New Record Out Now! “Precious Melodies Against Satan’s Devices”

PMSAD_Record-Cover_FINAL

I’m happy to announce my third full-length record is now available on the digital platform of your choice. Spotify, iTunes, Bandcamp, et al. – pick your poison.

These songs are some of the best I’ve ever written. So come for the sugary melodies and stay for the existential angst.

Thanks for listening and I’ll see you on the internet.

Processed with VSCO with b5 preset

On Your Way to Brilliance

It’s the opening weeks of classes here at Visible Music College, and it’s my favorite time of year. Students come in with such sparks of brilliance, and I’m excited to lead them to the work—and in exchange, I’ll learn a ton from them.
Students are grabbing the important lesson of trying everything at once, and, at the same time, learning to say “no”.
We are all starting somewhere; some on our way to brilliance.
But we’re not there yet.
If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it. ~Anaïs Nin
Some are artists, pushing genres and creative boundaries to their limits. They add beauty and wonder to the world, stretching our possibilities and our lenses. Art sparks our imaginations to ask, “What else could it be?”
 
EXAMPLE.
One of my heroes, James Murphy (Ex-LCD Soundsystem) is working on reformatting the NYC subway turnstiles to generate a harmonious cacophony of joy, called “Subway Symphony”. He’s got a corporate sponsor and moving forward with the Transit Authority. The video below outlines his vision and sets a high bar for his music-making. You don’t have to think of something ambitious as this—just ask yourself the question:

What else could it be?



But.
Some “content creators” don’t care at all, and are just adding noise.

Dave Allen talks about this in his (now legendary) article, “The Internet Doesn’t Care About Your Mediocre Band”. Maybe a more descriptive title might be: “Be Amazing or Get Out of the Way” (ht Never Was Podcast).
Allen encourages artists to make a decision to be great by doing great work.

It may sound like I’m speaking out of both sides of my mouth, as this blog has emphasized the necessary reality of putting in the hours in the woodshed, and just doing the work. I’ve written a lot about the noticeable gap between the work we’re doing and the quality of work we want to be doing. This can be an intimidating Law of Greatness to follow and give up. Yes, the Internet could not care less about your mediocre band. I know I’m the worst offender. If a song doesn’t grab me, I’ll not make it 30 sec into a song without turning it off. Many times even a poorly-staged or over-earnest promo pic will prompt me to just say, “Pass!”

Yes, we’re not there yet.

But.

On your way to brilliance.

Keep taking steps.

Decide on the front-end to make your voice rise above the noise.

Close that excellence gap.

Go for it. blow it up. the internet is the great democratizer. Rise above the noise.


Listening: Low – Ones and Sixes
Reading: Huck Magazine’s insightful interview with Ian Mackaye
Watching: The League – S6

Mixology


They call me “Sir-mix-a-lot”. Actually, nobody calls me that. My friends call me “Golden Eagle”, or just “Eagle”. Either of those will work. Or “John”. Or “Coach”.

Here we are, the last day of the Dog Days of Summer and I think I’m done with principal tracking for B.A.N. record #3: Precious Melodies Against Satan’s Devices. I say I “think I’m done”, because I never know what manner or shape of self-doubt may strike my heart. Yay! It’s been a long and lonely road, and I got by with a little help from my friend(s) (@noahglenn). I now enter the mixing phase. It is a dark labyrinthian cave which I may never exit. Many a man has been beguiled by its wiles, and this stage can take forever if I let it. If you’re like me, it feels like I’m about to clean the gutters. I’ll be happy when it’s done, but it’ll be a messy, long process, with hands full of organic matter. And on a ladder. No, just kidding. Or maaaaaybe??
I run things on a pretty tight budget, so right now, it’s financially prohibitive to rent a room or pay out for an out-of-house mixing job. I WILL have another set of ears take in my roughs to give me pointers, but it’s pretty DIY around Casa Newton.

When it comes to mixing, here are a couple things that make my life easier.

1) I got started in Logic by the Mitchel Pigsley YouTube videos. He gives a lot of quick and dirty tutorials on many of Logic’s entry-level functionality. If someone needs a fast overview of, say, how the rhythmic quantization works in Logic, head there. His gains structures and on-air personality are occasionally questionable, but when I have a quick question about Logic, it’s the first place I head.

