Archive for April, 2010

Week Seventeen

April 30, 2010

It’s Been a Long Time
By Kim Davidson
(c) 2010

Four-fifteen a.m., sleep’s not even in the corner of my eye
Guess I’ll greet the sun again, before I lay down and die
It’s been a long time since anyone’s been there to ask “Are you coming to bed?”
It’s been a long time since anyone’s cared where I lay my head…

I close my eyes, birds start their chirping, I can set my watch by them
My whole body sighs, as the vicious circle swings around once again
It’s been a long time since anyone’s whispered “It’s all gonna be all right.”
It’s been a long time since anyone’s been there to hold me through the night…

CHORUS: And then sleep takes me down to her deep red room
Where I swim through the tide of contentment
Past the cold, hollow chamber of regrets and might-have-beens
Past the sharp, steep edge of resentment

Two p.m., I swat at the alarm until the chimes fade
Embrace delirium, It’s easier to face than the mess that I have made
It’s been a long time since there’s been anyone to answer to
It’s been a long time since there’s been anyone to ask what I should do

CHORUS: And then sleep takes me down to her deep red room
Where I swim through the tide of contentment
Past the cold, hollow chamber of regrets and might-have-beens
Past the sharp, steep edge of resentment

Midnight… I’ve been to work, I’ve come back home, the TV joins me for dinner
I’ve misplaced my fight, the days bleed into years and I no longer care just who’s declared the winner
It’s been a long time since anything’s happened so maybe I could believe
It’s been a long time since anything’s meant enough that losing it would make me grieve

CHORUS: And then sleep takes me down to her deep red room
Where I swim through the tide of contentment
Past the cold, hollow chamber of regrets and might-have-beens
Past the sharp, steep edge of resentment
To a memory of you… to a memory of you…

So in case you can’t tell from the outtakes, this week’s video was a complete blast to shoot.

This song was actually ready to go two weeks ago. It was of the variety that came to me sort of out of nowhere, after I’d already written a song for the week, and it was pretty much inspired by my actual lifestyle and my complete frustration one morning that I was heading to bed with the birds chirping their heads off, yet again. In my defense, the damn birds start at like 2:00 in the morning, which is not all that late for a musician. At any rate, the song came to me and I thought, “Woo-hoo, I’m a week ahead!” And then for whatever reason I started to see this song visually, as a real music video, versus just a quick couple shots of me playing it for posterity. Images kept coming to me and I decided that it would go along with my desire to keep things from getting stale, and so I made plans to shoot a video.

The timeline got delayed by another week, so once again I lost my week-ahead advantage, but it was worth it to be able to get all the things I wanted; and what I wanted was to shoot at my friends’ Vivian and Louis’ place, and to have Jeff Gaynor add some keys to spice it up a bit.

What had me thinking of adding keys was again a visual cue… Viv and Louis have a piano in their house, and I thought it would fit into the video nicely. And if it was going to be seen, I decided it should be heard. Jeff is amazing—he plays with everybody, which is how I know him, because nine times out of ten if I go to see someone I know play, he’s on stage with them. I was totally stoked when he agreed to lay down a little embellishment for the track. And hey, speaking of that… yes, I had to record a separate track to sing along with, kinda like how I used to do things when NSW first started up last year, only way more complicated. There were a variety of mixes that hit my iPod in the past couple weeks (I find the best speakers in my world are in my car), and it was quite a few tries before I was happy. Tom Eaton can rest easy. Recording and mixing are not things I can do on my own without quite a lot of headaches along the way. I’m under-equipped and under-informed, and in the end I’d rather leave it to the pros when I can. This was just a quick little thing though, and certainly not something I could spend money on, so I had to wing it. I think it came out pretty good all things considered.

When I started thinking of the type of story I wanted to tell, I knew immediately that I would need a guy to use in flashbacks of this failed relationship. I also knew I wanted a nice locale that was homey, but had some character, and could fill all the requirements of the shoot. Viv and Louis were my first choice, since I’d worked with them before and they are both crazy and fun-loving and encourage all my antics. I shot the photos that will appear in the “Free Therapy” liner notes at their place. And I also used Louis for a shot then (as well as Vivian). I’d originally had another guy lined up, but that guy bailed and Vivian is not above lending me her husband for such things, which really works out well for me. LOL. So it just was comfortable and familiar and something we knew we’d all be laughing about the whole time, and that’s exactly what happened. They’re both really good sports.

