How to Write Your First Song

OK. Several people have asked why I have not reviewed my own book here. Seriously, what do you think I’d say? After working on it for months, trying to create a book that would help the novice songwriter, as well as one who has “hit the wall”, to find their own process and create a song that they are truly proud of. One that they would not hesitate to play for friends or critics. Of course I think anyone thinking of writing their first song, or getting back into it should buy the book. But for good reasons, not just because I wrote it. I felt that there was a need for this book and I remember the agony of writing my very first song, that took one year to write, compared to my second which I finished in one day. But it took me a year to learn what I needed to write a song that I still like, decades later, and one that helped me to get into the Music Composition program at the university of my choice.

I wished I’d had a book like this when I was starting out, so I wrote it in the hopes of helping people in similar situations. I have unique training, with advanced degrees in computing and music, as well as Music Criticism, Music Theory, Computer Music, and Education, but my most practical qualification comes from decades as a music reviewer and listening to over 1,000 LP’s and CD’s most of which were from people trying to break into or make it in the music world. I’ve heard the same mistakes repeated countless times, but I have also found some true gems, all of which defied convention in their own way but still evoked a strong response in the listener. So while I can’t tell you how to write a guaranteed great song (no one can)  I can tell you what will ruin even a great idea that could have been a hit. To get that hit, or even songs that you like consistently, you need to know your own process for writing, and I can help you to find that.

How many Grammy speeches begin with “I’d like to thank the author of the book …” Not many, and yet so many song writing books promise, implicitly or right out there, that you will end up creating a huge hit, and if you don’t, it’s your fault. It’s more realistic to listen to the “overnight sensations” who tell you that they have written 100 songs and finally learned their craft by trial and error. My goal was to help you find your own process to write a good song without having to go through the 100 duds; to shorten the “error” period. Maybe it won’t be a hit, maybe not “commercial” enough, but it will be a song that you like and are proud of. And with a start like that, you can only improve.

Hits are a combination of craft, hard work, and luck. Good songs are a combination of craft and hard work — no luck required. You may not get wealthy, you may not even make a living at it, but you will be able to write songs that you like and even build up a modest fan base who enjoy your music. That’s a lot better than sitting and dreaming of “making it.” And you have to start somewhere. (And yes, I suppose you could use the concepts to analyze hits you like and maybe write a hit yourself. Maybe.) I’ll tell you what my aims were in writing the book, and you can see if they reflect your situation and might help you.

The BIG ONE is to get you over the hump of wanting to write a song but not doing it. (This includes established songwriters who have hit a wall and may even feel “washed up.”)  Maybe you’ve tried and got bits and pieces of several songs that you just can’t finish to your liking. Or you’ve written one according to a formula or copying a song you like that you can’t be proud of. An important step that you might be wondering about is to determine if songwriting is something that you really want to do. I won’t try to talk you into it, and you might discover that you’d rather just listen to songs. Even if that is all you get out of the book it will save you lots of time and frustration and let you get on with what you really want to do more.

But if you find that you truly want to write songs, I will help you to find and refine a process that works for you. There are lots of ways to approach songwriting, and the book is written so that you can try different things and see which ones produce results you like. It’s a very personal activity that reflects who you are, and only you can decide what you want to express and how you will do that. I don’t want you to copy how I go about writing a song, but rather to discover how you do. At the end of the book you will have written the first song that you really like and are proud to play for anyone, from a close friend to a record producer.

How do you get that kind of confidence? Together we look at building on your strengths and getting past your weak spots. Maybe you don’t have the theoretical background you feel you need. I’ll show you what you need to know without any extras like, say, the range of the piccolo or the notes to beware of when writing for clarinet. Or maybe you have lots of theoretical training, so much that you become “rule-bound” and have to loosen up your concepts so that you can move ahead just as music has moved past the “rules” that were established for music of the past. (Music theory always lags behind practice!) In fact, songwriters have a different perspective on music theory from classical composers, whose works form the basis of most standard music theory. The introduction of guitars and drums, as well as digital music sources, has given new life to older concepts that have been refined in new directions, as in jazz or progressive rock, or kept as a basis for new uses in popular music from country to hard rock and its more metallic derivatives.

