge rolled around, I thought it would be over, but it turned out that it wasn’t. I just wanted to get off the medication and go back to my “real” life, but there were still some mountains to climb.

As a result, there were some fairly whine-y songs in this batch.  I’ll do you a favor and fail to burden you with those.  The one acceptable one was a gospel-ish song about trying to be grateful to be alive to receive, even if what I received wasn’t what I asked for.  It was based on the grace that was said at my sister-in-law’s table in Dimmitt, TX when we went for a visit in the middle of the challenge.

Which brings me to the point of this ramble: In this batch too, the best songs were written while I was traveling.  There were a couple that I really liked at the beginning of the 14 days. One, “The Hands of my Clock”, was about my broken Kit-Kat clock, and another was about the people who were trying to tell me to “slow down”. I have very strong opinions about that whole concept, and I stuck them all in a song called “No Need to Hurry” as in, I’ll be dead for a long time someday. Why start now?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I no longer believe in “writer’s block”, but it does seem like being out of my familiar environment fires up my creative machinery. Sometimes you just have to slap the contraption up side o’the head to make it work.

But the one I’ve chosen for you to hear on this post is a little ditty I wrote sitting in a chair facing the wall in the home of a different sister-in-law in Abilene, TX.  We had stayed in her home overnight, and I’d had a nightmare. I got up to dissipate it, or think about it, whichever one actually happened, and my husband came out awhile later. There I was scribbling down the lyrics to that day’s song, about my nightmare.  It’s called “Goblins in my Head”, and it was recorded on my little home set up, as soon as I got back. (This is by way of being an apology if the quality of the recording isn’t all it could be.) I used it as a Hallowe’en song that year.

Goblins in my Head