Category Archives: Original Songs

I Have A Testimony

Thought I’d share something that has been in my queue for a while.  My friend Karen Kimball and I wrote a song a couple years ago for primary aged children.  It was based on her poem that was published in the October 2007 Friend magazine.  Converting a poem into a children’s song was something I’d never done before and was an enjoyable challenge. We had lots of discussions about how to keep the essence of the poem while making it singable.  There was a lot of nitty gritty song crafting: creating different versions (two verse/three verse?), testing it with children, getting other musicians feedback.  We were finally able to come up with something we were both happy with.

Last month, I attended a Great 2 be 8 fireside, and I heard Karen’s daughter perform the song. And that reminded me that I’d forgotten to post it to this blog.  So here it is!


I Have A Testimony Sheet Music

Hope you enjoy it.

The Songwriting Process – Part 3

The first thing that I changed when I got back from San Diego was the outtro.  When recording the original piano scratch track, I ended up playing the 4th chorus and improvising the ending.  In the process of rewriting the song, I’d actually never mapped out how to end the thing.  My follow-up listens showed that the ending was too abrupt.  Outtros should be an extension of the verse or chorus and let the listener ease out of the mood created by song.

Another thing that I ended up fixing was the “C” sections of the song (i.e. the bridge).  The improvisation of the early demo was just too distracting.  I opted instead for some simple ooh’s and a restatement of the chorus.  This worked much better with the general groove of the bridge.

The lyrics also were tweaked a bit.

I’ll find some days I’m lost
Out on my own

was changed to

I’ll find some days I’m lost
On lonely roads.

This seemed much more appropriate for the metaphor.  Other similar lyric changes were made.

After I felt comfortable with both the lyrics and structure of the song, I decided to try and add a couple of instruments.  I originally heard strings. But after playing them in, my creative side got really excited and I started adding more instruments that I’d anticipated.  First it was the nylon guitar.  But that seemed a bit boring without the bass.  Then I heard congo’s and shaker.  But when that was added, they seemed lonely without the rest of the drum kit.  So I added the kick, snare, hi-hat, crash, and cymbal swells to build the song properly.  Adding the rest of instruments consisted of about 2 or 3 marathon 8 hour sessions of recording and MIDI editing (e.g. I’m not yet efficient in using ProTools to do my arranging) plus mixing and tweaking over a period of a few weeks.

As my internal deadline started approaching, I had to stop with the MIDI and work on rerecording the vocals.  This ended up being one of the more frustrating aspects of tracking.  I’m not a singer, and trying to recreate the vocals in my head just makes me hear all the flaws in my voice.  However, since I didn’t really have time to go and find a good vocalist, I ended up recording myself and editing out the bad sounding bits.  There was also that blasted dog that decided to bark for 20 minutes straight right when I was ready to record the main vocal track.  Anyway, the vocals sound a bit rough, but what can I say, it’s a demo.

The last thing I added were a couple of vocal comps.  At one point, I had this Imogen Heap Hide N Seek sound going on but decided that might be a little much for an EFY track.  The harmonies ended up mostly hidden underneath the main track.
Here are the final lyrics:


I Know It’s You

Words and Music by Jared Ong

Copyright 2008

Verse 1

I find some days I’m lost

On lonely roads

And then by chance it seems

I’m heading home

And I see more clearly

Verse 2

And in my life I’ve felt

I’m on my own

But without words it seems

That someone knows

And I see more clearly

Chorus

I know enough to say

When life just goes my way

It’s not from what I do

I know enough

To know it’s you

Verse 3

Then there are times I ask

To know you care

And when I turn the page

The answer’s there

Then I see so clearly

Chorus

Bridge

Ooh

I know it’s you

Ooh

Verse 4

At night I close my eyes

To say I’m grateful

My heart just overflows

And I’m unable

To freely sing to thee

Chorus

I know enough to say

When life just goes my way

I know it’s all from You

I know enough

To know it’s you

Repeat Chorus

Bridge

Ooh

I know it’s you

Ooh

Outtro

I know enough to say

When life just goes my way

It’s not from what I do

I know enough

I know enough it’s you

Here’s the final mp3: I Know It’s You Jared Ong Final Demo

And here’s the final mp3 minus track (i.e. instrumental track): I Know It’s You Jared Ong Minus Track

One thing I forgot to mention is that when recording, I transposed the song from the key it was originally written in (F major) to Ab major.  I hear the song being sung by a tenor, although I’d like to see what female vocalist could do.

