52 Weeks, 52 Songs: Looking back on “A Song A Week”

I thought I’d spend some time to reflect on my songwriting journey over the past year in this post. (Warning: It’s going to be a long one so please bear with me :))

Honestly, I am still in shock over how fast the 52 weeks went by. Scrolling through my previous entries, I ask myself sometimes – did I really write all this?

Now, I’m not the kind of guy who talks about his feelings that much (I’d rather much sing about them ;)), but this blog has become more than a place for my music. It is my personal diary, and that’s saying a lot because I have never kept one. Every week, I’ve written about the inspiration behind each song, and shared a little of my life in the process. Putting your own music on the world wide web, baring your soul with each song… it exposes you to both the compliments and the barbs. It takes getting used to.

“Songwriting is a stream of creation that flows faster and stronger the more you give”

… That was what I wrote on 3 May 2010, the day I started this project – and I’ve found it to be true.

I’ve always felt a burning desire to express myself through songwriting, but because of work and other commitments, I knew I could never do enough unless I threw myself entirely into it.

It’s funny how life gives you what you wish for.

Last year, I lost my job, thanks to the financial crisis. Lo and behold, right in front of me was a real opportunity to launch myself into what I was truly passionate about – with the blessings of my wife of course, without whom I never could have done this.

And so for the past year, songwriting became my life. I lived and breathed it. One song every week, for one whole year. Frankly, I didn’t know how I was going to do it; I only knew I had to compose something by midnight every Sunday.

The only thing I could do was to keep going at it, week after week. I kept my eyes, ears and heart open. I tuned in to the smallest details; everything around me became a potential song idea: a newspaper article, an overheard conversation, the book I was reading, even my dreams at night…

After several weeks had passed, I realised that I had unconsciously developed a system of sorts. It went something like this: brainstorm an idea, write the lyrics, put them into music. I’d divide my week into writing days and recording days. Generally, I’d spend the early part of the week crafting the lyrics and music, and the weekend recording the video. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?

Far from it.

Coming up with ideas was a big challenge, of course. Some people say you can’t force an idea out, no matter how hard you try. You have to wait for inspiration to hit. While that’s true to some extent, I firmly believe that being disciplined and consistent about creativity stimulates us to do more good work at a faster rate. That is, the more you create, the faster the flow of new ideas, and the better and quicker you become at creating something. That’s one thing I’ve learnt from this project.

Ideas aside, the biggest stumbling block I faced in this entire journey was – me.

… You see, I had one entire week to devote to a song, but I’d find myself getting distracted easily, going online, eyeballing my Facebook page, obsessing over how many (or few) views I was getting on YouTube. I had to constantly push myself, no, discipline myself to write.

Always, I heaved a sigh of relief by the time Sunday came and I had a new song uploaded. Then, I’d worry about the next song, and the one after that. Often, I’d find myself crippled by self-doubt… was I doing the right thing? Was I wasting my time chasing a silly dream instead of settling down and looking for a job? These were the demons that I battled, day-in, day-out.

Isn’t that the way with any dream, any creative endeavour? Perhaps, but I know I needed a lot of encouragement. My wife was a major inspiration to me of course. I also drew strength from the positive comments I received from complete strangers about my songs. Lastly, I believed wholeheartedly in my music – and I still do.

All this kept me going.

As the weeks went by, I began to pay more attention to the videos themselves. Before this, a passable recording was all I needed. I didn’t really care much about how I looked, whether the audio levels were too soft, or if the lighting was bright enough. I began to realise that on a platform like YouTube, I was competing with songwriters who were churning out professional-sounding recordings and classy-looking videos all the time. I certainly could do a lot more.

Thankfully, I had a pretty decent audio/video recorder – the Zoom Q3, which was able to give me good sound levels, and pretty okay video quality.

I experimented with different camera positions and settings. I remember once placing the device at a corner of my room to allow sound to bounce off the walls. I hoped that it would create a natural reverb, but I felt the difference was not noticeable in the end. So much for that.

At another point, a friend told me he was tired of watching the same old room in the background. So If you check out some of my later videos, you’ll see a completely black background, which I created by stringing a black cloth behind me to hide the mess. To add some variety, I also experimented with photo and lyric slide shows in my videos.

Yes, slowly but surely, I was writing one song every week. But if you ask me now whether I have a formula for writing a song – I’d say no.

… Sometimes, I’d finish a song in an hour. Other times, I’d spend days crafting the lyrics. It always varied. And do the lyrics or melody come first? It really depends. I often started with the title, which gave me the general theme of the song, and then went on to write the lyrics, coupled with a rough melody which I would fine-tune once I had the lyrical structure in place. That was one approach.

