Tag Archives: songwriting

Rejuvenation

My family has had a small cabin in Mountainhome, Pennsylvania (in the Poconos) for decades. It may be my favorite place on Earth.
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Last week at this time, I was preparing to return home from there, During the last day or two, the rain decided to assert its dominance. On the cabin porch, surrounded by mountain rain in the trees, and with a rushing creek 100 feet away, I started working on a chord-melody version of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now.”
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It sounded like this:

Time in the woods, breathing clean air, and not having to deal with the assorted nonsense of city life reminded me of two very important things:

(1.) I definitely need to take more time off. I don’t mean the lazy disengaged sloth that passes for breaks. I mean regular planned breaks from routine. Nature, preferably, should be involved.
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(2.) If I’m not ACTIVELY creative, I’m like a plant withering from lack of water or sunlight. Sadly, my job, which used to be actively creative (I was a music director) is now merely passively creative. I lead the creative process of other people who ARE actively creative.

If I was older, bald, and surrounded by the most diverse-imaginable team, my time at work might look like this:
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So there’s this illusion that since I’m “working creatively,” I’m creating. Not really. It’s a fine point, but any artist who’s ever been promoted out of actively creating knows that there’s no substitute for making your own things.

Reflecting back on June and July, there’s some sense of  creative accomplishment. I finally recorded Led Zeppelin’s “Ten Years Gone” in memory of my friend Katie (though I have always wanted to play it). I recorded guitar and background vocal tracks for my friend Todd Gilbert’s new album “Guiding Light” (dropping July 31). And The Mood Rings (my acoustic duo) continues to play cover songs in local watering holes.
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But the most profound moment for me was when my fingers, on the fretboard of that guitar, started working out the melody and accompaniment of “I Can See Clearly Now.” Suddenly, while showering, or driving through the Pennsylvania and Ohio countrysides, the little poet who lives in my brain started calling out lyric ideas. He’s been quiet for a while. Rest and reflection seems to have woken him up. He’s downright chattery now.
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Five years ago, before taking that music director job, I was deeply enmeshed in working on acoustic chord melody arrangements. I was also writing and recording a solo album. These things are innate and important to who I am. Every day, I yearn to be creating music while I’m enmeshed in the blah-blah-blah (which disguises itself as important creative processes). I wilt a little more, and just let it slide along. Clearly, the disciplines of active rest and active creativity are important.

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I don’t have an answer to the dilemma today, other than to make the time to do the stuff. All I can tell you is that I’m driven to do the stuff… ACTIVELY.

What do you do to rejuvenate? Do you need creative rejuvenation? If so, What do you do to get that?

Ten Years Gone

Twenty years and a few months ago, some friends of mine asked if I might record some guitar tracks for a young girl named Katie Reider. She had about an album’s worth of material, and with their help, they gotten it to where it was a few electric guitars away from sounding like a real record. Well, I added those very guitars, and that record ended up being called Wonder.

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In just a few actual evenings (which were spread-out over the course of several months), I managed to record eight of Wonder’s ten songs. I never expected anything to happen with it, really. I thought, maybe, in a year or so, she might have sold enough CD’s that, if all went well, I might get $100.

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The album was a local smash. We won a bunch of awards, we were on the radio, and in the papers. My guitar students thought I was famous. Overnight, I became the guitarist in one of the most popular bands in town. I had arrived. Image result for yatta

 

There were highs and lows, but in fairly short order, I was the only original band member. Katie and I had no choice. We became the best of friends, confidants, and musical partners. The next couple of years were great. In 2006 everything suddenly caught fire. I was convinced we were just a few yards from the proverbial touchdown. Then she got a toothache.

Only, it wasn’t a toothache.

It was a horrible monster, and it destroyed my friend.

 

My first gig with Katie was at Taste Of Cincinnati in 1998. My last gig with Katie was at Taste Of Cincinnati in 2007. The next year, she was gone. That was July 14, 2008; ten years ago.  This was how she looked at our last show together.Image result for katie reider wonder

When 2018 started, I was aware that the ten year echo of her passing was coming. Led Zeppelin’s “Ten Years Gone” has always been one of my favorite songs, and I thought it would be a fitting tribute. Robert Plant wrote it about an old girlfriend, so it doesn’t quite fit, but the music captures the feelings, I think, of a yearning for a time in the past with someone dear. Also, no one knows this (until now). When I was recording Wonder, I felt a tremendous pressure to accomplish something special. When in doubt, I would ask myself, “WWJPD” (What Would Jimmy Page Do)?