I definitely still get annoyed by the limitations and flaws in the mp3, even with all the edits and rewrites of the songwriting process.  Fortunately, I know that demo submissions don’t need to be perfect and am comfortable with the current result.  Of course, I still would like to find a good vocalist to rerecord the vocals, but I’ll get to that in due time.

Going through this demo submission process really helped re-emphasize past lessons learned from when I was studying Media Music at BYU.  Each songwriter/composer works differently, however here are a few common things:  The first is to leave nothing sacred.  Don’t avoid rewriting just because you’re tired or afraid something better won’t come along.  Time crunches are a different matter, but even then at least make the attempt.

It’s important to follow your instinct on what works.  This is of course assuming that your instinct is properly aligned.  I’ve heard some really, uh, interesting music at some LDS open mic nights when I was in Utah.  If you’re unsure of your instinct, get feedback from trusted peers.  Have them tell you the bad stuff, as well as the good stuff.

It’s also important to know your audience.  I don’t write strictly in one style, but for this demo submission I had to do a rewrite to make sure the song fit the target audience (there’s that instinct thing again).

Lastly, identify the parts of your music/lyric that you feel standout.  My professor at BYU, Ron Simpson, always reminded us to build our music with golden bricks.  If you can’t hear the golden bricks in the song, do the rewrite.

Who knows what will come out of this demo, now that I’ve sent it into the Internet void.  However, I do hope you’ve enjoyed being a part of my creative process as much as I’ve enjoyed writing about it.

The Songwriting Process – Part 2

Sometimes as a writer you hang on to an idea, afraid to let go because you fear there’s a chance you won’t find a better alternative.  This was the case with I Close My Eyes.  I felt reluctant to do a rewrite. It’s hard to make a lot of headway and then have to start over.  I hate feeling like I just wasted time on something that will never see the light of day.  I know, of course, that this is all part of the creative process.  Still the perfectionist side of me sighs every time I have to make major changes.

When I approached the project on the second day, I was pretty focused.  My goal was to rework the chorus to make it less generic and a little bit more interesting.   By changing up the bass line in the left hand, I was able to use a lot of the original chorus’ chord progression to create a greater emotional lift.  What was once F, Gm, F/A, Bb became F/A, Bb, Gm7, C.   I found that ending each phrase on the V (C) instead of the IV (Bb) just seemed a lot more pleasant.

Happy with the chorus, I resumed work on the verse.  I was slightly horrified to find that my existing lyric didn’t work.  The modified chorus created more energy, which necessitated an increase of tempo.  With the song a little faster, the verse of I Close My Eyes was just too wordy.  I remember singing through it a couple of times and feeling like I was writing something from The Music Man.  Ugh.

So out went the existing verse.  I struggled with keeping the existing theme with the new lyric.  In the end, the verses became a little bit more generalized.  I felt this was necessary in order to help listeners better relate to the song’s subject matter.  I hated scaling back the details.  At one point, I had a verse about being lost in San Francisco, and trying to catch my plane in time.  It would have made a really good story song.  It would also have made a really awkward musical number for a fireside.

What was funny about the whole rewrite was that it came pretty quickly.  I had a self imposed deadline of Saturday at 7pm in order to head down to San Diego for Father’s Day.  I’d also promised a friend that I’d send her the current version of the song.  Everything was a rush in order to finish the thing before leaving for the weekend.   I laid the piano tracks in one shot, and sang once or twice to comp the vocals.  Then it was a quick bounce to disk and upload.

Here’s the mp3: I Know It’s You v1

And here are the lyrics:

Verse 1

I’ll find some days I’m lost

Out on my own

And then by chance it seems

I’m heading home

And then I see

More clearly

Verse 2

And In my life there’s been

That lonely road

And without words it seems

That someone knows

Then I see

So clearly

Chorus

I know enough to say

That when life just goes way

It’s not from what I do

I know enough

To know it’s you

Verse 3

Then there are the times

I need some answers

And when I flip the page

It’s staring there

And I see

So clearly

Chorus

I know enough to say

When life just goes my way

I know it’s all from You

I know enough

To know it’s you

Bridge (solo)

Verse 4

And when I kneel to say

I feel so grateful

My heart just overflows

And I’m unable

To freely

Sing to thee

Chorus

I know enough to say

When life just goes my way

It’s not from what I do

I know enough

To know it’s you

Repeat Chorus

I listened to this version all the way down to San Diego.  Part 3 will detail the issues I heard during those listens and the changes made to the song upon my return.

