Sunday, November 01, 2009

Let's Write Some Songs (repost)

I’ve noticed some real schlock songwriting out there lately, and my friends have been pestering me to teach songwriting classes…or at least a master class. When I realized that some of that schlock was my own songs, I figured it was time to re-examine the basics. This is gonna help me as much as it’s gonna help you…I hope.

Teaching songwriting is like teaching judgment or creativity, it really can’t be done. It is up to the individual to figure a lot of these things out for themselves. However, a mentor can at least tell you when you’ve got a good idea, have turned a clever phrase, or have lost your audience because you’ve gotten undisciplined or confusing.

In subsequent posts, I will talk about hooks, ideas, rhymes, structure, and a few tricks to keep you from writing yourself into a corner.

Do you have a lyric, demo, or recording that you want someone to critique? Send it along or post it here. I’ll be honest and gentle. I’m no Paula, but I’m no Simon either.

Ryan Michael Galloway

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

20 Ways to Make it in the Music Business, Part 2

Like I said last time, I’m not a complete advocate of getting a record deal, but these suggestions will help you pretty much no matter how you want to execute your music career. How many of these you use will depend precisely on how serious you are. Now stand up and get to work, or sit down and shut up.

11. Commit and show up. Say what you’ll do, do what you say. It’s just like a job and people get pissed off when you don’t.

12. Answer your freakin’ phone messages and your email. If you’re not, you are not only rude, you are missing opportunities.

13. Eliminate impediments. A lot of things stand in your way, some that are due to your limitations or bad decisions, others are thrust upon you. Get them out of your life, if you possibly can. Bad friends reinforce your self-doubt, set up conflicts, get you into trouble, or let their problems slop into your life. You may be shy; learn to “act” past it until you’re comfortable. You may be angry or mean; learn to manage it. You may lack confidence; learn to overcome it. You may not have the proper equipment; figure out where to borrow, rent or buy it. You may not have experience; enter talent shows, open mic nights, sit in with other bands or friends—get the experience. You may lack transportation; make friends with people who have cars, find mass transportation, learn to use a cab, or focus on all the other stuff that you can while you are waiting to get transportation. Think outside of the box. No one is going to do this for you.

14. Build support teams. Enlist someone creative and high-energy to help you create your vision; where you want to be in how much time. Find friends who want to help you make the vision happen; people who can write press releases, make media contacts, or book your act for a fee. Pull the people who are just hanging around with you into street team work, like getting the word out about shows, and creating energy in the audience (loud applause, encores, etc.).

15. Be knowledgeable enough to be secure. You’re going to get offers. Learn what a good offer looks like compared to a bad one. Hire help, or be totally prepared to hire help (have them lined up) for when the offers happen. Not knowing, not being ready, means you will freeze when the opportunity comes. You’ll either sign a bad contract, or fail to sign a good one, because you won’t know the difference. Again, read The Ultimate Survival Guide to the New Music Industry: Handbook for Hell by Justin Goldberg, How I Make $100,000 in Music by David Hooper, The Gigster Textbook by Ryan Michael Galloway, This Business of Music by M. William Krasilovsky, Guerrilla Music Marketing Handbook by Bob Baker, CDBaby artists’ area.

16. Promote online. Garageband, Live365, Taxi, IdolUnderground, Myspace, YouTube.

17. Promote offline. Local newspapers, TV, radio, charity events.

18. Learn about equipment (lights and sound). The Gigster Clinics are there for ya’ :-)

19. Drive your own progress. No one wants you to make it as much as you do. Everyone is running their own lives. They get distracted, things come up. If they’re into you and your quest, they’ll be fine when you ask them if they did that thing they were going to do for you. Nag—gently—but nag. Set your own goals. Communicate them to the people on your team, especially your mentors and visionaries.

