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).
Some songs are written in a matter of minutes. Some songs take days. And others evolve over time. Such is the case with our tune “Ask The Man”.
Ask The Man was written in the early 1990’s and originally performed by a band named “M.U.I.”. The song certainly has a political theme and a bit harder edge. But the song was not the best fit for the type of music MUI was performing at the time and it was never recorded.
MUI parted ways in 1994 but Bill McCarthy and Jim Hansbauer continued recording music together. Nearly all of the recordings were taking place at The Recording Workshop in Chillicothe Ohio. Dave Voight was an instructor at the Workshop and ran student recording sessions where bands were needed. Jim and Bill took every recording opportunity that Dave gave them. From 1993 to 1996, they recorded just under 20 tracks.
One of the Recording Workshop sessions was the recording of Ask The Man. The session started with Jim and Bill recording guitar and drums respectively. Then, track by track, Jim and Bill recorded the rest of the instruments and vocals. All recordings happening live in the studio in one night.
Fast forward to 2020 with Jim Hansbauer, Ben Lindenberger and Chad Wieland recording the song using today’s digital technology. The structure of the song was edited and the lyrics were also modified from the original version. The tune was recorded digitally using a digital audio workstation (DAW) called Reaper. The recording took place over several session and in multiple locations. One interesting location was a large warehouse that was converted into a temporary recording studio. The main guitar tracks took advantage of the large room to capture some natural room reverberations.
After all the basic tracks were recorded, the tracks were sent to Dave Voight for mixing and polishing (done in ProTools). And 26 years later, Dave worked on the same song using his own recording studio. Samples of the tune “then and now” are below:
THEN: Here is a short sample of the tune recorded in 1994
NOW: Here is a short sample of the tune recorded in 2020
The newly recorded (and released) version of the song is available for purchase anywhere you purchase music. It is also available on all streaming services. Lastly, you can stream the song free on SoundCloud.
If you are interested in contacting The Recording Workshop, click here.
For the album “In The Air”, we had a number of tunes that needed orchestrations. In fact, the song “Steppin on Floor Meat” is primarily an orchestral tune. Hiring and recording with an actual orchestra is extremely expensive. But that’s where the amazing folks at Spitfire Audio come in. They have meticulously sampled every orchestral instrument at London’s famous Maida Vale Studios — home of the BBCSO, and host to The Beatles, Hendrix and Bowie. Check out there amazing product by clicking HERE. This essentially enabled us to play every part using a digital keyboard.
We used this product to write and record all the parts. Each section had to be written and performed on the keyboard. Then the various articulations (ways a note can be played) were chosen/performed to achieve the most realistic and natural sounding performance.
Each of the “rows” above represent a section of the orchestra. The dots and dashes are the performed notes that are triggering the BBC orchestra!!
So yea…we get to say we played with the BBC Orchestra. 🙂
Play “Steppin on Floor Meat” on your favorite platform below
According to Nielsen, listeners streamed enough music between January and the beginning of July that total audio consumption (of which streaming represents 85%) was up nearly 10 points over 2019 for the year so far. This is a good thing for artists with large back catalogs.
Yet many artists delayed releasing new music during the pandemic. Touring is the main revenue source for an artist. Touring is also the traditional way artists support and promote their new releases.
With live performances no longer an option, you might think that artists would be more active with writing and recording. There is evidence to suggest that is happening. But if artists are recording new music they certainly are not releasing music at the same pace. This is likely due to the conventional approach the music industry uses to release new music.
That said, it could also be because artists aren’t getting the same inspirations. Or they don’t know what will “connect” in these strange times. But the most likely reason is that artists can’t easily record and be socially distanced. That has certainly affected our recording process.
Whatever the reason, there is likely a large backlog of new material that will be released in 2021.
From our perspective (Soul Pigeon), we have quite a few songs that are almost finished and we can’t wait to release them. We definitely have been challenged to do it safely and that has slowed the process.
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!