At its most basic level, music comes down to repetition versus novelty, with enough repeated material so that we can recognize it as the same song but new parts that give variety so that we don’t get bored. Every genre or style does this in different ways, popular and classical, Western or Eastern. Music is truly infinite in its possibilities.

The book has access to all the musical examples online, where they can be played or downloaded. I personally created over 100 audio examples so that you hear our topic rather than just read about it. More importantly, you can decide whether you like it, and how you might improve it to make it more to your liking. You need to learn to critique your own ideas, but it is often much easier to start by critiquing the work of others. The difference here is that we will be concentrating on one aspect at a time, so that you refine what harmonies you like, what rhythms speak to you, how lyrics fit the melody (or don’t!), and many more aspects that are personal to you. I can tell you that the reason I prefer to be a reviewer to a critic is that I don’t assume that everyone shares my musical taste, so I point out what I find interesting in a song but leave it open to the reader and listener to agree or not, and to find more in it. Read old critics’ views of many songs that have become legendary over time and you will inevitably find articles saying how awful they are and how the artist will disappear, just as that very artist is starting a decades-long career as a major star. You might not like songs that I do, but you should like, or love, every song that you write. It should speak to you, even if to no one else.

Rather than go on and on, I’ll let you read the first page of the introduction to the book here. You can find a little more on the Hal Leonard site here, and order it from there or from Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon.co.uk, or find it in your local music store.

 

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Legendary Bassist “Duck” Dunn Bio and Transcriptions

Few people become legends in their own time, and even fewer are unaware of it when it happens, but this itself is part of the legend of one of the most influential bass players ever – Donald “Duck” Dunn.

Soul Fingers is sub-titled “The Music & Life of Legendary Bassist Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn” and the ordering is as it should be since the bulk of the book consists of transcriptions of some of Duck’s most famous lines along with some basic analysis of his style. Author Nick Rosaci writes “I have to admit, I’m not much of an author. I was the student who barely passed my English composition classes so I could spend more time in the practice rooms.” This explains the one problem with the book: the biography section is somewhat disorganized with some events out of order, and several places where information is repeated a couple of paragraphs later. This seems to be the result of one of the strengths of this section, which relies on the reports of family and close friends who were there at the times mentioned. Their statements are kept intact, and they often wander or span Duck’s entire lifetime. But the important events are there, and even those of us who admire his playing will likely be surprised at the range of artists whose recordings Duck’s bass added groove to. For example, his work at Stax with Steve Cropper is well-known as is his work with The Blues Brothers, but Tom Petty was also a great fan who wanted Duck on at least one track of each of his albums “for luck”! Even his passing from this world befits a legend, waiting until after his tour of Japan was completed before slipping away in his sleep after the final performance, a pro right up to the end.

Possibly the strangest session Duck was on was for Elvis Presley, who sent a demo which he wanted the band to copy exactly, note-for-note. Here’s one of the greatest bassists being told to suppress his own legendary style to play a different part entirely. To top it off, Duck didn’t even get to meet “The King” because he sent an Elvis impersonator to do a guide vocal during the recording of the backing track, over which Elvis added his voice later, alone!

Being given so much work and pressure to crank out “hits”, it may be understandable that Duck had no idea of his growing reputation outside of Memphis, at least until the Stax European tour where sold out shows and wildly enthusiastic audiences showed him the effect that his music was having worldwide. Once he started playing sessions it seemed that everyone wanted to record with Duck. The range of artists he played with is attested to by the 57 transcriptions included in the book (which includes online access to 28 play-along tracks performed by Duck’s son Jeff, Will Lee, and the author). The play-along tracks are great, with the bass on one speaker and the band on the other, so that you can study the bass alone, or mute it to play along, or hear the entire thing together. The performances are very good, but of course you need to listen to Duck’s original recordings to get that “deep pocket” feel that sets his playing apart.

Hal Leonard keeps improving their online music delivery system, which you access via your personal code at the front of your book. When you have more than one book with audio access, you can form a collection called “My Library” that contains all of the tracks arranged by book. You can download the play-along tracks one at a time or choose to “Download All” to save time, OR you can play them right from your “My Library” site using the PLAYBACK+ software that appears if you click on a song and choose “Play” rather than “Download.” It allows you to adjust the speed without affecting the pitch; to reset the pitch by semi-tone up or down as much as an octave; set loop points to concentrate on a particular section; and adjust the balance between the speakers, and thus between the amount of bass and of the band.  It’s a great way to learn a tricky song correctly at a slow tempo, and then speed it up gradually, or to do the same with a difficult phrase. Pitch adjustment is great if you play with a singer who needs the song in a different key.

