Tips For Finishing Your Songs

Tips For Finishing Your Songs

(NOTE: This blog is not about how to “technically” finish your song in terms of mixing and mastering. However, my favorite site for mixing and mastering is Graham Cochrane’s Recording Revolution. There you’ll find a LOT of GREAT information, much of which is actually FREE. I may do a blog about what I learned about mixing, mastering and the plugins he recommends. It’s the most helpful mixing and mastering site I’ve ever come across.)

But this blog is about what happens after you’ve mixed and mastered your songs but you just can’t cut them loose.

Even though I’ve played guitar in bands or on my own since I was a teenager, and recorded several albums, my primary vocation has been, and remains, writing novels and screenplays. I never had a problem finishing a novel when a paycheck from a New York publisher was waiting at the finish line. But what about “spec” projects where there’s no guaranteed money? The case with most of us is that no one is waiting for our finished songs. In spite of that we just can’t shake the feeling that we can make our songs a little better before uploading them irretrievably to iTunes.

Tip #1: Don’t fall into the “Perfection Trap.” Perfectionism can be paralyzing. Nothing will ever be perfect. When I write a novel, I go over it several times. I edit, tweak and polish. The truth is, every time I go over a 500-page manuscript I can always find minor things to change. However, there is a point where nothing I change will affect the readers’ experience of the novel. If you upload a song to iTunes, and you get a new plugin or a new guitar or a better guitar player in your band, you could always tell yourself that you should have waited. This type of thinking can be paralyzing. You never finish because you think that some day, in some way you’ll be able to make it better. That might be true, But my personal experience is that it’s better to develop a procedure that allows you to determine when your songs are “ready,” even if they’re not perfect.

TIP #2: Create a DEADLINE You Can’t Blow Off.

  • Organize a Pre-Release or Pre-Mastering Listening Party. Invite people whose opinions you trust, as well as friends and anyone who might be able to help you market and sell your songs. Let everyone know you’re looking for feedback that may or may not be used in your “final-final mix.” Stress that you want people’s honest opinions. Feedback isn’t helpful unless it’s honest. Once the invitations are sent out, the date is difficult to change. Which is good because now you have a real deadline. At the party, allow people the option to submit their notes anonymously. When everyone’s gone, put on some thick skin and make your way through the comments. You don’t have to agree with every comment, but if you receive similar comments, good or bad, about the same song, this can be valuable. There’s no shame in making something better when you agree with a particular criticism. Besides, after the songs are released you get all the credit for the final product. (There a lot of reasons for having a listening party besides feedback. In another blog I will describe those benefits and provide a sample form you can hand out at the party.)
  • Get an Honest Opinion from an Expert. I have a few friends in the music production business. Occasionally, I’ll set a meetings with one of them to give me a song critique. I listen and take notes while they give me feedback. It can be painful, but is it always helpful. They point out issues they hear and how to correct them. Sometimes they’ll walk me through making corrections on the spot, using the same or similar software to what I use at home (Logic Pro X). These appointments are with busy professionals who have made time for me. The appointment is a real deadline and I’ve never cancelled. It’s not uncommon for me to stay up late the night before to be prepared. (Even if you’re not in LA or New York, you usually can find local people who have studios, or musicians with studio experience who are willing to help. Sometimes for a reasonable fee, sometimes free. If you can’t find anyone, check with your local music store, check online or contact OGSR for a referral.)

In both of the examples above, I created a real deadline. That deadline accelerated the creative process considerably and got me to the “release ready” stage.

Ticket to Ride

Ticket to Ride

I looked at the name on my concert ticket: Paul McCartney.

I sat and waited, along with 42,000 other people in Vancouver’s B.C. Stadium, for McCartney to take the stage. I was part of a group of 17 and we had talked about our expectations and the songs we wanted to hear. Every song mentioned was a Beatles song. Every one.

It wasn’t a knock McCartney’s solo career. He had written and recorded lots of good songs since the Beatles. But every person in our group was a Baby Boomer. The ticket got us in to see McCartney. But the ride we really wanted to go on was the Magical Mystery Tour.

The Beatles provided the soundtrack of our youth. Our formative years. The years when emotions, and sometimes youthful arrogance, informed our thoughts and actions. We were carefree and, maybe, even a little careless.

The cultural impact of the Beatles will be debated for as long as there is music, but clearly they influenced the way tens of millions of people dressed, wore their hair, and how they thought: politically, philosophically, about drugs, and many other important aspects of life. I know they didn’t set out to accomplish that, but it happened. That the effects have been so long lasting is astounding. Just a little more astounding than a 77-year-old rock star selling out stadiums around the world.