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“Ten Years Gone” is a fantastic anthem. One of my favorite discoveries about it, once I dissected the guitar parts, is that, apparently, I record layered guitars rather a lot like Jimmy Page did on this song.

Fitting, right?

Anyway, I know Katie would love it, because she loved the music I made. This is for Katie. But also for me.

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The goings-on of May

There are several creative-type things I like to do.

It may have come up in conversation that I play guitar a little.

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I’m hilarious, aren’t I?

I also sing a little, write songs, record & music. I’m a decent audio engineer and editor too. Sometimes I do voice-over work, or commercial production. In the past, I have done some acting on stage and screen. I tinker, a tiny bit, with video and graphic design/presentation. I write, and I think I have two novels in me, but I’m reluctant to put any energy toward them.

So when I write, it’s usually in blog form, which takes us to this writ.
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Being a classic ADHD (not so much the H part) sufferer, it’s difficult to focus on something unless I can HYPERFOCUS. Get me working on any of these creative exercises, and I can lose a whole day.

At the end of 2017, I shared a fairly large pile of recordings with the world, which I put on my website, and called “The Sincerest Form of Flattery, Vol.1” These are just cover songs I recorded for fun, to share with friends. Obviously, the name implies that there are more to come, and I truly intend to do so.

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Ouch. Yeah.

Realistically, it’s May now, and I haven’t put much energy towards those new songs yet. Getting back into creative music mode in the studio has been a hard engine to start. I’ll blame ankle-surgery, but there has been a fair amount of binge-watching Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

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So whilst I’ve been putzing around…

A friend of mine who lives afar had mentioned several times in the past, that it would be fun to work on a music project together. Well, he popped the question, and I accepted. So, even though this is a very busy (and tired) time, I forced myself to sit down and ride the music wave last night. The hardest part is swimming out into the proverbial ocean. So I swam, and I listened, and I thought a slide guitar might be a nice interpretation.

Two and a half hours later, I came up from the depths, to get a breath of air.

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Whoa.

It’s fun to be back in the saddle, making music for someone -even if it’s just one song- again. How nice to shake some of the rust off of my modest (at best) slide guitar skills! Of course I used my Telecaster. Of course I did! Well, the intonation on it is all out of sorts, the strings are old, the volume pot is busted, and the whole damn guitar is noisy. Of course I used it anyway.

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I finished a basic rhythm track (which may have been unnecessary) and a slide solo, and threw some ad-lib slide parts here and there. I will probably do some better ad-libs later. Then I get to do some studio singing, which I haven’t done in like six months.

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On the periphery of all of this, I’m now performing somewhat regularly in an acoustic duo called The Mood Rings. We keep getting gigs offered to us, and having great ease booking new ones.

A few years ago, I was frantically busy with music stuff just to keep my name recognizeable, and my income steady. Now I get to do it for fun and inspiration.

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I wouldn’t change a thing… except that I’d like to be performing with an electric guitar a little more.

We’ll see what the next half of the year brings.

What’s your creative outlet? Do you do it because you love it, or because it’s an obligation?  If you could do something else, what would it be? Do you create because you love creating, or because you want recognition/fame/money? ‘Fess up.

THE SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY

Many years ago, I cobbled a makeshift studio space together in the old coal room in my first house’s basement. It was a 6′x11′ room, scarcely larger than a closet, with only an approximately 6½-foot high ceiling. Some of the earliest professional work I did down there was with a “boom box” as my studio monitors. True story.

It looked like this:

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At some point, Cream’s White Room got stuck in my head. So I started a demo recording of it. I have no idea what ever became of the project. Yes, I definitely remember programming it, recording parts of it, and even dumping some rough mix onto a cassette, along with what were some new (back then) original songs. It just didn’t survive.

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A few years later, I made a huge gear-upgrade purchase, and to test out my new gear, I created a few percussion loops, and recorded myself singing Van Morrison’s Moondance with some simple instrumentation. I had gotten the idea from hearing a much better singer do a much cooler version. Little did I know, but I had just snagged myself on a hook that would sink insidiously deeply into my psyche.

