Songwriting. For some people it's easy to write a song. There are stories of songs being written in 15 minutes. I think that's happened to me once in about 35 years. I'm envious of those who are able to make a living at songwriting. For me, it's a very long process. Once the kernel of a song is present by one of three ways - an emotion or thought that needs to be verbalized, a melody that emerges from strumming around, or hitting on a line of lyric a story could be built around - the song needs to be written. There is a frame of mind that is needed. One reason it's a long process. Because I've always written alone, I'm used to sitting in a room by myself with only the thought of the song in my head, concentrating on getting that thought out in words and music. This needs piece of mind and quiet. Something a small house and kids don't always allow. Musical limitations also contribute to the long process. I can come up with a verse or a chorus, but to then come up with the other parts of a song that fit with what I have is challenging. A lot of my songs are structurally straight forward. This is probably the hardest part of songwriting for me. Another reason songs take me so long is my goal of telling a cohesive story. I spend a lot of time on the lyrics. Just about all of my lyrics, if taken by themselves, could be read as a poem or a very short story (listen to Wintered Sky). It is important for me to accurately describe the song's originating thought. Songs have been held up or rearranged because of the need to have the right words. The final reason it's a long process is realizing when a song is done. This might sound funny, but just because you have the words, the melody, and the structure you set out to write, it doesn't mean the song is finished. It has to feel finished. All the parts have to fit together to your satisfaction. Everyone has different ways they create songs. Some find it easy. Some. like me, find it a little more difficult. In either case, the end result is a new song for listeners to enjoy.
I'm gearing up for the next gig in more ways than one. My next show is July 16, 2016 at Mara's Cafe in Fanwood, NJ. I'm already working on some requests and trying to line up friends to come down and play some songs. Slowly but surely, I'm building up a small list of covers. Next step is getting together with my buddies and practicing. Even it's just a song or two, you want to run through the songs. It's been a long time since we played together, so it might turn into a multiple six pack practice. Since my capo is all over the neck, Joe, the bassist, is going to hate me. Another way I'm gearing up is by rethinking my equipment. With more than a month before the show, I'd like to assemble a simple acoustic pedal set. I play straight into the board. Despite the cool challenge of playing without effects, there are songs that benefit from having a chorus, distortion, or something else. Hopefully, I'll be able to acquire a new chorus (I have a very old bi-mode Ibanez) and build from there. Most of my pedals date from the late 80's / early 90's (my Arion stereo phaser still rocks it). I'll worry about the pedal order after I get a few. If anyone has any simple set up ideas, it'd be great to hear what you use. Then there is the question of using the electric. I have an Ibanez Roadster Series Quadra Lock with the original electronics that has not been played much at all lately. For the last umpteen years, the acoustic has been the guitar of choice due to apartment living and bedtimes. It's now time to dust it off and learn how to use it again in quiet, cafe settings. There really is a difference in how the two are played. For amps, I have a small Line 6 as well as a Peavey Blazer 15B. It'll take a little bit to get the right sound, but it'll happen. Goal for next time: get a show booked in NYC, get a domain name, and set up a web site. As always, thanks for sharing the ride.
This is it. My first blog entry covering my journey of getting off my ass and playing live, original music as often as possible. It will be the story of a guy over 50 with a job and family finally trying to do what he loves with what he's got. There'll be entries on the creative process, around new songs, preparation for gigs, thoughts on song selection, and practice updates with fellow musicians. There'll be sidetracks into life and how it all relates. This idea came about while sitting in New Jersey traffic on the Newark Bay Extension waiting for yet another truck to decide the fate of three lanes of traffic. I was going nowhere, literally. I turned on the radio to Elvis Duran (I listen to him every morning in order to survive the drive). He was interviewing an up and coming 18 year old musician who was off to LA or someplace other than Jersey after the show. Being over 50 never felt so old. It was at that moment I decided to do something, anything, that would alleviate the grind we all feel from time to time. Figuring out what to do was easy. The answer has been in front of me my whole life. I have always surrounded myself with listening to, debating, writing, and playing music. Looking back, most of the friends I've known for decades have a musical thread of some type. I decided to make playing music my second job, non-paying of course, but to give it the same dedication I give to what I do everyday for income. So, two to three time a week I'll share what's going on: the excitement of coming up with a song idea, the process of booking shows, how it's going with trying to make it all work, and lessons learned from music. My goal is to play 5 shows, not open mics, of all original music by year's end, and to record at least one new and one old song on recording equipment good enough for radio quality recordings. I hope you join me for the ride and keep me company on the journey. We'll sing a few songs together.
