How to Write a Song

“How do I write a song?” If you’ve ever asked yourself this, here’s the answer I’ve personally learned as a writer in my experiences with musicians:

It’s about being a good listener.

Here’s what I mean.

A few years ago, I interviewed electronic violinist Dr. Draw for a feature story in Starlight Music Chronicles, and he was extremely grateful that I understood something. As a performer who’d played on stages around the world, Draw had been interviewed countless times by journalists. In the course of that, Draw had become a bit frustrated by journalists working under the illusion that his ethereal music purely resulted from his technical skills… that if he hadn’t learned how to read music or know the notes he was playing, he’d somehow be unable to write music.  Yet I’d developed a different sense of how music really happens.

I’d come to the idea that music is like a river of notes always happening around us. Distraction, worry and a sheer unwillingness to relax and let go commonly prevent people from hearing this river. Yet for those who can focus past all that, “writing a song” simply involves two steps:

  1. Listen to the river.
  2. Write down what you hear.

For this reason, some of the world’s biggest songs have been written by artists who never learned how to read or write music.

In other words, knowing theory is great for lots of reasons. Yet notes and chords are a record of an experience. They’re the result of something.

In my interview, I likened Draw to an alchemist rendering what he heard into form through his violin, and he was so grateful to someone finally getting it that he wrote to personally tell me. (Such an awesome guy.)

A few months ago after finishing an original song called “Love Someone” for another artist, I again sat down to scribble my thoughts about where music comes from, but made a personal journey.

By sharing it here, I hope it helps you on your own creative journey and connection to spirit, the universe, river of notes or whatever you call it.

In the following reflections about “Love Someone,” I called this place the ocean:

“I sing sometimes of an ocean. Funny. I rarely write about the ocean in regular writing, but when I allow the lid to creak back even a bit on the Pandora’s box that seems to sit within my mind, I see that ocean… just rolling there… just smiling in the way that all oceans seem to smile… rolling and roiling, those great white waves… just smiling.

So it was that I smiled back yesterday evening, as I’ve not done in some time. It’s funny how you can forget an ocean when it’s right there all the time… always whispering on those fringe edges… on those beaches… where we ourselves walk, or once did, and to where we’re always drawn. It was to that shore breeze that I closed my eyes and drank in the lungful of life that’s always there for everyone, and where was I next?

It’s difficult to say. There was an immersion… a letting go… a great engulfment with no compass points… and if a voice spoke, I recognized no words. Only emotion—those words of all hearts but no language. How can a heart creak and cry so badly for something so formless… dimensionless… so utterly unknowable?

I ask as one this morning who came up from those depths, and for a moment, it was as if the world was a collection of loose particles… shimmering… taking only the form that I believed I’d find. And so I was back in this place called reality… and for all the waters and waves and lengths of beaches stretching from here to thereafter and the never-ending edges of the map, I was lucky to bring back a song.”


Conversations With Source (or, Chatting With Rabbit)

The strange thing about going down the rabbit hole… that metaphor for the deepness and complexity of what lies beneath the world commonly called reality… is that sometimes you come back with souvenirs—like this little scribbling, which I’m pretty sure is the beginning of some operatic rock song. But I suppose the point is really this:

I sometimes wonder why I get these kinds of things at all.

Do you ever feel the same way when you get some inspiration?

I mean, if there was actually a rabbit down that rabbit hole and I could have a conversation, I’d ask, “I just don’t understand why you give me these notions and scraps of music. Sure, the rabbit hole is the same wellspring from which comes all the regular writing I do, and sure. I can translate all that stuff with ease. But I can’t even play most of the music you give me, and I certainly can’t sing it that well. Don’t you know how frustrating that is for me? I mean, don’t you think you’d do better to give all this stuff to someone else?”

But that rabbit… of that rabbit… just seems to excitedly bounce off to the next scribbling or scrap while saying, “Oh and this! You should have this! It might go with that other scrap. Oh and this! Take this as well!”

Seriously? Am I just some deliveryman?

I guess I love that rabbit, but I also think I want to strangle him sometimes, because on top of everything else, he gives me stuff like this bit of scribbling you’re reading right now.

Was I even supposed to post it?

Does it go with something else?

Does it go with ANYTHING?

Am I simply the last one at some tea party that’s been over for years?

Or am I simply helping set some table to which people will eventually come after realizing they’ve been away in some dream for far too long.

I guess I’ll never know for sure, but if the former is the case, then I guess I’d better just learn to live with that rabbit and enjoy the fact that he’s still talking to me.

