Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Caribou Wins Polaris Music Prize 2008!

Congratulations to Caribou for winning the 2008 Polaris Music Prize for their album, Andorra! You can watch last year's winner, the band Patrick Watson, make the announcement here:

Patrick Watson (2007 winner) announces 2008 Polaris Music Prize!
May the Muse be with you... all you Music Prize winners...

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Tailor Your Backup Band - More Technology Coming

Another Listening Post Wired Blog post from Eliot Van Buskirk had me going today:

Amateur musicians should eventually be able to use similar technology to create entire songs using only a vocal melody and an idea of which band -- or mix of bands -- would sound right playing the accompaniment. Want a backing track for your "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" cover that sounds like a mix of Radiohead and Green Day? Soon, you could be able to click a button and make it so.

Pretty cool stuff... the program will take songs you "feed" it from a particular artist and become that band in style - they call it "Automatic Style Specific Accompaniment" or ASSA. You can see this in action in this video which shows the ASSA success rate of 82% in coming up with the melod of Creep by Radiohead after being given 3 of the band's songs (High and Dry, Fake Plastic Trees and Airbag).

Who knows, eventually an artist/songwriter may license their "style" under ASSA? Will you be able to copyright a style? I guess if it can be analyzed and stripped to such a point that it can be copied and utilized to another songwriter's benefit, the answer may be "Why not?".

Right now the system is bits and bytes and MIDI-based, but theoretically, it should work on audio files as well in the future. As the author states in the article: "If all you need is a melody, lyrics and a concept of which band or bands you want your accompaniment to resemble, the bar to songwriting will be lowered."

Something to think about...

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Music's 'DNA' Decoded: Melodyne

Peter Neubacker, the music software engineer behind Melodyne, is interviewed online on the Celemony website here and I hope you take the time to take a look.

It's really quite incredible what his invention within Melodyne, Direct Note Access (DNA), has done for polyphonic sounds (i.e. guitar/piano chords). It allows the user to take individual notes within that polyphonic sound and "play" with them (pitch/decay/timing, etc...) - see image at end of post.

As Eliot Van Buskirk states in the Wired Listening Post blog piece on this:

While Melodyne enabled anyone to sing in tune, Direct Note Access' effect will likely be far more widespread. Any one of us will technically be able to create a guitar-based song by strumming all of the open strings on a guitar then editing the resulting chord to play whatever we want. Talk about your democratizing technology.

Celemony's Direct Note Access will likely lead to a revolution in how music is made, although purists are likely to scoff at yet another technology that downgrades the importance of virtuosic talent. Others will surely see this as a natural progression in the ongoing musical fusion of human and machine.

Remember to check out that demonstration (very cool)! And may the technological Muse be with you too...

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Monday, September 29, 2008

18 Year Old Songwriting Comedian - Bo Burnham and Judd Apatow

Bo Burnham is a web-based songwriting comedian with a strong YouTube and MySpace following (now with a record deal with his first album out).

Bo branched out into the real-world with a summer appearance at Just For Laughs in Montreal where he met comedy producer/director/writer extraordinaire, Judd Apatow, and Reuters reported last week that Bo will write the songs and perhaps star in Apatow's anti-High School Musical musical that he's developing. You can read the full article here and catch a clip of Bo here.

May the comedy Muse continue to be with Bo...

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Tilbrook and Difford to Squeeze Out Some More Songs

Thanks to Eric R. Danton's blog Sound Check for providing the news on the reunion of Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford of Squeeze on the A&E network show Private Sessions, which is a fantastic show featuring artists in an intimate New York studio with host, Lynn Hoffman. This Sunday, October 5, at 9 a.m., watch the episode as Tilbrook & Difford "sit down for an in-depth interview with host Lynn Hoffman and perform their smash hit songs Tempted, Goodbye Girl, Pulling Mussels (From The Shell), and Another Nail In My Heart."

And here's the clip from Mr. Danton's blog as a quote from the interview by Tilbrook:

"In a weird way I was sort of happy with it," he said in a clip of the show provided by A&E. "I was happy with my solo world and Chris was in his solo world, and to an extent, we're continuing on with that. But it's so nice to have the Squeeze thing back together again. And also, it's nice to think that something we're going to do now, we are going to work together on a record, a new record, and start writing together again."

Damn, I wore out my ArgyBargy LP growing up... and I look forward to hearing what Tilbrook & Difford can do these days... may the Muse continue to be with them...