As McCartney played each Beatles song, memories rewound and played from the middle: From the part where that song helped me get by with a little help from my friends. From the part where love fell apart and I longed for yesterday. From the part where I tried to take a sad song and make it better. Sad, melancholy, happy… Beatles songs made me feel all those things deeply. Not for the first or last time, but in way that I remember every time I hear the music.

When McCartney wrote “When I’m 64,” and when we all heard it back then, 64 seemed as far off as Mars. Yet whenever he sings that song now (although he didn’t tonight), it probably still seems far off to McCartney, even though he now sees it in the review mirror.

But the man looked good. Maybe even better than when he was 64.

McCartney’s voice was not as strong or as smooth as it was back then. Yet for as ragged as it sometimes sounded, we filled in the rough spots with memories of the voice we had heard thousands of times. It was this specific voice that we’ve heard for more than 50 years and will hear every time those songs are played for the rest of our lives. And though other singers might sing them more proficiently, no one will ever sing them better.

As I looked around B.C Stadium, as our group of 17 sang as one, occasionally out of tune, we all looked pretty good too. Didn’t seem quite as old.

People look younger when they smile.

And they feel younger when they sing.


HUMOR – “Punkin’ Donuts” Guitarist O’Bryan Drops New Tracks

HUMOR – “Punkin’ Donuts” Guitarist O’Bryan Drops New Tracks

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (OGSR – Los Angeles, CA, March 20, 2019) Former lead guitarist for the defunct Punkin’ Donuts, Slugger O’Bryan, is in New York City promoting his new album, “Can’t Recognize Myself in a Mirror.”

Slug—as he is known now—is perhaps best remembered for an off-stage incident that took place in the fall of 2014. As you may recall, after the Donuts fell apart Slug vanished from the music scene but found new life singing novelty songs such as “Hang on Droopy,” “Baby, Take a Little Piece of My Hat,” “When a Man Loves a Weirdo,” and the hugely successful pastiche of the Hollies’ “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” entitled “She Ain’t Chunky, She’s My Wife.” It had long been rumored that many of Slug’s novelty songs were about his long-suffering common-law wife, Bella Donna Schwartz, whose struggles with meth-amphetamine and food were well documented on the couple’s short-lived OGSR TV Network reality show.

Shortly after the release of “She Ain’t Chunky…” tragedy struck. Slug was found nearly beaten to death in his Miami apartment, which he shared with his wife. Although he never lost consciousness, Slug was unable to identify his attacker.

Following the attack Slug founded a group called “Men Attacked By Women.” But his attempt at activism was short-lived. His action of founding the group was roundly condemned on social media as an act of aggression against women.

The self-destructive side of Slug’s well-documented battle with addiction was on display during his ill-advised stint as spokesman for his “Men Attacked By Women” group. In one memorable exchange, captured in a YouTube video that currently has more than 37 million hits, Slug explained that, “In an enlightened age of equality, people should be allowed to be attacked in equal numbers—or at least ratio—regardless of their gender.” He later said the remark was taken out of context, but when asked to supply any other context, Slug declined to answer. For about a year.

Recently Slug began posting unplugged versions of famous Punkin’ Donuts songs on YouTube, including “I Hate Myself, But I Hate You More,” and the band’s famous 17-minute epic, “Shit on a Stick.”

Slug’s return to the stage coincided with his reconciliation with Bella Donna, as well as the launch of their new public access reality show, “The O’Bryans: From Here to Maternity.” The show documents the struggles of their daughter Sethisha, who attempts to adopt a baby emu from Australia. As you may recall from the couple’s earlier reality show, Sethisha used to be their son Seth.

(Editor’s Note: None of the people, places, songs or any other details in this “press release” are based on any actual person, place, song or situation, and are solely the product of the writer’s imagination. Or lack thereof.)

The Therapy of Writing Music

The Therapy of Writing Music

Music has always been there for me. Sometimes when there was nothing else. When I write songs that are completely honest, sometimes even brutally honest, those songs become enduring truths to which I can return. Reminders of wisdom earned.

“I’ve lived a real life and paid full price.” Always liked that line.