20. Be relentless. Do not stop pushing. This may take ten years, but sometimes outlasting everyone else is what gets you over the top. The Beatles didn’t happen over night.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

20 Ways to Make it in the Music Business, Part 1

I’m not a complete advocate of getting a record deal, but these suggestions will help you pretty much no matter how you want to execute your music career. How many of these you use will depend precisely on how serious you are. Now stand up and get to work, or sit down and shut up.
  1. Focus. Limit anything outside your career that you can. Boyfriends, girlfriends, irrelevant job, irrelevant school (okay, high school and college can be VERY relevant—so you’re not off the hook), drugs, hobbies, clubs, etc. I said, “anything that you can.” I know it’s impossible to drop completely out of your social life, but a distracting relationship, a demanding sport/hobby, a pregnancy, etc., can derail your focus very quickly. You can’t be in two places at one time, let alone three, four or five. The people you depend on must be equally as focused. That’s why moms and dads move their whole lives so their children who are Olympic hopefuls can get training. It’s like that. You’re in training—like an athlete.
  2. Network. All the other performers and musicians in your area are trying to develop their own industry and venue contacts. Share yours and get theirs—as a group you can move forward more quickly than as an individual. Try to develop an atmosphere of cooperation that extends across the boundaries of musical style—being a bigot in your own genre only limits your opportunities.
  3. Get the facts. There are dozens of books available to learn about the music industry. Read them. Learn from others. Learn about song copyrights, promotion companies, record companies, record deals, independent releases, songwriting, song publishing, CD pressing, digital distribution, online downloading. Read The Ultimate Survival Guide to the New Music Industry: Handbook for Hell by Justin Goldberg, How I Make $100,000 in Music by David Hooper, The Gigster Textbook by Ryan Michael Galloway, This Business of Music by M. William Krasilovsky, Guerrilla Music Marketing Handbook by Bob Baker, CDBaby artists’ area.
  4. Choose your genre. The more you focus your musical style, the more chance you have at commercial success. You probably can’t find too many places that you can place boot-scootin’ country mixed with occasional Mohawk spiked-inspired punk—although it would be really cool to try. Edgier style mixed with smooth jazz probably won’t work. If commercial success is not your goal, then go crazy…no limits. But if you’re trying to be a mega star or want a quicker start, you could make an already uphill climb much steeper by combining the wrong genres.
  5. Choose your image. This goes along with choosing your genre. If you keep changing your onstage persona, your audience will never know what they’re looking for. They want to find something new and then stick with it. The audience doesn’t always follow when you re-invent yourself, but it will be easier to make changes later in your career than right after your initial successes. If you’re still not sure who you are, go to and start figuring it out.
  6. Learn to “sell.” You need to be a cooperative person, even if you’re not. You need to get a song across in a way that rips the heart out of your listener, even if you’re shy. You need to pitch ideas to record companies, promoters and managers, even if you are inarticulate. Learn to communicate on many levels.
  7. Practice. Even a pro (Jessica Simpson) has trouble overcoming a screw-up when they are obviously unprepared. A little mistake is common, and fine. Constantly messing up because you’re not ready, is not.
  8. Play live. A live performance is worth ten rehearsals. If you don’t have paid bookings, play for free.
  9. Write or acquire original songs. It is hard to compete with no new content. If you can’t write, there are armies of songwriters who want you to cover their songs. Contact groups like the Collin County Songwriters Association, Blogging Muses (World’s #1 Songwriter Blog Site), GarageBand, or IdolUnderground as sources for writers and material.
  10. Polish. Review with your team after every performance, rehearsal, disaster or success. Reinforce what works, tweak what doesn’t. Do it always, even if you just address it in informal conversations.
To be continued...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Get Out of Town, part III--RMG in NYC

So it’s time to report in on some of the results of my own little open mike tour, while I bounce around the country as a traveling consultant.

In my last blog on the subject, I had told you about Don Mak’s idea for booking an “open mike” tour using I had just started a day gig for a few weeks in Newark, NJ and NYC, so I used the opportunity to book four open mike nights in The City for the second and third weeks. Unfortunately I got too sick to sing for the third week’s bookings, but not before I had some really interesting playing experiences.

The first open mike booking was in the Lower East Side. First I have to tell you that in all my walking and looking around NYC at night, I never felt particularly threatened. Manhattan Island kind of strikes me as a big funky mall crammed full of a few million people. Police are everywhere, and the whole city is bustling until at least 11:00 PM every week night.

I got off the PATH train from Newark and found myself plunged into a crowd surrounding the Virgin Records megastore. Turns out that Ludicrous was there signing autographs. Once I got through that, it was smooth sailing as I walked to the venue about 15 blocks away. There I found two performance artist/comics running a no holds barred open mike experience in a small brick room stuffed with old chairs you’d usually find in an attic. It was “anything goes,” and the performances were mostly raw and raunchy. Frankly, I wasn’t sure if clothes were going to start flying off some of the performers—it was that edgy. Fortunately/unfortunately that didn’t happen, but it was high-energy for sure.

