Archive for the ‘songwriting’ Category

Just finished the complete song structure for what’s tentatively known as “Mr. Chunky” for the chunky twang rhythm part in the song. I’m looking for drums and bass for the song as I kind of “faked” it with audio loops for the drums and input the bass with MIDI. I posted a Jam Track earlier that was based on this song. If anything else, if you just want to jam, jam to this:

Anyway, here’s the completed song:

Guitars: PRS SE Soapbar II and Fender Stratocaster
Amp: Roland Cube 60 set to Tweed, gain about halfway up to provide some chunk without going over the top.

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I wrote this song based upon a passage in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus talks about being called into justice and mercy. The passage inspired me to write “We Are Called.” Note that the only amp I used was a Fender Champ 600. Using two different mics, spaced at different distances to provide a little depth. I placed a dynamic mic right in front of the grille cloth, and a ribbon mic off-axis about 10″ away. The result was a very nice tone. The dynamic mic picked up the lows really well, while the ribbon caught the ambient – all this from a 5Watt amp with a 6″ speaker! Ha! You gotta love it.

For the opening lead part, I did “cheat” a bit and used my Hot Rod’s speaker cab for a bit more tonal depth, but still powered with the Champ. I love that little amp! Here’s the song:


Guitars: ES-333, Strat; Piano, Bass

Drum loops were standard GarageBand loops, and everything was mastered in GarageBand. Not bad for demo-quality work.

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A couple of years ago, I called Tom Booth, a prolific Catholic songwriter and recording artist. I was seeking advice on the best way to approach putting a demo together of the songs I’d written for Mass. I wanted to know things such as how much I should budget, what players I should bring in – lots of things. He patiently listened to my questions, and at times interjected with some comments, but his final comment really surprised me. He said that in lieu of going into the studio that I should invest in good recording gear and record my demo at home. I was stunned by this. He didn’t say much more than that, nor did he explain his reasoning. But in retrospect, I don’t think he could’ve given me better advice.


So, based upon that conversation, I invested in a high-powered PC with tons of RAM and huge hard disk space, purchased a simple 2-input DAW (an MBox 2), installed ProTools LE, got a couple of good mics and cables, and was off to the races. I was jazzed to have a killer setup with tons of horsepower, and with ProTools, I’d be able to transfer the stuff I did at home to a studio’s computer. Sounds reasonable, right? Well, that was just the beginning of a nightmare…


I soon found out that you practically need a degree to get down even the most basic operations of ProTools. Yes, it’s powerful, and yes, it’s pretty much the standard, but there’s so much to it with all its internal features – not to mention the plug-ins that come standard with it – I had to spend hours and hours learning how to operate the software before I could become even reasonably productive.


That experience turned me off to recording; so much so that I lost my taste for it after recording just a few songs. The thought of laboring over the niggling details of ProTools and trying to understand how all the plug-ins worked with it made me groan with weariness. So I gave it up. After all, all I wanted to do was get my tracks down and output them to a reasonable sound quality – good enough for a demo.


Mind you, I’m not dissing ProTools. If I had the time to spend with it, I’d be all over the software, learning the ins and outs. But the problem is, as is the case with many home recording artists, I have to feed my family, so I work during the day. I also have a huge family, so my wife and I have to split up duties carting kids around from place to place on weekends. That leaves precious few hours during the week to get my songs recorded. With my lack of experience with ProTools, and the daunting task of having to learn it, I simply gave up on recording, and concentrated on songwriting. I wrote a ton of songs, and in 2006 kind of hit a groove with my songwriting where I was really liking what I was writing. But the problem with that was that the songs were piling up, and I knew that I had to get them recorded.


