Posts Tagged ‘songwriting’

Wow! Made the Finals!

I’ve been entering the SongDoor International songwriting contest on and off for the last few years. Like many emerging songwriters, when I first entered the competition, I thought my songs were hits, only to come to the sobering and humbling conclusion – after professional evaluation and feedback – that my songs really weren’t all that good. But last year, after taking a hiatus from songwriting for over a year, I decided to return to writing, but taking a much more humble approach, and also decided to go back to my roots: Contemporary Christian. But in deciding to going back to writing Christian music, I made a conscious decision to write in styles that departed from what you’d normally hear on Christian radio; for instance, reggae.

But I also wanted to make sure that my songs weren’t full of my own hubris, so I worked with a couple of different producers to evaluate my songs. That made a world of difference, and the way I approach music writing has been completely transformed; not really from the standpoint of “fitting in,” but writing music that has a good structure and good hook and while it may not be universally appealing, just plain makes sense.

For this year’s SongDoor International contest, I was invited to participate because one of the producers that I work with works there. Though she doesn’t do the judging, she encouraged me to enter a couple of songs. So I did, and I made the finals! I find out the results tomorrow, but to make the finals is real affirming that my choice to return to my roots was the right one. I really don’t care if I win the contest. It would be nice, but more important to me is the recognition that my music has appeal in a context that’s completely different from a church service. Here’s a link to the finalist list.

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…your lead sheets, that is…

I’ve been writing music for a very long time, and I’ve used a variety of methods to get my songs written down, from notating on staff sheets to using full-blown music notation software. The notation software I’ve used extensively in the past is called “Mozart,” and it provides a full range of staff-based and even guitar tab notation features. I’ve used it for orchestral work and songwriting, and it has been a real life-saver. But as guitar is my primary instrument, Mozart is a little overkill, especially when all I want to do is put a lead sheet with chords together for my band. Furthermore, nothing can shake me out of my creativity when I have to focus on the minutiae of notes. So having a quick way of putting lead sheets together so I don’t lose my creative spark is critical.

Enter ChordPro

This is where a text-based notation system called “ChordPro” has been so instrumental for me in quickly assembling lead sheets. ChordPro is a very simple markup “language” similar to wiki markup, but far more limited. All it does is provide formatting directives to programs that can parse the ChordPro markup for easy output, either to print or PDF (depending upon your system setup). If you look at the ChordPro format, you can see that there just aren’t that many formatting commands. But that’s its power. Why be inundated with a bunch of features? That’s just more to learn, and the point is to get a lead sheet together quickly.

The most sophisticated feature of the ChordPro format is the ability to define chord shapes. Not all ChordPro parsers are created equal, but one thing they all do is optionally print chord shape grids, and if you use alternate or altered chords, having the ability to notate them is vital – especially if you’re sharing your songs. In my latest song, “The Breakup,” I needed to get a lead sheet together to send to people to look over. In that song, I used both alternate and altered chords, and needed a way to show them.

For instance, I have a B7b9 in the song. People who know altered chords could easily figure it out, but it’s so much easier to see a grid. In that case, I notated the following {define:B7b9 base-fret 1 frets x 2 1 2 1 0} to tell the parser to draw out the chord. The syntax is very simple:  define:<chord name> base-fret <fret of the lowest fretted note> frets S6 S5 S4… <position of fretted notes relative to the base fret. The base-fret is one (1), not zero. So for the B7b9, the base fret is the first fret, or 1, then I set the fret positions of each string relative to that position. Zero (0) denotes an open string, while x denotes a muted string.

Here’s the whole song notated in ChordPro format:

{t:The Breakup}
{st:Brendan Delumpa}
#Chord definitions
{define:B7b9 base-fret 1 frets x 2 1 2 1 0}
{define:F#7#9 base-fret 8 frets x 2 1 2 3 x}
{define:C#m7b5 base-fret 4 frets x 1 2 1 2 0}
{define:Em7 base-fret 7 frets 0 1 3 1 2 1}
{define:Cmaj7 base-fret 3 frets x 1 3 2 3 1}
{define:Am7 base-fret 5 frets x 1 1 1 1 1}
{c:VERSE 1}
[Em7]Why don't you say just what's 	[Bm7]on your mind
[Em7]instead of leaving clues for [Bm7]me to find
Been on the [Cmaj7]trail to your [Bm7]heart but I'm [Am7]lost from no [B7b9]direction
[Em7]you've been turnin' me a[B7b9]round[F#7#9]

{c:VERSE 2}
[Em7]The way to your heart used to [Bm7]be so clear
[Em7]Now I can't see past this fog of [Bm7]doubt and fear
I'd like to [Cmaj7]reach out to [Bm7]you but you've [Am7]left me in iso[B7b9]lation
[Em7]I don't know where to turn... 

