Intentions and Welcome

Aloha!
Welcome to my mind. This blog began as an educational pursuit to learn my way around wordpress.

My hope is that this blog will grow into a means by which I can offer insight into a songwriter’s path, what inspires and how I use inspiration, and what goes into the process of creation and presentation.

Wish me luck on my journey into “blogging”!

 
~~Aerynn
 


Art inspiring music inspiring art

photo(1)Hope Street (Photo: 2015 Aerynn)

It recently occurred to me that several friends of mine have inspired songs or parts of songs I’ve written, and have never even heard the songs, nor have a clue they were an inspiration to me. So, I posed the question on social media, “What inspires your art?” meaning art in general– interpret as you will.
A visual artist responded with other visual artist who had inspired him, and it got me thinking about visual art that inspires me.

One of my favourite snapshot photos I’ve taken in the recent past is a black and white shot of a small side street which I walk past several times a week. On the particular day I took the photo, the sun was hitting a brick wall on which the street sign professed its name, “Hope Street.”  Under the sign, two windows watch while a pair of denim clad knees stick out from beneath a black car with hood open, a loose wheel rubbish bin obnoxiously in the way.

The whole scene brought to my mind Bruce Springsteen/American Gothic kind of vibe, and with the added inspiration of my own wool coat being so worn out on the inside that the pockets have long since been useful for containing anything other than chilly hands, I started writing Hope Street.

Could one who cannot see, experience a story in a song which was originally captured in the split second of a snapshot?
Could one who cannot hear experience a story in a painting or short film which was originally created as a song?
How many ways can we connect art? How can we separate it?


Writing Chameleon Songs With Friendly Inspiration

I’m a musician; I write songs. I just hope at the end of the day to tear a little corner off of the darkness. –Bono, of U2.

Performing Light With You at Manchester Regional Finals for Future Music Songwriting Competition 2015

Performing at Manchester Regional Finals for Future Music Songwriting Competition 2015

Darkness and Light. A recurring theme for most of us. Artistic competition is a dark place for me, yet, it would seem that it also illuminates hidden facets of my creative process. It would be remiss of me if I didn’t write about my songwriting competition experience in the context of my songwriting blog. This was my first foray into songwriting competition, specifically; though I’ve participated in a couple of open mic competitions at a pub. From what I can tell, there are a couple of flavours of songwriting contest:

  1. Mail in your stuff, and it gets judged somewhere far away, and you eventually hear back. Maybe.
  2. Perform your song live, get judged on the spot, and move on to the next tier of contest (or not).

As an introvert and generally fatigued person, option 1 sounds more appealing. However, I have yet to produce a recording of any of my songs that I’m truly satisfied with, where the song speaks on an emotional level comparable to my live performance. For better or worse, my songs seem to shine in my live performances at this point in my career.

I blame Randy Raphael for my fleeting moment of boldness. Randy is a personal life coach, podcast host, brilliant actor, performer, and most importantly a friend who I met circa 2002. NO-REGRETS-PODCAST
This past spring, he entered an audition for a performance-based singing contest in L.A., and posted videos documenting his experience on social media. The inspiration, encouragement and positivity flowing through his videos were infectious, and I signed up to audition for a performance-based songwriting competition which I stumbled across while searching for local open mic nights online. The competition was designed somewhat similarly to singing contests such as X-Factor or American Idol, with an audition and elimination process, but on a smaller scale. Also, supposedly the judging was to be based on traditional songwriting contest criteria (i.e. lyrics, melody, songcraft, originality, marketability), rather than what you look like, how well you sing or whether you run around the stage.

With a catalog of over 50 songs, how would I choose one for the competition? The next day, while reading Psalm 39, I heard a melody in my head and it became the chorus for Light With You. Over the next several days, the rest of the song took form. With the songwriting contest in mind, I massaged this song with a different process than my typical “see what happens” passivity. I actually thought about the “hook”, and “formula”, and a catchy instrumental introduction melody. Song length, and getting the chorus in quickly were important considering the 2.5 minute time limit for auditions, and marketability.

Stolen from the internet; credit unknown.

Stolen from the internet; credit unknown.

