Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)

Editor’s Note

It’s with mixed emotions that I announce an intro.verse.chorus hiatus. As IVC’s proud poppa I’ve had a blast curating and contributing so it’s hard to make this break, but conversely, as a musician, some interesting opportunities have recently come my way that I’m excited to explore. Since this musical work will demand a good amount of my attention, I’ve decided to put the blog into hibernation for the time being. It was a tough decision, one I didn’t make lightly, but ultimately I felt that making music had to take precedence over writing about it. As fellow songwriters/musicians, I’d like to think you all would agree with that choice and I hope you understand.

Lastly, I want to thank all the songwriters who kindly contributed their time and talents to the site (see the sidebar) and I’d like to offer a heartfelt thanks to all of you for reading. Your support and enthusiasm has meant a lot and is much appreciated.

So long for now…

All the Best,
Mark Bacino

-Posted by Mark

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Mark Bacino
is a singer/songwriter based in New York City with three album releases to his credit as an artist. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists or composing for television/advertising via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark is also a contributing writer for Guitar World as well as the founder/curator of intro.verse.chorus.

www.introversechorus.com

A Songwriter’s Pocket Checklist

Though often reserved for the mundane realms of the shopping cart or office Post-it note scene, a good checklist can be a helpful tool in any situation - a collection of stripped-down, simple reminders that quickly focuses the mind toward the core of the matter.

At the risk of appearing clinical or oversimplifying the often amorphous process of songwriting, here are three song-centric bullet points you may find helpful/worth running through before declaring any new composition complete:

- Does it have a good beat? Can you dance to it? No matter what style/genre you’re working in, remember the hook is king. Does your song have at least one melody, chord pattern, phrase, riff or groove that will (potentially) grab the listener and make them want to sing along, cry, scream, dance or bang their head?

- Say anything? Do your song’s lyrics make a definitive statement whether they’re obtuse, simple, serious, silly, etc? Be it “Won’t Get Fooled Again” or “Love Shack”, each makes a strong statement of intent.

- Do you feel it? Does your song convey a strong feeling or mood? Although both are quite intangible, they are still very real commodities. Never underestimate the power of creating an emotional connection between you and your listener.

Despite its grocery list leanings, hope you found the above checklist helpful and worthy of keeping in your back pocket; a little something to refer to next time you stroll down the songwriting aisle.

-Posted by Mark

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Mark Bacino
is a singer/songwriter based in New York City with three album releases to his credit as an artist. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists or composing for television/advertising via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark is also a contributing writer for Guitar World as well as the founder/curator of intro.verse.chorus.

www.introversechorus.com

Let’s Work

In my musical travels, I’ve found there to be generally two types of songwriters; those who create solely when inspiration calls and those who write via a structured, work schedule. If, like me, you fall into the former, waiting-for-that-lightning-to-strike category of writers, this post is for you.

In the spirit of expanding our creative horizons, what if we temporarily set aside our ethereal, inspired ways and wandered over to the dark side? What if we decided, if only for the sake of experimentation, to approach our writing with more of a workman-like ethic, reported for the (gasp) job and gave this structured, disciplined songwriting thing a try?

If you’re up for the gig, here are some ideas to help us slackers get down to business:

- Save the date. Even if it goes against every fiber of your creative being, pencil in writing sessions for yourself set for specific days and times. Afterward, adamantly stick to the schedule. Accept that a few of your sessions will most likely begin with a silent instrument and a blank piece of paper.

- Assignment desk. Try giving yourself a specific songwriting assignment and see if you can pull it off; compose a tune in 3/4 time or write a Dylan-esque story song that carries a narrative, etc.

- Take it to the limit. Set some limitations for yourself/your writing and exercise your creative powers within the confines of that framework. Singer-songwriter and IVC contributor, Michael Shelley once told me he challenged himself to write an entire song utilizing only two chords. The result? His catchy, “Listening to the Band”; a tune which successfully proves that limitations can sometimes, surprisingly, help rather than hinder the creative process.