However, my recent collaborations with Jaye Foo were done using an entirely different method. Jaye would come up with a basic chord progression – we would “feel” the rhythm and the music, and think of the kind of song we wanted it to become. Then, I would focus on developing the lyrics and let him expand on his chords. After that, we’d finalise the lyrics and chords; and finally, sing countless melodies out loud until we heard something we liked.

Like my dad always says, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

If you look at the past 14 or so weeks of my project, you’ll find that they’ve been collaborations.

… I’m thankful that towards the end of my journey, I found a fellow songwriter to come along with me. The Glad Stones was born early this year, and I’ve been nothing short of stunned by the feedback we’ve received.

Interestingly enough, we both initially felt that our styles were worlds apart. When we tried writing songs, however, it just worked out. It’s been a blessing to have such a hardworking and talented songwriting buddy, especially on the last leg of my journey, when I felt that it was getting harder and harder to produce fresh material. Plus, with Jaye’s home studio, we were able to produce videos that not only sounded good, but were entertaining as well!

I’m tremendously grateful for the many high points of my journey, one of them being my first solo showcase at the Esplanade Library in August last year. I was really encouraged by how it went and the audience turnout was larger than I expected. The show was such a confidence-booster for me; after that I continued to perform whenever I could.

My performance at TAB early this year, as well as the gigs at the Maestro Acoustic Lounge, were some of the ones I enjoyed tremendously. (In fact, it was at my second Maestro gig that I met Jaye, who performed immediately after me.)

So, what’s next?

Well, Jaye and I will be working on a Glad Stones’ album! It will include some of the songs we’ve written together, plus others that both of us have written individually. I’ll keep everyone posted on our progress in the weeks to come.

We’ll continue to write new songs and upload videos on YouTube, that’s for sure. We’re even planning some outdoor shoots, so look out for that on our channel!

“A Song A Week” has well and truly come to an end.

Looking back, I have no regrets whatsoever. I’m glad I did it. I’ve met so many people on this journey, and learnt so much from it. It’s a cliche to say that this is only the beginning, but it is.

Thank you for being a part of it, and please continue to walk with me.

Week 16 – This Little Earth Is All I’ve Got

This Little Earth Is All I've Got

Visit the link and click Like to vote for my song!

This week, I decided to throw my hat into the ring and take part in a nationwide songwriting competition all about going green. It’s called the “Eco Music Challenge” and is organised by the National Environment Agency (NEA), the government body that oversees environmental issues on our sunny island.

Anyway, I was on the fence about this competition because I wasn’t sure I could pull off a “green” song without sounding too cheesy or preachy. Then, I thought, shouldn’t I be challenging myself to write songs about any topic under the sun?

So I did.

This song really is my wish for the planet – that people all over the world will take our environment more seriously, and begin to make changes in their lives. We only have one Earth to call home, and I hope that this will inspire people to be more eco-friendly.

No matter how small the change, it still counts.

I wanted to produce something more than my usual YouTube videos, so I brought out my makeshift (and under-utilised) home recording equipment, and with the Garageband and Cubase LE 4 softwares, I put the song together. I know it’s not the most professional-sounding track, but hey, I tried!

Then, using iMovie, some of my own pictures and others I got from the internet, I did a simple slide show to accompany the song.

So if you dig what I have to say, please click the “Like” button on this link. Lyrics below.

Thanks for the support!

This Little Earth Is All I’ve Got
© Music and Lyrics by Marcel Lee Pereira, 18 Aug, 2010

Verse 1
The world is such a wondrous place
Filled with all my favourite things
Like raindrops falling on my face
And all the beauty nature brings

Verse 2
But I see people doing as they please
Taking what they want, not what they need
Killing the trees, the land and the seas
Breaking my heart as I watch them bleed

Won’t they spare a thought for me?

Chorus
This little Earth is all I’ve got
This little Earth is all I’ve got

Verse 3
I may be on a tiny isle
Or in a city far away
But I will walk that extra mile
I know I have a part to play

Verse 4
I’m gonna change the way I live
For our dear planet so fine
So to my children I can give
A world as wonderful as mine

So come and join me as I sing

Chorus
This little Earth is all we’ve got
This little Earth is all we’ve got

Bridge
What are we waiting for?
From California to Singapore
The time has come to take a stand
While the future is still in our hands

Chorus
This little Earth is all we’ve got
This little Earth is all we’ve got

This little Earth is all I’ve got
This little Earth is all I’ve got

Week 15 – One Minute

The idea for this song came to me completely at random. I chanced upon this video called “You In Five Minutes”, which is a very weird clip that has nothing to do with this song, really. But watch it anyway, it’s quite hilarious.

What actually made me watch it was the title – “You in Five Minutes”. I thought, man, that’s a great title for a song. It could be about, say, listing out all the great things I like about you in five minutes; or perhaps needing just five minutes to decide if I like you or not.

