Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Art of Songwriting

This article is about art.  It is not about making money.  It is not about gaining popularity.  It is less about rules and more about definitions.  So lets go.

Vincent Van Gogh was an artist.  He created art.  He attempted to sell some of it and was a miserable failure.  However, you know his name and may or may not appreciate his work but his work was art.  There is a guy in your home town who makes a living painting houses.  He has paint and brushes.  He may or may not be an artist.  The defining point here is that painting houses commercially does not make him an artist.  It is possible for him to be an artist who also is a commercial painter.  These two titles are unrelated though the function of painting is shared by the two tasks.  How does that relate?

I don't want you thinking that every test-tube pop star that ends up on the cover of Rolling Stone is an artist.  While being successful does not negate your artisanship the two are not related.  Many "stars" of the "music business" are house painters.  Or rather, singers.  You know...those people at work who belt out Joplin, the little girl at church who squeals out Christmas tunes every year...the people on The Voice.  Any of these people may be perhaps they create something as well, but the act of singing is a task of rudimentary addition to an already existing piece of art.  You can be an artist who sings.  You can be a singer who is also an artist.  Nothing however, links the two together.  Many singers are just that.  Many guitarists make no attempt to create artwork.  Many drummers just want to know what the set list will be and if there's free beer involved.  These people are musicians.

While I'm saying this I'm sensing an arrogance in my own tone.  There isn't any intended.  There is nothing wrong with being a singer, a guitarist, a drummer or a house painter.  Those are fine pursuits with their own unique challenges.  But I want to be clear.  Creating a piece of music from nothing is an art form.

So now.  You're going to write a song.  That's your goal.  Where should you start?  What kind of songs will you write?  Why should you write them?   What should you write them about?  How should you display your artwork?  Key Signatures? Tempo? ...who cares

Here comes the freedom.

There are no rules.  It's art.

Assembling musical notes and/or words in a musical manner constitutes writing a song...varying quantities of notes and/or words may bridge the gap between jingles, tunes, verses etc but that's all subjective.

Oh wait.  Everything about art is subjective.

This is the best song ever.  You're the best writer ever.  It sucks.  You suck.  It's all subjective.

This is good news for you!  The wonderful news for the would-be songwriter tearing themselves apart over whether what they intend to do is "good", "valid", "smart", "funny", "entertaining"...The good news is it's all subjective.  The good news is that there are people who like Lady Gaga and there are people who like John Denver.  Linda Ronstadt and Marilyn Manson, Eminem and Tom Waits, Elvis Presley and the Sex Pistols.  There are no rules!  You can write whatever you like and present it however you like and somebody out there is going to enjoy it.

This is an important lesson:  Someone is going to HATE it!  That's right.  The art that you create, from the depths of your soul, with all of your heart and mind and effort is going to someone's eyes.  And that someone may well be your best friend, the girl you were hoping to impress, your spouse/significant other.  That's just the way the ball bounces baby.  Van Gogh's mother used his paintings to patch holes in the roof.

More good news.  Doesn't freaking matter.

The beauty of art is truly in the eyes of the beholder.  I'm not joking.  I'm not trying to be poetic.  Only you will ever know the experiences, the information, the feelings that generated your artwork.  You can attempt to describe those things to other people but no matter how valiant an effort you make they will never truly understand you.  The piece of work you've created should give some insight perhaps but that's it.  You have interpreted an idea, a feeling, a mood, a moment in have interpreted something into a new language that only you can understand.  I'm going to get a little philosophical for a moment so buckle up.  I fear at times that the art form of music has suffered the broad transfiguration of the gravity of fear.  So many people criticize this particular art form that it is difficult to eliminate such fears from the artist's mind, especially wholly remove those fears to the point that they can create work without fear guiding their creation more than their own spirits.
   It's tough to be criticized or rather it's tough to not allow that criticism to influence you.  But you need to remember:

It's not your job to make other people like your work.  That's THEIR job.  Your job is to make your art.  Make your art the way your soul and mind want you to make it.  If you choose to show anyone your art work then they can decide what they think of it.  And remember...even if you don't meet the people who love your art work, they exist.  Maybe one day they'll see it and know that they love your art work or perhaps they wont...but they exist.  It's statistically far more probable that you will first find many people who do not love your art work.  That doesn't matter.