The participants were comedians, performance artists, and one musician (me). Out of 14 acts, there were probably four worth listening to, but there was an opportunity to get ideas and listen to a wide range of topics and experiences. People were nice enough at this venue, and very supportive, but despite descriptions I read, it was not a good musician’s venue. The PA was one of those minimalist two-speaker Fender systems with the built in limiters that shut down the volume every time something loud goes through it, and no one in the room knew how to operate it.

The next night I made my way to the Teabag Lounge open mike at Silk Road on the edge of Chinatown. The Chinatown location was a pleasant surprise—my wife and I always try to visit the Chinatown in every major city we pass through. I was greeted by Feliza Mirasol, who I recognized as Filipino. Since my wife is Filipino-Chinese, it was a chance to practice my Tagalog (official language of the Philippines). I felt very much at home with the crowd that gathered, and they were even more attentive than the audience the night before.

Feliza ran the Teabag Lounge event very professionally, and the whole night came off very smooth. I was honored to sit in with the first act, Michael Christian de los Reyes of the band “Burden of Proof.” Michael and I hit it off right away, despite his being decades younger than me (as were most of the performers). Michael is a talented performing songwriter, with ballads that really “get you,” and a great voice as well. He looks a bit hip-hop in his demeanor, but his voice is pure and lilting and he is also a great song arranger/interpreter as well.

The night alternated poets and musicians. Joy Leftow, a published poet of my generation, offered recitations of her poetry—and even got a little racy for a minute. I was happy to leave with one of her books. Corinne Manabat (a/k/a “Calamity) was the headliner for the evening, and gave edgy, gut-wrenching renditions of her poetry and hip hop rhyme. Jesse Yee recited her short, punchy poetry, which has is very accessible and usually very positive. I told Jesse I thought she’d make a good lyric writer, and we talked about songwriting for a while.

Finally, Ron Villanueva closed the night with some very interesting music. Like Michael, Ron has a great voice, but his musical style is more strident and less pop. He does a great job telling the stories behind his songs so you can get into them. This is good, because—while they are very well written—they are more challenging lyrically.

My experience with NYC’s music scene surprised me. I was certainly expecting the audiences to be harsh, and the performers to be much better than our performers and songwriters in Frisco, Texas where I live. What I found out is that the talent developing in New York is not much different than the talent developing in other cities around the country, there’s just a whole lot more of it. The audiences in New York have to be the best I’ve run into yet, in all my travels around the country. Sorry, Frisco, but they blow our audiences away in that they are really there to listen intently to the performer, and they respond very warmly when they hear something they like. I left The Teabag Lounge feeling like I’d been able to connect with the audience more than I’d been able to in a long time. They listened to the stories, moved with the music, and clapped loudly. I love that city.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Get out of town...(Part II)

I recently read a blog by Don Mak about setting up an “open mike tour.”

“Great idea!” I thought. But being constantly on the road as a management consultant, I believed I would never have a chance to try it.

Then I started poking around on, the site that Don suggested we all use to book our “open mike tour.” To recap from Don’s article, this is an awesome site. Just go to the main page and type in your city or ZIP code. Tell the form how far out you want to look from the epicenter (25 miles, 50 miles, etc.). Then simply click “OK” and you’re off. You get list of every registered open mike night within the area specified.

Now it gets really cool, because you can ask the tool to tell you just the nights of the week you’re interested in. A quick click on Tues and Wed check boxes and another “OK” and you’ve got your listed narrowed down. There are links to the venues, reviews and maps. Click an “I’ll Be There” button for the gig and it will arrange a list of your appearances in your profile area, so you can keep track of where you’re supposed to show up.

I’ve been traveling with my Yamaha Silent Guitar—basically a neck, a frame, a battery and an acoustical modeling computer—because it’s the only thing I can bring easily on the plane. I dabbled with doing an open mike night at The Mission in Augusta, Georgia and a coffeehouse in Atlanta on recent assignments. Though the guitar can be too brittle for recording, it plays great for live gigs so I’ve been using it a lot.

So suddenly I find myself in Newark, NJ for a four-day-a-week, three-week consulting stint. Hmm. I haven’t played in New York since I played next to CBGB’s 30 years ago. Off to I plugged in Manhattan, NY and within minutes found a list of open mike and open performance venues. Okay, so I got a little hung up on the one that featured anything goes, including poetry, strippers, and performance art. I finally decided against that one. I mean, I’m good but I don’t think I can follow a stripper. For one thing, my mouth will be too dry. Once again…a whole ‘nuther blog.

