Jill talks with Jonblazing, a recording artist and music producer, about songwriting and his upcoming album Liminality.
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Featured Resource: Local History Digital Archives
Jonblazing: Songwriting and Music Production
Connections: A Podcast of the James L. Hamner Public Library
Published September 14, 2022
Transcripts are edited to aid with ease of reading. Verbal fillers, stuttered phrases, sounds of listening, and laughter are generally removed, but grammatical errors and similar verbal idiosyncrasies are included. Ellipses (…) are used to indicate unfinished sentences or interruptions.
[Intro Music] Jill 00:02
Welcome to Connections, a podcast of the James L. Hamner Public Library. I'm your host Jill and the ideas in this episode represent the opinions and experiences of the speakers. They may not represent the library's official position.
Hello, everyone. I know it has been a while. I am very happy to be back. There is some library news that if you listen until the end, I will update you on everything that is going on.
But first, we are going to have our episode with Jonblazing who is a recording artist and music producer in central Virginia. Jonblazing has an album coming out soon and he's going to talk about that and also the process of songwriting, music, producing your own music, things like that. But first, our featured resource.
Today's featured resource is the library's Local History digital archives. The digital Local History Archives contained searchable editions of the Amelia Bulletin-Monitor from 1973 to 2021. The Local History Archives are found on the library's website under the Digital Library tab. And now for the episode.
Jon, thank you for joining us on the podcast today. You are about to release a new album of music. Can you give us the two-sentence version of what people need to know about you so that they can kind of understand where you're coming from in this conversation and also as they're listening to your music?
Yes. First of all, thanks for having me on. Regarding being able to get a good concept for me, I'm a recording artist, a music producer, and I have a genre that I have created called rhythm and cuts. We can talk a little bit more about what that characterizes. But, it's something familiar, but at the same time, something new, and I hope people will like it.
Something familiar and something new. Can you tell us a little bit more for people who are trying to visualize this in their inner ear? Because that could be like: it's a cross between traditional hymns and country music. Or, who knows what. Can you narrow it in a little more?
Yeah, I'd be happy to. So, most people are familiar with R&B, rhythm and blues. So, that's what I would compare it to. I call my style rhythm and cuts. For R&B, blues is basically at the core of that, and most music is going to be built off, or like that four-bar beat, right, with guitars. And you have several derivatives that we've gotten from rhythm and blues like rock, rock and roll, pop, soul, and funk.
But as regards what I do for rhythm and cuts, the core of my music is really the essence of how hip hop is made. And how a DJ plays, which is basically cutting the song's sound off and on. And essentially, that's really how the music first got started. But, not necessarily just as simple as that. But at the core, it's basically breakbeats and cuts that make up the rhythm. And, it still has those other R&B derivatives on top like rock, pop, soul, and funk.
So, I basically blended those two together and I kind of created something that I wanted to hear but didn't exist at the time. I wanted something that had the knock, and the groove, of hip hop but not necessarily rapping. And, I wanted the flow that some MCs in the genre have, and the clever wordplay, and the consciousness that's found in some of the songs, and also that's found in a lot of classic rock, but along with those chord changes in song structure of classic rock, soul, and funk, but with catchy pop-like melodies and hooks. And so, it took years of trial and error to figure out how to do that vocally and musically, but that's essentially what rhythm and cuts is.
All right, thank you for that explanation. I think people can kind of have a sense of what they're going into now.
Is there anything else before we start really talking about the music that you're about to release that would help people to understand the conversation?
I could talk more about my musical background and how I got here, if that possibly would help.
Why don't you share that? I think it'll be interesting.
Well, I've been performing music since 1994. I started off in my middle school symphonic band, mainly doing percussion, and later in high school, that's when I had an interest in learning hip-hop production. I first started learning how to DJ in that way, you use it to create beats, so it's a little different than, you know, the typical wedding-DJ DJ. Or even, you know, the EDM DJ, but it's almost like a form of playing, but at the same time it isn't. But once again, it's music that's basically made from a rhythmic type of way of cutting the sound on and off to create new rhythms.