We've taken our [Cmaj7]hearts as [Bm7]far they will [Em]go
our summer of [Cmaj7]love has turned to [Bm7]rain and snow[Em]
no more [Cmaj7]rays of hope to guide us
there's [C#m7b5]nothing left to hide [B7b9]behind[B7] (let it ring)
{c:Chorus Endings}
1st: You take yours and I'll take mine...
2nd: We wasted all this time...

{c:VERSE 3}
[Em7]Expectation was our [Bm7]deadly sin
[Em7]It's a game that we could [Bm7]never win
"You can [Cmaj7]do what you [Bm7]want, just make [Am7]sure you do it [B7b9]my way."
[Em7]You know I'm always [B7b9]right...[F#7#9]

{c:VERSE 4}
[Em7]We see the world from our [Bm7]point of view
[Em7]Where nothing changes, nothing's [Bm7]ever new
We hold [Cmaj7]on to a [Bm7]vision and [Am7]never seek a [B7b9]better way
[Em7]and we never see the light...


{c:VERSE 3}
[Em7]Here's to the end, here's to [Bm7]being free
[Em7]No more blame for each other's [Bm7]misery.
I will be [Cmaj7]strong and sur[Bm7]vive and I [Am7]won't be shedding [B7b9]any tears[Em]
I will be [Cmaj7]strong and sur[Bm7]vive and I [Am7]won't be shedding [B7b9]any tears[Em]
I will be [Cmaj7]strong and sur[Bm7]vive and I'll [Am7]fly from all these [B7b9]wasted years.[Em]

{c:Brendan Delumpa}
{c:(c)2010 Brendan Delumpa}

Pretty simple, right?  When I’m first constructing a lead sheet with chords, I normally insert the chords first into the lyrics, then do the chord definitions, then add the rest of the formatting. It keeps the process fairly simple.

Another advantage of having a standard notation method is that band members can quickly put together lead sheets to share with their bandmates. If everyone has a ChordPro parser, they can easily print out stuff someone else in the band has sent them. Now that’s really powerful!

Songsheet Generator by Ten By Ten Software

There are number of ChordPro parsers on the market right now, but the one I like to use is called “Songsheet Generator” by TenByTen Software that runs on both Mac and Windows. Click here to see the PDF of the output that Songsheet Generator produces. As I said, parsers are not all created equal, but Songsheet Generator has some good formatting options that make customizing your output a breeze; not to mention that it’s donation-ware, so you have the option of paying for it. It’s only $18.00, so I recommend supporting the creator. I sure am. It makes the printing and managing of songbooks so easy.

I realize that some people might be turned off by doing things so manually, but believe me, using ChordPro notation is MUCH faster than pointing and clicking.

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I’ve been sort of operating in a vacuum for the last few years working on new material. I released a Christian album that really didn’t go anywhere, but that really didn’t matter to me because I’ve always felt funny about profiting monetarily from spirituality. The album’s still up on iTunes (if you search on “Brendan Delumpa”, you’ll find it), but I don’t really pay attention to it. That was something that I simply had to get out of my system.

After I did that album, I went on a bit of hiatus in writing, then got the bug again. But this time (it was late 2008), I didn’t want to do another religious album. I wanted to do something with a bit more of a classic rock feel. So I put together a few songs, laid down some tracks, and “kind of” liked what I produced. But I wanted to get some professional feedback. So I entered a few songs into an annual songwriting contest put up by a company called SongDoor.com. The deal was for $10 per song, you could enter your song into the contest, and also get a professional critique.

I actually didn’t care about winning the contest. I knew that the winners would be the ones that write mainstream stuff. While some of my material crosses into the realm of pop, most of it is just stuff that I like to listen to myself, and that’s not really modern mainstream music. My true aim was to get some critique on my songs, and that’s exactly what I got, and that feedback helped guide me in my later writing.

That was back in 2008. Unfortunately, SongDoor got so popular that they couldn’t afford to pay the judges for all the evaluations. I didn’t know that when I submitted a song this round. Oh well… But they recently released a new song evaluation service. For $25 they’ll do a much more in-depth evaluation of a song you submit. That was the answer to my prayers!