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Robin Thicke on Songwriting

Well, growing up in Canada (and with Growing Pains) I know Alan Thicke, actor and songwriter of TV Themes such as Diff'rent Strokes, Facts of Life and the theme to Growing Pains. Alan's son, Robin Thicke, is an accomplished songwriter in his own "write" (for Christina Aguilera and Usher among others) and now an up-and-coming R&B/pop star to boot. From a recent New Zealand Herald article come the following quotes:

"I've never written a song for myself that I've given anybody else. And I've never written a song for somebody else that I've kept. I write all my songs for myself now," he says, slightly shirty.


The song Dreamworld, a stand-out on the [new] album [Somethin' Else], references [Marvin] Gaye's tragic death with the line, "I would say Marvin Gaye your father didn't want you to die".

"It's just about how we all make mistakes. We can pretty much assume that his father didn't want that to happen."

And with the poignancy that Thicke puts into singing the line you have to give it to this white boy from California, he knows the power of a good song.

As for how he writes his songs the process is simple and always the same: "Follow your gut and try and come up with something that you love."

You know the drill... may the Muse stay with you Robin... though I'm not sure I agree with the Dreamworld line since Marvin Sr. was convicted of manslaughter and all...

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Canadian Radio Star New Songwriter Workshops

Yesterday, I attended the New Songwriters' Workshop put on by the Canadian Radio Star songwriting competition folks and supported by Astral Media, and sponsored by the Songwriters Association of Canada and Sennheiser. The workshop was staged at Metalworks Studio (very cool setup).

The topics included What's In a Song?, Music Publishing 101 and Writing for the Radio, along with a song review and critique session. Greg Simpson of Mindbenders Music was the host of the event and the presenters included songwriter Blair Packham, Wayne Webster, Music Director of Virgin Radio 99.9, John Alexander, Senior VP-Creative Affairs for ASCAP, and Vivian Barclay, head of music publisher Warner Chappell Music Canada Ltd. Don Quarles of SAC was assisting as well.

Much was learned and will be shorlisted to the following points:

  • Music is patterns, but you have to break those patterns to keep the listener engaged.
  • You're not a genius. Don't overwork a song, but re-writing it as a craftsman can and usually does make it better.
  • There is no rule to songwriting other than - "Don't be boring!"
  • Music is communication - the song should speak for itself and not have to be explained (my problem, big time).
  • Know your audience and listen with your audience's ear.
  • Your mother is not a music critic when it comes to your songwriting/performing abilities - she doesn't count (sorry Ma).

I brought my song She's My Favourite Place to be critiqued and boy, was it ever! I know it was a bad mix (my fault) but the production and the song itself did not go over well... That leads to another point from the workshop - Do your demo well! You may only get one shot so whether it's stripped down bare (just piano or guitar plus vocal) or with more advanced production, it has to work... if somebody is listening they're only going to listen for a minute before moving on and if you can't win them over, you get tossed in the "NO" pile... songs under 4 minutes and hook within 45 seconds...

I got some re-writing to do on some old songs and a new mindset to take into the new ones... may the Muse come to me!

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Some Songwriting Thoughts from Randy Newman

The Boston Globe ran an article featuring an interview with Randy Newman wherein he spoke about the State of the Union and the U.S. presidential election and other "unimportant" things, including some insight into songwriting as follows:

Q. When you sit down to write a pointed song about society's ills, what are you setting out to accomplish?

A. You know, I've been doing it a long time and I think my intention, vaguely, is to save the world. But I doubt I've changed one person's mind about inferior schools or racism.


Q. Is it a fundamental flaw of topical songwriting that you're perennially preaching to the converted?

A. Yeah. But I don't want to be booed and hated. I don't want to be abused. I'm too fragile for that. The Republicans don't want to hear me. That's just the way it goes. I mean, have you ever won that argument?

... and

Q. "Harps and Angels" had the biggest opening weeks sales of your career. Did that surprise you?

A. It's like being a blacksmith in 1909. The business is about to go. I'm not dismissing that this album is a success. It doesn't mean any less. The fact is it isn't going to pay the rent nowadays. The better thing is that I have the old catalog. It's still vital, commercially. It always has been.

Hmmm, comparing songwriting to blacksmithing... and the "business is about to go." Definitely some insight there from a talented/opinionated songwriter and performer... May the Muse be with you Randy...

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Liam Gallagher's "Singer vs. Songwriter"

I don't agree with the philosophy, but it's interesting to say the least and I think it's a bit of bravado considering the source and the publicity such statements make. Here's an article about Liam Gallagher's take on his brother Noel's singing/songwriting skills and the latest Oasis album.

Liam Gallagher hates his brother Noel singing on the new Oasis album.

The frontman said his guitarist sibling - who sings three tracks on 'Dig Out Your Soul' - should have left him to do all the vocals.

He said: "I'm a better singer than him, so I should sing them."

However, Liam claims his songwriting talents are not as impressive as his prowess on stage.