And so, I was just desiring to really be somebody that just makes beats, at the time, and I just wanted to make them to listen to for myself. And, a year after I graduated high school, I got interested in the local music scene here in my area, and that made me want to go from doing that, to really being a member of a band. And in the early 2000s, it wasn't uncommon to actually find DJs in bands performing as band members, and that's what I wanted to do. And eventually, a close friend of mine from high school, we actually started a group together. We couldn't settle on who was going to be the frontman, so we were going to share it. And so, that got me into learning how to write songs and become a songwriter and performer, which is not what I initially wanted to do.
But, in order to do better at that, I decided to take piano lessons to not rely solely on sampling to create beats, and also to be able to write these songs. So I wanted to learn how to write songs in the traditional way, and then merge them with what I had already learned when it came to hip-hop production to create like this style of my own. And, our group wrote some songs. We did one show, and we never really did much more after that.
That's when I decided to become a solo artist, and just to continue working on developing what I was trying to get started with the first group. Sometime after that, I ended up joining another group. I learned more from another musician that I'm still really close friends with, continuing that all the way up until COVID started. And it was during the pandemic that I finally figured out how to blend everything together to get the sound that I had been hearing in my head for about 20 years. So, it took a while, but I'm happy to be here. And, Liminality is going to be like the first listen of what I've spent like two decades trying to figure out how to do.
You mentioned songwriting in the traditional sense. Can you talk a little more about what you meant by that, because there is the traditional art song, what some people might call classical, way of songwriting. And then there's more the mainstream radio style of song writing, and they are different processes. So what did you mean by traditional?
Well, traditional by today's standards would probably not be what you had just mentioned. So, not to the point of actually scoring and writing out the musical notation on sheet music. I mean, push comes to shove, I could do that. It would take me a long time to do that, and I have actually done that, in some cases. And, it helps, especially if you need to note something and share it with somebody else. Or, if you want to remember exactly how to play a certain thing, if you can't record it, but more or less what the classic rock guys were doing.
So, for instance, a big encouragement to want to learn how to play piano was like looking at the Beatles, like Paul McCartney, and seeing how they were able to just take, you know, their guitar, piano, and they would just write songs by coming up with different chords and coming up with melodies that they would sing over top.
And, that wasn't too far from hip-hop production. We necessarily wouldn't actually make the chords ourselves, but for the way that I would do it, I was never the type of beatmaker that would just basically sample the whole song. I would take bits and pieces. Rarely would I sample anything that would be more than three seconds. And, I would build a collage of a bunch of different chords, notes, and then I had fun in trying to arrange those in such a way so as to be able to come up with like a structure behind it.
And so, when I saw how, for instance, John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote songs, I'm like, "Man, they're basically just using their instruments like a sampler, except they're just actually playing the notes. And they're arranging it and figuring out what's going to fit similar to how a lot of guys make beats today."
So, I started off really basic when it came to playing piano like that, but to the point of being able to, you know, come up with like a chord progression and come up with like, maybe a structure for the verse and then to try to figure out, "Okay, can I change the key by going into the chorus?"
You know, and you kind of mess around and noodle around a little bit more until you can kind of figure out, "Oh, that sounds good."
And then you try to figure out, "Okay, well, what, what can I come with after that?"
And basically, just sitting in front of an instrument, for me it's going to be piano or keyboard, and just figuring out, "Okay, what's going to sound really good?"
Maybe it'll be a new chord I'm learning. I might take the first few chord progressions from another song and kind of change it, which was the sampling that took place during the days of rock and roll. It was harder to sue those guys, but a lot of that happened, as regards musicians borrowing structure from each other, so, you know, whether you're using a sampler or you're using a guitar or a keyboard, it's essentially in many ways, still the same way. We can get into the argument of who's the real musician, but at the end of the day, you know, I think the most important thing is, you know, the outcome, and how you're going about it, and what you're trying to actually create at the moment. But, that's what I meant in a more traditional way, and rarely is that done right now.
For most songs that are written now, like the actual production that hip hop started with has pretty much affected everything, and EDM was very similar to that, but for most people that are writing songs today, they're starting off with a loop in their DAW, their digital audio workstation, and they're just putting other stuff on top of it. And that's still essentially how I work. The only thing with me is I actually create the loop, instead of just getting one from somebody else sometimes, but rarely do people today sit at a piano or, you know, pick up a guitar and just try to come up with something from scratch. It's kind of intimidating if you haven't done that.