2) An enormous help to me is Recording Revolution Series. Graham Cochrane attempts to level the mixing playing field for the audio production layman by publishing daily blogs and videos aimed simplicity. His aim is to downgrade the idea that great mixes come from great gear, (outboard and plug-in) and to affirm the notion that the best tool we have is our ears. He encourages to start with volume,EQ, and compression (EQ and compression both a form of volume control by themselves! EQ is a “smart” volume control for specific frequencies, and compression just being an automated volume knob). I can’t say enough about this guy’s curriculum, and with a mountain of information before the beginner, here are some hip-shot links to some of the most helpful vids:

3) Mixing in Mono-
Ultimately, I learned this from #2 on my list. Mixing the bulk of my sessions in mono has been one of the single-most helpful tips! Mono eliminates the false audio impression of a center speaker through the use of directional panning, so if you are listening to a mix on lower-quality speakers, or in some degree away from the sound source, mono comes in handy for checking accurate balance of volume and frequencies of your tracks, and eliminating phasing.


Watching: Foxcatcher

Listening:


Drums!


So this week my man Noah Glenn tracked drums until the wee hours of the morn! I thought it’d be fun to post an EXCLUSIVE video for y’all out there in TV Land. So this past year I’ve been pretty obsessed with drum sounds of the 70’s. They’re dead as dodos, so we had a few secrets up our sleeve to try and capture the dryness of Noah’s Ludwig kit.

The new record is coming along well, as far as tracking goes. Yesterday I did electric guitars all day–went back and forth between the SG and the Jazzmaster. I used different pick-up combinations and the Vox AC-30 and this little custom Fender Champ that sounds super gargly when it’s pushed.

animale spirito guida

I just wrapped up the vocals on the last two songs: Bronx Cheer, and the eponymous title track– Precious Melodies Against Satan’s Devices. They are more uptempo, power-poppy jams that have really fun, McCarntey-esque melodies! My diaphragm is sore, but it’s all for the rock!

Listening: Wilco – Star Wars

Watching: Nightcrawler

Reading: Just Do Something – Kevin DeYoung

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Great day in the Newton house today, the mizzus and I are celebrating a decade under the influence. TEN years of matrimony. I think that Nietzsche quote is probably the most applicable, “For anything great to happen, there needs to be a long obedience in the same direction”. It’s the long con, I’m playing. I landed the brightest fish in the school, and I’m daily fooling her into thinking I’m worth sticking around for.
Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 10.29.55 AM
Art and writing also come to mind when I think about the “long obedience”. Information is instantaneous in the Information Age—how has that affected our craft? Enlightenment balloons neural pathways and pixels fire our synapses but skill—true craftsmanship is built over time. Craftsmanship is a waiting game, a daily putting our hands to the plow and developing the scar tissue of experience. This is a difficult concept to grasp. There may be an inverse line relating the height of expectation to achieve with the younger one is. If somebody has grown up with instant information at their fingertips, patience is difficult.
I want to encourage you today to continually develop your body of work. Let your stream flow the world’s collective ocean of work. I again bring up that Jean Rhys quote:
 “Jean Rhys said to an interviewer in the Paris Review, ‘Listen to me. All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. And there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake’.” ― Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art
This is the key for us. For me. I have these bi-weekly dips of insecurity. Did I choose the wrong career path? The music industry is collapsing under it’s own bloat, like Baron Harkonnen, and graphic design was where I originally started from. I see my peers excelling in that field and wonder why if it’s too late to restart.
Either way, I seek an obedience to the craft. To submit myself to those that have gone before, and the endless stream of constant work. Putting in the time separates the raw talent from the seasoned. There is a bushel-basket of difference between being a great songwriter and writing great songs. I’m confident that is true for any discipline. The former puts the crushing weight of identity and collapses itself under the entropy of every latest work. This one is as only good as her last song/poem/script/choreography/lecture. The other sees herself as one who loves and is beloved, and expresses out of that place, feeding the stream. We feed the stream. One fits himself into the mold of those who have (excellently) gone before, but that mold is an iron maiden, closing in over time. I see it every year with my songwriting students. I saw it with myself. We feed the stream.

No, not really what I meant.

There is a superb scene (below) in David O. Russell’s I Huckabees where Brad Stand submits himself to an epiphany. He had also been feeling a cognitive and soulish dissonance I’m speaking of. One stands on the outside of himself and looks objectively–a Descartes-esque fever-dream of mind-soul sundering. He began to see himself as one thing, devoid of a toxic shame stemming from over-externalized self-awareness, the 6th grader who, in the middle of her class, realizes she has b.o.

How can i not be myself?

Reading: Just Do Something, Kevin DeYoung
Watching: The Hunt with John Walsh – his face/voice is a familiar comfort to me. Saturday nights as a kid watching  COPS with a chaser of America’s Most Wanted.
Listening: Automusic – Brian Reitzell
Playing: Alien: Isolation, Xbox 360

Writing…Getting Things Done!