The transcriptions range from Booker T. and the MG’s, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and Bill Withers; Muddy Waters, Albert King, and The Blues Brothers; Eric Clapton, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Jimmy Buffett, Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers; to the Manhattan Transfer and many more artists. No matter what style or artist Duck plays with, he holds down the groove and keeps the rhythm section solid, a master of the “less is more”school of playing. Usually his most memorable performances are close to frugal in their use of notes, but each note is just the right one for the song, a lesson for all bass players regardless of their level of achievement.

This book is essential for Duck Dunn fans, firstly because it is the only complete biography of this legendary player, incredible as that seems, with assistance from family and friends and a foreword by fan and fellow Blues Brother Dan Aykroyd. Also, it is a terrific collection of accurate transcriptions that show you how Duck played in many different styles and genres. It can also be an introduction to genres that you may not be familiar with that still have Duck’s inimitable bass playing holding them together.

Pick up a copy of this fine book at your local music store (and if they don’t have it, tell them to order a dozen copies!). Of course you can order it online if you have no local store. Click on either of the images above (or here) to go to the Hal Leonard site to order online or for more information on the book with the full transcription list and Table of Contents, Dan Aykroyd’s Foreword, some sample pages, and even a couple of audio examples.

Calibre – The Great FREE E-Book Reader / Manager

As I’ve read more e-books, I’ve come to really appreciate Calibre. It’s an e-book reader for your computer, library manager for hardware e-book devices, and format converter for both, plus a lot more features that let you bookmark, edit, backup and more. If you are online it will even help you shop! It is open source, which means that anyone with the skills can modify it and submit their mods for testing, but it also pretty much assures that it will be around for a long time and will remain free. Big thanks to Kovid Goyal for providing the world with this free app that outshines most if not all of the other e-book software around. I can’t say for sure because after trying a couple and finding Calibre, I’ve never been tempted to try anything else.

I had to write this column because I got a request from a friend for help with a somewhat expensive e-reader that could not read the format of the book she just bought. I read the blurb (there was no user manual) and it vaguely suggested it could read all “common” formats, and her book’s format was definitely a common one. So she switched to Calibre and all is well. I suggest that you check it out at calibre-ebook.com/

The video on that page shows you how to setup the manager for a hardware device, and how to use it to send books from your computer to your device and bring them into the manager from your device. If you have a book that is not in your device’s format, Calibre formats it automatically when you transfer it to the device. Calibre will search online for a book you request, returning a list with the lowest-priced one at the top, a very convenient way to shop for books. It will let you edit the metadata for any book, but if you have a large collection you might want to use its automated feature that searches the internet and finds the metadata for large numbers of books, which you can edit later at your convenience, if you like. To find a particular book, or just find something to read, you can browse by cover or tags such as author, genre, etc.

Calibre also reads PDF’s, so you can manage your PDF scores, articles, etc. along with your e-books in one convenient place.

Calibre has a great way to get news: choosing “Fetch News” brings up a list of languages in which news is available with the number of sources for each (over 300 in English alone!). Clicking on the left-hand triangle opens a list of the news sources in that language. You can set a schedule for downloading news from a source, as well as a number of days before the download is deleted. Of course, if some of them are pay-only you will need to have a subscription, but most are free.

There is so much to Calibre that I suggest you check it out for what you need in an e-reader or e-book manager, and then gradually you will find more uses that you never thought of. But if you read e-books at all, you really should check out Calibre.

UPDATE: A number of people have written that they cannot get Calibre to work on their iPhone or iPad or iPod Touch. The Calibre FAQ shows how to use it with these devices.

The Calibre help page has links to the FAQ, the user forum, and their blog as well as to the user manual, which is available in several formats.

Music Theory Wall Chart for the BASS Player

BALANCE: the key to having your guitar sit at the perfect angle; the interplay of parts in a well-mixed song; the amount of theory and its complement in playing.I’m looking at Ariane Cap’s Music Theory Wall Chart for the Bass Player on my wall and am impressed by its balance that has displayed pretty much all the theory you need to know without being cluttered and hard to read. This in itself is an amazing feat (try it sometime when you’re feeling impressed with your own brainpower!). The bonus is that if you have worked through Ms. Cap’s book Music Theory for the Bass Player or taken her course, these are instantly recognizable reminders.

