Why You Should Name Your Playlists (A True Story)

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I recently started writing for HER Magazine, and I’ve enjoyed my projects with them so far. I was finishing up an article that will be released in a couple of months about using music to boost your productivity. In it, I spoke briefly about an embarrassing story from high school. I thought it might be interesting here and I could elaborate more, so here we go!

I got a job at a clothes store at the mall. A friend worked there and got me the job. We would be working after the store closed, folding shirts and setting everything up for the next day. It took a surprising amount of people to do this. We had up to 30 people in the store on my first day.

My manager showed me around, gave me my assignment (fold three piles of shirts) and then announced a “fun game” they played. They would take employee’s iPods and play them over the loud speakers, as a fun “get-to-know-you” kind of game. My heart beat a little faster. I listen to a very wide variety of music. While I had “cool” artists on my iPod, I had an equal amount of opera, big band jazz, and any number of genres that would not be considered cool. My manager smiled expectantly at me, then snatched my iPod right out of my purse (I know, not cool).

My heart was pounding and I tried to work, but I had no idea what they would play. I was terrible at naming my playlists. Every one of them had names like “Playlist_1A.2.22.05.” I knew what they were, but the manager would not.

The first song that played was Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” Okay, not bad. I saw several of my coworkers dancing. I hadn’t been introduced to most of them, so I knew they would be judging me based on my songs. What happened next was an absolute nightmare, something I would not wish on my greatest enemy.

Years ago, I was an over-emotional wannabe songwriter who wrote every thought down as if it was pure gold.

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This is just like me, only a prettier version. The movie version of my life.

I would write the song, then sing it into my laptop. I kept all of my songs on a playlist so I could review them and make edits later. You see where this is going.

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Whitney’s song ended, and suddenly my heart stops as I hear MY OWN VOICE blaring over the speakers. It starts with me humming what the piano part would sound like, then I start in with sappy lyrics and a poorly-constructed melody. There is no music, just me and my thoughts. My coworkers unanimously stopped what they were doing and tilted their heads toward the speakers, like confused dogs.

I jumped over the table I was working on and ran into the room. My manager and several other employees stood laughing.

“What is this?” they asked, already well aware of what it was. I couldn’t lie and say it was a friend. I had over 30 songs of this “friend” and her terrible song ideas. It could only be me.

To make things worse, I had just gone through a terrible breakup. My lyrics all revolved around the inner details of how much I hated my ex, and how much I wished we would reunite.

They began playing a game of keep-away with my iPod. In the other room, I heard several co-workers laughing and discussing my lyrics.  I hadn’t been introduced to these people, and they already knew I was a terrible songwriter and an even worse girlfriend.

I KNOW, right? If this doesn’t make you cringe your spine right out of your back, I don’t know what will. So the lesson I have for you here is twofold:

1). I know iPods are extinct, but playlists aren’t. When you make playlists, keep in mind that they may fall into someone else’s hands at some point. Make your playlist private (if possible) if it’s not something you want to share.

2). If you’re a budding songwriter, maaaybe leave those off of the playlist until they’re 100% ready. Or just leave anything off that you don’t want people to hear (a separate lesson could be “don’t let people grab things out of your purse,” but I was too shy back then to stand up for myself until it was too late).

In case you’re wondering, I didn’t stay at that job long. Today I have songs all over iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, and every inch of the internet, so I’m definitely used to people laughing at and talking about my music. Still, nothing has ever topped the embarrassment of that day. I hope nothing ever will.

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New Single – The One Percent

I have been terribly sick the last few weeks, so I haven’t done much besides sit/lay around and feel miserable. I tried to write a post about working while sick, but I want to re-read it when I’m not doped up on cold medicine before releasing it to the wild.

Anyway Bendik Glomnes has released a single he wrote called “The One Percent,” which I sang on a while back.

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It’s available on the following sites:

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/track/2NAmkGUhLLgrwbAV2ltN5n

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B06W5LBFS7

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-one-percent-feat-mella-single/id1208335423?app=itunes&ign-mpt=uo%3D4

Thanks so much to Bendik for using me on your track, and best of luck with the song! Please show him some love and support!

New Single

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R4nyte is a producer I’ve worked with before, and this is his latest single I wrote lyrics and melody for. It’s available on Spotify here: https://play.spotify.com/album/3pNBwe06XBlJJXXPMK0mvG?play=true&utm_source=open.spotify.com&utm_medium=open

Or on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-with-You/dp/B01NCZXX8W/ref=sr_1_12?ie=UTF8&qid=1487007760&sr=8-12&keywords=r4nyte

We’re working on another right now, so I’ll have something new with him in a few months! Check it out and let me know what you think!

Our New Music Video

I’m excited to share this with you! We made a cover of “Death of a Bachelor” by Panic! At The Disco. This is actually for a contest. The winners will receive tickets to see Panic live in Las Vegas, which sounds amazing. Even if we don’t win this was still a lot of fun to do. The original has very lush production, so we wanted to do something stripped down with kind of a jazz feel. We filmed it in this huge empty room which was a lot of fun. I did the video editing myself! I used the closeups in color, and the wide shots in black and white. This was to sort of illustrate the mental conflict in the song. In the end it fades into color to show the “death” is complete. I feel like I need to explain it because it might not make sense haha, but either way we hope you enjoy!

How to Write a Post-Chorus

In my last post, I talked about a Pre-Chorus and how to write one. Now I want to talk about writing a Post-Chorus.

What is a Post-Chorus?

Basically it’s what comes right after the chorus, before the second set of verses start. The example I used in my book is “Hit Me Baby, One More Time” by Britney Spears. The chorus is:

My loneliness is killing me

I must confess, I still believe

When I’m not with you I lose my mind

Give me a sign

Hit me baby, one more time

 

First, yes, I just typed that from memory. Second, don’t act like you didn’t sing it in your head. But here’s the question: When she repeats “Hit me baby, one more time,” do you consider that part of the chorus? Or is that a post-chorus?

Similarly, some people consider Rihanna’s “Umbrella” to have a post-chorus. They think the part where she sings “under my umbrella, ella, ella, ay, ay” etc is not part of the actual chorus.

So, who is right? The answer is: It doesn’t matter. It’s still part of the song, so what people choose to call it is unimportant. What DOES matter is what you call it in your own song. If you refer back to my Pre-Chorus post, I strongly recommended clearly labeling each part of the song for the studio musicians. If you have a post-chorus, please label that part too! A lot of songs don’t have them, and that’s totally fine, but if you do have one just label it. It will likely avoid a 10 minute conversation about where we are in the song and what that part is called. Whatever you want to call it is fine!

Post-choruses are usually pretty easy to write. They are generally just a repeating of the last line of the chorus, or of a focal point you want to highlight. You don’t want them to be too wordy, or introduce a whole new idea or set of words. This should happen in the verse. It’s just a little connector from your chorus to your next piece (verse, bridge, or outro) so it should be incredibly simple.

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How do you know if you need one? Many songs don’t need them, and if you already have 2-4 verses, a pre-chorus and a bridge, you probably don’t want to add a post-chorus as well. You can make a song 12 minutes long, but the more information and words you have in it, the harder it will be for people to really process it.

Your producer might be the best person to ask if your specific song needs a post-chorus (or feel free to send it to us at BrainStamp and we’d be happy to provide feedback!) but another way to tell is to listen to your chorus. Does it hit all the points you wanted to say? Is there a more important phrase buried in the chorus that should be repeated? Does your tagline match your title? If your title is part of the chorus but it’s not the focal point, that would be a great time to use a post-chorus. Just repeat the title as you go into the verse.

The most important thing though, is please make sure you label it on your lyric sheet! I’m not kidding when I say it will save time and money and avoid confusion. A lot of songwriters are afraid to do this because they don’t want to label something “wrong,” but it really doesn’t matter.

Just imagine you’re a doctor going into surgery, and you draw up the human body and every part is labeled wrong. You’ve invented fake names for each body part, and the nurses stare at you like you’re insane. You walk in with confidence and tell them that for this surgery, you will be using these names. So when you ask the nurse to hand you the fuzterlubber to cut the quilkenfur, they will know what you mean because they have the drawing. The surgery will be fine as long as everyone knows clearly what is labeled.

*Note: I’m not a surgeon and definitely do not recommend doing this. Your surgery will probably not be fine if I did this because I was always terrible at the Operation game and I would cry and give up. Do not attempt or take as medical advice. Do, however, take my songwriting advice because it comes from years of studio experience. 

Writing a Pre-Chorus

There are debates within the songwriting community about what a pre-chorus is, so let’s clear that up before we begin:

The pre-chorus is the musical bit between the verse and chorus. This seems simple enough, but I’ve had many occasions in the studio where no one can agree on what or where it is. If you’re the songwriter, you have the ultimate say in what to call your song’s pieces. Just make sure that you label them like this:

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Note the giant, all-caps markers throughout the song. This is so you can ask the singer to go to Verse 2 and she will find it immediately. This is also to clear up confusion amongst everyone in the studio. I’m not kidding, I’ve seen five people standing around talking about “the chorus” and three of us meant one thing and two of us meant something else. Time is money! Save yourself the hassle and just call it whatever you want it to be.

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So, the goal of the pre-chorus is to tie the verse into the chorus, but also build into it emotionally. The melody is different from both, and should start to shift from the story to the main point.

Because this is my blog and I can do shameless self-promotions here, I’m going to use my song The Wind, the Clouds and the Sea as my example. Here are the lyrics:

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Notice that both of my pre-choruses are different. They are the same melodically, so the listener knows they are gearing up for the chorus. If I didn’t have that pre-chorus in there, it would jump right into the chorus without a sensical connection.

If you want a pop music reference (from a song you’ve actually heard), look at “Side to Side” by Ariana Grande: “These friends keep talking way too much, say I should give you up, can’t hear them, no, cause I…” this is a pre-chorus. It has the same melody and words each time and signals a transition from verse to chorus.

So how do you write one? If you’re a lyricist only, use it as a logical or emotional connector. How does your listener get from the story you’ve told in the verses, to the main idea of the chorus? Think of it as a bridge (not a song bridge, but an actual bridge). Its purpose is to link the two and transition smoothly. Keep in mind you can change the words each time or keep them the same, and the melody will tell listeners what it is (you’ll definitely want to make sure your producer knows that it’s a pre-chorus in that case). Melodically, think of where you want the listener to end up (your chorus). Are you winding down or winding up? This depends on the emotion of the song.

Not all songs have a pre-chorus, and you can certainly write a song without one if you think the verses and chorus are connected enough already. If you’ve never written one before, try it out and see how you like it!

Shameless plug part deux: You can hear The Wind, the Clouds and the Sea on my website here: http://www.mellamusic.com/mella-store

If you need help with your pre-chorus or any other part of your song, feel free to contact us at Brain Stamp! www.brainstampmusic.com

What are Pickup Notes?

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This is another term from my book that I felt needed to be mentioned, because when a songwriter gives me a song to sing I may need to clarify if a note is a pick-up note. Sometimes they look at me like, “huh?” so I thought it might be good to talk about here!

So what is a pickup note? 

If you look at the picture above, you see three quarter notes leading to a whole note. This means that those notes will be played leading into the whole note, which is the actual start of the phrase.

For popular reference, let’s look at Maroon 5’s Payphone. The word “payphone” is the actual start of the phrase. “I’m at a” are the notes leading up to it. When Adam Levine gets to “payphone,” the music starts and the song begins. In the chorus, the actual chorus starts on “payphone” as well.

Another term for pickup note is “anacrusis” and can also be used in poetry. If you want to sound super fancy and impress (or annoy) everyone at a party, you can use this word instead.

So, why would I need to know if a note is a pickup note? Or why would you if you’re the songwriter? 