Up until about 6 months ago, it had been about two years since I had given up on serious recording. I still thought about it, but felt a little trapped by the equipment in which I had invested so much time and money. But luckily, a professional tragedy helped catapult me into recording again. For years, I’ve been somewhat of a poster child for high-tech start-ups. And in early 2007, I joined a tiny start-up that was working in the “Web 2.0” space. It was exciting, I made a very nice salary, and got a good chunk of stock to boot. After two-and-a-half months of being employed there, the company shut down. Our team of 12 employees was brought into a conference room and told by the founder that the company was closed and that we should pack up our things. All the assets would be put for sale, including all our hardware and software. Bummer. But what I got out of it was worth way more than gold.


In the company’s fire sale, I was able to get a bunch of equipment; among them were two iMacs that I purchased for my kids. I set them up, and started playing with one of them. In my explorations, I discovered a little program GarageBand. I had heard of it, but had previously dismissed it as yet another Apple “toy-ware” since I had my own full-blown recording solution (we’re all susceptible to our snobby notions sometimes). Well, in my playing, I started putting loops together, and created a song purely from loops. Then I got some valuable input from my blog buddy Ig at igblog who uses an MBox with GarageBand. I hooked up my own MBox, and whammo! I was back in the recording business!


Admittedly, GarageBand has its shortcomings, and some invaluable tools that I had in ProTools, such as direct WAV editing aren’t present. But more importantly, it allows me to concentrate on recording, and it has decent enough mastering tools to output decent demo cuts. Bear in mind that this isn’t necessarily a plug for GarageBand, and although I love it, there are some other fine, very easy-to-use packages out there.


No matter what package you choose, there some important lessons that I’ve learned in the creation of my own demo that I’d like to share:


  • First and foremost, the most important thing is to get your music out there. Whether or not you do it in the studio or in the comfort of your home, time to production is critical. Don’t let technological barriers get in your way like I did. There are always simpler solutions that will help speed up your process.
  • Speaking of technical barriers, and addressing what Tom Booth said to me, in retrospect, I’d give this advice: Get the recording gear that suits your minimum recording needs, but will give you some decent sound quality. After all, you’re recording a demo, so you’re not after finished production-quality recordings, but something that will convey your sound.
  • Once you have a recording solution, you should consider buying some other equipment:
    • buy a couple of decent mics. You don’t need Neumann. I use a Nady RM-200 ribbon mic and a Senheiser 830 stage mic. I use both interchangeably for vocals and instruments. Of course, if you already have good mics, definitely use them.
    • Invest in a decent mic pre-amp. Presonus makes the TUBEPre which is $99. It’s a great little tube pre that will add warmth to the things you mic.
    • If you can swing it, get a little 5 Watt tube amp for recording guitar parts at low volume. It’s amazing what these things sound like when close-mic’d. You can then use your software package to filter and fatten.
    • If you need MIDI, I’ve found it a lot more useful to have at least a 44-key keyboard with semi-weighted or fully-weighted keys. And you don’t need to spend a mint on a controller. You can get a decent controller for less than $200.
  • Most integrated packages like GarageBand or Logic Express have some basic mastering tools to output your recordings. Learn to use them; especially the dynamics processors like a compressor. Mind you, you don’t want too much compression, but you’ll do yourself a huge favor by controlling your peak volumes.
  • Finally, and I know I said this before: Always keep on telling yourself that this ain’t finished product. It’s not supposed to be finished. It’s supposed to convey to the listener what your sound is all about. You can get it close, and you should, but don’t fret over the little imperfections here and there.


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Listen to the song!

I actually wrote this song a couple of years ago, and have played it live a ton of times since then. Don’t know why I didn’t record it earlier, but I think I was a little scared of the arrangement of the guitars – I needed three to pull it off, with each one doing a different thing. It was a little daunting, especially considering this is a really straight-forward song. It’s loosely based on Saint Paul’s “Faith, Hope, and Love…” passage, but I added a bit more to the message; mainly dealing with putting your full trust in God, and leaving it up to Him to guide your life. Of course, we all have our choices, but why worry when we’ve got Faith, Hope and Love? 🙂

Anyway, give it a listen. Frankly, it’s one of my  favorite songs because it’s loud and rockin’, but in a real fun way!