So, the show this past Saturday, Jan 16, at the Delancey was a great success all around. All the bands were great. The Delancey is a very cool place to catch a show. All the fans who came out to support the bands were fantastic. I can't say enough about everyone who came out to see me. Fans came in from New Jersey, Philadelphia, Connecticut, Yonkers, Queens, Suffolk County way out on Long Island, and even the upper East side. Thank you! It was a blast hanging out with everyone afterwards, catching up, and watching the other bands. It was the first time in a long time everything came together in a show the way I hoped it would. My Achilles heal has always been vocals. Over the last several years I've played with different tunings and capo positions. All I've been looking for is to be able to stay in a key, any key. This affects everything when you play. If the vocals aren't in line, then I start to overcompensate, trying to find the range. This starts to take your mind off of the guitar playing and the next thing you know, you're missing chords or the timing is slipping. But on Saturday, it all fell into line and the show went well. You can listen to the whole set yourself under the Discography section on my ReverbNation page - Brendan Higgins Live. When you play solo, all you have is how you think it went and what people tell you. Usually there are differences. However, the playback and feedback both let me know it was a good show. The show has given me the confidence to seriously think about playing out a lot more often on a regular basis both in the city and locally. We'll see what happens. So, thanks again.
Blog #4 on my show at the Delancey this Saturday, Jan 16, in New York City as part of WinterJam 2016. So, I go on at 7:00 pm this Saturday for a 30 minute solo acoustic set of original music (tell the door you're there to see Brendan Higgins). I'm a little freaked out, but it will be ok. I know there will be a lot of friends there who will tell me how great I was even if the truth says otherwise. I have my list of 10 songs of which I'll play 6 or 7 (some are short). I did an open mic at the Dublin Pub in Morristown, Nj last week to air out some songs. I did another open mic at Paddy Reilly's on 29th St last Saturday. I've changed my strings - snapped the G string and had to go back to get another. I kind of figured out the capo will go on the 6th fret. I'm saving my voice as much as I can. So, I'm doing what I need to do to get ready. However, I don't play out very often, so I don't have a pedal set-up or use pedals very often. The other night I was fooling around with the pedals I do have: a BOSS DD7 Digital Delay, a BOSS Heavy Metal HM-2 distortion, and an ancient Ibanez bi-mode chorus with dual outputs. Other pedals thrown in were a DOD FX50B Overdrive Plus, an Arion Stereo Phaser, and a DOD Flanger. Some of these pedals date back to the early 90s or late 80's. I was using two, small Line 6 amps to get a stereo sound, but the split stereo outputs created a lot of buzz and I just don't have the time or knowledge to figure out all the proper groundings before Saturday. The one effect which seemed to work was the DigiTech RP155 processor. Using the Digitech, I was able to find sounds for each song. I'll bring the pedal with me, but I'm still on the fence about using it because of the various levels for each setting. Plus, I'm old school (more likely just old). So, I'm used to stepping on individual pedals to turn them on or off. The DigiTech does not have an "off". The effect stays on and you have to move forward in numeric order to the next effect you are looking for. You can't go backwards. Something I'm not sure I want to test in front of an audience. Finally, I might look into a volume pedal to control the different levels of each of the sounds I'd want to use in case I do use the DigiTech. A part of me wants to play without effects. Maybe I'm a puristic or just making excuses because I don't know who to work pedals, but there is something direct and honest about a guitar player with an acoustic and nothing but his/her words, voice, and melodies to convey any message or meaning he/she wants to communicate. Naked and raw, faults and all. If I can pull that off, I can do anything. See you Saturday.
Blog #3 on my show on Jan 16 at the Delancey in New York @ 7:00 pm as part of Winter Jam 2016. I narrowed my set list down to 10 songs with a total time of 29 minutes based on acoustic versions of the songs. Of those 10 songs, probably 7 or 8 will be played. Here is the list: 1) Whisky Road - new arrangement at 3:20, 2) Dance Around Me - slower tempo at 3:20, 3) Diamond Dance - 3:30, 4) Cafe Window - 2:25, 5) Of Angels and Pain - 3:25, 6) Angels of Newtown - 2:45, 7) Big Train - 1:55, 8) Whistling Wild - 2:50, 9) Twilight Princess - not posted - 3:15, 10) Brendan's Dead - 2:20. Tomorrow night I should be able to finalize where the capo will go for each song and come up with a song order. After that, I'll start working on using some simple effects. So come on down on Saturday, January 16, for a full night of music for just a $10 cover at the Delancey in New York City. Tell them you are there to see Brendan Higgins at the door.
