The Voyage

Let’s Write a Song: 3 for 1

3 for 1

In the end, it’s pretty simple

When Marth and I first started drinking wine, we just liked what we liked and called it good. Then we started regularly going to a weekly wine tasting. A man who grew up in a winemaking family in Croatia took us under his wing and gave us “private lessons”, if you will. We learned a lot and expanded our palette significantly. When we went to Paris a few years ago, we were excited to experience one of the world’s great wine centers. We booked a highly rated winetasting and were ready for a master class, which it was. But the lesson we learned was very different from what we expected. In a nutshell, while serving unbelievable wines, the sommelier told us that the bottom line is that we’ll like what we like.

We’d gone full circle.

That was fascinating to me. We’d learned a lot and our appreciation of wine had grown tremendously. We enjoyed many different wines. Knew how to read the labels.  But ultimately all that matters is what we actually like.

So, what’s that have to do with music and songwriting?

Music is the same way. We like what we like. And for some, that’s all there is to it. As a songwriter, I am endeavoring to teach you a bit about songwriting. Help you expand your understanding and appreciation of music and song. But I know that ultimately, we simply like what we like. My hope is that I can help you learn about how music is written. If you’re interested.

Let’s dig in

Last week I introduced you to a progression I wrote, played with three different rhythms. I got some very good feedback, most of it offline (don’t be so bashful folks!). Basically, the picks were spread evenly between the three.

So … what to do?

One thing that is very helpful to me at this point is having an overall strategy for the album’s songlist. All three of the grooves were chosen for very specific reasons. If you recall, I mentioned that sometimes I like a particular groove, but the song in question works better with a different rhythm. In that case, I’ll try to find another song that will work. I’ve decided that I will use all three grooves. So, I’ve spent this week testing different song ideas with each of the rhythms. And I’m super excited about what unfolded.

Let’s start with the easiest one

Let’s start with the one I’m certain of – Option 2. The slow, jazzy blues groove. I really liked the way it worked with the progression, but it lost a bit of “happiness”, for lack of a better way to say it. I like the more light hearted treatments of the other two options. So, I looked for an alternative song for groove #2.

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned that I lost some stuff in a computer crash, correct? Well, there is one song where I lost everything. As in everything. Poof. It’s very jazzy, smooth, mid-tempo … and was completely done. It was right in Adam Hawley’s wheelhouse and Chris West played a smokin’ sax solo. All gone. Since it would need new performances all the way around, it made sense to me to give it a try with this new rhythm/objective. It fit like a glove. It will take very little, if any, tweaking to have the arrangement ready to record. That made me very happy.

The decision between Options 1 & 3 will be much tougher.

The good news is that I have another song that will work for either groove. It’s a song I’ve already decided will be on the record, but I hadn’t settled on the rhythm yet. Either of these two groves will take it to a very different place, but I like them both better than where it was at.

So basically, I now have 2 song progressions and 2 rhythms. The next step will be deciding which pairing works better. This can be a “good problem” kinda thing, but I want to make the decision before going too far down the development track.

Here’s what I have in mind to explore next, trying to find the tie-breaker – the chorus. One of the things I want to improve is writing better choruses. If that’s jargon to you, just pick a song – any song – and think of the most memorable line from it. I just did that with about 10 songs in my mind and the line was in the chorus. She’s a ho-o-o-on-ky tonk woman, gimme, gimme, gimme the honky tonk blues. Every rule is meant to be broken, but the vast majority of the time the most  memorable line is delivered in the chorus. It’s called the “hook” for a reason!

A good chorus has a lot a characteristics, but primarily it should be memorable and distinguishable. Songwriters try to create “separation” and “lift”, meaning the listener feels the song shift going into the chorus. And again coming out of it.  Whether we realize it or not. All we know is that we can’t get it out of our head!

So, I’m going to tinker around with the chorus and see what shakes loose. Hopefully, I’ll have some things for you to listen to next week. And we’ll just see what we like best.

If you want to take a bit deeper dive, read on.

Writing the progression, I was thinking the part where I slide down to the secondary progression (starting with the A#m9) would be the chorus. But it struck me a couple of days ago that this is really pretty weak as a chorus and sounds more like a pre-chorus. Even as a music first writer, I still hear melody – just without lyrics. I think I’ll need this pre-chorus to lead to something that will give it more lift.

Listen to this again, with that in mind, and see what you think. That’s the direction I think I’m going.

Bottom line for me is that this exercise has yielded three songs. That’s a big week to me!

Thanks for your help!

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  1. Tod Stillwell on November 14, 2020 at 11:12 pm

    I love what you’re doing here Steve, you play the acoustic very well. I know you’re using a capo but I really like the way the chords are sounding.

    Ha ha, I played guitar professionally for nearly 50 years before the fingers in my left hand went numb. I’d never used a capo before, but the feeling has come back in my left hand some, so I’ve been playing a little lately and I just bought a capo a couple of months ago, although I still haven’t used it yet.

    I’m a Kontakt instrument developer and want to sample my 2 old vintage electric guitars I’ve had since back in the 60s. I thought maybe a capo might help in doing that. 🙂

    I’m looking forward to where this goes Steve, I love everything you do. A couple of things I’m not sure of, are you anticipating others to play an instrument or two or is this going in another direction?

    • steveprottsman on November 15, 2020 at 12:43 am

      Hey Tod,
      I first used a capo when I wrote a song in D, and later realized it was too low. Way too low. The song was The Answer. I moved the capo to the 5th fret, which would make that D a G (I think). Since then, the 4th or 5th fret has become kind of a sweet spot for my guitar, so I go there a lot.

      Good luck with your sampling project. I’ve never sampled before. It’s probably fun I bet!

      As to your last question; I will definitely be using players on the songs. For the most part everyone will be returning. One thing we’ll be doing differently though, is bringing players into the studio together for a few songs that I want to really be live. I’m super excited about that!

      Thanks again, Tod!

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