And for me, it's taken me many years to get to a point where I feel comfortable doing that. And I've done that, I think I've done that with two songs on this album. I'm still very heavy in the other aspect of my foundation, if you want to say that. But, when I did try to learn how to be more of a musician in that sense, I wanted to at least be able to, if I had to, write a song just using piano and filling in everything else later to get at least the basic structure going on that instrument. So, that's what I meant by traditional.
What drew you to piano over guitar?
It was the benefits of the fact that I had taken a music appreciation class in college at the time, right after high school. And so, in the book, it said that the piano was like king of the instruments, or maybe the queen. I think the human voice is considered the king of instruments, but the piano is next to that. And so, many had said that if you learn piano, you can basically learn how to at least score just about every other instrument because of the versatility of it. So I was like, "Man, if I'm going to learn an instrument, let me at least learn to one that's going to give me like the best, in terms of being able to songwrite, communicate with other musicians, and also will help bolster my production skills."
So I was like, "Alright, it would be nice to learn more," but I knew I was limited in terms of the time. So, you know, my goal in learning piano was never actually to become a pianist, but really to become a better songwriter, a better producer, and occasionally, to accompany myself for a song that I wrote, playing piano. So, that's why I chose it.
And, there were just so many other friends that played guitar. And I kind of thought, from a community mindset, we kind of need somebody that does something else. You know, if we're all playing guitar, you know, it doesn't really add any versatility. So, I wanted to bring something to the table that... I wanted to fill a need. So I was like, let me learn how to do that, because everybody else generally wants to go for guitar. So, that's why I decided to also go in that direction.
That makes a lot of sense.
When you're writing your songs, what typically comes first chords or lyrics.
I've done both. I've done both. And, I think a lot of that has to come back to my background as a DJ, a technique known as blending. People call it mashups today. But, from the people that I learned from in the past, they used to call them blends, you would take the a cappella. And you would try to find another instrumental that mix with it, right. And, it's really re-mixing right on the fly, with one record on one turntable and the instrumental on another, and making those match and come in time and doing different things to kind of keep it fresh, like turning one down, running one back, doing different things like that.
And so, before I actually got into really making beats, I spent a lot of time making blends. And so essentially, I treat what I'm doing right now the same way. I could write something and not have the music for it, but I have like the lyrics and a basic idea of the vocals, and I treat that almost like it's an a cappella record. And I just wait until I find, or till I end up creating, something that will match with it sometimes. I'm like, "Oh, okay, this will go with that."
Then on the other hand, I might actually start it off with instrumentation first, right. And then, that actually inspires me to write, and I actually find that to be more fun. And that's what's really fun about producing is being able to make something for yourself, or for somebody else, and it actually gets the creative juices going. I'd have to say it's probably one of the things I enjoy about it the most is trying to get yourself fired up. Because, you may not have any motivation to write anything. But, if you can end up creating something that has the energy, it kind of will move you to do it. And, that's really what helps you to become a better producer. If it's not really moving you and inspiring you to like go somewhere that you probably weren't gonna go, it's probably not really worth investing too much time in. It's time to move on to something else. And, that's really how I treat a lot of the stuff I do. If it's not really making me get hyped up like within the first five to 10 minutes, then I probably don't have anything that's worth saving that day.
So, in the demo you sent me, there were seven tracks. How many do you guess or estimate got started and never went anywhere because they weren't worth your energy like you were saying?
I spent a month writing a song a day and that's how these songs came about. So, there's probably like maybe 20 others that I just got saved, and what I'll do, coming from like a sampling background, I'll probably use them later. I might take a lyric, or I might end up working with someone who I might think, "Alright, maybe you could do something with this, and it'd be a good fit for." But, yeah, I'd probably say there probably about 20 other songs and Liminality was not something that I plan to do. It just happened.
I noticed that there was a trend where like, the songs kind of all kind of, could go under the same theme. And for me, doing albums... I remember when albums were like that. And from being a DJ and having a sampling background, kind of forced me to go back and listen to like a lot of music from the past. While listening to that music to find stuff to sample, you end up becoming more than just someone who's trying to use it to do your own thing. But you end up, you know, really appreciating the music for what it is.
