I’m always playing around with different chords. Whether it’s chord substitutions, inversions, or voicings I get inspired by the sound they create. Here are a few of my favorites
I love 7/9 chords. I end up using them everywhere. If you don’t know 7/9 chords they are super easy and, properly used, can give a ton of character to the chord. You can make the 7 or the 9 of the chord sharp or flat depending on the key or the progression to the next chord.
Taking a simple 7/9 chord and inverting the chord is a transformation that adds complexity, depth and tension. Once you start to invert the chord you can also start to consider dropping one of the voicings. I will generally try to drop the root and play the third inversion. So instead of the chord starting on the 1 or root of the chord, I start on the 5 of the chord. With a C chord that would mean inverting to have the G note in the bottom of the chord
Here is the C7/9 with 3rd inversion
Lastly, I will try chord substitutions throughout a new song for inspiration. A chord substitution simply uses one note that is in the key of the song and playing a chord from a different key that also has that same note
Let say we are in the key of G and playing a G major chord. The melody line is centered on the B note.
While the melody note is still on B, you can substitute the B major chord for a dramatic change.
Then you can quickly invert the B chord to the 3rd inversion to add tension
This chord will very nicely resolve to E minor or even E major to completely change the key of the song. I like to use chord substitutions in the bridge of a song. Check out an example of this on the song “Februarys Moon” at 1:30. I go from a B minor chord to an E major (instead of E minor).
In 2019, I wrote a song called “Bound”. My original concept was that when you are young you believe you can only accomplish your goals by being dedicated to a destination. You have to strive to reach a specific goal and, in doing so, you are “bound” to get there.
I liked the concept and started writing some general lyrical ideas in Evernote. (I use Evernote for all my musical sketches). While ruminating on words and concepts I thought about how all of my successes have been a direct result of intense focus on a defined destination/goal. And it dawned on me, those goals were also something I became enslaved by. At that moment I knew that was going to be the main concept for the song; being “bound for” and “bound to” your goals.
“She went through some changes and never let the rain get her down”.
First lyric on Bound
It took me two weeks to decide that the best approach with the song concept was to have the main character be a young, determined female from a country town. She had to journey through the seasons of life and various scenarios to reach her dreams. Only to find that when she finally got there she had potentially changed and grown apart from her original goals and destinations.
The musical concept centered around sparse instrumentation with a Nick Drake vibe. For about a month, I thought the song would be produced using only an acoustic guitar and an intimate vocal.
Here is the original concept recording. For this composition I had written the concepts I wanted to cover. So I had a “vibe” idea but no music yet. My approach was simply to grab the guitar and quickly record whatever came to me. I was just hoping that something decent would come out. The recording below is very rough with no defined words or melody. This was the very first pass on what would become the main framework for the song. Lots of mistakes 🙂
As I mentioned, I record these sketches with my phone using a note-taking application called Evernote. Evernote gives me the ability to just capture things quickly while also synchronizing across all my devices. I can record the audio right with the written lyric ideas and work on both things whenever an idea strikes. The image below is a screenshot of “Bound” in Evernote after the first few weeks. Notice the audio recording at the top and the words and guitar chords underneath that.
From there I began thinking about the arrangement of the song. As I mentioned, I originally thought this would just be a guitar and vocal song. The song topic and “vibe” lent itself well to an intimate stripped down arrangement. But I knew I wanted to have some rich vocal harmonies.
For the harmonies, I really drew on some of the Brian Wilson Beach Boy harmonies as ideas I could use. I knew that Brian Wilson was into the vocal styles of The Four Freshmen. So I spent a lot of time listening to The Four Freshman and The Beach Boys because I wanted to incorporate some aspects of that into the harmony parts for the song. And I ended up with my own four part harmony interpretation that I felt fit the tune. Take a listen below
Once I had the essence of the vocals I could focus on the instrumentation. As you might notice in the above example, I had began toying with other instruments. Most notably the above example includes a banjo. I moved away from that sound but aspects of the early demos still made their way into the finished product.
From there, the actual recording went very fast. Over the course of a weekend, I completed all the parts. Guitars, piano, bass and very lite percussion made up the song with alot of emphasis placed on getting the vocals right.
After I completed tracking all the instruments I sent the tracks over to Dave Voight, audio engineer extraordinaire, for him to mix the tune and make me sound good! Dave “eagle ear” Voight found some things that needed fixed. Most notably was a recording mistake I made when tracking the piano. What I had done could not be salvaged. So I set everything up and re-recorded the piano part in one take (far less takes than my first go-round). It goes to show that sometimes what just happens “in moment” on a whim is better than doing it 10 times!
