American Idols, Apple, Audacity, GarageBand, songwriter, Songwriters, songwriting, Songwriting Software, Wired, XecretCode, Xsong

Learn Songwriting From Apple…and American Idol

Apple iMac Aluminum

Submit By March 31st
Via WIRED’s Listening Post: You only have one week left to enter your songs into the American Idol Songwriting Contest. While I don’t always agree with their final choice, no one can argue the benefits of winning such contest. You get tons of exposure and the pleasure of sharing your publishing with 19 Entertainment.

Learn Songwriting From Apple
One interesting note for me was this year’s inclusion of Apple’s GarageBand as the “official” songwriting application. Apple even offers workshops in selected stores for budding songwriters. That’s pretty cool, as GarageBand is by far the most accessible DAW out there, besides being a very good introduction to Apple’s Logic. Apple has the best songwriter check list ever. Read it and remember: it’s all about the vocal melody.

Rigged Against Windows
The contest’s Songwriting Guide suggests that you record your song with Windows’s Sound Recorder applet. What? Do they want Windows users to lose? I know that they are basically encouraging people to participate with free tools, but Sound Recorder will never sound good. If you want free, use Audacity. It’s a decent multi-tracker with basic effects and editing.

Can’t wait to see who wins this year.

UPDATE: You may want to read this before you apply.

Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed, Rock n' Roll Hall Of Fame, songwriter, Songwriters, songwriting, XecretCode, Xsong

Leonard Cohen’s Rock n’ Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Speech

In case you missed it, Leonard Cohen was recently inducted into the Rock n’Roll Hall Of Fame. After a short rambling introduction courtesy of Lou Reed, Cohen proceeds into probably the most poetic induction speech ever.

My favorite part comes around 7:11:

Well, my friends are gone
And my hair is gray
And I ache in the places
Where I used to play
And I’m hungry for love
But I’m not coming on
I’m just paying my rent every day
In the tower of song

Well, we all know why he’s one of the best. Pass this one around folks.

Alex Lindsay, Eliot Van Buskirk, Merlin Mann, Music Industry, Wired

Wired’s Eliot Van Buskirk On The Music Business

Eliot Van Buskirk

Over at NPR Music, there’s this excellent interview with Eliot Van Buskirk who writes the Listening Post blog for

He does a pretty good job at explaining the current state of the music business. He puts TuneCore in relation with iTune and CDBaby. He can’t go too deep about hip hop as he’s mostly a rock guy, but that’s OK. Highly recommended.

Speaking of the record industry, don’t miss next’s week MacBreak Weekly with special guess Pat Wilson, of Weezer. With fan Merlin Mann onboard and Alex Lindsay’s experience as an ex-Sony Music employee, things are bound to get interesting.

Bobby McFerrin, Dianne Warren, Eddie Van Halen, Guitar, Jason Blume, Joe Satriani, Oscar Peterson, Paul Gilbert, Peter Gabriel, Randy Bachman, Rush, songwriter, Songwriters, songwriting, Songwriting Software, The Police, Tony MacAlpine, Tori Amos, Vinnie Moore, XecretCode, Xsong

From Shredder to Writer


Shredful Past
I picked up my first electric guitar in the middle of the neo-classical period of rock music. I spent all my free time practicing while listening to hot guitar players such as Joe Satriani, Tony MacAlpine and Vinnie Moore. Because of this, it took me years to learn that good songwriting was mostly about chords and lyrics, not guitar solos. Even after Kurt Cobain had declared guitar solos illegal, I still continued to fill cassettes with vein directionless solos.

The Player Paradox
There’s kind of an interesting paradox among musicians: being technically proficient on an instrument has nothing to do with good songwriting. In fact, it seems like a disadvantage. Kind of like being a PHd hired to flip burgers: you just can’t keep it simple. You want to show off your hard-earned skills on every song.

Band Of Songwriters
Peter Gabriel once said that what made Genesis and it’s spin-offs (Mike and the Mechanics, solo Gabriel, solo Phil Colins, GTR) so successful was that it was a band of songwriters. This obviously creates tensions as everyone tries to have their compositions on the albums (Steve Hacket quit over just that), but in the long term, it really paid off. Steve Miller once mentioned how hard it was to find the right musicians for his tour. The hot players he auditioned just couldn’t play Steve’s simple 4/4 meat-and-potato type of songs.