The Songwriting Process – Part 1

I know it seems like I’ve been neglecting my blog, since my last post was at the beginning of month.  In reality, I’ve been been working on writing something to submit to EFY 2009.  Throughout all of this, I’ve been careful to keep notes of my song and lyric versions; I thought some of you would be interested in seeing a glimpse into my creative process.

My first crack at writing was around June 8th.   The original lyric idea came pretty quickly.  I decided to describe how life’s experiences help us understand that He cares about the details.  Elder Bednar’s classic tender mercies talk served as the concept. However as I started writing, the lyrics kind of took an interesting turn. There were a lot of rewrites to try and tighten up the concept before I ended up recording a demo.  Here’s what came about:


Verse 1

Crossing the other side to grow inside,

In my heart I know you can see me

Now on the other side, sometimes, I’m blind

In my heart I know you, can see me

Down on my hands and knees

Asking to help me see

Chorus

I know enough

That I can say

I’m close enough

To feel your strength

I close my eyes with you

Cause you see me,

And I see you too

Verse 2

Searching all through day

To understand,

In my heart I know you

Can see me

And when I feel I’m almost

Near my end

In my heart I know you

Can see me

Down on my hands and knees

Praying to give me peace

Chorus

Verse 3

Walking a lonely road

No help, in sight

In my heart I know you

Can see me

And through the midnight black

I see a light

In my soul I know You

Can see me

Down on my hands and knees

Praising my Lord my King

Chorus

Repeat Chorus

And here’s the mp3: I Close My Eyes

After I finished the demo, I was quite pleased with how everything turned out.   I wasn’t sure what to do next,  but I figured I’d come back to it a few days later and figure it out.

Well that Tuesday or Wednesday when I sat down to revisit the demo, it just didn’t sound right at all.   I liked the groove and the general chord progression, but the arrangement itself was too repetitive (lots of block chords).  I kept imagining what the sheet music would look like; if I had to play it myself I would have been incredibly bored. One other thing that bothered me about the arrangement was that the vocal range was just too low.  When I first wrote it, I liked having the verses melody in the lower registers because I thought it sounded indie-ish.    Well, on my revisit, it didn’t hold up so well.

Another issue I found was the the chorus’ chord progression.  Even though I found the chorus catchy, it just seemed a little generic.  As a songwriter, one of my greatest fears is that I will subconsciously regurgitate a song that I’ve heard in some previous setting.

The third thing that bored me was that the tempo was a little slow.  The emotion of the song was prevalent in the first verse and chorus, but since the tempo and arrangement didn’t vary much it started feeling monotonous.   I also had a hard time envisioning the tempo of the song working with my intended audience.

The last thing that I struggled with was that the lyrics weren’t focused enough even after all the rewrites.  Verse 1 is more metaphoric while verse 2 talks about the spiritual experience from a general perspective.  Finally, verse 3 can be intepreted both metaphorically and literally (I originally envisioned a stalled car at night, with the driver trying to find help).  This was one of the major problems.

I tried rewriting the lyrics a couple times, but the rewrites didn’t match with the imagery of the chorus.  After a while I got frustrated and just went to bed.   In part two, I’ll detail my second revision attempts.

A final note:  In preparation for this post, I listened to the mp3, and still found it catchy. I think I’ll keep it in my catalogue, although I probably won’t work on adding any additional instrumentation.

Fists of Frustration

Coming out of school as a music graduate, I had a few career paths.  Behind door one was the freelance musician option, where I could write for various media projects (commercials, TV, etc) while establishing a client base.   This was an interesting proposition,  but I was not interested in staying in Utah and networking with the music scene there.  What can I say, I missed California.

Option two was to move to LA and do the the whole music scene as a singer/songwriter.  This idea was nixed almost immediately based on my writing style and personal preferences – I prefer to stay more behind the scenes as a composer.   And in reality, I do a lot more writing/arranging instead of performing.