Even if, ultimately, the exercises above do very little aside from reaffirm your aversion to structured writing methods, maybe one or two will stick with you. Exercises perhaps worth revisiting next time that flighty muse of yours decides to blow off work for a couple of weeks.

-Posted by Mark

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Mark Bacino
is a singer/songwriter based in New York City with three album releases to his credit as an artist. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists or composing for television/advertising via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark is also a contributing writer for Guitar World as well as the founder/curator of intro.verse.chorus.

www.introversechorus.com

I’ve Got You Under My Skin

As songwriters, our musical influences play a big part in molding our sensibilities and ultimately our own personal, creative output. It’s probably safe to say that our sonic wellsprings are the sums of all we’ve heard throughout our lifetimes; from the cartoon music we listened to as kids, to that favorite album we obsessed over in college and everything else in between. All of it, collectively, making us who we are, musically speaking, today. Riffing on that premise, here’s an exercise to try that will, hopefully, get under your skin and help strengthen those songwriting muscles:

Infused Songwriting

Courtesy of Mr. Webster - “Infuse: To cause to be permeated with something (as a principle or quality) that alters usually for the better.”

- Pick a favorite band or artist whose music you love, any genre, even if different from the musical style you work in.

- Cue up an album or playlist of said artist’s work, grab a pair of earbuds and listen, without interruption, for 20 minutes. Let the music flow over you and really take it all in. Don’t make a sandwich while doing so either, give the tracks your full attention.

- After listening for 20, kill the music, immediately pick up your instrument of choice, let your fingers do the walking and write something. Anything. Don’t censor yourself and, for now, don’t worry about being derivative. Explore what that short blast of concentrated inspiration has done to stoke your creative fires.

Now of course, as always, your mileage may vary. Maybe after a half hour of woodshedding you’ll discover you’ve just rewritten, in part, one of the tunes you soaked up during your listening session. That said, perhaps conversely, you’ll find you’ve stumbled upon something interesting and fresh; a unique melody inspired by the music you love, yet a melody that’s clearly and undeniably your own.

-Posted by Mark

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Mark Bacino
is a singer/songwriter based in New York City with three album releases to his credit as an artist. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists or composing for television/advertising via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark is also a contributing writer for Guitar World as well as the founder/curator of intro.verse.chorus.

www.introversechorus.com

Time After Time

So the other day I was listening to a song from the ’80s and in addition to the tune featuring some serious, of-the-time production, I realized the song also possessed a very era-specific melody; kind of angular and quirky. Not surprising, I suppose, as that kind of melodic choice was all the rage back in the “New Wave” day, but it got me thinking: While your average songs usually exhibit an era-specific quality influenced by the zeitgeist of their time, the truly great tunes - those considered by our culture as such throughout history - actually exhibit the opposite; a quality of “timelessness”. Songs that amazingly defy period and placement.

As songwriters struggling to create our culture’s new, evergreen compositions we may wonder: How do we introduce this magical sense of timelessness into our own work? Of course, that’s a question even the greatest living songwriters among us would have a tough go at answering but that said, there are some common sense approaches we can take toward transcending the musical here and now:

- Keep it simple. Many classic tunes feature basic chord changes and almost instantly hummable, sometimes childlike, melodies. Don’t over complicate your work.

- Do you remember? Can you easily recall the melody of that new song you wrote three days ago without referencing the demo? Truly great tunes tend to stick to the gray matter.

- Act locally, think globally. The lyrical content of many a timeless tune draws from the well of basic, human experience. Write about something you’ve personally been through that other folks can also identify with, no matter who they are or where they come from.

- Less cowbell. More a production thought than a compositional one; when recording, think twice about adding that hot, new synth patch to your track. Does the song really need it? Remember, today’s fresh sound, many times, becomes tomorrow’s cheesy one. Stick to classic instrumentation when possible.

