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Introduction

I'm extremely excited to write this final part of the series.

The song "An Unexpected Me" is finally done and released under the band name Flip That Switch. The song took a new direction (compared to the song described in parts 1 - 4) and I'm extremely happy with how it turned out!

This post will focus on the writing and recording process of this version of the song. If you're interested in my gear and how the project originally started, check out the previous posts:


Play the song!

Get the song!

Song credits:


Where have I been?

For this series I wrote the introduction post on October 1st, 2015. Part 4 came July 18, 2016 and now part 5 on March 3rd, 2018.

Why the heck did it take so long to finish the song?!

When I wrote part 4 I had all the guitar parts recorded and lyrics written. I started looking for a drummer to collaborate with but couldn't garner enough interest in that version of the song. Then life got busy, I lost motivation, and shelved the song for another day.

And somehow an entire year flew by.

Then in Fall 2017 a few things happened. A new band called Cyhra released their debut album "Letters To Myself". I was blown away by it! In particular how catchy and memorable the songs were. For example check out the chorus in their song "Heartrage". Listening to this album started to rekindle my interest in writing and recording music again.

Around that time I also attended a few incredible live shows (including Rammstein and Iron Maiden). I noticed how certain songs would draw a particular energetic reaction from the audience. The audience would get engaged with the song and want to move and dance to the groove. Capturing this groove, something you can bob your head up and down to, was what these artists excelled at. Getting a person moving and excited is what made the live experience of rock music so much fun.

So I began to imagine how fun it would be to write a song like that. A song that rocked, grooved, and would be fun to play live. A song that captured that vibe.

I listened to what I had recorded in part 4 and found that my song had none of those characteristics. It wasn't a rock a song, it didn't groove, and I wouldn't be excited to play it live. And yet it had potential. The riffs and chord progressions could be repurposed. The song needed some electric guitar distortion and a new arrangement.

I also realized that my intentions when starting this series of blog posts were not focused on writing a song. Instead I put more focus on this series of posts, the song became an afterthought. That's why I lost interest in the music after writing part 4.

And so I shifted my mindset.

I put all my focus into writing the song. Specifically a rock song that I would be excited to play live. A song that could garner that same audience reaction I saw when attending the aforementioned live shows.

And yet I had apprehension. Here I was about 2 years after I wrote the first post in the series thinking of redoing the song. What was going to prevent me from putting the song on an indefinite hold again? Was it going to take me another year just to re-write the new version?

As a solo song writer I often struggle with "writers block". I come up with a section (say a verse) but then not know where to go next. My internal dialogue fields questions like was this new section interesting enough technically and musically? Was it good enough for the song? This perpetuated into self-doubt, indecision, and ultimately blocked me from continuing to write music.

And then I read this advice from Tim Ferriss. Whenever he hits writers block in a project, he asks himself:

What if it were easy?

This question became my mental approach and panacea.

I set the intention that if I hit a roadblock during the re-writing process I would ask myself, what if this were easy, what would I do?

This approach empowered me to make decisions during the re-writing process. So when I did hit a roadblock I would ask myself, what if it were easy, what would I play in this section? It wasn't literally playing the "easiest" thing, but playing something, anything. Then making various tweaks and moving forward.

The mindset was to keep moving forward. Make decisions.

This helped me unlock my creativity and allowed me to re-write the song in a reasonable amount of time. So instead of trying to write the perfect song, I just wrote what sounded good to me with the intention of moving forward and getting it finished.


Re-writing the song

The first version of the song sounded like this:

This version has some cool riffs and chord progressions, but the arrangement isn't very exciting.

So I set an intention: re-write the song so that it grooves and rocks. So that it would get a listener to bob there head up and down and want to move with it.

I came up with a Def Leppard inspired riff that became the intro of the song (first 30 seconds). Through jamming I came up with the chords for the pre-chorus which connected nicely into the chorus chord progression I repurposed from the first version of the song.

Like Lego blocks I began to piece together individual sections. I had an intro/outro, verses, pre-choruses, choruses, and a solo section. I focused on the connections between each section to ensure they were seamless and tight. I didn't overthink them, asking myself constantly: what if it were easy?

I now had the blueprint for the second version of the song. It sounded like this:

For the final version of the song I re-recorded all of the guitars to tighten and clean them up. For my recording process read part 4 in this series.

Next up was writing the vocal melody and lyrics.

Writing a vocal melody was a bit foreign to me. To get started I utilized an approach taught to me by my music teacher. The approach is to essentially analyze the music of a composer you admire to break down the relationship between the harmony, melody, and rhythm.

