Darfur Protest Song/Video

I wrote this song about the Darfur situation and I hope to bring the song into my classroom and have my students sing some back-up. Will it work? I have no idea but it could be pretty cool. I’m interested in having them think about how songwriting and music can be used as a platform for political protest and outrage. It’s just another way to demonstrate how writing has the potential to make a difference in the world.

If Iget some good recordings of my students singing, I will remix this video and see if we can add it to the Many Voices for Darfur project in some way.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=-4323540144778393547" width="400" height="326" wmode="transparent" /]

Peace (in all points of the globe),

Rock and Roll in the (Jam)Studio

Years ago, when I used to write music, I would dig out my old Tascam Four-track machine, dust it off, set up a room full of my low-quality recording equipment, and immerse myself for hours (literally) in running the tape. I do miss those days but these past few weeks, I have been tinkering with an online music site called JamStudio.

I wasn’t prepared to like it. I love music and I love live music, and I love the possibilities of making a mistake and discovering something new. A computer application is not the same, although I am no Luddite (obviously). With three kids and a busy schedule, it is difficult to have my guitar sitting around the house, as in the older days, and the burst of creativity can be a bit more difficult to channel. Still, it is strange not actually PLAYING the instruments. My hands feel empty.

JamStudio has given me another channel for songwriting. As a result, I have written and recorded five new songs in the past three weeks. A few of these are going to my rock band, The Sofa Kings, and a few are just for me. I always keep a few songs just for me.

Here is how I have used the site:

  • I paid for the All Access Pass (this is crucial for receiving high quality MP3 mixes of your songs from the site). This may not be a viable long-term effort but for now, I am OK with it.
  • The site is incredibly easy to use, although it has limitations. Everything is in four-four and there are limited sounds, but those possibilities get a lot longer with the All Access account.
  • For the most part, I have started with the music forming in my head and then worked the lyrics around the music. I flip back and forth on this (lyrics-music, or music-lyrics) when I write, so this is no big deal.
  • After working on a variety of sections of a song, I then have JamStudio mix it and email me a link to the MP3 file.
  • I move the music into Audacity (free!) and use my Blue Snowball microphone to record. I usually tweek with some compression and a bit of reverb. I can’t do background vocals to save a life, but I wish I could.
  • I then share the songs with my band or friends via Box.net.
  • Or I use FlickrCC to search for Creative Common photographs and use MS PhotoStory3 to craft a little music video. And then it is upload time into Google Video.
  • And now? I don’t know. I may try my hand at setting up an online site at one of the music sellers and see what happens. This will be helpful because The Sofa Kings now has finished our CD and we are looking for a way to sell tracks online. Or I might just create my own website for my own songs.

Here is my latest song, called Tomorrow’s Never Gone, as a political video. It actually started out as a spurned lover song but that didn’t feel right (I am very happy, thank you very much) and then it was about one of the candidates, and then I realized that it needed to be more general in nature:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=671916620548989912" width="400" height="326" wmode="transparent" /]

Or you can listen to the MP3 track.

Here is a video tutorial about JamStudio, if you are interested.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://youtube.com/v/yjriFnE-NYU" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Give it a whirl — write a song — get creative.

Peace (in music),

Writing a Song (without touching an instrument)

I like to consider myself a songwriter, although the creative spurts come and go through the years (during one three-year stretch, I was writing three to four songs every month). Many of my songs go forward to my band, The Sofa Kings. However, many songs don’t go much farther than the sun room of my house where I often compose.

This week, I started to tinker with a site called JamStudio and composed two songs: one for the band and one for my young son, who was playing in the room as I was writing the song and he asked me (in his three year old voice) if I would write the song for him. So I did. Yet, it felt very strange to be writing a song without having my guitar in my hands (I wrote this in one of my first Tweets, too) and I am am wondering how authentic an experience this really is as a musician and a composer.

I took the instrumentation from JamStudio and brought it into Audacity, where I then recorded my voice. Then, I used Creative Common photos from Flickr to create this little photo (with Photostory3). I converted the video to Shockwave, uploaded it to a video account I have and then moved it into my blog. One of the reasons is to keep getting practice with this process.

Anyway, here is the song and video, called In You:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://dc15.4shared.com/download/37411478/420c01f2/In_you__rowans_song_.swf" width="400" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Peace (in love and children),

Writing a Song: Making the Process Visible

I’ve been very interested in considering ways that we can use technology to make the process of creating art visible to others. I believe that for young writers and creators, it is helpful to catch a glance of a work in progress, as it unfolds. So, here goes: in the last 18 hours, I have written a brand new song and I began it all by turning on my little video camera and taping the start of the process from the first chord, and then today, I recorded a final version of the song (although, it may still change) as an MP3 mix.

First — the video (a bit dark and scratchy sound and a bit of half-head going on):

[kml_flashembed movie="http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=485471541101761095" width="400" height="326" wmode="transparent" /]

Second, here are some versions of the lyrics:

I started with this:

(first version) A Man of Contemplation (August 2007)

I’m in the middle of a situation

nothing here seems real to me

I’m stuck inside this infatuation

why is that so hard to believe?