Obviously, the methods behind creating music worthy of spanning the generations can never be found within the confines of a punch list. If only it was that easy. Fortunately or unfortunately, our job as songwriters is to discover those elusive ways and means. Here’s to keeping our efforts as perennial as the songs we strive to create.

-Posted by Mark

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Mark Bacino
is a singer/songwriter based in New York City with three album releases to his credit as an artist. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists or composing for television/advertising via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark is also a contributing writer for Guitar World as well as the founder/curator of intro.verse.chorus.

www.introversechorus.com

This is How We Do It: Mark Bacino

As curator of IVC, I thought I’d put my money where my mouth is with this installment of “This is How We Do It” and offer a peak into my own songwriting process:

Inspiration

For better or worse, over the years I’ve come to find that when writing music for myself (as opposed to other artists or projects) I’m not a disciplined, “write something every morning” kind of writer. Instead, I generally find myself reaching for the guitar or sitting at the piano when I feel in the mood to play, if not necessarily in the mood to “write”.

With instrument in hand, I inevitably find myself sort of absentmindedly playing through chord progressions. Sometimes nothing more happens and I go about my day. Other times, mysteriously, a new pattern I like appears under my fingers. Now much has been said about where this likable pattern may have come from - Divine channeling? The happenstance of physics in a random universe? - but honestly I try not to think about it too much beyond feeling humbled and grateful.

Once my chord pattern is in place (might be a potential chorus or verse), I then usually find myself singing random or nonsensical words over the top of said chords in search of a melody that interests me.  For some reason, these nonsensical phrases begin, over time, to imply a rhyme scheme. I don’t usually have any proper lyrics, per say, at this point, but I begin to realize the positions where keeper words should attempt to rhyme.

Once I have chords, melody and an implied rhyme scheme in place for one section of the tune, I’ll then repeat the above process ‘till I have all the sections I need to begin assembling a proper song.

Perspiration

With the bulk of the inspirational part behind me, this is where the perspiration drill begins. It’s now that I’ll start assembling my parts into a cohesive song structure. This usually means playing the song sections over and over in various configurations (still with nonsensical lyrics) until I stumble upon a particular structure that feels right for the tune. As I’ve discussed in other posts, there are many classic song structures in the realm of popular song that “just work”.  Having studied a number of these tried and true patterns, I find, has given me a leg up and makes my structuring process less painful.

Lyrical Approach

Assuming I now have a decent (if not set in stone) song structure in place, I’ll begin work on the lyrics proper. At this point, obviously, there’s a bit of reverse engineering taking place. I’ll listen to the chords or melody line and see what kind of mood they’re offering - playful, sad, etc - then take my lyrical cue from there, crafting final lyrics that conform to my predetermined rhyme schemes and melodies while hopeful saying something interesting/entertaining in the process.

In terms of a lyrical style, these days I find myself, more often than not, trying to couch the angst of serious subject matters or everyday life within humorous or slightly snarky narratives. It’s not always my plan of attack, sometimes I’ll play it straight, but lately I find talking about semi-serious subjects in a somewhat humorous way makes the heavier meals (at least to my sensibilities) a little easier to swallow and in some ways more poignant.

Whew.

Now all that said, I’d be lying if I claimed that’s the way I write all the time. It’s just the way I happen to write most of the time. Often a lyrical phrase might kick off the whole process in reverse or I might be washing a pile of dirty dishes, absentmindedly humming a cappella when a new melody arrives. And, in essence, that’s the main appeal of the songwriting process for me. I find that mix of mystery and method endlessly enjoyable.

What’s your songwriting process like? Leave us a comment above.

-Posted by Mark

A recurring feature on IVC, each “This is How We Do It” offers a glimpse into the personal songwriting process of a particular artist.


