November 10, 2005

The Joy Of Being A Professional Musician...

by Chris Randall

So, I had the opportunity to pick up a contract job today for a rather largish Interweb Company. It was a bit outside my pervue (which is basically fucked-up drumbeats and modular synth squonks, for want of better descriptors) but any port in a storm, I always say, and the ducats were there so I took the job.

Six hours later, I'd pretty much given up, and it was actually over a relatively minor point. (That's a double entendre, which you'll figure out in a minute.) See, I'm a self-taught musician; never had a lesson. I can play keyboards pretty well, and can get by on several other instruments enough to where it sounds like I can play 'em with a little editing/quantizing/Autotune/etc. However, today I ran in to a brick wall, and learned my limits. You see, the piece of music that was required was in a major key.

Now, that doesn't sound like a big deal, really. I mean, just hit the white ones, right? The problem is that I've been doing this (whatever the hell that is) for nigh-on 20 years now, and I've just figured out that every single one of the couple hundred songs I've penned, published, and put on wax are in minor keys. Today, inexplicably, is the first time I've ever tried to write in a major. And it wasn't just any major, but C Major, the Key Of Victory. The People's Key. A Worker's Paradise.

The first album I ever bought was Joe Jackson's "Look Sharp." I'm a child of post-punk. I don't like or listen to pop music. My two favorite bands are Neubauten and Underworld. I just have no fucking experience with C Major. It's outside my realm of expertise. An alien world, where men run around in fields of daisies with no shirts on, rubbing honey on their nipples and singing happy songs, while the women hang out the wash and have children simultaneously. It is, to not put too fine a point on it, fucking played.

So, I had to give this job up, because I couldn't come up with a leitmotif that I could stand to play for the client without shuffling around the room in mute embarassment. I'm sure some people (hell, lots of people) have a knack for this sort of thing, but I'm not too proud to admit that I'm not one of them. The moral of the story? It's never too late to say you just can't pull something off. I'm not saying that you should think you have limits; I'm just saying that it's a bit shocking when you hit them, and a little fucking weird.

(Before you post, I know that Neubauten has one song in C Major; I don't care for it, so put that in your pipe and fire up.)



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Nov.10.2005 @ 5:56 AM
Reason #194 that Bach is awesome: the Well-Tempered Clavier. I mean, shit, each piece is like the platonic ideal of its key.

That is pretty funny/unfortunate though. Better luck next time!


Nov.10.2005 @ 8:37 AM
Wade Alin
I, feel your pain. More than most people.



Nov.10.2005 @ 11:01 AM
the harvestman
I used to be afraid of major keys, and then I started writing industrial circus music.

Nov.10.2005 @ 11:27 AM
Do you think 'regular' people even notice this type of thing?
Or would they even really notice if they heard the song in minor and then again in major?

Why did the project "have" to be in C major?


Nov.10.2005 @ 11:46 AM
Chris Randall
Fair questions, all. It's not so much what "regular" people think. At the end of the day, I'm the one that has to look in the mirror and say "I did something I'm not proud of just for money."

I get by all right making my records and plug-ins. My rent and bills are (mostly) paid. There's no real reason to do something like this other than greed, plain and simple.

On the other paw, it's good to stretch yourself, and take a stab at something you're not good at. But you have to know when to say "when." It's not a matter of whether other people like it; I truly don't care about that. I only let stuff out in the wild if _I_ like it. My existence on this temporal plane is transient; the shit I leave behind is what defines me.

The piece had to be in C major to fit in between two other pieces. Switching to even C minor was too jarring.



Nov.10.2005 @ 12:02 PM
D' MacKinnon
Who in their right mind would want squonky synths in C major anyway? Seriously....

Nov.10.2005 @ 1:17 PM
Sorry, Chris, i think yer the man and all, but, that's some of the silliest stuff I've heard...Too good for 'C' ?


Reminds me of that joke a while back circulating the internet about Metallica sueing some band for the use of the E & F chords...

I would have expected you to take on the nefarious "C" with your superior kung-fu, than to stick yer nose up at it like a cat looking at a bowl of kibbles...


Nov.10.2005 @ 2:13 PM
Now this is where I'd really love to have SMG/CR's catalog in front of me, to really take a closer look at some the tunes you've cranked out over the years. Chances are, you're no stranger to a major key here and there, you're probably just using it differently.

In modern music, "key" can be a bit of a weird thing. There are a lot of major 5ths and minor 3rds and 7ths employed, but if you stray much from this, depending on the melodic structure of your songs, you could actually be writing in a major key, but in one of its minor modal variants. Modes are pretty tough concepts to cover in a blog, so I'm going to let these sites (a bit simplistic at times, esp the one with the ice cream) go over things:

link [www.musictheory.hal...]">link [www.musictheory.ns.c...]

link [www.empire.k12]">link []

and the exhaustive wiki entry:
link [en.wikipedia.or...]">link [en.wikipedia.or...]

Not to say that this would have solved any of your challenges with C Major - there's no getting around it's "heroic yet entry-level piano lesson tunes" vibe. But, playing around with these concepts might spur some new musical ideas.


Nov.10.2005 @ 2:16 PM
Chris, what about A minor? Or F major? Eh, guess it's too late to worry about that stuff now though.

But yeah, these are the situations where music theory really helps. I don't know nearly as much of it as I'd like to, but hey, I'm trying to learn more.


Nov.10.2005 @ 2:22 PM
Chris Randall
I'm fairly certain I've never written a song in anything but blues scales. In my oh-so-humble opinion, C's best friend is D#.



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