All entries in the music category

Good-bye ChristmasDedication.com

It was a nice run. The song “Hey Sophie” [The Christmas Dedication Song] was one of those things I wouldn’t give up on. Now it’s time to let it go. In 2013, I left my full-time corporate career to re-launch this song (and 1000 alternate versions of it) as an e-card. I made a walkthrough video of the website that was designed for that effort. It was fun to build and manage, and I learned a lot. I recorded this ad-hoc video in 2015, but am posting it now at the end 2016 as closure and as a formal record of what I accomplished. It’s a bit geeky, but if you like stories behind web designs, then there might be something in it for you. 🙂

ILEA – A Custom Theme Song Explained

Creating a Custom Theme Song for ILEA (The International Live Events Association) was a pleasure. It took longer than usual to release because after the original production was completed, the organization decided to change their name. Their original name / acronym was ISES, which of course sounds like ISIS (the terrorist organization). ISES had used their name happily for many years until recently, when ISIS appeared in the Middle East. It was a good idea for ISES to re-brand as ILEA.

When ILEA declared their new name in May 2016, I had to re-write the chorus and bridge of the Custom Theme Song which I had completed previously. Since they liked the original version so much (but we refrained from releasing it due to the name change), I kept the chords, melodies and production.

It’s not always “cool” to mention the name of an organization literally in its song (an overlying theme or image that represents them can sometimes be better), but this was for re-branding, so it was appropriate. Of course, literally singing The International Live Events Association would have been too long, while pronouncing their acronym (ILEA) would not have rhymed with much. Rhymes are not necessary to have in a song, but they do help with a song’s catchiness.

That said, I decided to pronounce every letter in their acronym: I.L.E.A. It would make their name clear and unforgettable. Rhyming the last letter (“A”) with words like “say” or “day” didn’t lead to useful lines in the lyrics, so I re-used some of the rhymes from the letter “S” in the original I.S.E.S. version. It worked out pretty well. Since ILEA is an international association, using directions in the lyrics (East, West, North, Compass) would emphasize their world-wide membership.

If you watch the YouTube lyric video above, you’ll get the gist of what the association is about, so I won’t deep-dive into the lyrics. The short story is that the lyrics are written from the perspective of an event planner who is admiring her helpful ILEA network at her event. This is something most ILEA members can relate to.

That brings us to the music itself. The decision to make the song mostly mid-tempo electronica was easy. The target market for ILEA is very broad age-wise and interest-wise, so it wasn’t necessary to make a pure rock or pure hip-hop or dance-dominant (those are just examples) production. However, since many of the ILEA members are event planners, a production that was modern and classy was a must because those same elements are what event planners try to produce at their events. Going with some mid-tempo electronica did the trick. That said, I did include a few modern “real” instruments like acoustic guitars and horns in the background. These can please the ears of slightly older listeners and fans of all music genres which might leverage such instruments (adult contemporary, country, etc.). The music also needed to be comfortably upbeat to suit the celebratory nature of the organization, versus being at the other ends of the tempo and melodic spectrum.

My goal in every song is to have a strong and catchy and memorable chorus, and I think this one delivers.

After hearing the nearly final version, one of the ILEA Vice Presidents envisioned adding various sound effects to emphasize their members’ presence at live events, parties, weddings, celebrations and so on. He had a number of good ideas, but most of them I knew would be too “quiet” to be heard above the music itself. If you didn’t already know, it’s difficult to take sounds that are “quiet” in the real world and make them “loud” in a full music production. Have you ever heard something like the sound of bed sheets rustling over a rock song? Probably not. But something like a cowbell has a very loud character and can be easily heard in the densest mixes.

The solution was to add relatively “loud” sounds like glasses chiming up close and crowds cheering. Even so, to make both of those sounds heard above the music, I had to blend many types of glasses and different crowd recordings together, while treating them with aggressive equalization and compression. Can you hear them at the very beginning and end of the song?

