Blah, blah, blahg

It’s REALLY Important 

Start With Why 

reading a book called “Start with Why,” by Simon Sinek, bestselling author on books about leadership. You can find him on TED talks, as well. In this book, the author repeatedly comes back to the theme: “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.” 

I think perhaps the same is true of songwriting. People don’t listen to WHAT you do, they listen to WHY you do it. 

I heard someone once speak about it from the perspective of promoting yourself as an artist: “It’s about the story,” they said – meaning the artist’s story. WHO the artist is, not what they do. 

I think perhaps that if you don’t know WHY you write songs, nobody will care about your songs. Or perhaps you at least need to know why you wrote any particular song. 

If you don’t know WHY you perform, nobody will want to listen to you. Or perhaps you need to at least know WHY you perform any particular song, for any particular audience, in any particular venue, on any particular day. Narrow it down if you have to. But the bigger you know the “WHY” of what you do, the more your audience will be with you. 

That's my theory. Would love to hear your thoughts.

It's Important 

(an article for the SVSA Newsletter)

In a hectic world, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important. 

Recently, I was doing a little workshop in a small group at church, in which we were all working to “discover our life purpose.”  

We’d done a number of exercises, and had a lot of conversations.  Then we did a drill where, on one side of a piece of paper, I we wrote down things that gave us joy. 

I wrote down things like playing and writing music, of course.  Also hiking, doing Aikido, spending time with loved ones, teaching, debating, etc… 

On the right side of the page, we then wrote down things that we thought the world needed more of. I could have written really practical stuff. Instead, I found myself listing lofty concepts like understanding, compassion, patience, forgiveness, curiosity, and acceptance. 

Then, we were asked to match up the left and right sides of the pages, essentially answering the question of which of the things that bring us joy are connected to the things we think is lacking in the world.  Then, we were coached to find “actions” to take that would connect those dots. 

For me, there was no “silver bullet.” There was no magic “aha” moment in which I suddenly realized the missing piece of my life’s puzzle that would forever guide the rest of my days. 

But I did have a bit of an awakening. 

In my case, I realized that I simply need to keep working to be the changes I want to see in the world (pretty sure I’ve seen that on a bumper sticker – “be the change”).  I need to continue to practice my music, continue to teach what I know, continue to learn more, continue to cultivate compassion for myself and my fellow man, etc. 

And then, I need to connect with more people; one at a time, a few at a time, and many at a time. However I can. 

That’s where my music started to take on a meaning that it never really had for me before. I’ve always treated my music as something rather self-serving; something I do primarily for myself, and perhaps for the adoration of a few fans. 

But there’s more to it.  Music is a way to connect with people.  Music is one of MY ways of connecting with people. Whether you write love songs, or folk songs, or blues songs; whether you play covers, or originals; whether you play in public, or in private; music is a way of bridging the gap between human beings. 

And that makes it more than fun, or beautiful, or interesting.  That makes it important. 

So, I’m working on it.  I’m working on being the change I want to see in the world, and music will be one way in which I connect with people. 

You never know who you’re going to influence.

Creativity 

I haven't felt very creative lately.  Or perhaps I mean "productive."  I mean I haven't written any songs lately, or even worked up any new versions of old songs -- even covers.  So, I got to thinking about creativity, and, as fate would have it, I stumbled across this in a twitter feed -- from an article in which computer chess, and whether computers can think "creatively," was discussed: 

"...Thinking out of the box means not only examining ideas that are outside the scope of those that are usually used, but understanding that is what is being done. In other words, before claiming to have found a novel idea, one would have to know what the old ideas were and realize that this idea is indeed new. If I were to write a phrase that transgressed certain rules of the language, I can only claim it was an act of creativity if I deliberately did so, knowing I was breaking some rules. If I wrote this same mistaken phrase simply because I was unaware of the rules that applied, then one would have to conclude my phrase was the result of ignorance, not creativity. "

I thought this was an interesting perspective.  It happens to support the argument that learning theory, and scales, and other academia can never make us less creative, no matter how much we'd sometimes like to think so.  

However, I think there's another component to this.  I think that part of creativity is also recognizing it when you see/hear it -- no matter how you got there.   This is what Steve Jobs was so good at, for instance.   If I make a mistake though ignorance or lack of skill, but then I recognize "hey, that's good!" -- then that's being creative, even if I didn't consciously break a rule or try something new.

http://en.chessbase.com/post/machine-creativity-what-it-is-and-what-it-isn-t 

BOSS vocal processors 

Hi

I have now tried the BOSS VE-20, VE-2, VE-5, and VE-8.   What I want is great vocal processing, and harmonizing.  I'm frustrated with features.