The lyrics I wrote for the verses were revised heavily several times, in an effort to get the message as clear and accessible as possible, perhaps at the expense of higher level imagery. The song asked to peak in a bridge yet unwritten, and though daunting, I obeyed and managed to write music for the bridge, adding the lyrics later, again heavily edited multiple times. After the bridge peak, I inserted a break down, and arranged versions of the song for both a 2.5 minute audition (from which I was sent to Regionals) and a 3.5 minute performance at the regional competition.

Does all of this sound a bit detached or methodical? Formulaic? It was certainly more intentional. I had a specific goal in mind, a deadline, and a narrower audience than usual. Because the judges were from the music industry, I wanted Light With You to be able to sound great with commercial production, a full band, overdubs, chorus and many instruments. I also wanted Light With You to be real, able to be completely stripped down to acoustic guitar or piano. A chameleon song, able to blend into different environments when needed. I envisioned the song being produced with a driving, deep beat as a rich vocally-driven pop-electronica piece on the radio, and alternately, being performed live with a grand piano and single vocalist, vulnerable and alone in the spotlight on a dark stage. Most importantly, I wanted the song to reach people. Does writing a chameleon song strip it of some depth? Can it still come across as genuine?

You be the judge. A video of my performance of Light With You at the competition is now available on YouTube.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRNlB5AYvXI

The experience of challenging my comfort zone in a safe environment helped me to grow in songwriting, and probably in other ways as well. This blog entry was supposed to be about competitive human nature, and it turned out to be about process. The discourse on competitive human nature will just have to wait.

Much thanks to Randy for the accidental inspiration to challenge myself in a contest, and of course to the most high for the song inspiration. In addition to life coaching, Randy has since launched an interview-based inspirational podcast called No Regrets. You can find Randy here:

http://www.randyraphaelcoaching.com/

http://www.noregretspodcast.com/


I promise to tell the truth…

shapeimage_3One time I gave advice for writing song lyrics that went something like, “Pick a story from your life and tell the truth about it.”
The truth is, it can be absurdly difficult. 
What did I even mean?? 
When I try to take my own advice, I find it is useful to look in the face of the following two facets of truth:

1. Vulnerability
Today I listened to my “voice memos” stored on my iPhone. Why I did this today, I have no idea– I need to be writing piano lesson plans and rehearsing a particular song which is entered in a competition. I’m not even very competitive. However, I pull out the voice memos once in awhile because I know there are songlets (songlet: term of endearment foran unfinished song) that I’ve recorded which may have since been forgotten. One of them jumped out and finished writing itself today, which was both awesome and inconvenient as it cost me a lot of rehearsal time.

I’d been avoiding this particular songlet due to the wretched subject. The songlet was conceived during a short span of time some years back when I was processing some feelings which I’m ashamed to own, and which, if I had acted on them, could have been highly detrimental to my relationship with the love of my life. Thankfully it is also a story of strength and success intermingled with the inevitability of humanity and failure.voice_memo_pic

I suppose it is rather less painful to excavate and examine that regrettable voice memo now, though admittedly my eyes were damp as I finished saying what I needed to say in the rest of the lyrics and a melody for a new section. Songwriting is often emotional for me, so this isn’t too unusual, but usually, it indicates that I’m really processing through some deep muck and perhaps even hitting some sort of bigger truth that is part of the human experience.

Whether this song is ever useful to anyone else, or merely serves as part of my own ritual of processing, singing that type of a story to strangers requires an immense amount of vulnerability. Do you really want to go up to someone you have never spoken to and tell them in prose about your worst thoughts or flaws; your weakest moments? Not exactly what I get up and start each day aiming toward. Yet these are the type of stories I was talking about when I said to find a story from your life and tell the truth about it.

2. Subjective nature of truth and the Golden Thread

We can agree that truth is subjective in the common use of the word “truth”. If you haven’t thought about that before, I’m telling you now, I believe TRUTH IS SUBJECTIVE. Sorry for ruining your day.

For example, one of us might be telling the truth to the best of our ability, yet it might differ wildly (or minutely) from the same story uttered by different lips.
So then, how can we tell the Truth?
Especially when as artists we tend to use plenty of metaphor, multiple layers of meaning, and other literal tools which smear the truth into art-i-mean-a-story?