The phrasing would be entirely different in “Payphone” if “I’m at a” were not pickup lines and instead started the song. The rhythm would be different, the emphasis would be different. In fact, I might even make a video to demonstrate the difference. But trust me that it’s important to label pickup notes so the feel of the song stays true to what you wanted.

If you are a lyric writer only and I’m creating a melody to your words, I may ask if I can make certain words into pickup notes. This is because I’m trying to establish a melodic flow to the lyrics and phrasing it a certain way might help. You’re free to tell me whether or not that’s okay, and I can create a melody to fit whatever words or lines you want to emphasize. But knowing this term will help us move forward and make sure  your song is correct right away!

If you want to learn more about this term or the process of using it, here is a great reference: https://popmusictheory.com/anacrusis/

I probably will make a video on this so I’ll either edit this post or link it to this one. In the meantime, see if you can find other songs with pickup notes or see if any of your own have them!

Edit: Here is my video explaining it! https://youtu.be/t7UWnORIzsc Hope that helps!

What are Nashville Numbers?

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I was relatively new to Nashville Numbers when I started writing my book, but over time I’ve gotten a little more acquainted with them.

If you’ve never heard of this term, you might be wondering “what are Nashville Numbers and why would I need to know about them?” Short answer: You don’t if you aren’t a studio musician or a songwriter! If you’re mildly curious or plan on entering this world of music anytime soon, read on to learn more:

People often write songs in a particular key. For our purposes, we’ll use the key of C because it’s easy.

So, you’ve written a song and you wrote it in C. You find a band and a singer, but the singer tries the song and it is out of their range. What now? You have several options:

  • Transpose the song into the key the singer prefers
  • Find a different singer
  • Throw the whole song away
  • Use Nashville Numbers

Obviously you don’t want number 3, and of the remaining options, number 4 is by far the easiest! With Nashville Numbers, we use the numbers that refer to the chords of the song. For the key of C, your I chord would be C. IV would be F, V would be G. So when you hand the musicians their sheet music, they have I, IV, V instead of chords or notes.

Now let’s say the singer feels far more comfortable singing in G. You’re okay with this, and the musicians all know this key as well. You don’t have to do any further work in changing the song, thanks to Nashville Numbers. I becomes G, IV becomes C, and V becomes D.

This is also helpful in live situations. Sometimes singers like to sing in a different key live, to preserve their voice or if they are sick. Nashville numbers allow the players to simply adjust to any key (provided they know that key, and most do!)

Singers don’t really need to use Nashville Numbers (in my experience), it just helps them find the best key and helps the band accommodate them.

You may be asking, “why should I care what key the singer wants? It’s my song!” This is very true and you can certainly keep searching until you find someone who can sing in that key. However, if a singer can’t physically hit those notes, you’re stuck either searching for someone else (which can take a while) or changing the key to fit their needs. I have run into this situation with male songwriters who write melodies for me. It’s difficult to write a song for a female to sing when you don’t have the same range, and vice versa. I’ve written songs for males that ended up being way too high, simply because it’s hard to gauge where someone else’s voice falls. Being flexible with your key will ensure that the best version of your song is created!

Please note: This was only a brief overview of Nashville Numbers. There are many other components to it including other chord types, rhythms and so on. If you don’t intend on using it there is no need to study it further, but you can read more about it here if you’re interested!

New Podcast – Right Brain Business Model

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Here is my podcast with Laura Pennington! We had a lot of fun and talked about running a business creatively. You can see the whole page (along with Laura’s takeaways) here: http://sixfigurewritingsecrets.com/right-brain-business-model-mella-barnes-talks-music-entrepreneurship-creatives-ep005/ or listen below!

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A Day’s Work As a Session Singer

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Several people have asked what my “typical day” is like as a session singer. While there really is no guaranteed daily schedule, I can tell you about yesterday which will give you a general idea.

Here is a Common Day for a Session Singer:

1). I generally wake up around 9am. No one tells me to do this, it’s just my natural waking time and I feel like having a schedule helps my day.

2). I review my To Do list I made the night before, which includes my song lineup for the day.

3). I base the rest of my day on how many songs I have lined up. Usually I have between two to five songs a day, but occasionally I’ll have more or less, or none. If I have a larger number of songs to record, I will cut back on everything else or cut a task out.

4). I comp and edit vocals recorded the night before. I go over each stem with a fine-toothed comb to make sure there are no background noises, everything sounds good, and the track is ready to be exported and sent.

5). Stems from each project are exported, batched, and submitted to clients.

6). I check my email and check in with clients I sent tracks to the day before, to see if any edits or changes are needed. If so, I add those to my list of songs for today.

7). Any business, marketing, or social media work is done during this space if my day allows for it. I also take online music classes and will fit them into this part if I can.

8). The fun begins! I compile all songs to be recorded today, print the lyric sheets, and prepare for recording. I begin my ritual to help me get into the mindset of recording: make tea, shower or breathe steam, clean my session area. (Note: I do have a booth at my home, but occasionally I do on-set sessions or book a separate studio. I skip the shower in this case).

9). Songs are recorded in the order I received the job. I do this for no other reason than it helps me stay organized. Last night, I had a 16th-century Gregorian choral piece (with sheet music), two country songs for which I provided background vocals, a symphonic rock song with lots of screaming, and an edit for a song from the night before, to change a few harmonies here and there. I opted to save the screaming one for last so as not to blow my voice out right away, and did the choral piece first because I knew I’d need all of my strength for it.

10). I am done for the day! By now it’s usually 10 or 11pm, and tomorrow I will edit the songs I just recorded. I prepare my To Do list for tomorrow, read or watch TV and relax my voice with tea, wine or whiskey (or whatever I’m feeling in that moment).

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So, you may notice that only about a third of the day is actually spent singing. Some session singers might not do their own editing and comping so they might have that part of the day open. You may also notice that I do most of my recording in the evening. There’s no particular reason for this, other than I don’t like to sing early in the morning, and I like to make the most of the daylight.

Every singer’s schedule is probably different, and I allow room for mine to vary as needed so this could change, but this is my typical day as a session singer!

New Single – Way to Nowhere

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I have a new single with producer Varun Marwah. We collaborated on this several months ago, so it’s always exciting to hear a song come to life! This is an energetic EDM track, check it out and let us know what you think! Thanks so much to Varun for choosing me to work on this track. I can’t wait to see what you create in the future!

How to Convey a Melody When You Can’t Sing

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First, let’s discuss what a melody is:

The dictionary defines melody as “a sequence of single notes that is musically satisfying.” We can all agree that ‘musically satisfying’ is relative to the listener, because I’m sure we’ve all heard some melodies that were anything but satisfying. Essentially, the melody is what turns poetry into music. The words are lyrics, the singing is melody. A guitar solo can also be the melody, or whatever instrument is taking the lead.

As a session singer, I’m often contacted by songwriters who have incredible writing talent, but are not singers themselves (hence the need to hire one). These gifted creators feel self-conscious about singing their songs and ask me how they can convey a melody so that I can sing it.

If you happen to fall into this category, I can give you a few tips here to make it easier and stress-free:

1. Play the melody on an instrument

If you’re an instrumentalist, feel free to play a solo track on your guitar/piano/sitar/whatever and label it as “melody.” When I import the tracks, I’ll be able to line them up and figure out the melody from there. As long as you can play along to the lyrics, I can figure it out easily.

2.  Write sheet music

If you know how to do this, feel free! I can read music so this isn’t a problem. It’s certainly not for everyone, but if you feel more comfortable doing this than singing the melody, be my guest.

3. Hire a demo singer

If you’re hiring me to sing the demo, this may seem like an extra step. However, if you really aren’t comfortable singing and need me to hear how you’d like it sung, this may be a good option. Just keep in mind that you may have to pay the other singer as well. If you have a relative or friend who will do it for free, cool. If this is the method you choose, please let me know if you would like me to imitate the style and tone of the demo singer!

Lastly, although you probably won’t like this option:

4. Just go ahead and sing it yourself

Trust me, I’ve heard it all. I won’t judge you or make fun of you. As long as I can sort of determine where the melody is headed and how it lines up with the lyrics, that’s pretty much all I need. This method is probably easiest and fastest, and perhaps least expensive. Generally the writers who send me these are a little more lenient and open to my interpretation of the melody, so I will say that if you’re completely tone deaf and have a very specific melody you’d like, it may be better to use the other options. I guarantee you aren’t so bad that I can’t at least figure out part of it though, so please be kind to yourself!

The creative process should always be rewarding and fulfilling, so please choose the option that is the most fun for you. I’ve used all of these methods with different clients and they’ve all worked out completely fine. If you have a different way you like, that’s cool too! Please feel free to contact me if you’re curious about the process or have an idea, and you can also watch my video about the process if you have any questions!

Measures of Music

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This is a terrible graphic (made by yours truly), but it really does help me to think of a measure as sort of a ruler. In sheet music, one bar of the staff is called a measure. If the tempo is 4/4, that means there are four counts in the measure. It gets extremely detailed and people spend years learning things like this, so I don’t expect to teach you everything in one blog post.

So, when do you need to know about measures?

Generally, only when reading sheet music. I just sang an Italian aria for a client (my first as a session singer!) and that was one of maybe two times I’ve had to read sheet music professionally. However, I was glad for my training while working on it and had I not known how to read, it would have been difficult if not impossible.

I’ve had years of training, but I haven’t used it regularly so I’m a little rusty at it. If you’re like me, or you haven’t had any training, there are many great websites to learn. https://www.musictheory.net/lessons has some great ones, as does Rick Beato on his YouTube channel.

Okay, I don’t ever plan on reading sheet music. That means I don’t need to know about measures, right? 

Eh, I guess, but having a feel for music in general will help you as a performer, composer or musician, and learning these things will help. It will also help you get more jobs and work with different genres, people and ideas.

 

Hiring A Lyricist

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First things first: What is a lyricist?

A lyricist is someone who, quite simply, writes lyrics.

They may write other parts as well, but if they’re writing the words to a song, they’re a lyricist! So, let’s say you are a producer, instrumentalist, or singer, but you know that writing lyrics is not your strong suit. That’s totally okay. There are enough talented lyricists out there that you can easily find someone to take your story and song to the next level.

But what, exactly, does a lyricist do in regards to a project?

The answer depends entirely on what you’re looking for. I have contributed lyrics to songs in the following ways:

  • Written full lyrics to a song with a melody
  • Written full lyrics and a melody to a music bed
  • Edited lyrics for clarity and emotional storytelling
  • Consulted on lyrical projects for a second opinion
  • Written ad content lyrics for commercials
  • Edited commercial lyrics to retain the most info in the shortest time

The list continues, but hopefully this shows that there is no standard way to hire a lyricist. You may already be a lyricist but be stuck on a verse. You may have a story to tell, but are not sure how to put it into lyrical form. Any of these are great reasons to find a lyricist to tell your story!

How much does a lyricist cost?

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Sorry, there’s no set answer to that! I know you were hoping for a number, but it depends on several things including who you ask, what you need, and what the end result will be. If it’s a song about how much you love your grandma, and she’s the only one who will ever hear it, that will be less expensive than a song you’re going to try to pitch to a major company for a commercial. If the lyricist retains some of the rights to the song, that will be less expensive than giving you full rights and ownership over it (because if the song ever becomes famous, the lyricist typically receives no residual income if they give up their rights). Also, I’ve had clients contact me to write lyrics, and fail to mention that I am also responsible for creating the melody. Typically those are separate fees so it’s important to mention that up front for an accurate quote!

How does the process work?

Everyone works a little differently, but for me, we start by gathering what you already have. If it’s just the music bed or instrumental, that’s perfect. If you’ve also got a melody, great! From there I determine what you’re looking for in terms of the story. After I get a feel for what you’re looking for, I start writing (by hand – I’m old school like that). I send you a draft and let you look/listen and make any changes. I go back, edit and resend to you. Once you’re completely happy with the draft, I go to my booth and record the vocals professionally (unless I’m only writing and not performing, in which case after you’re happy with it we’re good to go!)

