About Steve Cass

Just the dude scribbling down stuff

No Perfect People Allowed

No perfect people allowed: do away with religious guilt

I’m really quite glad to be away from organized religion, myself. Religion is a man-made attempt at reaching God. One that has really failed utterly to grasp the real issues; one that has failed miserably to understand the mission of Jesus and rather has made rules and regulation their religion; one that has literally made murder and tortures of all forms acceptable; has failed utterly in embracing science as what science was originally, and still is: man’s attempt to recognize and glorify God.

There really is an alternative to the face-off between organized religion, a.k.a ‘Christianity’ and the ‘until-you-proove-it-to-me-with-evidence’ religion called ‘Science’ that many ascibe themselves to. Both of these sides are not facing reality and are chasing the man-made illusion that either have got ‘the answer’. Who are we that we think we have got it all figured out??

I believe that if you get to know Jesus for who he really was, studying his words and actions and understanding the background of the God of the bible and the God of the bible’s reality, that it can change your life forever. It’s not about religion. It’s about a relationship with God. And God says it’s about our relationships with each other. Nothing more.

Not possible because there aren’t any real facts? Find out for yourself. Research whether or not the Ressurrection was possible. Confused on why the church and science split during ‘the age of enlightenment’? Easy to see how the church became dominant and fueled hatred. Easy to see how scientists turned away from a church that would not embrace them. We are all one through Christ. Christ is perfect, we are not. God is sovereign over the earth, man made church is not.

Plenty of research out there to keep your mind busy with this. You can embrace God and learn of his promises for your life without losing your identity. You can begin to understand how God is not a genie in a bottle to grant your every wish and to make the world a perfect place. You can begin to see the differences between what God has promised and what the ‘Christian’ church says in it’s press releases.

Religious guilt? Stop attempting to be perfect. Only Christ was perfect, and that’s what counts. No perfect people allowed. Just be humble and lay at his feet.

Bloom Where You are Planted

Paul Baloche, in his excellent book God Songs, talks briefly on a subject that I have always found most intriguing: that is (wait, let’s all shout out to God together…), “God, you’ve given me this songwriting gift. Now what do I do with it!”

He talks about writing for the local church instead of envisioning some larger project. Learning to serve the local body faithfully is exactly how so many of the songwriters we hear about today got started. There is so much joy to be found in ministering to your local body. Let God promote you in His timing as you are faithful to go through doors that have been opened. Through whatever doors he has planned for you.

Check out this article on Getting Your Songs Heard.

Steve

Tips for Better Mixing

One thing’s for sure. You will only learn how to mix multi-track songs together by doing and reading and learning and failing and reading some more.

The reason for this little article is not to discourage, but rather to ENcourage you to go for it!! You won’t be able to magically pull up a great mix out of thin air, ya just gotta dig in and get to it! If you’re not in the position to work in a studio or to record tracks at your place, then there are plenty of multi-track recordings for free you can pull from the internet.

Mixing is an art form that begins with understanding the architecture of the final product before or as recording occurs. Or, if a mixer is for-hire and not involved in the recording, the mixer should receive specific notes from the producer as to what the final product should sound like; what instruments are to be featured or what tracks are experimental and not final. In the absence of any direction, the mixer is going to create what THEY feel and hear is the best representation of the song. It’s all about the song! The producer may or may not agree with the mixer’s assessment. Since a huge part of THAT equation is all about successful relationships, here’s hoping for some great communication between the two.

On the other hand, some very well recorded material is going to speak for itself. When microphones are set up well and then engineers just get out of the way of good musicians, real synergy is created between heart, mind and soul! You will hear exactly how a song should be presented. Sadly, this is not always going to be the case, but we hope for the best.

To quote a famous engineer psuedo-named Mixerman:

“A great mix is one that brings the production of a great song to it’s fullest potential while effectively manipulating the listener’s emotions and focus, thereby forcing an appropriate and desired physical reaction while simultaneously causing the listener to sing.”

What a mouthful! I guess the best way to explain that is for you to pick up a copy of his book, Zen and the Art of Mixing.

But just to continue this line of thought: Remember, it’s all about the song. If the song is weak, the mix is irrelevent. A well-written song is going allow for a great mix. If a song is not well-written, it may turn out to sound OK, but a thoughtful approach to the desired end result when writing the song is going to make all the difference in the world as far as the potential of the mix.

Mixing is more about an attitude than it is about the technical aspects. Sure, you need to know some technical aspects. You need to yearn to GO BEYOND thinking that a mix is only the technical aspect.