It was a lot of fun to get all the story shots, of course. More challenging for me were the vocal-syncing shots. The fireplace shots were particularly challenging because the fire was loud, and the CD player wasn’t, so it was hard to hear the track, which is a little bit crucial when you’re trying to match the timing. The other close-ups I did at home, and they were easier, but still challenging, because no matter how much you sing along (you’re always supposed to actually sing, and not just mouth the words), you can still look like a Godzilla movie in the end, even if it’s just in spots. Ideally you get enough footage to weave it all together and have a track that looks pretty spot on. I got a pretty decent one here. There are definitely some spots that are rougher than others, but given the timeline, the equipment, my sleep deprivation from a killer week at work covering for someone who is on vacation… I’m pretty proud of what I accomplished.

I hope you guys enjoy it! I might have more to blog about in another day or two. Right now I’ve been up for about 20 hours and I need to sleep because tomorrow I work and then have a gig. And it’s already 4:00 a.m. Yup… those damn birds are chirping away!


Week Sixteen

April 22, 2010

These Forty Years
By Kim Davidson
© 2010

Ain’t got nothing in the bank, hell the account’s been closed
Five bucks in my wallet ‘til I get paid
I’m down, I’m close to out, and I’m feelin’ old
Couldn’t say the last time I got laid

Feels like forever I’ve been standing still
Hard to hold onto any strength of will

CHORUS: I’ve got a hungry heart and a restless mind
Still a lot of things to learn
And I could die looking and never find
What’s making my soul burn
I’ve gotten real good at laughing through my tears
That’s what I’ve got to show for these forty years

I’m bad with money, unlucky in love
A beat-up car is about all I own
But in the grand scheme I’ve got wealth enough
Got family and friends and a place to call home

Wish that I could say I’m satisfied
Wish I had more to show for all I’ve tried

CHORUS: I’ve got a hungry heart and a restless mind
Still a lot of things to learn
And I could die looking and never find
What’s making my soul burn
I’ve gotten real good at laughing through my tears
That’s what I’ve got to show for these forty years

BRIDGE: Dreams don’t sparkle like they used to do
When I was young
I’ve got to find a purpose to keep pushing through
‘Cause this life is only half done…

CHORUS: I’ve got a hungry heart and a restless mind
Still a lot of things to learn
And I could die looking and never find
What’s making my soul burn
I’ve gotten real good at laughing through my tears
That’s what I’ve got to show for these forty years

So the theme of New Song Weekly these days seems to be “get one week ahead, and then have something delay that song being posted when its turn comes, and scramble to write another song.” That’s what happened with last week’s song two weeks ago. And that’s what happened with what will now be NEXT week’s song THIS week. In the grand scheme, it’s not really that big a deal. I mean, ultimately I’ve got to write a song each week regardless. It’s just that knowing you already have a song to post makes it less “urgent” while you’re writing the next song. When all of a sudden it has to be that week’s song, the pressure is a little heftier. And there’s less time to rethink and hone if you choose to.

But no matter, that’s the way things go sometimes. I think next week’s video will be worth the wait. In the meantime, this week I had another eleventh hour song to write, and so I stayed pretty close to home with it. By the way, if anyone ever wonders why my songs aren’t taking over the country radio airwaves, it’s because of lines like “couldn’t say the last time I got laid.” Sara Evans would never sing that. Meanwhile, I’d fight to the death for that line. Is there a better way to put it? I mean, honestly? Sometimes ya just wanna put it out there—blunt and direct and non-poetic. Maybe it’s just me. 🙂

Week Fifteen

April 16, 2010

I’d Rather Leave You Now
By Kim Davidson
© 2010

GIRL: Lately it’s like you and I are strangers
I try to connect, but I seem to miss the mark
BOY: We go through the motions, and sometimes it’s all right
But I don’t think it’s a good sign, that it takes so much work
And I keep hoping you’ll make me feel needed
Like back when things were new, and I was so sure of you
GIRL: And I keep hoping you’ll stop pulling back when we get close
‘Cause I know what’ll happen if we keep heading down this road…

CHORUS (BOTH): I’d rather leave you now… than find myself hating you
For all the stupid things we can’t get past, although we’re trying to
If it’s only gonna get worse from here on out…
I would rather leave you now.