Below are links to the finished product. I hope you enjoyed this deep dive, behind the scenes peek at what goes into the process.
Writing and recording an album is a laborious process. While the technology has certainly become better, easier to use, and very reasonably priced; the reality is the artist still needs to”do the work”. Here is a breakdown of the process and the timeline:
Write good songs. A song can come in a flash of inspiration or it might take weeks and months to finish. But let’s just use an average of one song per week. If you intend to have ten songs on the album then you have ten weeks of just writing.
Choose style and write arrangements. Each song will have it’s own arrangement and style. One might be sparsely arranged with just a guitar and voice while another might require a horn section and multiple voices. We will take an average of 2 days for each song to complete an arrangement.
Record the songs. If the artist has written the arrangements ahead of the recording date the recording process will only be focused on capturing great performances. Two parts to this: Musicians: well rehearsed musicians focusing on playing with inspiration and passion. Engineer: expert audio engineer who knows what mics to use, how to use their DAW (digital audio workstation) and focuses on taking amazing “audio pictures” of the performances. This process can take 4 days per song.
It should be noted here that many artists like to combine steps two and three. In general, that usually takes longer but can feel and result in a more organic, natural arrangement.
Mix and master. This is where your audio engineer really shines. Each song needs to be surgically taken apart, analyzes, balanced, and made to sound “alive”. It’s really music under a microscope. This process can take a week or more per song.
Album cover and liner notes. Artists then must pay specific attention to the look of the album and partner with a graphic designer that can compliment the mood of the music and the artist. This requires, in many cases, lots of different layout options and sometimes custom photo shoots. The average time would be a minimum of 1 week for the cover.
Putting it all together for a ten song album
Writing songs: 10 weeks
Arranging : 2 weeks
Recording: 8 weeks
Mix / Master: 10 weeks
Album cover: 1 week
Total: 31 weeks
And for that time and investment the artist will get $.0006 for each play on Spotify! Consider buying the music from your favorite artists.
Drummer Chad Wieland, bassist Ben Lindenberger and guitarist Jim Hansbauer have been essentially a power trio with invited guests on various tracks. At the beginning of 2020, the guys got together to start working on tunes for the 2020 album. The plan was to work on one song at a time and if they found one they really liked they would pre-release it as a single while they continued to record the rest of the album.
Chad and Jim got together and recorded some rough tracks with Jim adding a scratch vocal. Then Laney came in and they worked out a key for the song that best fit.
In February they began recording. They had the rough tracks sketched out for a song when Chad said that maybe his daughter Laney would want to try and do vocals. She had not sung professionally or been in the studio before. But the guys were all about it!
Laney came in and the guys reworked the song to fit her voice. They needed to change the key and instrumentation. When Hansbauer heard Laney’s voice he had an idea for a new song that would be custom made for her voice. That new song was entitled “Falls To Pieces”.
After a few more weeks it was time to have Laney record the final vocal track. The tune really started to gel at that point. Lindenberger came in and put the finishing touches on the tune by filling out the low end with a 5 string bass.
It took a few more weeks of mixing and mastering but it was finally complete. The whole team knew instantly that they should go ahead and release “Falls To Pieces” as the first single. And on April 3rd they did just that and its available on all platforms.
You can check out Soul Pigeon on any major streaming platform. Our friends over at Pandora have just placed us on several of their recommendation algorithms and we wanted to thank them for that!!! Great results so far.
Think of your favorite song and I promise you it has some dissonance. Dissonance is a somewhat “off-putting” feeling or sound that you experience in a song. The only way dissonance works is that it resolves to something non-dissonant. Music is just like life, it just simply can’t be all smooth and perfect.
There is nothing better than tension in a song. Properly paired with words, a dissonant tension can really grab you and make you feel connected with the song.
Here are some examples of dissonance in a few songs.
Neil Youngs “Old Man”. The tune starts off this the dissonance before resolving to the D (I chord).
The Doors “Not to Touch the Earth”. Each verse is dissonant. Listen to the first 45 seconds of the song before the dissonance resolves into the refrain
Soul Pigeons “From the Mountain”. The main riff of our song has a flat 7th note as it descends and resolves back to the riff
Soul Pigeons “Bound” features a fully dissonant 6 second section that starts at 1:25
The most common places to use dissonances is in a bridge or musical transition into a lead. For example, a V7 chord is a chord that naturally wants to resolve to the I chord. By substituting a diminished chord for the V7 you instantly create a very displeasing tension that begs resolution.
I would wager that every one of your favorite songs are using V7 chords that resolve to the 1 chord!
