If you’re a podcast listener you’ll probably be familiar with the two podcasts whose names I’ve mashed up for the purposes of this series of posts. I thought it apt because what I’d like to do is to give you an idea of my creative process (à la Song Exploder) as I actually work through it over the next few weeks and months (à la Serial) on a new song called “Wrestle With Giants”. 

 

At this point, if you’ve been if you’ve been following this blog series with unbridled anticipation for each new installment, you’ll hopefully think that the tune is sounding pretty filled-out at this point. As a songwriter, this is where it gets tricky because now I can start adding window dressing and ornamentation without the song really needing it. A certain degree of dressing and ornaments is nice but it starts getting easy to go overboard. Especially since the foundation of the song has been laid so it gets temptingly easy to just throw in a new part that doubles up or adds simple harmonies to something that already exists in the mix.

For “Wrestle With Giants” and the next iteration thereof, the ornamentation is drums and a brand new instrument I’ve never added into any of my previous songs: clarinet. One of the joys of marriage (well, my marriage) is the fact that my wife and I share the love of music, her being a talented musician who plays various instruments. At one point she was even in a wind band(IN a wind BAND…not IS a wind BAG). Now, I know very little about the clarinet. I know that it does lazy and plodding pretty good, but it also does frenetic and Jewish equally well. I also know my brother played it for a couple of years in grade school. All of which helps very little in telling me how I can add it to my song. I suppose this means I should proceed with caution…so I featured it front and centre in the song’s only solo. Thanks to my wife for navigating the three sharps in the sheet music.

Oh, the drum part was also interesting because the song is definitely quite loose in its flow and I never considered laying down some kit. However, after the song’s breakdown, it naturally builds to something, and surprisingly that something is a more steady rhythmic final chorus which lent itself well to drums.

A final note before the last installment of this series…

It’s pretty obvious that I’ve been purposely avoiding what the vocal melody of this song is. If you’re a songwriter and have been following these posts, I hope you’ve had some fun in coming up with your own melody then seeing how it compares to mine when I post the conclusion of this series (possibly the next post). If you’re feeling especially adventurous feel free to Voice Memo it and send it to me!

Without further ado, here is the penultimate version of Wrestle With Giants:

Blue Blue Satellite

 

 

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If you’re a podcast listener you’ll probably be familiar with the two podcasts whose names I’ve mashed up for the purposes of this series of posts. I thought it apt because what I’d like to do is to give you an idea of my creative process (à la Song Exploder) as I actually work through it over the next few weeks and months (à la Serial) on a new song called “Wrestle With Giants”. 

 

When trying to lay down bass tracks it’s not always that easy. Mainly because I don’t have a bass guitar. That hasn’t stopped me in the past but this time around I have a new secret alternative weapon: my sweet new used electric piano. It has a pretty decent sounding synthesized fingered acoustic bass. But despite this there’s one major flaw when trying to record a bass part using a keyboard: you can’t do slides. I think the musical term is glissando…or if you’re really cool: “gliss”. It’s a subtle but very effective technique by those who play stringed instruments to stick it to all other instruments who don’t have this ability (except tromboners and…slide whistle-eers). Seriously though, it’s one of those things that distinguishes a part from a performance.

So as you listen to this latest iteration of Wrestle With Giants…listen for the bass part. I’ll leave the bass performance for those who say “gliss”.

Blue Blue Satellite

If you’re a podcast listener you’ll probably be familiar with the two podcasts whose names I’ve mashed up for the purposes of this series of posts. I thought it apt because what I’d like to do is to give you an idea of my creative process (à la Song Exploder) as I actually work through it over the next few weeks and months (à la Serial) on a new song called “Wrestle With Giants”. 

 

As with most instruments I sort of play, the piano is the one that pains me the most. As with the majority of the population, my exposure to playing the piano consists of “Yeah, I played a bit when I was as kid.” My entire repertoire of songs are the following: Imagine, Don’t Look Back in Anger, Royal Conservatory Grade 1 piece, Halloween theme, the opening of Home Sweet Home, and of course Chopsticks and Heart and Soul.

