the philosophy of sound, part 2

here is Part 2 of a Q & A session on recording arts and songwriting (click here for Part 1, and here for Part 3). this is submitted only in attempt to show the intersectionality between creative, socio-politic, socio-economic, and psychosomatic tensions. this is real-time, fertile ground that births human expression, but is often viewed as too unwieldy to use in a classroom for learning. accurately capturing raw expression is vital to strong songwriting (and the field of recording arts that songs help to fuel). this is a new, interdisciplinary field of study — a study in aesthetic, if you will — not dealt with, comprehensively, in traditional songwriting courses; but one that is as ancient as it is fundamental.

the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

“for songwriters (and those who want to talk songwriting)

melody is just a sketch of your anxieties.

you can further articulate these emotions with lyrics (although, it isn’t necessary). for more detail on how to excavate the most useful material/art out of your anxieties (and, therefore, your melodies) — or, on the importance of gauging narrative in your lyric — feel free to comment here, or send me a message.

*some of you have reached out to me, already, regarding the craft of recorded arts and songwriting. as these disciplines are integrated with other aspects of your lives, the options for application of the information we exchange can quickly become confusing. so, i hope you will continue to check in with me re: your progress. sharing the information i have, and learning about the concepts of others, is a joy for me.

V”

(the innocent #13)

You said once before not to “write until your thoughts scare you”. I tend to do that most when I’m experiencing some sort of emotional extreme. I mean, I’ve written some things while pissed and wondered if I had crossed over to the dark side! 😂 Those songs SMASH! I would like to write at that level all the time, but I imagine that would be an extremely stressful life. 😓 Is there a method that you’ve developed so that you can write while centered? Or am I left with my own method of provoking or probing other people to create the emotion(al) environment necessary for me to write effectively?

VH

i love this question. for me, art is a mounting excitement. it comes when it is ready to be satisfied. if that sounds sexual, it’s because sex is so underwritten by the senses; as is art. i don’t want spark-less sex, or art. many writers attempt to manufacture sparkling art. it is gimmicky. not that audiences don’t respond to gimmickry- of course they do; because gimmicks use bright colors, loud volumes, feigned intensity, crassness, to elicit response. and like genuine expression, it is an appeal for something.

unlike gimmicks, genuine expression has no choice but to be expelled. it is involuntary. it attracts a response from others because it, itself, IS a visceral response. so, the audience’s reaction is a more meaningful relationship — not a reaction to wow factors. the audience identifies itself within the art and is usually turned off or turned on by it. and the bond is much longer-lasting. there is a use for the art. the art is functional. gimmicks are much more easily disposable. and in that way — requiring much less from the audience. and in that way, are addictive. in fact, necessarily so, in order to keep quick turnover and repeat consumers in an evermore dysfunctional society.

i said all that to say, i write when i am driven to write. i may be driven by creative afflatus, or by economic circumstances. without fail, the creative afflatus will be the more robust, enriched, entangled, dynamic notion. it will be bigger than me. the ambition born of economic circumstances will always be the one that is weaker in its foundation, and requires ad hoc theories, epicyclic group-think and endless collaboration with people held together by a coalition of mistrust and insecurity…to manufacture (just) a shadow of real shit. don’t get me wrong, generations of output have come from such associations. but, they are never the transcending, most functional and comprehensive of said.

(the innocent #14)

hi Van,

i’ve been writing poems for over a year now and i am at a point where i feel i need guidance to take them to the next level. specifically, i do not understand how to write to a larger audience. i am also not sure which stories might be more compelling to explore and expound upon. i have a surplus of “anxieties” so, no problem with all my problems :) i just don’t know what to do with all my raw material. any help would be greatly appreciated.

thanks

VH

hi. thx for writing. what do you mean, specifically, by “larger audience”? how to build a larger readership? or, how to reach a larger room of people (e.g., during a stage performance)? without test marketing, it is impossible to accurately predict which stories readers/listeners might find more compelling. the only gauge i have been able to ascertain is a mixture of feedback from live audiences, family/friends (a sort of soft test-marketing) — and most importantly, which stories do YOU find compelling? which ones are you nervous about sharing? those are the ones i would prepare. they’re likely to be the ones that answer all your questions.