Each lyricist has a method and work style, so I can’t speak for everyone. It’s important to find someone whose work style compliments your own and someone you trust to tell your story.

In case you’re curious, here’s a link to my reel of songs I’ve written for clients. I may have written lyrics only or contributed in other ways to each of these samples, but hopefully it will show that there are few limits in songwriting. I love that each client has a unique story and try to convey that as best as possible!

 

A Song’s Key (and When it Matters)

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The Key of a song is A through G, major or minor. This can be intimidating to those who don’t know theory, but it doesn’t need to be.

If you know some of the notes to the song, you can plug them into this website to get the key.

So when do you need to know the key? As a session singer, it’s certainly helpful. It helps me pick out harmonies if I’m doing them and also helps me determine the range of notes I’ll need. Most other studio musicians will need to know also, but if you really don’t know, someone can help you figure it out.

When singers ask for a different key, what they’re essentially saying is that the group of notes in the current key don’t feel right to sing (either too high or low in some areas) and would like to move it up or down. It’s your choice to do it or not, but know that the performance might suffer if the singer isn’t in a comfortable key.

I’m sure many people are reading this and thinking “How can you even write a song and not know the key??” and I totally get it: you’re a musician and instrumentalist and knowing the key, chords and notes come as second nature to you. However there are many songwriters I’ve worked with, either electronic musicians who program everything without knowing the key, or younger start up writers who are just beginning their craft who aren’t great at translating chords into keys yet. It’s totally okay and the songs still sound great!

Regardless of your skill level or experience, we can help you finish your song! If you need advice on the key, chords, melody, lyrics or anything else, drop us a line and let us know.

Key Signature

key-signature

This is a very brief definition I put inside my book which isn’t technically “needed” when hiring a session singer, but it’s a little piece of info I thought might help some people.

Basically, a key signature tells us what key a song is in. It is shown on the left of the staff, like this:

key-signatures

This is a comprehensive one for singers. Really though, if you can’t read music, and/or the singer can’t either, it’s not really necessary.

When I first started writing music (around age 7 or so, so don’t judge too harshly please!) I thought the ONLY way to write songs was to chart them out on a staff. Of course I had no idea how to do that, and I spent many frustrating weeks attempting to write a complete song. Spoiler alert: it was terrible, and I wadded it up and threw it away in frustration. I wish I had saved it so I could look back on it now!

Today, I can read sheet music, although I can’t sight read. Knowing key signatures is helpful when creating harmonies and playing the notes if sheet music is provided, but it isn’t necessary. If you’re a struggling songwriter, don’t make the same mistakes I made! It doesn’t have to be “perfect” (and really, it never will be because it’s an art and art is subjective). Create what’s in your heart. If you don’t know how to write it down, don’t bother. Record it straight into your computer or phone.

If you’ve passed that stage and are looking for a session singer, please let me know! If you need help with production or mixing, let us know that too. Cheers to your creativity!

Guest Posts

Sorry I’ve been completely MIA, but I have a really good excuse!

I’ve been guest posting and blogging for others, so my own little spot here has had to take a rest. I know you’ve been missing sleep and haven’t been able to eat because you’re so sick with worry about where I am….but have no fear! I’ll be back shortly and you can resume life as normal. In the meantime, feel free to check out my guest posts:

How to Write a Holiday Song That Isn’t Terrible for Now Hear This

My Interview with Singer/Songwriter Todd Alsup for Songwriting Magazine

My Regular Guest Blog for Eydis Magazine online

I have a lot of great(?) things planned for my own blog coming up, but for now I have to just check in here and there to make sure no one is spamming it with porn or ads. In the words of the iconic Justin Nozuka….Be Back Soon!

intonation

This is going to be a pretty short explanation, but basically Intonation = How “on key” something is. Intonation is obviously very important early in the recording process. Autotune is fine and does work, but it’s better and easier to make sure the intonation is correct before wrapping up the session.

There isn’t really a tip to ensure great intonation from a session musician, other than to hire someone with a great sense of pitch. Failing that, you’ll just have to autotune it later.

“But can’t I just leave the singer/guitar player/trombone’s natural notes?”

I mean, sure, it’s your song. But I would caution you that current songs and music all use autotune (mostly) and it’s pretty much a requirement if you’re planning on submitting to major labels. If those aren’t your goals, feel free to leave it as-is.

Keep in mind, however, that if your target audience listens to current pop music they are already used to hearing everything autotuned. I listen to all genres and eras of music, and I can absolutely tell if an artist has used it or not. So if your session musician is off, people will know. If they have a great enough voice you can possibly get away with it because the character is still there, but if not I recommend just autotuning it and enjoying the correct intonation!

improv

Asking a musician for an improv track can be a great idea. They may bring elements to the table that you never would have considered. It can also be a disaster. You might hate what they’ve done and wonder how they could possibly think that sounded good.

How do you make sure you get the former result and not the latter?

That’s the trouble with improv tracks. Unless you know the musician very well, it’s a gamble (I’ve even had improv stems from well-known and trusted musicians that made me scratch my head, so knowing them well didn’t help).

The truth is, we all have off days. We all have better or worse ideas. We all interpret a project a little differently, which can be a great thing or a terrible thing. If you’re the songwriter, you’re in charge (or whoever is paying for the services is generally in charge, haha) so your vision should be carried out fully.

Generally, people hire me to do a lead vocal and/or harmonies, and I’ll include an improv or adlib track at no charge. That way they can pick and choose what parts they want to include, if any, or leave the whole thing in. But let’s say someone hired me to do an improv track only, on a jazz track or something. I will of course do whatever I think is best for the song and try to make it exactly what they want, but if you have a specific idea of what you want the adlibs to sound like, please let me know! It’s so much easier that way and then you get exactly what you want. Play it out on an instrument or sing a rough sample. That way I get it exactly right the first time around.

If you’ve hired someone and they send the improv track back and you hate it, how do you resolve it? My advice is to listen to what they’ve given and see if any of it is salvageable. Can you cut some parts and move them around? If not, try filling out my Revision Sheet and resubmit to the performer. If you haven’t played a part out for them, try doing so now. Hopefully you’ve already negotiated to getting at least one free edit (if not, don’t forget to do this at the beginning of hiring someone!) and they can knock it out of the park for you on the second take.

So, to recap:

steps-for-great-improv-tracks

harmony

I am assuming most everyone knows the definition of Harmony, but I included it in my book because it’s an area of confusion at times.

The first thing I (and any other session singer) will tell a client is yes, harmonies are an additional fee. I have had potential clients get irritated because they think, “well you’re already recording, why can’t you just keep going and record harmonies?” It’s a matter of time and effort put into the project. A harmony track requires the same amount of time and energy as a lead track, even though there may be less singing involved. I still have to go through at the end and edit everything to send over. I have to figure out what the harmonies are. I have to spend the time recording them. So yes, there is an additional fee. It’s usually not as much as a lead (and sometimes you may get a discount depending on the singer and project) but you can expect extra for that service.

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This has nothing to do with the post, but I searched for “harmony” and found this and thought it was cool. 

Another area of confusion is how much harmony should be included, and how many parts?

I was hired by a major production company for lead and harmonies on a song. This was my first time working with them and I wanted to make a good impression, so when they said “harmonies included,” I wasn’t sure what that meant and was too scared to ask. I ended up doing a three-part harmony through the ENTIRE song, which a). was a lot of work, and b). kind of sounded stupid. I sent it over and told them to just use whatever harmony parts they wanted. The producer wrote back and said, “Oh yeah, you only ever have to do harmonies on the chorus for us.” Lesson learned: Ask! I would have saved so much time and it would have been a better project overall.

So now I ask clients up front: What are you looking for in terms of harmonies? Where would you like them, and how many parts? Sometimes, people aren’t sure. That’s okay! As long as I know where they are headed with production, I can make creative decisions and let them guide me as I go.

If you’re a client looking to hire a session singer, the first step is to decide if you want harmonies at all. Not every song needs them, and some need full choruses and others just need bits here and there. You don’t have to plan it all out, but just having some idea of what you want is helpful! If you know exactly what you want and have specific needs, feel free to send us an mp3 file or sheet music of the harmonies played out. This will ensure that you get exactly what you want the first time.

The song recording and creation process should be fun and exciting for everyone involved, and the easier it is to understand each other the better! For more tips like these, check out my book Way Less Cowbell. To hire me as a session singer, check out my website!

Way Less Cowbell Featured in Huffington Post

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I’m super excited that The Huffington Post listed my book as an example of a great title! I can’t take all the credit…my partner at Brain Stamp helped me with the idea. I wanted something musical obviously, and also something that people would recognize. Initially I was going to call it More Cowbell, but that phrase was trademarked and I’m not trying to get sued (unless I get to meet Christopher Walken in court).

Anyway check out the article here, along with other amazing authors in this category!

Song Ideas For Your Halloween Party

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It’s October! Halloween is officially right around the corner, and you’re probably already in party planning mode (either hosting or attending). One essential part of any party is the music. It’s something people will definitely notice, and it can set the mood of the entire event.

When we think of Halloween music, there are several very obvious songs that come to mind (Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” “The Monster Mash,” etc). If you’re throwing a party, you definitely will want music to get everyone in the Halloween mood. Sure, you could just stick to the same songs everyone knows, or throw on Spotify or Pandora. But if you want some really memorable tunes to compliment your party, here are a few ideas!

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You’re already getting everyone to dress up, why not build a theme around it? Have a 1920s flapper bootleg party and use music from that era (bonus for making actual moonshine in your bathtub for guests). It doesn’t have to be “scary” and it will perfectly compliment the theme. Have a goth night and bust out your favorite albums from your high school goth days (don’t act like you didn’t have one). Or, you could reverse the idea. If you’ve got a bunch of classical music, make it a masquerade ball or some type of fancy-ass King James party (since he was highly involved with the historical witch hunt). The only downside here is that people may not have costumes that match your theme. That’s okay! Provide some cheap paper options to compliment what they do have. I’d love to see a sexy Big Bird goth girl, wouldn’t you? How about a pizza slice with a paper top hat? I’m sold!

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I’m not talking about those lame “scary background sounds” of totally fake screaming (although you could layer that over your music if you want). I mean actual movie soundtracks from scary films. Have you heard “Pig Juicer” from Saw? That shit is legitimately terrifying. Soundtracks are made by composers who know what elements to use to incite fear in people. If your goal is to have a scary party, try theme music from any of your favorite scary movies or TV shows. It will serve as nice background music with spine chilling swells and unexpected auditory jabs.

You could also go the fun route with this and play some really cheesy horror movie scores. It will be more funny than scary. You can also make a game out of this, pick some classic movie songs and have people guess where they came from.

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If you want to create an uneasy, unsettling feeling, you could try music that no one would expect. Walking into a dark and creepy party with only the sound of a music box tinkling is enough to make someone pee their pants (provide a mop at the door so you don’t have to clean it). You could also try choral music, a children’s choir, or a simple violin. This is for someone having a party who wants to make people scared, and have everyone talk about how their host is a total weirdo genius. Celebrate your weird self!

genre-specificmellabarnes

I know I’ve been throwing a lot of YouTube links at you, but those are mostly for inspiration. You can definitely pick your favorite genre and find creepy-themed songs within it! Here are just a few:

Jazz Halloween, Country Halloween, Pop/Classic Halloween, or Rock Halloween. Find your faves, then find your favorite streaming method and get to work! (Note: Please buy or stream legally!)

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I’m not saying this because I’m a musician, but if you’ve got the space for it and can afford it, why not hire a band to dress up like your favorite artist and do some covers? Even if they only do originals, having Marilyn Monroe sing at your party is awesome. I’m sure that every city has an Elvis impersonator just dying to play out on Halloween, so see how much they would charge to hang out and make new friends and fans!