A mentor of mine used the term “golden thread” when referring to a truth or quality which resonates in the deepest parts of our selves. Buried beneath any temporary deviance, alterations to protect the privacy of others, hand-waving, smearing, intentional literary diversion and layering, we can feel/seek a timeless Truth. A golden thread, which I believe, in cases of extraordinary brilliance (artistic or otherwise), runs down the middle of those people/art/stories/songs/ideas. It’s not something that is known in the brain, but is felt elsewhere.
So when I say to tell the truth about a story in your life, I don’t mean that you need to write a blues song and name all the people who screwed you over, or who you screwed over, or who forgave you. I’m not saying, “Its confession time! Write a song!! I want the gossip!”.

writeThe song I just finished makes me feel vulnerable when I sing and play it, but the lyrics don’t show an incriminating photograph of my past or anyone else’s; instead, they paint a beautiful, blurry-edged, blurry-eyed watercolour on a textured surface full of grooves and pits; perhaps at a funny angle, working the edges, and slightly out of focus.

Find the true part of your story (little “s”) which resonates with the human being Story (big “S”); the collective sentient experience. Because that golden thread is big (even as it is elusive sometimes), and has the power to make someone feel a little bit more human, even if for only four minutes, and even if that someone is You.

Courtesy of childrensmeditation.com.au


The Mad Hatter (or, DIY singer-songwriter CD release)

Written early December:

After a few days in what I’ve been referring to as “Graphic Design Hell,” I’m emerging from the tunnel into a warm happy place where I get to make music again. Strangely, I really like graphic design, but it tends to hold me down under water for too long whenever I dive in. Super uncomfortable.

Summer Leaves Album Art

Summer Leaves Album Cover — www.aerynn.com/music.html


One small example of graphic design woes is finding I’d been using the disc jacket template for the whole design process from a printing company that I decided not to use weeks ago. How about using one from a company I plan to actually hire to print the CD jackets? There’s a good idea. And yes, (I’m glad you asked!) they *do* vary.

The DIY opportunities in producing and releasing independent music are incredible in our current moment in time, with the world wide web as a seemingly endless resource of instruction with varying degrees of usefulness.
However, in the past few weeks I’ve donned so many hats that I believe I might be going bonkers.

My neck and shoulders have been screaming; perhaps due to all these hats I’ve held up over the past few weeks:

*Song writer (yes, the process still wants to happen when other things are more urgent! Perhaps especially when other things are more urgent.)
*Graphic designer (there are tech aspects to this that are easy to forget about)
*Artist (before graphic design, you must have art to work with!)
*Web developer (Almost done with new website that is responsive. That means it will work well on your phone and iPud.)
*Audio engineer (mixing/mastering is expensive! lynda.com has free courses…)
*Guitar/piano player (yep, I still need practice)
*Performer (still going to open mics)
*Marketing engineer (There is a balance between what I like and what will sell without freaking people out. Who knew?)
*Specialist in licensing and copyright law. (You have no idea…brain full.)
*Finance manager (Lets not talk about the finance)
*PR person (Keeping in touch with ya’ll, blogging and posting on social media)
*Small business owner spanning multiple countries (expletives here)

Some hats are heavier than others. Some I need to wear but haven’t put them on yet–production being the biggest one– and I need to learn more instruments or find collaborators.
I’m guessing that many small business owners in a variety of fields are in the same game. There is the “what” you are *doing*, likely where your passion lies; and there is the *process* of getting “it” out into the hands of people all over the big expansive world we live on.
I read an advice article which suggested that if there are facets of the process in which your skills are only mediocre, then you should outsource them to others. This allows focus on the core of the project — music!
However, even when outsourcing, I still need a marginal idea of what is going on during each part of the process, so that any assessment I need to make is somewhat educated.
I’m so very grateful for the help I have received, and for the neck and shoulder massage from my amazingly supportive partner!

Releasing a CD has been a huge and amazing learning experience, and with all its imperfections, I’m very excited to have something tangible come out of the dozens and dozens of songs running around my mind (something has to move over to make room for all of these hats!)
The album is available for purchase on my website, www.aerynn.com/music.html


They get to watch.

I’d be doing this anyway. They get to watch. I am allowing them to witness and join in the experience. I’m allowing them to see my naked heart, raw humanity, scared (and scarred) soul, chest cracked open.


