Making a Song List

I’ve always considered myself a songwriter. It’s what excites me most about music! I love being creative and writing songs, but it wasn’t until 2020 that I started taking my craft seriously. I went from averaging one song a month to two a week. As I started writing more and more, I wanted to make a comprehensive list of my songs: a document listing the names and dates I wrote them.

What I did is simple, but effective. I used Google Sheets (which is free) and entered the names and dates of my recent songs. There were several open cells begging to be filled, so I included BPM, key, and genre.


Charting a song’s data was a great reward for finishing, and I never wanted to break my streak. Also, I noticed trends at a glance, like how much I loved writing in the key of C, that I wrote a ton of hip hop, and that I frequently used Bedroom Beats 2. These aren’t bad things, but if I felt like my sound wasn’t evolving or I wanted to do something new, I knew what changes to try.

Later on I started tracking what I offloaded, including where it was offloaded from, and the name of the sound if it came from a sample pack. You can go crazy with a list like this, adding chord progressions, modes, the alignment of the stars, and anything else you want to track.

If for no other benefit, I recommend keeping a list to hold yourself accountable. “Write more songs” is a hard goal to follow. “Write a song a month” is much better. You don’t have to quadruple your output, but you should challenge yourself and do more than you did yesterday. Going from a song a month to two songs a month is good progress. Don’t measure your progress against others, but only against yourself. Now working from a new list in 2021, I have a clear goal: write more songs than 2020.

Pre-save Summertime! Coming out September 10th:
https://distrokid.com/hyperfollow/latenightluke/summertime



Creative Offloading

Today I’m going to talk about something I learned in music school. It’s called “offloading” and it’s one of the reasons I was able to write 50 songs in 2020.

In songwriting you have these creative tasks: chord progressions, melodies, basslines, drum patterns, lyrics, sound design, etc. Offloading means to take one of these tasks and rather than generate it creatively, you offload it to a different source. This happens when you take a chord progression from another song, use a drum loop or MIDI pack, or anytime you load a preset. That’s offloading too since you’re offloading the sound design.

This is incredibly helpful for starting and finishing ideas. When you offload a task, you free up time and energy to focus on the next step. If you’re feeling uninspired, a drum or melody loop can be the kickstart you need. Rather than trying to create every piece of your music originally, it helps to decide what parts you want to write and what parts you want to offload.

You might hate the idea of offloading if you haven’t heard it before. It might feel like cheating. I used to feel that way, too. One of my buddies used to Google “Awesome chord progressions” and write songs that way. He even stole a progression from a YouTube ad. He wasn’t afraid to take inspiration wherever found it.

Over the years, I softened to the idea. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my biggest problem was my ego. I enjoyed being “creative” more than I enjoyed making songs. Offloading to me is about letting go of my ego and realizing that if I want to make captivating art, I need all the help I can get.

If you haven’t offloaded before, try offloading your least favorite part to write. If you’re a drummer and you love writing drums, offload the melody. If you love melodies and struggle with drums, offload the drums. If you’re really focusing in on sound design, design the sounds and offload the chords. For lyrics, you can even borrow rhymes. There’s a lot of possibilities and room to experiment.

If you feel guilty or think that it’s cheating, realize that it’s a collaboration. Pretend that your friend sent you the drum loop. They want you to use it. That’s why they made it, and honestly, that’s not far from the truth. Producer Com Truise said that sampling is “Collaborating at a distance.” And the big difference between sampling and using a loop (other than the legal difference) is that the creator of the Splice loop wants you to use it.

If you try to be 100% creative in every area of your song, you’ll write a lot less songs. And honestly, no one cares if you do “everything yourself.” They’ll only know if you tell them, and if you feel the need to tell people, then maybe you don’t believe in the song to begin with.

My Musical Goals: 2021

I’m sitting in a room at my parents’ house right now, and I just finished a beat. I’m moving out soon and much of my stuff is packed. I’m listening to Tycho on headphones (Epoch). He’s been my go-to writing music ever since I started this blog in 2018. Since then, I’ve learned so much, and there’s a lot I want to accomplish. Here are my musical goals for 2021.