BOY: Suddenly nothing I do or say is right
I want to understand, I want to prove myself to you
BOTH: Every conversation spirals down into a fight
GIRL: I don’t know how we got so lost, and I don’t know what to do
BOTH: ‘Cause there was a time when all we did was laugh
GIRL: And sleeping wasn’t what we did when we went to bed
BOY: I hate to think that everything that’s good is in the past
When I used to be excited about all that lay ahead…

CHORUS (BOTH): I’d rather leave you now… than find myself hating you
For all the stupid things we can’t get past, although we’re trying to
If it’s only gonna get worse from here on out…
I would rather leave you now

BRIDGE: GIRL: I’ve never been the type to quit and walk away…
BOY: I don’t want to walk away…
GIRL: But that alone isn’t reason enough for either of us to stay…
BOY: So give me a reason to stay…

CHORUS (BOTH): Or I’d rather leave you now… than find myself hating you
For all the stupid things we can’t get past, although we’re trying to
If it’s only gonna get worse from here on out…
I would rather leave you now.
I would rather leave you now.

So this was the song I was all excited about last week where I couldn’t get all the details hammered out in time. Anytime you add another person into the mix it becomes a whole new animal. Funny how just the addition of ONE person can change the equation so much.

But Ryan was totally game, and I was psyched because he’s really got the sound I was looking for: full and rich and a bit of a southern twang. As he laughingly put it, “The fake country accent that I have when I sing.” I have me one of those, so I can totally relate. It happens.

What we had working against us was time, of course. Being the fabulous people we are, we are both incredibly busy, so finding a time where we were both available was the tricky part. That time turned out to be about 10:00 in the morning. For musicians, that is the crack of dawn. Not the best or easiest time to be wailing at the top of your range, but that’s what we were stuck with, so we made it work as best we could. Needless to say there was coffee involved.

It was a fun morning though, because Ryan has this awesome English Springer Spaniel named Gus, and Gus and I really fell in love with each other. You’ll catch sight of him a couple times in the video outtakes. He was pushing the music stand around at one point, out of frame, and we couldn’t stop laughing. He was completely adorable and if he’d been smaller, I might have snuck him out of there in my purse. You’ll notice you can see a music stand in the video. After a couple takes of us bending over and squinting at the lyrics (I shoulda used a bigger font!) I decided to shatter the illusion and just let the stand be visible. There were actually two stands, but Ryan has a cooler one than I do, and he could tilt his back and adjust it out of frame more easily than I could. I guess that’s what happens when you work at The Music Emporium. The other factor is that I was taking advantage of the forced perspective technique I’d learned from watching all the bonus features on the “Lord of the Rings” DVDS, so I was farther from the camera than he was, and therefore so was my stand. Which made it harder to hide.

So this being my first ever male-female duet, there was a bit of a learning curve for me. I think my approach might be different in the future. It’s amazing how much the different timbres of voice can change the way a song sounds. For example, in trying to see if the song would even work, I made two recordings. First I made one just of the basic melody, all the way through. So I sang both parts in my own register. When I sang the first pre-chorus from “Like back when things were new, and I was so sure of you” into “And I keep hoping you’ll stop pulling back when we get close” in my register, it sounded like the melody was coming down, which was the opposite of what I really was going for. However, when I sang the male half down an octave (trying to sound like a guy—which was pretty awful, and you’ll never hear that recording), the female part then sounded like it was going up when it came in. So it was interesting to me to hear that.

Of course, being a chick I really don’t know the parameters of men’s voices the way maybe I should have before setting out to write a song with parts for both. This is where my relative lack of music theory bites me in the ass. Ryan was such a good sport though—and I really had him singing every inch of his range, from low to high. And at 10:00 in the morning. THANK YOU, RYAN! You made the song, and I owe you a beer.

So that’s my first duet. There just may be more to come…

Week Fourteen

April 9, 2010

All These Things
By Kim Davidson
(c) 2010

There’s a tricycle in the driveway, that’s faded in the rain
And a skateboard under a t-shirt that bears an oil stain
By a broken swing-set in the corner of the weary yard
That’s full of useless junk you couldn’t bring yourself to discard

Dolls in threadbare dresses, and the palest pink lamp shade
One lone skate with broken lace and rust upon the blade
A baseball bat that’s splintered from its years of wrongful use
A diary that’s smeared with tears and stories of abuse

CHORUS: The kids moved out ten years ago
They’re seven states away
It couldn’t be clearer, could it, what they have to say?
The house that never felt like home, now seems to sag in shame
And all these things remain… all these things remain