No Readin’ Required
Dianne Warren and Jason Blume have both mentioned that they do not read music notation. Neither did Lennon and McCartney before them. However, they all knew basic chord theory and in the case of the Beatles, came up with some very inventive chord changes.

Shredding Songwriters
Here’s a list of my favorite songwriters who can also shred:

  • Randy Bachman — Sure, “American Woman”, “Taking Care Of Business” and “You’ve Seen Nothing Yet” are simple rock songs. Yet they were written by a guy with considerable jazz guitar chops. In fact, Randy Bachman was a friend and student of the late Lenny Brau who basically owned jazz guitar for a while. It’s amazing to me how he can effortlessly switch from simple power chords to complex jazz “uptown” chords within the same song.
  • The Police — Did you know that the Police were formally a jazz band? Of course, this explains why both Sting and Stewart Copeland have ventured into jazz-flavored projects after the break up of The Police. Sting recorded the album “Dream Of a Blue Turtle” with Branford Marsilis and Omar Hakim while Copeland recorded his Animal Logic project with Stanley Clark. As for Andy Summer, he was an accomplished session guitarist with a huge vocabulary of jazz chords. The thing however is that Sting’s songwriting was way better than the others, which led to his success which caused their breakup.
  • Tori Amos — Being a classically trained pianist usually means that you can play Litz and Shopin in your sleep. What I like about Tori Amos is that she basically replaced the Blues with classical influences in her songs. Sure, Kate Bush did it before, but Tori can shred – and does.
  • Paul Gilbert — After finding one of his CD in Japan, I realized this guy could do a lot more than play at 3000 mph. He has a great singing voice, does incredible 3 parts harmonies and generally rocks. He is a huge star in Japan but North-America still won’t forgive him for is post-Malmsteen days.
  • Oscar Peterson — Everyone knows that the late Oscar Peterson was an incredible technician. What is less known is the extent to which he composed some timeless music like the “Canadiana Suite”. In this video of him with the great Ella Fidzerald, you can see how he was also a masterful accompanist; always supporting the singer, never overshadowing her. Now that’s good taste.
  • Rush — One thing that Rush always had over younger prog rock bands like Dream Theater and Symphony-X is the consistent songwriting. I still listen to Moving Pictures and cannot believe haw strong the songwriting is. My favorite phrase: “Everybody got to deviate from the north”.
  • Bobby McFerrin — Now, this guy took this to another level and wrote several album worth of songs with only his voice as instrument. In fact, when “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” first came out, it took me a while to realize that was “singing” all the parts. The song was good and could totally stand on its own without a solo instrument.
  • Eddie VanHalen — OK, I had to put him in the list. Initially, when he came out with his wild complex playing style, millions of young people started imitating him. What he had over everybody else however, was real songwriting and arranging skills earned playing classical piano as a teenager. In fact, the reason he accepted to play the guitar solo in “Beat It” was because he admired Quicy Jones and suggested they add a little break before the solo to allow tension build.

To Shred Or Not To Shred
There’s a distinct satisfaction in mastering an instrument, but I believe that it takes a lot of maturity to put this aside and concentrate on the song itself. Shredding is fun, but it doesn’t touch people as much as great songwriting.

iBand, iPhone, iPhone SDK, Korg, Korg DS-10, Musikmesse, Nintendo

Korg DS-10: Pocket Analog Synth

Korg DS-10

The Korg DS-10. Right off Musikmesse 2008. This is a Korg software synthesizer running on a Nintendo DS hardware. How long before they port this to the iPhone/iPod touch? I’m not crazy about the pen but totally dig the “pocket-Moog” form factor.

The KORG DS-10 is a music-creation software for the Nintendo DS that combines the superior interface of the Nintendo DS and the design concept of the famous MS-10 synthesizer. The sound sources in the KORG DS-10 come from KORG – one of the world’s top musical instrument producers – and no effort was spared in creating these ultra-high-quality sounds. The Nintendo DS’s dual-screen touch panel is used to the fullest to provide a feel and operability that is unsurpassed, and combined with the sensory input mode at the touch-control screen, this unit can be appreciated by the complete novice as well as the seasoned professional.