And the way albums were 20, 30 years ago, and even further back, all the songs kind of made sense together. Like they all followed a theme. And today, most albums are like a mixtape. And, you know, the songs don't necessarily flow into the other one, they just stop and the next one starts up, not really even enough time for you to kind of take a breath and just kind of breathe in what you just listened to. Because, people generally aren't listening to albums like they used to listen to them, where you would be at home, and you would listen to the album from start to finish. Most people are maybe just listening to a mix of different songs from different artists. But, I still like the idea of having something thematic. And, I just ended up grouping all the songs that made sense, that kind of fit together, that month of writing a song a day, and that's how we got Liminality.
Maybe I'm old now, because I cannot conceive of an album that all the songs aren't under the same theme. I think I, if something was sold as a group, as an album, I would be driving myself crazy trying to find what the connecting theme was between all the songs, you know, and I don't usually buy just individual songs.
And, I can appreciate that. Yeah. And not to be a critic of that, you know, that is what's current right now. And that's all that some people have known. You know, we tend to like things that we grew up with, are familiar with. So, you have to be open-minded. But, it's also good to be able to be open-minded to consider what the opposing view would be, as well.
You know, going back to, you know, when I was listening to a lot of like classic rock, and also some of the just really good albums that are recommended to listen to, right, if you really want to become a better artist or producer. It's a journey, a really well-constructed album is, and, you know, you really feel like you're going on a ride. That's what the artist is really taking you on. And, those are nice experiences and some people just have never experienced that before, you know, what that feels like.
Right now music is a lot about just energy and being hyped up, but not necessarily peaks and valleys. Right? Where you're kind of, it's almost like a movie. Right? A lot of music today is kind of like two hours of special effects. Not much of a story. Some people would say that a lot of our movies are that way, basically, there's not much of a plot, but there's a lot of special effects, and yet those movies make a lot of money. So, what people want determines a lot of what comes out artistically. And, you know, that's also another conversation, as regards whether you find that to be right or wrong.
But, now that we're in this purely like digital landscape, that is the way a lot of people listen to music. So, one of the reasons it's just seven songs is because I don't feel like people can really handle more than that. So the idea was to try to make it in such a way so that it would encourage the listener to want to listen to it from start to finish and not want to shuffle.
But, for this, I wanted to do something that would definitely be a throwback to that. And then, I wanted to be able to get that same feeling from listening to it. So, I was kind of treating it like, "I can't wait to listen to this myself" and like "What effect is it going to have to listen to it from start to finish with the right breaks in between the songs and even the sequence of everything."
To some degree, that's something that's rarely done now as regards what songs should be the first one and etc. And it's not as much of an issue now because people have the easy ability to shuffle and go from where they want to, and so that's probably one of the other reasons it's not thought of as much. But back when music was on vinyl, you know, it kind of forced you to sit, unless you want to keep getting up and walking over to the turntable and dropping it. And to some degree people still listen to CDs the same way, too.
I don't think the way I listen to music matches up with how modern people listen to music, because I definitely want a good 45 to 90 minutes, just to hit play and let it go.
Okay, well, we will leave aside all the philosophical discussions that you mentioned that are very intriguing but are conversations on their own and focus on the album you have coming out. So, you've told us a little bit how it came about to be. Looking back over that month of writing a song a day, did you start out wanting to write on a theme or are you just looking back and seeing how maybe a theme emerged?
It came about on its own. I came up with this way of being able to find a song title a day, right, by looking at the news. So I have this, I had this routine of waking up and looking at the news and seeing what was recommended in my news feed. And, just about every day, I would find something that was catchy, a catchphrase, whatever. And, I would just be like, "Okay, that sounds good." And then, that's where the inspiration would come like, "Oh, what would that sound like," and I will get excited. And whenever that happens, that's a good thing, right? So one day, I saw this thing mentioned "liminality."I'm like, "Oh, that sounds catchy." You know, and even, without even knowing what it meant, I started coming up with like, you know, an idea for like a hook in my head. But then I looked at the article, and it had to deal with the fact that we're in a state of liminality right now. That's what you're feeling, is what the article said, the state of the unknown, because of where we are in the COVID pandemic, and not knowing when it's going to end and what life is going to be like afterwards. And, the article was talking about the effect that that was having on people emotionally and psychologically.