I really like the chorus in the song "Holding Your Breath" by Cyhra so this is where I applied that approach. I figured out the chord progression by ear and then learned the vocal melody on the guitar.

This gave me insight as to how the vocal melody sounded and played on the guitar. Thus I was now thinking like a vocalist, but instead of singing I was playing the melody on the guitar. I then used this mindset to write the vocal melodies on the guitar for An Unexpected Me.

Here are the melodies I came up with (you'll hear the lead guitar playing the vocal melody):

Now I needed to write lyrics for these melodies.

This was a major challenge. As I sketched out several ideas nothing felt right. So I started Googling "how to write lyrics" and I came across a site whose first point of advice was to not write clichés such as "I walk this road".

I looked at my notebook of ideas and one of the first lines I wrote was: "I walk this road".

So yes, my lyrics needed some work.

I took an approach by starting with a theme. In this case it was "expectations". Thinking about where they come from and how much they define us and our experiences. Going on this theme I started to match up phrases to the vocal melody.

Over time ideas started to come together and I finally had lyrics I was happy with:

Let's set the stage where you enclose on me

Display your force amorphously

I feel no choice

Lost voice

Living to your demands

What if I could

Split from your pull

You are the way I measure up

You are the way I see

Break from you

Break from you

Break from you

Will not concede

Expect an unexpected me

Now I will try to push

You willfully

No more moments you'll take from me

Now that I'm aware

Of your stare

Always there

Awaiting me

Your strength falters

My view is altered

I now had the guitar parts recorded and lyrics written. It was time to find other musicians to join me on this song!


Recording over the web

This song would still be in demo form had it not been for the incredible musicians I was fortunate enough to collaborate with. I give these guys my biggest thanks for bringing this song to life and making it sound so much better than I imagined!

I started my search by looking for a drummer. I wanted someone who was technically proficient, had a great recording sound, and had a groovy feel to his playing.

My strategy was to search on YouTube for drummers covering songs that influenced me. I felt that if the drummer had a solid performance, they would have the right mindset and feel that I was looking for in my song.

I found Tony Parsons through his insanely good cover of the Genesis song "Dance on a Volcano". I then saw his cover of "Fallen" by Symphony X. I was sold, this was the guy I needed!

I sent Tony the song demo and he agreed to add drums to the track. The only direction I gave him was make it groove. I fully trusted his instincts and was blown away by what he came up with. He captured the exact feel I was going for by making the drums groove and propel the track forward.

Even though Tony is physically in a different state from me, the recording process was straightforward. He sent me his first version by adding drums to the guitar backing track I had sent him. I sent him some feedback for a few tweaks, and we then had a final version of the drums. The power of the internet!

Tony sent me each individual drum as a separate audio file, and these would then be added to the final audio project for when the song was ready to be mixed. Here are the files:

image

Next I started to look for a vocalist using the same YouTube "cover a song I like" strategy.

I found Valentino Francavilla covering the song "I Don't Believe In Love" by Queensrÿche. I was blown away by his performance. He not only technically nailed the song, but brought his own unique voice to the song.

I was determined to get this guy to join the song!

While I was pitching Valentino I started to look into the guitar and bass player who covered the song with him. Enter Rocco Pezzin.

Rocco turned out to have a swiss army knife skillset of music production. Not only is he a monster guitar player, but he also specializes in bass and music production.

I contacted him and he agreed to collaborate by adding the bass guitar and mixing and mastering the song. Sharing my 80s metal influences I only needed to give him limited direction as to how I wanted the song to sound.

When he sent me his first version of the mix (including bass guitar) I was truly impressed. The song was starting to come together!

During this time Valentino recorded the vocals. He sent his recorded files to Rocco to be added to the mix, and Rocco then sent me a mixed version that included all the parts.

I had a sense of what to expect from the vocals given that Valentino utilized the guitar melodies I had sent him, but I was still really amazed by his performance. He added various tweaks, intonations, and harmonies that I didn't have in the guitar melodies. He knew the style and vibe I was going for in the track and he absolutely nailed it. The song had come alive and was ready for release!

By the way, Valentino and Rocco are based in Italy - the power of the internet!


What's next?

While writing "An Unexpected Me" I started to write another song. This new song currently has the guitars and drums done, and I'm now working on the vocal melodies and lyrics. Not sure yet when this second song will be released, but it is in progress!

The current vision for Flip That Switch is to release two songs, and then it's a big TBD.

As inspiration strikes I may compose additional music and continue to release as singles. But for now the plan is to just release two songs.

