A Hazard of Haphazard Songwriting

I debuted a song last night in the first RavenCon “open filking” session that illustrates that my slapdash approach to songwriting is often more slap than dash. (I don’t know if that makes sense, but I didn’t get much sleep so it’s all I’ve got.)

Anyway, with this particular song I’ve been having trouble with the transition from the chorus back to the verse — thinking it was a key issue, because keys are a thing that songs have but I don’t know much about (being pretty much theory-less when it comes to music). But then I played through it a couple of times by myself — here’s the chorus, if you’re interested —

Tommy’s up for fighting, Tommy’s up for risks
Never shies away from danger, or putting up his fists
So pick up your shillelaghs, boys, and bring ’em to the fight
‘Cause Tommy’s going to make a lot of noise in the spaceport pub tonight

— and I finally tried to count out the beat … and discovered that while the chorus is in 4/4 time the verses are actually in 6/8.

Did I do that? Apparently I did, and now I have to finagle my way out of (or around) it.


(Photo by Christopher Rinehart.)

I imagine other songwriters — those who have some amount of musical knowledge — think rather deliberately about things like keys and time signatures when they begin writing a song. Or, if not, then I imagine they figure that sort of thing out fairly early in the process. But not me! Me? I just do this for fun!

And it usually is fun. That chorus is fun (do you like it?). And the process itself can be fun, until I write myself into a proverbial corner and have to figure out how to cut my way through the wall. Not that demolition isn’t fun, because it can be … it’s just usually pretty messy.

Anyway, that’s one of the hazards of haphazard songwriting: having to figure out weird transitions and things. But, at least it’s fun!

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Reminder for anyone who missed the announcement, but I’m still running a series of giveaways for Audible downloads of the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook. The next drawing is Monday, so sign up at this link!

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Thus Quoth the Raven: RavenCon!

This weekend I’ll be at the RavenCon science fiction and fantasy convention in Williamsburg, Virginia. RavenCon is a terrific convention, run by a great group of people, and I’ve enjoyed attending and serving as a guest at it for many years.

This year, in addition to a number of panels, I get to play two concerts! Here’s what I have going on, if you’re curious:

Friday:

  • 5 pm — Guests Meet and Greet
  • 7 pm — Opening Ceremony
  • 8 pm — Panel, “Music and Art Influences in SFF Stories & Novels” (Moderator)
  • 10 pm — Open Filk

Saturday:

  • 10 am — Concert: Gray Sings Silly Songs! (one of which might be “Tauntauns to Glory”)
  • 11 am — Reading
  • 1 pm — Panel, “Purple Prose” (Moderator)
  • 4:30 pm — Baen Books Traveling Slide Show & Prize Patrol
  • 10 pm — Open Filk

Sunday:

I hope to debut a new serious song (that I just finished last week!) in my Sunday morning concert, and I may also debut a work-in-progress silly song during one of the open filking sessions. Should be fun, all around!

Safe travels to everyone who’s headed anywhere, and especially to all my fannish friends coming to the con!

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Related Items of Interest:
Enter to win one of several free downloads of the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook by signing up for my newsletter at this link — and check out the audio sample on the Audible site or at Amazon
– Listen to both of my albums for free at Bandcamp — Distorted Vision, and Truths and Lies and Make-Believe — or, if you prefer, buy them there or at Gray’s Online Store

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I’d Like to Take You Out to See the Stars

A few weeks ago I recorded a demo version of a new song about stargazing, and put it on Bandcamp for anyone who’s interested. Part of the song was inspired by a conversation I had with my children many years ago, but it’s mostly about something I wish I’d done with them when they were at specific ages: specifically, taken them out on special nights to see special stars.

If you have young children, or know someone who does, you could do it now; for instance, when they’re eight years old

… we’ll mark the time by the “dog star” Sirius
And we can celebrate your “sweet sixteen” with old Altair from afar
And I hope you’ll come to marvel at this wondrous universe
Because so much of what we are was made in the hearts of former stars

You can listen to the whole thing for free by clicking the player below, or visiting my Bandcamp page if the player isn’t available. (You can also download the song for a buck, if that’s your thing.*)

I told my newsletter readers about the song when I first recorded it, and they gave me some good feedback and encouragement. (If you’re not subscribed to my newsletter you can do so in the sidebar to the right or at this link.)

