Not Today Released

So, I've released the album.

I think it was in 2009, perhaps even late 2008. That's the day that I went to a songwriter showcase and performed two songs, including She Believes. Jake Oken-Berg was performing too. Jake had a lot more experience than me. I was there to nervously try and get some performance experience playing in front of an audience, while Jake was there to simply test a couple of his songs for audience response and then sneak out the back door.

Jake is also a piano-driven songwriter and has been around a lot, touring with both his self-titled band and another well-known band he co-fronted called The Retrofits. He felt an affinity for She Believes. We met for coffee, and I shared my complete lack of knowledge about putting a decent recording project together. Soon, we came to an agreement - Jake would serve as my producer for the project.

With that, the months and years started passing. It sounds funny that it took so long, because the project really was never dormant - there was always something on the calendar, and another dependency to work through. But when balancing it with life and Real Jobs, things have to wait for the weekend, or perhaps the weekend after. Jake was patient and essential for the whole duration, and was involved with every step, from tightening up song forms before the studio dates, to helping me edit comps and direct the session musicians as they came in, to signing off on the final mixes and masters and giving me the thumbs-up to print. But even more helpful was just the reinforcement of telling me good ways to work, and what would be a waste of time and money. I'm sure that when it netted out, he saved me hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

At this point, I look back and see mostly a blur. Wrestling with editing comps, learning about mixing and mastering, restructuring songs, picking photographs and fonts, etc. But the point has been the music - it's been extremely gratifying to bring to life several songs that I have cared deeply about on a musical level.

So this is just to note down the fact that the album is finally released, which I'm still kind of stunned by, and to point out the people that deserve thanks for their direct roles in the project.

Obviously, Jake, for the reasons above and more.

Pete Wright was there from the beginning. One of the songs is even about his family. He was listening to roughdrafts and encouraging me to move forward when I wasn't even sure I had any business calling myself a songwriter. Pete also took the wonderful photos that are part of the cd package.

Steve Turmell was also there all the way through - he was always excited about the progression of song ideas, and his background as a musician and recording artist definitely helped make the possibilities of recording seem more real.

Scott Townsend and Chris Gustafson came by the house often to jam song ideas with me on drum and bass, and volunteered their time for some long sessions in the studio to get rhythm tracks down.

Eric Austin and Dan Schlesinger were bandmates of mine when I was in Deja Nu, and came by to volunteer their sounds of clarinet and trombone onto My Favorite Clown.

There are so many more, from the session musicians to the recording engineers, all of whom you can see on the album page. They all know the score about being independent musicians and try to pitch in in various ways to save costs, while also remaining professional. Portland musicians are a very generous community and it was a ton of fun working with them all.

Copyright Applications, Part 3

Six applications, many hours, and $210 later, I think I'm finished with the copyright applications.

I wanted to be a stickler about it, so I had to register the versions of the songs that I had previously "published" by releasing them online. This also involved detailing whether the lyrics were new, or revisions based off of my messed-up "songbook" registration, where I had attempted to register lyrics and chord progressions while the Copyright Office only accepted the lyrics. Finally, I then registered the cd, which contained unpublished recordings of all the songs, but revisions for the music/lyrics of some of the songs.

Incidentally, I've also found out that it's not quite true that you can't copyright chord progressions. You can't *register* them, but if you copyright the entire song or sound recording, the sound of the chord progressions can definitely play a part in determining originality or infringement. So if you ever want to register a lead sheet on the PA form, go ahead and include the chord symbols since they may end up relevant.

What's next is to make sure my ducks are in a row with ASCAP, and then there's not a lot in the way before release day!

Registering For Copyright

The Not Today album is basically complete, but not released yet. There are always a few straggling things to take care of, and today is devoted to registering for copyright. Ah, copyright. What a maddening user experience this is.

I'm attempting to copyright through The Electronic Copyright Office. It's a long multi-page wizard that is sort of like filing your taxes through TurboTax, except less pleasant. (By the way, I am aware I already have copyrights on these songs just by creating them - in this post, I'm using "copyright" as a simile for "registering my copyright with the copyright office".)

A couple of years ago, I filed a copyright called "The Curt Siffert Songbook, Volume 1" that had lyrics and chord symbols for several of my songs, including six of the seven songs on the album. But then again, I've since learned that chord progressions are not copyrightable. Lyrics are, and it's a songbook with titles. So it's not clear what happened - I may have just copyrighted the lyrics. And some of the lyrics have seen minor revisions since then.

Additionally, there is the question of what has been published. This affects the details of how I copyright them. Four of the seven songs have been released online - five, if you count the one that is available only to mailing list subscribers. Now, I personally see all these songs as demos - they are live recordings, and a far cry from the fully produced versions of the songs on the cd. But an argument can be made that they were published.