Toys and books and records never were quite a fair trade
For the lashes and the filthy worded memories he made
You hold on to bits of shattered glass within a crooked frame
Cause you’ll never see again the ones who share your name

CHORUS: The kids moved out ten years ago
They’re seven states away
It couldn’t be clearer, could it, what they have to say?
The house that never felt like home, now seems to sag in shame
And all these things remain… all these things remain

BRIDGE: No one came to mourn him when he passed
No one offered you their sympathy
There’s far too many scars for you to outlast
No forgiveness now that you are free

You sit on a creaking chair, drink from an old chipped cup
There’s no one left who holds you dear, who wouldn’t give you up
You may have been a victim yourself as much as them
But you still kept him at your side, for that you’ve been condemned

CHORUS: The kids moved out ten years ago
They’re seven states away
It couldn’t be clearer, could it, what they have to say?
The house that never felt like home, now seems to sag in shame
And all these things remain… all these things remain

Talk about writing by the skin of my nose… Here’s what happened this week. Actually, it started at the end of last week. Shortly after posting last week’s song, I had a Muse drive-by and within moments had a great song idea flow out of my head and onto the page. I was excited because it put me ahead of the game, and also because the recording process would force a necessary twist, and I am definitely trying to shake things up where I can so nobody gets bored.

The twist required the talents of another person, so I set about finding the right person. Somewhere around Wednesday of THIS week I learned that this person wouldn’t be available in time to get the song recorded for this week’s installment. Crap. Now I had to write another song within 24 hours if I was going to keep to my regular deadline (or at least get close).

So I kinda pulled this one out of my ass. I admit it. Well, I had the idea a few weeks back actually. That is to say I had the idea to do a list type song and have it be connected somehow through all of the possessions “left behind” by someone. So I had that theme ready to go. But there wasn’t a song at all, and now there needed to be.

I realize now that this is exactly the kind of song I easily fall back into, the way you fall into the familiar coziness of your own bed after traveling. Dark, disturbing, depressing… I’m laughing as I type it, because it’s insane, but I go there very naturally and have a sick affection for it. That’s why so many of my songs have had that kind of feel over the years. This year, as I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve made a conscious effort to write more uplifting or inspiring lyrics, and to also get away from writing about myself. Well, I accomplished one of those things this week. The other one, not so much. It’s okay. I am still allowed to write dark songs. They have their audience.

What was interesting about this one was how it evolved. I sort of had the title/tag line already in mind, and I had the idea of it being childhood relics that were left behind, but I really didn’t know where else it was going to go. It went way darker than I’d originally thought, but that’s what happens when you’re in a hurry–at least if you’re me. So I got all these images down and then I realized that the story was way out of order. This isn’t that uncommon, honestly. A large percentage of the time you write your second verse first, without necessarily meaning to. It’s just that the meat of things is what draws you in and gets you started, and then you have to create a first verse that leads you there, and a third verse (or a bridge) that wraps everything up. This was even beyond that… I finished the initial draft and then spent several minutes cutting and pasting and rearranging until I found the true progression that made linear as well as emotional sense. I don’t think I’ve ever done it to the degree I did it this week. Interesting.

At any rate, it was done quickly, and that can be good or bad. Sometimes when you are up against it you end up writing very cleanly and efficiently because subconsciously you know you have to, and so you’re in edit mode right from the start and it’s great. Other times you just end up with a crappy first draft that you know you’re gonna want to fix sooner rather than later. This is maybe somewhere in between for me. I don’t know. I guess it depends on ultimately what kind of song I want it to be. I could take it in one direction and really flesh out the story specifically; or I could leave it as is, which is basically an emotional imprint that you can ruminate on and come to a determination about later.

At any rate, it’s done. And better late than never, the blog is posted. And that’s enough for me at the end of a crazy busy week.

The KD NSW 2010 Quarterly Challenge!

April 5, 2010

So I don’t know about you guys, but I’m pretty stoked to have made it through the first quarter of the year successfully. So stoked that I decided to celebrate–with a little contest. I mean, with all the effort that goes into this project, we might as well have a little FUN, eh?

So here’s the deal: Below you will find a list of 20 questions. All of the answers are right here in the blog. Some will be in the narrative, and some will be in the videos. Yes, I’m desperately trying to trick more people into watching these things (and doing the reading) in the hopes that it will get me a better place in Search-Engine-Land. Also, I think you’ll enjoy yourselves. I do. The outtakes alone are worth the price of admission, in my opinion. I can laugh at myself. But so can you–you can laugh at me, too. I encourage it.