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If you know your guests well, find out their most hated song and play it repeatedly. Take classically terrible songs (Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” “MmmBop,” Whatever you hated in high school) and play it throughout the night. You can also “RickRoll” people until they beg you to stop. This ensures that everyone has a laugh, and your guests are slowly driven insane. What a perfect night!


Hopefully these helped you or at least inspired you for your Halloween party music. Remember, music is an essential part of any party, and can make your party more memorable if you put some time into it! Happy Halloween!

This post was made for #31DaysOfHalloween, hosted by andthekitchensink.net, which you can check out here! http://www.andthekitchensink.net/31-days-of-halloween/

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New Song/Book Collaboration

Author Jeremy Dwyer has just released a new book to his Potion Voyages series. This is Book 4: Blood & Besiegement. It is available on Amazon here, and you can hear the accompanying song I sang for it here!

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Jeremy Dwyer wrote the lyrics to the song and is incredibly talented at communicating what he wants for it. It makes the creative process a breeze! The song perfectly accompanies the book, so it is worth checking out both.

You can also see his other work, including two other songs we’ve made together, on his website: http://www.potionvoyages.com/

Congratulations Jeremy on your new book!

Getting the Best Guitar Sounds from Your Producer and Session Player

I cannot tell you how many clients say they want a “guitar” track, with no further information. When all we have from clients is a lyric sheet, we have no idea what direction to take with this.

You might just be working with a producer who is bringing in session musicians, or you might be hiring musicians yourself. This information works either way! In order to give you the best result, it would be great to have these:

guitar-production-mella-barnes

You might come into the process with a detailed vision of what you’re looking for. You might come in with no idea at all. Either is okay, but having no idea is going to be more costly in the long run. You might decide you don’t like something after it’s done, which will mean rehiring the guitar player. The most important part of the list above is the reference songs. What songs were your inspiration? Use those to guide where your song should go. A good producer and guitar player can take a reference song and use it to inspire a completely different song that has the same “flavor” (whatever drew you to the song in the first place).

If you need a guitar player (or some recommendations), we have those! We can also provide production. Stop over at Brain Stamp Music and let us know what you need.

How to Get the Right “Feel” For Your Song

The term “feel” is a tricky subject, particularly because it’s so subjective. If you are working with a producer or session musician and you tell them you want the feel to be upbeat, that might mean completely different things to each of you. So, how do you get the right feel from your team?

The easiest way is to use other songs as references. I know most songwriters don’t like to copy anyone else, but trust me…every emotion has been expressed in a song before. Unless you’ve invented a completely different emotion (which will be tough for listeners to relate to), there’s a song out there with the emotion you’re seeking. Send that to your team and make sure they all understand what feel you’re going for.

Another good way is to describe the emotions that led you to writing the song. I recently had a client send me a song and told me the story of how he came to write it. It was a difficult divorce that ultimately had a happy ending. I was able to use the story to channel my emotions when singing, and I think it resulted in the song he envisioned.

Ludwig van Beethoven said, “To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable.” It is so important that your song have the right feel to it, so make sure your team knows what the feel should be!

Around and Back Again

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I haven’t been writing lately BUT, I’ve had a good excuse. I made an epic road trip with a friend from Chicago to California and back. This photo is from the Grand Canyon, and it was a surreal experience. I will get back into my blog as soon as I regroup and get back to business! I’m also back to accepting clients full time so if you’d like to hire me, please visit my website and let me know!

I am also going to be blogging for Eydis Magazine, and I’m so excited! I’ve been writing articles for their monthly issues, but I will now be a regular blogger on their website. As soon as that is up and running I will let you know! I’ll probably focus more on general life topics than on music, since it’s a more general audience, but here is where you’ll find all the music stuff. 🙂

My August Article

Eydis Magazine August 2016 Issue – Mella’s Article

Here is my article for Eydis Magazine for their August issue! I love this magazine, it’s full of amazing women and their stories. This month I focused on ways to support artists (mostly musicians but any artist) without spending a ton of money. Hopefully there are some good tips in here you can use!

To see the entire magazine, please visit http://joom.ag/gUnQ

 

Client Album Review

Herbert Kaptein is a Dutch songwriter and guitarist who hired me earlier this year to work on a track. The album is out and the reviews are in! Here is a link to music mag No Depression: http://nodepression.com/album-review/sirens-sky-heal-you

Overall it’s very complementary. I was pumped to see: “Conversely, this is the first time session vocalist Mella Barnes has appeared on a Siren’s Sky project. However, Barnes is accomplished in her own right and has received a great amount of praise both for the quality of her voice and her songwriting capabilities.” So nice to hear!

Congrats Herbert and best of luck with the album!

Falsetto Singing from a Session Singer

I included this term in my book because I’ve been asked before to sing a song “in my falsetto voice,” and I do, only to have the client come back with, “ok now can you try it in your regular voice?” which leads me to believe that people might not know what this term means exactly.

Falsetto is a style of singing accessed by a different part of my voice. It’s higher and breathier (for me, other session singers may find more power in their higher register). I am an alto, so my power area is in the middle/lower notes.

Really, clients don’t have to dictate what placement I use when singing. I can figure it out based on where the notes fall within my range. I don’t mind doing a brief demo for potential clients so they can hear what I will sound like, but feel free to check out my reel and give it a listen. You’ll be able to hear my regular singing voice for the most part and decide if it’s right for your project.

Now, let’s say you want the song to have a certain “feel” to it, such as a very breathy tone. That’s totally fine, and I can do that whether or not I’m in falsetto. As long as I have a description of what you’re shooting for, I can pull it off. I just did a song for a gifted cartoonist who wanted his character to sound very breathy, and I hope he releases it soon so I can add it here! It should get my point across better than I can explain in words.

In any case, you should (hopefully) just be able to tell the singer what style, emotion or other singer you want them to sound like, and they should be able to emulate it no problem. Throwing “falsetto” into the mix can be confusing to everyone, so no need to use it as long as our range will cover the notes!

EQ: A Brief Overview

I briefly mention EQ in my book because it’s an all-encompassing term that many people don’t know very well. If you don’t know much about it, that’s okay! People go to school for years to study it, and it’s relatively easy to hire someone to do this. EQing a song involves a mix of technical/left brained techniques combined with artistry/right brained techniques.

Basically, EQ stands for “equalizer.” You are evening out the tones in your song to make it sound the best it can. However, you’re not just setting everything to be even and calling it a day. Some songs sound better with the bass louder, or the high end more prominent, or any number of subtle changes that give the song a different feel.

Like all things music, there are standards and general knowledge factors, but it is at the end of the day an art form. You are free to do whatever you feel sounds best! Play around with it, get to know your software. If you feel your skills are good enough and you like the sound of it, that’s all you need!

You may want to hire someone to handle it, however, if any of these apply to you:


You are not comfortable, confident, or experienced in EQ techniques

Mella_Barnes_EQ

If you’re getting ready to release a song, now is not a good time to try learning this skill! By all means play around with it in your spare time, but save it for a song you won’t release right away. If you try it and still aren’t sure, don’t take a chance and assume it’s fine! Find someone who can go over it with a fine-toothed comb and ensure a quality product.


You want a label-ready or radio-friendly mix

Professionals know what these people are looking for. They know the standards and settings, and they know what industry insiders are currently seeking in your genre. If you don’t, it’s worth it to hire someone who does!


You don’t have access to quality headphones, studio monitors and speakers

These impact the listening experience and pick up things that your computer speakers won’t. Professionals spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on high-end equipment in order to provide the best mix. If you are using only your computer speakers, it’s likely you’re missing important components! And yes, your average fan might only be listening on their computer speakers, but you don’t want to run the chance that your biggest fans have great speakers and can hear all of the subtle mistakes. If it sounds great on expensive speakers, it will sound great on computer speakers too.


You have the money to spare and want to see how it will turn out with a professional 

Why not give it a try? If you don’t like it or think your version sounds better, at least you know you can EQ with the pros. You may even find you can start doing it for fellow musicians yourself!

We definitely recommend learning about EQ in your spare time. It’s a skill set that you’ll learn to love and it will help your music career! There are plenty of great videos online or even cheap courses to take. Even just knowing the basics will be of some use to you. If you want to contact us for a consultation on your mix, or to have us EQ it for you, contact us on our website. Happy mixing!

Dynamics: How to Get the Right Performance, Right Away

Dynamics, essentially, is how loud or soft something should be. Compression will even most of this out in a song (see my article about compression here) but having softer/louder parts in a song is important and helps the listener connect emotionally. I can sing something in a whisper or shout it, and those are obviously very different and give your song a different feel.

The reason I included this in my book (check it out here) is because clients often ask me to sing something “softly,” and it turns out we have different ideas about what that is. Edits can take up a lot of time and money, so the sooner we get on the same page the better!

Take these two real-life examples from previous clients:

“Can you sing it softly?”

– vs –

“Please sing this in almost a whisper, and on the chorus climb gradually louder and fade back into whispers again in the verse.”

Obviously I had a much clearer idea of what the second client was looking for. I was able to deliver the song exactly the way they wanted it immediately without any edits. The first client had several edits done.

Now, it’s possible you might not know how loud or soft you want your session singer to sing and you’ll figure it out as you go. That’s okay! Just please understand that edits are costly and time consuming, and be prepared for that going in. Some artists give a certain number of free edits before charging, some give none. Make sure you determine all of this beforehand! I have free forms you can download and share with your clients and session singers on my website here.

The more pre-planning you can do prior to entering the studio, the better experience everyone will have overall. It’s worth it in the end, trust me!

Love Creates, Love Renews

We just finished another awesome project for author Jeremy Dwyer. His new book is titled Potion Voyages Book 3: Dagger & Deception

The lyrics were written by Dwyer and he requested an upbeat song with a triumphant feel. Together we worked to craft the end result, which we hope you’ll enjoy!

To hear the song, you can go to his website at www.potionvoyages.com and find our title Love Creates, Love Renews. You can also hear other songs from previous books, including one we worked on for Book 2 called The Hymn to the Lost and Wicked Souls.

If you are an author, creating a song to accompany the book or work is a great idea! It allows your fans and readers to connect emotionally to the song and gives them another reason to love your work.

Congratulations Jeremy on another successful book release!

Duets – How to Get the Best Performance From Your Singers

Unlike most of my terms, this is not going to be an explanation post. I think we all know what a duet is! I included this term in my book because I wanted to tell you how to make sure your performers give their best work on a duet.

Songwriters who write duet songs typically run into three snags with their session singers. I’m going to list each and then give you some tips on how to avoid or fix those, sound good?

First, I’m assuming that you’re hiring both duet singers, but you might be singing one of the parts yourself. That’s totally fine and will still work for our scenarios! Also, these tips work for two or more singers, so a trio and up should have the same solutions. Onward…


Problem #1: A Difference in Quality Between Singers

I’m not talking about vocal ability, I’m talking the actual sound quality. Maybe your singers are using different rooms, different equipment, or just aren’t equally experienced. This can lead to one side of the song sounding more professional than the other. While this CAN be improved somewhat with mixing, it’s a lot easier to avoid this situation by preventing it up front.

Solution: Plan Ahead with Your Session Singers

If possible, have both of the singers come to you or a studio of your choice (if your singers are local). This is the easiest way to ensure that the sound is exactly the same. Of course, the internet has made virtual collaboration an easy possibility, and it’s likely you are working remotely with your singers. In this case, ask them about their setup. They should be able to tell you about the room (is it a professional studio or their bathroom?) their equipment (pro gear or cheap knockoffs?) and their DAW (not necessarily important but could bring issues if their exported files are not compatible. See my post on DAWs here). Ideally, your singers should have similar recording situations. They should know enough about their equipment to use it reliably and to correct any issues themselves before handing the final product over to you.