When you’ve got love inside your heart

It’s a perfect place to start

And everything can shine so beautifully

Then, I revised the words to this:

(second version) A Man of Contemplation (August 2007)

I’m in the midst of a situation

nothing seems real to me

I’m a man of contemplation

why is that so hard to believe?

When you’ve got love inside your heart

It’s a perfect place to start

And everything can shine so beautifully

I’ve got friends up there in high places

looking down on history

All I want are friendly faces

A smile that lights up inside of me

When you’ve got love inside your heart

It’s a perfect place to start

And everything can shine so beautifully

I’ve been traveling around this land

Singing songs out for free

There’s a twist that I don’t understand

why is there no place for me?

When you’ve got love inside your heart

It’s a perfect place to start

And everything can shine so beautifully

Which led to a final revision:

A Man of Contemplation (August 2007)

I’m in the midst of a conversation

nothing here seems real to me

I’m a man of contemplation

I live my life with my belief

When you’ve got love inside your heart

It’s a perfect place to start

And everything can shine so beautifully

I’ve got friends in wide, open spaces

Finding ways to be free

All I need are friendly faces

A smile that lights up inside of me

When you’ve got love inside your heart

It’s a perfect place to start

And everything can shine so beautifully

I’ve been traveling around this nation

Writing songs with melody

I’m driven hard by motivation

All I need is serenity

When you’ve got love inside your heart

It’s a perfect place to start

And everything can shine so beautifully

Finally, I booted up Audacity and used my Blue Snowball to record the song with my acoustic guitar and keyboard (and drums from Super Looper) and here is it:

Listen to Man of Contemplation

The layers of changes came as I tried to understand what the song might be about, since I often don’t have a clue until the final molding of the lyrics, and even then, I sometimes have a hard time explaining what I am trying to get at. This process of tearing back the curtain has been valuable to me, though, as it has allowed me to view what I am doing from a bit of a distance. I don’t know if I will do anything with this song or just let it sit where it is, which often happens. But even songs that have been filed away sometimes come back up for air at a later date.

Peace (with music),

Get Up — video

I used my loop remix of my song, Get Up, with some pics from a Creative Commons search engine (plus PhotoStory as an editing tool) and put together this music video:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=-4430625363031699385" width="400" height="326" wmode="transparent" /]

Peace (with truth),

Get Up — remixed with Loops

I continue to toy around with this music loop program and decided to do a remix of a song from my band, The Sofa Kings, called Get Up. It’s an uptempo reggae song about a nation rising up against its leaders through music that I have recast here as a sort of R&B Hip-Hop song, with loops. I like the results … I think. The song itself was co-written with my friend John, who did the music progression, and I wrote the lyrics during the ignorant reign of Don Rumsfeld in the early days of the Iraq War and the implementation of the Patriot Act, so it has political overtones to it.

Give it a listen and let me know what you think.

Listen to Get Up

Peace (with music),


PS — Happy Second Birthday to Edublogs!!!

So You Wanna Be a Rock Star

I just finished reading an excellent book by Jacob Slichter, who is the drummer for the band Semisonic, called So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star. Slichter writes about the path his band took to the top with the hit Closing Time — with the classic line “Every new beginning starts from some other beginning’s end” — and the path off the top as they lost support from their record company and failed to connect with their audience again. His insights into the writing, recording and performing process of a musician on the wave is humorous and indicative of the pop culture world. Things move quickly and then implode.

Although Slichter is not the primarily songwriter in the band, he does pen a few of the tunes that get noticed by record reviewers and at the end of the book, he writes about the experience of being on stage, performing your own song in front of a large audience.

“For me, each hearing of a song is a trip inside the mind of the songwriter … Listening to my songs, I feel that the circuit between the performer and the audience is complete.” — Jacob Slichter, of Semisonic.

That passage really captures the intense and electric rush of playing an original song that just connects with the crowd of people in front of you in a special way.

Peace (on the stage),

Two New Songs: Demos

I’ve been working a few new songs, perhaps for my band The Sofa Kings or perhaps for a side project with a friend of mine. Here is a song called Gotta Find Faith, with photos from Creative Commons via Flickr. I recorded it all myself with Audacity and a little microphone. The video was composed using PhotoStory 3.


And the second one is a bit more upbeat and is called Little Too Far:


Peace (through music),

Composing Music

In the interests of more experimentation, I am posting a song that I composed on software called Scorewriter, which I first exported into a MIDI file, and then converted into an MP3 file (nothing is easy and everything takes a few steps but the process is a learning adventure). This particular song called The Door to Five-Four was written in 5/4 time, which is tricky to pull off (the most famous being Dave Brubeck/Paul Desmond’s jazz classic Take Five), and I am not quite satisfied with the voicings of the three parts (and the fact that Scorewriter’s internal voices are merely adequate — it is a tool for writing compositions more than listening to compositions).
I plan on doing a future Dogtrax Audiocast on my Scorewriter compositions.

microphone Listen to The Door to Five-Four

I also realized that I could create a PDF file of the actual composition (in case you want to play it at home for yourself — laugh-laugh)

Here is the actual written musical composition