Okay, so between now and April 30th, check out the videos and the blog, and answer the questions. Send your completed questionnaire to me by April 30th. Then on May 15th, all CORRECT questionnaires will be thrown into a hat and three lucky people will win some fabulous prizes. As Jeff Probst would say, “Wanna know what you’re playing for?”

  • First of all, everyone who sends me a completed questionnaire will get a free digital copy of the first quarter (January through March) NSW CD (tentative release date, May 15th).
  • Additionally, one local winner will receive a gift certificate for a one-hour muscular therapy treament ($80.00 value) with Darre Goulding Halloran, LNCMT, whose office is in Brookline, MA. Darre’s specialty is deep tissue massage for chronic pain relief and injuries; she also does relaxation massage to decrease stress and anxiety. I’m already jealous of whoever wins.
  • A second local winner will receive a 5-class card ($60.00 value) from Green Tea Yoga in Salem, MA. This is a fantastic yoga studio with classes for everyone, including children.
  • One national winner will receive a $20.00 gift certificate (plus $5.00 for shipping) and a gift basket containing 4 large soaps and a box of bath salts, all in their choice of scents from 4 Sisters Soaps. Ellen and her girls offer a great variety from the straightforward to the whimsical, and every soap is “handmade with laughter and love.”
  • “Worth playing for?” I think so! And all of the prizes were donated by friends of mine who are independent business owners—how cool is that? I’m so lucky to have such generous friends!

    So copy the questions below into a Word doc or whatever, and get busy finding the answers. And feel free to pass this on to your friends. The more the merrier! When you’re finished, e-mail your answers to:

    KD NSW 2010 Quarterly Challenge

    1. Which week(s) had the wrong number displayed in the opening credits?

    2. Which week(s) did NOT have outtakes?

    3. How many times did Kim wear a black shirt?

    4. Which person did Kim NOT link to from her blog: Madeleine L’Engle; Susan Levine; Rob Laurens; Joshua Radin?

    5. Which song was inspired by a book?

    6. How many videos were shot in Kim’s bedroom?

    7. How many songs were rewritten/reshot?

    8. Who is “My Life In Pictures” about?

    9. How many times did Kim swear in the outtakes?

    10. How many times did Kim talk about her hair in the outtakes?

    11. What date is crossed off on the calendar during the opening credits?

    12. Who is Alejandro?

    13. Under what circumstances does Kim do her best writing?

    14. What day is Kim’s weekly writing day?

    15. What day is New Song Weekly posted each week?

    16. Which song was not technically a part of New Song Weekly?

    17. Who shot the photo used under the closing credits?

    18. Who shot the photo used in the opening credits, under the “New Song Weekly” logo?

    19. Which song shares a title with singer/songwriter Michael Kisur?

    20. How much fun did you have answering all these questions?!

    Week Thirteen

    April 3, 2010

    Weight of the World
    By Kim Davidson & Nancy Beaudette
    (c) 2010

    She still believed at nineteen
    The blueprint in her mind had lines so straight and clean
    A simple list of dreams all the way to the silver screen
    At nineteen she still believed

    CHORUS: She thought that she’d be flying by now
    She’d thought she’d touch the stars and never come back down
    No one told her as a little girl
    She’d be held down, by the weight of the world

    She was losing faith by twenty-nine
    It’s a rough climb to the top, she was running out of time
    Hollywood’s a young girls town and not inclined to wait
    At twenty-nine, she was losing faith

    CHORUS: She thought that she’d be flying by now
    She’d thought she’d touch the stars and never come back down
    No one told her as a little girl
    She’d be held down, by the weight of the world

    BRIDGE: There’s bills to pay no matter what your dreams
    But you’ve gotta go ahead and dream them anyway
    At forty-five still going strong, still reaching for the stars
    But grounded by the steps that have carried her this far

    CHORUS: She thought that she’d be flying by now
    She’d thought she’d touch the stars and never come back down
    No one told her as a little girl
    She’d be held down, by the weight of the world

    Well, this was definitely a different adventure, and I hope you enjoyed the fruits of our labor. Co-writing is a strange monkey. Writing a song by yourself is challenging enough… then add another person to the equation. It can go either way. Luckily Nancy and I were already fans of each other’s writing. That’s always a good start. After that I think the biggest thing you need is trust. And an open mind. I mean, you’re both going to come to the table with ideas, and handing them over to the other person can be scary. You need to feel completely confident in that other person’s ability to take what you’re offering and treat it well. I knew with Nancy that I’d be perfectly okay.

