I am trying to write some songs : Wherein the protagonist tries her hand.

Take It from the Top (view posts in chronological order)

My Cake

The slaying dragons tweet from a couple of days ago was about this song. Everything having to do with “My Cake” has been hard, which is funny because it’s a breezy little thing. The whole enterprise feels more like code-cracking than songwriting. Now I have six parts: drum machine, two keyboard parts and three vocal parts. I have no idea where I’m going from here. Neither does the drum loop, which rolls on forever because my Garageband to MP3 conversion skills are a wee bit limited. Just hit stop when you’re ready. Headphones, by the way, make it sound an awful lot better. Sorry about the pitchiness. It’s hard to sing in tune.

My Cake.lofi.parts by Middlemojo

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drum machine

And Now For Something Completely Different.

I went to Kidder Farm last week. Usually when I visit I politely listen to and then ignore Gary’s suggestions for fresh approaches to songwriting. That’s not to say he doesn’t have good ideas, just that they haven’t worked for me. Taking a walk didn’t work. Coming up with a melody first didn’t work. I think I’m too inexperienced. Maybe strumming guitar and staring into space is my method. But this time I was desperate or tipsy enough to agree that starting a new song on a drum machine would be an excellent idea. Here’s how it went: Gary unearthed the drum machine, plugged it in, and left.

I spent half a day scrolling through the preset patterns: Rock 1, Rock 2, Rock 3, Rock 4, and so forth. Hard Rock 1, 2, and 3. Rockabilly. Various Technos. Some Funk and Latin. Reggae (as if). Dixie. Polka. Jazz. R&B. Fusion. You’re thinking, as I was, wouldn’t Country Rock or Ballad be a smart choice for the newbie? But no. The beat that won my heart was Rap 3. It’s sharp. It swings. It’s not like me. Beyond that I really don’t know and I really don’t have to. My choices don’t have to make sense. It’s not like I’m searching for a sound or strategizing a career. I’m exploring, pure and if not exactly simple then definitely agenda-less. And there was something titillating about being so far out of my comfort zone. Which leads to my next choice: a keyboard. I don’t play keyboard. Not a bit. Never took lessons as a kid and never fooled around as a teenager. But the keyboard is where I and Rap 3 wanted to go. So we did. Gary unearthed a keyboard, plugged it in, and left.

I found myself in another world of preset sounds. I scrolled through a lot of them.  I’m vaguely embarassed to say that I chose Voice Ooh (39), which sounds like a capella singing and is pretty cheesy when you play it on the middle and higher notes but on the bottom of the keyboard it sounds less humanoid and pretty cool. The most number of fingers I seemed to be able to use simultaneously was two, so I poked around with my thumb and pinkie in the key of C, because I know enough to know that I could avoid the black keys. I  poked and poked some more until I found a pattern I liked. I spent a long time figuring out the names of the sort-of chords I was playing, for no reason other than it seemed like a crime to not know. I spent a very long time playing with tempo. Fast felt frantic and technically prohibitive. Slow felt slow-jammy and totally faux. Midtempo seemed the only option. And then it was time to, what? I wasn’t writing a song, at least not in the narrative, intuitive way I’d done previously, so much as making components that would later be sliced and diced and fashioned into a song. How fashionable.

Beats, check. Synth-poppy chords, check. Some kind of simple melodic line ought to come next, partly because that would balance the busy rhythm and staccato chords, and partly because I could do it with one finger. So I chose a new sound, Vib Pad (87), and made a little melody. A very little melody. Dear reader, here it is. In fact, here is a lot more of my three humble parts than you would ever want to listen to because I don’t know how to edit in GarageBand, so it goes on and on and on. Just press stop.

Synth Pop Parts by Middlemojo

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lucky-number-seven-is--painting your toes_wallpaper

Different Kind of Lucky

I vowed to finish and post “Different Kind of Lucky” a couple of weeks ago but if you’ve been reading this blog you know that despite my best intentions a few things have gotten in the way. Well, one thing. Me. The song is finally done and there’s even a line about good intentions in the chorus. This is real life, people. Anyway, I had started thinking about how sometimes when things go wrong it’s not just a drag but an opportunity. I don’t really know what sort of song it is, which sort of bothers me. I recorded it late at night with no effects but in my my head I hear lots of clattering instruments, all shambling and propulsive-like. Also, THERE IS A BRIDGE. My first one. Sometimes I really can’t believe I’m doing this.

Different Kind of Lucky by Middlemojo

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The Problem With Songwriting Is Alienating Your Loved Ones

I would like to poll all the lyricists I admire, the fearless, clear-eyed chroniclers of wrong turns and troubled minds, and ask them how they do it. I’m not talking about the actual writing of the words, although I would like to know how they do that, too. Right now I want to know how the hell you write honestly about your life, and the people in your life, without making everyone hate you. I gather there is some art involved. A way of transposing reality into rhyme so that meaning remains visceral but nobody gets hurt. It’s not easy, not if you hope to avoid platitudes and cliches. Details must be altered, even if they’re rich. The truth is muted or twisted. Facts are bent and reshaped into verse. It’s finesse on the front end and good sport on the back. Only yesterday a friend who is the books editor at a major newspaper tweeted about getting the galleys for the new Carly Simon biography without an index. He couldn’t immediately look up “You’re So Vain.” I want to tell the truth and I want to protect people’s feelings. I want to expose myself and I want to guard my privacy. I’ll have to become a storyteller.

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first star

Kismet. Serendipity. Blessing. Break.

I’m writing a song about luck. Not good luck or bad luck per se but more the idea that the two aren’t mututally exclusive. Think about it. It’s when things are going wrong that we do what needs doing or see what needs seeing or figure out what stuff really means. The song is called “A Different Kind of Lucky” and working on it has me wondering what luck is. Chance? Karma? Destiny? Faith? An mash of circumstance and choice and cause and effect to which we’re so oblivious we perceive it to be imposed on us by the universe? The word has been around for five centuries and it’s a mystery. So we name things, hopefully, as if singing the song or buying the jeans or shopping for groceries will bring it closer. Luck is a gambler’s lady friend, it’s star power, the number seven, a cigarette, a dog. It’s a clothing company, a supermarket chain, a town in Louisiana. People who need people have it. The Irish don’t. My attitude toward luck is probably skewed and definitely first-world. I’m still trying to nail it down. I’ll finish and post the song this week. If I’m lucky.

Meanwhile, there’s this.

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