“Writing is not difficult, what’s hard is sitting down to write”
– Stephen King
Getting things done is hard. Writing is hard. And no, it’s not the actually doing, it’s actually sitting down and writing. It’s the active decision to alter our brainwave patterns into a different state. I’m good. My current Alpha Waves are pretty comfy. Those Betas are harshing my mellow.
Today I’m going to throw out some tips and tricks to help you get more done with your writing/songwriting.
Take A Bite Outta Crime
I love the 10 Minute Rule—when I want to put off a task, simply begin it for 10 minutes, then abruptly stop.

There.

We get over the hardest hurdle which is simply having started. Originally, I heard this from a student of mine who used this method to get a jump on her assignments. The paper no longer hung over her head, cramping her style, but she had already had a bite taken out of it. It became easier now she just had to “finish” the project.

Take a bite outta crime

Tomato/Tomahto
A more fleshed out version of the 10 Minute Rule is the Pomodoro Technique. In fact, I’m using it right now. Here is a great rundown of it. When I’m procrastinating and have an afternoon with an open block of time, elves run out playing flutes, and it’s suddenly a great time to do laundry, bathe the dog, or chip away the honey-do list instead of the thing I need to accomplish. I become yellow and squeamish and it’s hard to begin, knowing i’m going to be locked in the task’s prison all afternoon. Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato. The technique originally encouraged a little red kitchen timer to “chunk” out your big task into smaller, fun-sized bits of 25 minute increments.
1) 25 minutes of hard work
2) 5 minutes break

3) Every third break should be 20 minutes long



I personally love the free app FocusBooster—it’s free, really customizable, and already on my computer. There is even a built in “break” that will auto-sound so that you can lift your head out of your prairie dog hole and know when it’s time to go back. I do happen to have a personal reward system for that “break” time—my mind is jumpy and creates ideas and distractions and things I want to Google and songs I want to hear RIGHT NOW, so i just jot them down on a “parking lot” on a separate sheet so my toddler mind knows it won’t forget them. It is a great way to juggle projects. I’ve had buddies tell me that starting a new Netflix show intimidates them in the same way. They don’t want to watch Daredevil or Kimmie Schmidt because the feeling of multiple seasons slogging thru is intimidating.


First Things First
One common trend in most of the people’s lives in Daily Rituals is that almost all the men and women start early. They get their work done first before the rest of the days’ tasks. Not everyone, but most people. Ever since reading that book I have decidedly awoken an extra 90 min before I need to and have that time to write, meditate, and read. I literally crank out 750 words before breakfast. I start with Morning Pages, and most people agree that the mind is better able to handle tasks involved with critical thinking early in the morning. (esp once the caffeine bean kicks in). I personally try to disregard email (not very good at this) and jump right in to writing projects of different kinds, scheduling conundrums, and critical project management. The afternoon is saved for emails/correspondence, meetings (read re:work), grading, and editing. I have dear friends that swear by their late night workloads, and that does have it’s own magic, but that’s a blog for another day.
Lastly, don’t try and do it all in one sitting.
The outstanding remainder will compel us to complete. Hemingway said the secret to his workflow was that he stopped at a point where he knew he’d obviously know where to pick up the work the following day. It created a forward momentum to help him continue a kinesthetic workflow.


Watching: True Detective S2 (Anyone else see that the lyric’s to the Leonard Cohen intro tune changes every time???)
Listening: Brian Reitzell – Auto Music
Reading: Law & Gospel – Mockingbird Press

Mindgames for 3 Ways To Shake Up Your Writing!

3 Simple Steps For Breaking Out of a Songwriting Rut
We all have creative systems. A strong creative groove. A way of songwriting that is habitual, comfortable, and works for us. A melody pops into my head as I’m playing with my kids, I record it, I throw some chords at it when I get a chance then I plumb my Top Secret Inspiration Notebook for lyrics. It feels good. I like the results.
But…
But sometimes my results are too similar. I feel like I’m retreading the same path and all of my writing is becoming to “same-y”. It feels like I’m lacking real heft after the afterglow of the original inspiration.
When does a groove become a rut?
Here are three helpful tools to help us shake up our systems:

1) LISTEN BACK
I’m surprised at how many songwriters I meet that don’t
     A) Write down their songs
and
     B) Never record them.
This way of writing only allows the writer to hear the song as it goes out, never as it comes back to them–as an echo. Listen to the song come back in. Simply writing down the song on paper and/or recording a rough musical sketch can help us self-reflect and approach the song as a listener. This will ALWAYS help us in the re-writing process.