He explained: "I don't count myself as a songwriter. I'm a singer who every now and then stumbles across a few songs that people either like or don't like.

"I'm into writing songs, but I'm not going to freak out about it and go, 'Whoa, these songs...' I know there's all this spiritual nonsense that people go on about, but I'd be more worried about losing my voice than losing my ability to write a f**king song. I'm a singer man, that's it."

The 'Live Forever' star - who penned 'I'm Outta Time', 'Soldier On' and 'Ain't Got Nothing' for the band's new album - also revealed his biggest songwriting influence is himself.

He added: "I don't have subjects to write about - I just write about me, because I'm different, a one-off. I don't draw inspiration from music, I'm already inspired. "

Hmmm, may the Muse be with you... and may Liam stay with Liam...

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Norman Whitfield, Motown Legend, Dead at 68

There's a great Motown sound that owes a lot to Norman Whitfield, Grammy-winning songwriter/producer/arranger for Motown and for his own label. The hits are many, including I Heard It Though The Grapevine, Papa Was A Rollin' Stone, and Ain't Too Proud To Beg (all with co-writers).

The NY Times has an obit on Mr. Whitfield, but I'll take this quote from an interview he gave and provide it hear for its sheer bravado and insight into what you need to do sometimes to make a song:

In an interview with David Ritz for "Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye" (Da Capo, 1991), Mr. Whitfield recalled the deep influence of the new, hard-driving funk of Sly Stone, and how he tried to bring something of Mr. Stone's sound to his work at Motown.

"My thing was to out-Sly Sly Stone," Mr. Whitfield said. "Sly was definitely sly, and his sound was new, his grooves were incredible, he borrowed a lot from rock. He caught the psychedelic thing. He was bad. I could match him though, rhythm for rhythm, horn for horn."

It would be something else to "match" Norman Whitfield... time to feel a little soul now... R.I.P. and may the Muse be with you...

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Songwriter's Goals

Andrea Stolpe, professional songwriter and author of the Songwriter Career Blog, recently posted on the common-sense approach of having Short Term Goals For Songwriters And Artists. I'd encourage you to read the entire post, but thought I'd just include a snippet of her wisdom here:

Make sure your short-term goals are reachable. For instance, if you dream of performing two times a week and drawing a significant income from it as well as broadening your audience from that venture, start by breaking that down into smaller, reachable steps. Target some small venues in your area, and book a show a month. Devise an initial plan for promoting your shows. Make it a goal to talk to one new person a day about your gigs, and follow up with an email about the next gig. Target one business in that community you may pair up with to promote the show. Write and perform one new song a month to generate more interest in your shows. Think about the visual interest of your show, and add one new element to spice up the way your show looks. Attend one industry event, conference, or workshop every two or three months. Make it a point to network with two new contacts at that event and follow up by email. Maybe your first step is to carry your CDs with you wherever you go. Maybe it's to record a piano/vocal of one song and organize your lyrics and music in a folder that is easy to access. Maybe your smaller step is to make one cold call each week to a club you'd like to be booked at. Whether or not you get the booking, you've done the work of calling. Take charge of the day to day steps that are within your control.

Short term goals... me, I've got to get onto an open stage night to just get some songs heard by people... I've done that before, but it's been a while... may the Muse be with you...

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MuseScore v. Finale NotePad

Last week I wrote about the demise of the free version of Finale NotePad and advising readers to pick up the free 2008 version before it's too late. I received a comment on that post from David Bolton regarding the free and opensource project known as MuseScore.

Indeed, David provided a link to very helpful comparison of the features between MuseScore and Finale NotePad which I'd encourage you to read. It definitely is a great alternative, is well-supported and available for Windows and Linux.

May the Muse(Score) be with you...

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The World In Six Songs by Daniel Levitin

Okay, now this book is hot off the press and I haven't had a chance to review it other than the sample that's availabel on Dr. Levitin's website. This book - The World In Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature - "shows how six specific forms of music played a pivotal role in creating human culture and society as we know it. Levitin masterfully weaves together the story of human evolution, music, anthropology, psychology and biology from the dawn of homo sapiens to the present."

"Music seems to have an almost willful, evasive quality, defying simple explanation, so that the more we find out, the more there is to know, leaving its power and mystery intact, however much we may dig and delve. Daniel's book is an eloquent and poetic exploration of this paradox.."
- Sting

The "Six" are Friendship, Joy, Comfort, Knowledge, Religion and Love. You can listen to Dr. Levitin on CBC's The Current from this morning's show discuss the Six Songs. Here is the podcast which can be eloquently summed up as follows: Music makes us human...

Listen to Podcast:

Happy listening and may the Muse (and Science and the Six Songs) be with you...