(the innocent #14, cont.)

i began writing primarily for myself, as a way to better understand my tangle of anxieties. through that journey- i discovered that i really liked producing this type of art and wondered if others might find it interesting or useful too. looking beyond my personal needs was something i actually learned from you. so thank you.

i will have to think on which stories i find most compelling. my life experiences have given me an unusual filter which can lead me to over think things sometimes. for instance, can my real life “tragedies” even be relatable to be beneficial to others? this shit is painful and absolutely draining to produce. i just want to share my best-in the most honest and thought provoking way, that can have a positive impact. i want to avoid sharing popcorn poems, which i find myself sometimes making in order to offset my natural filter of the world that is so much cruder-and more disturbing. yet i do not want to present to the world without some restraint because words are so very powerful and influential, we already have so much negativity already. not sure where that balance lies.

VH

have u ever been to a stand-up comedy show? not the ones with big lights and big stages. but one like (Netflix) Dave Chapelle’s — the bird revelation. this is one of the 🌎 ‘s biggest comedians delivering one his rawest performances. the stage is small. his thoughts are uncomfortable for him and audience- and there is nowhere to run. i would suggest you go to some local stand-up comedy shows. watch the comics battle to keep from bombing on stage. that sense of urgency — to stay alive — is what expression is at its essence. if you don’t have that, you don’t have much. poetry and stand-up are very similar to me. both can leave the performer feeling vulnerable- and the audience feeling invaded. both, generally, (playing out) on small stages. but also, all too often, both have performers who hide behind theory (what might happen, what will probably happen, my head is too big, my thoughts too real…). put your thoughts on paper and start showing them to people. start performing. start failing. start succeeding. start saving yourself from yourself. you will discover, as Dave Chappelle has, the labeling of what you do is the job of the audience. not yours. as artist, your job is to put it on the line.

(the innocent #14, cont.)

the correlation between comedy and poetry is genius. i would have never explored that as an option, even though people laugh pretty hysterically when i really get going on one of my rants. when i lived in Raleigh, NC-i would go to a local comedy club called, Charlie Goodnights- i loved it! i guess i always thought one would have to be pretty outgoing to do that but the more i think about it, the more i’m convinced that (couldn’t) be more further from the truth.

i will definitely take your suggestions and check out a few acts and start putting my “comedy” on paper. i think that might be something i might really enjoy.

thanks for the solid and candid feedback.

VH

ooh…good! and i hope you come back to update me whenever you can. not everyone responds so positively to “candid feedback”. i am excited about where you’re going. talk soon.

(the innocent #15)

Van, I hope that my tweet did not sound condescending. In a musical landscape that values commerce over art, I have grown to greatly appreciate your artistic vision. Twitter is an imperfect medium for sustained discussion so I hope that my reply to your Tweet was not misinterpreted. I have always been fascinated with your music. When I first heard, “What Can I Say (For Millicent)” I freaked! It was like getting a new Stevie or Prince album I HAD To immediately digest it and then start learning the chords to the songs that spoke to me. Ever since your first album I have been an admirer. (I have all of your stuff.) Hearing your version of Muted Symphony, which is a great homage to Sly, leads me to believe that you go through much the same process as I with digesting music. Anyway, my question/contribution to the songwriting discussion is simply this: isn’t there some sort of more conscious process that you go through when writing the music for your songs? Your use of melody, composition, musical movement, etc. tells me there is quite a bit of thought that goes into the process.

VH

hi. there was absolutely no offense taken. thank u 4 the kind words. i agree, twitter makes articulation both essential and difficult. it sounds like u r an advanced creator. n that regard, i can tell u that there is no deeper, more exhaustive process for me than songwriting. obviously, i don’t want 2 discourage would-be contributors 2 a collaborative effort by recalling my pains 2 finish solo material. my post was just an allure 2 the curious and serious — prior 2 immersion into the more nested trials of creativity.

(the innocent #15, cont.)

Thanks for the reply, Van. Sorry it took me a while to get back with you. Being that I am originally from Minneapolis, I was consumed with the Vikings game and then their eventual loss this weekend. Let me ask you, when composing, do you write differently when on the piano as opposed to the guitar? If so, how? I find that my piano playing compositions lead me in vastly different directions than if I write on the guitar. Secondly, are you trained at all or are you more in the tradition of Hendrix (my hero) as an untrained musician? (Having said that, I know that there are a lot of different levels of “trained”. There are folks that know chord names and the notes of those chords, then there are those who know a lot of theory but cannot read a formal score, then you have the classically trained crowd… etc.)