2008 is shaping to be the year of handheld music tools. There’s already quite a few people developing great music tools with the just announced iPhone SDK. Now this.

Update! Check out this awesome DS-10 video on YouTube!

Korg, you must port this to the iPhone! There will be over 10 Million iPhones by the end of the year. Plus, can you imagine paching/unpaching cables with the accelerometer? Whoa!

GarageBand, Portastudio, songwriter, Songwriters, songwriting, Songwriting Software, Tascam, XecretCode, Xsong

PortaStudio: Old School Songwriting


While doing some pre-emptive spring-cleaning, I stumbled across a box full of (mostly bad) songs recorded on a PortaStudio. Of course, I don’t have the unit anymore, so I did some quick research on how to get my hands on a unit today.

I was (pleasantly) surprised to learn that Tascam is still selling enough of them to keep three models in their product line. There is something truly special about the tactile experience of recording to a 4-track taping device. There’s no boot time, no file corruption, no compatibility issue and you don’t need no freakin’ manual to operate it. I almost hope someone would come out with a DAW software sporting a “PortaStudio” UI. Imagine the simplicity…

Like many songwriters, I had my first introduction to multi-tracking via a Tascam PortaStudio. I learned to make quick decisions though “ping-ponging” (breaking the 4-track limit by re-recording several tracks into another – no undo folks). I also discovered the beauty of tape saturation on the cheap. Good times.

For some reason, a tape-less digital PortaStudio is not an attractive proposition. For 550$ nowadays, I can buy a MacMini running GarageBand. If I want portability, the hand-held digital recorders do a surprisingly good job at capturing the moment.

Tape’s not dead yet.

Daring Fireball, Fortune magazine, Pixar, rewriting, Songwriters, songwriting, Songwriting Software, Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs On Rewriting

Steve Jobs

Story Crisis
Via DaringFireball. This is part of a longer interview Steve Jobs gave earlier to Fortune magazine. He says:

At Pixar when we were making Toy Story, there came a time when we were forced to admit that the story wasn’t great. It just wasn’t great. We stopped production for five months…. We paid them all to twiddle their thumbs while the team perfected the story into what became Toy Story. And if they hadn’t had the courage to stop, there would have never been a Toy Story the way it is, and there probably would have never been a Pixar. We called that the ‘story crisis,’ and we never expected to have another one. But you know what? There’s been one on every film.

He goes on to explain that this also applies to every product ever designed at Apple. You have to be very confident to admit that something took many rewrites. Most people would rather everyone believe that every single idea they have is golden and comes “ready to go”. This is part of what makes Steve Jobs great: he knows he’s right because he’s done his homework.

The myth of the “strike of genius”
The first thing you learn at design school is that your first idea is almost never the final one. The “strike of genius” type idea is just a myth. It looks good in a TV movie of the week, but it almost never occurs in real life. Great work requires constant redesign. The same applies to songwriting, screenwriting, industrial design, architecture, research, etc.

I once met a budding music producer who encouraged all artists to experiment in the studio instead of preparing their work. “It gotta flow naturally” he used to say. “This is how Bowie does it”, he asserted. Well, the only thing that flowed was the money between the artist’s pocket and his own. His sessions were quite lucrative and he used the artists’ ego to his advantage. Who doesn’t want to be compared to David Bowie?

Rewrites in Xsong
For this reason, I have worked to include rewrite support in Xsong. It’s implemented a bit like the loop play-list feature in ProTools, where for a given song section (verse, chorus, etc.) you can save up to 12 “rewrites”. Rewrites can include lyrics, chords, melodies and can be used to adapt a song for a different gender or key. Yet another use is to adapt for a foreign language translation. As a songwriter, this means that you can keep everything at the same place and not have to save separate documents for each rewrite. Obviously, once in a while you have to clean up the rewrite stack and focus on one final version, but it’s quite handy while you’re getting there.