Tag Archives: songwriting

I Miss My Larivee

I had Scott Burnett over last Friday. We’re working on an album, so we spent some time throwing some of our ideas down in Ableton Live. He brought along his parlor guitar from the late 1800’s, but since it has no pickup, I suggested he just grab my guitar so he can plug in directly as opposed to having to mic him in another room.

My guitar is a bottom-of-the-barrel Jean Larivee which I purchased new from Guitar Center back in 1998 for about $700. I was immediately impressed with its bright tone, and after about three years, a whole new dimension of warm entered in. Although piano has always been my main instrument, I have dabbled off and on with guitar for the past 20 years, and have done a lot of songwriting with it. I think “Sing Lord Sing” was one of the first, and has always been my favorite.

The reason I say I “miss” my Larivee is that after Scott left on Friday, I picked up the guitar to put it away, but not before giving it a few strums. I have all but abandoned any serious attempts at progressing as a guitar player, so I rarely play. But oh how it sounds!! I just had to take a picture of it, being the era of documenting everything and splashing it across the webscape.

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Peace On The Earth

Last year at this time, I was inspired to write a strident song about peace. I had thought about writing a new one this year but got too busy with other things. So, here once again is “Peace on the Earth”. I hope you enjoy. Lyrics and credits below.

Break the silence
Confront the madness
Make the voice of reason heard

Crush the hatred
with ruthless kindness
Let your love be the last word

Peace on the Earth
Peace on the Earth

Stop the violence
of cold indifference
Too much goes on that we allow

Pierce the darkness
with fierce compassion
Beat the drum of justice NOW!

Peace on the Earth
Peace on the Earth

—————–

Music by Kelly Carpenter. Words by Kelly Carpenter and Scott Burnett.
© 2010 KelSongs / Kelly Carpenter Music (ASCAP) / Scott A. Burnett. All rights reserved.

Recorded December 2010 at Avondale.Blazing guitar solos by Scott A. Burnett. Vocal choirs by Kelly and Merrilyn Carpenter and UPC Gospel Choir. Programming, rhythm guitar, and lead vocal by Kelly Carpenter.

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ASCAP Trip Day 2

Well, I’m done with the first day of the ASCAP Music Expo. I’m chillaxing at the picturesque Safari Inn here in beautiful Burbank. Tired, but fun day.

When I booked my motel in Burbank, I didn’t realize how close it is to downtown Hollywood. In fact, it is straight shot with only one turn. Olive becomes Barham, take a left on Cahuenga which then becomes Highland Ave. The event is at the Renaissance hotel at the corner of Highland and Hollywood. The hotel is attached to an outdoor shopping mall and the famed Kodak theatre where they host the Oscars and other big-time events like that. So here I am, at the center of the entertainment industry.

Safari after dark. Ooh I'm scared.

On the way to the hotel, I pass by the NBC headquarters and through the Warner Bros. lots. Walt Disney & Co. is just a block away from my travel route, Universal Studios is a left-hand turn off of Cahuenga, and then there is the Hollywood Bowl on my left after I go over the Cahuenga pass and drop down into Hollywood proper. A lot of history here. A whole other world.

ASCAP stands for American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers. They are the largest of the three PROs (performing rights organizations) in the U.S., the other two being BMI and SESAC.

What does a PRO do? Primarily two things: First, they collect “performance” royalties on behalf of their songwriter and publisher members. A “performance” can mean anything from an orchestra performing a song written by a composer, to a bar band playing pop music, to songs played on radio, TV, cable, and film.

The second thing they do is tirelessly advocate for the intellectual property rights of songwriters and publishers in Washington, DC. Never has this been more crucial in protecting our rights and livelihoods than the last 15 years with the advent of internet music consumption. There are many music services on the web that bring in money from subscribers and advertisers in which none of the money makes it to the artists. That means they’re making money of our music and yet we don’t get a share of it. That’s not right.

And we’re not talking about small companies either. We’re talking about Google, who owns YouTube, who tirelessly lobbies for legislation to further strip away the intellectual property rights of writers and publishers. ASCAP is fighting the good fight over internet revenue streams on behalf of its members similar to what they did 15 years ago when they were able to successfully get cable companies to pay royalties for music used on their programs, where prior to that, they paid nothing.

Well enough of my soap boxing. That’s like boxing but using bars of hotel soap instead of gloves.