VH

sorry about the Vikings. *i, too, find that songs i compose on piano can change drastically when translated into guitar — and vice versa. the most glaring difference is my perception of the songs as i write. i can see the shape of the song when on piano; whereas, i am engaged with, both, intervals and substitutions of chords when playing guitar — and having to conceptualize the shape of the tune. i can simultaneously play more parts of a composition on piano than guitar. though, i generally prefer writing on guitar — as it lends itself to a tighter percussive, sharecropper blues feel. it doesn’t color the idea as much. my songs become balladry on piano, generally. i am not formally trained. i, relatively, know very little music theory. much of what Hendrix did was not conducive to notation — and i KNOW much of what i do isn’t. lol — that said, i have been around some of the most educated musicians — guys who could tell you the microtonal pitch of screeches — and i have played with guys who didn’t know much more theory than i. where i meet all of them is the point at which they are comfortable with nonlinear thinking; which, quite frankly, is beyond theory. beyond anything-anyone is trained for. nonlinear thinking is your ability to navigate the emergent phenomenon of our interaction. that’s Hendrix. that’s Miles Davis (a true master), that’s J.S. Bach (a true master), that’s Duke Ellington (a true master), and many more.

(the innocent #16)

So if melody is a sketch of one’s anxieties..

Are lyrics the paint that gives your sketch color and life?

VH

sure, lyrics add color 2 the sketch. if one needs color to sense life, then u can say lyrics add color “and life” for that person. me, myself, i find satisfaction in a quality sketch — and often feel the use of color, in certain hands, results in smothering of the original idea.

(the innocent #16, cont.)

Good point, I should’ve included only “responsible” use of color.

(the innocent #17)

narrative as time & place vs narrative as a poetic metaphor of an emotional state — how do you approach the combination of the 2?

VH

hi. it could be the white wine i am drinking, but i do not see any difficulty in combining something as focused & orderly as time & place, 2 something as nonlinear as an emotional state. i can easily make room 4 time & place n my dreams — & displacement n my time & place 😉

(the innocent #17, cont.)

140 characters weren’t quite enough — melodies restrict the amount of words used, poetic emotional language is easiest to fit with singing especially, the syllables matter for the melodic contour, in songwriting you manage to add detail without adding words

VH

adding detail is both a matter of what is there and what is not. what the listener hears and what the cadence leaves them time to absorb.

one approach might b 2 establish what i want 2 say (concept). then set the cadence. what sounds/tones (not words) match. the cadence? what words match those sounds/tones & articulate what i want 2 say? if i alter the cadence/phrasing, does it allow me 2 effectively add more detail?

(the innocent #17, cont.)

Thanks, this was actually super helpful. If the melody and lyrics don’t happen simultaneously, I get fixed on the melody and the accompanying sounds before getting the concept, then get stuck because I don’t know where to go from there. Listening for the concept first makes sense.

VH

kool. i use the concept (or emotion) like an actor uses the character. it is the fabric that will run through the entire writing and production. i keep its articulation as the primary focus, not the paths i take by way of melody/lyric or other accompaniment. thx 4 writing.

(the innocent #18)

Hey there!!!

I’d love to soak up any advise on songwriting you may have…

VH

hi. i may have useful advice…but, i would need to know a little about you: why do you think you need advice regarding songwriting?

(the innocent #18, cont.)

I write for myself and others. Have done so for many years…

VH

i see. so, you probably don’t need any help. is there any specific aspect to songwriting that you wanted to ask me about? anything, at all?

(the innocent #18, cont.)

I want to go from semi professional to professional writer…

VH

well, you have described where you are as “semi-professional” and where you want to go as “professional”. if i may ask, what do you think is the difference between the two?

(the innocent #18, cont.)

I work mostly with indie, new artists so there’s never any real publishing money to be made. How do you break into markets where artists have a following? Resulting in a better chance of securing publishing deals and more money in general…I wanna be able to do this for a living.

VH

gotcha. well, first allow me to delineate between professional writers and well-crafted songs. some of my most well — crafted songs have earned me ZERO dollars. i’ve had (lesser-quality) songs earn significant sums. so, the labels of “professional and semi-professional” — as they relate to making money — mean nothing. don’t get me wrong, i am not trivializing the importance of making money with your songwriting. i am just letting you know that making money doesn’t have much to do with being a good songwriter (despite what others may tell you). so, you can make money with well-crafted songs and you can make money with (lesser-quality) songs. well-crafted songs, generally, make less money for a longer period of time than (lesser-quality) songs that can make significant money for a shorter time-period. in order to make money with either, a few things need to be in place: you should definitely continue working with “indie” artists — because you never know when they will become “major” artists. and, working with those you have access to allows you to hone your craft and strengthen your working relationships. and, it is strong working relationships that allow you to make money. as people ascend through the socio-economic hierarchy, they generally take their friends and family with them. these networks form the basis of every monetarily-successful venture. one of the major reasons you have not made money thus far is simply because you are not more-deeply connected to one of these networks. but, if you keep working — keep learning — keep becoming a stronger writer AND developing relationships, you will be drawn into a money-making situation OR an investor will be drawn TO your newly developed network.

please, let me know if there was any of that you did not understand. these concepts are difficult to explain — i am working on getting better at explaining them.

