Thursday, November 9, 2017

My Review of My Favorite Songwriting Podcasts

I love podcasts. I listen to several on a regular basis. There are podcasts seemingly on every possible subject, something for everyone no matter what the interest. My interests, of course, are music related, whether it's about the business of music, the art of recording, or songwriting. Happily there seems to have been an explosion of songwriting podcasts, and I never tire of listening to them. Three of my favorites are Sodajerker on Songwriting, And The Writer Is..., and The Working Songwriter. These are in no order of preference, but in the order that I discovered them.

Sodajerker On Songwriting is hosted by two Liverpudlian songwriters (not the two you are thinking of), Simon Barber and Brian O'Connor. The first thing to know about these guys is that they are themselves songwriters. Therefore they ask better questions than your average journalist would ask. You can hear the effect this has on the subjects of their interviews, finally hearing intelligent questions that could only come from a fellow songwriter.

I discovered this podcast Googling one of my favorite songwriters, Andy Partridge of XTC. Lo and behold, the Sodajerker fellas had had already interviewed Andy! And what a great interview it was. Real insights into Andy's methods and inspiration; real nuts and bolts stuff. I was intrigued. I went back to the beginning with an interview with Billy Stienberg, followed by Todd Rundgren. I was hooked and the binge listening began. The list of songwriters these guys have interviewed is impressive. Legends like Jimmy Webb, Mike Stoller, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Neil Sedaka, Carole Bayer Sager, Paul Simon and more. Billy Bragg, Glenn Tilbrook, Chris Difford, Neil Finn, the list goes on and on. Simon and Brian have just released their 106th episode, Yusef Cat Stevens. There were 90 episodes or so when I discovered the podcast, so it was a summer of binge listening for me.

Besides the aforementioned good questions from Simon and Brian, two other factors make this podcast enjoyable to listen to as well as informative. First, they have that dry Liverpudlian humor and wit. It's almost like listening to the Fab Four quipping away in "Hard Day's Night". And second, they have a genuine reverence and respect for their subjects, which I'm sure plays no small role in their gaining access to so many big names. They are true fans of songwriting and songwriters. I hope very much that they land an interview with that other Liverpudlian songwriter, Paul McCartney. Sir Paul, if you're reading this, you should talk to these guys.

And The Writer Is... is hosted by hit songwriter Ross Golan, and is a look into the world of today's hit pop and country songwriters. We're talking big sales/airplay and Grammy nominations here.

Ross' interview style is like eavesdropping on a couple of old friends as they talk about the songwriting biz. Most of his subjects are people he has known and worked with, and Ross asks them about their start in the business and general career path. As they are contemporaries they know all the same people and swap stories, like a couple of friends out having a beer.

This podcast is fascinating to me because, even though I consider myself a songwriter, they talk about things I know nothing about. I had no idea what a topliner is. Golan talks about "song math" without explaining what it is. (I suspect it's related to song structure, verse-chorus-bridge stuff.) I had never heard of Max Martin, or how influential Swedes are in popular music. They talk about songs seemingly created by a committee, with one person creating the beats, another person creating the verses, yet another creating the choruses, and the topliner writing the song over all that. Songwriting to me has always been sitting in a room with a guitar on your lap and an empty notebook in front of you. But here was another way!

Ross Golan sounds like a great guy, and I too would like to have a beer with him and shoot the shit about songwriting. I'm sure I would learn a lot, as I'm sure there's lots to learn. And I would remind him that in season one, Desmond Childs tells him he should never call himself a topliner.

I still haven't listened to all the episodes, and he's cranking out season two at a one per week rate. So I've got a lot of listening to do.

Last, but in no way least, is The Working Songwriter, hosted by singer-songwriter Joe Pug. This is songwriting that I'm familiar with, complete with the guitar and the long-stared-at blank notebook page.

The Working Songwriter is aptly named, as it focuses on the day-to-day of the working performing songwriter. Joe himself is a touring songwriter, and he talks to his subjects at length about the highs and lows of being out on the road, playing to full (or empty) houses. In episode one, Joe talks to Joe Ely about being on David Letterman one night, and sleeping out in a corn field the next. And Joe Pug goes deep with his subjects, asking interesting questions that only someone with similar life experiences would know to ask. Of the three podcasts reviewed here, this might be the one that hits closest to home for me.