The art work is what matters.  Before you can concern yourself with what folks think you need to do something.  You need to do something good...but wait, that's subjective.  But

It has to be good to you.  So the first song you write may be fit for the trash can.  Oh well.  You write another and another.  You choose to or not to use various influences from other work as you create.  Doesn't matter.  You choose to or not to read books that may influence you.  Doesn't matter.  You create and create and create and now what?

Is it good?  to you?  That's all you need to be asking as these creations come to be.  And then answer yourself.  No?  Well then it's time to make a change.  I won't suggest an approach that works.  They all work.  Leonard Cohen likes to pain over lyrics for years at a time and perfect every nuance.  I don't think the Ramones did that with "Beat on The Brat".  It's your deal.  You may benefit from working late, working early, eating well, traveling, being happy, being sad, listening to other music, being in silence, doing drugs, doing's your deal.  There are no rules.  One thing is for sure.  All artists go through a roller-coaster of ups and downs creatively and you need to know that going into this.  You will win big (with yourself) and you will walk in circles.

Why are you doing this?  Having a goal is helpful.  "Because it's fun to me" is sufficient but if your goal is to make a political statement then maybe some research will help.  If your goal is make people happy then maybe some research will help.  See where I'm going with this?  Sit on the street, see a movie, watch the neighbors, ask yourself questions.  Do any kind of research you like but LIVING is a good way to research life and may inspire you to write about it.  Some artists benefit from time away from their art.  Maybe write a blog or something.

Music does differ from other art medias in that it branches off as we decide how to capture the art in some form for display.


It's a different art form but capturing a song on a device in a way that imparts the desired emotion is very creative.  It's not what I'm here to talk about right now.

You should certainly document your work.  You don't HAVE to record it.  You could write it down but that's perhaps not as rewarding and certainly not easy to deliver to the random person who wants to know what your songs sound like.  Maybe they don't read music.  So you may WANT to record it.  Record it.  Record it poorly.  Do that before you try to do it any better.  If you feel the need to hire an orchestra and get a producer involved than by all means do it but please be advised:  A song is very nearly a living organism and it will grow and change within you.  No need to rush to putting it in a jar.  And here's the kicker.  The recording does not make the song any better or worse.  It just makes it sound better or worse.  Some of the greatest songs (subjective) I've ever heard were very poorly recorded or I only heard them live.  No recording.  I'm just throwing that out there.  It's not a law.

The real reason I'm writing this is to clear my head of conversations I've had with lots of people about songwriting.  I don't think many people believe me but I do firmly believe that the art of music is in no way related to the business of it.  Many people who call themselves "artists" are just people who want to be famous or people who would like to make money at an art form instead of what they do.  I get tired of talking to them.

I hope that someone reads this and realizes that I've given you my permission to do any damn thing you please musically.  If it makes you feel more fulfilled then I think it was worth doing.  If you want to show someone who won't criticize your work (unless you ask) you can send them to me.  I won't steal your work and I may tell you thank you.  I will not tell you if I liked it or not...unless I like it a whole lot and then I'll be your groupie.  I think my email is on this page somewhere.  Doesn't matter either way.

Happy Music Making.  Go out and be artists!

Jefferson Fox

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Evolution of Stupidity

How does nature change us?  


   The gene pool throws them out everyday as we are poured into existence.  Every kind of mutation imaginable.  Some of them kill us before we're able to walk, others give us hypothermic resistance or the ability to sense electromagnetism.  Too many fingers, big eyes, white streak in an eyebrow...anything can happen.  And of course, occasionally we get an Einstein or a Dommer as a result of subtle neurological mutations.  

Yay mutants!

Throughout the history of the world a fascinating trend has occurred.  Along with strength, speed and ferocity as needs for survival, the intellect of species has dictated their survival opportunities.  So what happens?...
   The dumb gazelle doesn't think to run from the big cat and he's eaten.  That stupidity mutation does not get passed on.  The gazelle who likes to eat near the middle of the herd so the others can be eaten?  She has many offspring who develop similar behaviors.  Natural selection.