The pain comes in when you hear great piano-based pop songs or classical piano masterworks. Such a versatile, rich and gigantic instrument deserves better than some schlub who can just pound out the first few bars of a Mötley Crüe ballad. But as my approach is when writing any instrument part I suck at actually playing, I try to listen to piano parts, pick out patterns or techniques simple enough that I could potentially replicate it with painstaking tenacity, and hope that it will trick the listener into thinking that the tune is slightly better than it actually is.

The exception to this process was the instrumental break in my song I’m blogging about. Before I wrote a note of piano music, I played the song for my wife and totally vocally ad libbed the most ridiculous solo part I could think of as a joke. But somehow that little joke buried itself in my memory and I pretty much wrote the “joke” out note-for-note as the piano part in the instrumental break. And guess what? It works beautifully. Am I a genius? No, just very very lazy.

Here’s “Wrestle With Giants” with guitar, pedal steel and piano:

 

If you’re a podcast listener you’ll probably be familiar with the two podcasts whose names I’ve mashed up for the purposes of this series of posts. I thought it apt because what I’d like to do is to give you an idea of my creative process (à la Song Exploder) as I actually work through it over the next few weeks and months (à la Serial) on a new song called “Wrestle With Giants”. 

 

I’d imagine that in most cases, when starting to flesh out the components of a song’s production, you would maybe have a nice foundation of guitar or piano, then strengthen that foundation with some rhythm guitar or doubled up guitar or bass or drums. It’s like pouring the foundation of a house then shoring it up with I dunno, glue or something which I’m sure is totally the way homes are built.

But due to my knowledge of music production being somewhat at par with home building, the next instrumental layer for my new song “Wrestle With Giants” was not piano, nor bass, nor drums, nor doubled guitars, nor double bass, nor double bass drum, nor doubled double bass drum. Instead, it was the king of twang, the pedal steel. I guess it makes sense because I love pedal steel but learned to play it from YouTube videos. So when I need to come up with a pedal steel part, it’s the most work since I have to approach it lick-by-lick and try to make it complement the song while not betraying the fact that my playing level is somewhere between Jurassic Park Melodica and High School band 2001 Theme.

Still though, I think I do excel in making the most out of the least so I’m pretty proud of this next iteration of the tune: guitar and pedal steel. Have a listen:

 

Blue Blue Satellite

 

If you’re a podcast listener you’ll probably be familiar with the two podcasts whose names I’ve mashed up for the purposes of this post’s title. I thought it apt because what I’d like to do is to give you an idea of my creative process (à la Song Exploder) as I actually work through it over the next few weeks and months (à la Serial) on a new song called “Wrestle With Giants”. I wrote the song about a month ago and for the first time in a long time I felt it passed the “Say, this does suck!” test enough that I’m going to flesh it out into a full demo.

The foundation of the song is strummed chords on the guitar(capo 5 in DADGAD tuning if you care). I tend to gravitate toward finger picking when I pick up the guitar so this time around I tried to force myself to build the basic guitar rhythm with strums. Two other things that spurred the inspirational juices was the title of the song which kind of came to me early and helped me build the chorus. And the second thing was keeping a Glen Hansard vibe in my head, minus his shouty bits.

So for part one of this series of posts I present to you the isolated guitar part:

Stayed tuned for episode 2 which should come pretty fast and furious because since I wrote the song a month ago and came up with the idea for this series of blog posts yesterday, I have some catching up to do up in here.

Blue Blue Satellite

It’s been pretty quiet chez Blue Blue Satellite of late. I did recently post a quick demo of an ode to wanderlust I recently wrote. But what else have I been up to? Well, I’ve been sitting on an idea for awhile now, keeping it under wraps, poising myself to unleash it on an unsuspecting world. But who am I kidding, like most BBS endeavors, it’ll be received by max six or seven people with polite nods and excuses to have to go now. So I’ll unleash it on the max six or seven people who may read this blog.

