Musical Simplicity and Success Often Go Hand In Hand

Gary Ewer’s blog is a great resource for songwriters. Among other things, he offers these important reminders about keeping things simple.

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How to Harmonize a Melody eBook - Gary Ewer

Cold War Kids - FirstIt’s a common error to think that imaginative music comes from musical complexity. The thought is that if you write music that uses intricate chord progressions, elaborately entangled melodies, all partnered with bewildering lyrics, you’ve got something that should stimulate the imagination of the listener.

But usually, that kind of music just ends up confusing the listener, boring them, and ensuring that they won’t bother listening again.

In fact, simplicity is the most valuable quality of good songwriting. Simplicity, in this context, simply means that the listener can hear and understand each element of a song. What generally stimulates the imagination and stirs the interest of the listener is how those elements all connect.

American indie rock band Cold War Kids’ latest album, “Hold My Home,” is a great album for demonstrating the notion of creating music that easily grabs listener interest by layering elements that are clean, clear and transparent.

Considering their song…

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Is it time to make a record?

Slowly but surely I’m starting to take steps toward making a record.  As an independent artist it is a significant investment of time and energy but my aim is to think about it as a creative act while approaching it with a business-like frame of mind.  A platinum selling record isn’t the goal obviously, but a decent return on the investment through modest but steady record sales supported by a smart might be within reach.

Most important, however, is to approach this as a learning opportunity that brings together the creative and business sides of the music industry as it is today (i.e., complicated!), and to use this initiative as a way to connect to other people and make it a rich social experience that contains its own rewards.

Taking that lead, I’ve started doing my homework to figure out the “unknown unknowns” as it were.  Cameron Mizell’s four-part series “Introduction to the Self-released Album” on has been a great starting point to gain some awareness of the various things involved in this process.  It’s recommended reading for anyone taking this route as an independent.

Starlight by Trevor Leyenhorst

Wonderful support in Okotoks.

Okotoks is a pretty little town just south of Calgary with a lovely main street and Art Gallery located in the old railway station where they are hosting a weekly Art on the Lawn event each Thursday.

Last week I had the pleasure of performing at the event where I met Allan Boss is with Culture & Historical Services for Okotoks and his team Andrea and Nicola.  Allan and his team do a wonderful job putting on this event and creating an opportunity for local artisans and musicians to be seen and heard.

I had the pleasure of meeting Allan last year at the Summer Saturdays event in Okotoks when I performed a few songs on stage during a beautiful morning at the market.  Allan is a great supporter of local artists and I am grateful for his energy and enthusiasm for events like these.  And he’s written some cool kids songs too!

“Meet me in Montreal” is chosen as a finalist for 2015 Calgary Folk Fest Song Contest

songcontestI’m pleased to announce that “Meet me in Montreal” was chosen as a finalist for the 2015 Calgary Folk Fest and Ship & Anchor songwriting contest.  I was asked to perform the song in Calgary last weekend to a packed Ship & Anchor pub. While the song didn’t place in the top three, it was a great experience to be able to share the song with a friendly crowd and with some very special people that came to hear it.

Picking a name

Coming up with a name for a musical act is never an easy task.  I’ve toyed with using superpapa67 for this purpose but I’m not entirely comfortable with it.  It’s a pseudonym and I use it on this site partly to keep my songwriting identity separate from the rest of my life. In looking around for another name I could use, I finally settled (at least for now) on “Selkirk Range”. The name is inspired by the Selkirk locomotive that was used to pull heavy trains through the difficult Rocky Mountain passes, and in particular the Selkirk Mountain Range.  I’ve seen these things and they are impressive (both the locomotive and the mountains).  I like the name for that reason and also because it invokes the West and my roots in Calgary and Edmonton.  It hints at Gordon Lightfoot’s “Railroad Trilogy” and other Canadian traditions.  I can connect with those sentiments.  (And, a Google search suggests that nobody’s taken the name yet!) The image is an adaption of a wonderful photograph on Flickr by Matt Kaiser called “The Music Within (Silhouette)”.  Matt has made it available as a Creative Commons license with a restriction on commercial use.  The font is Bank Gothic. It’s evocative and plays in several dimensions: it’s an acoustic guitar from the inside out, it looks a bit like a weird crescent moon or eclipse, and it has a figure/ground effect with the light and dark depending on how you look at it. Music Within_Matt Kaiser SRANGE

Tacoma ER22C SJ by brett jordan

The 30 mark and going strong

I’m a part-time songwriting and, at this point in my life, I’m not in it to build a career or get famous.  Not that either of those would or could happen but you get the point.  So I have the luxury of taking my time and enjoying the creative process.

I written previously that the focus of my approach is Write to Finish.  Which is a variation on speedwriting (I recommend Gary Ewer’s blog post about it) but without over-emphasis on speed.  Getting the song into a full draft form, with a beginning, middle, and end helps to get me past the point of abandoning interesting ideas.  I still abandon ideas but far less than I used to.  The WTF approach also helps me to get over the internal critic that always wants to sabotage my creativity.  I don’t worry about the small stuff–a missing rhyme, or a problematic verse–I just continue to work through to finish the framework of the song.  The finer points come later … and they do.  I still find myself tweaking lyrics weeks and months after finishing the draft of a song.

Anyway, with all the emphasis on writing I’ve set myself a target to write 50 songs before I turn to more serious thoughts about investing in production and recording.  I figure that by the time I hit the target, I will have amassed enough material and experience to really know what I like and how I might want to approach it in the studio.  Moreover, I’m finding as I continue to write, that I’m hearing patterns and stylistic elements recur in the work.  That suggests to me a maturity in the writing that might be a sign that my writing is evolving into a distinctive sound.  Maybe. Who knows.

Whatever the case, I hit the 30 song mark in late March with 2 new titles: “Doin’ by Me” and “The Longest Night of the Year”.  “Doin’ by Me” was one of those songs that comes quickly and I’ve demoed it up already.

By contrast, “Longest Night of the Year” was prompted by my participation in the SAC Challenge when we were asked to write a holiday song. I couldn’t write it in the week allotted in the Challenge but I did finish a full draft of it last week and hope to have it demoed soon.  I chose a Christmas lament 😦  in 3/4 time.  We need songs for sad people during the holidays too!

20 more songs to go.  Be patient but be persistent.