   So what of humans?  

Remember that kid in school that drank Drain-O and smashed mail boxes on weekends that you knew wouldn't live to be 30?  Well, you were right.  He died in a car crash after a bottle of reds and a rum and vodka fountain drink, rest his soul, and he won't continue breeding.  The sharp kid with a sensible amount of caution and a desire to succeed will have 3 or 4 kids (though in recent decades he could have had 12) and that cautious intellect will get passed on.  Natural selection.

In 5000B.C. or even 1926 A.D, those two kids had pretty significantly different odds of survival and Nature had a fair shake at the future of their race.  The dumb die off, the smart keep breeding and intellectually, this species of animal is racing for the edge of the universe.  

But then something radical happened...

CAPITALISM.  (You like that?  I Capitalized on that)

So what?  capitalism?  What's that got to do with anything?


Capitalism was churning out riches left and right in the West.  Mostly in large industry but also in services of one sort or another.  People got very creative with it.  For awhile we humans used our common defense mechanism mutation, bullying, to create criminal opportunity like strong-arming.  If you have nothing to sell you can still sell protection.  Let folks know:  pay me and "nothing bad will happen to you".

Then we got even more creative.

We legalized it!!!

Let's sell INSURANCE!!

Insure your house.  Your car.  Your life, your teeth, your kids, your cats, your ideas, your...well, you get it.   We insured everything.  We even insure our insurance companies against lawsuits brought by the insured for failure to insure them.  Insure people against illness at a rate they can't afford and still charge them when they try to use it and insure the doctor against the patient and the company against the doctor and....   ...   ...

Enter Modern Health Care.

People will pay insane amounts of money to stay alive.  

Funny how that works.  We'll still die but would gladly give up the grandkids college tuition for another 30 minutes on life support.   Doctors and pharmaceutical companies got good!  They began extending the lives of human beings and making crazy great money at it.   

They got So good at it that a race of hairless monkeys with the kinds of genetic mutations that give way to religious cults, Baskin Robbins and Pet Rocks began living nearly THREE times their normal life expectancy!!

HOLY Crap!,,     But wait a minute...     Which ones are living longer?

Is it the smart ones?  The fast ones?  The ones that look over their shoulder for big cats?


All of em brother!!

Screw Mother Nature and natural selection!  Doesn't matter how stupid you are!!  BREED brother, BREED!!!  You pop em out and we will keep em alive.  

Genetic failures welcome.  This is the age of 'anything goes' (and a lot of them go to Office)

Stupidity found its savior in the human race.  It found a way to succeed.  Nature is truly amazing.  While genetic mutation after genetic mutation has been tried and tested on the fields of battle for survival for Millenia, we have finally come to a point in history where greed has equalized the plight of nature and that of human desire.  Today, stupidity abounds and natural selection has been thwarted by the sheer mass of our stupidity.  

   Like a black hole, limitless in its destruction and nearly impossible to comprehend...a void that is only detected by the effects on its surroundings.  Stupidity abounds in every crevice of the human experience and it leads us into the future.  You're holding onto it tightly.  

You're afraid of what this may imply.  

You're looking around for an opinion to adopt.  Uncertainty has her hands around your throat.

You have the mutation...