As a demo, it’s nothing grandiose — just me and my guitar — but I hope to put a fuller version of the song with other instruments and backing vocals and such on my next CD, whenever I get to the point of recording it. (I have more than enough songs for a new CD, but I don’t have the funds to cover production costs — maybe next year!)

Anyway, I hope you’ll give it a listen, and I hope something in the song speaks to you.

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*Or for more than a buck, if you feel so inclined!

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New Music Video: The Books We Call Baen

Most science fiction and fantasy fans know the name Baen Books — or at least know the names of some of our authors! Here’s a tribute song to Baen Books* and its founder, Jim Baen, from my album, Distorted Vision.

Hope you like it!

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*Full Disclosure: I’m a Contributing Editor for Baen. But I figure that’s all the more reason to do a tribute song!

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Other music videos:
Tauntauns to Glory
Help My Unbelief

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Nominate Nerdy Music for the Pegasus Awards!

Do you like music related to science fiction or fantasy? Then you can nominate your favorite songs for the annual Pegasus Awards for Excellence in Filking — which is, as you might guess, writing and performing music often related to SF&F and other nerdy, geeky topics.

Pegasus Award Logo

(Pegasus Award Logo.)

 

In case you’re wondering, anyone who has an interest in filk is considered part of the “filk community” and can nominate candidates (and vote, later!). Since very few people make it to every convention or hear every performer, the award includes a “brainstorming” phase which wrapped up a few weeks ago; you can head to the brainstorming results for suggestions in each category.

What are the categories? The Pegasus Awards are given out in four permanent categories, as well as two categories which rotate from year-to-year:

  • Best Filk Song — any filk song that has not previously won a Pegasus
  • Best Classic Filk Song — any well-known filk song at least 10 years old that has “entered filk community public consciousness”
  • Best Performer — any filk performer who has not won this Pegasus in the past 5 years
  • Best Writer/Composer — any writer/composer of filk songs who has not won this Pegasus in the past 5 years
  • 2017 Rotating Category: Best Horror Song — any song that “elicits horror”
  • 2017 Rotating Category: Best Perky Song — kind of self-explanatory

If you have some favorites you’d like to nominate — and you can nominate up to five songs or people in each category — fill out the 2017 Pegasus Nominating Ballot. Nominations are open until the end of July.

Let your voice be heard, and have fun with it! (And let me know if you need some suggestions….)

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If you’re really not sure whether you’re eligible to nominate, the award by-laws define “exhibiting interest” using examples such as filking at SF&F conventions, attending filk conventions or “house sings,” taking part in related on-line forums, and just “discussing filk and filk related issues with other filkers.” So, if you read this whole post, you can probably claim to have exhibited interest and therefore would be qualified to participate in the Pegasus Award process. (However, this is just barracks lawyering and does not constitute legal advice or any official rules determination.)

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Admitting My Doubts

I feel a great kinship with two Bible characters in particular: Thomas, who asked for tangible proof of Jesus’s resurrection, and the man who wanted Jesus to heal his child but who confessed his doubts with the poignant, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”

So I wrote a song called “Help My Unbelief,” and put it on my Truths and Lies and Make-Believe album. Now, here’s a music video for it:

Hope you like it.

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And, because I neglected to mention it on the blog before now, a couple of weeks ago I put together a music video for one of the science-fiction-inspired songs from that album:

Hope you like it, too!

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Did You Know? Or Have You Not Heard?

This past weekend, some friends told me they had listened to Truths and Lies and Make-Believe while they were traveling recently, and wondered when I was going to do a new CD.

Truth to tell, I had hoped to record a new CD this year — I’ve got a few scratch tracks down, and some more songs I haven’t quite worked up. If I managed it, and could get it released before the end of the year, then I’d have completed a new CD every two years since the first one.

In the course of explaining that I don’t think I can make it happen this year, though, I realized that they didn’t know I already had a second CD out … even though it came out almost 18 months ago!

That’s how bad I am at self-promotion.

promotion
Have you heard? Did you know? (Image: “promotion,” by Platform4, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

And that’s the reason for the question in the title. Did you know, or have you not heard, about these things? Then I really haven’t done my job, have I?