    I’ve co-written exactly three times in my life, including this time. Once was a spur-of-the-moment thing with a friend when we were snowed in and needed something to pass the time. The other time was a planned regular event with another friend, where we got together weekly for about a month, trying to create something together. We never did finish the one song we started, as it turns out. And the moral of that story is that no matter how much you like someone and respect their talent, it doesn’t mean you’ll be creatively matched as writers—even if you really want it to happen.

    So there was no way to know how things would ultimately go this week. And the pressure was on. Nancy doesn’t exactly live near me, so it wasn’t like we were going to get together over the course of three consecutive nights or anything. We had Tuesday afternoon and that was pretty much it. But we were both prepared, and that makes a big difference. I’d had a lyric idea pop into my head on the way over (on top of other ideas I had at the ready), and Nancy had been working on a melody for the past couple days. She played it for me, and even though initially I’d thought “Weight of the World” as it first came to me would have a more upbeat groove, her melody spoke to me and completely changed my mind.

    We spent the afternoon working and honing and it wasn’t long before we had a finished song. It may actually have been the quickest start-to-finish song in the whole NSW collection.

    The taping was hilarious. We actually did make a recording on Tuesday when I was there, but I hadn’t thought ahead about that unfortunately, and so I looked completely sloppy. When I got home and watched the recording I just couldn’t live with it. So I went back Friday night (all dolled up) to decorate some Easter eggs, and we retaped the song and I’m glad we did. It was a total blast to have a few other people on hand to give us some energy, and it made the whole experience. Usually it’s just me, so I really loved having other people to play off of. I’m sure some additional guest stars will be part of future installments.

    By the way, due to the lateness of the hour (or the earliness, depending on your point of view) I completely forgot to include a link to Nancy’s website in the video credits while I was hastily editing and uploading. So here it is for all those who wish to find out more about her (which you should definitely do!):

    Meanwhile, be sure to check back later today for a special First Quarter Wrap-Up surprise!

    I’ll Take it With a Grain of Salt

    April 2, 2010

    Since this week’s edition of New Song Weekly is not going to be posted until Saturday (we had some technical issues with the video and couldn’t schedule a reshoot until Friday night), I thought I’d take some time to just blog about something songwritery in the interim.

    Earlier this week I attended my first local NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association International) meeting. I’d been invited by a friend, and was curious to see in what ways this group might differ from the regular song-writing group I already attend. It did differ in that it included a writing exercise, and discussion of the exercise, with those willing to share with the group offering up whatever they’d come up with in the brief time we’d had to do the exercise. I did not feel comfortable sharing, but others did, and it was interesting to see how different people had interpreted the exercise, and where their creativity took them. After that it was pretty much the same as my other group, meaning people took turns playing material and having it critiqued by the group. The only difference here is that I did not know everyone in this group yet, so it was a bit more nerve-wracking in a sense because I was playing cold in front of strangers in a very intimate setting. It’s also hard to take a critique from someone whose work you are unfamiliar with. Does that sound weird? I don’t know if it SHOULD be this way, but for me I can’t just take an unqualified opinion as gospel. If Diane Warren or Gretchen Peters gives me song-writing advice, I’m gonna be all over it, no questions asked. But someone I’ve just met, whose own songs I’ve never heard… Well, how can you trust someone’s opinion blindly like that? Making the situation even more interesting was the fact that I went first. I sang “Going Home,” which was last week’s song. And then everyone gave me their feedback—some of which I agreed with, and some I’m still processing and not quite convinced of.

    And here’s where I was setting myself up to land, which is with a blog about song-writing groups in general. Because I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with them, and I think that’s actually the right attitude, and I need to vent about it a little. First, let’s just put the obvious problem right out in the open: everyone in the world has their own opinion, and at any given moment, whatever you are doing, you are not going to be pleasing EVERYBODY. So no matter what, no matter how good your song is, SOMEONE is going to not like it. Granted, if you’re in a room with ten people and nine of them like what you’ve done, you’re probably just going to decide that one person is not worth worrying about. But it’s not always such a landslide. Which brings us to obvious problem #2—and really this is the big one: if you ask people to listen specifically with the assigned task of offering feedback after the fact, they are going to listen critically. And that changes EVERYTHING, let’s face it. If the whole point is to find a flaw, then you’re going to find one. Because that’s your objective. Because that’s how you’re going to “help” that songwriter. That’s how they will “learn and grow.” And all of that is true, don’t get me wrong; but there can be a point where it becomes ridiculous.

