Tuesday, December 23, 2008

About 52 Songs

Hello and welcome to 52 Songs! This blog is where I'll soon start uploading one song each week through 2009. Every Monday, this blog will update with lyrics, chords, and frequently a media file or lead sheet. Along the way, I'll probably comment on the process of songwriting, some songwriters, and the 52 songs project itself.

Before I start in with the rules for the project, I suppose I should say a little about why it came to be at all. If you hadn't guessed, this resolution was inspired by Jonathan Coulton's rather more famous Thing A Week project. If you like the concept but not my music, I suggest you check out his work. I have no intention of generating any fame or buzz through this stunt. I simply want to challenge myself. My songwriting has sometimes earned me praise, but the process by which my songs come into being has always been as much inspiration and chance as any directed effort on my part.

A few of the failed bands I've been in have expected songs to emerge collaboratively, but I've never been able to work in such an on-the-spot fashion - at least in terms of providing more than accompaniment or arrangement. Most songs I've written have come about through some random act of inspiration. For example, after a semester of listening to the first two Bowl of Fire albums and reading early T. S. Eliot I wrote the song "Gallows Swing" during a single shower. Lyrics, melody, chords and all were scribbled down before my hair was dry. Other songs begin with one melodic idea and usually a lyric or at least a title, but that will be it at first. Months later, I'll remember the idea or find my original notes and start constructing a song around it in a process that can take days, weeks, or even span a year of on-and-off frustration.

The point of this project is to force me to work out solutions to that frustration and to develop ways of capturing the inspiration that comes and goes ever day. While walking to class or while trying to fall asleep, fragments of a dozen potential songs might flutter through my head. If I could catch these and add a little elbow grease, 52 songs would seem like a drop in the bucket.

So that the final project can be reviewed based on prior intentions, the rest of this post will explicate my starting guidelines.

Each of the 52 songs will be an original work. No covers, remixes, or resettings. Like many songwriters and soloists, I love to throw in the occasional quote or reference (intentional or not), but no song will simply rework another composer's efforts. I am less committed to this principle as applied to lyrics, as I have occasionally set modernist poetry to music, but I will avoid this unless I think the song too fun not to count.

Unless the song is beyond my own ability to perform, each week will include a rough demo, most likely using whatever instruments I have on hand and whatever arrangements are necessary to convey the intended harmonic structure and whatever meager embellishments time allows. If I have the resources and the right musicians, full versions may be recorded latter.

If I am committed to doing another music related project in a given week (such as a score), I will do my best not to substitute that piece or a portion of it for one of my 52 songs. However, if life conspires to keep me busy (as it often does), I will allow myself to count an original, song-like portion of that other work. I will not count any arranging, recording, or accompaniment work that comes along if I'm not the actual songwriter.

The bulk of each song will be written this year and for this project. In other words, I won't simply add a verse or bridge to an old song that I had previously considered finished or hopeless. I think I may have exhausted nearly all my previous notes for song ideas, but I might count a piece built up from some stray line or lyric.

All songs and lyrics will be released under a Creative Commons Noncommercial Attribution license. Being a fan of folk forms and the Tin Pan Alley tradition, I won't deny anyone a chance to play or transform these songs. If you wish to record a song for a commercial release, please contact me.

So, as to what to expect: I expect that most of the songs will fit nicely into various American song genres popular between the 1920s and 1930s. This is not so much by choice, but because this is simply my favorite period in popular music and bands I have written for or played in over the last few years have largely fit those labels. I expect most will be songs proper (that is, being pieces meant to be sung) with harmony and structure in the tradition of the Great American Songbook. However, I may write an instrumental or two, as I do enjoy a good fiddle tune.

Over the weeks I'll write more on the process, including how and where the recordings are happening.