A well-written song is one that takes the listener on a journey and pulls at the heart. A good sounding mix can come from less of a song, but a GREAT sounding mix is borne from the best written ones.

Keep Worship Songs Simple

The line between cliche and simple is really not easy! For me, I find that approaching writing for congregational flows around, ‘how can I say what I want in as few words as possible while remaining conversational?’ That usually is the key for me. When I write, I tend to be very wordy and then cut it down from there without losing the meaning.

Otherwise, when I approach it from the simple angle or try beginning with few words first, cliche comes to rear it’s ugly head!

On the other hand, thinking simple can work for simple praise tunes:

Humbly I will come
And simply I will pray
Father, hear me
Show your way

The thing about simple (whether beginning from few words or the pared down angle) is that focus is magnified. In the stanza above, I was thinking, ‘I will come and and I will pray and submit’. Nothing more. It’s really hard not to try and place the whole salvation message in a song, but there are many messages that need to be told about Him other than the cross. The focus on this was coming humbly, praying and submitting. Otherwise, forced rhyme city comes a-visitin’!

Sometimes, even what appears simple can be even leaner and have a more powerful focus on your message. I could have begun with:

Humbly I will come before You
And simply from my heart I’ll pray
Father, hear my cry of anguish
Show me how to make my way

I might then think: hmmm 8 syllables is a bit much for a worship tune. It’s not that 8 syllables is bad, it’s that making it simpler/shorter is probably best for the listener to remember.

‘Humbly I will come’ says the same thing
‘And simply I will pray’ says the same thing
‘Father, hear me’ doesn’t convey the ‘anguish’ component, but mostly says the same thing. Will it work if I leave ‘anguish’ out??
‘Show Your way’ pretty much says the same thing. Put it all together. Does this work to convey my original message? Am I fooling myself into being cliche, or am I really conveying the message? Am I diluting the message of the Spirit? Will this edify the body?

The last thought on this: writing and using simple hooks help to keep the focus and overshadow any mundane words or possible cliches. The fact that I decided to use ‘Humbly I wll’ and ‘Simply I will’ was an intentional alliteration/inner rhyme hook.

Have fun writing today!

What is CCLI? Important!!

What is CCLI?

Christian Copyright Licensing International, http://www.ccli.com, is an organization founded with the idea in mind that all songs used by churches should be catalogued so as to bless the songwriters with any income the songs might generate.

Primarily, they were founded to help churches comply with copyright law.

A CCLI song number is a number given by CCLI for each song registered with them in order to track usage and to pay the owner of rights any monies that they collect. Churches have the responsibility to report usage (usually, only random churches are selected, depending on the size of the church).

Copyright law states that churches are EXEMPT from paying for PERFORMANCE of songs, but they’re not exempt from liability of distribution of COPIES of the lyrics, whether or overheads or lead sheets, etc.)

CCLI exists in order to grant churches licenses to cover these distributions.

I know, the opinion exists that songs in churches should be free, no matter who wrote the songs. Although no church organization has been sued for copyright infringement, the real possibility exists, and the truth is that churches ARE in copyright violation if they distribute works from Hillsongs, Chris Tomlin, Israel Houghton, and on…AND, why not BLESS these songwriters for their contributions?

(the full story on Performance rights is that there are Performance Rights Organizations in each country. Here in the US they are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. These organizations license restaurants, night clubs and other venues to play copyrighted works. These organizations in turn pay the holder of rights of songs, publishers and songwriters, depending on how much the songs are played. Churches are the only organizations in the this country granted exemption from performance as stated in copyright law.

How other royalties are paid is another story. CCLI is an organization that helps churches comply with the rest of copyright law. So, they’re exempt from performance but not from distribution of lyrics. )

CCLI will grant a license to a church or church organization with the cost being determined by the size of the church or church organization. CCLI will give an identifiying number for each organization. Churches then report their actual uses of songs (not all churches have to, but your church might be picked randomly) so they can bless the songwriters.

HERE’S WHERE WE COME IN: Songwriters and publishers can apply to CCLI to become a publisher or an administrator and then submit songs to them in so they can be listed with them. CCLI will send you a song number. The song number is how a songwriter can be credited for usage.

Church administration, here’s where you come in: visit ccli.com and seek a Church Copyright License.

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Ok, that’s it for CCLI as far as songwriters are concerned.