    Mind you, hearing feedback is optional. It is. You can ALWAYS say, “Ya know, I just wanna play this, but I really don’t want to hear anything critical tonight.” You can say, “I don’t wanna hear my baby is ugly tonight, thanks anyway.” And it’s okay. Everyone in the room gets it because everyone in the room has felt that way. Or you can say, “I’m really digging the lyrics, but I’d love some feedback on the melody in the chorus.” You can be that specific. And that’s what everyone will offer feedback on. And it’s a beautiful thing. Sometimes we want feedback just to confirm something we already know, but are having trouble accepting. Yes, that chorus really does need to vary a lot more from the verse to be interesting. Yes, changing that word is probably going to make the song better. Ah, I thought so.

    Sometimes feedback and constructive criticism are essential tools in helping to unlock creative blocks you didn’t even know you were having. If you’re open to what’s being said, and respect the people saying it, then you can really take your work to the next level.

    Then again…

    Look, here’s the thing—and this goes back to the “listening critically” thing: not every song is meant to be immediately understood. What I mean to say is that not every song is a cut and dried story where you can follow a linear thread from start to finish. Not everyone writes that way, and thank God. But it’s problematic in a situation like a song-writing group meeting. Like a fine wine, some songs need time on your palate—which might mean two or three listens over the course of a week, or month, or year. God, I’ve been listening to and loving “Behind Blue Eyes” by The Who for the better part of my life, and I STILL found something new in that song last year when I was in the midst of a personal Hell. It resonated differently because my life experience had changed and I could interpret it in a new way. Now that’s the extreme, of course. I’m not suggesting that anyone invest 20-odd years into trying to wrap their brain around one of my songs. But sometimes our initial gut reaction is more important than our initial analytical reaction. And when you’re in a song-writing group, you’re more often than not listening from a highly analytical place, and the gut reaction can be overwhelmed by that. And so you jump in with all these comments and suggestions because it’s your job, and then you hear the song out at that person’s gig a month later and you fall in love with it—even though nothing has been changed. Because you’re listening emotionally. And that’s far preferable in my book.

    I don’t need everyone to understand every single nuance of my songs on first listen. Sometimes they will, and that’s great. But sometimes they won’t, and that’s okay too. If they feel something, even if they aren’t sure what or why, then the song is doing its job. And if on further listens (and let’s face it, we want you to want to keep listening) they discover something deeper, then Hallelujah. I don’t think everything has to be explained all at once. I like a little mystery. I like the listener to have the option to choose sometimes what exactly the song is about.

    But many song-writing organizations push you to be as specific as you can, and include more details, etc. And I think there are songs that need that. But not EVERY song. Sometimes an impression, something a little more vague and abstract, can have far more impact because you can make it YOUR story. And sometimes it’s just more fun.

    I like both kinds of songs, and there’s certainly room for both in this world. But I think sometimes when we offer feedback we get very tied into the advice we’re used to hearing from the song-writing world at large, and so we leave our gut out of it and become clinicians. And that’s a double-edged sword.

    I also think there’s a bit of ego that can be involved. A bit of “Hey, check me out. I am so cool I can critique YOU.” And I’m just as guilty, by the way. Everything I’m saying here is true for me when I’m the one giving the feedback as well. These are traps we all fall into. But because I know that, I take all feedback with a couple grains of salt. And I also recognize (as we all do) that the luxury of the peer feedback model is that it’s the songwriter’s prerogative at any given time to simply say, “Nah!” and go about their business with their song as is. You’re not forced to agree with anyone, or to take anyone’s advice. Even if everyone in the room agrees about what you should change or fix, they can’t make you change or fix it, and that’s as it should be. Of course, you want to be in a place where you can really HEAR the feedback and take it in and decide not to use it from a place of intelligence and heart, and not from a place of defensiveness or sheer bruised ego. But in the end if you just don’t agree, you win. You really always win. It’s just that sometimes you have to wade through the loss of confidence that can come from a dizzying feedback session where everyone has SOMETHING for you to “fix.” I refrained from using the word “negative” there, because I find that everyone I’ve encountered goes out of their way to be positive and helpful and not beat anybody down. But it can still sometimes feel that way in the end. Especially if you liked what you had going on before hearing the feedback. It can make you question everything, and that can be challenging—because there is no right or wrong in the end.