And I thought, "Oh, okay, oh, that's really good." You know, so like, "Where could we go with that?" And so, I'd already written a few of the other songs that ended up getting paired under that theme title, right? But I was like, "Yeah, that really sounds like a good title track, too." And, you know, that could really just be like a nice concept for a pandemic album, right. Because several people were doing that at the time. But, was anybody really doing one that featured just on COVID itself?
People were doing COVID songs, but not necessarily a theme, for this time in history. And for me, I feel like albums should also be a timestamp for what's happening, like, for the artists or what's happening for, you know, the people of the time that it's written in. And, it's almost like a photo album, in a way, where you can put this on, almost like you could sit down on your couch, and open up a photo album and reflect, "Okay, yeah, that's what life was like back then. And, there were some good times; there were some bad times; I'm happy to be where I'm at." But, to kind of just go back, right. And, that's the feel that I wanted people to get from listening to this and what I wanted to get from it as well. And at the same time, depending on when it was going to get released, to also provide a positive message to kind of help people to see that there is some good and bad and this liminality that we're living in right now.
Yeah, when I was listening to the demo, obviously, I didn't have the written lyrics, but it seemed to be very honest, but from a more "life's gonna be okay" perspective and less of the "everything's horrible, and we're all going to crawl into a hole until it's over" perspective.
That's what I was going for, you know. To try to be real, but not necessarily negative, either, you know, but to try to look at the positive of the situation.
I'm not asking this to ask you to divulge anything you don't want to say publicly, but as I was listening to it, music or lyrics that tend to be more positive, well, at least the music that is readily accessible, seems to be split between doom-and-despair and overtly Christian religious music, and something like what you wrote that is pretty positive, but it's not kid songs. Like, I'm not talking about that; they tend to be positive or something, I don't know. But like for, you know, your mainstream adults. If I were just hearing that, what you wrote with no background, I would start wondering if you are actually a practitioner of some kind of religion, perhaps Christianity or some major religion, just because it is so positive and that's so unusual to see outside of contemporary Christian music. So, there's not really a question there. It's just a comment, I guess.
Well, I can appreciate that. I didn't want to come across as being preachy or make it feel like people were getting a sermon because, you know, that can really turn people off. And, you know, that's not really what my overall goal is, when it comes to writing music. I am a Christian, so as regards my faith, it's going to like come out. I feel like it's good to put like pieces in there. And, you know, regarding the example that Jesus said, if you're familiar with the conversation he had with a Samaritan woman at the well, it started off with just talking about water, right, and then that ended up becoming something else. So, I kind of treat my music the same way. I'm not necessarily outright talking about as regards a teaching that's found in the Bible. But, talking about what's happening right now, it's gonna relate in some way, right. And so, that's the approach that I had.
So, there are definitely like, there are lyrics that are there that are pointing to certain things. And I thought it would be good to let the listener try to figure out what they were. Some people are never going to listen that deep. So, the idea was, for me, this 20 years of trying to come up with this style, was to figure out how to write songs that would appeal to people who just really want to find something they can groove to, right, and they just want to hear something good. But at the same time, for people who want to listen deep, there's more that's there. And that's a real challenge, you know, to be able to write a song that's simple enough so that maybe even a kid would dance to it, but still, there's enough going on in a nuance way, where somebody who really listens closely, would be like, "Oh, wait a minute, that wasn't so easy, what's going on here," you know, as regards to what he's doing.
And then lyrically, like the hooks are catchy, but if you listen to what the hooks are really saying, I was told I use a lot of play on words by a former bandmate - that I like to play with words. Even with some of the song titles, it's there. And for me, I feel like there are three levels to music.
There is the fact: is it groovy? Does it make you want to move? Is it really good vocally? And then three: Is it saying something?
And if you can hit all three levels, I feel, you know, you really have written a well-written song. And that's what I tried to shoot for - to try to find something that's sing-songy, that people want to move to, but at the same time, it's saying something. And I feel like, kind of like art, it's being able to look at a painting, and you get three different levels out of it, right. So it's a really nice experience.