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Risk

During this particular phase of my life, I have been on quite the journey. This journey has so many layers, it is difficult to write about–not emotionally, but due to a lack of language. How do I find words to describe it? But write about it I must–I feel compelled to–and maybe it will make more sense as I do. I hope this doesn’t sound overly dramatic, and perhaps that is why I have been reticent to journal about it. I also need to overcome the internal pressure to write perfect blog posts, as if there was such a thing. So here goes…

This blog is aptly subtitled: “A journal about life interrupted and a new coming of age.” I feel like I have pretty much gotten through the life interrupted part, (although life has a tendency to continue to throw you curves).  A new coming of age? Definitely there.

This journey is full of RISK. Launching into a full time music career: RISK. Suppressing the inner voices demanding I chart a course of financial security: RISK. Putting out a new record without any clear sense of who to market it to or how it will sell: RISK.

I am either brave or foolish. Only time will tell. And maybe you need to be a little of both to get anywhere.

I’ll write a little about this upcoming record (album, CD, or whatever your particular generation likes to call it). As soon as I started writing material for it back in August, I have been in an internal conflict. My original vision for this was to continue in the trajectory of my first instrumental record “Draw Me Close”. That project consisted primarily of me on piano and one or the other of my best musical buddies, Scott Burnett and Andy Park, on guitar. Some of the material was premeditated and some was improvisational, but it was all improvisational from a playing standpoint. None of us worked up and practiced what we were going to play in advance. We just went for it. The result was something very relaxing, something you can fall asleep to. Call it soaking music, relaxation music, or whatever.

On this new project, I wanted to continue that approach but do it with a fuller band: piano, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, and drums. I wanted it to be nothing more complex than us jamming on some preset chord progressions and keep everything very chill.

Like I said, I set out to write material for it. But pretty quickly I discovered that I was no longer writing this project; it was writing me. I really can’t describe this adequately. Here I was trying to compose a loose collection of song forms that we could do some chill jamming to, and instead these songs emerged. Songs with a direction. Songs with progression, contour, tension, climax, denouement. Like a story.

And if that wasn’t enough. This turned out to be more than a collection of song stories. The whole thing is a story. It has trajectory. The evolution of this project turning into a story has unfolded over the past few months, a story unto itself.

The question is: what story is this telling? I have a few ideas, but I’m not telling. I’m not trying to be mysterious and intriguing, but I believe I am not supposed to tell you the story, even if I had a clear idea what it is, which I don’t. Rather, I am pretty sure this is something waiting for you to put your own story in. We shall see.

So not only is this idea of putting out a record a big RISK, (because it is so hard to make money these days selling music), but eschewing the safe course of creating another collection of relaxation songs by doing something more adventurous is a big RISK.

And you are now part of the story. Let’s see how it unfolds.

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Peace On The Earth

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and a bright beginning to 2011.

This past December I was messing around with some of my music production gear and came up with a musical idea that quickly evolved into a song over the course of a few days. I am not sure how it happened, but this type of thing does happen every once in a while. A spark and then a flame and then a fire. Then a sense of urgency to complete the thing. This particular time around it became a song called “Peace On The Earth”. Like I said, it started out as a musical idea, not more than a groove, really. Then the next morning, words started forming, and they were about taking a stand against injustice, violence, and war. And then the chorus came and it was obvious: “Peace On The Earth”. I felt compelled to get this out to the world before Christmas, which I did by a few days.

I wasn’t entirely happy with the words, so I called up my old friend and collaborator Scott Burnett to help out. I then had him put a guitar solo on the recording. I asked him to play as if this was the last guitar solo on earth. And he played with the reckless abandon I was looking for! Later that week, the gospel choir at his church got together for their weekly rehearsal, and I got permission to have them record a few refrains of the chorus. This I mixed in to the last three sections of the chorus to give it this big sound. All in all, this is a powerful song.

My wife Merrilyn and I put together the video, which became a further evolution of the song. The result? This song is a call for an end to genocide. I recently read a novel where the character went to visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. It made me think of all the other museums scattered around the globe remembering the atrocities that occurred there. Is it possible to imagine a world where not one more such memorial needs to be built?

There is more than just one type of genocide, of course. Wholesale murder of people deemed expendable due to race, class, national, or religious differences is one thing. But there are many other injustices where people are denied opportunity, land, basic food and shelter, a voice.

I am not sure why this song happened to me. And I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do about it. I know that I have to do something. So I start with something simple: Pray for peace.

Enough said, here is the YouTube video. Below are the words. I hope you are moved by it.

Break the silence
Confront the madness
Make the voice of reason heard

Crush the hatred
with ruthless kindness
Let your love be the last word

Peace on the Earth
Peace on the Earth

Stop the violence
of cold indifference
Too much goes on that we allow

Pierce the darkness
with fierce compassion
Beat the drum of justice NOW!

