Flip That Switch, my "internet based international rock group" has a new song out, "Throw Time"! For background on how the group came to exist check out this past post.
Play the song!
Get the song!
- Valentino Francavilla (Vocals) (Facebook, YouTube)
- Tony Parsons (Drums) (Facebook, YouTube)
- Rocco Pezzin (Bass, Mixing, Mastering) (Facebook, YouTube)
- Andrei Kryssov (Music, Lyrics, Guitar)
The writing and recording process for "Throw Time" was similar to group's first song. However this time I tried a new approach to writing lyrics. I'll get to that in a second.
For writing the music I started with a few guitar riffs and came up with chord progressions for the Verses and Choruses. I came up with transitions for each section and pieced them together.
The opening riff of the instrumental section (1:59) came about from a spontaneous jam session. I liked the feel of playing the riff so I added to it and then slid the section into the song.
The guitar solo in the intro was a last-minute addition. Originally that section was going to be rhythm guitar drums and bass only. However I was inspired by the power of the opening guitar solo of Majestic's Losers Shades of Hell. So I composed a guitar solo to imitate that mood.
I recorded all the guitar parts at home and sent the files to Tony who wrote and recorded the drum parts in his home. Drums and Guitar were then sent to Rocco who recorded Bass. The song then traveled to Valentino who recorded the vocals. All the recorded parts were accumulated by Rocco who then mixed and mastered the song.
Writing lyrics has been a big challenge for me in the past. I'd suffer from blank page syndrome. I'd play the song and stare at a blank page waiting for inspiration to strike. I'd toss around phrases and often not land on anything I was happy with. This lack of a process resulted in frustration and lack of progress.
Thus with this song I decided to come up with a system to focus my attention. Having a system established constraints so that I could channel my creativity. It was much more productive to work within constraints, versus having an open-ended "write anything you want" blank page.
My system was three steps. Come up with a song theme. Come up with a takeaway message from each section. Then write the lyrics.
The theme for this song is accepting that time is finite and realizing that throwing time at your "thing" (problem/goal/dream/challenge) is no longer a viable solution.
It's realizing that the thing you keep postponing or procrastinating may no longer happen. You'll eventually run out of time to throw. And thus you must change. The realization may result in hyper focus so that you can overcome the challenge with a new approach. No longer just throwing time. Or the realization may be that it's time to move on. Let it go. No more time will be thrown.
With the theme in place I created an outline of messages based on each section of the song.
In verse 1 I focused on the ideal settings to create. In that rather than sitting down and doing the work, you spend more time trying to get in the "mood" to create. Plus the idea of waiting for creativity and inspiration to strike, as though by divine intervention.
The resulting lyrics:
For the ideal moment
Just need time
The perfect setting to create
Blank page reveal yourself
In verse 2 I focused on the topic of 10,000 hours. Someone that put in the hours but didn't get the expected results. And how endless distractions (especially in modern day) are vying for your time and attention.
I spend ten thousand hours and yet
The dream is not here
And my will feels this constant duress
Temptations take my time from me
Verse 3 is the realization that it's finite. And now channeling this realization to become much more deliberate in how you spend your time.
Will not fall
In the chorus I wanted to reaffirm the idea of now deliberately throwing time. It's not just a default reaction. It's a deliberate action and choice.
I take hold
I take hold
Putting these constraints on myself greatly helped with channeling my focus on getting the lyrics done. Without the constraints I would struggle to make decisions and progress with the lyrics. Sometimes creativity needs freedom but other times it needs constraints. For it can be intimidating to stare at a blank page and think of something to say when anything can be said.
Take a look at the following lists of ingredients. They are for two confectionaries available for purchase today.
Product A Ingredients:
- Partially Defatted Peanuts
- Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Palm Kernel & Soybean Oil)
- Corn Syrup
- Contains 2% or less of:
- Artificial Color
- Resinous Glaze
- Soy Lecithin
- Modified Cornstarch
- Carnauba Wax
- Artificial Flavor
Product B Ingredients:
- Organic Coconut
- Organic Cacao
- Organic Coconut Sugar
- Organic Cacao Butter
- Himalayan Sea Salt
With just 5 ingredients Product B stands out as my preference (even if the ingredients were non-organic). The ingredients are familiar and have nutritional value. I cannot say the same for the Product A ingredients.