1) Be a singer-songwriter again. I started performing as a singer-songwriter in 2013, and because of the pandemic, I barely played in 2020. I found myself writing less for my singer-songwriter name and focusing more on beats and electronic music. I love writing electronically, but I want to come back to guitar and voice, too. There’s something personal and uniquely expressive about playing guitar and singing. In general, I want to sing more.

2) Collaborate with other artists. Working with people on Songs From Home was a really cool experience. I loved hearing my instrumentals come to life and the surprising directions they went. I haven’t worked with a rapper since 2014, and I really want to change that. I’ve been stockpiling rap beats and in February I’m going to start reaching out. I’m not trying to sell anything at first; I’ll be DMing talented locals with free beats and see if there’s any interest. In the future, I’d love to work with all kinds of singers and musicians.

3) Create consistent content. Every teacher, vlogger, YouTuber, and Gary V will tell you about the importance of content creation. I’ve done the random Instagram post, blog, or video, but it hasn’t been consistent in awhile. In 2018 I released a video and blog post every week for months and that was awesome; I want to return to that level of output. My goal now is to make a weekly YouTube video and take clips of it for microcontent on Instagram. I’m hoping to slowly build a following and get better at consistent creation.

4) Get an internship / volunteer. I graduated with my Bachelor’s of Science in Music Industry, and now I’m ready to be rich! And by rich I mean gainfully employed (but first, an internship). In my projects class I focused on the licensing side of music, but recently I’ve been interested in non-profits like Musicians on Call and the Harmony Project. I’m also excited for volunteer opportunities like working at Big Turn Music Festival. There’s a lot of people that need help and endless ways to get involved.

Whichever way I go, I’m excited to learn more about these fields and be part of a world I love. Thanks for following my journey!

2020 Year End Review

I know one day doesn’t really mean anything, but for a lot of us it’s the end of a terrible year and it feels like things will get better. I certainly hope so. 2020 has been rough on us all, but today I want to focus on the good parts.

For me the best part of 2020 was exploding creatively. I wrote 50 songs this year and released 17 of them. That includes the Beat Station EP, Songs From Home, Finals Week, and two singles (It’s Fall, and Covidween). Starting in June I wrote two songs a week and was able to continue for most of the year. I broke the mental block of being precious about my songwriting and was finally able to write without second guessing myself and judging every step. My Beat Station challenge of writing only at the coffee shop pushed me in the right direction; I was forced to make those songwriting decisions in the moment since I couldn’t make them later.

After releasing Songs From Home I was excited to get back into demo writing. It was here that I took the “Finish a song even if it’s bad” mantra to heart. After spending so much time agonizing over perfect mixes, writing a lot and not judging the result was like medicine. One of the coolest discoveries of writing songs even if they’re bad is that sometimes a “bad” song will turn into a “good” song by the time you’re done. The reverse is also true, but that’s why consistent writing is so important. I always heard this advice, but only in 2020 did I internalize it.

I had the awesome opportunity to perform on KEYC in Mankato, a local news network. And I had my songs played on Keepin’ It Local 89.7, a show on the MSU radio station. They even played the entire Finals Week EP. How cool is that? I also got some press for Songs From Home from Mankato Life and Faribault Daily News. It was really cool to have my music played and recognized locally.

Perhaps my biggest accomplishment of the year was getting my Bachelors in Music Industry from MSU. I started my college journey in 2018 with a music theory class and later made the decision to fully enroll. My plans for 2021 are to write a ton of music, work with rappers and artists, and learn more about the licensing side of the business.

Thanks for reading my highlight reel of the worst year ever. Here’s to an amazing 2021!

Covid-Class

I am in my final semester of college, and what a semester to go out on. I keep thinking that if I had graduated in the spring, I would have avoided a lot of hassle. At the same time, it’s a unique experience not everyone goes through. I have mixed feelings.

I’m a senior in the Music Industry program at MSU Mankato, and a lot has changed. Some classes are online, others in-person, but most are “Hyflex,” meaning students can decide whether to attend online or on campus. There are signs everywhere with slogans like “Maskup Mavs,” and reminders to social distance. It reminds me of propaganda from Fall Out or Bioshock (which makes it kind of fun).