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Fast forward a bunch of years. In the interim, I have recorded hundreds of songs for different clients, and dozens of my own songs as well, not to mention different commercial projects, voice-overs, etc.

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I got this regular live gig, which I ended up really hating (it paid well). After a few cancellations, I had all this pent-up creative energy. So I solicited my Facebook friends for requests, and began recording cover songs with only one microphone, acoustic guitars and hand percussion.

It was more fun than I had thought possible.

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A few of those songs, over time, grew up into larger productions. Eventually, I just started tackling big cover song productions of songs that “clicked.” I can’t describe what made a song click. It just did. Somehow I knew I could do it. In other cases, there were requests that I fulfilled for other people.

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Anyway, after collecting these finished works for a while, it appears that I have a batch, a volume. Call it “Volume One.” There are certainly more in the pipeline.

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They won’t be ready for a while. In the meantime, enjoy what I’ve done so far, HERE

http://davideberhardt.com/html/sincerest.htm

 

The Bad Old Days?

 

I admit it. I was tremendously unhappy in my early twenties.

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I had been dating a girl whom I had thought was “the one,” only to discover that she was losing interest. I didn’t understand it at the time, but she was growing up, and I wasn’t. Eventually, the whole thing just unraveled badly, and I wrote a tsunami of negativity-fueled music. Oh, the angst!

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The good news is that I met someone much better, and married her, and this has been working out well ever since.  But as I finally grew up, my young angst waned, and I discovered that I had learned how to write from all new previously-untapped emotional places. Nothing fuels one to write sad songs like having experienced real heartache.

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In the midst of my emotional repairs, I had become fascinated with early-sixties Southwestern musical landscapes. I set out to write several songs in this vein, and only succeeded in finishing one (and it may not even sound like what I thought it should). That song is “Catapulting Wishes.”

I imagined this whole story:

There’s this old farmer. Farmer? I don’t know. But he lives out in this wide barren area. In his youth, he set out to start a farm or a business or something, and it was successful for a short time. The town was starting to grow and thrive. He married his sweetheart, and they prepared for a nice life. But then, the interstate went through, or the factory moved, or the mine closed. The town shrank, the farm withered, whatever. Finally it was just the two of them scraping by, hoping that next month… maybe the month after that… or after that… something would change.

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Finally, something changed. One day, she was gone. Maybe she left? Maybe she died?  Like I said, I don’t know. You write the story!

But the image around which I built the whole song was that he has taken all of the scrap lumber from the shed, and built a catapult. Now instead of just “wishing upon a star,” he has assembled this tragic contraption to launch his wishes at the stars. Just like he spent his youth trying to build a life in the wrong place, now he’s spending all this time and energy wishing and wishing and wishing.

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My old band Lux recorded this song, right when our sound was changing from something angsty and perhaps Grunge-y like Soundgarden, into something more mellow and ambient. It seemed like a good idea to mix all our sounds together on one album. That worked for bands like The Beatles, Zeppelin, and The Rolling Stones, right? Well, in our case, everyone found something to dislike on that album. It fell rather flat, and we all went on to other things. So “Catapulting Wishes” could really be the theme of that whole experience.

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I managed to save all of the original tracks of that album. Periodically, I mess around with them. A couple of years ago, I decided to redo my guitars and vocals (the recordings were pretty terrible). So I kept the original drums, added some percussion, re-recorded the bass, and see what I could make of it.

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["This? Why I could make a hat, or a brooch, or a pterodactyl."]

As is common, I set it down, and forgot about it. So I just dug it back up on a Sunday night, re-re-recorded one guitar track, and mixed it on a Monday. On Tuesday, I put a clumsy video together.  Check it out.

Have you ever managed to capture your own melancholy in art; a story, a visual medium, a song, or something else? Have you ever created something that turned out to perfectly sum up a whole experience, before that experience was even over? Speak, my people!

 

Being an Inspired Guitarist in the Modern Church

This one may touch a nerve, so I apologize in advance.