Peace on the Earth
Peace on the Earth

—————–

Music by Kelly Carpenter. Words by Kelly Carpenter and Scott Burnett.
© 2010 KelSongs / Kelly Carpenter Music (ASCAP) / Scott A. Burnett. All rights reserved.

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Where’s Kelly?

Okay, so I just Googled me and discovered that I have the top two hits on Google!! Can you believe that? I don’t think that has ever happened before. Yes, I know, the idea of me engaging in self-googlization seems horribly narcissistic, but the truth is, as someone who is now doing music professionally and is “out there”, I need to know just how “out there” I really am. And now I have given you all sorts of room to think up snide remarks.

I have been so immersed in Secret Project New Song that I haven’t blogged on this WordPress site or updated my News column on my website in a few weeks. I’m thinking, “Wow what a total biscuit head I am!” So here I am at least checking in. Yes, I have been working on a new song. No, it hasn’t come easily, so I have spent quite a few (as in major understatement) hours writing and recording the song. My good friend Scott Burnett helped a little with lyrics. He also played lead guitar on the recording. I told him I wanted him to play like it was the last guitar solo on earth. And he did! And the church that he works at, UPC, helped out with singing on some of the later choruses. And my wife Merrilyn is helping me out with some additional vocal work and finding photos and footage for the video that is almost done.

So ANY DAY NOW.. this will be “released” as a video on YouTube. That is how songs actually get “out there” these days. This will not be a fancy “music video” video, but mostly a collection of stills and some footage somewhat timed to the music, and unlike most music players, you can imbed YouTube videos practically everywhere which is why it is the way to release a song.

The song is called “Peace On The Earth” and is about PEACE and seems somewhat appropriate to release during the holidays but is not a Christmas song. It is actually an angry song about peace, but in a good way. Got you curious?

So, really any day now…

Peace out!

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An Attitude of Gratitude

Day after tomorrow we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday here in the States. The Canadians get a jump on us every year, of course, since their Thanksgiving holiday is on Columbus Day, which I recall being a school holiday when I was a kid. But that was a long long time ago, and I am so thankful that they have invented electricity since then. Speaking of electricity, ours is working today which we can’t take for granted since the Pacific Northwest was slammed with snow and wind yesterday. Merrilyn and I live in a town called Woodinville which is aptly named. We have no less than 13 tall evergreens in our backyard. Three or so years ago, the snow and wind combo brought down power lines all over our part of the county and we lost power for eight days. We fled to a classic hotel in Canada for a few days. All to say I am very grateful for power, light, heat, hot food.

Not initially intending to do so, I am quite enjoying writing long rambling paragraphs today without any urgency to get to the meat of my blog post. Speaking of meat, Merrilyn just let me know that the bacon is done, so I will take a break and have breakfast. Will be back in a few… Ah… bacon. I am definitely not a vegetarian. Have you ever tried Tofurky? Why do they bother? Perhaps I can convert to being vegetarianish: vegetarian with the occasional red meat? Probably not.

So, getting to the meat… the mind meat, if you will… Hey, “Mind Meat” would be a cool name for a band, don’t you think? Kind of a cross between Simple Minds and Meatloaf. Like an Irish Meatloaf, yet different. Is there such a thing as Irish Meatloaf? So back to the meating of the mind, as it were… I am VERY thankful for so many things.

Irish Meatloaf

Have you ever noticed that there are certain figures of speech that get tacked on to statements that mean absolutely nothing? Such as, “if you will”, “as it were”, “in a manner of speaking”, “in a word”, “as they say”. These are just conversational filler, yet, they make one sound more intellectual and literary, don’t you think? (There’s another one.) I love words and language. I especially love mangling the English language. I suppose if I were a female, I would love womangling the English language, if you don’t mind me saying.

But, I still haven’t “brought” the meat, as they say. What am I thankful for?

Well, first of all, I am so thankful that my dad is still with us. He almost died a few times this past year due to an unsuccessful surgery in March leading to septic shock and subsequent infections. And to top it all off, he just suffered a Transient Ischemic Attack, also known as a “mini-stroke”. He has mostly recovered and his mind is all there.

Then there is the issue of my hand problems. Last year at this time, I wasn’t sure whether or not I would need to undergo surgery for my hand condition (Ulnar Neuritus). I decided that the surgery was too risky, and in the past year, the symptoms have mostly abated, but not before I wound up losing my job in March. Yet I am deeply grateful because now I am doing what I truly love, music, and although this comes with a fair amount of financial anxiety, I know I am on the right track.

