Songwriting Project #1

Our first assignment in ME 638 was to create a song following one of three approaches described by Kat Reinhert (2019) in her article Lyric approaches to songwriting in the classroom.

I chose to use a piggy-back to modelling approach for the melody and lyrics in my song. I searched popular songs that were written in a minor key and scrolled through the possibilities to substitute original lyrics with a melody to many of my favorite existing songs. Eventually, I settled on Phil Collins, In the Air Tonight and started to think about how I might piggy-back new lyrics to this melody. The tempo is a bit faster in my song, but I noticed the melodic elements began informing harmonic and musical choices as I built out the song in Soundtrap. As I was developing the music, I noticed my song had a similar sentiment to Jackson Brown’s Stay as it reminisces on similar feelings describing the process of being in a touring band, performing night-after-night in different cities along the tour. I found myself writing about similar themes since I have been genuinely excited at the prospect of participating in the class. The lyrics, I suppose, are an expression of anticipation about the experiences we’re about to embark on together next week.

From the beginning, I knew I wanted to write and record actual guitar parts. Capturing an analog instrument connected to a digital/audio converter isn’t the most efficient way to record to a cloud-based digital audio workstation (DAW) such as Soundtrap. I connected my computer with an ethernet cable directly to the cable modem router to help minimize the latency over a wifi connection. After this connection was made, recording guitar parts was seamless. I tracked the rhythm guitar parts to the verse section first and recorded to the click track of the metronome set around 122bpm. After the rhythm guitar parts were in, I added several MIDI instruments to fill out the song. After playing the bass part on the qwerty keyboard, I opened the piano roll, quantized the part to an eighth note value and aligned the pitches to the grid. Listening back, the guitar part seemed to groove better against a steady and solid bass part. I used the drum kit Explorer (typical rock drum kit) on a continuous loop through most of the song.

There are many references in this song to bands, artists, and styles that have influenced me over the years. That clean, shimmery guitar arpeggiation in the beginning has a very Queensrÿche feel from their Operation Mindcrime album, as does that material of the verse. I’m not sure if this is a result of being a guitar player from the 80s, but I love the different types of chord voicings over a pedal bass line, which you can hear a lot of in this song. Bass players aren’t typically a fan of this. That short bridge section before the guitar solo is influenced by one of my favorite bands Dream Theater and their song Blind Faith off of the album Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence.

The guitar solo is full of references that have had a profound influence on my style as a guitarist. Some are obvious (literal call outs/references to other famous solos) and others are found in the style of my playing. There is a literal reference to the guitar solo from Who’s Crying Now off of the Escape album, as well as the chord progression at the end of my solo is based on Send Her My Love from the Frontiers album. Most of that solo was conceived as sung lines at random times during the course of my day. Actually, most of the material was written on walks with my dog Isabelle. There are a few guitarists that come to the forefront as lyrical guitarists, and Neal Schon of Journey is at the top of that list for me. Some of Schon’s solos are counter-melodies to the Steve Perry lines (see Anyway you Want it, Separate Ways, Don’t Stop Believin). What I mean by lyrical is that Schon’s phrasing, use of vibrato, and tone sounds about as close to a sung melody as any vocalist I’ve heard. Steve Lukather is another brilliant lyrical guitarist, in my opinion because he is also a talented singer (see the solos in I won’t Hold you Back Now and I’ll be Over You. Not only does he deliver beautiful guitar solos, he is the main vocalist on those tracks as well). For me, they are amazing musicians and songwriters more than just a guitarist. They’ve made an impact on how I approach songwriting and how the guitar fits into the fabric of a song.

In addition, other parts of that solo were written noodling on the guitar to see where the lines I wrote in my head would land on the fretboard. And then, it was stitched together during the recording process. I used the cycle feature of Soundtrap to practice tricky passages and then would hit record after a few practice takes. Capturing a solo, from accounts of the greats and now my own experience, is an ambiguous process. For me, it seems as though I get my best takes when the little red record button is turned off. From what I hear/know, this is typically the case. I also think, and now have experienced, hearing the solo and performing it takes time and repetition. This is also true of the voice. Learning a song, the voice needs time and repetition to learn vowel shapes and establish in its muscle memory. I was learning the lyrics and melody of my song on those walks with Isabelle too. Although I can hear/sing this solo, I found that the fingers simply needed more time to execute. I tried recording the solo after I had conceived it but found I was making too many mistakes because my fingers could not catch up to where my brain was with it.

There are a couple of chord voicings in the end of the song after the guitar solo. These are clearly related to Alex Lifeson of Rush on my tonal palette of guitar tones. It always amazed me how three musicians could make such big, dense textures when I had the opportunity to see them live, as well as the soundscapes of their catalogue.