One of my favourite teachers from my life passed away last summer. Unfortunately this happened only a day or two after I arrived back in Oregon for the season, eager for the opportunity to meet up with him on a regular basis for a few months over the longest span of time I’ve spent back home in years. Apparently I was not meant to spend new time with him, but perhaps instead to reflect on and appreciate all that I had learned from him. It was striking to realize how many of his teachings had inadvertently worked their way into my songwriting, my performance psychology (when I can manage to shove my fears aside), and my approach to life in general. The lessons are sneaky, almost insidious in how many places they’ve slid into.

Singing in David Pool’s choirs was beyond magical, creating an experience which I doubt I’ll see again in this little life. He was an artist when it came to bringing emotion, genuineness, and mature musicality out of a hodge-podge group of misfit high school students who may or may not have ever seen SATB or SSA sheet music.

One of the many phrases he threw at us to get us centered for performance was a reminder that we would be doing this anyway, the audience just gets to watch.
And we did.
And they did.
In the choir room, in a field, sometimes in a bathroom (great acoustics!), at a party, a funeral, a bookstore, or a bakery, we would bring our unique voices together, shaping them into one text and one sound and delivering an experiential journey, regardless of whether there were any people listening or not!

Fast forward to now–
I’ve played twice at a Sunday night open mic here in my new town. Hardly anyone is there. While I appreciate the practice using sound equipment in a room I’m not accustomed to, I was challenged the second week to muster enough energy and emotion for songs that I’ve played many times, in a room that was mostly empty. And for the couple of folks who were there, I was constantly worried about mixing in enough upbeat songs to make sure they were not disgruntled by too much darkness in my writing. In so many ways and so many times as performers or entertainers we are challenged to please the audience. Our “job” is to give them what they want, so they can feel absolutely satisfied with their “purchase”. Artists are accidental sales-people. We create a product, and whether it is offered free or not, we have customers once our art is shared.

Aerynn at Mash Guru

Aerynn playing at Mash Guru Open Mic, Macclesfield, UK, Nov 2014.

In the thick of performance during that second open mic night, I forgot that I would be playing music anyway. I *DO* play music anyway! I play music for myself, alone, in my dining room almost daily. Hearing my own voice bounce off of the windows and back to my ears, along with accompanying guitar or piano, takes me somewhere I need to go. It isn’t just something I do, it is part of who I am. Writing and playing songs is my way of tapping into something bigger than myself, and yes, I do this anyway. I believe this is what Mr. Pool was getting at. I need to remember that. The audience, if they even exist, get to watch.

Dare to keep music real, and keep the messenger out of the way of the true message. Write for something bigger than an audience.

I’d be doing this anyway. They get to watch. I am allowing them to witness and join in the experience. I’m allowing them to see my naked heart, raw humanity, scared (and scarred) soul, chest cracked open.


Why don’t you write a happy song?

Smiley
You can almost taste the stale beer emanating from the floors and tables. The wall-length assembly of poker machines mock you with the backs of their devotees. Two or three folks near the bar turn as you get on stage, looking both expectant and dour. The first chord out of the guitar is minor, and they look back to the bar. It goes downhill from here.

For several years, I held fast to a self-imposed rule prohibiting me from playing in bars. Of course I enjoy a drink or two sometimes, but was done negotiating with the double-standard of live music (We say we want original/new music but we actually want classic rock covers) which expresses itself so intensely in small town bars. This past summer, I made the “mistake” of getting up on that American bar stage again. Having just been at work in the studio the day before, I could have played through any number of combined natural disasters — heck, I played better than I had played on *any* stage in ages. However, the responses I got from audience members were less than encouraging.

They had the audacity (and perhaps the requisite content of boos in their systems) to let me know that nobody wants to hear any songs that are even remotely somber when they go to a bar. My music wasn’t upbeat enough, nor my performance smiley enough to keep them on the right side of the drink. This audience response re-surfaced the question that I’ve heard many times throughout my years of songwriting:

Why don’t you write a happy song?!” The question has been raised often enough to actually be a line in the lyrics one of my songs!! So, why don’t I? Why don’t I write more happy songs? When I do write happy songs (and I actually do), how come they aren’t very satisfying? Why don’t I feel like playing them as often?