The chart is clear enough that you may not even need the legend at the top, but its there so that all is accessible to everyone. There are three major sections set off by the colour of their headline bars. INTERVALS and their inversions are organized so that they go up on the left and down on the right with nice big diagrams readable from a distance, and fingering options visible a little closer. Whenever practical, each is shown on adjacent strings and also skipping a string.

TRIADS and chords are diagrammed in the two ways suggested in the course, with different coloured fingerings and arrows. A side chart shows the harmonic content of each chord and their sound characteristics.A second chart extends this to 7th chords.

A smaller section for “The Cycle” shows the cycles of 4ths and 5ths in sharps and flats and makes their relationship instantly clear. While this is the true chromatic cycle, the second part shows you how a diatonic cycle is created to stay in the same key but still follow the cyclic patterns.

And that’s just the left-hand side!

The whole right-hand column is devoted to SCALES. The Major and (natural) Minor scales are shown in familiar scale diagram form, with fingerings. These also show the distance from the root (lower root for the ascending form, higher root for the descending one). The relations of scales are shown clearly for major, its relative minor, the major’s parallel minor, and its own relative major. (If that’s starting to sound “out there” you’d better get the book). Major and minor pentatonic and blues scales lead into the basic formula for blues “changes” (labelled as ‘411 of Music’ which is true enough, although you might go so far as ‘911 of music’; they both work). The chart ends on the Modes. Rather than just show a C major scale beginning on each of the degrees, this chart starts each one on C, a more challenging and valuable way to know the modes. The ‘melodic and harmonic minor scales’ are omitted, which I find a wise decision. They are simply variants of the natural minor scale to accommodate the dominant chord, so showing them as separate scales is simply confusing.

I think you would be hard-pressed to find a major omission from this chart.

A last-minute addition: On Tuesday I was fortunate enough to have the time to work through part of Unit 4 of the course that Ariane Cap made available free as a ‘special look’ over the Memorial Day weekend while featuring 15% off the regular price of the course. The part I was able to cover was memorable, meaning that it drove the fingerings and theory into my brain and my fingers — both brain and body memory. This looks like a great course that really does build on the book but goes far beyond it. If you are serious about really learning the bass and you are willing to put in the work — real work — then you should come out of this course ready to take on some pretty challenging gigs, even if you’ve never set foot on a stage.

The days of a bassist playing just the root and 5th of each chord are long gone thankfully, and now bassists are expected to make an equal contribution to a band at any level. Ariane Cap may not bring you into Geedy Lee’s class of player (yet), but she will give you a great start, and one that I bet Geddy wishes that he had had!

Appreciation for “Music Theory for the Bass Player” by Ariane Cap

This is my second review of this great resource for every bass player. It was first published in the January 2016 issue of Just Jazz Guitar, and when I copied it to this blog I goofed: I made the review a “Page” rather than a “Post”. However, over the year and a half I have had this book, it has been my go to book for fingerings and ideas. Now that the 89 videos are complete and available here it is even more valuable. Ariane Cap is a no-nonsense “this is how you do it” teacher who leaves the work of reading and grasping the content of the book to you, so the videos are the perfect complement. “OK, I’ve told you the theory and the value of the different fingerings, this is how to play them and what they look and sound like.”

The book and videos form a powerful combination for learning, but not everyone has the discipline to take so much of the burden of following through on their own. Fear not! Ariane Cap will teach you online, taking you through the book and its content to ensure that your playing and improvising are much better by the time you finish. You can also take regular lessons tailored to your individual needs.  And you still have fallback resources if you forget anything later. Her latest addition to her wealth of teaching materials is a wall chart that summarizes all of the important information from book, course, and videos.

There’s more. You can sign up to receive weekly tips and tricks from Ariane herself. These contain solid information that will clear up concepts and get you out of some sticky situations. For example, last week she taught the difference between a #11 and a b5, both of which sound the same but require different scales and imply very different keys. Knowing the difference will save you in many situations, even if you have perfect pitch. Of course Ariane’s web site is full of these tips and more, and I encourage you to check them out and learn a lot of really useful information for free!