(the innocent #19)

Hello! I saw your post thank you for posting and giving that invitation, I definitely need help with singing and tips on how to get started recording!

VH

cool. let’s talk. are you a singer AND songwriter?

(the innocent #19, cont.)

Yes sir! I’m a guitarist first, but I’m trying to come out of my shell as a singer!

VH

kool. what questions do you have about getting started?

(the innocent #19, cont.)

Thanks again! Ideally, what gear do I need to start recording music with on a budget? And I notice when you sing you do these very soulful vocal riffs, how do I do those?

VH

if you don’t mind, i’d love to know what music you listen to most of the time? that will actually help me to respond to both parts of your question.

(the innocent #19, cont.)

I listen to a wide range of music: rock, New and old school r&b, Gospel and New Retro Wave!

VH

“new retro wave”. i like that. well, try this: listen to ‘Smokestack Lightnin’’ -this was a very popular song, and is the backbone for much of what you hear today (including what you refer to as my “soulful riffs”). and it was recorded in a room with 4 or 5 guys, a couple of microphones, and a cheap recording machine. but, the most expensive part of the recording is the story that the singer, Howlin’ Wolf, came to the studio with. it was a story born from living. it was ugly, hard, and beautiful. it was priceless. and when you have that kind of story the song is so easy it almost records itself. you just have to have something to say. not like a tweet or a snap. something personal that nobody knows because you don’t even talk to yourself about it. express that through your fingers — onto your guitar — and record it onto Garage Band or any cheap DAW (digital audio workstation- recording software)…and i guarantee it will be the best start you can have to writing.

(the innocent #19, cont.)

Wow thank you I’ve never heard anyone describe this the way that you said it. I will do what you said concerning DAW and I will search deep within myself for that voice that’s hiding so I can find that authentic message that I can put out there! Can you please tell me what inspired you that write “Dust” I always felt a connection to the song in a way I can’t really put into words! I’m also (currently) listening to the Howlin Wolf song. I love his music lol

VH

i imagine your connection to (‘Dust’) is also my connection to the song. it utilizes major 7 chords; which, on guitar, tend to put me in a space beyond here. it puts me beyond harm. i’ve carried this sense around that no matter where i went, or how long it took to get there, i would be ok. there was no way i would escape satisfaction and rest. those chords intensify this feeling. and it’s not a flowery feeling. it’s the calm of the warrior who has fought so long that his opponents become his most comfortable place to be. almost a phase transition, where war heats up so much that it turns back into peace.

(the innocent #19, cont.)

I definitely dig what you said about the warrior description, it definitely feels like that at times for me like when I’m in “the thick of it” I appreciate it! I love the way you describe it brother! That is why I love the song, I also liked to imagine that the word Dust in the song comes from the ideology that we “come from Dust” so essentially we still are “Dust” even though we’re solid material. Was it fun shooting the music video or just a lot of hard work? Also I wanted to ask if you give singing lessons?

VH

yeh, i was definitely referencing stardust — what i understood it to be at that time. *we had a blast shooting the video — even tho it was balls-ass freezing n Paris! of course, work never seems hard when u love what ur doing. *i don’t give singing lessons, per se. but, i do have some understanding of effective singing technique; which i can share with u.

(the innocent #19, cont.)

please share your techniques with me sensei! lol wow, you have a amazing stories, (I’m) definitely interested in learning your techniques!

VH

you will hear many opinions about what makes a great singer, a great vocal coach, even about how the body actually produces sound. step back from all of that and look at the basics: the anatomy of the voice, breathing, resonance — it’s important to understand how a vocal sound is produced. then to understand the most effective way to support the sound (breathing), and how to maximize the inherent frequencies and harmonics that exist within the voice. so, i have a link below regarding basics on the anatomy of the voice, breathing, and resonance. this is just the beginning. the other indispensable piece to becoming the singer you want to be is to study AND SING! a lot!