As far as "An Unexpected Me", it was a tremendous pleasure to collaborate with Tony, Valentino, and Rocco on this song. The beauty of finding the right people to collaborate with is that with limited direction they will contribute in ways you couldn't have anticipated. Because of shared musical influences these guys knew exactly what the track needed!

I can now bring closure to this 5 part series.

This is my blueprint for recording a song.

In my teens and twenties I played a lot of pickup basketball. Didn't matter where or with whom - as long as the rim had a net and the ball had air I was game.

I've written this in the past, but I continue to marvel at the life lessons you can identify in a pickup basketball game. Obvious ones such as teamwork and sportsmanship to less obvious ones such as mindfulness, confidence and restraint.

Certain days (or every summer day in NYC) the court would get crowded. It could be a two to three game wait before you get to play. So once you get on the court both teams have a lot of incentive to not lose. In basketball recognition comes to the scorers. Players that put the ball in the basket. So naturally the moment you get the ball you're making a play with the intention to score. The problem is all your teammates likely share this mindset.

Add in the influence of razzle-dazzle players like Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving whose effortless handles and pure scoring abilities are viewed with such awe that the moment a player touches the ball, they feel they must replicate Curry or Irving in order to mesmerize and garner the respect of teammates and opponents. It becomes less about the game and more about showmanship. It's a formula for losing your spot on the court and waiting another two to three games until you get back on.

So what do you do? Complain the person guarding you that your teammates are ball hogs. Or get confrontational and call out your superstar teammates to shoot less, pass the ball and make the right play. But this is pickup basketball, no one likes a player coach.

So shift your mindset, shift your responsibility: plug the hole.

If your team can't get a rebound, get in the paint and get rebounds. If an opposing player is dominating offensively offer to guard that player (always offer nicely). [1] If you need to set some picks to get teammates open, set the picks. The mindset is to do whatever is necessary to set your team up for success.

In most cases that means refraining from launching a three ten feet behind the line and turning around and celebrating prematurely as the ball drifts through the air. [2] It requires swallowing some pride and realizing that in this game your team doesn't need you to take ten shots. Identify the hole and make it a personal challenge to plug it. See how much you can influence the game even if you don't take a single shot. Teammates that know the game will appreciate you and will go out of there way to set you up offensively.

And if you win the game you get to stay on the court - and maybe in the next game you'll plug some offensive holes.

 

Notes

[1] Do it strategically and nicely. There is a lot of pride on the basketball court. If you just got scored on a couple times in a row it's embarrassing and frustrating to have a teammate tell you to switch on D. By telling you to switch with them are implying that you are not good enough to guard that player and they will now take over defensive responsibilities to show you how it's done. Don't be that teammate. Instead tell them they are doing a solid job, but you are trying to get better at defense and want to improve your skills. Ask them if they would be OK with you trying to guard their defensive assignment for a few plays. If they say no back off. But in most cases they will agree and appreciate you not showing them up on the court. It may also reciprocate back to you as they become more likely to pass you the ball in appreciation for your help defensively.

[2] Actually in all cases. Just don't do that. I'm a fan of confidence. But not at the cost of fundamentals. This new trend of shooting the ball and immediately celebrating by turning around and walking away because you "just know" that you made the shot is ridiculous. It's showboating and should be avoided.

Jeff Bezos concludes all of his shareholder letters with this sentence:

It remains Day 1.

This sentence encompasses the mindset that drives his strategy and leadership of Amazon. Although the company will be 24 years old this year, Bezos believes that Amazon must remain perpetually in Day 1.

In his 2016 Letter to Shareholders Bezos answered the natural follow up question: "What does Day 2 look like?":

Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.

Day 2 doesn't sound good for a company with over 500,000 employees and a fiduciary duty to shareholders who own a stock that is up 11% YTD (as of Feb 9, 2018).

So how does Amazon maintain a Day 1 mindset?

Here’s a starter pack of essentials for Day 1 defense: customer obsession, a skeptical view of proxies, the eager adoption of external trends, and high-velocity decision making.

This defense forms the strategic value pillars for Amazon. These pillars are the foundation for how the company operates. Reference points for team members on how to make decisions and approach their jobs.

The Day 1 mindset has a powerful application beyond Amazon.

How would your life be different if you viewed it from a Day 1 versus Day 2 mindset?

Day 2 is the tropical beach scenario. You made it, cold beverage in hand you've cashed out and no longer have responsibilities or worries. You don't need to learn or do anything. Just be until your internal clock hits 0. As Bezos writes:

Day 2 is stasis. 