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Mark Bacino
is a singer/songwriter based in New York City with three album releases to his credit as an artist. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists or composing for television/advertising via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark is also a contributing writer for Guitar World as well as the founder/curator of intro.verse.chorus.

www.introversechorus.com

Jammin’ Me

Let’s face it. As the demands and distractions of our modern, ultra-connected existence attempt to claim every minute of our day, it’s often hard to find the time to do what we, as songwriters, want/need to do the most: write. Texts, email, phone, the web, etc - as important and as necessary as each may be, they can also sometimes act as mini-detours on the road to creative productivity. In efforts to keep our personal creative paths on the straight and narrow, here are some ideas on minimizing distraction:

- Apply 3 times daily. Instead of leaving your email app open all day on the laptop or reading friend’s tweets every ten minutes from your phone, try reviewing your email, social nets, etc only three times a day. Logging on just once in the AM, once at noon and once before you call it a night should be enough to cover it all, freeing up a boatload of creative time once devoted to intermittent, interweb overindulgence.

- TTYL. If you’re suddenly inspired to write or you’ve set aside time to work on some new song ideas and a call or text comes through, fight the urge to answer on the spot. Emergencies aside, most casual communications can effectively be serviced with a delayed response. Your songs need you more than that bored friend who texts, “What sup?”.

- One world is enough. If you’re writing, write. Eliminate all on the periphery that may draw you out of the creative realm. No need to have your TV blazing in the background or that magazine open on the table next to you.

As impractical as it may be, in this day and age, for any of us to drop off the grid for an extended amount of time, we can certainly takes steps toward minimizing some of the white noise. Why not try a few of the suggestions above and see if they help you get down to the business of making your own noise?

-Posted by Mark


Mark Bacino
is a singer/songwriter based in New York City with three album releases to his credit as an artist. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists or composing for television/advertising via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark is also a contributing writer for Guitar World as well as the founder/curator of intro.verse.chorus.

www.introversechorus.com

Break it Down: The Verse

Within the songwriter’s universe much attention is given to the chorus section or “hook” of a tune, but perhaps of equal, if not obvious, importance is a song’s verse section.

When you really think about it, it’s pretty crucial to have strong verses. Most popular song structures feature a verse on their song’s timeline before their venerable chorus makes its grand entrance. As such, the verse is usually the primary musical statement that a listener experiences. First impressions being what they are, as songwriters, shouldn’t we be giving our verses the same creative attention as our choruses?

Musically speaking, a verse should reel the audience in with a unique hook of its own. A hook powerful enough to engage the listener and propel the track forward, yet subtle enough as to not outdo the chorus that’s soon to come.

Lyrically, a verse can serve many functions; it can set the stage, it can tell a detailed story, it may impart an abstract mood or play straight-man to the chorus’ punch line. The possibilities are endless.

Follow along with the break-out below and listen to some well-crafted verses in action via this Fleetwood Mac classic, “The Chain”:

(Can’t see the vid? Click here)
______

INTRO
VERSE
CHORUS
INTRO
VERSE
CHORUS

BRIDGE
SOLO

CODA
______


Did you notice how the quiet sparseness of the kick drum and Dobro on the first verse subtly draws you in while simultaneously setting the ominous tone of the track? Did you catch how the lush, vocal harmonies add a sugary counterbalance and hook to the dark verses but never truly overshadow the catchy choruses that follow?

Next time you find yourself writing a new tune, give your verses a second look. Are you treating them like place-holding, red-headed stepchildren or are you giving them the love and nurturing they deserve?

As always, build it (well) and they will come…

-Posted by Mark

A recurring feature on IVC, “Break it Down” tries its hand at demystifying song structure by deconstructing popular tunes in various styles.



Mark Bacino
is a singer/songwriter based in New York City with three album releases to his credit as an artist. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists or composing for television/advertising via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark is also a contributing writer for Guitar World as well as the founder/curator of intro.verse.chorus.

www.introversechorus.com

More Cowbell: The IVC Production Series Pt.6

With a majority of today’s songwriters having powerful recording tools at their disposal just a laptop’s click away and the line between home and studio recordings blurring daily, writers/artists are now finding themselves, more and more, in the role of de facto producer when looking to capture their latest creations. With that thought in mind, IVC’s “More Cowbell” series will look to dissect, simplify and offer insight into the (sometimes daunting) process and art of DIY music production.