Strangely enough, these guidelines are actually making my final semester easier. Because so many of my classes are online, I’m only on campus one day a week. This has allowed me to temporarily move back to Faribault. My expenses are down, so I can work less and focus on school.

While in Mankato I was working 30 hours a week and taking 17 credits. I didn’t have the time or energy for personal projects, so my creative pursuits took a backseat. Now that I have more free time, I can do well in classes and be creative. I know this year has been hard for most people, but for me it’s been a blessing in disguise. Since June, I have written more songs than I had in the past year, and this extra time has really forced me to prioritized what I want. There’s no excuses left for me, it’s either do the work or don’t.

I’m looking forward to what this final semester brings, and what adventures await me. I’m grateful to be where I am and I have a lot of hope for the future.

Songs From Home: Quarantine Collabs

In March I had the idea to make an EP of music in response to the covid-19 pandemic.  With the stay-at-home order and social distancing guidelines causing feelings of isolation, I wanted to celebrate what we still have.  The idea was to collaborate with artists remotely from the safety of our homes.

When the stay-at-home order was announced, I moved back to Faribault with my family, and it’s there I started writing.  I had a workspace, my laptop, headphones, and a MIDI keyboard.  In one week I completed six demos, five of which would eventually make it on the EP.  From there I announced my plan on Facebook and asked for collaborators.  I got a great response!

great response

Starting on April 18th, I released a song a week on Soundcloud.  I also made a video to document the making of each song.

Since my instrumentals were done, I mostly needed vocalists, so I wasn’t able to work with everyone, but I’m very grateful for the people I did get to work with.  Here’s everyone that helped on the project: Ocho (melody and lyrics for Life on Pause), Jacob Ross (bass for Life on Pause), Luke McGreavey (alto sax for Life on Pause), Anssi Tenhunen (voiceover for Infection Control), SMILEBRO (final drop for Infection Control), Matthew Ruff (melody and lyrics for House Arrest), and Mary Clare Stroh (melody and lyrics for Quarantine).  My awesome collaborators made these songs much better than I could have on my own!

The final EP will be released on May 30th with the final song: the long-awaited Covid-19 Rap.  For some reason, I got a lot of requests to rap about the virus.  If I didn’t do it on this EP, it probably would have never happened.  I guess we’ll find out if that’s good or bad.

Pre-save Songs From Home on Spotify.

Beat Station EP

My creative projects fell through the cracks during my Fall semester.  Understandably, I was busy with work and school.  Over break I knew I’d have a lot more free time to make music, but I also knew I’d waste that time without a plan.  Thus, the Beat Station was born.  My guidelines were simple: I had to write an EP of electronic music, but I could only write songs while at the Fillin’ Station Coffeehouse.  I could do mixing, layering, and tweaking at home, but not songwriting.

The main reason for this project was to help me finish songs.  I’ve mentioned before that one of my struggles is indecision in songwriting.  Only being able to write at a specific place helped me to hunker down and make decisions.  A lot of times I’d be working and think, “Oh crap, they’re closing in an hour and I won’t be able to come here for a few days.  I need to finish this.”  When a song is coming along, you want to finish it, but being able to work on it whenever you want makes it easy to procrastinate.

This was also a great excuse for me to document something.  My teachers always talk about the importance of documenting, but I never really did it.  Suddenly I had a story to tell about my songwriting challenge, and lots of opportunities for pictures and footage in the coffee shop.  I made three videos about the experience and lots of social media posts.

In retrospect, this challenge wasn’t ideal for my songwriting goals.  Since I was releasing an EP, not only did I need to finish four songs, I had to produce, mix, and master them. That takes a ton of time, and I wanted to focus more on songwriting.  Typically when I write an EP, I write more songs than will actually be included.  That way I can pick the best ones to release.  In this project I wrote four songs and released four songs, so I didn’t have room to curate.  Going forward, I may do something similar, but with the goal of finishing demos.  At the end of the writing phase, I can pick the best ones to produce and release.