Almost kind of like a full course meal. You know, it's just not a protein and a carb. But there are like some vegetables in there. And I guess that would be like, is it really saying something, right, the nutrition. Nobody really wants to focus on that, but can you make the vegetables taste good? if it's danceable enough and if it sing-songy enough, they're gonna get the nutrition in.
Yeah, I like that. That's great.
Is there a particular track in this album that has a story behind it, or a message that you'd really hoped people would understand or think about, or that would be a story people would find interesting?
Yes. The, in line with what we were just talking about, the song "Results May Vary" is a play on words, and "vary" as in variants of COVID and any future diseases that we can only speculate about what's going to come next. And, scientists and officials can make predictions on what a new strain is going to do, right. Like, for instance, right now, monkey pox is in the news and what its potential could be, but the actual results may vary. And that's where the positive is where it's like we can be anticipating that it's going to be so bad, but we really don't know for sure. So, it's good not to get too hyped up, right, and worry about it.
But on another level, "Results May Vary" also focuses on the individual. You're living during this time. What are you going to do with your time during restrictions for an pandemic? Like now, to some degree if you're still dealing with those, or a future one. And, that's going to vary from person to person based on their individual choices, good or bad. So, the refrain in the chorus in that song is really encouraging a person to focus on what they can do with their time right now, once any restrictions pass, so that when they do, you can look back and have something positive to show for it. But, how successful you're going to be? Those results are going to vary based on what you do today.
Yeah, wordplay. Love it.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell people about the album or your music specifically?
You know, I hope I'll be able to find a audience for it. It's definitely not going to appeal to everybody, because, you know, you try to write music that will be catchy, so that it'll have like that, that pop sensibility about it. But at the same time, there are just certain trends that you just aren't going to follow, right, because it's not fitting the type of sound that you want to do. So, I guess the thing I would say is that I'm looking for a audience, for people who actually want to hear this type of thing, who want beats, essentially, right, that are good, but they're not filled with like, lyrics and vocals that, you know, are unwholesome or threatening, right. But at the same time, not necessarily preachy, you know, it's still being real, but there's some consciousness that's there, right. And, you know, for something that's just necessarily every song isn't just gonna repeat, there's gonna be some changes, you know, as regards, the chorus might go somewhere else, and to have maybe a little bit more musicianship and structure similar to what we probably last had about maybe 20 years ago.
That was really popular maybe throughout the 90s, right. So I don't know who it's gonna appeal to, you know. I've let a few people listen to a few of the songs, and that's kind of like one of my test bases, to let boomers all the way to Generation Z listen to it. And the idea is, you hope you can draw in everybody. But, yeah, I am looking for a audience, a community, to serve. So, I got to start doing some more promotion to let people know that I exist. And, you know, once I can add a little bit more to that, you know, the album will be coming out.
It's a little different now when it comes to releasing music. In the past, you could put an album out, but in the market that we're living in today, it's a singles market. So, it's really encouraged to release several singles from off of the album first. And that's what's going to be coming, for those that are interested in knowing, you know, what's ahead. So, I'll have a few of the singles, the demos that you've heard, that are going to be coming out, and then the album will be coming up.
Do you know yet where it will be released? Like Bandcamp, or I don't know where.
All of those platforms. All the major platforms: iTunes, Spotify, Bandcamp, Amazon Music, yeah.
So you've been working towards this for 20 years, even if you didn't know you were working towards it. From all of that experience, if there's somebody right now who's trying to write their own songs, what is something that you would like to say to them?
Regarding that, I was given the good advice that you should have several influences, if you can from different genres that you like, and to study your influences' influences and go back. If you study your influences, you will get better and you will likely become like them, but it's not always you're going to become as good as them. But if you study the many whom your influences learned from, you will likely not only become different, so that you just won't become a clone of that band, that artist, that you just really, really like. But, you actually may end up even reaching the same level of musicianship that your influence had over time, because you've gone back and you've listened to the people that influenced them. So in effect, if you do that, you get to take the same musical journey that your influence had. But it'll be completely different, because it's going to be shaped by your personality and experience and something new is going to result. And, the benefit of doing that is it's going to prevent you from becoming a clone of your favorite artists, and from sounding like everybody else, but it is going to require time, and it's not the quick way. It took me 20 years.