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Problem #2: A Difference in Emotion Between Singers

This time I am talking about vocal ability, as well as the singers’ ability to emote musically. If one singer sounds sad while the other sounds angry, this will result in an imbalance in the song. Your listeners won’t know which emotion to feel and are more likely to disengage. Similarly, if one of your singers surpasses the other in talent, it will be unpleasant to listen to and turn your fans off.

Solution: Guide Your Singers’ Emotions

Use reference tracks for your singers. You can use other duets, or if you have a sound for each singer, feel free to use individual artists’ songs. If you are more confident or more familiar with one singer, have that person record first and send their version to the other singer. This will allow them to get a feel from your other singer and match their emotion. As far as a talent difference, make sure you have clear (and recent!) examples of each singers’ reel. This will let you gauge whether or not your duet song will be evenly matched with talent.


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Problem #3: Timing Issues with Session Singers

This can happen if the singers aren’t sure where their parts start and end. They don’t sound confident, and they may start too early or late. They may also step on each other’s parts or clash. Obviously we don’t want this, but the solution is really easy!

Solution: Spell it All Out in the Lyrics

When giving a singer a lyric sheet, it’s important to be specific. This is especially true in a duet! Make sure you clearly label each part as to which part is for which singer. Use different colors, fonts, whatever you need to do, and make sure each singer knows which part is theirs! Similarly, on the reference track, make sure each singer knows which part is theirs. If you sing it the whole way through, it’s even more important to make sure your lyrics are clear! You can also tune your voice up or down so each part is clear.


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Hopefully these tips will come in useful when recording your duet song! For more tips on recording and communicating with session musicians, check out my book here: https://payhip.com/b/9qjd

If you’d like help recording your duet song, contact us here: www.brainstampmusic.com

Dry Stems – A Brief Overview

When a client asks me to sing a song, I record everything into my DAW. Each track is then individually edited and exported. Clients have two options for how they receive the files: Dry or Wet.

Dry files/stems are files without any added effects. This means they might be quieter (no compression), have more background noise (no gate), and won’t sound as big (no reverb). This is totally fine, if you plan to have a mixer add effects to them or you are doing it yourself. I would never ever put dry tracks straight onto a song and be done with it. Even a raw acoustic recording should have a light mix put on to enhance the sound.

Adding your own effects is risky if you don’t have a mixing background. Most mixers have expensive equipment which allows them to hear the mix more accurately, and they also have a great deal of experience/talent. If you aren’t confident in your abilities, it never hurts to seek outside help. I can give you wet stems myself or you can hire an outside mixer for the project.

If you decide to request wet stems, please know that you can’t undo any effects. So if you think I put too much reverb on it or something, I will have to go back and redo it. It may save you time to just ask for dry files unless you are having me mix the whole song. You can ask for edits, but please make sure you work out how many free edits you will receive prior to even starting the project! A lot of people run into trouble here because they get a file back and ask for 5 or 6 edits, but the producer only gives 3 free edits or something. Negotiate prior to going in, it will save you all a lot of headache!

In short: Dry stems are easier if you have strong preferences and/or are hiring a separate mixer. Wet stems are easier if you want the tracks to be ready to go immediately upon placing them into the song (you will still need to mix the rest of the track around the wet stems).

For more music information and studio tips, please see my book here: https://payhip.com/b/9qjd

If you’d like a consultation about your mix or would like to hire us to mix your track, please contact us here: http://www.brainstampmusic.com/

Doubling Vocals for Session Recording

Doubling is a term for singing the same track twice. If you’re hiring me to sing your song, you may want doubles because it makes the song sound thicker/fuller. You don’t have to do this (and sometimes it’s too much for the song, such as a piano ballad or something), but it’s worth mentioning because it’s not something I do unless someone asks for it.

Why don’t I just do it if they might use it? Well, time is a major reason. I have a deadline to get the song done, and I’m usually doing leads, harmonies and editing everything so if a double isn’t requested, I won’t do it. However, if someone asks I’ll totally do it for no extra cost, so be sure to ask if you want it for your track!

One important note about doubling: it should be similar in emotional tone to the original. I’ve heard tracks where the performer sounds excited and energized on the original and relaxed on the double (or vice versa) and it sounds weird. Also, if you have two tracks with the same emotional intensity and you like one take better, you can easily swap it out without compromising the lead.

Some session singers will charge more for a double track, or will do them both automatically, so it’s important to ask up front if you need one. That way you don’t have any unexpected charges at the end of the session.

For more music terms and studio lingo, check my book out here: https://payhip.com/b/9qjd

If you’d like to hire a session singer and/or producer for your track, contact us here: www.brainstampmusic.com

This is a commonly confused term in music, so let’s talk about it for a second!

The instrument in the photo is called a Double Bass. It’s a stringed instrument and sounds like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QupB4NN8fI0

This is not a cello! They are commonly confused but the double bass is larger (it’s also sometimes just called “bass” but that’s even more confusing for our purposes, so we’re sticking with double bass).

“Double Bass” is also a term for metal music, where the drummer will have two bass drums. Here is an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRx45ma_bXU

So, if you’re a songwriter and you’re asking a producer for “double bass” on a track, you could get very different results if there is a misunderstanding! Of course if you are a metal writer or classical composer, it will be easier to determine, but still it’s important to specify what you mean just to avoid costly errors. When the producers have to hire out session musicians, that cost affects your cost (unless you or your producer happen to be gifted double bass players of either variety, which is rare). Even if the track is not used, the musician still gets paid, so you don’t want a double bass track that you’ve paid for that you can’t even use.

Good producers will always clarify and ask questions to determine your needs, but if you go into the session already knowing you want “a double bass stringed instrument” or “double bass drums” that will save a lot of time and confusion!

For more tips on communicating with session musicians and producers, check out Way Less Cowbell here: payhip.com/b/9qjd

If you want to hire us to produce the double bass track of your dreams, contact us here: www.brainstampmusic.com

DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)

DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation. These are computer programs that help you build a song. There are many options to choose from, including: ProTools, Cubase, Studio One, Garage Band and many more. Some are free, some are very expensive,

I included this term in my book because it’s very common amongst musicians, but sometimes clients look at me like “huh?” when I mention it. I also included it because some (many) musicians are loyal to their DAW of choice and love to talk about it. So if you plan on getting into music in any type of production sense, it’s likely you’ll come across this term and maybe choose a DAW of your own.

If you have a Mac, I highly recommend checking out Garage Band, simply because it’s free and already on your computer. You don’t need to worry about finding “the perfect DAW” because a. it doesn’t exist and b. you already have this one available. Many people look down on Garage Band because it’s not “pro” software, but whatever you’re just getting started so who cares? Play around with it, see how you like it, and go from there. If you decide you want a bigger/better one, you’ll have a better idea of what you’re looking for and can make a more informed decision.

Every DAW is slightly different and has a different layout and controls, so once people decide on one they tend to stick with it. I personally use Cubase, ProTools and Garage Band but I just downloaded StudioOne and will be checking that out shortly. I do this mainly because I work with so many different people and when transferring files I like to make sure we have similar settings to make things easier.

If you want to know more about DAWs, here is a good site to check out: http://www.sweetwater.com/feature/daw/daw_defined.php?adpos=1t1&creative=114579630601&device=c&matchtype=b&network=g&gclid=CPexn_ON0c0CFQ6maQodeYcGyA

If you want to see more glossary terms, or learn more about common musician lingo, check out my book here: https://payhip.com/b/9qjd

Compression

Compression is an important part of the mixing process. It’s essentially a way of balancing out the loud and soft parts of a track. If I’m singing on a track for you and there are parts where I’m whispering and parts where I’m screaming, you want to be able to both hear the whisper parts and not blow your eardrums out on the screaming parts. Compression will take care of that.

Like everything else, there is a lot of debate over what good compression is and how to use it properly. I included the term in my book because I’m often asked if I include compression on my vocal stems. The answer is of course yes, but my idea of good compression may vary from yours, so it’s important to keep that in mind. If I send you wet stems, you can’t make them dry. If you have a specific idea of how you want it to sound, it’s better to just ask me to send them dry (without effects) so you can add however much compression you want (or have your mixer do it). I don’t mind doing it myself but it’s one of those things like asking me to make you an egg. You might like it or not, depending on what I make and how you like it.

For more terms and info, check out my book here: https://payhip.com/b/9qjd

If you’d like your tracks mixed or your compression skillz evaluated, contact us here: www.brainstampmusic.com

A Coloratura Soprano is a singer who sings with a lot of runs and riffs, who is also obviously a soprano. It’s more of an opera term, but Mariah Carey and Ariana Grande would probably fall into this category.

Kathleen Battle is a phenomenal opera singer and you should definitely check her out! Even if you’re not an opera person, you’ll appreciate her instrument and her craft. My mother has been a huge fan of her for years so I grew up listening to her at home. If you aren’t sure where to start, this is one of my faves: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=veiU3CBwAps

So, what makes someone count as a Coloratura Soprano? Nothing, really. There’s no distinct way to tell, and it’s mostly opinion. It’s not like “if you hit x many notes in y amount of time, you’re a Coloratura.” That’s the thing with a lot of musical terms: they’re somewhat debatable. That is the most important thing to remember honestly. So let’s say you’re looking for a Coloratura Soprano, and you contact me to ask if I am one or can do this for you. I would probably say no (I’m not an opera singer) but you might be looking for someone more like Mariah than Kathleen. This is when it’s important to be specific! What style is the song? What are the note ranges? Are you looking for a lot of runs and adlibs or insanely high notes?

You can get free hiring sheets that will help you specify all of this on my website here: www.mellamusic.com and you can also get a copy of my book here: https://payhip.com/b/9qjd

Also, on behalf of Brain Stamp Music, we’d like to wish our father’s a collective Happy Father’s Day and thank them for their support. Not many dads are happy that their children choose a path of instability and stress, but ours have been quite supportive and have allowed us to be who we are and do what we love. Thanks so much for everything! ❤

The coda is another sheet music term, which again you don’t need to know if you’re a writer or musician who doesn’t read/write sheet music. If you do want to know though, the coda is an important part of letting the performer know where the song is going.

In many cases, songs repeat themselves in certain sections (such as the verses and chorus). Since paper costs money, it’s easier to include certain markers in the song, letting people know “hey, just go back and do what you already did.” It’s easier this way, especially back when symphonies were written and the songs were way longer. So throughout the piece of sheet music, you’ll see signs of where to go and how to get there. Sort of like Google maps for sheet music.

I could get really technical with this and tell you about every symbol of sheet music and what it means, but this is one of those things that you either don’t need to know or you’re already learning it (if you’re a musician taking lessons to read music). Plus there are many videos on YouTube about how to read sheet music, which are better than I could explain here. This is a good one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEFrvGG57Ww and there are plenty of others.

This is another term that I included in the book because I was already talking about certain sheet music parts, and this one seemed sort of important to include. But again, no worries if you don’t know it! We’re all constantly learning in this industry so no one should make you feel dumb for not knowing certain things.

The two shapes above are clefs (the asterisk on the left isn’t part of it but it was part of the clip art, sorry). On the left is the Treble Clef, on the right is the Bass Clef. The treble goes on the top bar, bass on the bottom. They basically tell the person reading the sheet music what hand to use (on the piano), or where the notes fall. Altos and sopranos sing the treble, tenors and bass sing the bass.

Really, this isn’t something you *need* to know if you’re not writing or reading sheet music. I just included it in my book as an FYI. I really don’t think anyone has ever even asked about this or had any confusion about it, but since I already talked about several other sheet music terms I decided to throw it in.

