Cognitive Disinhibition

 Our Activities in Music Industry teacher, Scott Legere, talked about multiple intelligences.  He says that neuroscientists have discovered that different parts of the brain lights up for a plethora of different skills.  There are a lot of ways to be talented. Because of this we shouldn’t be afraid to try new things.  

 In Quest Love’s book, Creative Quest, he talks about creative disinhibition: getting rid of the voices telling you not to do something. The greatest enemy of creativity is fear.  Dan Wilson of Seimisonic fame writes 350 songs a year. He’s gotten to the frame of mind where he can create without being impaired by self doubt.  I have a long way to go, but I want to be that prolific. I tend to be too precious with my songs and when that happens nothing gets finished.  Our role as students isn’t to write great songs; our role is to finish a lot of songs so we get better at songwriting.  

For my next demo I was excited to get into the studio.  They have a vocal isolation booth, expensive microphones, and pre-amps that are much better than mine at home.  I first tried the studio’s SM7B, but after some comparing I found I liked the sound of the Audio-Technica 4047/SV better.  I recorded in Logic since that’s on the studio computer, but emailed the WAV files to myself to mix in Ableton.  The sound of the electric keyboard is a preset I found in Massive.

Studio isolation booth, Studio B, Mankato.


My teacher likes the synth sound and says the soft percussive vibe nicely compliments my vocal delivery.  He says I need better transitions between sections, and that my melody for the verse isn’t very clear.  I knew that was coming because he talked a lot about clear melodies and how easy it is to write a song without really knowing what yours is, but at that point I had already recorded it.  I’ve found that playing the melody on piano or recording myself singing helps a lot.  Clear melodies separate professionals from amateurs.



First Two Weeks

I enrolled in Songwriting 1, and Activities in Music Industry. Initially, I wasn’t too excited about Songwriting 1. I’ve been writing songs for years, and had already taken a songwriting class at McNally.  What more could they offer? I was pleasantly surprised. In the first two weeks we’ve talked about copyright law, different songwriting techniques, and learned the signal chain of the school’s studio space.  We’ll have access to it for projects!


Studio B.  Earley Center for Performing Arts, Mankato.  

 Much of the class is devoted to a podcast called Song Exploders: a show where well known artists discuss their songwriting processes.  They share early recordings, rough drafts, and the story of how a song takes shape. We’ve heard Weezer, Chvches, Metallica, the Gorillaz, Courtney Barnett, and Kimbra.  All successful artists, but with very different approaches. Weezer steals chord progressions, Metallica focuses on riffs, the Gorillaz prioritize sound design over form, and Courtney Barnett is all about the story.  I highly recommend it. If you can’t afford an education just listen to the podcasts.

 Activities in Music Industry has been a lot of fun too.  I’ve never looked too much into the business side of music, but it’s been really interesting and useful.  Our teacher said that email is the number one driver of revenue for music. That blew my mind. I always thought of email as being outdated.  When I was in school in 2011, teachers pushed social media as the most useful tool of modern marketing. That’s no longer true. Not only is social media over-saturated with other voices, but the cards are stacked against us.  Facebook will allow only 10% of your fan base to organically see your post unless you pay for them to promote it. Email on the other hand, is a direct link to your fans.

 For Songwriting 1, we’ll each be releasing a three song EP by the end of the semester.  Before the final EP is completed, each song needs to have three demos submitted. The first demo is a basic sketch of the song recorded on a cellphone, the second needs to have the basic song idea finished and recorded, and the third needs to have all the other elements added (drums, bass, synth, ect).  At each stage we’ll be receiving notes. For my first song I’m going for a laid-back, Chet Faker vibe.  

  My teacher likes the piano and the chords, but thinks the melody needs to be cleaner.  He’d also like to hear more contrast on the verse to chorus transition.  Stay tuned for updated demos!  

  (I was originally going to attend MSU part-time, but due to them losing my transcript I am now enrolled as a visiting student.  I’ll still be able to take classes, but since I’m not officially accepted into the college I’m not eligible for financial aid. That’s a huge downside, but I decided to take two classes and just pay out of pocket.  I didn’t want to wait.)

An Introduction

   I’ve recently found myself in the unique position of being back in school at 27. I’m not pursuing anything reasonable like most adults who go back, but instead I’ll be going after my Bachelor’s in Music Industry. In this blog I’ll be documenting the experience and showcasing whatever projects or songs result.

  But first, let me give you some backstory.  

  In 2011 I was a composition major at McNally Smith College of Music. My parents and I had taken out a loan for the first semester, but due to the high cost they decided I couldn’t go back.  I wasn’t able to take out a loan that large by myself, so I had to dropout.  I knew I could afford to go to MSU Mankato, or Winona or somewhere, but I was enamored with McNally Smith.  At the time it was the only school I knew of where you could study and write in contemporary genres. They had rock and metal ensembles; you could even get a hip-hop diploma.  I loved the integration of production, and that composition majors like myself could work in the studios once we passed a competency exam. Teachers played gigs all around the Twin Cities, and amazing local acts would perform right in our cafe.  It all seemed so relevant. Unfortunately, all that charm came with a price tag, and even once I was able to get a loan, I couldn’t justify it. McNally Smith was just too expensive.

My first day of school (2011).

 Over the years, I did music on the side:  performing live, writing songs, and learning production along the way.  I released singer-songwriter EPs, electronic side projects, remixes, and experimented with videos.  All the while I flirted with the idea of going back to school. One of my issues was not be able to choose between audio production and composition; I wanted a degree that taught both.

 In December 2017 McNally Smith announce they’d be closing their doors due to lack of funds.  I was shocked. (I won’t go into how they handled it or what it did to students, but I mention it here because it was a turning point for me).  What this did was eliminate an option I had been subconsciously clinging to. McNally Smith was out. I could either give up on music school or go somewhere affordable.  The choice was easy.

Performing at the Contented Cow, Northfield, MN (2015).

 That month I began scanning the music programs page of MSU Mankato, and I came across something new: a major in Music Industry with a focus on Songwriting and Production.  This would be a combination I hadn’t seen before and exactly what I wanted. I learned that you can write in any genre you want, that Mankato was building studios for students over the Summer, and that the school didn’t care what DAW you used (most schools make you use Pro Tools, but I’m an Ableton man so this was good news).  In January I took Music Theory II and I liked it a lot.  This semester I’ll be taking a couple more classes.  Stay tuned for updates and song demos!  

(I should’ve started writing this during my first semester, but as I’ve learned with all creative pursuits, it’s better to start late than never start at all).