As some of you know, I have been very ill and Ariane’s teaching materials have kept my fingers working and my musical mind active throughout. The good news is my newfound appreciation for a first-class teacher who every bass player should know about.

I’ll be writing more on the wall chart as soon as it arrives and I put it on my wall (I have the space reserved!). I also hope to do a review of Ariane’s DVD Pentatonic Playground for Bass published by our friends at Truefire.

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Here’s the original review:

 

Ariane-Caps-Music-Theory-for-the-Bass-Player

 

by Ariane Cap

CapCat Music Publishing

Bass players rejoice! Music Theory for the Bass Player presents music theory as it matters: to improve your playing and your hearing. And all from the perspective of the bass player. Ariane Cap has put together a challenging book that will reward you with more confident and capable playing and improvising with a solid knowledge of what you are doing and why. In fact it is just as much about fingering as it is about theory, and Ms. Cap explains how fingering patterns relate to theory concepts and how these work together to strengthen your ear, so you know the sound before you play it. This is how theory should be taught: to improve your playing.

This is a book that could only be written by a top-notch bassist with a deep understanding of educational principles. Information is presented in easily digestible chunks that are illustrated in several ways including the fretboard. Each concept should be fully understood before continuing, and this is reinforced by a brilliant set of exercises at the end of each section. DO NOT SKIP THE EXERCISES! To do so would be to miss the whole point of the book: for you to get each concept into your head, your fingers, and your ears.

This is a robust book with no “filler.” For example, when speaking of Whole-Half step scales Ms. Cap notes that there are four possible roots for each of the three different scales. Most books illustrate all 12 possibilities, whereas this one shows the three unique ones; if you are going to master them you need to be able to figure out for yourself how the roots are related. While the text does actually explain the relation (and from a playing perspective) the point is made that when you see musical examples, they are important. Study them.

You could certainly learn to play the bass with this volume, but that is not its aim. This frees the author from providing those boring “quarter notes on the first string” exercises that turn off so many beginners. Instead, we get really “hip” patterns that illustrate what can be done with, say, a single interval using a more contemporary rhythmic style. It also allows accomplished players to learn the theory that they missed without feeling like they are in grade school again.

Many of the concepts are important for bass players, such as how to deal with chords that contain several different extensions or alterations, slash chords, and even how to determine the key of the piece. There are few “rules” given, which is a blessed relief, with the emphasis on why music works as it does. Somewhat ironically (and perhaps to illustrate this) the one spot where rules are given – forming major scales – they immediately require more rules for exceptions, which are explained more clearly in the section on the circle or cycle of fifths. So don’t worry if the rules sound complex at first – the explanation coming is simple.

Fingering is given such prominence in the book that it is as much about proper fingering as theory. This instills good habits in new players while keeping more experienced players on their toes, all the while establishing the sound of the theoretical idea in our ears. Do you know why you want to start with different fingers under a major or minor chord? Have you thought about alternate fingering that will save you from awkward shifts on a single finger? Many such tips demonstrate the interconnection between good technique and solid theoretical understanding. Others are handy for guitarists who try to use their one-finger-per-fret system on the lower bass positions. At the time of writing (January 2016) not all of the audio/video examples were on the web site, but it is likely they will be there by the time you read this.

Of the many extras at the end of the book, the suggestions on technique stand out. The pictures (often tongue-in-cheek exaggerations) show both good and poor positions for your body and hands that will help you to relax and play your best. The overall impression left by this book is of the relation and interdependence of theory, technique, body movement, breathing – all of life as we live it really, and how it affects the bass player. If you are a bass player, want to be one, or care for one, get this book. Ariane Cap has given an excellent gift to the world of music.

Order this great book here.

Great Gifts for Musicians

Yes, it’s getting late, but a lot of us have the ultimate gift over the next week or two: time!

firstsong

If you (or a loved one) have always wanted to write a song but never quite gotten around to it, or to finishing one, check out my book How To Write Your First Song. (In Canada, click here.) No previous theory is necessary, just the desire to write a song that you will be truly proud of. I share some of the ways I go about it, but the main aim of the book is to help you find your own way. While your first song is always the hardest to write, there is little in this world as satisfying as finishing one. (BTW, this book is also meant to help accomplished songwriters who have hit a wall and need a way around it that works.)