I continue to be thankful for my song “Draw Me Close” that I wrote 16 years ago. It was one of those songs that songwriters talk about that just “came out” almost fully formed. Even to this day, I still hear from people about how that song has touched them. And I am thankful for the royalties I still earn that has given us enough of a cushion for me to pursue a music career.

I am thankful for winning the Music Success in Nine Weeks blog challenge. Who wudda thunk it? That was a shocker, not because I didn’t feel I deserved to win–I worked hard for it, “running to get the prize”, if you will–but to be honest, I assumed that someone younger would get the nod. I am, after all, in my fifties, and in my so-called conventional wisdom, I figured that someone who had a lot more life in front of them… bla bla bla. Now that’s just silly thinking, isn’t it?

So many other things… I am thankful for my wife, Merrilyn, for her encouragement and support of my new career. I am thankful that on November 6th it has been 30 years since our first kiss. Wow! I am thankful that she got a new job–she now teaches in a “self-contained” autism program, and she loves it. I am thankful for my new great-niece, Rebekah, who is just as cute as a bug’s ear. (Now where did that expression come from?)

Wow. I have a good life. I am truly grateful!

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Premeditated

This upcoming Saturday, I will be playing “cocktail jazz” with a small combo at a fundraising auction for a non-profit called “Turning Point”. This organization partners with various community services in the greater Shoreline, Washington area to serve the working poor. One service they provide is after-school programs for children of immigrant families where parents have to hold multiple jobs just to make ends meet. If you are interested in attending the auction, you can find information at http://turningpointseattle.org.

Kelly Carpenter piano handsBut the event is not what I’m writing this blog post about. It is about the music itself. Playing jazz is something I have never been real comfortable with, especially when it comes to improvising over jazz changes. These auction gigs come around twice a year, one for Turning Point and the other for an organization called “Go the 2nd Mile”. I prepare for these gigs with some intense practicing of good ol’ jazz standards, picking songs out of the “Real Book” and working up some licks.

Due to my insecurities about jazz improvisation, I usually go into these gigs with a certain amount of anxiety, but I always do better than I think I will do, and I realize that I have to stop being so hard on myself. One fellow musician went as far to tell me that I was “full of crap” when I would say that I can’t play jazz.

On the other hand, I am quite comfortable improvising in my chosen instrumental genre, which is similar to “new age” style piano. I am so comfortable in this style that my recorded output to-date has been mostly improvisational. Playing within my comfort zone has worked quite well for me. Until…

Until I started writing pieces that I can’t play. Meaning to say that I can’t just wing it. I arrived at this point in the midst of working on my next album which will be released early next year. Many of the pieces on this project evolved into something more than simple “beds” that I can improvise over comfortably. These are pieces that have required me to compose an actual piano part, learn how to play it, and then record it. No winging it.

There is a part of me that is a little embarrassed that I have composed material that I just can’t play by the seat of my pants anymore. But I realize that this is nothing to be embarrassed about at all. This is actually a crucial step in my growth as a musician. It means I get to stretch myself musically by listening to what’s in my head and then figuring out how to play it. Premeditated.

This is no different from most recording artists. Apparently Frank Sinatra would practice for months leading up to a recording session. George Harrison composed all of his guitar solos before playing them on the Beatles records. I remember once a long time ago when I realized that the keyboard solo on Toto’s “Rosanna” must have been thought out beforehand. As if this was unusual. Funny how one gets strange ideas in their head that can take decades to deprogram. Premeditated solos on recordings are the norm, not the exception.

All these years, I have expected myself to just magically deliver these beautiful solos improvisationally. I have been way too hard on myself. I have come to the end of what I can do by just winging it.

It may seem ironic, but now I feel liberated.

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… and so on …

Oy vey! I have been so bad about blogging lately. Perhaps I have “bloggers block”. I really couldn’t think of much to blog about. The thing is, I have been busy sorting through the tracks from my recording session up in Vancouver at the end of September. Oh my gosh! Has it been almost a month?

This will probably be one of my most random and disjointed blog posts. I put a lot of pressure on myself to create meaningful, witty, and truly memorable blog posts..and now especially since I won the Music Success in Nine Weeks Blog Challenge! Perhaps that’s it. I have created such high expectations and now I suffer from performance anxiety.