For other music terms, check out the glossary here: https://payhip.com/b/9qjd

Chorus

In my book I talk about how the Chorus is the part of the song that has the same words and melody in several places in the song. The example I use is this:

My loneliness is killing me (and I)

I must confess, I still believe (still believe)

When I’m not with you I lose my mind

Give me a sign

Hit me baby, one more time

So that’s obviously the chorus, right? It happens several times throughout the song. However, what about the end when “hit me baby, one more time” repeats several times? Is that still the chorus, or is that the post-chorus? Or the Outro?

Really, it doesn’t matter what you consider it to be, as long as everyone in the studio agrees about what it’s called for that song. If you call it the Outro and the producer thinks it’s the Post-chorus, and the singer thinks it’s the Chorus, you’re all going to be really confused.

I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but the easiest way to avoid confusion is to just label everything on your lyric sheet. That way when you reference the Outro, it’s labelled right there and we all know. And you can call it whatever you want, it’s your song! As long as we know what you mean, we don’t mind.

For more tips and advice, check out my book here: https://payhip.com/b/9qjd

If you need help or advice on your chorus, contact us at http://www.brainstampmusic.com 

Chord Progressions are basically the order that your chords go. If your song is in C major, your chords are going to be C, F, and G primarily, with whatever else fits your particular song. However, you can choose to organize those chords however you want, which is what makes the “progression.”

If a producer asks what progression you want and you aren’t sure, that’s okay! We are just asking in case you have a preference. There are only so many chords that fit within a key, so we can try out several until we have one you like. 

I included this term in my book because we often work with lyricists only, so we are creating the music as well as the melody. We will ask if they have a chord progression in mind mostly to help us determine the melody. Sometimes people need us to define chord progression, so I just put it in to make it easier! 

If you have other questions or want to learn more about common studio terms, my book is here: https://payhip.com/b/9qjd or you can visit our website at www.brainstampmusic.com and send us a message!

The Hymn to the Lost and Wicked Souls

We had the pleasure of creating and performing the music for author Jeremy Dwyer for his latest book release. The song can be heard by clicking on the link above. Here is the information from the website about the book and song: 

The Hymn to the Lost and Wicked Souls is a song of spiritual redemption, that calls the souls of the dead to repentance for their wicked deeds in life. It urges them to turn to God’s ways, admitting their own sins. It also calls spirits to rest, rather than wage war, so that they do not haunt the living. It was written by the character named Lady Onora in Book 2: Inferno & Intrigue. She is a drinker of the waters of the Pirovalen Ocean, which gives her powers of music elevated to a supernatural level. Among the most basic gifts that Lady Onora receives as a result of drinking these waters is that she has no need for musical instruments: her voice has the richness of an entire symphony orchestra, and her music projects powerfully everywhere she sings.

In this version of The Hymn to the Lost and Wicked Souls, the music was written and performed by Mella Barnes.

Below are the lyrics for The Hymn to the Lost and Wicked Souls from Book 2: Inferno & Intrigue.

Soul in torment, flesh and blood now long lost.
Burdened spirit, paying the eternal cost.
Truce declared, for a moment do not fight.
Cease your haunting, rest and let in living light.

Your life was evil, shedding blood and stealing wealth.
Your words were lies, you hid your acts in stealth.
I call on you just now, to listen to my words of right.
Halt your wicked ways, wake from the pain and death of night.
You brought on your own blight.

Let not chaos be your way.
Barren destruction is its yield.
Let order guide your moves, I pray.
It makes the harvest and the field.

Fulfillment can be found.
Your soul can be unbound.
When justice is the path you travel,
Your chains it will unravel.

Admit your wrongs, and then repay.
Find forgiveness, and sincerely say.
Come Creator take me away.
Your will is true, right and complete.
Evil, lies and death you defeat.

With your plan we will find joy.
Our very spirits you can release.
With your love we will live forever.
With your laws we will find peace.

The Hymn to the Lost and Wicked Souls

The Song Bridge

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A song’s bridge is *usually* located before the last chorus (you can put it anywhere you want, it’s your song!) and it either changes up the meaning of the song or adds to the story. It also changes melodically from the rest of the song. You also don’t have to have a bridge at all, or you can make it instrumental. 

I included this in my list of terms because song parts are a common area of confusion amongst session musicians. It seems like we all have a different idea of what the parts of the song are called. I’ve had so many encounters where someone is asking me to sing the bridge, but they were talking about the pre-chorus (the part between the verse and chorus). We can have different terms, but in a studio setting we all need to agree on what the parts are called. 

In order to avoid confusion, you can label your lyric sheets in caps, with INTRO, VERSE, CHORUS, etc and then we can all know what you mean when you mention the intro. I’ve also had clients give me lyric sheets with time stamps by each line, such as:

00:14 These are the lyrics to my fake song

00:29 Showing you how to label things

00:34 So you’re not wrong

So they can then say “at 29 seconds” and I can see the line they mean. I know this is a lot of extra work up front, but if you do it before heading to the studio, you’ll save a lot of confusion, time and ultimately money!

For more studio tips, check out my book here: https://payhip.com/b/9qjd

Actual conversation:

Customer: I need brass on this song

Me: Okay I don’t play that, but I do know someone if you want to hire them –

Customer: No I want you to do it.

Me: ….I don’t know how though. I could play it on a synth, but it won’t sound authentic –

Customer: No I want you to sing it. Sing the brass.

Me: …..

Customer: Like in that style. Sing it like with brass.

Me: …do you mean, like, “brassy?” Like a style?

Customer: Yes!

So…this is why I included the term Brass in my book. Brass is a type of instrument. Brassy is a style of singing (think of broadway showgirls or something). I don’t know that this is a common area of confusion, but since it happened to me I thought it might be important to include. 

When asking for any type of style from a session musician, I would advise that you describe it with more than one word. “Brassy” could mean different things to different people, but if you say something like, “Sing it like a broadway star whose director/husband cheated on her with the understudy,” that gives me a LOT more to work with. Now I know to go into it with a lot of drama and attitude. Think a bit on it and decide how you want your singer to sound, then describe that person or style to me in as detailed a manner as possible. You’ll get the best result and you’ll get it a lot faster!

For more tips on getting the best-sounding song from your studio musicians, check out my book here: https://payhip.com/b/9qjd

Let’s get back to those terms! Bit rate (or bitrate) is the term for the number of kilobits per second of the song. Boring stuff if you’re just a musician and don’t care about the tech side, but it can definitely impact your final product so it’s worth noting!

When you work with a studio or session musician, they will record and export their stems at a certain bitrate. 128 kbps is generally what music on the radio sounds like, while iTunes uses 256. Generally it is recommended to use 160 or higher, but why is this important for you to know if you aren’t a mixer or producer?

If someone sends you a track in a different bitrate from what you are currently using, it will sound weird. That’s the main reason, and the reason I included it as a term in my book (https://payhip.com/b/9qjd). Many people (myself included, to be honest) don’t bother to ask what bitrate the client wants in the end. I assume you have a standard and I have one, and on the very rare occasions something sounds off, that’s usually a quick fix to get it back on track. I included it here just to make you aware of it and to check there first if an issue arises! You don’t have to be an expert on it (I certainly am not), just be aware of it and know that you might have someone ask what bitrate you’d like. 

Your DAW probably gives you the option to record at 16 or 24 bit. I would always do 24, just because 1). higher quality in my opinion and 2). easier to have one standard across the board. People LOVE to debate music stuff like this though so there is no easy answer! Don’t sweat it too much, just know to look there if a problem occurs. 

This blog does a good job of breaking down the different results using different bitrates: http://blog.signalleaf.com/blog/2013/12/18/mp3-bit-rates/

Beat

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I went really old school with that pic, but for you kids it’s from Janet Jackson’s “Nasty Boys.” Her “gimme a beat” line has nothing to do with the actual song but is still memorable for some reason. 

Anyway, let’s talk about the beat. The beat is also known as the pulse or rhythm of the song. You might think, “why is this something people get confused about?” but consider the many types of beat terms: Upbeat, Downbeat, Backbeat, Hyperbeat, and you find songwriters getting confused. After all, they just wanted to write a hit song, and now some jerk producer is asking them whether to accent the upbeat or downbeat. Who cares??

First, don’t let studio people intimidate you. A lot of them love to do that, and they shouldn’t. Find people to work with who make it simple and fun for you. If they ask questions you don’t understand, you should feel totally comfortable expressing that. 

Back to the Beat: If you have a spare 16 minutes, here is a video explaining upbeat and downbeat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rESd_QiIY5E It’s actually a dance instructional video, so if you watch it you might acquire some additional skills to impress people! But maybe not because I am still a terrible dancer after having watched it, so. 

So here’s what you need to know about the beat: It’s important (duh) and it’s okay to not know what you want. A lot of studios I work with add the beat at the end of the song, after everything else is done. They do everything to a click track and then shape the beat to enhance the song. Now obviously there are people who do it the opposite way and feel that the beat should come first, but there is no “right way” to create your music! So if you really don’t know what you’re looking for, let your producer know. Play around with drum samples and loops (even if you’re hiring a real human drummer) and see what sounds best. This is a great way to learn about beats too and you’ll begin to notice how the beat can change the entire song. Also, pay attention to different genres and see if you can notice common beats within that genre. This will help you figure out your own beat based on the genre you’re creating!

Bass

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Bass is kind of a generic term for “the lower parts” of the song. A bass can be a singer, a guitar, or several types of instruments (like a ukulele or clarinet). 

When going into the studio to record your song, take a minute to envision the bass you want. What song do you want to use as inspiration? Shape your bass line from there. 

I think in general when discussing the bass, most producers will assume you mean an electric bass guitar. It’s the most common, so if you have something else in mind, please speak up! Even if you aren’t sure, it never hurts to ask. I think a lot of people are scared of asking questions in a studio because they don’t want to seem “like they don’t know anything,” which is not possible! We don’t judge people when they come in, and we work with all levels of music ability. So, when someone asks, “what if we use an acoustic bass instead of an electric bass?” it’s totally fine. Everyone is always learning in the music business so please, ask! The only thing I would caution you about is that it could get costly to experiment. We might have to hire someone else to come in and play a specific instrument, and you might not like how it sounds in the end. But if you can afford to experiment, you might just come up with something really cool!

This might be really basic for some, but I’m going into this assuming that the reader knows nothing at all about reading music. Consider it an intro!

The above photo contains several important elements for sheet music. The shape on the left is a Treble Clef (which tells us that this is for the right hand on the piano, the higher voice parts, or for certain instruments). There is also a Bass Clef, but I’m going to get into those more later.

The five lines are called a Staff. A bar is one chunk of the staff, also called a “measure”. It is notated by a vertical line going down the staff. So, let’s say a song is in 4/4 time. This means that each measure (or Bar) is four beats. So, anyone who sits down to read this sheet music will see that what they need to play within that Bar should add up to four counts. 

If this is confusing, let’s look at a song you probably know:

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Love it or hate it, I’m guessing you’ve heard this song. So let’s look right on the left. You’ll see there are three staffs. The top one is the singer, the bottom is for Accompaniment (see my other post for info on that!) We’ll say it’s a piano just to keep things easy. To the left of the clefs you’ll see a little hashtag (a sharp); this tells us what key the song is in. I will get into that more in a different post. Next to that is the 4/4 time signature, which is common for a lot of songs. 

So, for “I stay out too,” each of those is one count and there are four of them. That’s how they fit in the Bar! The next bar is just “late,” and it is a half note so it is held out for two counts, and then there is a rest for two counts. Still adding up to four! On the bottom, you have the right hand of the piano playing the melody notes (this is helpful in case there is no singer and the pianist wants to play the full song) and the left hand is providing the rhythm part.

If this all seems very stiff, the interpretation is left up to the performer. Do you HAVE to hold out “late” for exactly two beats? Not at all. Consider this a guide to help you interpret the song. 