The project is codenamed OSNAP. The Ottawa String Notators And Performers. I know “Notators” isn’t a word but it fits with the acronym and it’s better than “Notationeers”.

Basically it’s a service I’d offer to singer songwriters whereby I’d write string accompaniment to their songs, notate it and gather an ensemble of string players to form a string ensemble for an eventual performance.

It’s still a work in progress. I tested it to moderate success with a friend, but now I’m applying it to myself and my tunes in anticipation of one last hurrah of a gig where I’ll formally put this service on show and offer to the good musicians of Ottawa.

I’m really too old to be using kids-these-days slang like “Oh snap” but dodgy naming aside, I hope this project will eventually see the light of day so send your positive vibes of following through my way because heaven knows a project like this doesn’t happen with a snap of the fingers as it were.

Ok, so let’s all move on from the fact that it’s been over a year since I’ve written. I know, I know…baaaad blogger.

Now then. There’s one thing that my musical exploits have reflected in my civilian life: Food. I suppose food and music have collided in the past…but, well…I’m gonna blog about it.

So the more I got good at “preparing dishes” (as opposed to “making food”), I would find myself busily going about a recipe when I would think to myself “y’know…this could maybe be bammed up with a bit of [random ingredient]”. Sometimes it would work (coffee and rosemary in beef stew) and sometimes it wouldn’t (beef stew and rosemary in coffee). But it’s making a connection between two tastes you savoured independently and then marrying them successfully that’s quite a thrilling and fulfilling accomplishment.

I find that it’s the same for music. When producing or arranging a song, I try to find instruments and sounds that will compliment it but that are also not your most expected elements. Some great examples (well, great to me) are the dark tom tom drums in my song “(Never) Let It Go” or the trumpet part in “It Was Love“.

With no false modesty, I think I’m pretty good at finding these matches. But sometimes, like Bovine Brew coffee, it just doesn’t work out. My latest song release, “Until“, is a perfect example of both a musical match and a music mismatch. Initially I sang the track like you can hear on the demo:


Then I met Lyndsie Alguire and it was nanoseconds between the time I heard her sing and the time I decided that perhaps her voice would compliment the track far better than my pained vocalizations ever could.

Right? 

Darn right I’m right! But despite the Lyndsie coup, the song was still languishing under another misguided musical attempt: the introduction of a harmonica during an instrument break. Despite the old college try from my producer, it still sounds like a braking freight train. Listen again to the above track and skip to 3:19.

Now as you wait for your hair to quit standing on end, enjoy the much better final version where we swapped out the harp for some subtle musical shadings instead of something that sounds like a wounded raccoon.


Voilà! Haute musical cuisine à la BBS.

Keep watching this space as I get back on my blogging horse!

Chef Blue Blue Satellite

I’ve started recording my second record. It’s going to be an interesting time to be doing it because it’ll be framed within my dramatically monikered “Blue Blue Satellite Manifesto”, which dictates that my musical endeavors must be about:

  • Creativity – the joy of plucking elements out of thin air and assembling them with auditory artistic cohesion
  • Expression – interpreting the ups and downs of life into a personal soundtrack
  • Enjoyment – allowing myself to be swept away with music’s sonic power of elevation

I used to believe in the idealistic trope that “it’s all about the music.” But after album #1 and not quite having conquered the world with it, I’ve decided a more accurate adage is: “it’s all about selling your music” or “it’s all about the music that will bring people in to drink” or “it’s all about Tweeting, Facebooking, Instagraming, Tumblring, YouTubing, Vine-ing, Cat Video-ing your music” or simply: “it’s not all about the music.” So the Manifesto is my attempt to re-focus my musical goals onto the magic which got me into music in the first place. Which will probably see me ceasing to do certain things that are standard practice in music, but simply don’t adhere to my Manifesto.