IMG_20191223_141255_836

I went into this knowing I wouldn’t do it perfectly, but that I would learn what to work on for next time, not from YouTube videos or by sitting around thinking, but by doing it and seeing the results.  This turned out better than I hoped, and now I know how to improve.

Now available everywhere.

 

Deciding is Creating

I’m the type of person who wants to do a lot of creative projects, so many in fact, that the vast majority never get done.  A lot of times I just don’t know where to start, so I don’t.  What I’m learning again and again is that you need to be decisive to be creative.  Creating involves making a choice, and if we find ourselves unable to choose, we’re unable to create.

In my Music Promotion class, we were given a video assignment.  We had to make weekly videos, three to five minutes long, based on a prompt.  The prompts were short and open for interpretation.  I was excited to make some videos, but wasn’t quite sure where to begin.

If this had been a self-imposed project – like writing a song – I would have procrastinated and taken a lot of time to get the “best idea.”  Since this was for class, I had a deadline.  It forced me to make a decision and run with it.  It wasn’t so important what I chose, so long as I chose.  This resulted in me actually finishing projects in a timely manner.  As the saying goes, “Done is better than perfect.”

One of the best parts about music school is having assignments that push you to create.  Being graded is a great incentive, and you’re left with a product you’re happy you made.  Unfortunately, we don’t have similar incentives for projects outside of school, so we’re left to our own devices.

I wrote before that I have a lot of ideas, but it’s easy to have a lot of ideas and do nothing.  It’s the easiest thing in the world.  You get a false sense of satisfaction, thinking of all the great things you will do – someday.  In his book Anything You Want, Derek Sivers writes “To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed.”  I have more unfinished songs than I can count,  but when I do finish one, it’s always a win.  Whether or not the song is good is less important than the fact that I’m finishing songs.  It’s practice for creative decision making.  

This is something I’m still working on, but if you want to write more songs, pick one tune and finish it.  It doesn’t matter which one, what genre, or whatever.  Make a decision, then it’s easy.

Dave Simonett (of Trampled by Turtles) came to my school!

If you’re savvy to Minnesota music, chances are you’ve heard of Trampled by Turtles.  Hailing from Duluth, this blue-grass and folk band has released 8 albums and 7 music videos. They’ve played countless festivals, performed on David Letterman (twice), and held a Top 10 spot on the bluegrass charts for 52 weeks.  David Simonett, guitarist and vocalist for the group, visited MSU Mankato and sat down with some classes.

I hadn’t heard of Martin Zellar before he came to school, but I’ve been a Trampled by Turtles fan for awhile now.  I forget when I first came across them, but I remember “Wait So Long” being their smash at the time, so it was after 2010.  I’m mostly familiar with their work after Palomino, my favorite album being Stars and Satellites.

I was fortunate to get one of my songs played for Simonett.  This version is pretty bare, but I’m planning on adding more instrumentation.

Simonett liked it!  He said I have a “beautiful, unique voice.”  I could hardly believe getting that kind of praise from someone who’s made multiple albums that I own.  It felt great.  He had kind things to say about my classmates, too.  I guess we’re a pretty talented bunch.

Unfortunately, Dave Simonett’s concert for the Minnesota Story Tellers Series sold out, so I wasn’t able to attend, but I can offer some insights he shared in class.  One thing I found interesting was what he said about collaboration: “I’m limited by my own imagination… Get someone else in there.”  I’ve talked about the importance of collaboration before, but I never thought of myself as being restricted when I write alone.  He talked a lot about the importance of other people’s input.

When asked how often he plays shows with bluegrass bands, he said, “Almost never.”  That came as a surprise.  I assumed that most shows or festivals they play would be very genre-specific.  He said, “We spent most of our time touring with friends, because we have more fun with friends.”  That ties in well with the theme of community championed by my teachers.  Who do people want to work with?  Not the most talented or the most similar, but people they get along with.

Although I only saw him for the one class, Dave Simonett attended several, played a show at the performing arts building, and was part of Minnesota Story Tellers where he spoke about his songwriting process.  This was really cool and informative.  I hope we host more artists in the future.