And if you are feeling really generous, to a friend, significant other, or yourself, Dorico is a great choice. I’ll be writing more on it in a few days, but the 1.0.20 update confirms that they are on track to become THE notation software program to use.

New Guitar Books

Hal Leonard has recently released some new versions of classic guitar books. Originally these would have been aimed at jazz players, but these days even moderately serious players need to know basics like the entire neck, a wide variety of chords in all positions, and songs, songs, songs.

jazzgtrfake

Yes, there are all sorts of fake books floating around, but few are aimed specifically at guitarists. What recommends this collection is an excellent selection of jazz standards, many in “guitar-friendly keys”, sensible chord diagrams that minimize position shifts (and show you some very nice voicings), and a binding that lets the book lie flat on the music stand. I particularly like that several songs are in different keys that guitarists really need to know (Bb, Eb, Ab), and these have great chord voicings that should help any player feel more comfortable in these important tonalities. You can check out the list of songs here and see some sample pages here. Play the chord diagrams to the bottom two to see what I mean about positions. A great book for improving your sight-reading and a terrific one to take to a jazz jam.

salsalv

A lot of the jazz greats wrote books to teach aspiring players, but many of these languish out of print. Hal Leonard did a good job of bringing back a true classic, Sal Salvador’s Single String Studies for Guitar in a new format. Most obvious is their catering to modern taste by adding TAB, and this has the added benefit of creating more white space on the page, which I find easier on the eyes. All aspects of picking, scales, chords, arpeggios, and much more is covered. This is a book that will make you work, but you will improve your playing immensely if you stick with it. The only problem with this edition seems to be a clash of fonts, so that numbers like “2nd, 3rd, 5th” are garbled (see p. 130, p. 145 and elsewhere) but can be read with some effort; also, for some reason the word “not” in the last line of p. 131’s text has delete lines through it, although it certainly belongs in the text (where he is saying to “keep the pick parallel to the strings, NOT slanted in either direction”.

These annoyances aside, this is a terrific book for improving knowledge of the guitar, and it is great to see it accessible again.

#Mixerman and the Billionheir Apparent — by Mixerman

This is a brilliant book. Buy it!

mixerman-fron-small

#Mixerman and the Billionheir Apparent is one of the best books I have read in years, and THE best one I’ve ever heard, so I suggest buying the audio book. I’ll come back to that. The story is a hilarious satire on the current state of the music industry. Most of us still have the idea that music is the same as in The Beatles’ time, where a group of talented kids from the sticks can make it big by playing endless shows and recording their own songs for a company that provides them whatever they want. In fact, the continuing spate of “new” Beatles products, while in some cases excellent, also prolongs the myth. Even better, bedroom studios are within the budget of any musician, and with the Internet anyone can become rich and famous as long as they have talent, right? The reality is very different. This book presents an industry where those four guys would be working minimum wage jobs and becoming famous, never mind rich, is like winning the lottery. Repeatedly.  The book is especially funny for those who have read Mixerman’s first book, The Daily Adventures of Mixerman, and so are familiar with many of the characters who reappear, although this is by no means a requirement. This is the story of an Indian billionaire father whose son wants to be a producer, so naturally dad wants him to be the greatest Bollywood producer of all time. Of course, the son prefers rap and wants to create his first big hit with a ditty about oblivious Prius drivers who slow down traffic, not the most urgent problem in the hood from which famed rappers such as the Pharcyde see the world.

The book revolves around Mixerman getting an offer he can’t refuse to tutor the son and heir (the “billionheir”) of this Indian billionaire in music production. This is the first appearance of money making the seemingly impossible happen, but it won’t be the last. As Mixerman teaches this gifted intern the basics of music, his understanding of the business of music (and ours) is turned upside-down as the very presence of the billionheir changes his world. Along with Mixerman, we learn how money is not a power, but the power, without which success is denied to even the most talented and hardest working musician. Billionaires (and billionheirs) are a club into which not all are welcome, and which can control membership as easily as they control everything else. But our hero Mixerman is a fast learner who has some tricks of his own. Will he and his team ultimately prevail? Read the book and find out. It’s a real page-turner, so you may want to set aside some time for it. Also, if you haven’t yet heard the hit “The Douchebag Song” you might want to wait until it is recorded (or at least written) in the book to get its context. In the audio book, this process is heard, which makes its ludicrous creation, and that of its video, all the more obvious.