I to take it one step further to say that CCLI also grants licenses for reahearsals of songs (mp3 distribution). The sound recording is a separate copyright, Again, why not help bless the songwriter? Even though the formula for how the artist/songwriter gets paid from this in the end result will vary, churches are in violation of copyright law unless they have a license.

1) Let our worship and music leaders at church know so they can be legal

2) Register our original songs we wish to use in church with CCLI

ANYONE here can register with ccli.com as a publisher or an administrator. This is not one of those ‘this levels the playing field’ type of come-ons. This is serious stuff.

If anyone is serious about their songwriting in churches, they should do this. Do this if you are a prolific writer and wish to share your songs with other churches.

If anyone here is NOT interested in registering with CCLI, but wish to have any of their songs registered with them, let me know. I am a publisher registered with them, and I’ll be glad to submit your song.

What happens when you submit your song? At this date, they want the title, writer and publisher information for the song and the lyrics. They will only ask for any lead sheet or mp3 submissions after your song has been reported as used by two or three churches.

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Recap:

Songwriters: learn how to submit your songs to CCLI.com so they have a song registration number.

Churches: visit CCLI.com and obtain a Church Copyright License (this covers the overhead and physical distribution of copyrighted lyrics). It doesn’t cost big money. Churches, also obtain a Church Rehearsal License (this covers the distribution of recordings of songs used by the worship team). Also not big money, and well worth it.

A Beginning Study of Melody

Great topic!  It’s a great study, and a great part of the songwriting craft that needs attention.  “Taking the listener on an adventure” is a part of that.  Creating tension and release is a part of that.

Yes, it’s great to listen to successful music to get ideas on how to hone and create melodies.  It’s good to be careful about copying, but as far as I know, there’s no tool out there that would let you know whether or not you have.

But consider this study of two very famous songs, and then make up your own mind.  Over the Rainbow and The Christmas Song.

I’ll give the basic melodies in number form (where 1 equals the root note and 8 equals the octave note of the scale).

In Over the Rainbow, we have:

1, 8, 7, 5, 6, 7, 8

6, 6, 5

In The Christmas Song, we have:

1, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 3, 3

6, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

You can not only SEE the similarities, but you can HEAR them clearly!  Was The Christmas Song considered a rip-off of Over the Rainbow?  You be the judge.  In the case of a court of law, no one has challenged this (that I’m aware of.  And we probably all would have heard about it if there was a case.)

I take this lesson to heart in this way:  As King Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, “there’s nothing new under the sun”.  There are only so many notes to work with.  We can look at this situation in three ways.  1) the writer of The Christmas Song ripped off  Over the Rainbow or 2) the writer of The Christmas Song completely wrote a similar melody that blindly sounds similar to Over the Rainbow or 3) the writer of The Christmas Song deftly utilized a similar approach in creating his melody that he heard in what has turned out to be one of the most successful songs in our history, Over the Rainbow.

As Christ followers,  I know that we want to be sure to honor God with our best creations.  He provides inspiration, but he also gives us tools to hone our inspirations so they are well-communicated to the rest of the flock.  To learn from other successful songs is only natural.  And wise.

We just can’t blatantly copy.  But we should be smart and listen/understand the melodic structure of successful songs.

Steve

Luck?

Luck?

luck (n.)
late 15c. from M.Du. luc, shortening of gheluc “happiness, good fortune,” of unknown origin. Related to M.H.G. g(e)lücke, Ger. Glück “fortune, good luck.” Perhaps first borrowed in English as a gambling term. To be down on (one’s) luck is from 1832; to be in luck is from 1900; to push (one’s) luck is from 1911. Good luck as a salutation to one setting off to do something is from 1805. Expression better luck next time attested from 1802. Taken from http://www.etymonline.com

This is an extension of the thought of ‘luck’ as written in my post Reveling in the Call from the Heart. The opening of that post talks about an interview I read with a songwriter who said that his successes have come though luck and following his heart. I just gave a short sentence saying, “let’s get ‘luck’ out of the way: luck is when preparation meets opportunity”. This post is a companion to that one. It expands in a similar, but different way. This one expands on ‘luck’.

As a person after the heart of God, I find that the etymology of the word ‘luck’ takes on an expanded definition. Or to say it another way, I find that the etymology of the word (happiness, good fortune) is an inadequate explanation for the feeling conjured. The word conjures thoughts of an unguided, unfounded happiness that somehow comes to us; it tells us that maybe a necessary component is gaining more money for happiness.

