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In my other life I'm a musician

Posted by timboudreau on June 24, 2009 at 12:31 AM PDT

A few people know that since I was 11 I've been writing and recording music. I recently created a ReverbNation profile to share some of it. Of course, I can't resist prefacing a song with a bit about what it's about and how it got written. So I'll embed the player in this blog and tell a story or two.

It's a hard thing, to decide what to say about a song or any work of art you've created - some people want to know what you were thinking and feeling when you created it; some people want to know the technical details of how you did it. Both are valuable and interesting information, but they are interesting to different audiences. I'll say below what matters to me - sometimes the technical details, sometimes the personal ones, and it will just have to do.

So here's the player, and below are the stories:

  • Milltown Stars—this came out of a songwriters group exercise - draw a character, a setting and an action out of a hat, and have a song that incorporates them for next week. I drew "a barber smoking a cigarette in a funeral parlor" and spent 6 days wondering WTF to do with that bizarre combination. The result incorporates of bits of my grandfather's life, my life, and my friendship in high school with Steve Toutant (whom I'm glad did not find a career as a barber) and I think is one of the best story-songs I ever wrote. Sometimes you just need an excuse to write. Naah, always you need an excuse to write - it's just that when I was a teenager it was the everpresent need to get laid. Us middle-aged folks have to find *actual* inspiration - this is why I'm growing an appreciation for country music - I've written enough baby-baby-wanna-wanna for a lifetime. Max Cohen on acoustic guitar, Kevin Sharpe on drums, Steve Toutant on bass and me on piano, vocals and slide guitar.
  • Walk Out On The Water—this is a song about miscommunication or misunderstanding. Two guys both have the ability to walk on water and each thinks the other is crazy, because of course that's impossible
  • I Know That You Are—One of the most interesting production bits I've ever done (thanks to Warren Ondras for the binaural recordings of cicadas in the woods during the electric guitar solo). The lyrics certainly don't represent my attitude toward women, but it does reflect an attitude I've encountered; I've tried to represent that authentically. Max Cohen laid down the immaculately inappropriate acoustic guitar solo over a sea-of-tuned-bulldozers a few weeks ago, finally finishing this song up. Thanks to John in Prague for suggesting I redo the drums to be more hip - you were right.
  • Song for Maryanne— Co-written with Doug Finn. A song of unrequited love, and how life gets in the way and there's no fix unless your willing to change, from the perspective of someone who can't change when it's long past time when any change could do any good anyway. Not quite for but a bit inspired by Lori Silverman Hurley.
  • Young Again— written for a woman I fell madly in love with when I was about 12, and never quite fell out of madly in love with. I wrote this while renting an apartment in my hometown in 1995 and feeling like I'd gone nowhere in life, just before christmas, contemplating giving her a call. The invitation to her wedding arrived two days after I laid down the demo of the song. Lesson: Spend less time writing self-pitying songs and more doing something about it :-)

    On the musical/technical side, I wanted this song to be sort of Tom Waits meets The Byrds - twangy guitars against a voice that sounds ruined and destroyed. I had to do the vocal over three days because it plain hurt to sing like that - but I wanted it to hurt and sound like it hurt, and you only get that by doing it honestly (or perhaps genetic quirks - I don't know what explains Bruce Springsteen). This is one of the few songs I've recorded where I can say that what I got recorded was almost exactly what I imagined it should sound like. It's paid for itself. Much thanks to the guitarist from the band Leticia that let me use their 12-string Rickenbacker electric guitar to get The Sound for this tune.