Equipment Used


  • Fender Hot Rod Deluxe – I’ve got THD Yellow Jackets in the power tube section – very sweet, early distortion.
  • Fender Champion 600 – This is my debut of this cute little amp. I played my ES-335 with it stock for the base rhythm track, and drove the 1 X 12 cabinet on my Hot Rod with it, when playing my Strat for the “counterpoint” rhythm part.


  • Gibson ES-335 – This sounded so very sweet through the Champ, and I haven’t even full broken it in yet!!! That’s a testament to how great that little amp is!
  • Fender Strat – Admittedly, the Champ sounded a little tinny with the Strat, which is what I expected, but driving my 1 X 12 cab on my Hot Rod really did the trick!
  • Epiphone ’58 Korina Explorer Re-issue – Used this with my Hot Rod in the drive channel, which create an ever so sweet distortion with the EL-84’s. Combined with the fact that the Explorer just wants to overdrive naturally, this was a great combination.

All other instruments were MIDI (bass and organ). I used a combination of several GarageBand drum loops to create the drum track.

Note: This was also the very first time, I used extensive volume automation in a song. I’ve avoided it because I felt it was too much work. It is a lot of work! But I wanted to mix down the song without normalization this time because GB normalization can make a song too quiet. And in this case where I was hitting the red zone in gain – it was in a place where I wanted to get a bit of breakup anyway – but it’s so slight, you barely notice it. Once I get into the studio, we’ll be able to master it properly. But for now, it’ll do for a

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Praise the Lord My Soul

I wrote this song in mid-2006, but didn’t get around to recording it until this past week. It’s yet another praise song, but it’s a praise song with a twist. It’s written as a blues/funk piece. One wouldn’t normally equate funk/blues with contemporary Christian music, but all I can say is that’s what I came up with. It’s not that I’m trying to do the unexpected – the song kind of worked itself out like that, and it’s also a sound that I like. That point really hit home after I read an interview in the latest issue of Guitar World last weekend with Lenny Kravitz. The interviewer commented that he crossed different styles in his latest album, and his reply was (paraphrasing), “I write music that I like to hear. If you try to write music that you think people will like, it loses its soul.” That’s kind of the place that I’m coming from with the music I’m recording right now. Most of it really leans towards the blues, but it’s music that I like, and what I’m influenced by, so it provides the context for my songwriting. Anyway, have a listen! I hope you like it!

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Mark Kendall

A couple of months ago, I was having a drink with an old-school, elderly jazz guitarist named Patrick before my weekly gig at the restaurant I play at. To this day, I still don’t know Patrick’s last name, but he’s played with great Black jazz greats like Ellis Marsalis, and that whole “N’ah-lens scene, bruh,” as he calls it, and over the last few years that I’ve known him, I’ve really come to respect his unique wisdom and approach to the guitar. We don’t see each other often, and almost all of it has been via chance encounters at the bar. But when we do meet, we always talk about guitar, and life as a guitarist.

One day, we were talking about comping out chords to provide musical and rhythmic counterpoint against the vocals and bass, and out the blue he tells me (in his thick southern drawl – though I won’t try to write it too phonetically), “I can tell you got some chops, bruh. But you more into the groove thang than playin’ all sorts ‘a licks. I like that. Ain’t a song that’s been written that don’t need a good groove. Don’t let nobody fool ya. Let those mutha-f@#kas go off and do their noodlin’. Lots of them dudes can’t hold down a rhythm no-how!” My obvious response was, “Amen!” followed by a high-five and a triple soul-brother handshake.

I was taken by surprise by his compliment because I always feel I need to improve (I guess that’s why I push myself so hard), but I was even more amazed by what Patrick said after that because it underscored a sentiment that I’ve held for a long time: The groove of a song is where it’s at. Not only does it establish the rhythmic foundation for the song, it also forms the character and emotional framework for the entire piece. Without a foundation, you don’t have a song. Period.