There’s a ton of sweat equity in songwriting. Many times dissapointing. But there’s really not much glory given to God by not preparing and honing the skills! As the saying goes, ‘luck’ is when preparation meets opportunity. There’s the type of unskilled luck at the casino table and then there’s the times when preparation meets opportunity. Songwriting needs to be about when preparation meets opportunity. Those chances where there are possibilities for success in songwriting come as God opens doors and you are giving God the complete glory for how he has bestowed upon you this magnificent gift. I’m sure, in God’s timing and will, that He would like to see each of us have successes. But how can we not ‘put on the armour of God’ for spiritual warfare and not also understand this to mean to be well prepared for the opportunities ahead of us in the battlefield of life and songwriting!!

God’s will for our success in songwriting, or any aspect of life, is when preparation meets opportunity. Luck is blind chance. Becoming a good songwriter is not. I mean, there’s a certain aspect of casino-table-type luck where you or your song is just going to be in the right place at the write time, but are you willing to stake your entire songwriting career on that?? Be prepared. Looking like a serious songwriter will take you far.

Tips for Better Recording

There are MANY recordists and mixers out there with a better understanding or more experience than I in the world of recording. The more I read from the pro’s, the more I realize just how natural many of their gifts are in regard to engineering. So many try and become a studio engineer by purchasing all of the latest and greatest equipment with the idea that they’ll somehow learn how to record through their purchases, or that somehow by osmosis the school of hard knocks will smile kindly on them and grant them a special exemption.

The great ‘leveling of the playing field’ that has happened over the last 20 years with the affordability of recording equipment has indeed sparked a revolution: the revolution of creating a cash cow industry for music equipment manufacturers!

But enough of beating that dead horse. We can all still benefit greatly from learning from the masters of the trade. And rest assured, we ALL DO have to go through the school of hard knocks and make mistakes. Failure is the greatest teacher. Just ask Thomas Edison, who after inventing hundreds of items finally invented one which was successful. So it is that we will eventually learn how to record music well after we record a few hundred songs.

The greatest lesson that I’ve learned over the years is that in order to be a great recordist, I need to understand and learn more about microphones. Specifically, how to set up one mic and use that one mic to capture the subject well. Specifically how to experiment and find just how different the microphone sounds when set up at different angles and distances. Specifically how to record without overloading the microphone. This is lesson one, and the real experienced people out there that are reading this are rolling their eyes and saying what a idiot I am for saying the obvious. But I hope this helps someone.

There is one huge sub-lesson on recording microphones: learn about the recording level going in. There’s plenty already written on this subject, but let me just say one sentence in this regard so you can ‘google’ this: 0dB FS = -18db VU.

The next best lesson I learned, just about basic recording and mixing, is to pay CLOSE attention to gain staging. What I mean by this is amplifying the signal only certain amounts at each stage; not over-driving the signal into the next amp stage. Again, the experienced are groaning at me for being obvious. But I tell you, for those of you reading who didn’t know these two items, your engineering world just woke up.

There are so many other lessons to learn in recording: the uses and tricks of compression, the uses of equalization, the use of effects. What the many jobs of a mastering engineer include. But do yourself a huge favor: concentrate on the first two. I’ve read many an engineer’s notes who have said that the best thing they’ve ever done to a record was to just set up mic’s and ‘get out of the way’ and not try to do anything at all but capture the artist in the best way possible.

Recording and mixing is a serious and a fun science. The pro’s often don’t have the time, nor the incling, to explain these basics to the novice. But without this knowledge, the hobbyist or the learner will remain in the dark and make bad recordings and mixes. Wake up and smell the coffee about the basics!  Learn about microphones, recording techniques of certain microphones, 0 dB FS = -18 dB VU and gain staging of each amplifier in the chain!

Which PRO?

Which Performance Rights Agency should you choose as a writer? For the U.S., you have the choice between ASCAP, BMI or SESAC. You only choose one, but the one you choose is up to your tastes and how you feel the PRO fits with your style. And how you agree with the way they handle business. All three have an impressive list of songwriters as members.

It doesn’t matter which one you choose, but it’s important that you choose one and that you register your works with them. After/before you seek a copyright registration, but registering your songs means that the PRO has a database of your songs from which they can assign any royalty payments that may come your way. Many doors and career benefits will be opened.

If you choose to be the administrating publisher for your works, then find out the requirements for having a publisher membership and seek that. If you have a publisher membership, then register your songs under your publisher membership instead of your writer membership. This assures that the entire performance revenue stream is assigned to you or your company. As expected, the main criteria for joining as a publisher is to show evidence that you have had a song published. Find whatever opportunity that you can, say with an independent artist, to get a cut so you can apply for a publisher membership. Or, if you’re a solo artist, then providing info on your first solo CD project or EP or solo song will be the ticket.