Joe starts his podcast with an intro that states the show is "an iron clad excuse to put off actually writing" and finishes with the reminder that "reverb is not a song". Words to live by. He also starts off each episode listing his upcoming tour dates, so go see him. I will be doing just that when he hits St. Paul in December.

Each of these podcasts features a Spotify playlist of songs written by that episode's guest. So even when podcast is over, it's not over. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some podcasts to listen to...

Thursday, October 20, 2016

FARM 2016 Coming Up Soon!

In one week I'll be headed to Iowa City for the Folk Alliance Regional Midwest (FARM) 2016 conference. I attended Folk Alliance International in Kansas City last year, and I have to say it was a blast. Even though I had serious doubts as to whether or not the music I perform constitutes "folk music", and to be frank I still have those doubts, it seemed to me that I fit into that genre in some sense, if only for the fact that I almost always perform solo without a band. People see you alone with an acoustic guitar and jump to the "folk" conclusion. Last year I saw plenty of solo singer-songwriters in Kansas City whose music, to me anyway, was not in the traditional folk vein. So maybe I do fit in there somehow. Though I would suspect a folk purist would disagree.

Here's a solo acoustic version of a song of mine called "Son Or Daughter". You can download it for free if you'd like, or if you're more inclined to support independent music you can pay what you want

I hope you enjoy it. To me, it's a pop/rock song performed solo. What do you think? Is it folky enough? Leave a comment please!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Gotta Write A Bio

So I have to write a 50 word bio for my Folk Alliance International Official Showcase Application. This might be the toughest thing any musician ever has to do. It's harder than writing good songs, it's harder than playing gigs, it's harder than driving to gigs.

I think this might be the most hated job any musician ever has to do. I know I hate it.

Just what does one write about one's self?

Of course a more established musician would hire someone else to write it. Or his manager would hire someone. Well, I am not yet at that level. Still. And being a chronic procrastinator does not help.

So here's what I've come up with so far, after staring at the screen for a couple hours, trying a few things, erasing a few things:

With songs ranging from the personal to the political and everywhere in between, singer/songwriter Jim Pellinger has performed for audiences throughout the upper Midwest. An energetic solo performer, singer, and talented guitarist, Jim’s shows lie somewhere between a rocker with an acoustic guitar and a folkie with a Stratocaster.

I think that's fairly accurate; I wanted to avoid hyperbole.

And it only took all evening.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Folk Alliance: The Report

A month ago I went to Folk Alliance International, and at the time I thought I would blog about it while I was there. What a silly idea that was! The fact of the matter is there simply isn't time as there is so much going on.  Stopping to blog just wasn't going to happen. 

But now that I'm settled back home I will take a shot at it, with the aim that maybe it will help someone who is pondering making the trip. I know I was combing the web looking for anything that would give me an idea of what FAI is all about. 

So here is a typical day at FAI. Music camp sessions start at 10 am, and features workshops on a variety of playing styles on various instruments, songwriting, performing techniques, etc.  From 1 pm to 5 pm there are panel discussions dedicated to various music business topics such as publishing, promotion, touring, etc. From 6:15 to about 10:30pm there are official showcases, a different act every half hour in 10 ballrooms of the Westin Hotel. And at 10:30 pm everyone moves up to floors  5, 6, and 7 for "private showcases", roughly a different act every half hour in every room on three floors. This goes until 3am. Do the math, that's a lot of music. 

And the next day it starts all over again. From Wednesday thru Saturday. 

Along the way there are lots of opportunities to mingle, meet other artists, industry people, radio DJs, and venue representatives. In fact the mingling is a major reason for the conference, so everyone is super approachable. I met a lot of really great people there, and I wasn't even trying. 

And the music--I can't tell you how great the music was. Just fantastic. 

To sum it up--if you're a musician or band that plays music that could be loosely described as "folk", you should seriously consider going. I perform solo, vocals and guitar, and while I don't consider my music "folk" I can see why people may lump me into that category.  People like labels, and that's the label they put on you when they see you alone with a guitar. But I don't think a folk purist would consider my music folk. So I was wondering if I would fit.  I soon came to the conclusion that this is exactly where I do fit.  