Maybe this is just a highfalutin way to say I’ve given up. Or that I’m jaded. Or that I’m lazy. Or that I don’t have what it takes. Or that I’m hoping some record executive will be impressed by my radical thinking and sign me because I’m clearly an iconoclastic polymath…

But here’s the immutable fact: I’m working with Gallery Studio‘s Dean Watson again and we’ve so far recorded two songs. They’re not mixed or mastered yet, nobody has heard them and I’ve made no money off of them. Just two people, in a basement, creating music from my songwriting. And I couldn’t be happier.

Blue Blue Satellite
Iconoclast. Polymath. Thesaurus user.

From the defunct homophonic Toronto trio Bass is Base to the woofered-out lowriders of the West-Coast, everybody loves bass! When I make demos, the bass part is the most challenging since I’m least familiar with the rules-of-engagement of the “dad guitar“. I know there are principles out there that tell you to pair it with the drums or the rhythm guitar to help hold down the foundation of the song. Regrettably, I don’t really know what that means so I tend to approach arranging a bass line like I do any other instrument I’m adding to the mix: it’s just another melody line that complements the main melody…just lower. That approach seems to work well enough and at the very least it makes the song a lot more interesting than if I just relegated the bass to being your flatulent sounding “braaap!….braaap!” of beer music tuba fame. So with my self-deprecation and fart-references out of the way, here are three songs with effective bass lines that stand out in my mind. (bass comes in at 0:52) (bass really comes in at 1:15) (bass comes in when Noel says “get a little bass”(?): 0:45) Oh what the hell…one more legendary bass work from the 80’s!: (it’s subtle…you’ll have to watch for it. “It” being the hot pink bass guitar) Blue Blue Satellite

Remember when Michael Jackson died? I sure do…it’s face-palmingly #2 in my event memory right after 9/11. You may also remember how at his memorial service Mariah Carey was criticized for a sub-par performance due to being overcome with emotion. That criticism confused me. I thought: “She’s singing a heartfelt ballad at the memorial of one of her musical heroes while his body from a tragic death lies steps away in a casket. If I were up there I’d give myself 3 seconds before losing my shit.” And that’s why I’m not doing shows before tens of thousands of fans at the Staples Center. As a professional musician, your job is to not lose your shit in such circumstances. Shit losing is not an option.

Even at the local level, I was talking to a fellow musician after his gig and he was telling me of the interpretation he was putting into the music and how we was trying to express each note in a specific fashion. I stood there dumbfounded because when I get off the stage my thoughts are typically “well, four f***-ups tonight…hey not bad!” Pros, on the other hand, rarely make mistakes. Flawless technical execution is a given for a professional. Instead, they focus on interpretation. They convey feeling. They engage. They connect.

Spot the Amateur – observe the behaviour, do a shot!

Another way I’ve found to understand what makes a musician professional is to identify their antithesis: the amateur. So…:

  • If they’re playing guitar, watch if they look down at their fretboard with that “ok I can do this” look when bar chords come up. Amateur!
  • If they’re bantering, listen if they suddenly forget they’re musicians and start doing torturous improv “comedy”. Amateur!
  • If they’re sound-checking, listen for key terms like “backline“, “hot“, “XLR” rather than “this crap I need up on stage”, “ow! my ears”, “mic plug thing with the three holes”. Amateur!

Essentially, if you see a performer on stage who just…belongs there, you’re seeing a pro. Otherwise, prepare yourself to get really drunk.

As for moi…

Am I pro material? After some soul searching my answer is…”no”. Sure, I’ve cut my stupid stage “jokes” way down and have learned a few gear-related keywords that make me seem less like a hopelessly bumbling boob to sound guys. But when it comes to the most visible part of the job, the performance, it’s just not my forté and I’m sure audiences can sense that.

The good news about being an amateur is that it’s a step to becoming a professional and I know many are on that path and will make the transition. But for me and my wrong-chord-prone left hand, I’ll just sit and wait for that call from the Staples Center. And it’ll likely go: “…don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Then I’ll lose my shit.

Blue Blue Satellite