    And here’s the REAL kicker: even if you’re being groomed to write a so-called “hit” the formula can be imperfect. Following it can still not help you, and NOT following it can still get you where you need to go. So what incentive, really, is there to ever listen to anybody?

    Here’s my favorite example of a song I consider to be SO flawed, which was a huge hit: “Back at One” by Brian McKnight. It hit #2 on the charts in 1999, and I can’t even listen to it because it makes me crazy. Because after you get handed a bunch of critiques about things needing to make “sense” and clarifying and whatnot, when a song like this gets through with no one batting an eye, it can make you downright bonkers. What’s wrong with the song? It’s in the chorus. I’ve had this discussion with many people and they’ve never noticed. These are the same people who dance their first dance to “I Will Always Love You” at their weddings, even though it’s a song about leaving. Because for most people listening to music is an emotional event, and not about analyzing (or even knowing) all the lyrics. How else would exist? Back to “Back at One.”

    Okay, are you ready? Here it is. The chorus:

    “One… you’re like a dream come true…
    Two… just wanna be with you…
    Three… girl it’s plain to see… that you’re the only one for me…
    Four… repeat steps one through three…
    Five… make you fall in love with me…
    If ever I believe my work is done… then I start back at one (yeah)”

    What’s wrong with that, Kim? It’s sweet! Let me break it down for you, it’s THIS line that makes me want to scream: “Four… repeat steps one through three…”

    Uh… WHAT?! Those are STEPS?! “You’re like a dream come true” is a STEP? IN WHAT UNIVERSE? It’s a declaration, to be sure. It’s a nice thing for your boyfriend to say to you. It’s not a step of any kind.

    What makes me REALLY mad (and I say “mad” and not “angry” intentionally, because there’s absolutely an insanity component to how I react to this song) is how EASY it would have been to MAKE those first three items actual steps. Think about it, “One… I’ll say I love you every day… Two… I’ll always let you have your way…” Okay, that’s a terrible lyric, but you see my point. This song made Brian McKnight a lot of money, I have no doubt. And while he was raking it in I was getting critiques from TAXI that made my blood boil. Because it was semantics sometimes and I just couldn’t handle the hypocrisy.

    So there’s a perfect example of a song that made it “anyway.” If I’d been in a song-writing group with Brian McKnight, I’d have called him on that for sure. My point is, it didn’t make a damn bit of difference to the rest of the world. As flawed as I feel that chorus is—as NONSENSICAL as it ultimately is—people played it and played it and played it. So it’s all about grains of salt in the end.

    Then you have someone like Neko Case. I LOVE her. I almost never know what the hell she’s talking about, but that’s part of the allure. She paints dark and haunting emotional pictures with bits of story that you can infer and internalize at your discretion. And I love her because she said this (in an interview with Julianne Shepherd at “I hope I can comfort people a bit—maybe show people that making music is fun and accessible to them as well. I’m not out to become Faith Hill, I never want to play an arena, and I never want to be on the MTV Video Music Awards, much less make a video with me in it. I would like to reach a larger audience and see the state of music change in favor of musicians and music fans in my lifetime. I care very much about that.” It doesn’t have much to do with what we’re talking about, but I stumbled across it and think it’s fantastic.

    And it did get me thinking that part of the problem is that song-writing groups consist of people writing for different genres, with different goals; and different rules apply to each market and situation. I mean, yes, if Neko wants a song on country radio, then she’s going to need a different approach. But she just said it. She doesn’t want to be Faith Hill. But if someone thinks she DOES want to be, how will that influence their feedback on her material? Hm. Even more salt.

    Then again, how about a song like “I Am the Walrus?” Hardly obscure or fringy in the way Neko might be considered to be. Still getting airplay over 40 years later. But what the hell is THAT song about? Okay, there are classes you can take to analyze the music of the Beatles. And yes, you can read up on Wikipedia right now and find out exactly what the song is about. But personally, I don’t know beyond the vague acid trip references I’ve heard over time. I’ve never bothered to research it. Because I don’t CARE. It makes no difference to my enjoyment of the song to understand it. And it’s a pop song. And these days some would have you believe a pop song has to be very accessible and relatable and clear-cut, etc. And to that I say, “I Am the Walrus.” And shut up.