Finally, there's the question of what to do about songs that are unpublished yet copyrighted, or published yet uncopyrighted.

The simplest way for me to handle this is to just declare to myself that I consider all my songs unpublished. The copyright office doesn't offer clear guidance on this for digital works, and basically says it is up to me to determine. So for this go-round, I'm registering the album as a Song Recording.

Here are the general sections in the form:

Type Of Work: This one seems pretty straightforward, as it is a cd, so I want to register it as a Sound Recording. However, they do have long instructions regarding multiple authorship types. Apparently this gets very complicated if the cd is a mix of published and unpublished works, since you are supposed to exclude previously published tracks, and re-register them in a different way (they don't say how). But I'm considering all my tracks as unpublished, so I'm sticking with Sound Recording.

Titles: I'm registering "Not Today" as the "Title of the work being registered" (since it's the album title), and each of the seven song titles (including the song named "Not Today") as "Contents title".

Publication/Completion: I'm most dubious about this one, but since they have never been in fixed physical form, I'm putting "No", it has not been published yet. And then for Year Of Completion, I'm putting 2013 even though the songs were written before this year.

Authors: Even though I'm registered as a corporation, I am not a work for hire for myself, so I put my own name.

Claimant: This is complicated because it's either an individual or an organization. Technically, my music publishing company (holding the copyrights to my songs) is named Storied Music, and my record label (holding the copyrights to my recordings) is First Set Records. So it's completely unclear what to put here. So I'm just going to put my name.

Limitation Of Claim: Ahh, this is where it starts to become clear. I'm not considering any previous work published, but I do have those previous copyrights that have previous versions of the lyrics. So I excluded the lyrics for 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7. And I re-included *all* material, with notes that lyrics are revised for 1, 2, 3, and 5.

The rest is pretty boilerplate stuff - contact information, review and submit, etc. But it's overall pretty maddening - I'll have a list of questions for the copyright office before I can feel comfortable submitting the application!

EP Quick Update

While The Salvagery was a fun summer project, the far larger effort is the continuing work on my first E.P. It's coming along and I hope I'm in the home stretch here. Some of the songs you've heard before in rough form, and some are brand new. My Favorite Clown is now fully instrumented and has some nice surprises. I hired a string trio to help me with She Believes. Damn My Eyes is sounding pretty incredible, I think. Add to that three new songs and a fully re-imagined Together, and we've got an overstuffed E.P. that is getting close to full album length. I'm really looking forward to sharing it with you all!

If you're on Facebook, remember that you can fan/like my page or join my group to be kept up to date. Thanks!

Weekend Studio Notes

Spent some more time this last weekend at the studio. Now we're getting to the tail end of the recording process, we're recording with Rob Stroup at 8-ball studios, in Portland.

Thursday night I drove down from Seattle, and rested up for Friday. Friday was a ton of fun - I got to play a Leslie organ/speaker for the first time. They way they recorded it is by pointing mics at the back of the leslie speaker, and then turning the volume WAY UP (by way of volume pedal) so that the signal would be loud enough that the mechanical noise wouldn't show up on the recording.

This was my first time at playing an organ like this and it was a bit embarrassing that I couldn't even make the classic organ glissando sound quite right at first. The sound was also so loud that it took a bit for me to calibrate, I had to remind myself not to be tentative. But soon enough it started coming together. Jake Oken-Berg was there next to me and was stomping on the pedal button that turns the vibrato on and off while I was playing, a true collaborative effort! I had Jake also take over and play organ on a couple of the parts while I did the bridge and the last few choruses.

After that it was cello time. Skip vonKuske came over and did a great job - from solo lines, to layering, to some tremolo stuff on the song of mine that Jake is doing his own arrangement for.

After the cello, it was time for me to finish recording the piano part for Damn My Eyes. We've gone back and forth on this song a few times, there was some concern that it would sound too "classic jazz", but that was never really the direction I intended for it. We made a couple of short cuts, and over the last week I had been working on a piano part that sounds more intentional, and a hell of a lot more aggressive. I love it now, and for the first time I even think the song works live as just voice/piano - I'm looking forward at trying it out at an open mic sometime. Anyway, it works really well with the bass and drums now, and I'm looking forward to hearing how it shapes up after we finish layering.

We ended the day with me doing some lead singing - finally! It was funny a couple of times because I'm so used to singing at the piano that it felt alien to sing standing up. I had Rob change the mic a couple of times until I finally decided that standing up was better so I could have more breath. We ended with Not Today and I felt really locked in on it, to the point that I was demanding to sing more takes after we were done just because I was enjoying it so much.

Day Two of the weekend was all about the guitar. Guitar is an instrument I haven't really been able to wrap my head around for these songs, but that's where Jake and Rob were very helpful. We had Bob Dunham in to do the guitar, he brought along about fifty thousand guitar pedals, and we basically just experimented all day. It might be that we strip down some of the choices later in the editing/mixing stages, but I think a lot of the material and choices work really well, and Bob did a great job.