The last interesting thing I’ll note here is the appearance of many spoken voices in the middle bridge of the song. A couple of years ago, I began integrating audiences into my live shows and recorded music. Most people get a real kick out of it, so I decided to interview ILEA members at one of their internal events. My question to attendees was, “What do you like most about ILEA?” I recorded their responses into my iPhone with a high-quality microphone, then brought the results to my studio and edited them into the music. It added a lot of life to the middle of the song instead of hearing the usual guitar solo.

This song took around 70 hours to write, record, mix, master and deliver. It was worth it.

Let me create a song for you for a big meeting, a wedding, a celebration, any event or for a marketing campaign.

Like a diamond, a song is forever!

ILEA ISES custom theme song

Review: The Song Machine (a book about making music hits)

This book was written in a way that I loved. It was current (relatively speaking), researched, topical and clear. Songwriting and music production are my specialties, so I hungered to get through it. There simply aren’t enough detailed accounts of great songs married to great music production.

The first couple of chapters worried me because I thought, I already know all of this stuff. However, I was thereafter schooled in tier-1 music industry practices and given some contextual stories which I either had no knowledge of or had only known the surfaces of.

For example, in any industry, there are always specialists who are go-to people for particular needs. Even in the music industry in my hometown of Toronto, I know many folks who have one strength among broad musical skill sets. If I need a guitarist, who’s great at lead, who has great tone and a particular style of making melodies that I like, then that’s who I call instead of the general guitarist next door.

Therefore, I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that at the top 1% of the songwriting and music production world, there are top liners — people whose only role is to make a melodic hook on top of established chords, arrangements or beats.

What? I first thought. Aren’t there songwriters or producers who can just do it all? Yes, of course there are. I’ve been “doing it all” for years. But often, as is the case at the top of any business, a final ounce of competitive advantage is sought to win. A funny case of the same tracks sent to two top liners ended up in the releases of the below two very similar-sounding songs. They came out around the same time:

This, of course, can be disheartening if you thought that the two above artists wrote these songs for themselves. You would have had an unpleasant experience reading this book if you wanted to avoid truths about the whole manufactured music stars concept.

The pursuit of song hits was outlined nicely. Successes and failures were found through top performing artists’ stories, such as Kelly Clarkson, Rihanna, Kesha, Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys and the very un-Western K-Pop phenomenon. They were highly enjoyable to uncover.

The book’s ultimate essence, however, focused on names that would be less familiar to an average human: Denniz Pop, Dr. Luke, Max Martin or The Matrix. Such individuals or teams are key hit makers. It was enjoyable to get into their businesses and personalities. The original hit factory known as The Brill Building in New York City was discussed to give us some history and context. Hit making as an intentional group business practice has been around since the 1930s.

A section was devoted to Spotify and its effect, which was far deeper than most of the opinion or statistics pieces I’ve read to date regarding streaming radio.

It looked like the author got some of his info through personal experience and from articles published online. Everything was well documented and fairly low on speculation.

My only criticism? A teeny one: The concept of digital compression was used so loosely or poorly that I might go so far as to say it was used incorrectly.

In general, a must-read for songwriters and music producers. It’s inspired me somewhat to up my game.

the song machine john seabrook

A Dead Music Stars Discussion

This blog post was delayed longer than I would have liked (from being published) because one of my family members has been lying on his deathbed.  I wanted to minimize the whole, y’know, death thing.  So, here it is, tardy after the early-mid January 2016 hype around the frequency of music star deaths.

dead music stars bowie lemmy cole frey weiland

In the last short while, we’ve lost music stars such as Scott Weiland (Stone Temple Pilots), Natalie Cole, Lemmy (Motorhead) and David Bowie.  As I began writing this blog post, Glenn Frey (Eagles) appeared in my social media feed as another one gone.  For a growing 2016 current list, click on this labour of love.