I left Kansas City invigorated, inspired, a bit tired, and already planning for next year.  
















Saturday, February 13, 2016

Folk Alliance Here I Come

As the headline states, I'm off to Folk Alliance's annual shindig in Kansas City come Wednesday. I'm not sure what to expect, other than it sounds like one big sleep deprivation clinic--lots of informative panels everyday and live music all night. Fun. I'm not performing--I didn't get an official showcase and I didn't really decide to go till the last possible minute, so I didn't get any unofficial showcases either. But I'm bringing my guitar in case an opportunity arises. 

Hopefully I'll have time amidst all the activity to post here about it all. That is the plan anyway. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Today's Song

Writers write, and this one has been spending too much time doing other things. Lately it's been a newspaper reading habit. I get up in the morning, have some breakfast, and walk down to the corner to put quarters in a box and bring home the morning paper. Then it's an hour or two of reading the paper. Great for staying abreast of what's going on in the world, which I think is important. But it ain't songwriting. And it's no wonder the CD I've been working on still isn't finished.

So I've been trying to cut back on things that keep me away from writing, from recording, from booking shows. Today I woke up at 4:30 AM, and spent almost an hour and a half trying to get back to sleep. I'd like to say it was the songwriting muse keeping me awake, but in reality I don't know what it was. So up I was at 5:55 AM, not feeling the least bit tired even though I didn't crash till 12 AM last night.

So I had breakfast, and...went out to buy a paper. Yeah, I know. But my theory was I had time to read it since I was up so early. But as I was walking home, some lyrics occurred to me:

20,000 days, some people, that's all they get
20,000 days and I ain't done nothing yet

As soon as I got home I went to my studio, grabbed the guitar, and started writing. In 45 minutes or so, I had a new song. And it was just after 7 AM. I don't know if it's a good song or not, but that's not the point. The point is, writers write. And tomorrow I hope to do it again. But hopefully on more sleep. Cuz right now I could use a nap.

What did you write today?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Getting The Band Back Together

First off, when signing in to this blog today I was struck with the stat I saw--over 3700 views? A tiny drop in the bucket by internet standards, admittedly. But still, who are these people who have viewed this blog? Have I looked at it that many times myself? That doesn't seem possible.

With that out of the way, I tackle the topic at hand. Yes, our band, The Poptones (must change that name), is getting back together for a gig in August, an outdoor show at Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis. The date will be August 27, for those of you who care not to read further. I'll be expecting to see you there.

Our last show was June 6, 2012 at that same park in Minneapolis. The most notable aspect of that show from my point of view is that it was the best onstage monitor mix I had ever heard. Rick, who runs the sound there, really knows what he is doing. I could hear myself perfectly--for the first three songs. Then the skies opened up and the rain came down and the show was over.

Soon after bass player Dave's wife was expecting a child and, being a parent myself, I knew the band was going to take a back seat to more important responsibilities. This is as it should be.

Drummer Mitch and I kicked around the idea of looking for another bass player, for about two seconds. Neither one of us really felt like tackling that task, and it wouldn't be The Poptones (must change that name) without Dave, would it? There was even the idea (mine) of going out as a drums/guitar duo, รก la The White Stripes or The Black Keys. That would make naming the band easier--obviously the format for naming a drums/guitar duo is the word "The" followed by a color and a noun. Simple. But the idea didn't have any traction and I know both of us would miss that bottom in the sound.

So back to solo gigs I went. It's what I've always done, after all. But around January of this year, when it was time to go fishing for Minneapolis Parks gigs, I put out a feeler to the other Poptones (MCTN)--anybody interested in a one-off gig at the parks this summer?

Somewhat to my surprise, Dave was in and so was Mitch. Great! So last week there we were in Mitch's basement, brushing off the cobwebs and blowing off the dust. It was a blast, and there was even talk of booking more shows. And we'll finally get to go back and finish that rained out show at Minnehaha Park, August 27. I can't wait to hear the monitor mix!