We all have stuff to deal with:

Gotta jump off the victim train
Everybody’s got their share of pain
Darkness ain’t gonna keep you sane
Don’t waste a minute

No one knows how much…time they got
(Focus on what is), not what’s not
Treasure what’s given, not what’s bought
Somethin’ no one can take away

From “Streamin’ Dreams”

Everyone’s got their share of pain. Some more than others. When I look back on my life, I realize that some of my deepest wounds were self-inflicted. And while that is a somewhat daunting realization, it also is empowering. I can, and have, changed over the years. The choices I make create my life experience. My songs provide a window through which I can view my life. An opportunity to purposely pay attention to my life.

Experience means nothing unless you’re paying attention.

Recovery from life’s setbacks is part of life and how you recover often helps determine the person you become. For some, recovery is all about figuring out who—other than yourself—is to blame.

I never found blaming others very helpful or empowering and, besides, I couldn’t afford that kind of expensive therapy. However, music was a form of therapy that was always available to me. The only price I needed to pay was being honest with myself. If I was completely honest when I wrote and sang my songs, it often surprised me with insight into the narratives I’d created to help me make sense of the world and my place in it. With that insight I often made different choices and changed my story.

For me the process of writing and singing songs is extremely therapeutic. I find that the more honest I am, the more therapeutic the process becomes.

Using raw emotion and even specific details of my life creates a sense of authenticity that I feel every time I sing that song. Below is a verse from one of my songs:

Memories haunt my dreams at night
I rewrite stories to make ‘em play out right
Like a newly-blind man searchin’ darkness for the life he once had
I remember the day…I came to pick up my things
There was someone there…you wouldn’t let me in
Man, I thought I could never hurt that bad
 From “Makin’ Peace With Myself”

Some of my best songs will never be played for anyone. They’re too personal. Yet I play those songs often. By myself. It’s like revisiting old friends. Helpful friends. Friends with whom I’ve shared very personal and intimate, often lonely, moments of my life.

It’s meant a lot to know that this friend is there for me no matter what. It’s a safe place to go.

Music has never let me down. Never abandoned or judged me.

While I never became a famous rock and roll star, music has meant more to me than anyone will ever know.

Tommy Emmanuel and his Maton Guitar

Tommy Emmanuel and his Maton Guitar

By Louis Rivest

I’m a longtime fan of Tommy Emmanuel and I’ve turned dozens of my friends on to him over the years. So when my wife discovered that he was going to play at the RiverCity Music Festival on January 7, 2012, only a few hours from where we live in Vancouver, she bought us tickets.

When I arrived I learned that Emmanuel was going to conduct a Sunday morning workshop. I signed up, attended the workshop, talked with him for a bit, and even got him to autograph my guitar (see photo, left).

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I asked him why he endorsed Australian-made Maton guitars and not one of the better known brands. Even before he answered I figured I knew the answer. Tommy is from Australia and, well, why not endorse the home team, right? But I was wrong.

He explained that Maton, a company that has been making musical instruments since the mid 40’s, was sort of annoyed to see Emmanuel, a world-renowned Australian guitarist, play mostly Japanese products. So they presented him with a prototype model they thought he’d be happy with.

Tommy used it for a while and returned it with an extensive list of modifications from the neck geometry to electronics in order to improve the product. Maton rebuilt the guitar to Emmanuel’s specifications. When it was done the company thought it had nailed it and presented a new version to Tommy. He played the guitar and reported that though the guitar was much improved, the electronics still did not compare favorably to what was on the market at the time.

It was returned for more improvements. It took time for Maton to produce a new set of electronics, but this time Maton was sure they got it right. Tommy suggested some minor adjustments and finally he endorsed the guitar and started using it. Tommy plays the following Maton guitars: EBG808TE, EBG808TEC, TE1, and the TE Personal.

At the NAMM Show in Anaheim, I met with Bill Warmoth, from Artisan Guitars, a Maton dealer in Franklin TN, who went through the technical features of the 808 with me. What impressed me the most was the separate and adjustable tiny microphone in the middle of the sound hole (see photo, above right). It can be adjusted to suit your style of play. It picks up all the sounds coming out of the guitar. The finish on these guitars is impeccable and worthy of a world-class instrument. I can’t wait to get my hands on one of them!

Maton now produces a Tommy Emmanuel Signature edition with a Kangaroo inlay on the Headstock (see photo, left). This is a feature found only on the Tommy Emmanuel Series. This series features a Mother of Pearl block engraved inlay on the 12th fret: “C.G.P.” It stands for “Certified Guitar Player,” an acknowledgement given to Tommy by the late Chet Atkins. (There’s also a cut-away version: MATON EBG808TEC.)

For more information about Maton Guitars or to find a local dealer, click here to go to their website.