Product A is the famous Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. One of the most popular chocolate confectionaries in the US. Product B is the Coconut Butter Cups created by EatingEvolved. Reese's are essentially artificially flavored sugar that provide no nutritional value - even worse they aren't even empty calories, they are bad calories.
Yet why do they remain such a popular snack?
One factor is taste. Reese's taste good. Or at least people that haven't experienced an alternative think they do. But do they really? Do people truly prefer the taste of Reese's, or just the idea of it? If you give people two options: Reese's with it's current ingredients versus an alternative with two ingredients: raw chocolate and peanut butter, which one would win? Would people really prefer the taste of artificial color, corn syrup, dextrose and partially defatted peanuts?
Eating a blend of raw chocolate and peanut butter is delicious. It's a rich, sweet, and savory combination. But Reese's only delivers on this idea through marketing and product presentation. The actual product is an imposter. It's a concoction of artificial ingredients that are a farcry from the nutritional value and taste of raw chocolate and peanut butter. And for people that don't know an alternative, they believe it. They believe that Reese's is what peanut butter and chocolate is supposed to taste like.
And people know it's bad for you. Candy is bad for you is an axiom. Yet it's not the label "candy" that makes the product bad for you, the ingredients are the culprits. Raw chocolate and peanut butter has nutritional value. Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and corn syrup does not. Natural ingredients versus lab processed.
Funny enough prior to writing the above paragraph I had not seen the headline EatingEvolved has on their site:
Chocolate: It's food, not candy.
I'd be curious to run a blind taste test to see if consumers prefer the taste of Reese's or Coconut Butter Cups. Ideally it would be people that have never tried either product. My hunch is Coconut Butter Cups would win easily. From my perspective they just taste better - much richer and creamier. And although this would bias the results, if you also told people that one of the products was actually good for you, the results would certainly skew towards the Coconut Butter Cups.
Another reason for the popularity of Reese's is cost. Reese's retail price is about $0.78. Coconut Butter Cups are $2.99. If you have two kids it's a difference of spending $2 versus $6 for a snack. For the majority of Americans falling into middle or lower income classes that difference is significant. The Hershey Company is able to exploit it's advantages as a corporation by minimizing the cost of ingredients which allow it to keep retail prices low. In "fairness" to them, as a publicly traded company they have a fiduciary duty to do this.
Another factor is distribution. You can get Reese's everywhere. The local department or grocery store, kiosk, movie theater or vending machine make Reese's widely available. You can even splurge on a Costco King Size bulk package (that's a lot of Partially Defatted Peanuts and Carnauba Wax!).
Add in brand recognition and marketing to low cost and distribution, and you have a ubiquitous product. According to The Hershey Company 2016 annual 10-k report they spent 60% (about $2 billion) of their gross profit on Selling, marketing and administrative expenses. For a company with already well-recognized brands (Hershey's Chocolate, Reese's) they are only increasing their advantage by investing heavily into instilling within us the desire for their products.
And so how does a company like EatingEvolved compete? Compared to the competition their product is expensive, has limited distribution and is an unknown brand. A classic David vs Goliath situation.
Some inspiration can be drawn from the automaker Tesla. Tesla launched it's first model, the expensive Roadster in 2008. At the time the electric car market was dire. Gas prices were surging and the economy was about to enter a recession. EatingEvolved is facing a parallel environment. They have an expensive product at a time when the health of Americans is deteriorating and obesity is at an all time high.
Elon Musk has often said that his goal with Tesla was never to "win" the auto market, it was to bring resurgence to the electric car. To put the pressure on other automakers to step up their game. Look no further than the announcement General Motors made regarding going all electric. This would not have happened this soon had it not been for Tesla.
Furthermore, the Tesla master plan outlined a roadmap that started with a low volume expensive car that would finance a medium volume car at a lower price, and ultimately finance an affordable high volume electric car (model 3). This could be the roadmap for EatingEvolved to adopt.