As part of the music networking group Balanced Breakfast (Toronto chapter), a small group of us were compelled to talk about Dead Rock Stars.  Questions:  What made these particular music stars stand out?  Why might the public acknowledge them more than other types of celebrities?  Why was there arguably more attention after their death, rather than when they were alive?

This is the re-cap of the discussion.

A tweet that received much attention after David Bowie’s death and has been re-posted through numerous sources:

During our group discussion, we came to see it as truth.

“What they said [during their careers] affected me,” said Veronica Kutt, an independent booking agent in Toronto.  The lyrics in the artists’ songs or the words they spoke on stage or through interviews was something that all of us acknowledged.  For some reason, the artists said things that we ourselves might not have been able to convey on our own.  Maybe we were living with a certain thought or emotion that couldn’t be translated, or perhaps we wanted to express something through speech that wouldn’t come out of our mouth.  These artists were able to refine and state what we couldn’t.  And we liked it.

“The expected trajectories of music’s evolution might be different if they had lived.  And today would be different if they hadn’t already contributed,” said Alborz Mohtashami (a.k.a. Crossword) in reference to hip-hop artists like 2Pac and J Dilla.  We all wondered about the templates that Dead Music Stars made for us.  They would be forever-references for anybody involved with music.

Particularly youthful deaths like those of Janice Joplin or Amy Winehouse stand out because we think of what might have been.  Would they have had more hits?  How would they have influenced the music landscape later in their lives?  Imagine if Jim Morrison was at the Grammys last year.  Would he have made a canned joke for us to giggle at?  It’s thinking about the unknown that we get uncomfortable over.

“The interest in these deaths might stem from the hopes we put on them, which they never had to live up to.  It’s a bit of a fantasy,” said Ryan Cameron-Clark, a Toronto promoter, DJ and curator of dark electronica sub-genres.  Indeed, fantasy was a key discussion point.  Most of us have fantasized what it would be like to be a music star — loved by the public for showing their particular style of creativity.  As well, some of us have even fantasized about having an artist’s (supposed) lifestyle, image or good looks.  Could that be me?

“In my case, I don’t usually get emotionally attached to an artist because I tend to separate the music from the person,” said Josh Bowman, a Toronto-based audio engineer and music producer.  Our perceptions of music stars could decidedly change due to one comment, one photo, one video or one live performance.  The living band Metric was mentioned by someone as ruining their image for him by having a (faux?) big ego on stage.  The living artist Joan Jett was mentioned by someone as impressing them unexpectedly by “owning” an audience of 40,000 attendees.  In both of these examples, the listeners had preconceived notions of who / what they were, but it all changed.  The point is that we are very sensitive to what a music star does across their entire careers.

“I felt very sad after learning of certain music stars’ deaths,” said Richard Leko of punk-based melodic alternative band Broomfiller.  Indeed, just talking about the topic of Dead Music Stars in our group created a high-tension, high-emotion environment that was unusual (and probably unpleasant) for folks who were otherwise upbeat.  Eyes welled up and our talk had that serious tone that usually comes with a universal reflection of death.

We threw around a few names of current living music stars that could garner much attention when they pass away:  Kanye, Dave Grohl, Taylor Swift, Beck, Justin Bieber, Bono, Andre 3000.  Certainly this is the sort of list that many people would expand or disagree with because numerous ticket or music sales might not launch them into “legend” status at death.  In addition, we wondered if the impacts would be smaller than those of yesteryear because music these days is so much more fragmented.  There will never be another event as massive as Live Aid, for example.  That’s merely one of many indicators of society supporting more music performers holding smaller portions of the proverbial pie.

As more music stars die in the future (everybody dies eventually), certainly those that will affect us emotionally should trigger our gratitude, too.  A music star is a music star because he or she stimulated us in a meaningful way.

