Songwriting Project #2

Our group gathered the first week of class and grouped ourselves as the doc student rock band. We started a group text message over Facebook (Rockin in August) messenger and began brainstorming ideas about song lyrics and who would play instruments on the track. Although the group may have had an idea about instrumentation, it wasn’t the primary focus for those first couple of meetings. Interestingly, we didn’t talk about styles or genres. Some lyrical and humorous ideas bubbled to the surface that were related to our experiences in courses throughout our DMA program. Specific terms stood out in classes we had taken up until this point, such as a failure to reject the null hypothesis from our quantitative methods class (is that a Type 2 error?).

During the asynchronous week of the class, we scheduled 3-4 Zoom sessions for us to collaborate on our song. Our first zoom session, we talked through some of the lyrical ideas first and when Alyssa spoke about frustrations with particular aspects of the program, I riffed a chord progression a cappella over that meeting, went back to my residence and came up with the material for the verse. I was thinking of some sort of angst driven type of progression, perhaps in the style of Green Day. It’s the distorted, rhythm guitar playing bar chords in the song. During that meeting, I had suggested a pop song structure with verse, bridge, chorus, repeat, instrumental, and then an outro verse. The very first sound on the track is a fog horn. During the call, I met the group on my iPhone and a ship blew its horn during the zoom call. The fog horn sound became symbolic for unintended background noises during any live class or one-on-one meeting with a professor this past year. For the 2019 cohort, the entirety of our second year in the DMA program took place during COVID-19.

We used Soundtrap in a variety of ways during the making of our song. After our initial brainstorming Zoom session, we opened a Soundtrap project and used it like a scratchpad to generate ideas for musical material. I recorded those verses, bridge chords, and harmonies into that Soundtrap project. At our next zoom call, I mentioned to Alyssa her arpeggiated keyboard riff was really neat and thought we should stitch together the verse and chorus with this bridge material. Alyssa’s contribution eventually became the chorus music, in which I recorded some more guitar parts. After the scratchpad project became too cluttered with ideas, we had to create a new Soundtrap project and arrange our musical decisions in a new place. Based on our conversations, Leah created the sections for us on a guide track.

We met a couple more times over Zoom discussing our work and thinking about what direction to go next together on the song. It was nice to discuss, laugh, and plan together our next steps. I provided some additional music material when we decided to include an instrumental section after the second chorus. I hooked my guitar back up to the project and came up with an 8-measure guitar solo. I worked out this solo on the guitar directly in the project file for time constraint reasons. Again, I used the cycle feature in Soundtrap to work out a solo over the harmonic progression; that’s such a great tool. Since this was not quite the lyrical guitar solo described in my individual song, I chose to consider more of a riff oriented solo. The first 4 measures are more or less like that, building over a pentatonic scale in E minor. The second half of the solo reminds me of Steve Howe of Yes with the syncopated descending, sequential riff. To finish out the solo, I again go to an Alex Lifeson sus4 chord on D with a shimmery, semi-distorted guitar tone. I recorded three versions and let the group decide which version they liked the best.

Each time I would reopen the project, new material would inspire me to contribute more or arrange existing material in a new way. Before I recorded the guitar solo, Tim had recorded his lyrics. When I heard the quirkiness of the vocals about experiences I had lived through with my classmates these past two years, I was impressed as well as left laughing because of Tim’s performance. He recorded a primary vocal track, as well as perform the call and responses in the performance. It was hilarious! This songwriting experience was a delightful way to work on a song with others. In fact, this experience is how I would envision my students collaborating on a song project in Soundtrap.