Let me first say that it’s my great honor to have played with some of the area’s finest musicians in several of the region’s largest houses of worship. I don’t mean that they’re “good for church players.” I mean that they’re considered GREAT by anyone who hears them anywhere.

Therefore, it grieves me that since I’ve gotten to be among such fine players, as a rule, christian/worship music is so derivative and unremarkable. Certainly, it is  expertly produced, copying all the most successful current formulas, but it covers no new ground. Now it’s considered provocative or edgy only if someone writes a phrase like “wet sloppy kiss.” I neither want to know the artist nor hear the song. Don’t tell me. Just. No.

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I’m not convinced that these people know what deep, real songwriting entails. It can’t just be something quickly scribbled out in response to s brief emotional surge (though I concede that could legitimately happen occasionally). If the net result is a lyric that rhymes “praise” with “days” again, it might be time for a new writing scenario.

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I’m not sure what chord he thinks he’s playing. 

Check out this example: Regardless of your opinions on the band or the song, Led Zeppelin spent THREE YEARS writing Kashmir. First, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant traveled through the East, absorbing music and culture. Afterward, Page began writing a part he found interesting. The band began working on it together after he brought the idea in. Three years after the writing started, they completed what is generally considered their finest work. Here’s a more detailed account from Wikipedia:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kashmir_(song)

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Here’s another one:  Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody was an idea being kicked around for a while. There is some indication that Freddie Mercury had been writing parts of it as early as the late sixties. When the song was released in 1975, they had spent three straight weeks RECORDING it (after the writing process was finished). From Wikipedia – “May, Mercury and Taylor reportedly sang their vocal parts continually for ten to twelve hours a day. [emphasis mine] The entire piece took three weeks to record, and in some sections featured 180 separate overdubs.” Read up on it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bohemian_Rhapsody

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Let’s be honest. Christian/worship songwriters are clearly not investing this amount of time or attention, at least in the music-composition… OK, and yeah, probably not the lyrics either. The genre seems desperate to make the smallest possible changes to its formulas, and it shows. There are no innovations or departures, only safe repetitions, tendered over and over again.

So how can this subset of the music industry move into a new era of creative growth? I think the MUSIC ITSELF has to be inspired. When you hear Kashmir, the music speaks volumes before Plant sings a syllable. It took a long time of trial and error to arrive on the sounds that were being used, and the parts each instrument played. This is what christian/worship music needs to do- something new, inspired and different… something AUTHENTIC.

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An artist friend of mine attempted to pay me a compliment a couple of years ago. He said, “There’s something so worshipful about the way you play guitar.” What he tried to convey in that statement was that there was a distinct mood that was being created, and that it ushered him in to a place of deeper spiritual communion. Well, that’s exactly what I have tried to do all the time, no matter where I played (most of which was outside of the church). Success! As an artist, I want to move people emotionally/spiritually. If I’m not playing something that inspires ME, how can I expect to inspire others. That’s MY authenticity, for good or bad. It can’t just be default chords and the coolest effects. The actual phrases that I’m playing need to be saying something.

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I include this picture only because it’s awesome and hilarious.

I approach what I do with great care, and a thousand questions, like… What sound am I going to make? Which guitar does it best? Which pickup? What notes/chords/fragments/phrases? Is it better to play the notes low on the neck, on the higher strings, or high on the neck on the lower strings? Will I use a different type of pick for this song? Slide? Ebow? What effects? Should I play more in concert with the song’s mood or should I add contrast?

Then I’m interested in seeing how I can get the rest of the band to interact with that.

Caution: Not everyone is ready to make changes.  Worship leaders, in particular, are usually successful by perpetuating the status quo, so they have no pressing need to change their game (understandable). In my modest experience, they tend to be resistant to ideas that don’t originate with themselves or other worship leaders. If you press, you might find yourself sitting at home on Sundays.

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“Look, they really just want to hear me doing the same thing I did last week.”

If you’re a guitarist (or any musician) playing in a modern church, what can you do to drive your music team into a new place of authentic expression? Do you just copy the trends because the trends are what your bandmates expect to hear? Or do you reach for something beyond the music; something you hear in your heart/mind that you’re inspired to find on your fretboard (or equivalent)?  I will always try to bring the full measure of my influences and inspiration to my playing, either inside or outside the church. What about you?

Sound off.