You can see from sheet music how important production is to a song. You can give just a piece of sheet music to 50 producers and I bet they would all interpret it completely differently (not that we all read sheet music, but we’d all hire people and produce it in a different way). That’s why it is so important to hire a producer you trust and who is on the same page as you! If you want to make sure the producer executes the song you’re envisioning, fill out my free sheets for your music and give them to your producer. They are available here: www.mellamusic.com and you can get the entire book here: https://payhip.com/b/9qjd

Ballads

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Also known as “slow jams,” ballads were HUGE in the 90s (you kids probably don’t remember them very well but I’m old so take a seat and listen to my wisdom). Lately, as a songwriter, I’ve been told not to write any ballads to pitch anywhere because everyone wants uptempo songs. But like all things, music works in cycles so eventually we’ll see a return of the ballad.

Of course, artists still record ballads, but they aren’t singles like they used to be. Let’s look at the top 10 songs of 1994:

1.  Ace Of Base – The Sign
2.  All-4-One – I Swear
3.  Boyz II Men – I’ll Make Love To You
4.  Celine Dion – The Power Of Love
5.  Mariah Carey – Hero
6.  Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories – Stay (I Missed You)
7.  Toni Braxton – Breathe Again
8.  Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart and Sting – All For Love
9.  Ace Of Base – All That She Wants
10.Ace Of Base – Don’t Turn Around

First, kudos to Ace Of Base for having 3 of the top 10. If you don’t know about their producer, Max Martin, I highly suggest giving him a Google search because he is amazing and responsible for a ton of successful artists. But look how many ballads are on this list! You might have to stream some of these if you’re too young, but trust me they’re mostly ballads. If we compare that to last year:

1.  Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk!
2.  Ed Sheeran – Thinking Out Loud
3.  Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth – See You Again
4.  Fetty Wap – Trap Queen
5.  Maroon 5 – Sugar
6.  Walk The Moon – Shut Up and Dance
7.  Taylor Swift – Blank Space
8.  Silento – Watch Me
9.  Weeknd – Earned It (Fifty Shades Of Grey)
10.Weeknd – The Hills

There are definitely some ballads here, but fewer than there used to be. I think the key here is that you can definitely write and pitch a ballad, but it needs to be exceptionally good in order to be a single or a hit. Like, Ed Sheeran’s lyrics in Thinking Out Loud are so amazing, as are Charlie Puth’s in See You Again. 

Anyway, what makes a ballad a ballad? The term has an interesting history that I won’t get into because it’s not relevant, but if you’re bored check out the origin of the term. Ballads are subjective, and there isn’t really a set way to tell other than your own judgement. I think we can all agree though that when we think of a ballad we are thinking of a slower song. It can have a driving beat to it, but for the most part it’s still considered “slow.” 

I included this term in the book because I’m frequently told a song is a ballad and then I hear it and kind of disagree, but that’s okay because it’s just an opinion! I just wanted to mention it in my terms so that people are aware that there may be some conflict as to what counts as a ballad. As long as it’s a good song, it doesn’t really matter! 

What are your favorite ballads? I love a good ballad, so let me know what I should check out!

Today’s topic is the all-important Alto. Instruments can be altos as well (such as a saxophone), but in my book I referenced Toni Braxton so I thought I’d use her. Plus she’s gorgeous so you should look at her face!

Alto actually means “high” in Italian, but if you’re in a choir and you’re an alto, you sing the lower female parts. Most choirs follow the SATB format (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass) with females on the top two and males on the bottom. There are other terms I didn’t put in the book, such as Contralto (the lowest of female voices) and Countertenor (which would actually fall into the Alto range at times). I didn’t include these because if you’re into the voice types so much that you need to know them (such as a choir teacher or a classical performer), then you already know about those terms anyway so we don’t need to get into it. 

There are tests to tell which part you sing, but you can kind of tell without them. Are you more comfortable in the higher notes or lower? Is your voice richer and fuller on the lower notes? If you’re curious to really find out your type, this website is a great reference: http://choirly.com/whats-my-voice-type/

Toni Braxton actually has an incredible range (I would know because I own all of her albums) but I used her as an Alto example because I think most people know her by her lower range. I included this in the book because I’ve been contacted by clients asking me to sing an “alto” song, but it was actually for sopranos. It was fine and most people can handle two parts, but I wanted to include it just so we all end up on the same page! 

Accompaniment

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Today begins the first day I go through my list of terms to explain them in greater detail. I’m going to *try* to do this daily, but go easy on me because I might not actually do that.

So accompaniment is basically the “backup” to the singer or soloist. A guitar solo could also have an accompaniment. The other two girls in Destiny’s Child were pretty much accompaniment. Anything that isn’t the solo and assists the lead is accompaniment.

The guy playing the banjo is a solo right now, but if you were to step in front of him and sing, he would now be your accompanist. If you were to bust out an accordion and play background chords while he did a solo, you would then be the accompanist. 

I included this in my book because once I was contacted to provide “a melody” for a song, but the client actually wanted accompaniment. It took many emails to finally get to that mutual understanding, so I thought it was important to include in my list of terms. It’s totally okay to not know some of these (there are many musical terms, especially classical, that I don’t know that well). Hopefully these little tutorials will make it easier!

My book is available here if you want to check it out: http://payhip.com/b/9qjd

Yay!

My book is finally out! It actually out several days ago, but I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to update this. Here is the link to check it out: http://payhip.com/b/9qjd

So, this means several things! 1). I will be regularly updating this blog to expand on the terms listed in the book, and 2). I have free copies of the printable sheets on my website! If you’re reading this, you’re probably on the website already. If not, head over to www.mellamusic.com and feel free to download as many sheets as you need. These are great resources for studio work and will help you and everyone you work with get the best results out of your song.

I’m excited but also terrified. I’m “out there” now so there will be no more edits, no more re-writes, no more procrastinating. It had to happen sometime, but I’m just scared I forgot a really important sentence or something. I guess I’ll find out!

Before I start this, I need to say I am not being paid by this company to endorse this (although I should, because I’m all about this thing). 

Bugs in a studio are a big problem for me, for several reasons. One, they can be super loud and if I’m using a sensitive mic you can totally hear wings flapping in the background. Two, I’m terrified of most bugs. Fireflies and butterflies are okay, but I still don’t want them in my studio or in my life.

I’ve been in Nashville for almost three weeks, and southern bugs are a special kind of huge. A wolf spider the size of my hand was in my sink and I about had a heart attack. I hid in the bathroom while my visiting friend put it in a cup and threw it outside, screaming the whole time. Bees are also 4x larger here than in Michigan. So, dealing with my new southern bug friends is an issue.

Enter the Critter Catcher. It looks like this:

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It claims to catch and release bugs without hurting them. Although I was skeptical, I ordered one immediately. I hate hurting anything (I save drowning ants out of my sink) so this would be perfect, if it worked. 

I got it yesterday and needed it a few hours later, when a moth wouldn’t leave me alone in my studio. Moths are not loud, but they are annoying when they’re flying into your face as you’re trying to work and have a tight delivery deadline. 

I busted out my Critter Catcher, ready to test it out. I apologized to the moth because I assumed it probably wouldn’t work and would crush it to death, but I needed to try it out. 

You guys, it worked. It grabbed the moth tightly, and I was able to take it right outside and let it go. I didn’t have to get close to it, I didn’t kill it or hurt it, and my studio was moth free. I’m amazed! I can’t recommend it enough. 

You can buy one for $16.95 plus shipping. It’s so worth it. If you don’t care about killing bugs, this is still better because you don’t have to deal with the clean up after. You don’t have to get near them. Check it out at http://www.mycrittercatcher.com/ if you’re curious. If you decide to get it, let me know! I’m excited to see what you think and if you love it as much as I do.

– Mella Barnes www.brainstampmusic.com 

Searching For Home

We’ve been in Nashville for a couple of weeks now and the search for the perfect spot continues. There are so many factors to consider. On one hand, we need a space that is far away from neighbors (at least enough distance that recording sessions won’t bother them). I need space for my dogs and any fosters I bring in. Honestly, the home in the photo would be perfect for me. I love the idea of living out in the middle of nowhere and having my own little spot in the world. 

However, this isn’t practical for business. We need to be a reasonable distance for people to drive in order for them to want to work with us. Nashville is a nightmare to drive in. Look at this highway system:

If this doesn’t look that confusing, imagine trying to go from Northeast Nashville, where we currently reside, to Southwest Nashville. We have to take three separate highways to get there, and this involves merging all the way over three times. By the time you get anywhere you are completely exhausted. So we need to take travel into consideration.

Still, I wonder if people might be willing to make the drive if we made it worth their while. If our studio offered a tranquil space with plenty of parking (free, no city garage nightmare), a place where you can bring your dogs, enjoy the open air, would that be worth the extra drive?

I’m really asking for opinions here, so please chime in! How far would you be willing to drive for high quality recordings? What would make it worth your while? If you wouldn’t leave the main city (and I totally don’t blame you), is there something that the city studios lack that we could provide to entice people to come out? 

I’m just trying to find a balance between the peace and quiet I need with the convenience and accessibility that my clients need. Any input would be so appreciated! All thoughts are welcome, even if you aren’t a musician. What makes a drive worth it for you? Let me know, please and thank you!

– Mella Barnes

Electric Fits: Opposable Thumbs

New Album

Earlier this year, I was hired as a session singer for a couple songs on an album. We started with just one and I ended up doing five or six, and it was such a fun experience. Walt has an incredible gift for lyrics and matching them with melody. My absolute favorite line is from the song CroMagnon: “I feel my heart come skipping out my skin and soaring.” Not only is it a great alliteration, the melody lifts at that point which made the ‘soaring’ feel reel. Such a good line and I get it stuck in my head all the time.

The album is now out and available at www.tarbeachmusic.com and it’s worth a listen if you like old school soul with a James Bond vibe. Congrats Walt and I’m so excited for you!

– Mella Barnes

So first, I want to say that I have now been in Nashville a whole week, and I’m absolutely in love with this beautiful place. We have felt so happy, excited and welcomed here and we love it. But I want to talk about my first day here, because it was pretty awful. Some time has passed now to where I can find the humor in it, so I thought now would be a good time to talk about it.

My dad came to help me unload stuff, and about an hour after he left, my dog Pinky started bleeding out of her butt. Here is a photo of Pinky:

Can I just talk about how much I love her? She is the sweetest, happiest, loveliest girl. So seeing her ass bleed everywhere was pretty terrifying. Also, I had no idea where I was or where I needed to go, so I piled her and my other dog into the car and just drove to the nearest dog place, which happened to be a Groomer. I just thought maybe they would know where a vet was, and I wasn’t thinking clearly obviously. They were able to look at her and tell me that it looked like her anal glands had ruptured, but they weren’t vets so they weren’t sure. They also told me that there was a vet just up the road (another thing I love about this city: literally everything is just up the road). 

They confirmed that yes, that was the issue and they could do surgery for her. I left her in their care and went to take my other distraught and depressed dog for a walk. I met a man who started a conversation with me about songwriting. I don’t remember his exact words but they were something along the lines of “go back where you came from because this town is too small for more songwriters.” And okay, most days I could just shake it off, but I just dropped my dog off for surgery and was not in a place to hear this. He basically ripped me to shreds verbally and told me I was stupid for moving here for music. I was able to remain composed and polite until I got to my car, when I burst into tears because, seriously? What even happened just now? I had been in this state for all of 45 minutes and it was already terrible. I just figured it couldn’t get any worse, so it had to get better. Thankfully I was right.

I didn’t take his words to heart, because I know this town is as full of bitter people as it is young ambitious people, and that’s fine. It takes all kinds, etc. I really haven’t met anyone else like that, but it was good to get it out of the way so next time I’ll be prepared with a Southern phrase, such as “Bless Your Heart.” I’m excited to use that one. 