Welcome to my exploration in possibilities for answer(s):

1. There are already plenty of other outlets for happy emotions.

We are encouraged to be positive people. Nobody feels awkward sharing happy news with friends and loved ones, or even perhaps acquaintances and strangers. Laughing with others is fairly easy to do, and highly socially acceptable. Whether the recipients are co-workers, family, children, friends, spouses, or random passerby in a town square, a literal or figurative “Yippeeeee!” is a-okay. However, how many outlets are there for negative emotions? How many contexts exist to explore hard questions of the human spirit? How often are we allowed to be deeply honest about things that matter to us, such as human relationships, God, paradox, disappointment, insecurity, inadequacy? If I feel a need to express joy, I just tell people or spend time around them. The joy emanates out on its own. If I need to process some less-than-positive or rather complex emotions, I write songs. Happiness doesn’t require much processing, does it?

2. I haven’t learned how to express joy very well.

Maybe happiness deserves more processing. This is a possibility I’m toying with at the moment. How can I teach myself to express joy more completely, honestly, and deeply? Is this possible without expressing its opposite? Does happiness deserve more processing? I believe I’m willing to explore and try to learn how to do this through my songs, but am I prepared for failure? This could prove to be an exciting exercise, and I could grow as a songwriter.

3. I’m not a happy person, else I would write happy songs.

I have to consider this as a possibility, however, I have so much evidence of the opposite! The thankfulness I feel daily is huge, even when I stink at expressing it. I laugh a fair bit, and find many things highly amusing, even (especially) if at my own expense. I have spiritual security. My relationships are strong and deep. Doesn’t that mean that I’m happy?

4. I’m all happy’ed out.

Perhaps, in connection to option number 1, I’ve already expressed a lot of happiness in and amongst my personal relationships, and so all I’ve got left to write into melodies and lyrics is the “other stuff”. If I try to put forth a song and there is no emotion inside me to back it up, that results in a rather life-less song. And who wants to hear someone play a life-less song? I certainly don’t feel great singing one. And, at times, I do sing one.

Perhaps these points help to congeal the reasons behind the disproportionate number of somber songs in my repertoire. It will be exciting to see if any decent writing comes out of extra happiness processing. My experiences playing for coffee shop audiences are in stark contrast to my experiences playing in American bars, and the concept of audience(s) brings about another great question, perhaps for a future blog:

What/who am I writing for, anyway?


Ten Percent Inspiration…

Remember this statement? Applying to all kinds of artistic expression, I’m sure many of us have heard it from a guru, teacher, instructor, maestro. That art/songwriting/writing in general is 10% INspiration and 90% PERspiration. Or was it 20% and 80%?
Pen image from mywritingblog.com
(pen image from Nick’s Writing Blog, http://www.mywritingblog.com)

Recently, due to a change in employment and location, I’ve become in control of 100% of my time, which, I’m not sure has ever happened before. Thus, I have no excuses not to set aside time for writing, and this new discipline has shown me the short-sightedness of my previously held perspective.

Until recently, my songwriting approach was whimsical, romantic, passive (read: lazy?) and I truly believed that I couldn’t finish a song by brute force; that the inspiration for lyrics and a vocal line had to come naturally into my mind, and perhaps at 2:30am. That whenever I tried to force a song into fruition or completion, it would somehow be less than its inspired counterpart. I believed that if it involved substantial effort, the process would be contaminated, counterfeit, not genuinely from the heart. In disregarding the perspiration part of the deal, I was operating at only 10% of my potential!

Last week, I sat down and wrote a verse to a song that has remained in the ‘songlet’ category (my term of endearment for unfinished songs) for several years, and it only took around 30 minutes. It is a song which I believe has a lot of potential. And, surprisingly I’m quite happy with the new verse.
At only a 30 minute commitment, I am excited to anticipate what might come out of a truly 90% PERspiration attempt, and embarrassed at the internal battle necessary to start that 30 minute session.

What can the perspiration portion be comprised of? Not only finishing some extra verses, but perhaps going through a disciplined editing regimen would launch the quality somewhere completely new, bringing these songs and sentiments of the heart into a language that also reaches into hearts of others with a clear message.
Mauna Kea