The bummer about entering my songs into the contest was that I’d have to wait several months before I got feedback. But with the new service, I could get an evaluation within three to five business days! How cool is that! So I paid for the service and uploaded a song with a lyric sheet yesterday… and got my evaluation back this morning!

Apparently, I was the first person to use the service, so I got mine quick. I have to tell you that the evaluation I got with this service was 100 times better than the feedback I previously got from the contest. It’s honest, and the evaluator doesn’t pull any punches, though they’re pretty nice when hitting you with their honesty. 🙂

The song I submitted was actually a work in progress. I knew going in that my lyrics were bad. They were just filler lyrics. What I really wanted was an evaluation of the music to see if my musical direction was sound. As expected, the evaluator said the genre I wrote the song wasn’t that popular (it’s a jazz/funk piece), and that the lyrics needed work but that musically, it was a good song with a catchy beat. That’s exactly what I needed to move forward with the song.

So this evening, I totally re-worked the lyrics except for the chorus that I thought was good enough to keep. Here’s the new version of the song:

Frankly, I’m not looking to create the next big hit. But it’s great to get validation and critique on something I love doing, and more importantly, get feedback on how I can improve my song writing. I really dig the service that SongDoor is providing, and if you’re a songwriter, I highly recommend submitting a song or two, and get an evaluation!

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…to give up on a dream, or perhaps, maybe an illusion. I wrote a new song yesterday for Mass based on Psalm 32, called “I Turn to You.” Give it a listen:

Anyway, when I uploaded it to iCompositions, and wrote the song summary, I included that the song and lyrics were free for the taking. I was just going to put it out there, and let whatever church musicians who come across it use it to their hearts’ content. As I said, “This was a gift to me, and I want to pay it forward.”

Let me qualify about “giving it up.” It’s more like giving up an offering to the universe. I’m not going to stop putting my music out there to get it heard. It’s just that I’m not going to be attached to a particular style or genre of music as a vehicle. I’m going to write what I write, and if happens to be religous, fine. If it’s not, also fine. I’ll basically take whatever inspiration I can get, and let that inspiration dictate the direction I go in.

The new song is the result of just giving it up to the universe. I looked at the verses of the Psalm in the Bible, and suddenly the music came to me. Likewise, I was re-listening to an instrumental I came up with to demonstrate how “Goldie” the Saint Guitars Goldtop Benchmark sounds, and got the idea for an entire song built around that phrase. I’m writing this entry as a break from tracking right now. 🙂

I guess the point to all this is that I released my emotional attachments to the direction I’m taking my music, and letting it just be what it is: Music; irrespective of religion or philosophy. I’m just going to write about things I’m compelled to write about, and share the story.

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I don’t know about you, but as a songwriter, it bugs me when I go for long periods without writing songs; or more precisely to the point, when the inspiration to write doesn’t come to me. I’m not a calculating songwriter, and completely rely on that inner voice that inexplicably sends music to my head. For the past couple of months, I haven’t had the inspiration. Oh, I’ve written short clips of stuff, and I’ve had the beginnings of song ideas; in fact, I just counted last night, and in the last couple of months have recorded 25 song ideas. With some of these, I even recorded several instrument tracks. But none of these developed into full songs.

But over the weekend, I got a new guitar from Adam Hernandez of Saint Guitars (read the review here). This functional piece of artwork stirred something in my soul and I got the inspiration to write a song – it’s about time! The song is based upon Psalm 146; yeah, it’s religious, but hey, a song is a song in my book. Besides, I haven’t written a religious song in awhile, and it’s actually where I started, so nothing like going back to my roots. But more importantly, just getting that one song out has made my creative juices start flowing again, and that’s a good thing. Give it a listen:

Being naturally introspective, I took a look at how I got the inspiration. Sure, the trigger was probably that gorgeous guitar, but more importantly, it had the effect of changing my current perspective. And I think that’s the key to inspiration. When you’re feeling in a rut, do something else or try out some other gear. The idea is to derail the status quo.

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As part of my five-year-plan to be on the road touring, I entered three of my songs into the Song Door International Songwriters Competition. This is a big step for me as I’m crossing into completely new territory. It’s one thing to get acclaim from your friends, it’s an entirely different matter to have your music put under the microscope. I’m both excited and nervous at the same time! Anyway, here are the numbers I chose:

The Animal Side of Attraction

You’re Stuck With Me

I Come To You

I don’t know how they’ll match up against the competition, but I have high hopes!

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