Like the best satire, this one does not stray far from reality, and who better to give us an insider’s view of the music business than Mixerman, whose previous four best-selling books have dealt with how grueling the work can be, as well as in-depth technical details for recordists, mixers, and producers. Again like the best satire, there is a darker side to this “American Dream” that begins to surface in short asides from the author, but comes to full fruition in the book’s hysterically funny climax, where the line between the truly absurd and the actual modern world is shown to be an illusion. And in one of the most inspired moments in modern writing, the lens on the oligarchic control of music suddenly pulls back to reveal this undemocratic control of virtually every important aspect of life.

So there is a serious and sad sub-text to this book, but it is embedded in a truly great story. It shows that Mixerman is as brilliantly creative at a word processing keyboard as he is at his beloved Slate Raven MTX recording console. Don’t worry, this is the same uncensored, fattie-loving, musically amazing Mixerman we have learned so much from, but his writing has a new depth and flow to it now that he is free from having to present so many technical facts. In his own inimitable style, Mixerman presents the most important issues of our time that affect every one of us. I found the audio presentation even more immediate, with great performances by a huge cast that really puts you into the middle of the action, and things get quite active.

This is a book that will appeal to two groups: musicians, and everyone else. Musicians will see that they really are up against a system virtually designed to deny them success, while non-musicians will see the way that the systemic inequalities that they find virtually everywhere in life are at their worst in the creative arts. Let’s look at one change in technology that has been in the news lately: streaming. Many of us don’t realize much difference between streaming songs and songs sold on CD. Streaming is touted as being more convenient and cheaper. Why buy a physical object that you have to store yourself and find when you want to hear music when you can just stream it on demand to whichever of your devices is closest to hand? The problem is that far fewer people are paid from streams, and they are paid far less (if at all). Many producers, songwriters, and artists count on their royalties to carry them through retirement, but with those royalties gone with the disappearance of CD sales, so is any thought of retiring. The even more devious catch is that with so many new artists, songwriters, and producers trying to get into the business, the resulting price war means that many will work for free just for the experience and exposure. How does one compete with free? (I’ve faced this myself with guitarists who pay bar owners for the chance to play in public!)

We are all familiar with the huge disparity between the 1% of the ultra-wealthy and the 99% of “everybody else.” In music, this is even worse. If this sounds like a bummer to read, many of us are living it. And kudos to Mixerman for blowing the whistle while still keeping the tone hilarious even as he teaches us the harsh truths of modern music. He achieves this through his deft touch, his wonderfully ingratiating characters, and his ability to make his point effectively and move on with the story. The audio book adds music to the story, using leitmotifs (identifying tunes) for each character that describe them as well as pointing up their similarities and differences. Music also provides moments to reflect on how this situation affect us personally.

The situation is ultimately bad for music, and for most of us in general, but unlike doomsayers Mixerman does point to a way out, if only enough of us demand it. The first step is to discover what is going on, and this book makes it clear, but with enough humour to keep you laughing, which ultimately helps you to remember his points. Then you can discuss this with your friends and colleagues. No one of us has an answer to this dire situation, but unless we work together none of us ever will. This is how we are controlled: distract and separate. And it works — if you let it. For example, if you feel that you are the only one not getting rich despite your state-of-the-art home studio, you are going to keep your “failure” to yourself. However, if you discover that every one of your colleagues is in the same situation and feels the same way, you have the start of a discussion. And it’s OK if it’s an angry one.

For those of you ready to fire up a torrent client I’d suggest actually buying the book because you are going to feel pretty guilty while reading or listening to it. With streaming services paying the bulk of their “royalties” to large corporations (tech or music), the songwriters and artists (including writers) make little enough as it is. Ripping them off by pirating their work only adds injury to injustice. It also takes away the incentive to create new works when you would make more money at a minimum-wage job. And we all owe a debt of thanks to Mixerman — one of the most pirated authors around (8 pirated per one sold) — for bothering to write what is a very important book that is also hilariously funny.

A note on the audio book: It is supposed to be available on audible.com (“an Amazon company”) but after more than two weeks they still have been unable to get my legally purchased copy to work on my Macintosh computer (where it can only be played in iTunes). In fact, they have ceased to communicate with me at all. Some “customer service.” Mixerman himself tells me that the iTunes store is a more reliable place to purchase it.