*THE MAIN PARTS OF VOICE PRODUCTION:

  • The Power Source: Your Lungs
  • * The Vibrator: Your Voice Box
  • * The Resonator: Your Throat, Nose, Mouth, and Sinuses

The Power Source: The power for your voice comes from air that you exhale. When we inhale, the diaphragm lowers and the rib cage expands, drawing air into the lungs. As we exhale, the process reverses and air exits the lungs, creating an airstream in the trachea. This airstream provides the energy for the vocal folds in the voice box to produce sound. The stronger the airstream, the stronger the voice. Give your voice good breath support to create a steady strong airstream that helps you make clear sounds.

The Vibrator: The larynx (or voice box) sits on top of the windpipe. It contains two vocal folds (also known as vocal cords) that open during breathing and close during swallowing and voice production. When we produce voice, the airstream passes between the two vocal folds that have come together. These folds are soft and are set into vibration by the passing airstream. They vibrate very fast. from 100 to 1000 times per second, depending on the pitch of the sound we make. Pitch is determined by the length and tension of the vocal folds, which are controlled by muscles in the larynx.

The Resonator: By themselves, the vocal folds produce a noise that sounds like simple buzzing, much like the mouthpiece on a trumpet. All of the structure above the folds, including the throat, nose, and mouth, are part of the resonator system. We can compare these structures to those of a horn or trumpet. The buzzing sound created by vocal fold vibration is changed by the shape of the resonator tract to produce our unique human sound.

When our voices are healthy, the three main parts work in harmony to provide effortless voice during speech and singing.

(*info sourced from Wikipedia)

(the innocent #19, cont.)

Oh man, bro you are the GREATEST OF ALL TIME!!! Thank you for sending me that lesson I’m going to visit the website that you mentioned and I thank you for taking the time to talk to me and teach me the lessons of the pros! Man this is priceless brother you really are a great person and I hope that you get back all of the positive energy that you put out and I really mean that, I hope everyone gets to know what a great person you are and not just your great music! Really I can’t thank you enough, how can I keep you updated on my progress?

VH

hey. thx for the kind words. i enjoy talking with others about art — so feel free to update me. you can write me here. talk soon!

(the innocent, #20)

I want to know how to transform melodies into songs. I always have them and they’re always catchy, but when it comes to formatting them into a song I get so frustrated that I often give up. So what’s the secret? Thank you for offering your insight ❤

VH

hi. thx for writing. formatting your melodies is one thing, but adding accompaniment (chords, rhythms, lyrics) is another. by “formatting” do you mean you’re having trouble deciding which parts of your melody should be the verse or chorus? or, do you need help finding the right accompaniment for your melodies?

(the innocent, #20, cont.)

Oh wow, I was expecting a copy & paste lol Look at you, you’re amazing! To answer your questions, I understand which parts are the chorus and verses but I more so struggle with where to add overlays or layered vocals as well as accompaniment.

If its simpler, do you have any basic rules to songwriting?

VH

there are “basic rules”, but if you don’t mind, i’d prefer to address your immediate struggles rather than hit you over the head with rules. so, i consider layered vocals as accompaniment. they are like harmony or chords. harmony or chords can move WITH your main melody (the most prominent voice in your layered vocals) or they can move counter to your main melody. it really is about what you want people to feel when they hear it. when you hear older gospel songs, the layered vocals are usually moving with the melody; which creates an harmonious, peaceful appeal. but, when you hear more modern singers (especially D’Angelo, Bilal, Jill Scott, Kim Burrell), the accompaniment/harmony/layered vocals often move with AND counter to the melody; which can have an harmonious appeal, but can also be a bit unsettling.

(the innocent, #20, cont.)

I see exactly what you’re saying, and that helps a lot because I listen and try to mimic those artist you mentioned, but I struggle. My vibe is more Gospel Funk, like Sharon Jones, or James Brown, so I will do what comes natural, which is the Gospel type style that I normally fight against. Thank you!

VH

there is something majestic about simplicity. and, it is from simplicity that complexity emerges. James Brown, Muddy Waters, and Bessie Smith are probably considered simple artists, but they are as complex as any sound i’ve ever heard.

(the innocent, #20, cont.)

I dig. My favorite saying is simplicity is genius. But also thinking (too) hard makes my head hurt anyway lol

VH

it will make your audience’s head hurt, too😉

*[thank you to all those who allowed me to post our exchanges]

*special thanks to Robert Johnson and Jeremy French