I listen to music everywhere but one of my favorite places to relax and listen to some tunes is on the beach.
Here are three key things to having a great beach experience
Get a portable speaker. The beach is loud so you need a speaker that can cut through the noiseHave a cooler full of cold adult beverages. While it’s always a good experience to be oceanside, a few adult beverages makes it that much betterPlay your favorite summer jams. I tend to listen to Marley, Jack Johnson, Buffett, etc. Click here for my Spotify playlist
Now you can sit back and groove……. just don’t get a sunburn!
It’s very satisfying to be an independent artist. Artists can pursue their own path without any unwanted influences and publish it on their own terms. The independent artist is on a fairly level playing field with major recording artists. The rise of Post Malone is a great example of how an artist can produce their music and post it on SoundCloud for little to no money. After posting “White Iverson” on SoundCloud in 2015, he quickly got over 1 million plays. Post Malone made the beat in his bedroom. Now he is signed with Republic Records and has broken Spotify streaming records.
The record label business is also changing dramatically. The labels are signing new acts at a shocking rate. Rolling Stone estimated that the majors were signing 2 acts every day (Read more here). It could be argued that the labels couldn’t possibly support the growth of that many new artists but the reality is the artists need to have something unique to offer.
This is good news for independent artists. Why? Not necessarily because the majors are signing 20% more artists than they did in 2014. Rather, it’s the availability of more diverse musical acts who develop on their own first! This is the level playing field from which great music can be heard and artists (independent and signed alike) have to develop their own voice and style.
The major difference today, versus just 10 years ago, is independent artists can get digitally “exposed” to very large audiences. The other major difference is the plethora of great music available to the listener!
If you like exploring new music, please check out Soul Pigeon.
There are some truly brilliant songwriters out there who are coming up with amazing songs using the most basic chords out there.
Musically, I like to hear something fresh and not the same three chords (I, IV, V). There are a few songwriters that really deliver. Paul Simon would be one songwriter that comes to mind. Paul seems to write amazing songs that have a real breath of musical expression well past the basic three chords! Songs like Bridge Over Troubled Water and Still Crazy After All These Years.
Then there are plenty of examples of songs with only three chords that take a fresh approach to those basic chords. Using Paul Simon again as an example listen to the song Cecilia. That song only has the three basic chords in G (G, C, and D) but it sounds innovative.
So do the chords make the song? Absolutely not!! Technically a musical works copyright to a song only covers the words and the melody line. The chord structure is not copyrighted. Why is that? Because it’s simply not necessary and, more importantly, it’s not possible. In any given musical key there are only 7 chords. If chord progressions were able to be copyrighted we would only have 1 or 2 songs from the 50’s and 60’s rock and roll era!!! Nearly every rock and roll song uses a I, IV, V or I, vi, IV, V progression.
Lastly consider jazz as a musical form. Many jazz artists take a classic melody and change the chord structure behind the music. One perfect example is John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things. This amazing version is considered a legal cover of the original song written by Rogers and Hammerstein.
So there you have it, chords mean absolutely nothing to the basic composition except musical accompaniment. Chords do, however, make it far more interesting! Take a listen to Shoe Commercial by Soul Pigeon for an example of a basic three chord progression but with added voicings to the chords.
There is nothing better than stringing some words together that just somehow fit perfectly and having an entire song burst forth. Maybe is something you hear in a conversation or an idea that springs from a book; wherever the inspiration sometimes the words just start flowing.
When that happens for me I turn to a note taking application called Evernote. Evernote allows me to quickly capture words on my phone. I can even dictate them so I can get things written down quickly. The other thing I love about Evernote is I can search my past ideas quickly.
When inspiration hits I follow these two primary principles
I attempt to get as many words flowing as fast as possible. I will use “non words” to keep things moving. I don’t edit or even think about what is coming out. I push myself to write as quickly as I possibly can
No format or style
I purposely stay away from any conventions of form or rhyming structure. The goal is just to let the words flow so I forgive myself any “mistakes” of not rhyming or using to many syllables in a stanza. Instead I just relax and let my mind babble.
When I first got the inspiration for the song “Time Dies“, I was just enamored with the concept of time dying versus time flying. Everyone says “Time Flies” but in reality time does actually die. It never comes back. So I just starting writing words as fast as I could about it. Nearly everything I wrote down that first time made it to the song. The entire song came together in about 10 minutes.
Of course no song comes to life without awesome musicians adding their nuances and interpretations to the song. BillyRock, The Scorpion, and Benjo Low are simply the best. Great musicians make the song!!!