just like me.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

WHO dictates pace of Ebola outbreak 2015

So.  Americans need not worry about Ebola at all.  ??
   How is it that the World Health Organization can tell the planet that there is no need to be concerned about the deadliest outbreak of hemorrhagic fever in human history when the incubation period is 21 days and the disease is being transmitted readily to health care workers and flown all over the world?
   The WHO website says "WHO does not recommend any travel or trade restrictions be applied except in cases where individuals have been confirmed or are suspected of being infected with EVD or where individuals have had contact with cases of EVD. (Contacts do not include properly-protected health-care workers and laboratory staff.)" note that exception...contacts do not include health care workers.  Really?  They account for 10% of the death toll and are flying all over the world.  The "experts" on the disease who fashioned the "safe practices" for treating patients with the illness...they've all died from it subsequently.  Also the WHO makes it clear that clothing and articles handled by infected persons are a definite threat but they're throwing their baggage on the carousel at an airport near you, crossing their fingers for 21 days and watching the outbreak migrate throughout the world as we speak.  
   Over 100 passengers from the infected area landed in New Delhi today, several quarantined with symptoms and still we hear "no need to worry" as the rest of the passengers collect their infected baggage and airport workers carry the disease off to their homes.  This is clearly madness.
   Historically, Ebola outbreaks have burned themselves out by now but this round is just ramping up at an unprecedented rate moving smoothly from 12 deaths a day 2 months ago to over 100 per day in the past week.   Mathematically, this exponentially growing trend puts the death toll at around 120,000 by New Year and that's IF it stays regional which is highly unlikely with the current practices in place.  What could happen in 2015 if this outbreak isn't stopped is an unspeakable situation.
   Of course I understand that if the medical community sees progress in the fight and slows the spread this will not be the case...and that's what we hope for...but so far the virus is winning the fight in a horrible manner.
   I should note that a Harvard study released yesterday showed that the poorly educated are more likely to fear this disease spreading to America than those with a higher we should probably have someone with a college degree check my math.  I'm probably not educated enough to perform trend analysis.
   Meanwhile, the President of Liberia has fired several high ranking cabinet members as they have refused to return from abroad to the homeland.  I guess they've decided unemployed beats dead.        
   Airlines everywhere have ceased flying into the affected areas, for obvious health reasons and as we all know, because the public will not want to board planes that have been there (which seems reasonable to the uneducated like myself) thus lowering profits dramatically.    
   There is good news though...the drug company Tekmira who signed a 140 million dollar contract with the US Department of Defense to develop a vaccine effective on Ebola back in 2010 has a new investor!  Guess who?  Oh come on...that's too easy.  Monsanto!!     
   Of course Monsanto.  Why wouldn't an agriculture based company get invested in the germ warfare game.  
   On a side note the US branched out on the moral fiber front a few years ago and Patented its own strain of Ebola.  That's right.  We own a US Patent on ebola.  Read more about that at
Interestingly in this patent you will find that the CDC extracted their virus from patients...then patented it as an invention.  Where would they do this?  That's right.  Atlanta at Emory.  The same place they shipped our first two Guinea pigs during this new and obviously ferocious strain.  Look for another patent on this one I would guess.
   I've gotten sidetracked.
Back to the good news.  Investors in Monsanto or Tekmira can look for huge returns as a vaccine is expected very soon and I would guess this latest tragedy should adequately inspire more vaccinations than one would need to get rich.  Since our Government categorizes Ebola as a bio weapon (and our testing facility is set up in Sierra Leone...) I'm sure military use will be mandatory making this a golden opportunity.  That's what we do isn't it?  Find the money.
   Although I cannot find my source right now I saw in one of the very early releases that Sierra Leone officials had asked USAMRIID to halt biowarfare ebola testing during the outbreak.  Isn't that strange...
   Ok.  Back out of the conspiracy theories...beep...beep...beep.  
   There are 245 million people in West Africa and while the disease has killed far too many people we are indeed talking about a very low percentage of infected people.  Things could get far better very quickly and I sincerely hope for that as does every decent human being.  The past outbreaks were mostly isolated in rural locations making them much easier to handle and maybe soon we'll have this more complicated problem solved.  
   Regardless, I believe taking every imaginable caution would be the way to go here.  Even the director of WHO says that attention to every single detail is the key (even if he does say don't count the medical community when you're talking about threats as carriers...I'll never get past that one).  So if that is indeed the key, then travel should be solely for medical reasons.  A mass exodus from the infected region could spread the disease to a range so far and wide it would be unstoppable.  
   Don't panic.  That's not why I wrote this.  Use common sense.  Urge those around you to use common sense.  Don't be caught dead near an airport.  And most of all, don't let the Harvard study get you down.  You're not dumb because you don't have a BS in business management.
   In the immortal words of Curt Cobain "just because you're paranoid don't mean they're not after you."
   Good luck out there.
Jefferson Fox