  • I Dunno Whatchakindu Wif Yo Luv—in the 80's I kept getting this urge to write obnoxious mysogynist spinal-tap-esque bad metal songs. Really I just wrote it to see if I could sing scratchy falsetto like the guy from Britney Fox (look it up). Basically everything I do is because I love to sing, and the point there is to see just what things I can make my voice do. This was 1991 reel-to-reel, pre-digital-magic, so apologies for the arthritic guitar solo - I learned the instruments I play because I love to sing, not because I wanted to be Eddie Van Halen (now that dates me!)
  • She's Putting It Into My Head— In the UMass dorms in 1988 or so, I had this idea for a song called "She's putting it into my head" - with the idea that the title sounds like an innuendo until you think about it and realize it's straght-out gibberish. Noah Jorgensen, my dorm-mate supplied most of the chorus other than that line; the verses are pure gibberish I ad-libbed into the mic in one take


There are about 240 more songs where these came from. Some better than what's here. If you think my programming work is good, and that my musical work might be good too, you'd be doing me a personal (and repaid if you ever ask me to repay it) favor by clicking the "Become a Fan" link on the widget above. Enough of those and one day I can get some of this stuff on ITunes and Rhapsody.

I've been writing songs for 20 - wait, no, going on 30 - years - not because I want fame and fortune, but because it's a compulsion and I love doing it. Listen to the stuff. If you like one of the songs, click the Become A Fan link (and uncheck any send-me-spam boxes - I don't like it any more than you do). After all this time making this stuff, it would be nice for it to be heard.

My style is so schizophrenic that you get one jazz tune, one Rossini overture, one death metal tune, followed by a hard rock tune, a folk rock tune, and something uncategorizable - give me two songs in any style and I can write in that style. So if you don't like the first thing you hear, please try another before giving up - my style is really whatever I've been listening to most recently.

And let me know your thoughts, what you like, don't, and what could be improved. Nothing is ever finished (especially if you have all the raw tracks.

Harry Chapin got all his family members to bombard Boston radio stations with requests for his songs. They did it. If it hadn't happened, "Cat's in the Cradle" and "Taxi" would not be in our collective consciousness - we all heard them when we were kids and for many of us they caught our hearts. You could help that happen again just by going to my music page and clicking the "Become a Fan" link on top of my picture. You'd be helping me out, and it would be much appreciated.

Only if you think some of this stuff is good.


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> I'd love to see you blog about how you create your music Microphones are the number one thing - they're like the lens on the camera - if the info isn't there, there's no putting it back. I've had pretty much the same process since 1996 or so for recording - and actually about the same software: Cakewalk (now called Sonar) for sequencing keyboard and synth tracks - and in my case, often drums also. I despise music that sounds like it was performed by machines - my whole thing is to create a wooden, natural, organic feel for what I make, no matter what the thing making the sounds is. So my drum tracks are either, if I have the time, 7-10 takes of playing an actual drum kit, stitched and sewn together, or individual drum samples stitched together into a performance complete with time-shifting snare hits and using multiple samples of the same drum and stuff like that to make it feel "natural". Then dump the individual instrument tracks out of Sonar/Cakewalk as raw audio files (a terrible waste of disk space but worth it), and import them into Adobe Audition (formerly Cool Edit - I was one of their beta testers in the '90s and a few of their features were my suggestions - for example, Clip Restoration - take a digitally clipped track, and interpolate what the probable wave-tops looked like - not much different than what an analogue Aural Exciter did in the early-early 90's). I still get told I'm crazy to dump everything to raw PCM audio tracks when I could just mix things live from digitally synthesized output, but I've been through enough generations of not having some MIDI device anymore but still having the part for it, and things like that, that I think I'll always keep up that practice - if you've got the raw audio data, you can remix it forever. If you're relying owning on software or hardware to make it work, somewhere, someday, you're going to need it and you're not going to have the toys that enabled you to lay down the tracks in the first place. So, my general advice is, waste the disk space - once you get a track tight,burn a nice 24 bit version of it, and mix against that. You can always change it and do it again, but more importantly, when you decide to reuse some of it 15 years from now (and, hard as it is to believe, that *is* going to happen), you still own your own work. -Tim

Started with 2 cassette decks and a radio shack 9-volt-battery mixer when I was 14 (I won't be posting *those* songs). I'll throw in some details about how it gets done soon. I'm a terrible guitarist, bassist, saxophonist and singer - digital magic is my friend :-)

Tim This is great stuff. You have some serious talent dude. I'd love to see you blog about how you create your music. Do you have your own basement studio? What tools do you use to capture and edit? Warren