I try very hard not to beat people over the head with what I’ve done, but clearly I could do a little better when even my friends are unaware of new releases.

So now you know. It’d be great if you let someone else know, too!

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Monday Morning Insight: Fanfare

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)

 

Today is U.S. composer Aaron Copland’s birthday (14 November 1900 – 2 December 1990). One of his most famous compositions was the “Fanfare for the Common Man,” which I first encountered when Emerson, Lake and Palmer recorded a version of it. It’s still one of my favorite pieces of music.

I found this Copland quote, and I like it very much:

So long as the human spirit thrives on this planet, music in some living form will accompany and sustain it.

Do you agree? I might delete the phrase “on this planet,” but otherwise I think he was right.

Do you find that “music in some living form” accompanies you during your days? Hardly a day goes by that I do not find a song in my head — and yes, sometimes one stays a bit too long.

Often, when all else is quiet, I compose and hum little snippets of music as I go about other chores, whether washing dishes or raking leaves or whatever. Sometimes I’ll stop and repeat those musical phrases a few times and think, “I should record that,” but I rarely do. I’ve come to appreciate those little interludes, and I think maybe God smiles at me during those moments when only He hears the little tunes.

Music guitar

(Image: “Music, guitar,” by Doug Wheller, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

 

Thanks for spending a little time with me, and whatever you do this week, I hope some music will accompany you!

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P.S. Shameless plug: If you’re new here and don’t know about my music, please check out my Distorted Vision and Truths and Lies and Make-Believe albums.

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It’s Brainstorming Time Again

The “brainstorming” phase has begun for the annual Pegasus Awards for Excellence in Filking — i.e., writing and performing music often related to science fiction and fantasy. Anyone who has an interest in filk is considered part of the “filk community” and can contribute to brainstorming possible nominees, as well as nominate and vote for winners.

Pegasus Award Logo

(Pegasus Award Logo.)

 

Pegasus Awards are given out in four permanent categories, as well as two categories which rotate from year-to-year:

  • Best Filk Song — any filk song that has not previously won a Pegasus
  • Best Classic Filk Song — any well-known filk song at least 10 years old that has “entered filk community public consciousness”
  • Best Performer — any filk performer who has not won in the past 5 years
  • Best Writer/Composer — any writer/composer of filk songs who has not won in the past 5 years
  • 2016 Rotating Category: Best Adapted Song — which can include adapting or parodying a mundane song or a filk song, but can also mean adapting a poem or book
  • 2016 Rotating Category: Best Exploration Song — which includes songs about “finding out what’s Out There

If you’re not sure whether you’re really eligible to submit brainstorming ideas, the award by-laws define “exhibiting interest” using examples such as filking at SF&F conventions, attending filk conventions or “house sings,” taking part in related on-line forums, and just “discussing filk and filk related issues with other filkers.” So, if you made it this far in this post, you can probably claim to have exhibited interest and therefore would be qualified to participate in the Pegasus Award process.

If you have some favorites you’d like to suggest (and you can suggest as many as you can think of), fill out the Brainstorming Poll Form. There is space on the form for five suggestions in each category, but you’re allowed to fill out as many brainstorming forms as you like!

The nomination phase will start in the spring, and voting takes place in the late summer. The Pegasus Awards are awarded at (and administered by) the Ohio Valley Filk Fest in October.

So, start brainstorming! (And let me know if you need some suggestions….)

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Report from My First Filk Convention

Last weekend I failed miserably at being in two places at one time.

For several years, on the second weekend of January I’ve attended illogiCon, a fun little fan-run science fiction and fantasy convention in the Research Triangle; this year, however, I changed things up a little and attended GAFilk, the Georgia Filk Convention, in Atlanta. This was the first convention I’ve ever attended that was dedicated to filk, i.e., primarily to the music of fandom. I had a good time, but I found myself wishing I could’ve gone to both!

GAFilk is a “relaxacon,” and as such is a very low-key affair. Being a smallish convention, it was not divided into multiple programming tracks and did not offer a variety of simultaneous events. Almost everything took place in a single ballroom!


(L-R: Michael Longcor, GAFilk Guest of Honor, and yours truly, during “open filk.” Photo by Amber Hansford, used by permission.)

