Trust Your Musicians. Listen Deeply. Record Your Song.
Yesterday marked the third annual BMF private lesson recording session. All student original compositions. All produced with the help of their teachers. All with a clear goal in mind, recording in the studio with a band made up of both faculty and other advanced students. A totally finished, start to end, original composition that will ultimately be mixed by Eli Janney (of Seth Meyers band fame) and released on BMF Records.
For these kids, this is a huge reach for them. HUGE. Imagine the risk they are taking. They are being challenged to write an original composition…an entire piece of pop music from start to finish. They are crafting the story. They are embracing a song form. They are hearing chord progressions that need to propel the verse, pre-chorus, and chorus. They are then building a groove that will be the foundation for everything to sit on top of. They are songwriters and they are willing to put it out their for the entire community to hear, critique, dance to, laugh at, cry with, or ignore. It takes guts to be an artist. These BMF students are artists and are getting a real taste of the hard work involved and the results of their efforts.
All songs start with a story. And it’s a story that every composer feel needs to be shared with the world. We recorded ten different stories. Some songs were about love lost while others were about lemonade. One song was about war between countries. Another was about war between perceived self and actual self. These were the stories of 10 to 16 year olds.
The Chords & Form:
Song form is a slippery part of the writing process. Pop music is as much about what you can say in the simplest way possible as it is about writing new rules. Song form challenges the composer to look for effective ways to build within a frame-work. It challenges the story-teller to organize her thoughts and then present them in a way that both the listener and the fellow musicians can follow.
Yesterday’s recording session saw many forms that followed the classic verse, pre-chorus, chorus (with the occasional bridge). But the recording session also explored some songs that ended with a verse or even a bridge. BMF composers began to stretch the pop form in exciting new ways that challenged the session musicians. Funky George had to move from 4/4 to 6/8 in one ballad. Adina asked her musicians to boldly modulate midway through her song for a bridge with no words. Bella took the sneak attack ending approach by stopping midway through a verse…done…no sign of an ending, just a drop! It worked beautifully.
Probably my favorite part of watching these songs come together in the studio is the building of a feel, a groove, a foundation. Without a doubt, groove is the most elusive of all skills for most composers. Musicians start with a story, maybe add a bass line, then fill in some chords. Then they possibly add a couple new sections while fine tuning the chord choices and melody. But rarely, very rarely, do they think about the feel or groove. When asked to sing the drum part to the drummer, the composer usually stares blankly, composer equivalent of deer in the head lights. But this is where the true magic happens in the studio.
Recording with session musicians requires two essential skills for every composer. Strong ears and trust. The composer has to have strong enough listening skills to know what she likes and does not like. She needs to have the focus to pin point exactly what part of a drum part she digs while asking the musician to discard the rest. At the same time, the composer needs to trust that the drummer will eventually invent the perfect part for her song. Trust. Listen. Comment. Trust. Listen. Comment. Record. This is how foundation and groove get built. It takes patience but is indeed truly magical to watch unfold.
Yesterday I witnessed ten different composers go into a studio, each with an hour to record from start to finish their original composition.
Each composer hopefully left the studio with more confidence than when they entered.
Each composer hopefully left the studio with new musical friends and perspectives.
Each composer hopefully left the studio humbled by the process.
Each composer hopefully left the studio eager to do it all again next year.
The BMF Private Lesson CD release party will be held June 12th @ 7:30pm as part of our Friday Night Lights series. Come celebrate with us as we perform all ten songs live. Oh yes, and the artists will be on hand to sign copies of the new CD!