(If you missed the previous installments of “MC”, here are links to parts one, two, three, four and five of the series.)

Mastering

Now, with final mix master in hand, we come to the last phase of our production process, mastering.

If you’re happy with the way your newly mixed track or tracks sound and you’re not planning to release the music commercially, it can be said that you don’t really need to have your tracks mastered. Consider the project complete. If, however, you’re planning to send the music out into the world (iTunes, Spotify, CDs, etc), you’ll want to offer your material the benefits and the competitive edge that mastering can provide. As mastering is very much a specialized process, this is where veering off the DIY path is definitely a smart move. Do some research, find a qualified, professional mastering engineer in your city who has done work you like and put your music in their capable and experienced hands.

Here are some thoughts on what pro mastering brings to the sonic party:

- The basics. A professional mastering engineer’s main function is to sonically enhance/improve and (when needed) repair your tracks through the use of precision monitoring, EQ, compression and noise removal techniques. A good mastering engineer will always strive to do as little as possible to your music, intervening only when necessary.

- While working to enhance your tracks, the mastering engineer will also look to improve the sonic compatibility/versatility of your songs, so that your music will sound its best whether listened to via a high-end stereo system or a pair of earbuds.

- Another function of the mastering process is to increase the average volume level of your tracks while still retaining your music’s inherent dynamics. A good mastering engineer will achieve all through the judicious use of compression/limiting. When done correctly, dynamics will remain intact and your tracks will be comparable in volume to most commercially released songs. When done incorrectly, your tracks can sound overly loud, small and crunchy with little to no dynamics present (i.e. the gentle parts of your songs will sound as if they’re at the same volume level as the energetic sections). Be sure to discuss loudness vs. dynamics balance with your mastering engineer at the top of your session.

- When mastering an album of material (as opposed to a single track) it’s the mastering engineer’s job to compile and sequence the songs. With guidance from either the artist or the producer, the engineer will put the album tracks in running order, create the spacing between songs and make sure the volume level from track to track stays relatively consistent.
 
- In the final stage of the mastering process, the engineer will create a production master (usually a Red Book CD-R) that will contain your newly polished, “mastered” tracks. This master is what will later be used as the source for the creation of end-user products (CDs, mp3 files, etc).

So that does it for IVC’s “More Cowbell”. Hope you enjoyed the series and found its breakdown of the DIY production process helpful. If you have any questions about mastering or any of the production phases previously discussed throughout “More Cowbell”, feel free to email me at - mark@markbacino.com

-Posted by Mark


Mark Bacino
is a singer/songwriter based in New York City with three album releases to his credit as an artist. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists or composing for television/advertising via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark is also a contributing writer for Guitar World as well as the founder/curator of intro.verse.chorus.

www.introversechorus.com

More Cowbell: The IVC Production Series Pt.5

With a majority of today’s songwriters having powerful recording tools at their disposal just a laptop’s click away and the line between home and studio recordings blurring daily, writers/artists are now finding themselves, more and more, in the role of de facto producer when looking to capture their latest creations. With that thought in mind, IVC’s “More Cowbell” series will look to dissect, simplify and offer insight into the (sometimes daunting) process and art of DIY music production.

(Missed the previous installments of “MC”? Here are links to parts one, two, three and four of the series.)

Mixing (Cont.)

Picking up where we left off last post, we now continue discussing the mix phase of our production process.

- Compression. A compressor (or limiter - a compressor on steroids) is a processor that’s primary function is to electronically control spikes in volume (transients) present in an audio signal. It can, for example, automatically tame peaks in level on a vocal track and reduce those peaks by an adjustable amount. Once those spikes in volume have been controlled by a compressor, you are now free to raise the new, more consistent, overall level of said vocal in your mix without the danger of signal overload. In addition to its main leveling function, compression can also be used as an effect. 200 blogs could probably be written on the subject of compression. Educate yourself on the topic; begin by watching this great tutorial on compression basics and don’t be afraid to experiment. That said, if you’re confused about compression (& if you are, you’re not alone), refrain from using it on that “mission critical” demo until you get a handle on the ins and outs.