So, how did it go?

The Good. At most conventions, the best part is seeing friends that I only see a few times a year, and GAFilk was no different. In fact, I was quite pleased at seeing many friendly faces I recognized from other conventions. Also, it was nice to meet face-to-face some of the people I had previously interviewed on the Baen Free Radio Hour podcast.

The programming consisted primarily of concerts featuring the variety of guests, but a few other events were included. The opening ceremony on Friday night, for instance, include a champagne toast to the “Fannish New Year” and segued into an amusing “My Filk” game show that featured two competing panels and a variety of filk-related questions. My favorite game-within-the-game was “Second Line,” in which the emcee read the second line of a song and contestants got points if they could identify the song title, the performer, and/or the opening line.

The first concert featured Erin and Rand Bellavia, the “Con Committee’s Choice.” Rand is well-known as the co-founder of the band Ookla the Mok, and he and Erin put on a very good show. Actually, all of the concerts were quite good: toastmistress Judi Miller enlisted the aid of several friends during her show (as well as adding verve to almost all the proceedings with her enthusiastic American Sign Language interpretations); Interfilk guest Glen Raphael’s set included not only his original songs but also my favorite song from Carla Ulbrich’s latest album (viz., “Totally Average Woman”); and Guest of Honor Michael Longcor played a great set despite the distractions of Ms. Miller’s exuberant signing. “Super-Secret Guest” Elizabeth Moon’s concert was more of a reading and Q&A session, but was nevertheless delightful.

The “2 x 10” concert session was also enjoyable. Attendees signed up for 10-minute slots during which they presented 2 songs — hence the name. I signed up, too, and sang “A Ship With No Name” and “Another Romulan Ale”. And of course every night featured open filking into the wee hours of the morning!

The Not So Good. The worst part of GAFilk was the headache I developed on Saturday night. I blame the fact that I sat directly in front of and very close to the banquet band’s main speaker. Shortly after sitting down I wished I had brought my ear plugs with me (I always travel with them, but they were upstairs in my room), and shortly after eating I excused myself, returned to my room, took some medicine and tried to relax. My head was still hurting when I went to Elizabeth Moon’s “concert,” so I didn’t mind it being a low-key event. I went back upstairs and lay down for a bit after that, so I missed the auction, but I made myself go to the first hour or so of the open filk before I called it a night.

Also on the “not so good” side, though I suppose I should have expected it, was the emergence of the “Sad Puppies” controversy during Friday night’s open filking.* I’m not sure if the fellow at the other end of the filk circle knew, when he sang the line “they’re all bad writers,” that one of the SP3 authors was listening to him croon. (I was tempted to ask him how many of my published stories he’d read, and what specific flaws in them led him to the conclusion that I was a bad writer, but I demurred; I suspect I know the answer and it’s something less than one.) In the filk circle tradition of following a song with another in the same vein, two other people sang “Sad Puppy” songs after the first one, which I suppose I also should have expected. Again I didn’t make any sort of deal about it: I said nothing, just as I say nothing when, occasionally, I find other particular songs distasteful or objectionable. The artists are well within their rights to express themselves as they see fit.

There and Back Again. All told, GAFilk was a good experience and is a pleasant little convention. I’m more used to general conventions at which I have definite responsibilities (go to this room, at this time, to talk about this subject), so to a certain extent I failed at the kind of laid-back, low-stress attendance expected at a “relaxacon.” Despite my inability to relax into the event, for the most part I had a good time.

I wish I had the skill to be in multiple places at the same time, because then I wouldn’t be faced with the illogiCon-or-GAFilk question. The first is a general convention, a little over 6 miles from my house; the second is a specialized convention, a little over 6 hours away. Simply from a logistics standpoint, I suspect next year will find me staying closer to home; but, stranger things have happened!

Anyway, kudos to the Con Committee and all the volunteers for putting on a fine convention. If you’re looking for a low-key, music-oriented fan experience in early January, I encourage you to consider GAFilk!

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*No, I’m not going to take time in this post to explain what the controversy was (or is). Look up “2015 Hugo Awards,” or if you want my take on it read this post. I consider the horse dead, though beating it can be an enjoyable pastime.

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