Then I thought, I don’t need five minutes to decide if I like someone – I probably need just a minute to form an impression! What about something called “One Minute”? But instead of it being about me judging someone else, why not put myself in the shoes of the person being judged, and convincing them, in one minute, why they should like me? Something like an elevator pitch of sorts. So, that’s how this song was born.

I love songwriting. You can get inspiration from just about anywhere.

One Minute
© Music and Lyrics by Marcel Lee Pereira, 13 Aug, 2010

A large room, full of unsmiling faces
The sound of my footsteps
Ring louder than a churchbell
Under my jeans my knees are shaking
But I look ’em in the eye and say

I know you’ve had a long day
And I thank you for your time
I have way too much at stake
And I’ve come too far
To let this go to waste

Chorus
So give me one minute
That’s all I need
One minute
And you will take me seriously

I had a crush on a girl in school
We were friends, I hung onto her every word
And till this day she doesn’t know
I wish I had the courage to say

I know you’ve had a long day
Just give me a little time
This may be in bad taste
But I’ve come too far
To let this go to waste

Chorus
So give me one minute
That’s all I need
One minute
And you will take me seriously

Okay I’ll admit it
It’s hard to get a break
Most of us are too willing to walk away
But all I need is 60 seconds
Not an arm or leg
It’s not too much I reckon

Chorus

One minute
What will you do
One minute
To get your message through

Chorus

***

P.S. I’m really looking forward to my performance tomorrow at the Library@Esplanade. It starts at 3.30pm, so do drop by if you can! More details can be found here.

Thoughts about Sixx, Singfest and making a stand

I was watching this video report by Razor TV about local hip hop band Sixx, and the unfortunate cancellation of their performance at Singfest last week. What happened was that the band was suddenly dropped as the second day’s opening act, apparently because the sound checks earlier took too long. You can also read more about it here.

Honestly, I hadn’t heard of Sixx until the incident – ironically, they did get some publicity out of it! But that’s besides the point. I really was quite impressed with how well they took the disappointing news. Yes, Singfest was a big deal, and I would feel devastated, had I been in that position. Instead, they are taking it in their stride and looking forward to other gigs and their upcoming EP launch. Kudos guys! Hope to catch you live soon!

Anyway, this incident, of course, led to some online buzz about how, just like that, the poor band was kicked off the show. I’ve experienced disappointments myself, from cancelled events to places that expect you to play for free “for exposure”, so I felt really bad for Sixx.

A few days later, Today music writer Chris Toh wrote an interesting post on the Poparazzi blog, urging bands to say “NO” to free gigs. I must say I agree with him, and I just wanted to weigh in on this topic of local bands and how they are treated as “second class citizens”, as Chris so aptly wrote.

I think the crux of the matter lies in the fact that local musicians are pretty much powerless when it comes to negotiating with the people or companies that hire them. Let’s talk about, say, a talented Top 40s band made up of a few friends, which is trying to make a living playing cover music, and hopefully write some original tunes in the near future. They will probably start off playing for free, and then if their passion for music is strong enough, press on and find some gigs that actually pay.

Yes, there’s always the argument that unknown bands have to start small, and perform anywhere that will have them. That’s fair enough. But at what point do you start asking for money? When you’re good enough? When you have been playing long enough?

The point is that the ball is always in the court of the people hiring the bands. To my knowledge, there isn’t some kind of association or union of Singapore bands that says that unless we are paid such-and-such a minimum fee, we will not perform. Trouble is, local bands are independent entities doing their own thing, and there’s always going to be a band who will be willing to play for free.

In the case of Sixx, wouldn’t it be great if there was some kind of musicians’ body to press the organisers for compensation for the band? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that the international acts in Singfest were protected by contracts, so if something screwed up, there was recourse for them. I’m not so sure if Sixx signed some kind of contract, though. Even though they are not yet as big as say, Kanye West, don’t our local acts have rights too?

The thing is, who’s going to step forward and get Singapore bands together to talk about these issues – and make a stand? Probably nobody. So, I believe it’s really up to bands to fight for their own rights. If you think you’re worth your salt, and deserve to be paid for performing, then demand for it. If you’ve worked hard for your music, why let yourself be exploited?

For my own band Raised On Radio, we do ask for a minimum fee, based on the “market rate” for cover bands, which is really based on how much other bands we know get paid for playing at a similar place – which is basically hearsay. Yes, we do lose some gigs because of that, but I’m proud to say that for the majority of the performances we have done, we were paid at that “market rate”.

Well, these are just my own observations on this issue, so please feel free to disagree with me. Comments are welcome!

Week 14 – Making Memories

Today, I celebrate my first wedding anniversary with my wife Carol. It’s been a wonderful year, and we’ve been blessed with so much. There’s nothing more I could ask for, really. Carol, I love you, and I thank God you’re in my life. This song is for you, and I hope we’ll make a million more memories in the years to come.