Anyway, I just needed to state this so I can look back on my first day and laugh about it, and say “haha that’s so funny it was so terrible because now everything is great!” and really it already is. I connected with an old friend from school down here, I went to several concerts, I’m having a great time. I’ll look back on this exciting time and remember it fondly.

And Pinky is totally better now 🙂 In a cone that she hates, but she is healing and back to her old self. I couldn’t be happier. 

– Mella Barnes

I’m a day late for this, but I wanted to let you know about Billie Holiday’s dog, Mr. Downbeat. Is he not adorable?? As much as I love her work, the fact that she had this dog makes me love her even more. Check out these adorable photos:

I can’t deal with it. It’s too much. Too cute. 

Of course, I want to also point you to a few amazing songs:

Strange Fruit – This is important because it’s one of the first anti-racist songs. The words are so haunting and powerful. 

Don’t Explain – This is important because she actually co-wrote this song! The jazz era was a time when few people wrote their own songs, so this is pretty impressive! It’s a great song too. 

I have many more but I’m just going to stare at Mr. Downbeat for a while.

April is Jazz Appreciation Month! It’s a great time to either rekindle your love for the genre or explore it if you haven’t! 

My grandparents introduced me to jazz, and my very first attempt at vocal impressions was imitating Billie Holiday in the kitchen (there is a really embarrassing photo of this somewhere, I should try to dig it out!)

If you’re new to jazz, or don’t see what all the fuss is about, here are three reasons to start exploring the genre:

– Learning a new genre is like opening a new room in your mind. You don’t have to visit it often, but you’ll find an unexplored area filled with new emotions, thoughts and concepts. 

– You don’t have to fully subscribe to any genre’s “lifestyle.” You can appreciate any genre in secret, but you don’t need to. Don’t worry about becoming a stereotype, those are rarely true anyway.

– If you know a few songs or artists in every genre, you’ll always have something to talk about with anyone! 

If you need help getting started, here are a few of my favorites. YouTube will pull up suggestions and you can go from there based on what you like or don’t:

Sarah Vaughan: Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most – A perfect song for the month, and amazing vocals.

Benny Goodman: Sing Sing Sing – I love it because I remember my grandparents dancing to this, but if you’re more into instrumentals this is a great one.

Nicole Henry: That’s All – Many people say that newer jazz artists aren’t as good as the old ones, but those people are just stuck in the past. This is a great example of a classic song with a modern flair. 

I don’t want to overload you so we’ll just leave it at three for now, but I could write a whole encyclopedia of jazz so if you need more suggestions or want to talk about it let me know!

I often hear people say that “lyrics are just poems put to music,” but I disagree. Whenever I hear a poet speaking, their words seem much different than anything I could write to a song. It’s as if the absence of melody requires them to take bolder chances, to read and speak in a different way than if they were to sing. 

There are many exercises and challenges, including the Tumblr 30 Day Poetry Challenge designed to help writers grow and connect with poetry. Day one of the challenge says, “Write a poem where each line starts with a letter from your first name (an acrostic). It can be about anything, but it should not be about you or your name.” I could try to do that with lyrics, I guess, but I don’t think they would come out in a way that made any sense. I might try to do this challenge anyway because what would it hurt to attempt to be creative? Will you try?

Ultimately, either term is subjective. What you consider poetry may be entirely different from what I consider it to be. And that’s okay. The beauty of word creativity is that even if no one reads or hears it, it still exists. Every diary you’ve written, every post it note, every song unrecorded has still existed and changed you. Even if no one hears your words, like a tree in the woods, it still makes a sound. 

Do you have a favorite poet or lyricist? Let me know who I should check out! 

My Book

I’m really excited, but also really nervous, because my book is about to come out shortly. It’s only 35 pages but I put a lot of time and effort into it so it’s “my baby” and I’m just nervous to release it to the world. 

In short, it’s a book about how to communicate with studio musicians. I based a lot of it on common miscommunications I’ve had in a studio setting, so it’s tried and true information. I’m just finishing up a few small things and then I’ll be done and ready to have it up! I’m self-releasing it so a lot of it is just learning as I go. 

Once it’s released I will post about it literally everywhere in a combination of excitement and nervous self-deprecation, so stay tuned for that!!!!!!

How to Overcome Jealousy Toward Others

Alright, can we just talk about how much I love Meghan Trainor? Her lyrics are witty and interesting, her voice is phenomenal (reminds me a little of Stacie Orrico, whom I used to love), and her production is fresh and modern. She’s one of those people I completely love and am also incredibly jealous of because she’s so damn talented. Like me, she got started in songwriting using Garageband. Unlike me, she’s a huge celebrity and multi billionaire. I’m fine without the fame, and hers is much deserved, but still.

Anyway her new track Watch Me Do was released this Friday and I’ve had it on repeat, along with No which was also released recently. I’m listening to them with a mixture of self-loathing and awe.

So my question is: how do we channel jealousy for other artists? Whether we are a fan or not, what do we do with the searing ping we get when we see that THEY’RE SO MUCH LIKE ME and yet WAY BETTER and yet ARE THEY REALLY THOUGH OR IS IT LUCK?? Because let’s be honest, we all have an artist in mind where we’re like “how are you even famous?”

For me, I take a minute to really feel the jealousy. Let it seep into my blood vessels and soak for a minute. You can’t ever really get rid of a feeling until it’s gone through you. So I feel it for a good long minute. Then it helps me to channel why this jealousy has hit me.

What does she/he/they have that I don’t?

Why do I feel inadequate?

Most importantly, what can I do about it?

I usually find that when these jealousy spurts occur, it’s been a while since I did anything creative just for me. If I haven’t been true to myself lately, it’s hard to see others being true to themselves and being successful in it. For someone like Meghan Trainor, I admire her ability to be effortlessly tough and gutsy in her lyrics. Mine are not like that; they’re full of insecurities and doubts. But you know what? I’m a different person, and my outlook is different, and that’s okay. I couldn’t pull off her lyrics because it would seem really fake. So I can enjoy her lyrics and singing voice for what it is – her voice, without comparing it to mine.

How do you overcome jealousy with fellow artists? Email me or comment here, I’m open to any tips or tricks!

In any given day, I work on several songs by different artists. Today I had a blues track and then a reggae track, right after another. It can be difficult to switch mentally from singing one style to another, so here are a few tips I’ve learned!

1). Watch music videos of each genre. For some reason, watching the video and listening to the track are better than just listening. The visual helps me get into it mentally. Think about it: if you’re watching a country video, you’re seeing fields, cowboy boots, and trucks. If you’re watching a dance video you’re seeing clubs and glow sticks. It’s a totally different scenario and helpful to watch!

2). Create a character for each song. I’m going to get into this in depth in a different entry, but I like to envision a character singing each song. I think of the person and what they would wear, how they would act, and what they would be doing as I’m getting ready. It becomes much easier to go from one song to another when you’re just switching characters! 

3). Take a break. Sometimes you don’t have a lot of time and have tight deadlines; I get it. But if you have time to go for a quick walk or do some light cleaning or exercise, do it! Cleaning helps me because I find it meditative and relaxing, but you might not agree haha. 

4). Try blending genres. This one I don’t recommend if you have a tight deadline or a picky client, but it can be fun! Let’s say you’re switching from reggae to country…why not try bringing that reggae feel and emotion into the country track? It might sound awful, but you never know! You might create something cool that the client will love. 

A brand new Craig David song was released this week, and if you haven’t heard of him you should check him out! His voice is amazing and although his vocal style leans toward soulful R&B, he typically sings over dance beats so it’s fun to listen to. This song is a dance track so it’s true to his style, and the video is only a preview but there is a link to the full iTunes track on the actual YouTube page.

Blonde is apparently a UK production company, but I couldn’t find a website or anything so I don’t know if this is just one person or a team or? But they’ve worked with Craig David before with great results. 

If you’re looking for a few tracks to introduce yourself to this vocalist, I recommend Walking Away https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lxRRCxfRvI, Fill Me In (Remix, only because I like the melody and lyrics better) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMw9KRRL7hM, and his awesome cover of Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23wj7iXnYnA

Ghosts

So I had a few free hours last night, and not being one to sit around in the hotel, I decided to go on a Nashville ghost tour. I’m so glad I did. The weather was beautiful (a drastic change from Detroit lately), the guide was nice and funny, and I learned a lot about the history of the city! Here are a few Nashville facts (that I didn’t fact check but the guide told me, so I’m just repeating them because I’m assuming they’re true):

-All green colored busses in Nashville are free! You can ride them anywhere and they are electric.

-Nashville is one of the cheapest cities to live, and also one of the fastest growing.

-Homeless people are treated extremely well, given free food, bus rides, showers, the only thing they don’t really have is a house. I mean I’m not saying it’s an easy life or anything, but compared to how other cities treat their homeless it seems Nashville is way ahead.

-Nashville has the most car accidents, with an average of 3 fatalities a day.

-Young people list Nashville as the number one travel destination in the world, the only US city that made the list and above Paris and London (I forgot which study she got this from but it seemed pretty legit, like a travel source or something).

-Nashville is the number one destination for Bachelor and Bachelorette parties for some odd reason. I had a hard time wrapping my head around that one. I guess maybe because so many young people are coming here and they’re all getting married? 

-Lots of murders happened in the city back when like Andrew Jackson was president. I’m sure there are still murders today but it seems like most people kill each other through vehicular manslaughter than anything else. I already hate driving so going back to the hotel with that fact in my mind was pretty unnerving.

Anyway I’m really glad I went and had an amazing time. I should have been sleeping but I have a meeting today and find that I function best on 3 hours of sleep and a series of anxiety attacks about ghosts. 

Nashville Tomorrow

In about 12 hours, we’ll be making the all too familiar 10-hour road trip down to Nashville. I have a pro-tip for musicians: When you have an important business meeting coming up, now is not the time to try a new face soap. You might end up with pumpkin sized hives all over your face in complete agony. I plan on Instagramming the inside of the BMI building (it’s gorgeous inside and out) so if I look like I’ve been stung by 300 Africanized bees now you’ll know why. 

We will be attending a seminar by the amazing Jason Blume, and I’m sure you’ve heard of him even if you think you haven’t (he’s written countless hits for Britney Spears, N*Sync and every other pop star in that era). I get as excited to attend his seminars as people might attending a concert by their favorite artist. Except this is cooler because I get to talk to him!!! I never say anything though because I’m shy and weird so I usually say something like “Hi cool yeah how’s it going” while looking at the carpet. I’m sure he thinks I’m cool. 

We will also be scoping out potential studio spaces while we’re down there, so hopefully we’ll have some luck with that! We will keep everything as up to date as possible while we are there, but due to travel we may have a slight delay in availability and project completion. We try to be gone as quickly as possible but I want to put it out there just in case. Thanks for your patience!

Glow (feat. Mella) – Single by DJ Ariel Style on iTunes

Here is a recent track I was hired on by DJ Ariel Style. He was a lot of fun to work with and I ended up staying in on New Years Eve to finish this up before the new year! Nothing says Happy New Year like doing what you love. Thanks so much DJ Ariel, I look forward to hearing more of your work in the future!

Glow (feat. Mella) – Single by DJ Ariel Style on iTunes

Hello!

This is our first blog post. My name is Mella, and I’m half of Brain Stamp Music. I’m a session singer/songwriter/whatever person and Aman is a producer/instrument guy/dude. We are in the process of moving from Detroit, Michigan to Nashville, Tennessee, to start a brand new studio. He’s currently there scoping out the area, and I’m here working on various session gigs. Thanks for tuning in!

While I’m at it, I want to put a note to all musicians working with us: We will not share your work without your permission! This means, if you’re scrolling through here and wondering why we didn’t mention you, it’s because you haven’t specifically told us we could use your work. We’re more than happy to put you on here but please give us the OK first! We love you and appreciate your work. 

I want to say I’ll update this every day, but that’s probably not going to happen sorry. But I will as often as I can!