Blog #2 on the show preparation for Jan 16 at the Delancey in New York city: the song list. I went through my iTunes to list all of my recordings to help pick out a song list. It turns out I have 62 original songs, more than I realized. I was able to quickly rule out a number of them for either being too depressing, too slow, or not acoustic-ready. Others were cut because they were too reliant on an electric lead, too long, or too short. So, my list is right now down to about 35 songs. Of those 35, I need to get to at least 10 to have some variety and to feel comfortable for a 30 minute set. Of the ones I'm leaning towards, I'm also reworking some of the older ones to liven them up a bit. The list might be top-heavy with older songs only for the reason that they were written when all I had was the acoustic. The newer songs were written after I started using the computer and its effects to record. As of now, these songs have a good chance of making the final list: Cafe Window, Of Angels and Pain, Dance Around Me One More TIme (to be reworked) , Diamond Dance, Angels of Newtown, Together, Whiskey Road (to be reworked), Twilight Princess (not posted), and November 3, 1973. As for singing, the capo is my best friend. I tend to use the capo on odd frets such as the 4th, 6th or the 8th. I'm trying to find consistency as to where the capo will be for each song. This isn't so important if I'm playing unaccompanied, but if I plan to have a bassist or another guitarist, the chords needs to be set. If others are to join me up on stage, I need to finalize these things fast. Hopefully, I'll have all of this figured out by year's end. I'll keep you posted on the final song list and where the capo will wind up for each song
I've got a show at The Delancey in NYC on Jan 16, 2016 playing a 30 minute live acoustic set of original songs. It is now Dec 13. That leaves about 35 days. For someone who plays out regularly, that is a lot of time. For someone who plays out very sporadically and in three songs intervals, there is a lot of work to do. FIrst off, what songs am I going to play and how many should I prepare? From my song list, there are a number of fast songs with drums, guitar, lead guitar, and bass, but what translates into a good acoustic set? For the songs I'm thinking of, they probably all need to be rearranged somehow to make presentable as solo songs, and the ones that are already straight acoustic need to be given a small jolt of adrenaline to overcome their original melancholy tone. The second thing is the song order: what songs fit together, what tempo do they set, and what keys are they in. The last one is a challenge for me as my vocal range is limited and the songs wind up sounding the same Once those are worked out, I need some warmups. I've found out the hard way it pays to air out the songs in front of an audience before a show. Fortunately, there are a good number of open mics in the area. Some songs will be dropped and some will be added. Another thing is effects. I usually play naked - without pedals and straight into the board. The only effects are the reverb or echo the sound person adds. Do I have enough time in 35 days to get comfortable with amps and pedals to pull it off in front an audience? Lastly, collaboration. There are many friends who I can call and play covers with at the drop of a hat. But originals require time to learn. With the busy schedules we all have these days, maybe there is time for those friends to learn a few of the songs. We'll see. So, over the next 35 days, for those who are interested, I'll keep you posted on how the preparation is going - starting with the song list.
I've been playing a lot of acoustic over the last few years. The electric is pulled out only when playing out with friends. It's hard to crank it to 11 at 10:30 at night when the house is asleep. Playing acoustic solely seeps into how you view the guitar. There is a different way to play that challenges you to be clear and clean. Don't get me wrong, the electric is its own beast with a huge amount of skill needed to get the best out of all the sounds and equipment connected. The acoustic and electric are different instruments. With the acoustic, you are naked. It's just you, your vocals, and 6 strings. It's guitar playing in its simplest form. For me, there is a ton of confidence needed for acoustic. You need to believe in your song and its message. It's you carrying the song. It's your energy, your attitude, your emotions. If you doubt, the audience is out. Vocal confidence is required. You don't need to be the best vocalist, but you need to know how to have inflection, strongly convey the emotion you're aiming for. The playing needs to be clean and solid. Mistakes are easily noticed. Fills are important (aka Neil Young). Songs tend to be shorter. This makes me pay more attention to lyrics. In a shorter song, repeating lyrics are more obvious. I try to be more concise in song structure, to make it easier to identify the various parts of a song. The vocals, message, confidence, and playing are all front and center with acoustic in a more pronounced way. A good acoustic song combining all of these is something you remember.
What do Mozart and Niky Minaj have in common? Hint: they share the same thing which lets them be different. Or even better, what do all western forms of music -Salsa, Rock, Blues, Country, Classical, Disco, Rap, Reggae, Polka, Traditional Irish, Traditional German (or any other European country), Techno - have in common? 12 notes (A, Bb, B, C, Db, D, Eb, E, F, Gb, G, Ab). That is what most of the music we know is based on. 12 simple notes that can be put together in a finite way. There is probably a mathematician who has calculated the total number of note combinations. Yet, there seems to be an infinite number of songs across an infinite number of styles. How? First, it's a testament to the human artistic imagination to be able to create pleasing patterns of sound with varying tonal combinations and tempos. However, second and above all, is the ability of humans to alter tempos/timing. Two songs can have the exact same notes or chords, but be completely different. It's the timing. If quarter notes are used instead of half notes or the tempo is 3/4 time instead of 4/4, the songs are completely different. If the tempo is fast or slow, it alters the song. If the 2nd or 4th beat is emphasized instead of the 1st and 3rd, the song is different. The beat could be slightly off the count. The tempos between measures can rise and fall. A rest might change the whole voice of a song. It comes down to the ability of musicians to transform time. All western song are comprised of 12 notes. It is the ability to alter time that gives the notes their infinite number of songs.