2) CHARACTER ACTING
Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits is this week’s subject of American Songwriter’s Writer of the Week web series. – In the song “Brothers In Arms”. Mark tries to inhabit the experience of his character. If narrator’s voices are just simply a vehicle for your values–they are puppets, talking heads, gadflies buzzing against art’s glass ceiling.
“’Brothers in Arms’ is sung by a soldier who is dying on the battlefield,” he said. “You can’t just write off the top of your head; you have to dig deep to get those things. You have to experience, if a thing is really going to be realistic, if you’re gonna try and get whatever you feel across. So, in a sense you’re an outsider, but you’re also digging inside to do it properly. I don’t think you can get away scot-free with these things; otherwise, it’s just not going to work. If you stay outside of these experiences, they’re just not going to translate to people.”
I finally got to watch “Birdman” last night, and Ed Norton’s self-parody of himself in the character Mike Shiner was my favorite aspect. Norton portrayed a brilliant actor who memorized every other actors’ lines, parsed the dialogue for motivation and tone, and spat this powerful quote:

3) COWRITING
I am continually surprised at myself when I co-write. I recently sat down to do an e-write (is that a thing? It is now!) with a buddy to write a song for the pop-country market. I was taken aback at what I was willing to say in that song in terms of voice and honesty. When I’m not trying to write in the syntax/tone of Bro. Andy Newton, dragons begin to crawl out of the corners of the maps, and I really start to blow the self-imposed limits on what I think I can do. Also, I used the above-mentioned technique of “Character acting” to develop my song, but there was an advantage to a to-and-fro of perceived immediate feedback. What was my partner going to think? I had to shape my out-going ideas for translation. Will my partner understand it?

as

Bio Updated

Iced coffee summer vibez

Iced coffee summer vibez

Updated my bio in the “Story” section of the site.

Also, if you need any freelance writing, composing, song or jingle writing, I’m fulfilling orders now! By all means, and any means–send me an email.

PODCASTS!

Mainly been sticking to the SG straight through the Vox, dry--no pedalboard.

Mainly been sticking to the SG straight through the Vox, dry–no pedalboard.

I heard somebody say once that a musician in the studio should try to avoid outside influence in order to not let last minute influence negatively affect the work. Another way I understand it, is that the recording stage is the “end” of the musical creative process, and we deal enough with the unruly Crappy Valley. Have you heard of this? Malcolm Gladwell writes about a place between epiphany and validation where the artist struggles against toxic second-guessing.

Crappy Valley

Crappy Valley


I’ve been feeling that a little bit—however I will say that I listen back through my Spotify playlist of influence songs to help keep me on-track. It’s an inspiration board for my ears. As promised last week, thar she blows—->


So what do I do now that I’m not listening to much music? PODCASTS!
Here are some of my fresh selections; I’ve picked ones in particular that stick to the theme of this blog:
 
Excellent peer into the minds and craft of some much-beloved songwriters. Adam Schlesinger, Nick Lowe, Van Dyke Parks, Neil Finn, They Might Be Giants, Todd Rundgren, Al Jarreau, Mike Stoller, Neil Sedaka, just to list a few. With two interviewers you’d think things might become unruly, but the presenters are verbally conservative and know how to position the right questions to draw out golden juices from their subjects to satisfy audiences.
Stand-out episodes: Mike Viola, Stuart Murdoch (Belle and Sebastian)

A fun, shorter (10-20 min), episodic romp that features songwriters/composers going wide and deep on the inspiration, development, and production of a single piece of music. I appreciate how there is no outside presenter’s voice. It is purely the writer’s narration, interspersed with clips of their track. Recently the podcast has accessed a lot more of TV/film composers like Alexandre Desplat, Game of Thrones and Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Stand-out episodes: The Postal Service, The Microphones, Converge.

Full disclosure: I’ve actually only listened to the first one with John Luther Adams, but a great listen. The editing feels more in terms of an NPR-journalistic style, which stands out from the rest of the efforts on this list. The interviewer is out-of-the-way and sounds more like a talk magazine. If the first episode is any indication, this is a solid listen.
Stand-out episodes: John Luther Adams (doy)

The singer/songwriter and Get-Up Kids frontman interviews various indie-rock friends and musicians, many time covering songwriting ground. Love this one because it feels really blue-collar.
Stand-out episodes: Chris Conley, Andy Hull, Kliph Scurlock, Rocky Votolato, Kevin Devine

Exceptional productivity advice from not-high-strung dudes Seth Workheiser and Bill Meis.
Stand-out episodes: #5 Project Management without Email
What other writing/craft/music related podcasts are you jazzed about that didn’t make the list?
Listening – currently tracking, I try not to listen to music that might influence me while I’m making records. I did really like the freshly-released. Low single. (link)
WatchingOrange Is The New Black S3
Reading – Back issues of Tape-Op, for the feels.
PlayingAlien Isolation – Xbox 360