What's left? Well, there's more organ to do... a couple of specialty instruments, the possibility of some string playing, and then just a whole lot of singing. We're definitely in the fun stages and I'm realizing that I absolutely love the recording process, at least when I'm on mic. It's even more fun than the gigging and the rehearsing, although I have to say that there's still nothing that tops the feeling of playing through a new completed song for the first time. Writing is painful, but the sense of victory you get at the end, that's really something else.

Still definitely on track for 2011 being the year of the cd release. More later!

Damn My Eyes reviews

I submitted Damn My Eyes for reviews over at Garage Band more than a year ago, and the reviews have been trickling in ever since then. It looks like the review process finally stopped a few days ago. You can check out all the reviews here, but here's the general summary.

First, there were several "awards". The awards are always a good stroke to the ego, but I never actually noticed any traffic bumps on any of them until the last one. Damn My Eyes was given the "Track Of The Week" award in Alternative Pop on Jan 18th, and there was a measurable impact - I got about 25-30 new "iLike" fans (from 71 to 98, I believe), one or two of which joined my mailing list. iLike's fans are kind of in a separate category - I can reach all of them through bulletins, but they don't give you email addresses for any of them, so I honestly don't try and contact them a bunch except to remind them of my mailing list. I do tend to send out announcements to them when new songs come out, though.

The reviews were informative. There were a few common themes. Many felt Alternative Pop wasn't the right genre, and that I should have put it in jazz instead. I'm torn on that, it's my most "jazz"-ish song, but it's played much the same way every time and has an actual song form, so I see it much more as jazz-influenced pop. Beyond that, I see the theme of the reviews as that they like the idea and the recording, find it a very enjoyable song, and that it is a bit conventional - doesn't take a lot of risks into really original territory. At the same time, it's the song of mine that has gotten the best response so far, ahead of Together, My Favorite Clown, etc. Over on Jango, Damn My Eyes is a touch more well-reviewed than She Believes, too. Damn My Eyes continues to exist off to the side for me, one of my more favorite songs but not in the core group (She Believes, Not Today, and So Beautiful). I think it can be dressed up more but beyond that I think it'll be one of those songs that is really fun to play live as a change of pace song.

Rehearsal Recordings posted

I have some rehearsal recordings posted - I'm letting some of my mailing list subscribers hear them because more ears are always better! If you're interested in hearing them and sharing what you think, come on over and join the mailing list. Here are some former rehearsal recordings that I've worked up and deemed good enough to release publicly: http://www.reverbnation.com/tunepak/1378735.

The America Song

I'm still working on the title so for now I'll just call it "The America Song". That's not intended to me arrogant, by the way, it just means it relative to all my other songs. Not relative to all songs in existence. There are a ton of America songs out there.

And... that's part of the problem. This song is the first song I've written that came from a dream, so I had to write it. But, two songs I'm apt to discount from the outset are patriotic songs, and protest songs. I just generally find them so thoughtless. This song... is a little bit of both, and I definitely put thought into it, so maybe that moderates things. But I'm still mulling it. I have a good rough of it but it needs a couple more doses of marinade before I upload it.

Exclusive - I Don't Mind

About six months ago I wrote a song called "I Don't Mind", and I just made it available as an exclusive for my mailing list subscribers. This one's actually a love song, and I'm a bit embarrassed about that since love songs are schmaltzy, and goodness knows we just can't have schmaltz in music. I tried my best to write this one schmaltz-free, though.

The recording is from shortly after I wrote it, and it has a couple of audio artifacts in it, but it's the first time I made it successfully through the song from beginning to end and I like the performance, so I'm a bit sentimental about it. It's technically a pre-love song.

To give it a listen, come on over and join the mailing list.

Another One Down

Finished another song earlier today, Sunday afternoon the 12th.

Man, this one was rough. I had the idea for this song probably almost a year ago. This was a very slow songwriting process, I've had the musical material for a long time, two ideas for the form of it for a couple of months, and the rough lyrical concept with two or three phrases ever since I thought of it. And I just couldn't get over the hump. I set some ridiculously high standards for myself on this one and I'm not sure it's a good idea to continue doing that - does it lead to better music, or just a more labored vibe to the music? I don't know.

So this one had more free-writing than any other song I've done so far, maybe three layers of free-writing. Where I'd free-write, and then boil it down into a shorter page of concepts, then free-writing more on that, and then boiling it down again... overthinking, zooming out, overthinking, zooming out... it's great to have this one written and I think I will like it a lot, but this time it's a slightly different feeling - not so much the rush of having created something, more like the relief of having a monkey off my back.

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© 2007 Curt Siffert. Some audio protected with a Creative Commons license.
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