Imperial Drag, Jellyfish, Roger Manning, songwriter, songwriting, synth, Synthesizer

Roger Manning Jr’s: Songwriting Like It’s 1970

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Rogers Manning Jr (Jellyfish, Imperial Drag) writes catchy melodic songs with vintage 60s and 70s instruments. Think you’ve got GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome)? This guy has got it bad. This is a 4-parts video of himself showing off his vintage instruments collection. Freakin’ awesome!

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Check out his latest album The Land of Pure Imagination (Mhmm, I prefer the original title “Solid State Warrior”) to see how he used this massive gear collection to write 70’s-influenced songs.

Here are two MP3 clips you can find at the end of a 2005 O’Reilly interview:

You Were Right
Creeple People

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Brad Sucks, Half The World, Home Studios, Jonathan Coulton, songwriter, songwriting

Songwriter Home Studios

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I love looking and reading about songwriter home studios. I compare their gear list to my own and see if I can match the quality of their recordings. If I have similar gear but less impressive results, it means that I should spend more time using and learning the gear. It’s a big eye opener.

Here are three songwriters who were gracious enough to let us know what they have:

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Jonathan Coulton

Jonathan is a well-known internet-based indy musician with a rabid (and growing) fan base. Jonathan is a Mac-head and also uses his equipment for podcasting. As you can see, his equipment list features some eclectic stringed instruments such as the ukulele and a therenim.

Hardware/Software:

  • Mac G4 desktop
  • Digi 002 + Pro Tools LE
  • Ableton Live
  • Apple Soundtrack
  • Garageband for loopy things and other digital manipulation.

Gear list:

  • Martin 000C-16RGTE cutaway acoustic guitar
  • Gibson Les Paul Studio electric guitar
  • Fender American Stratocaster (bought new in 2006)
  • Deering Good Time banjo
  • Mid-Missouri M-11 Mandolin
  • Mele Tenor Ukulele
  • The cheapest Fender electric bass they had in the store
  • Ditto for the acoustic bass (some kind of Dean cheapie)
  • Wechter Scheerhorn resonator guitar
  • Moog Etherwave theremin
  • Ensoniq MR-Rack sound module
  • dbx 376 tube channel strip
  • Line6 Pod Pro guitar amp modeler
  • Behringer Bass V-Amp Pro bass amp modeler
  • AT-4040
  • Shure KSM32
  • Shure BG 4.0
  • Shure SM 58 (but of course)

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Brad Sucks

Brad Sucks is a Canadian indy musician. He’s been doing the whole free music thing longer than Jonathan Coulton and recently got some coverage on Toronto’s CityTV, which is how I learned from him. Oh yeah, Drad doesn’t suck.

Hardware/Software:

  • AthlonXP 2700 w/1gig RAM
  • Steinberg Cubase SX
  • Sonic Foundry Sound Forge

Gear List:

  • Behringer Eurorack UB1204-PRO mixing board
  • Delta 66 sound card
  • Event 20/20bas monitors
  • Shure SM58 dynamic microphone
  • MXL v67 condenser microphone
  • Boss GT-6 guitar effects processor
  • PreSonus BlueTube preamp
  • Gibson Epiphone G310 electric guitar
  • Some Norman acoustic guitar
  • Yamaha RBX260L bass guitar

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Half The World

Pete Weaver is the drummer and producer for the rock band Half The World. Listen to the songs on their first album “Bigger Than You” released in 2002. Pete uses a Digi001 with a truckload of mixing plug-ins. His real secret weapon is his knowledge, not his gear. After spending years recording small garage bands in Boise (Idaho), he has amassed an impressive sum of recording and mixing techniques.

Hardware/Software:

  • Digi001
  • ProTools LE

Gear list:

  • Studio Project C1 Microphone
  • Apogee Trak2
  • McDSP Analog Channel
  • Waves Diamond Bundle
  • VocAlign
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Jason Blume, Meter, songwriter, songwriting

Check Your Meter!

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Metering (also called note counting or syllable counting) is very important in lyric writing. I often read lyrics online and I’m always amazed at how many people don’t take the time to balance their lines and make sure that the meter is consistent. The standard excuse is “Man, I only write lyrics! I leave the music to somebody else”. See, metering is part of your job! Here is why…

Not A Poem
The main problem is that many people confuse lyrics with poems. They are not the same. Here are a few basic differences:

  • Whereas a poem can be very intellectual and obscure, a song as to be clear and to the point.
  • Whereas a poem is meant to be read, lyrics are meant to be sung. This means that any word that is long, technical and/or difficult to pronounce will not be easy to sing. No tongue twisters!
  • Poems have no time constraints. Each line can be arbitrary long and the final poem can span several pages if required. A song is usually limited to 3 minutes and has to include many repetitions.

Poets like Leonard Cohen are known for turning poems into lyrics, but it’s usually done after many hors spent pruning away each lyric line until they can be sung comfortably.

An Example
Metering can be described broadly as “the number of notes in a line of lyrics”. The reason I don’t say the “number of syllables” is because syllables can be stretched or shorten depending on pronunciation, slang and “creative” diction. Also, this is the same number of notes that would be played in an instrumental monophonic melodic line. Imagine if you will a saxophone player playing the same notes than the ones being sung.

As an example, here is a verse from a song of mine called “Paper Flower Girl” (meters are in parenthesis):


(verse 2)
Standing on the corner (6)
Here you are (3)
Selling little flowers (6)
Packs of two (3)
Doesn’t really matter (6)
Who you are (3)
When you give love (4)
When you give love (4)

This example demonstrates that lyric lines are often symmetrical: see how line 1 and 3 not only rhyme: they have common meter. Lines 2 and 4 don’t rhyme, but they have the same meter. There is a sense of symmetry and balance where each line as a corresponding one with the same meter.

Also note the following points:

  • It’s easier for someone to write a melody if they know the meter for each verse, chorus, bridge, etc.
  • Each song section has a certain number of bars anyway, so even if you wanted to “break the rules”, you would run out of time.
  • It’s also better to break your lines into shorter meter counts. 4 to 9 notes is ideal and most flexible. Try not to get over 10 or 12.
  • Writing your lyrics in this way will show that you know your craft and it will be easier for others to fit music to it.
  • This is what Bernie Toupin did with Elton John: his lines were already metered and balanced. Elton would just sing them while trying different chords and melodies, and he knew he didn’t have to rewrite the lyrics. This allowed them to write together while communicating with a fax.

For more details (and much better examples), check Jason Blume’s “6 Steps to songwriting success”, pp107-109.

Standardized Sizes
Metering your lines can be seen like construction material for a house. Imagine for a moment that you are an artisan building beautiful ceramic tiles that comes in 6×6 and 12×12 inches. Knowing that, anyone can take your material and put it in their architectural plan knowing that it will fit the room perfectly. They would also be able to figure out the cost and buy from you in advance. That’s the powers of standardized sizes. And this takes nothing away from your artistry.

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