And thus with it's Coconut Butter Cups EatingEvolved may start catching the attention of The Hershey Company. As consumers get smarter about what they eat they will start to seek out alternatives to the processed products being pushed to them. As "aware" Gen X and Millenials start having kids they will raise their children with a greater emphasis on healthier alternatives and awareness about what they eat. Gone will be the generation that grows up snacking on Reese's because that's all they know. The path for EatingEvolved will not be easy, but it's necessary.
And as they say on their site, Chocolate: It's food, not candy.
There is a group of individuals I'll label as "wake up early individuals" (WUEIs). People that get an early start in order to tackle goals before the day begins.
For some it's waking up early and exercising. Jocko Willink consistently posts photos starting his day at 4:30 AM. The book "How Children Succeed" gives an example of a middle school chess prodigy who woke up early to practice chess. Joe Satriani, electric guitar extraordinaire practiced in the mornings before school:
When I was a kid, I’d get up and practice guitar for an hour before school, and during that hour I’d do all the boring stuff just to get it over with. That way I could come home, do my homework and then jam with my friends.
How are they able to do it? In a world of distractions (mobile phones, YouTube, etc.) WUEIs find a way to go to sleep early and pull themselves out of bed to get after it. Jocko in his book "Disciple Equals Freedom" argues that discipline is the enabler:
Discipline: The root of all good qualities. The driver of daily execution. The core principle that overcomes laziness and lethargy and excuses.
And that waking up early is the starting point:
Discipline starts with waking up early. It really does. But that is just the beginning; you absolutely have to apply it to things beyond waking up early.
Discipline is one common trait WUEIs share. Fuse the desire to achieve a goal with discipline and you get an individual that will wake up at 4:30 AM. Someone that will do whatever it takes.
Yet discipline is only an enabler. It's a starting point. Showing up isn't enough.
Before discipline you set a goal(s). I want to be a: entrepreneur, author, musician, fit individual, etc. This broad goal (musician) may start to become a bit more specific: 80s shred guitar player.
And thus with your goal you channel discipline to show up and put in time towards reaching your goal. This alone will not be enough. For you can show up everyday at 6 AM and practice guitar, but if the practice isn't focused and the goal is open-ended, one year later you may have not made the progress you imagined.
You must set yourself up for success. So when you do show up you take full advantage.
Break down your goal by setting mini-goals with deadlines. This month I'll learn three 80s metal guitar riffs and will write three original ones. I'll also learn to play one full song. Even more specific: by the end of this week I'll learn one riff and the first 2 sections of the song. With clear goals you now have a roadmap towards where you want to be.
To fulfill the roadmap you'll need a system. The system may even impact how you define the roadmap (the path to reaching your goal(s)). Once you define the path your system is how you divide your time. If I have 90 minutes in the morning, my system may be 20 minutes guitar exercises, 30 minutes learning the song, and 40 minutes composing.
Your focus and attention must be deliberate. It's easy to fall into a habit of repeating the same system everyday. But you're showing up so it must be enough right? Just put in the time and results will follow. This is dangerous and you'll likely stagnate. Today you may need to spend 45 minutes learning the song and 45 minutes composing. Tomorrow it may need to shift again.
With deliberate focus you are constantly aware of the goal, your system, and the progress you are making. You make adjustments as necessary so you don't fall into a mindset that just showing up is enough.
If you combine discipline, goals, deadlines, systems, and deliberate focus, you will significantly increase the likelihood of achieving your goals.
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:
- Part 1 (Gear and Ideas)
- Part 2 (Guitar Scratch Track)
- Part 3 (Lyrics and Solo)
- Part 4 (Guitar recordings)
Play the song!
Get the song!
- Valentino Francavilla (Vocals) (Facebook, YouTube)
- Tony Parsons (Drums) (Facebook, YouTube)
- Rocco Pezzin (Bass, Mixing, Mastering) (Facebook, YouTube)
- Andrei Kryssov (Music, Lyrics, Guitar)
Where have I been?
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:
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
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
No more moments you'll take from me
Now that I'm aware
Of your stare
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 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:
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!
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).  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.  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.
 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.
 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.