Right now, however, the only anxiety I am feeling is that my Dad is back in the hospital once again, this time due to a minor stroke. I’m sitting here in the hospital lobby along with my Mom who is catnapping on the couch. Dad is staying over at the hospital for the next two nights while they observe him as part of their stroke response protocol. If you believe in prayer or “positive mental energy” or whatever, please pray.

Back to music for a wee bit… I am sorting through hours of material from the recording session. There is a lot of cool stuff and I am so happy about the music contributions of the band. I am in a bit of dilemma, however…

When I got the gumption to do another recording, I had always visualized it as turning out to be an extension or progression of my last recording. It would be part of the “Songs for the Silence” series. The code name for the project is called “Songs for the Silence Vol. 2”. People like the fact that Vol. 1, “Draw Me Close”, puts them to sleep. (Hopefully not while driving).

The vision of Vol. 2 is to do the same sort of thing, relaxation music, but do it with a band. And we did it. We have some great moments in there. But wait, there’s more. As I prepared for the project, the songs I wrote wound up having more structure and form than just simple stream of consciousness stuff. (You know what I’m talking about if you’ve heard Vol. 1). So we didn’t just create relaxation music.

It started when I was goofing around with a song idea that became what is now called “Summer Rain”. (You can listen to the demo on my BandCamp site here. It was the free song I gave away in August to people who joined my email list.)  “Summer Rain” is not just a stream of consciousness thing, but a song with a real structure. The song in its one-man-band demo form turned out to be really cool, and then once I recorded it with the band, WOW! It starts out just like the demo, a very structured song, but then we jam on the groove for another four minutes, all sorts of cool mellow.

And that’s just the first song. Other songs have blossomed and have taken on a thematic or perhaps even cinematic quality. Songs with names like “Waiting”, “Hope”, “The View From Here”, “Solace”, “More Hope”, “Procession”, and “The Final Journey” (which by its very title means that it has to be the last song). These songs are more than just relaxation music.

The evolution of this project has been very intriguing. I set about to create a certain type of music, essentially a followup to Vol. 1, but yet this other stuff has emerged. Almost like setting sail in a particular direction and yet the wind sends me a completely different direction. As if this has taken on a life of its own. As if I am not in control, control-freak that I am.

Where is the wind taking me? I don’t know. But I do know this will turn out to be a most interesting journey.

Stay tuned…

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Grand Vision

I must start out by saying I am still working on my Grand Vision. In other words, it is a “work in progress”. That said, having just said it, at least in type–now if you’re actually hearing my audible voice right now, this would be a really good time to consult a specialist–the Grand Vision is starting to come together.

By Grand Vision I am attempting to provide an answer to the question, “What are you going to do with the rest of your life?” or perhaps “Who are you going to be when you grow up?”. Both equally valid and probably equivalent questions.

So, as I know it, with the disclaimer that I have a lot of details to work out, here it is. I plan to venture out into three areas, and these are in no particular order, but to be worked on concurrently.

First, I wish to develop as a songwriter. I am very very very blessed and fortunate to have written a song like Draw Me Close and have it turn out to be so successful. I have written many other songs, many of them very good, that have never gone anywhere. This can mean any number of things. It could be they may not have reached the right set of ears, i.e. they have not been “pitched” or marketed correctly. It could be that they will never go anywhere even if I do all the right things. There is no telling which songs are going to be successful or not; I just have to do the best I can with them. It could also be that these songs are not as good as I think they are; they may be underdeveloped and need more work.

Nevertheless, I want to grow in writing more songs, collaborating with other songwriters, learning how to work the business side of things, learn how publish and market, etc. I could devote a whole blog post to songwriting. Actually, probably several.

The next thing I want to develop is my performing and recording career. I am not sure what this will evolve into eventually, but for starters I will focus on producing instrumental music for relaxation, contemplation, meditation, reflection, etc. My first record in this genre, titled “Draw Me Close”, has been very well received. However, I have a lot to learn about how to market it. And, a followup project is long overdue. (I released my last record in 2001.) However, the costs are not trivial, and I still need to solve the marketing issue.

The last thing I am working on is also instrumental music, but it will be specifically for the “Production Music” market. This is music that is used for backgrounds to broadcast radio, TV, video, film, even video games. This requires a completely different marketing and networking strategy, but can pay off when the material gets used.

My adventure at the ASCAP Expo has provided me with a mind-numbing amount of very useful information about how to move forward in these endeavors. So I just need to work out the details and move forward. In all my enthusiasm, I need to keep in mind that the turtle is the one who wins the race, so making a little amount of progress each day will get me there eventually.

Along the way, I plan to document my journey through my blog. Bon voyage!

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