I’m glad to have both print and audio versions of this book. I like to read in bed, and after a hard day, reading a very funny book about music is the perfect way to wind down. In the car or just some down time, the audio book is a perfect companion. The production of the audio is as good as you would expect from a master producer, and the theme music for the characters is just as great as the hit single itself. The voice actors are excellent and Mixerman does himself proud to keep up with so talented a group.

So get a legal copy of the book, audio, or both and join in the fun. Then join in the discussion on how all people in the music industry, and your own, should make a fair wage. Include your elected representatives in your discussions too. You may have to remind them that they represent you too, and even a billionaire has the same one vote that you do. Money has a powerful voice, but a majority of the electorate has a more powerful one. Join the conversation.

Bassist’s Guide to Scales Over Chords

Bass_Scales

Ordinarily I would skip a book on scales because that’s not the way that I think about or teach music. But Chad Johnson is one of my favourite authors of instructional books so I figured Bassist’s Guide to Scales Over Chords was worth a look, and it really is.

In all fairness, I realize that a lot of teachers teach scales and modes, including some top schools, so this will help students who learned that way or are struggling with it right now. The topics are clearly laid out with great examples that both explain the concept and get the notes under your fingers. Also, whether you consider them scales, modes, or just “the notes in the key” the information is what you need to absorb well enough to just play the right notes at the right time.

What is outstanding about this book is the treatment of modes. Unlike most books that teach “modes” as just major scales starting on notes other than the tonic, Chad Johnson shows how the harmonies as well as the notes differ in the modes, and how these have been used to give a fresh sound to familiar chords and progressions. Many bassists (and guitarists in the sister book for guitarists) may be surprised to find that they have played in modes often without realizing it.

Let’s take a concrete example, the progression C-Bb-F-C. A purely scale-oriented player might think of it as V-IV-I-V in the key of F. It could be, but then you have a problem with ending on the V chord and having it sound so final. Much more often this is a modal progression (in the Mixolydian mode on C) and so C is the tonic, which makes it a strong ending chord. It sounds modal because the Mixolydian mode has a lowered 7th note — in C Mixolydian that’s Bb — and thus there is no leading tone. That one note changes the tensions inherent in the whole mode since the tritone no longer leads to the tonic (and instead of being stressed usually needs to avoided).

I particularly recommend this book for anyone interested in exploring true modal playing and composing. It presents many progressions that give a true feel for different modes. This is a different way of thinking from, say, playing a “Mixolydian mode” over C7 in the key of F, and then reverting to “normal” F. By working with the mode, you create the entire song, melody and harmony, in a modal framework.

For more information, go to Hal Leonard’s web site or Amazon. (Guitar players can check out Guitarist’s Guide to Scales Over Chords here.)

Jaco Pastorius Books

Hal Leonard has brought out some great books for bassists lately including two on one of the most influential bassists of all time: Jaco Pastorius. While often considered a jazz bassist, Jaco’s eclectic style has influenced players in all genres, and there are few better workouts than playing through and learning even one of his songs.

Jaco Play-Along

Jaco Pastorius BASS Play-Along is Volume 50 in Hal Leonard’s Play-Along series, and it contains 8 meticulous transcriptions of some of Jaco’s most beloved (and envied) songs. You can get more information including the song list by clicking here.

For a deeper look into Jaco’s style, and how to incorporate some of his most important innovations into your own playing, check out Play Like Jaco Pastorius, which is somewhat modestly sub-titled “The Ultimate Bass Lesson”. In fact it is a series of lessons that illustrate his approach to technique with examples from his actual playing on several of his most famous songs.

Play Like Jaco

The Gear section tells you the Primary basses that Jaco used (along with ones used more rarely) as well as his favored amps and pedals. These help those who want to get a particular tone, or to emulate his rig in general. The example songs come from both his work with Weather Report and his solo career, covering both fretted and fretless bass.

If you feel you want a challenge, or have the need to take your playing to a much higher level, be sure to check out this great master class by clicking here.

Both books contain online audio that you can listen to and work with on the internet or download in mp3 format. The playing is worthy of this great master himself. Working with this book is time well spent, and could even change your life.