I mean, as an artist in a broad sense myself, it takes a long time. Like, there's, it doesn't mean that you don't have fun or you don't enjoy what you're doing or don't do anything worthwhile in the process. But, it takes a lot of time to keep building the skills and the background knowledge and everything that needs to happen for you to start hitting what you've had in mind all those years. Yeah. Yeah, it takes time.
Yeah, it does. And to, if I may follow up with one thing we were talking about before, I would try to write a song every day and record them and know that it's probably not going to sound very good at first. But, once you get those out of the way, eventually you'll develop good songs and they will become more regular. And, I set a goal of doing that during the pandemic, as we talked about, and it really helps. So, that's the other thing that a person could do to get better when it comes to writing. It's a enjoyable thing. I like it.
So, the writing in some ways is the easy part. But, the actually producing it into music seems like its own skill set all on its own. So, let's say there's somebody who's, you know, been recording on their iPhone or whatever, you know, doodling on the piano, singing their songs, recording, how would they even move beyond that? Like, short of setting up an entire producing studio? Like, what where do you do? What do you go?
Yeah, that's a very good question. When it comes to learning how to produce, it's its own skill set. And, you'll have to realize that you're going to have to take time away from the writing and the musician part, if you want to get good at that. And, you don't have to, you could try to find somebody that could do it for you, if you don't want to do that. But, it is its own skill set. And that has taken me years to, it's just recently during the past two years of the pandemic that I've finally learned how to produce and engineer and how I did it, which I think would help someone else, is to find out who made your favorite recordings in terms of the sound quality, not necessarily the song. And then, also the recordings that you just play all the time, because it's so well put together, and then Google or YouTube those people and try to find out what their process is: how they arrange.
A producer is a lot like a tailor, he may not necessarily write the song, right. The song writer is kind of like the suit store, like Joseph A. Banks. But the producer's the tailor you take that suit that you got from Joseph A. Banks to, and he tailors it. He makes the artists look really good in that song. And so, a producer will help you to do things like: you know what, the verse needs to be the chorus, you need to shorten that, this song could use a bridge - those type of things where he's thinking a lot like the audience, he's a bit like a fan.
And, some people are able to do that. I feel, because of being a DJ, I came from that background. So, I'm always thinking, you know, "Is the crowd going to leave the dance floor if I put this on," right. But, for a lot of people who didn't start off playing other people's music, it's very hard to be objective like that with their own songs. So, you really have to be a person where you can actually think like other people do and be like you know what, this isn't really going to hook anybody, this isn't catchy enough. If you're someone who likes what you do, and it's hard for you to imagine that other people won't, producing may be not necessarily be your skill set. It really has to deal with that objective. But, if you do feel like you're good at doing that type of thing, and being able to know like, this new song by this artist, it's not known, but I just know it's going to be a hit, and it generally always ends up becoming one, you probably have a good knack for doing it.
And so, YouTube those people. Figure out what they do to put things together, and in particular, how they coach and also record a vocalist. That's a big part of it. You may have a really good song, it may be catchy, but the presentation is really what does it, right. You know, the way you go about saying it, the way you emphasize certain notes, the way you're going to emphasize certain things when you put the record together.
For instance, if you really want people to focus on your lyrics, you got to make sure that the bass and drums don't drown out the lyrics. I know people who write really great songs, and I just went to listen to a band over the weekend, they were a punk band, but it's like, they look like they put a lot into the lyrics, but people weren't really hearing the lyrics, because the bass and drums were so high. And if that's what you want to go for, then it's always artistic decision, right. But if you are putting something out there for public consumption, and you want people to actually get it on all those levels, a producer is the person that starts making those choices for you, or helps you, and recognize, you know, "What's the feature of the song? Is it the guitar? If that's the case, then let's have everything else go around it. But if it really is your idea, then we got to make sure that that doesn't get drowned out."
And in line with that, the engineer, or the engineering, is knowing how to use that equipment in the studio to make what the producer is trying to do get done to accomplish that. And I had somewhat of an idea of how to do the first part, maybe. I thought I did, but it's amazing what you can find if you just Google or YouTube.