Unfortunately, a lot of beginning guitarists focus almost entirely on learning lead parts, and dismiss playing rhythm guitar as merely executing a repetitious chord progression. They learn the chords as an afterthought, but don’t realize that they’re missing all the expressiveness that goes with a chord in relation to the body of a song. Playing good rhythm guitar isn’t just striking a chord on a specific beat – it’s all the stuff that happens within the duration of a chord that counts.

In my work as a music minister at my Church, I come across a lot of budding guitarists who can play leads like there’s no tomorrow. In fact, I have a 16 year old kid in my band whom I’ve had to make unlearn what he’s learned so he could learn how to play effective – and consistent – rhythm guitar. That kid knows John Mayer’s licks down cold, and a lot of other blues lead licks (which I’ve actually learned from him J ), but he couldn’t read a chord chart when he first started with the band and worse yet, had little sense of the rhythmic quality of playing guitar; in other words, no right hand technique. He’s not alone in this ignorance, and I place a lot of blame on guitar teachers for perpetuating this ignorance.

My message to them is this: Stop teaching leads to your beginning students. Teach your students how to play the damn guitar first. Teach them how to recognize the groove in a song, and teach them the groove!!! If they’ve got the groove down, then they’ve got the canvas to paint the colors of their leads. They’ll have a deeper understanding of their instrument, and how it fits in a song.

How important is groove? Don’t let me try to convince you. A couple of issues ago in Guitar Player, Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs of the Scorpions were interviewed. Jabs is an incredible lead guitarist, but he mentioned in the article that playing good rhythm guitar was more important than playing leads. “After all,” he said (paraphrasing), “I’m playing rhythm guitar 90% of the time. Leads take up 10% of a song.” Then in the latest issue of Guitar World, Lenny Kravitz had some great insights into the importance of the groove of a song and playing good rhythm guitar. “You could have a guy that can play up and down the neck all day long, but playing a rhythm part consistently for four minutes without stopping is another story. It’s amazing to me when I see players that can play a lot of stuff, but they obviously haven’t concentrated on how to groove.

So how do you learn how to groove? Listen to all sorts of songs from different genres. Forget about leads for the moment, and listen for the groove in each song. Learn the chord progressions, yes, but learn what each guitarist is doing in between chords. Are they scratching? Are they adding colorful motes of a couple of strings? Are they adding alternate shapes or a 2 or 4 sustain to a chord. Take that all in… But after having said all that, don’t copy what they’re doing note for note. Just like with leads, learn the technique, then incorporate it into your own style.

I’ll be the first to admit that learning to be great a rhythm guitarist is hard. In fact, I find it a lot hard to learn rhythm riffs than leads, mainly because with most leads, you can follow a pattern. But with good rhythm, you have to feel what’s going on with the song you’re playing then use different techniques to affect a certain groove. But remember, the groove is what you’re after.

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I was over at igblog reading about Lindsey Buckingham in Ig’s article, “Lindsey Buckingham, guitar hero? « IG BLOG (life-music-guitar)” and something that Lindsey said in the accompanying video really struck a note with me (paraphrased): “Most song writers will say that song writing isn’t something that they make happen. It’s something that happens to them.” That couldn’t be more true, at least for me. I’ve never been able to explain how I get song ideas. They just come to me and I’m compelled to write them down or record them. I have no control over what my songs will be about, or when the inspiration will come along. It just happens, and to me, that’s the beauty of song writing.

When I actually think about how songs come to me, I get a little unsettled. It’s such a stream-of-consciousness experience. I’ll be reading something, or even listening to some music, or engaged in a conversation, and suddenly a tune will pop in my head. I sort of enter a zone, and everything – lyrics and music – just comes.

If you’re a songwriter, I’d like to hear your experience. Care to share?

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