Making Memories
© Music and Lyrics by Marcel Lee Pereira, 6 Aug, 2010

If there’s something I cling to, it’s times with me and you
Moments tucked away under the trappings of everyday
You know how precious they are to me, the diamonds that brighten my way

They are all I need
You are the face I see

Chorus
We’re building, building a home
And we’re making memories, memories
To have, to have and to hold
I want more of these
Memories, memories

My heart takes a picture of us, every date and every kiss
Making plans, the glances I take at you, there’s nothing I want to miss
They don’t gather dust, the world falls away as we reminisce

Wash away the sands of pain
You’ll see the gold remains

Chorus

Bridge
A year has gone by so fast
And today I say to you, my love
Remember us and smile
I know we’ll last, more than a lifetime

Chorus
We’re building, building a home
And we’re making memories, memories
To have, to have and to hold
Here’s to more of these
Memories, memories

***

It was a really busy Saturday for me, which is why I’m posting this at 4am!

Had a great time at the Maestro Acoustic Lounge @ *Scape Mall in the afternoon. It was quite an experience playing a full 45 minute set of original music in a shopping mall, but it sure felt good having people stop by and listen, even if it was for a little while. I really enjoyed myself, and I’m looking forward to performing a lot more in time to come. Thanks to everyone who came by, I really appreciate the support! Here’s a picture of me with my friend Adrian on the cajon.

Singer-songwriter Marcel Lee Pereira performing at the Maestro Acoustic Lounge @ *Scape Mall. Accompanying him on the cajon is drummer Adrian Loo.

My sis, Gemma, managed to get tickets to the rehearsal for the Youth Olympics opening ceremony (the actual thing is on Aug 14), so straight after the show, we headed to the Marina Bay floating platform. Here’s the view from the grandstand, just before the show started:

I must say, though, while the ceremony was snazzy with its choreographed performances, fireworks, giant walking characters and even water displays, I felt there were just too many bells and whistles – and not enough heart. It just didn’t speak to me, and I couldn’t see the connection of some of the performances to the Youth Olympics. Well, maybe the ending was better – but we left early.

Ok, I’m off to bed now. Long day ahead! Champagne brunch with Carol and then we’re checking in at the Pan Pacific for the long weekend… 😉 Cheers! Oh, and Happy National Day.

Save the date! Aug 7 and Aug 15

Hi there, this is just a quick post to remind everyone of my two upcoming shows!

The first is happening tomorrow (Aug 7), 3.30pm, at the Maestro Acoustic Lounge located at the new *Scape Mall in Orchard Road, near Orchard Cineleisure.

And next Sunday (Aug 15), also at 3.30pm, I’ll be playing at the Library@Esplanade. More details here and in the poster below, courtesy of the National Library Board.

Singer-songwriter Marcel Lee Pereira performs at the Library@Esplanade on Aug 15, 2010, in his first-ever solo showcase.

Week 10 – The Only Way

I was deeply saddened when I heard of the tragic death of Kerin Peh, the Singaporean bride whose husband mysteriously died on their wedding night in November last year.

On Monday, eight months later, she took her own life. She was only 28.

I teared when I heard the news. It was such a sad ending to their story. She never found out how or why her husband fell to his death from the Hilton Hotel that night. The lack of answers offered her no closure. To imagine the immense pain and loss she must have felt breaks my heart. There is a poignant romance about what happened too… perhaps this was the only path she could take to be with her husband forever.

On Monday night, I felt driven to write a song about her. It is a song about leaving… I hope she’s found what she left this world for, and that the two of them are now reunited. My prayers go out to Kerin, her husband and their families.

The Only Way
© Music and Lyrics by Marcel Lee Pereira, 7 July, 2010

She asked herself a million times
How her life came apart at the seams
Why the two of them, what was their crime
She prayed it was an awful dream

It was meant to be her happiest night
She the bride, he the love of her life
Tasted only seconds of joy
He was taken away, her tears ran dry

Chorus
As the shadow of her vacant life
Stood before her with a sharpened knife
She cried, there’s nothing left for me here
I’m sorry, but this is the only way I know
Where he’s gone, I have to go

Flashbacks stuck in her anguished mind
The pills offered no release
Hidden answers she could never find
A heart in pieces longing for peace

It was meant to be her happiest night
She the bride, he the love of her life
Tasted only seconds of joy
He was taken away, her tears ran dry

Chorus
As the shadow of her vacant life
Stood before her with a sharpened knife
She cried, there’s nothing left for me here
I’m sorry, but this is the only way I’ll know
Where he’s gone, I have to go

Will she find what she left us for
Did their souls collide beyond the door

Chorus
As the shadow of her vacant life
Stood before her with a sharpened knife
She cried, there’s nothing left for me here
I’m sorry, but this is the only way I know
Where he’s gone, I have to go