I have found that I cannot rely on guitar input to determine the tonal base (key) of the harmony.  It's something to do with the way I play, which is finger-style and often somewhat staccato and percussive.   I have to set the key before each song.  

Also, I use a collection of different harmonies.  I use some sort of harmony on about half of my songs now.  Most of them are a high third, a high fifth, and (when I can get it) both combined.  I have used other stranger harmonies on a handful of songs.

The main thing I'm looking for is the ability to set the harmony and the key without bending down to tweak a knob on the floor, when I'm on stage performing.

Here's a basic off-the-top-of-my-head assessment of each of the BOSS processors with my needs in mind.  This is not an exhaustive analysis.

VE-20

This unit has a lot of banks of customizable effects, and I could change them using my foot.  But I'm pretty sure I would have to pre-set my favorite effects for each key I'm interested in.  That is, a pre-set memory includes the key setting.  This sucks.

VE-2

I like this, and it got me used to those two-part harmonies.  But there's only minimal control using an external foot switch -- three memories -- with the same problem as the VE-20.  I'd still have to set the key.   This is also the only unit of the ones I tried that does NOT have some kind of looping.  Don't really use it yet, so it didn't bother me.

VE-5

So far, my favorite unit.   Mounts on a mic stand for easy access to setting without bending down, and I can punch the harmony in and out with an external foot switch.  It's nice to have a little less on the floor -- lest clutter, and less chance of hitting the wrong pedal.   Problem is, this unit doesn't have two-part harmonies!  Why the F did they get rid of two-part harmonies?!?!  Isn't there some way to download a firmware patch or something?!    I've compensated because this unit has the ability to do 4th and 6th harmonies.  But no two-part.   Very disappointing.  

VE-8

Very fancy shmancy unit that includes guitar processing.  Problem is, though I get my two-part harmonies back again (similar form-factor as the VE-2 in this regard), and I could set it up to change the harmony type and the key with external foot switches, I have now lost some control in the settings.  It's a pretty complicated unit to use on stage -- would take a lot of getting used to.  Also, no 6th or 4th harmonies.


All in all, I would sure love to see BOSS come out with a firmware patch for the VE-5 that includes some two-part harmony options.  Like, a combination of +3 and +5.   Or perhaps also the other options available on the VE-2 (high/low octaves, thirds, and fifths).

Mike

SVSA new home 

 want to take a moment and put on my SVSA President hat.

Aside, for those of you who don't know:
I am the current president of the Southwest Virginia Songwriters Association.   We meet the fourth Wednesday of every month to celebrate the craft of songwriting through socialization, mutual support, and song critiques.


Last night, we met at Roanoke's Jefferson Center for the first time.  We've been meeting since before my time (ten years) in the basement of Trinity United Methodist Church in Roanoke (a.k.a. the Third Street Coffeehouse).  Fred Pryor, Director of Center Services at the Jefferson Center, met us there to give us an awesome introduction to the history of the place, and a tour that included the Music Lab and an inside look at Shaftman Performance Hall.  I got to put my hands on a sound board that was used to product Quincy Jones!  

There was a graduation there that night, so the first part of the evening was rather raucous, with hundreds of folks in the hallway outside the L.L. Rice Room where we met, but that was all over by the time we started our meeting.  Having tables in a "circle" (square, actually) where people could all see each other during the meeting seemed to really facilitate the conversation.  It also made it very personal when a song was presented via live performance, just sitting there at the table.  Very cool.

We had six songs presented, including one by a brand new member.  Unfortunately we had to table one more that night because we ran out of time, but I'm hoping that Matt Gibson will bring his tune next month.  I can't wait to hear it!





Pretty Good Team 

I brought a new song to a songwriting workshop with Sally Barris this past weekend, and it got panned.  I learned a few things in the process.

This particular song was written for my wife.  The idea for the song came from a moment when we were discussing our regular everyday things that we do, and juggle, and manage.  There was a feeling of warmth between us that only couples can probably understand -- couples who have tacked life and kids, and job changes and health issues and aging parents (etc..) together for a while.   At this particular moment she was also feeling down about some things she had screwed up (don't we all?).