So, I know that was a bit of a long-winded answer, so let me just condense it to: start recording, and compare what you're doing with your favorite records, and just try to match that, and find out who made those records, and find out how they did certain things, and overcome each hurdle until you can finally get it like that.
When people start searching online, it can be overwhelming, you know, because one person will say, "Oh, you need this piece of software, this piece of equipment" and somebody else will say, "Well, you need this other thing" and you're like, "Well, how do I know because I can't afford to buy them both and try them out." So, yeah, it can be challenging for people.
Yeah. There's a really nice proverb that helped me. It's actually another one of Jesus' teachings, but he said that wisdom is proved right by its children. In other words, if the person really is knowing what they're saying, they should have kids that you can look at that should prove that they're a good parent. In other words, have they produced what they're saying they're so good at? Do they have anything to show for it?
So, if you're Googling the actual producer that's on the liner notes for the album, he's got the proof, right? You've just listened to the really good record by him and you like it. So, Googling and looking just for what that person has to say is how you narrow down that needle in the haystack, right. Because if you go on YouTube, and you type in "music production," you're going to see videos from everybody. But, why should you listen to them unless you can actually see what they do? So, one of the things that I would encourage a person to do so it isn't so daunting, and what I did: you're looking for a specific individuals that you know have produced really good product. It could even be maybe somebody on YouTube, but you can see or hear what they've done. And you're like, "Oh, that is close to what I'm looking for. Alright, they know what they're talking about."
That's helpful to focus in on.
Anything else you'd like to say, for starting, beginning, aspiring, hoping to go to the next level from where they are songwriters?
I think is good to ask yourself, "What is success?" Because, that can vary. And it's like, if you don't do that, you can easily get discouraged. So you have to ask yourself what's success for you. You know, if I could, you know, just have like, 50 people listen to what I'm about to do, that's just like the goal that I have, I feel like is attainable, right. But, it's almost kind of like having a room full of people for like a small part, right. So, that's the reach that I'm kind of looking for. If I could at least just get that, right.
I think it's good for you to think in terms of those lines, as regards to what you're trying to do. You know, if your desire is to really make it big, as they say, well, you know, you should be honest with yourself, if that's really what you're trying to do. It, once again, it's not the place to say whether that's right or wrong. But, it's so important to define success when you're first getting started. Otherwise, you could get easily discouraged. So, it's good to set small goals, and then see about reaching the next.
So, I felt like, you know, what I just mentioned, it's realistic, it's attainable, you know, to actually have 50 people listen to your album, and not just scan it. But to have, actually have 50 people that will actually like listen to like the whole thing, right? And get it. Is what I would like to be able to find, just to get started and then I'll set another goal after that.
As we wrap up, is there anything else you'd like to say about anything we've talked about or anything you'd like to add as we close?
Just that I can be found online. My website is Jonblazing.com. And it's j o n b l a z i n g.com. And, all my social media is listed on there. And I basically can be found, same spelling, on SoundCloud, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitch. I'm doing a live stream on Sunday nights, right now, and the schedule for that is also on the website. Any additional new shows that I'm planning on doing can be found on my website, as well. And I'll be releasing a new single in September in promotion of Liminality.
All right, Jon, thank you for coming to talk with us and telling us about the process of songwriting and song production, and hopefully some people will enjoy your singles and your album when they come out.
Listeners, I hope you have enjoyed listening to Jonblazing and learning a little bit about what goes into making an album, songwriting, producing music.
For library news, the reason the podcast has been very spotty this summer is because September 30 is my last day at the library. I have been at the library for a little over a decade, and it is time to move on to the next part of my life. So, I don't know what the new director will do with the podcast or if anybody here will take over the podcast. So far, nobody who's currently here has expressed interest.
So, this is actually our last episode with me, and then I don't know what will happen after I'm gone. So, thank you so much for listening since 2018. All of our episodes, all of our learning processes where sometimes the sound was not so good, or we didn't make the best episodes. We learned as we went and you stuck with us and listened, and I am so grateful for you giving me this opportunity to do something that has been really very enjoyable. I wish you all the best. And as always,
[Outro Music] Jill 44:37
Until next time, keep learning.