Dyniss is a singer-songwriter from Toronto who also manages Balanced Breakfast, a music industry networking group.  Also present in this meeting was Ryan VanDrie, rock singer-songwriter.

balanced breakfast toronto butler's pantry music

Our Balanced Breakfast chat talking about Dead Music Stars at local eatery Butler’s Pantry.

Middle Heaven – A Custom Song Explained

I’ve never written a full songwriting and production breakdown before, so here it is! This blog post will explain why one of my Custom Songs sounds the way it does. If you happen to already know a lot about songwriting and production, then at a minimum after reading this you’ll know how I approached those disciplines.

Toward the end of last year, I created a song called Middle Heaven for a client. The client was writing a novel that had similarities to the Harry Potter universe, i.e. it contained elements of youth, magic and adventure. Although the client had not yet finished writing the novel, she loved the idea of having a song ready ahead of time to help sell it. The novel’s completion would be followed by pitching for a screenplay and an animated trailer. The trailer would use this song as the backing soundtrack.

The Interview

Before I met the client, I wanted to ensure that I could learn as much as possible about her idea, so she let me read six unreleased chapters of the novel. Afterward, I met her in person for coffee for an hour with my notebook in hand. We talked about what she wanted in the song, who the target market (listeners) would be and how we could make the song work with her story. She liked my immediate ideas, so I wrote for about 20 hours (a song takes me anywhere from 8 hours to 50 hours to write), then played a skeletal version for her on my guitar “unplugged” a few weeks later to get her initial approval before proceeding with a Deluxe Production.

The Lyrics

You can listen to the song and read along with the lyrics in the video linked above.

One of the easiest things you can do to support an idea / a person’s name / a brand / a company / a theme / etc. is to make the title of the song refer to that. I made it happen in the chorus (literally singing, “Middle Heaven,” which is the title of the novel) so it would anchor the listener and ideally help them to remember the title. I kept the chorus lyrics as simple as possible, while singing about Middle Heaven as a place that I wanted to go to. Hopefully, that would make the imaginary physical location of Middle Heaven somewhere a listener would also like to visit, which would further add to listener engagement.

As I built the writing, I played ideas over and over again into my iPhone with guitar, then listened, then adjusted, then re-recorded until I was happy with the result. I usually forego writing lyrics on paper these days since I have so many revisions and want to clearly see old ideas in case I want to retrieve them.

Story-wise for the verses, in this case I chose to focus on the three main characters of the novel, whose names were identical to the idealistic values that they also represented: faith, hope, love. Since many songs do well with three verses, I thought it would be effective to dedicate a single verse to each character. I decided to mention their values and play with the novel’s details by declaring the magic items the characters carry: a magic staff of power, a magic harp and a magic flute. It all added up to a descriptive, artistic and pleasing summary of the Middle Heaven concept, without giving away too much information (think, “no spoilers”). 🙂

To add some dynamics, when I sang about the harp and flute, I momentarily added actual harp and flute to the music. Listen to the song again if you missed those subtleties and the end of the second and third verses. Little things like that can really help the entertainment factor.

The Music

The client was of an age group (and likely so too would be her first contacts for pitches / promotion) that would enjoy hearing modern contemporary instruments, rather than electronic sounds or primary classical instruments. Such instruments would also create the “vibe” she was looking for regarding her expected audience. Instruments you can hear in the song in addition to the harp and flute include drums, electric bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, horns, string orchestra, bells and tambourine. A few backup vocals finish it off.

Of special note are the horns. It’s always a good idea (if possible) to associate instruments that will emphasize your message. Horns have always been a well-used association with Heaven, clouds, a higher power, etc. They also have an uplifting quality in most productions, so why not add them to each chorus? Listen for them if you haven’t already identified them.