Anyway, I smiled at her and said "you know... we make a pretty good team."   

I played the original version of the song for her, nervously, and she liked it.  Loved it, I'd even say.  This is highly unusual -- she's my toughest critic -- to the point where I don't even play songs for her any more if I just want her approval (as opposed to her opinion).

When I offered the song at the workshop, though, the song fell flat. The meaning of the song relied on inside subtext that only my wife and I understood.  It also wandered a bit (which was intentional -- another inside reference).  Finally, the "pretty good team" hook didn't go over with a lot of people.  I was told it felt almost negative.

I've been writing songs long enough to know that, when you offer a song for critique, you can't argue with your audience, and you can't be seeking approval.  I didn't argue, but I will admit that, despite knowing intellectually that I was "too close" to the song to be objective, I really did want approval of my peers -- especially of Sally.  I admit that it hurt to have the song fall so flat.

After I licked my wounds overnight, I tried to address the comments made by my peers, and re-wrote the song.  The new version is what's posted on my site under "new stuff, rough cuts."  This is the version that I took to our regular songwriters meeting last night.

The new version was well-received, though it still didn't seem to be a big winner.  Especially with the ladies in the group.  

Ah, well.  

It Hurts Me, Too 

I'm learning to play the classic Tampa Red tune "It Hurts Me, Too"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34VJzHT9nuk
 
... though I'm doing it more in the Elmore James style. My guitar work is very minimalistic, a slow shuffle, lots of emphasis on the slide.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=958Gw-tCbmg
 
It occurred to me as was practicing it that, on paper, the lyrics are kinda flat and empty.
You said you was hurting, almost lost your mind,
And the man you love, he hurts you all the time.
When things go wrong, go wrong with you, it hurts me, too.
 
I had some fun singing this completely "straight" -- no fake southern accent, absolutely no bends in the notes. Even when you do it sincerely, not intending to mock, it's pretty weird.  
 
So I gots to thinkin'...
 
It's really fascinating how it really delivers so much more meaning when you add the music, complete with its rising and falling lines, bends into and out of the notes, and associated changes in the pronunciation.   Blues lyrics are inherently minimalist -- very un-clever and to-the-point.  The music, I think, is needed to give the lyrics an ocean in which to swim.
 
I'll bet, however, a lot (if not most?) poetry is better NOT set to music.

Come the Fury, Come the Flood 

I just wrote a new tune: "Come the Fury, Come the Flood."  Here's the story behind it.

I was really sitting on the front porch of my 129-year-old house in the hills of Appalachia, with a 1934 Dobro (not mine yet -- thanks, Greg) in my lap.  I really did hear thunder "down the valley."  It really did "roll on over the hill."  I really did see lightning strike. I really was wondering if the storm would really come in.

So the first verse was easy.   Then I got stuck.  So, without thinking about it much, I sent off what I had to my buddy Mike DeGiorgi, with whom I've co-written before, and said "what do you think?"   He was busy, so he put me on "finger hold" until he could get to it later in the day.

Here's the email exchange I had with Mike...
Me:
     I think the groove is kind of dark, and it would suit some dark lyrics. I like your idea of going back-and-forth between the real storm and metaphorical ones.
     I have to admit that one "metaphorical storm" that keeps coming to mind when I sing the lyrics is the looming terrorist threat in the world. Pretty big theme to be taking on. But I think the simplicity of the song could suit a simple message.
     Thing is, everybody's got a different take on the subject. I'll have to be true to mine. This is one case in particular where I think the song might teach me something in the process.
     Musically, I think the song is mostly going to be a showcase for slide guitar. I'm working on that part. I hear of chorus already, too -- bet you hear the same one, it's that straightforward.
Him:
     I like the terrorism idea, but you are singing like a blind old black guy sitting on his porch in the middle of Mississippi. Might be a disconnect!
Me:
     Yeah.  But I don't mind the juxtaposition.  Just have to make the message still work in that context.  That's where I think maybe it needs to be pretty generic.  Not sure.
     I'm on a roll, BTW. Got a second verse, and a shell/idea of a chorus.

... and then I went home for lunch and ended up with a first draft, including a chorus.   The "terrorist threat" theme morphed into a more generic theme, which is what I wanted.  I want to be topical, but I want the song to have a life.  Besides, I think the chorus ended up saying it all.  I actually went back to remove references in the verses that would point to more specific subject matter -- both a terrorist theme, and recent police shootings. 