If by chance you intend on helping other writers by being an administrating or exploitation publishing agent for them, be sure to sign up for a publisher membership with their PRO so you will receive the publisher’s share of performance royalties.

Preparing for the Studio

Simply stated, what you need in order to record music in a studio is to ask yourself ‘why do I want do this’? Whether you’re a songwriter getting a demo cut or a solo artist or a band, you need to know why you want to do this. Secondly, have an understanding of the process.

There are plenty of good articles everywhere that tell you some ins and outs of ‘how’. Let’s stick with the ‘why’ and some of the background stuff so you know what you’re getting yourself, and possibly your mates, into. After these questions are answered you can get more into the ‘how’.

What are your goals?

Why do you want to record you or your band? Are you a songwriter that needs a demo? What are the goals for doing this? Answers to these questions will help you decide how to proceed. For example, if you are a solo guitarist and your goal is to just have some CDs of a couple of songs to pass out to friends, why not ask around at the local guitar shop or ask friends of someone who has a decent recording set-up that would be willing to make a few extra bucks?

Let’s look at the larger picture. If you want to record with intention of replication and distribution, then be totally aware of copyright law. It would be illegal for you record a song that someone else wrote with the intention of distribution. Go to the Harry Fox Agency and google on ‘how to secure recording rights’. The answer on how to secure recording rights, in a nutshell, is this: pay for the mechanical reproductions you are making by contacting the owner of the rights of those songs. The cost is usually very reasonable.

If your songs are original compositions, protect yourself by getting the songs copyrighted before you record. This is job #1 for the serious songwriter. It takes sometimes up to 6 months to receive a copyright registration, but proof of your submittal is good enough for government recognition of your work.

Ok, back to the topic at hand. Why do you want to record? Are you a solo artist that is recording a project for demo purposes? Then maybe you don’t need to spend huge bucks on a top-of-the-line studio, maybe you need to find a smaller studio or a recording geek to help you out. Are you part of a full band that wants to record for the purposes of getting a demo for distribution to bars? Then seek good quality, but don’t break the bank. Are you a songwriter in need of a great sounding demo? Sadly, a great sounding demo is what is expected. Make a list of the studios in your area. Call or surf and find out recording rates.

Have a plan before getting into the studio.

Do you want really great quality? Then be prepared to spend some money. But fear not, you will save a ton if you your sessions planned far in advance. Think of session planning as you would songwriting. A little incubation time is required.

Before even getting into the studio, contact and prepare the musicians. This means send them charts, mp3s, CDs tapes, whatever. Get them prepared for the parts they’ll be playing. Even if you want them to come up with some ideas, prepare them with whatever you have. Even if it’s only a description of the song.

Plan the sessions with the studio manager. After setting up the blocks of time, tell him or her what you’ll be doing that day. “Today we’re bringing in the drummer and he’s (she’s) gonna play these songs”. In tomorrow’s session, we’ll split the time between recording the bass part on x songs and the acoustic guitar part on x songs.” The session on that day will be all about certain players and certain parts of certain songs.

If you’re planning on recording your band all at once, no problem. Most places can do that. Just be prepared that there’s a goodly amount of set-up time.

Speaking of set-up time, this is all studio time as well. Be prepared because you will have plenty. Especially when it comes to drums.

Even if you’re a solo performer, make session plans. No matter whether your solo or in a band situation, you will need to be flexible and re-structure your plans. Things happen or things take longer than you expected. Learn when a part is good enough and move on. If you’ve got the time to wait for the ‘perfect’ take, then wait. Just remember that time is money.

Build the house. Start with the foundation and build upward. Begin by recording the drums, then get the bass track down. Then the rhythm parts, then any highlight or lead parts. Finally, get the vocals tracked (you may want to record a ‘scratch’ vocal track during the drum session for reference). There’s no hard and fast rules about producing this way, but this is what works well. If you don’t have tight tracks from the drums and a tight bass guitar track to them, nothing else will groove. These ARE the grooves! You might decide to record the band all at once, and this is ok. This also works well. Do what you think would be best for you.

If your band or session musicians are playing and recording a song all at once and you think it will take multiple takes to get it right, think about recording each instrument separately. You’ll have more control over the mix and less frustrations overall.  It just depends on musician availability, whether or not the band performs together better or other time constraints.