The Production

The recording / mixing / mastering process took about 45 hours (a full production can take me anywhere from 30 hours to 100 hours). The songwriting itself, as I often notice during production, needed to be modified a little bit (lyric and melody changes, plus their timing) as the production came to life. I always want every note of every instrument (including vocals) to weave in and out of the arrangement perfectly. It can be fun and it can sometimes be challenging to do this, meanwhile going through sound / instrument options until I reach my end goal. I programmed some instruments, played some instruments live and sang the lyrics myself. I’m always open to having another singer or session player take over, but the client was thrilled with what she got. I was pretty happy with the end result, too. It sounds up to my usual standards and filled the client’s needs. Working solo for a long time on a song like this is a normal experience for a musicpreneur — but the result still always comes out being worth it.

I hoped you enjoyed this little “behind the scenes” blog post. Check out the Custom Songs page if you want your own song.
headphones music albums listening

A Song about Depression – Mirrors and Smoke

When I play my song Mirrors and Smoke — a song about depression — applause at the end is usually sparse. Most folks prefer uplifting feelings over introspection when it comes to entertainment, songs and/or music. Here is a new bootstrapped and slightly artsy music video to support the song:

#SorryNotSorry, folks — I believe that a dark song from time to time (not all the time — see below) can be good for mind and spirit if it gives you something to relate to. Additionally, if art (i.e. a song) is supposed to be an expression of the human condition, then it should also be okay to express something that isn’t all rainbows and flowers.

One great thing about being a performing songwriter is being able to have discussions with folks who are pleased to discover that you think a little bit like them (and vice versa). If you’ve ever felt alone in your thoughts or mental struggles, then maybe you can relate to Mirrors and Smoke, whose lyric outlines how professionals like doctors and engineers looked down on my music career. Their pessimism negatively affected my self-confidence, which I subsequently faked.

It’s generally uncool to talk about mood depression. Socially, it makes us appear weak. Although I was a sufferer, I admit that I have “unfollowed” several people in my social networks over the last few years who posted about their own suffering frequently. It’s not that I didn’t care or wanted to avoid commenting on it — it’s that I can be negatively influenced by receiving too much of that type of information. These days, I use several disciplines to ensure that I keep my spirits high. You can listen to the audio speakquel (a spoken prequel to Mirrors and Smoke found on my current album) linked below regarding this topic, which says more than I have written here:

All said, I believe that there is a time and a place to talk comfortably about depression or other dark topics. Balance is the key. In my daily personal life, I choose to limit my complaining and focus on the positives as much as possible because it contributes to a sense of well-being. It’s also easy to see that people want to be around me more when I’m in that mode.

I’m releasing this video and blog post immediately before the holiday season because statistics say that mood depression increases around this time period. My hope is that those who might be suffering can see that there are others who have the condition, which can actually make a person feel better for the short run. For the long run, there are ways to get out — I offer some neutral advice within the speakquel above.

Happy Holidays. 😉

depressed depression sad struggle

Depression can be treated and/or defeated.

3 Reasons Why We Don’t Finish Things

It’s true: I almost didn’t finish my new music album.

Between my personal, creative and corporate lives, I have seen incompletion patterns amongst my peers and within myself. Based on the experiences, I believe the 3 major reasons why we don’t finish things are:

1. A lack of painful consequences (or allowing “acceptable” consequences to take place);
2. A lack of accountability to other people (or to oneself);
3. Focusing on perfection or a similarly unachievable goal.

To crush these blockers, I recommend playing a game: The Intentional Interference Game. The only rule is to intentionally / purposefully interfere with your established work patterns. I played the I.I. Game and won shortly after gameplay began.

First, I gave myself a painful consequence: I booked a date for mastering my record. If I missed the date, I would likely hurt my relationship with the studio and lose money. I foresaw pain!

Second, I created some accountability with some of my peers by promising them a copy of the album, also by a certain date. I knew if I didn’t come through with these particular peers, they would be asking me about it and I didn’t want to sheepishly say that I was “still working on it.” I felt accountability!

Third, I drew a line at 97% “perfection” for my album. Of course, I believe that a line can be drawn at any point for any project. This particular line meant that I had to make a few artistic compromises, but it allowed me to move forward. I forewent perfection!