Stillmorning Daughter (A Song Demo)

If I’ve been quiet of late on my blog, I’ll catch you up on why. January finds me exploring new directions for the year ahead (and beyond). Years ago before I developed an interest in art and writing, I spent a lot of years writing and recording music (and even performed a bit). I gave it up for a while, but last December, I had the good fortune of connecting with a local music promoter. He listened to a few tracks I’d uploaded onto YouTube (as well as some personal music files I sent him) and liked what he heard. So he introduced me to a musician out of Guelph, Ont., and that musician said he’d enjoy it if I wrote and recorded demos (like this video) and sent them to him for consideration (either for recording, performance or both). This is my first demo—a completely unplugged recording. It’s just me singing and playing an original song in front of my camera, and please excuse the odd flubbed chord. (I’m not really a guitar player.) I hope you enjoy it, and I’ll definitely keep you in the loop with news and other demo videos as I go forward. And of course, I’ll be posting new artwork in the year ahead as well.


PS: Much belated thanks to all the new subscribers. It means the world to me that people enjoy what I’m doing in this admittedly strange hybrid place of art, writing and music. Thanks, thanks and more thanks. 🙂

Do Business Presentations Have to Be Boring?

Is there room for something beyond good sensible Arial font on good sensible backgrounds in business presentations?

In my experience as an artist, writer and fledgling business presenter, people are thrilled to see something more, and that translates into deeper engagement and better takeaway value. As an example of this undiscovered country in business presentations, I recently completed this opening cover slide for a talk I gave called “7 Common Writing Mistakes That Cost Companies.” The premise behind the design was to take the word “presentation” and translate it into a stage show that unfolds information for people just as stage shows present acts.

What are your thoughts about business presentations?

Comments and thoughts of all kinds are welcome. 🙂

Are We the Water or the Light?

Are we the drops of water that catch the light, or are we the light that pours into form as the dew of dawn before filling the sky?

I wonder about this sometimes in the still breath of morning as I sit having coffee at Rosewood. I know I’ll never discover the answer. Yet I can’t help thinking about the question, and as I do, it occurs to me that I’m like all people. As one life in a chain of souls that have come before me and asked the same basic question, I can know that there really is an eternal mystery and a consciousness that lingers behind it, because I won’t be the last person to sit beneath the morning trees, and the dawn will always bring the dew and the light.

5 Keys to Shooting Photos in a Las Vegas Casino

While most Las Vegas casinos have relaxed their rules about shooting photos, there are still a few rules to follow to avoid an encounter with security staff… or winding up in some back room for “a little chat.” Whether such back rooms still exist, here are five key tips I’ve personally tested in Vegas to shoot photos in a casino.

NEVER SHOOT THE CAGE: This is the biggest rule of all. A casino cashier’s cage is basically a bank that’s jam-packed with money, and that keeps security on hair-trigger alert 24/7. Taking photos of the cage translates as, “I’m casing the place so I can later pull a heist.” This translation may be a bit misguided and outmoded, but shooting the cage amounts to a daredevil move that you don’t want to take.

Don’t Use a Tripod: Unless you’ve been hired by a casino to shoot a TV commercial or promotional video, tripods are an absolute no-no. Tripod legs are a tripping hazard to guests (especially since many of those guests are drunk).

Don’t Use a Flash. Aside from being a distraction and disturbance to gamblers, using a flash is like switching on a big sign that says, “I’m a person violating the rules. Please use your Tasers on me immediately.” Sure, you’ll have to hold your camera rock-steady by hand to even hope for a crisp image… but by playing around with different shooting modes, you should end up with a selection of good images.

Don’t Photograph Guests: Customer privacy is a top priority for Vegas casinos. Guests have come under the idea that “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” and casinos want to protect that expectation as part of the complete Vegas experience. Yes, people will often walk into a shot. That’s practically unavoidable, and won’t be seen as privacy infringement. However, directly photographing guests IS seen as privacy infringement, and if you don’t earn a visit from security, you just might wind up with a hostile guest in your face.

Use a Small Camera: The smaller the camera, the more you’ll go unnoticed, and thankfully, there are many great compact camera options. I used a pocket-friendly Nikon A900 to grab some great shots of the casino at the Aria Resort, and the tilting screen was a BIG help. By holding the camera down at waist height and flipping up the screen, I was able to take some good shots without anyone noticing anything.

For more casino shooting tips, watch the video below to discover what I learned about shooting at places like the Aria Resort & Casino, the Bellagio and even Caesar’s Palace.

The Vdara Canoe Explosion

Although there’s never been a known explosion of canoes, Las Vegas gives us a good idea of what it might look like in this colorful bouquet of canoes outside the Vdara Hotel & Spa.

As a Canadian staying near the Vdara at the Aria Resort & Casino as part of a four-day marketing conference, I gotta say. I felt a bit homesick. Yet a few seconds later, I was distracted by thinking, “You know? With all those cables holding the canoes together, the display also kind of looks like Spider-Man  stopped an invasion of voyageurs.”

Whatever the thinking behind the sculpture was, I just couldn’t convince the hotel manager to let me rent one of the canoes so I could paddle around the hotel fountain.

That would have been fun.