- De-essing. A de-esser is a processing tool used to remove excess sibilance from an audio signal. If, say, you find your recorded vocal track sounds a little harsh when your vocalist sings a word with an “s”, “t” or “c” sound (or similar) in it, try using a de-esser on the track to electronically lessen those sibilant frequencies. Be sure to educate yourself (here’s a de-essing tutorial) and experiment before using this tool on an important vocal track. Misuse of a de-esser can give your singer a serious speech impediment.

- Effects. Effects processors - reverbs, delays, chorus, distortion, wideners, etc - are tools used to add sonic depth, color and texture to a mix. There are a myriad of different effects and many applications for each. As such, the topic of effects usage is, unfortunately, too vast to explore in detail within the confines of this space. As always, education and experimentation is key. Jump on the web and look up each effect mentioned above as a start (highlighted effects link to tutorials), then find those effects in your DAW software and begin to investigate.

- Panning. Panning refers to the practice of placing instruments/tracks left, center or right (& all points in between) across the stereo field in efforts to create the perception of space within a mix. Note: While panning covers left to right placement, adding the aforementioned effects of reverb or delay to instruments can help place those elements back to front in the soundscape.

- Balancing act. With some/all of the above processing and panning in effect, use your DAW’s virtual console faders to balance the volume level of each instrument (relative to the others) in your song to taste. You should already be close to a semi-decent blend if you’ve been “rough mixing” each individual element in as recorded (suggested in our recording rundown) to assess if said parts were working from a production standpoint.

While balancing, realize that one set volume level placement of a track may not always sound right for the entire duration of a song. That track’s instrument may have to move up or down in level several times over the course of a mix. Program you DAW software’s automation function to perform these adjustments for you.

Also, when balancing, monitor your mix at varied volume levels (loud, soft) to get different perspectives on instrument placement and remember to take frequent breaks from all the heavy listening. Ear fatigue can send you down some undesirable mix roads.

- Reference. Use a professionally produced, stylistically similar, favorite song as a sonic reference. Compare your mix to the “pro” tune and see how close or far off you are in terms of the overall picture; does your mix have too much or too little bottom-end compared to your reference track? Is the model track brighter than your mix or are the top-ends similar? Adjust your work accordingly. Warning: At first it will be fairly discouraging (to say the least) when comparing your mixes to pro cuts, but the knowledge derived from these exercises will help you grow and shape your work for the better.

Next, check out your mix on different playback systems to get a sense of how it’s translating outside of your workspace. Listening on boom boxes, in cars, on computer speakers and ear buds will lend you some valuable perspective. Obviously, your mix will never sound the same on each of these systems (mastering, the next step in the production process, will help with that) but if you’ve done a good job with your mix, your track should sound fairly balanced in terms of levels and frequencies wherever you play it. If an element of your mix is calling attention to itself when you’re listening on speakers other than the ones you mixed on, you might need to revisit that instrument again and adjust.

Lastly, once you’ve got your mix sounding the way you want it, bounce/render a stereo file of the tune (this will become your 2-track “master”) and save both your mix program file and your newly created stereo master file across numerous hard drives or DVDs for save keeping/future reference.

If you have any questions in regard to mixing, leave a comment (above) or feel free to email me directly at - mark@markbacino.com

Next up, "More Cowbell" (Pt.6) goes to “11” as we enter the mastering phase of our production process.

-Posted by Mark


Mark Bacino
is a singer/songwriter based in New York City with three album releases to his credit as an artist. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists or composing for television/advertising via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark is also a contributing writer for Guitar World as well as the founder/curator of intro.verse.chorus.

www.introversechorus.com