For the next two weeks, I’ve got four open mike nights booked. I’m not only excited about playing to a New York crowd, I know it will be fun listening to the material everyone else has to offer. Ryan rocks NY? Why not? How about you?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Your studio experience: Avoiding rip-offs and chaos

So you’ve written some great songs, you’ve done some quick demos in your bedroom studio, and now you want to kick it up a notch. Maybe it’s time to take it to the studio and get some “professional help.”

That could be a good idea, but I’d like to steer away from some mistakes and dangerous assumptions. First, you’re going to need some help that the studio is not (usually) going to give you—an advisor and project manager in the form of a producer. Second, it’s really good to have a plan for your recording project. Showing up without a clue is going to cost you a lot more money.

Now, maybe you can be that producer. But the producer cannot be someone associated with the studio. Why? Because the producer is supposed to look out for your interests, not the studio’s. Paying an engineer or studio-affiliated person to be producer is a like hiring a fox to guard the chicken house. The studio probably wants you to take a long time to make your recording—they get paid by the hour.

If we were comparing the situation to the movie business, your record producer is the equivalent of the movie producer and the movie director combined. If they're doing their job right, they're managing the recording project as effectively as possible (like a movie producer) and they're telling you when your takes are good, bad, or not quite there (like a movie director). They also oversee the mix.

So what does the engineer do? The engineer works for the recording studio. They run the mixing board, place the mics, and position the musicians. They also usually know enough to record pretty good sounds from the instruments that you’re playing in the recording session. But half the time the engineer is going to sit with their arms crossed waiting for you to tell them what to do—even if that takes you an hour or two to figure that out. Then they're often going to drag their feet and take forever to get set up. The producer (remember them) should keep things moving along, watching the clock and avoiding time-wasters.

Now comes the plan, which the producer should be able to help you with. What are some ways you can cut studio time down to something manageable? One approach you might consider is “production-lining,” that is, trying to get the same types of tracks down for several songs in a row.

Here’s an example. Often, you’ll want to build the bottom of the band first. You’ll record the drummer, the bass player, a “scratch” guitar or piano, and a “scratch” vocal. The “scratch” instrument and vocal are there just for reference to let everyone know where they are in the song—you’ll record them better later.

It can take hours to get good sounds on the drums, so why just record one song when you get them right? You might as well record three, four, or five songs in a row when the bass and drums are together, tuned up and ready to go. Maybe it’s time to add a real guitar next. Got the sound you like? Go record all your songs, one-right-after-another, while you have your guitar out and it’s sounding really good. Who knows, you might not get that same great sound when you come back tomorrow—or at least it’s going to take more time to get the sound right again.

Who comes up with these ideas? You and your producer. Not the studio or engineer (usually), for obvious reasons. So before you go in and spend $50 to $350 an hour, sit down with someone who has some experience running studio recording projects. Make a plan, with a schedule and a list of players. Get your partner to help you make reasonable estimates, and set your musician arrival times appropriately. Finally, in my experience, if you’re going to allow alcohol or drugs into the session, go ahead and double your estimates.

Now, go make some history.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Why I write songs

Joni Mitchell wrote a line in her song, A Case of You, that says in part, "Love is touching souls." Of course that's true, but for me so is writing songs.

A song gets into you like no other art form that I know. First, it works on several levels. There is the movement of pitch, the passage of rhythm and time, the intellectual exercise of language, and the emotional content--a marriage of music and message.

I've never been able to walk down the street humming a novel, a play, a sculpture, a photograph or a painting. Okay, maybe I've recited a few lines of poetry to myself--but it isn’t the same. It doesn't stick in my head all day long. A song impacts mood, lifts us up when we’re down, commiserates with us when we can’t get up, creates an anthem for our cause, and eases loneliness--usually in a healthy way.

I want to do that for people. I want them to think, have fun, be comforted. Where I can reach out and physically put a comforting hand on a person's shoulder, I can do that for thousands of people with a song.

The other reason I write is more self-indulgent. Songs are an outlet too. The next line Joni wrote was "Surely you touched mine, 'Cause part of you pours out of me, In these lines from time to time."

Been hanging out with me lately? Listen to the words…you’re in there.