I was thinking about neither of these subjects very deeply -- just the common thought of how ignorance ("darkness") turns into fear, which turns into hate, which becomes endemic, which brings suffering.

Here's the chorus:
     Darkness turns to fear
     Hate gets in your blood
     Tears fall like rain comin' down
     Come the fury, come the flood

BTW... about the chorus... Here's how that came about...  ( I love this stuff. I often have no idea how this stuff is going to unfold)
  1. The original first two lines were something like: Hate turns into Fear / Fear gets in your blood. 
  2. The first line was backwards, in my mind.  And besides it all starts with ignorance. "Ignorance" is not a word that will fit into this song very well -- especially the way I'm singing in.   I used an app on my phone to look for a better word than ignorance, and found my way to "darkness" while washing the dishes.
  3. I already had the second and third likes, which I liked
  4. I needed to rhyme "blood" in the closing line.
  5. First try: "turns everything to mud."    (very lame)
  6. Next try "From the fury, comes the flood."  (not bad, but still weak)
  7. I just played it over and over, and got into the part.  "Come the fury" came to me as I stepped out onto the porch again.
One little letter.  I think it made a big difference.

So... We were wondering...  Does Mike get a co-write credit for this?   Honestly, I don't think so. I certainly wouldn't think so if the roles were reversed.  On the other hand, I really couldn't have done it without him.    At the very least, I will give him credit every time I play the song.   Thanks, Mike.

Oh -- one more thing.  The recording you hear on my home page under "New Stuff" is rough, I admit.  But keep in mind I did it all on my iPhone in about an hour.  That means the drum track, two guitar tracks, and two vocal tracks.  I used an app called MultiTrack DAW to record, mix, EQ, and add reverb.  The click/drum track was from an app called Metronome.  I used the mics on the phone for everything.   Ironic that I was playing a 1934 Dobro through all that (thanks again, Greg).



 

SVSA Vision, 2015 

I have been voted in as the president of the Southwest Virginia Songwriters Association (SVSA) for 2015.  I'm excited about it.

Here's the article I wrote for the first 2015 newsletter:

SVSA Vision, 2015

Hello everyone. 

It's a brand new year, and the SVSA has a brand new rookie president -- ME!  I thought I'd take a moment to introduce myself, since not all of you know me.
My name is Mike Franke. I've been an active member of the SVSA since about 2007, and have served as a board member for the past couple of years.
I live in a 129-year-old house in Salem with my wife of 19 years, my two internationally-adopted 13-year-old children, my two dogs, three cats, two chinchillas, and (counting now…) currently about 5-6 guitars.  I perform around the area as a solo singer-songwriter act, doing a mix of originals and covers in a finger-picking, blues-biased style.  (check me out at mikefrankemusic.com)

I’ve had some time to talk with SVSA leaders in the past few weeks, and have formed a vision of some things I would like to accomplish this year.  I have several pages of notes, a really daunting mind map, but it all boils down to two themes: Improving our Craft, and Socializing,  Let’s talk about each of them.

Improving our craft

This is what we’re all about at the SVSA.  Nothing revolutionary there.  Since I’ve been a member, the primary means by which we do this are
  1. song critiques
  2. internal workshops (where the presenter is an SVSA member), and
  3. outside workshops (where the presenter is from outside the SVSA)
We’re always experimenting with each of these, and even in the relatively short time I’ve been a member, I’ve seen some changes.
With respect to song critiques, we’ve experimented with time limits, round-robin answers, several formats of written responses, and allowing live performances or not – just to name a few variations.

Larry Sakayama (our president for the past few years) has done a great job of “recruiting” SVSA members to share their knowledge in workshops.  We’ve also had several awesome outside workshops, including Darryl Brown, and Sally Barris with Don Henry. After discussion with our current SVSA leaders, I would like us to make the following tweaks…

First, I will personally be taking on the task of facilitating the discussion during song critiques to draw people into the conversation who don’t usually say much.  My mission would be to create a safe environment where people feel (rightfully so) that their opinion is valued.  I will try to help people get over any shyness or reluctance they might have, while still allowing plenty of time to hear from our revered regulars.   I hope that, in the end, this is a way to diversify our learning, and eventually our music.
We’ll also be continuously restating and reinforcing guidelines we’ve long had, which include basic courtesy (which has really never been a problem), and the importance of written comments.