Day 2 is an illusion. A fictitious place to visit when Day 1 is hard or doesn't align with expectations. You imagine it will be better in Day 2 because then you wont need to work any more. You wont need to learn anything new or channel your discipline and put in the hard work to achieve your goals. Day 2 is when you've achieved all your goals and there is nothing left for you to do.

But I agree with Jeff, today remains Day 1. And Day 1 is much more interesting than Day 2. There is so much to discover, to explore, to learn. People to meet, experiences to be had. Hobbies to try. Skills to learn. New places to go. Goals to strive for.

The Day 1 mindset is one of curiosity. The will to try something. It's about having experiences. The experience of a new job, maintaining an existing relationship, having a beginners mind in a new class you've picked up.

Day 1 is embracing everything that comes with it. The hard work, the reward of perseverance, the process. It's not about chasing Day 2, or getting through Day 1 so that it's finally Day 2.

Kobe Bryant in his Muse documentary film talked about his immediate thoughts after winning his first elusive championship in 2000 against the Indiana Pacers:

...I remember winning the championship and kind of being like, well ok, now what, what happens now, what happens now...?

Kobe reached the pinnacle for any NBA player, the Day 2 of winning a championship. And yet his immediate question brought him back to Day 1. He may have spent 30 minutes in Day 2 basking in the champagne and celebrating with the team. But he was quick to return to Day 1. For Day 2 doesn't have the allure of Day 1. You don't get better in Day 2. You don't learn. You don't get to experience life.

And so for me also, it remains Day 1.

In his essay "How to Get Startup Ideas" Paul Graham writes:

The verb you want to be using with respect to startup ideas is not "think up" but "notice." Since what you need to do here is loosen up your own mind, it may be best not to make too much of a direct frontal attack on the problem—i.e. to sit down and try to think of ideas. The best plan may be just to keep a background process running, looking for things that seem to be missing.

Awareness, the ability to notice is a fundamental life skill that can release you to pursue greater things. For Paul Graham it's a strategy to unlock startup ideas. For those that practice mindfulness it's the foundation of the practice.

Thich Nhat Hanh in his seminal book on meditation "The Miracle of Mindfulness" introduces the reader to meditation through awareness. Having a process running where you are constantly aware of what you are doing presently. Even when putting a book back on the shelf:

While placing a book on the shelf, look at the book, be aware of what book it is, know that you are in the process of placing it on the shelf, intending to put it in that specific place.

What is awareness? How do you channel it? Tara Brach in "Radical Acceptance" writes:

When thoughts arise, where do they come from, where do they go to? As you explore looking into the space between thoughts, through the holes in the net, you are looking into awareness itself. You might sit quietly and simply listen for a few moments. Notice how sounds arise and dissolve back into formless awareness. Can you notice the beginnings of sounds, the ends of sounds? The spaces between? It is all happening in awareness, known by awareness.

As you begin practicing awareness you'll notice a transformation in your outlook to the world. Signs you may have missed previously become clearer. Feelings you've suppressed may become nurtured. Your relationships with others, with food, with experiences may become more significant.

Starting small and finding awareness in moments everyday can lead to more awareness throughout your experiences. It's a habit that can easily be dismissed or neglected. And yet finding ways to remind yourself, to continue to notice, can establish a habit that can have a profound impact on how you live life.

On the topic of life skills Michele Borba's book "UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World" is one of my favorites. It presents a case for why empathy is a critical skill and how it can be fostered in children.

Professionally as a Product Manager empathy is something I'm continually honing and practicing. My responsibility is to determine the stakeholder's (e.g. user's, team member's) need. Out of all the things we can build given a constrained set of time and resources, which ones will have the greatest value? I must put myself into the position of the stakeholder in order to understand their need. I must empathize.

Unknowing I began to foster my ability to empathize at a young age. One of my favorite games was setting up and acting out movie like scenes with my G. I. Joe action figures. I'd imagine elaborate worlds and scenes where my hero would fall under duress and battle his way through to redemption. I imagined what he was feeling, what his allies were feeling, what the villains were feeling. I'd act out the scenes, conversations, and of course the action. I'd stretch out the scenes imagining my hero experiencing a range of emotions. It was exciting to create these scenes in my mind. And as I let my imagination flow I was honing my ability to empathize.

Imagination is a pre-requisite for empathy. You cannot empathize with someone if you can't imagine what they feel or need. I believe if we want a child to develop empathy, we must encourage them to use their imagination. The how they do it is not important. It could be playing a video game where they have a connection to emotional state of the characters in the game. It could be watching a film, reading a book, or creating a fictitious world with G.I. Joes. Put them in a situation where the mind starts imagining and they'll begin to empathize with their environment.