Music Xray

If you could see deeper into music, like through a music x-ray machine, what would it look like? Not just the sound waves. What if you could gauge the potential success of a song?

This weekend I taught a Songwriting Masterclass with my old, dear friend, Tina Shafer who created the New York Songwriter Circle 25 years ago! She has helped launch the careers of artists including Avril Lavigne, Vanessa Carlton, Gavin Degraw and Norah Jones among others. A successful singer/songwriter in her own right, Tina has also had songwriting cuts with Celine Dion and other heavy hitters in the music industry.

She and I have been friends for about as long as the NY Songwriter Circle has existed and I even had the honor of helping judge the Circle’s Songwriting Contest two years in a row. It was an exhausting process! Tina is accustomed to receiving heaps of song submissions from artists hoping to perform at the Circle’s monthly Monday night showcases at the Bitter End. I, on the other hand, can’t fathom how she does it!

As judges for the songwriting contest, we each had to listen to about 50 songs or more a day for about a month. Doesn’t sound like much? Imagine having to sit through god knows how many extended guitar intros hoping that a great song lies just beyond only to find that it’s a song about cats sung by a tone-deaf, basement dweller.

Even though a friend and brilliant programmer/web designer had developed an exquisitely intricate website that allowed us to listen and rank songs using various criteria, I kept thinking “there must be a better way to weed out the best songs in multiple genres. But how?

Our Masterclass is always a deeply creative, inspiring time for students and teachers alike. Sunday was no exception as our brave artists bared their souls and songs to all of us. It was a very supportive and talented group! As always, we try to bring in an industry professional to discuss the OTHER part of music. The business.

Yesterday, Tina and I were very excited to have CEO Mike McCready join us as a guest speaker to talk about his company, Using innovative technology, which he explained in mathematical terms I can’t possibly comprehend or retain, he has created a website that helps do that grunt work for music industry pros. It’s nothing short of tech magic. I have submitted numerous songs to the site and, while I’m not always thrilled with the rankings, I always find them fair and accurate. It has also helped me develop relationships with other industry pros with whom I would never have otherwise connected.

“Music Xray is not what it appears to be. It is a data analytics company whose primary mission is to identify high-potential songs and talent. On the surface, Music Xray appears to be a run-of-mill, pay-to-submit website providing a service to help musicians reach decision-makers. That’s a by-product. When an artist puts a song through our system, we provide them with a score that tells them the probability of their song getting a deal via our platform.”

I believe Mike originally started his company to help A&R at record labels in their task of sorting through the masses of submissions they receive as well as to help them identify potential “hit” songs. His site has, however, evolved into a massive online music community and, personally, I hope it continues as it has been extremely helpful!

Tina and I were thrilled to have Mike address our students. Although he is clearly brilliant, he was humble, helpful and generous with his time and answers. Mike McCready is a musician, an innovator, an inspiration and a design thinker to boot.

Now if someone could just create a website that helps me write a hit song!!!

Living by Design

Ever imagine what it’s like to be a human pinball machine? Why on earth would you! That’s kind of what my brain on ADHD feels like. Ideas pinging, color bursts, moving fast, what’s that sound? Exciting news, missing the mark, ping. Hands tapping, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, neck muscles tensed, adrenaline rush, look at those pretty lights! Rolling inevitably down the center right through the flippers. Load a quarter and start over again…

Not dull.

Pretty exhausting.

Do you think you have ADHD?

School, from third grade on, was painful. Sitting in classrooms for dreary hours upon hours tuning in and out to the teacher’s droning. The occasional, welcome sound of chalk scratching softly on the blackboard. The crisp feel of turning the pages of my four-inch-thick textbook, desperate to find something colorful and engaging. The hard flat seat of my wooden chair that made me squirm. Staring out the window to daydream. Often tuning in only to doodle in my notebook and, regrettably, sometimes misbehave. Badly. Then there was homework… Let’s just say that sometimes I did it and sometimes I didn’t. My teachers all thought I was being lazy and complained to my parents that I wasn’t coming close to realizing my potential.

On the other hand, I could lose myself for hours at the piano, singing or listening to music. I loved to read and write poems. Draw. Engage in imaginative play with my sister building forts and imaginary worlds.

Most of the time, I just felt stupid. A failure.

It has taken me most of my adult life to develop systems to manage my fruit-fly-attention-span brain. I keep things orderly. Make lists. Set reminders on my phone. Keep the notification sounds turned off. Everything in my home (that belongs to me) has a designated place and I methodically put things (cell phone, keys, mail) in one place. I try to stick to routines and I do my best to create a peaceful work space – even within a larger, chaotic environment.

I often wonder how my childhood and school years might have been different growing up now in the age of awareness about learning differences. As a child, ADHD wasn’t a known diagnosis. We were just kids who couldn’t sit still, misbehaved, were creative, clever but indolent.

All these years later, I am enrolled in an MA program for Education Technology learning about something called, Design Thinking! In order to navigate life with an exceedingly distractible brain, you have to become something of a design thinker. Frequently, I analyze my living and work spaces to support my being more productive and effective.  The following gives a succinct definition of Design Thinking:

“Design thinking is an iterative approach to problem-solving that intentionally seeks out people with different perspectives, knowledge, skills and experience and has them work together to create a practical solution for a real-world problem.” – WhatIs.Techtarget

More about this subject later. If I remember to get back to it. One thing I have learned that is important for someone like me is “done is better than perfect!”

Putting a fork in this and calling it macaroni. Done!