I became motivated to finish what I had been working on. The 3 reasons for not finishing things and my game to combat them I hope are straightforward. Perhaps you can try playing the I.I. Game to leap incompletion hurdles in your own world?

dyniss the second fistful album cover 400 px

This album wasn’t getting finished until I played the Intentional Interference Game.

Does your day job feel sucky?

Does your day job feel sucky?

It’s possible that you’ll think it sucks less when you consider facts like this one: a quarter of the world’s population has to spend an entire year’s wages to buy the computer/ phone/ tablet you’re reading this email on.

Thinking about a big picture like that can make you feel happier because it can trigger your sense of gratitude.

Does your day job still feel sucky?

It’s possible that your day job (or anything else that’s a responsibility — like a simple household chore) still feels sucky because you’re running around like crazy trying to deal with it.

However, in every case, you’re probably doing what you’re doing because you have an underlying goal. That goal might be to pay the bills each month or make your house look nice for a visitor. Is the underlying goal worth it? Can the goal be modified? If you need to stick with the exact same underlying goal, then try this: think about and focus on the goal intensely for 10 seconds. Just doing that can make you feel happier because you answer “why” you’re doing what you’re doing.

Hopefully the above thought techniques can help you feel happier about everything from selling vacuum cleaners to taking care of your grandma.

See and hear my new music video about this concept through the song, “I Am Running” on YouTube at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FcTVY7fYY1A

job career day sucks sucky running run

Video image from Dyniss’ original song, “I Am Running.” There are ways to tackle the feeling of a sucky job or a responsibility.

Network Fretwork

For fun, I looked up the word, “network” at rhymezone.com and got “fretwork,” which is (of course) related to guitar frets. It was the only word that was a perfect rhyme. I found this amusing since guitar is a part of my passion.

I have been spending quite a bit of time networking: meeting new people in person, using social media and attending official networking events. I have sometimes been thinking of this as a questionable use of my time. It’s definitely not one of those instantly measurable return-on-investment things, which my psychology can have trouble embracing, i.e. I want instant return on investment due to my impatience. You also don’t know who you’re going to meet or what it might lead to. In any case, I am doing this because the business experts I have studied agree that it is very necessary for growth. Robot Dyniss is complying.

Speaking of Robot Dyniss, I have been frequently realizing as I meet new folks that I am doing a million things “right,” because the other folks do not appear to be doing the same. It makes me feel like I have a massive advantage. For example, I met a nice fellow recently who started selling me on his business, but he opened with a long comment about how other people might tell me that his company is “bad.” I know even without having studied sales (which I have been doing), that you shouldn’t open any introduction with negative comments unless you are explaining a prospect’s pain that you are able to remedy. I mentioned this kindly to him, but he replied with a very detailed response on why he was doing it. He justified it pretty well, but if I were in the same boat and felt I had to do that, I would know that I was working for the wrong company.

So I seem to be doing lots right. Let’s go, universe — let’s go!

What am I doing?

I sometimes experience moments where I have caught myself highly focused or putting intense energy into my work. I will flip into a personal reality check. It’s usually a bit humorous and a bit sad. I realize that I’m frowning or feeling tired and frustrated as I push through the work. The question that enters my mind is, “What am I doing?” And sometimes pessimistically, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” You see, the highly focused energy I might put into, entering new contacts into Outlook, Gmail, MailChimp — and then sending the contacts a personally crafted email — takes a lot of time. When I hit the email “send” button for a completed contact — I know that I might not ever hear back from him or her. So I question why am doing that task at all. Might there not be a better way to spend my time? Should I really be putting energy into something where I’m not seeing measurable results? I hate to use this word — faith — but it’s sometimes what I’m hanging on to. I’ve been studying many best practices about building a business, and I think I’m following most of them pretty well so far. But where is that payoff? I sometimes question it all. I shall keep on truckin’ in any case!
Faith Roadsign