Second, I will be asking for ideas on how to take our workshops to a next level.  Without taking the fun out of them, I’d like to give both “hobbyist” and “serious student” a more goal-oriented vehicle for advancement.  Some ideas that have been discussed is to expand upon the “song challenge” idea (remember February’s challenge?), and some new ideas like a regular “why does this song work?” feature.  Perhaps we’ll use the web site to reward members who really show improvement.  Publicity is good, right?

Thirdly, we’ll continue to seek outside workshops.  This year, I hope to expand beyond the obvious singer-songwriter workshops, to other ways of getting out of our own way.  More on that later.

Socializing

Let’s face it.  A very important part of what we offer at the SVSA is a venue for songwriters (musicians and lyrical artists, performers and non-performers) to hang around like-minded people.  This year, though, I’d like to offer a few new spices to the usual dish.

First, I will try to have a regular monthly meeting for SVSA officers and board members to get together and enjoy each other’s company, talk about what’s working and what’s not, and hear more of David’s stories.  (ha!).  So, for those of you contemplating serving someday, keep in mind that scratch-made blueberry oatmeal pancakes might be a perk.

I will encourage, and help organize, events outside of songwriting.  Hiking is one of my favorites, and I’ll start with that.  I’d also like to make a habit of attending local performances as a group – both touring artists coming through the area, and our own up-and-coming artists.  We will attempt to reach out to other songwriter groups nearby with all of this.

Finally, and perhaps most ambitiously, I think it’s time for the SVSA to get into the modern world and use the best of social media to reach out to a new, vibrant pool of talent and ideas.  Thanks to Larry, we have had a really awesome web site (svsasongs.com) for some time now, and I hope to leverage that even more: more dynamic content (pics, blogs, recordings), more links, more engagement. 

We have had a Facebook page for some time, too, though I think we could make better use of it.  We’ll dig into that and see if ReverbNation is something we could leverage.  We now have a Twitter account (@SvsaSongs) as well, and we’ll be experimenting with how to use it. Other ideas include live internet shows via tools like StageIt.com, and an organized and SVSA-sanctioned YouTube channel.

I’m convinced that, if Mozart were alive today, he would have a room full of equipment, a fast internet connection, a GoPro, and a zillion Twitter followers.

Tag, out

(whew) I’m tired already.  OK, so I know that, as the new guy, I have lots of energy right now, and that this is the honeymoon phase.  But if you keep nagging me (Twitter!), I’ll keep pushing the envelope.

If you’re a serious songwriter, I want to continue to improve SVSA as an asset and a resource for you. If you’re a hobbyist, I want to create an environment in which you feel supported, valued, and encouraged to improve – and have the tools to do it.

Which are you? 

@mikefrankemusic @SvsaSongs #WriteOn
 
 

Talking Stick 

I want to change the format of the national, cultural, and global discourse.  

I want our normal way of communicating evolve from one in which we take a side of an argument, present it, and defend it.   I believe that we have devolved into a state where actually fostering some sort of common understanding, and even eventually forming mutually agreeable solutions, is no longer even a goal.  The goal in the usual, public debate on any issue seems to be posturing, spin-doctoring, and disseminating outright propaganda.

I would like to establish a new format of communication.  Like "Robert's Rules of Order" (Parliamentary Procedure), I would like to establish something like the rules behind the use of the Native American Talking Stick.

If people have heard of this before, they usually think it's "oh yeah -- whoever gets the stick gets to talk."   This is true.  But it missed the point.  The real beauty of using a Talking Stick is that you don't get the stick in the first place until the person with the stick feels understood by you.  If you don't have the stick, you can ask a clarifying question, but you can't present your own opinion, and you can't even agree or disagree.  Only when the speaker is done does he hand the stick over to the next person, at which time he doesn't get to keep it (or doesn't get it in the first place) until he can express the previous speaker's viewpoint to their satisfaction.

We need this in our public discourse.  We need more listening; less talking.  

Here's an article on the subject, in the context of Organizational Change (after all, what I'm lobbying for is a fundamental aspect of Organizational Change -- Communication).

It seems to me that we're dealing with a backlash of some combination of 24-hour news media needing to fill their time, and the onset of social media.  We have these tools, but haven't learned to use them wisely yet.