Option three was to get a real job and funnel the money into music on the side.   This was the option I chose, and though not for everyone, has made me the happiest.   Mostly , this boiled down to the fact that I didn’t want to eat ramen for three straight years.    Somehow, I lucked into a job that that provides enough work/life balance that I can work towards a career in business and write music on the side.  And although the job itself isn’t music related, I’ve been involved in a few random side projects at work that have allowed me to stretch my mixing and engineering skills.

When I’m not working on mixing rap songs about finance, I writing songs to submit to TAXI.  TAXI is an online A&R company that will allow you to submit music towards various listings created by music professionals.  For a small fee, TAXI will screen and review your music.  If the music is deemed appropriate, they’ll send the music on to the execs or music publishers behind the listing.

Granted, I actually haven’t placed any music yet.  But the benefit of TAXI is this:  it allows me to receive critique and grow as a musician.  Plus, I still feel like I’m in touch with what is going on in the industry, even though I’m working an 8-5 job.

Oh, and I finally have something to upload today.  This is a piece Elise Burrell and I cowrote.  Elise, if you ever come back down here to California, I need to record your comps and backup vox for this song!

Fists of Frustration

If That’s All

Sorry, there hasn’t been more postings recently. I’ve been tremendously busy with Savior of The World (I’m a choir angel), work and travel. And it certainly won’t let up, as I’ll be heading out to Boston on a business trip this coming weekend.

Savior of the World has been a marvelous experience. I’ve been involved and attended Stake productions before, and this is head and shoulders beyond anything I expected. And I have high expectations.

Part of what has made the SOTW special is the level of commitment for all involved. I think that there is a certain level of sacrifice required before something becomes meaningful. Kudos to the directors, producers, and the rest of the production crew for having such a vision and demanding it out of us. At some point during all the practices, and right before our first performance, we could sense the spiritual and emotional synergy.

One of my favorite things about this show has been the opportunity to meet fellow members in the Irvine stake. I belong to the singles ward and the accompanying social bubble. But singing with a 120 person choir has allowed me to meet new acquaintances. Mothers, fathers, people I would have otherwise never met if only for the simple fact that our lives revolve around different things.

If that’s all that resulted from SOTW, I’m sure everyone would be happy…though I’m pretty sure that that effects of the production are much farther reaching.

-J

p.s. To make up for the lack of music recently, here’s another project from college. I’ll give more background on this piece in a subsequent post.

If That’s All

Will You Go With Me On a Date

I’m finally able to publish some of the songs in my catalogue, now that I’ve sent in the copyright applications.

This is a fun piece I did about a year and a half ago. I’m actually going to perform this one for the first time at our institute activity tomorrow, so hopefully I don’t mess up too much. It’d be much easier to just sing along to the track, but I do want to play this one live.

By the way, sorry for the lack of posts recently. I’ve been tied up with Savior of the World practice. Also, I’m working on rewriting one of my instrumental pieces by adding a bass part. Which then necessitates cleaning up the guitar and piano parts…so basically it’s a whole rewrite. I’ll publish that after I make some good headway.

Will You Go With Me

When You Wish

So my ‘net wanderings today led me to an interesting tidbit I’d never known before. Composer Leigh Harline, most famous for When You Wish Upon a Star, donated his services to the 1960’s movie, Man’s Search for Happiness. What a cool way to give back as a composer.

Of all the Disney song’s, When You Wish Upon a Star is the definitive classic. It’s actually not one of my favorites in terms of melody or arrangement, but I marvel at how perfectly it is able to capture that emotion of childlike wonder. The one where you truly believe that if you just wish hard enough, all your dreams will come true. Amazing what a simple song can do.

The song I’m posting today was actually a similar attempt at emotional reconstruction. I had a friend, back in college, who I was pretty close with. She’d come over to study or chat. One time she had a request to sing a couple of hymns, and so I broke out the piano while she sang along. After she went home, I had this distinct feeling of appreciation for her companionship. It wasn’t necessarily a romantic feeling, but I remember feeling impressed at how much I enjoyed the time we spent together in such simple activities.

I gave myself a personal challenge to try and write a song that emulated that emotion. It ended up being one of my semester projects, so I had to produce and mix it in the 20 or so studio hours we were allotted. My professor liked it quite a bit, especially the dual modulation technique.

I don’t know if my friend knows that she was the inspiration for the song. I guess if this thing ever shows up in a Disney film, I’ll tell her.

When You’re Here