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This Is Your Brain On Music by Daniel Levitin

Well, I was going to wait till I actually finished the book to right about it, but since the author, Prof. Daniel Levitin, appeared on CBC Radio's The Current this morning (to discuss a new book of his), I thought I'd make my first thoughts on this "old" book known.

The book is - This Is Your Brain On Music - and it's a wonderful, thought-provoking achievement regarding the "science" of music. Don't get scared by that thought (re "science") as the book is lucidly entertaining, drawn from the real-life experience of the author as a musician/producer/scientist (don't see that combination every day).

Yes, the "raw" science of sound is analyzed - that path of sound vibrating air molecules and triggering nerve impulses in the listener. But "music", as opposed to just "sound", can bring simple yet complex analysis within the brain that delves into the timbre, pitch, tempo and other musical elements. And it's fascinating, without destroying the soulfulness or mystery of music.

As Levitin himself simplifies the book in his introduction to be: "what music can teach us about the brain, what the brain can teach us about music - and what both can teach us about ourselves". I'm finding that I out as I complete the book...

Listen to Podcast:

So have a listen above or download the podcast (from CBC's Quirks & Quarks, Dec/06) as well and know that his new book The World In Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature has just come out... see next post.

May the Muse (and science) be with you...

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Monday, September 15, 2008

The Everything Songwriting Book by CJ Watson

I enjoyed recently reading The Everything Songwriting Book by C.J. Watson. American Songwriter Magazine called it the most complete songwriting book ever and said “No songwriter should be without it”.

Of particular interest to this reader was the section on musical theory and the Nashville charting system (nicely explained) and tips to record the music, and most importantly how to get the music heard. Mr. Watson has a very laid back, natural writing style which lends itself to picking apart certain chapters that may be of some benefit to a songwriter at any point in time…

Use with authority and may the Muse be with you…

Sunday, September 14, 2008

My Self-Hosted Wordpress Blog

Just a note to steer all readers to my "copy" of this blog on my self-hosted site at:


I think I'll be running both pages in tandem, so whatever style suits your fancy... but I have a bit more control on my self-hosted site (using Wordpress as an installed script).

May the Muse be wtih you...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mercury Prize Winner 2008

British Alt-Rock Band Elbow have won the 2008 Mercury Prize for their latest effort, The Seldom Seen Kid. The award leads to a huge increase in sales (400% in sales at HMV in Britain) for the band to accompany the glory and prestige of the prize itself.

The following is from a Telegraph article:

A television appearance by Elbow on ITV's National Movie Awards on Tuesday night was also a factor behond the sales increase.

The five-piece group from Bury beat bands and solo artists including Radiohead and Estelle to the £20,000 Mercury Prize with their fourth album.

The Mercury judges called it "an epic rock record - triumphant, heartbreaking, unerringly melodic and life-affirming".

The award was a long time coming for the indie band. Elbow formed in 1991 but did not release their first album until 2001 on Richard Branson's independent V2 label. The critically-acclaimed LP - 'Asleep In The Back' - was nominated for the Mercury Prize that year but missed out to PJ Harvey.

It's interesting that the prize found Elbow 7 years after their debut was up for a Mercury as well (and 17 years after they formed... heck, why did that debut album take 10 years to make?).

May the Muse continue to be with you Elbow, certainly the judges were and they had such words of praise for the album... and may a prize find us all one day...

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Soundcheck's Songwriting Contest

The new Soundcheck Songwriting Contest is announced in this blog post today. The deadline is 5 p.m. on September 24 and here are the rules:

By submitting an entry, you are 1) giving Soundcheck the right to use the lyrics on air and 2) asserting that the lyrics are your original work. Entries will be judged on originality, and can be serious or humorous, fact-based or fictional. Entries may include collage elements and quotes if they do not violate existing copyrights. On the Oct. 10 edition of Soundcheck, Jesse Harris will reveal the winner and One Ring Zero will perform their version of the song live on the show.

Soundcheck is a daily talk show about music put out by WNYC, New York's flagship public radio stations. May the Muse be with you... now, which song should I enter here?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Canuck musicians hope to offer next In Your Eyes

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) offers the chance for Canadian musicians to get their music heard by those executives in the Movie & TV business needing to place songs in their product.

That's where the Canadian Music Cafe comes in! A veritable who's who of Canadian independent bands and singer/songwriters have the opportunity to present directly to these industry types... good luck to them (and I wish it were me... gotta check out how I can get a song to one of these types...). 

May the Muse be with them... and how true the following is (from a National Post article):

Nathan Ferraro is the vocalist for The Midway State, a Toronto band that was helped along when its song Unaware was featured on The O. C. "As soon as that aired, the presence we got online was huge," he says. He's hoping for another hit.

Ferraro recalls hearing Peter Gabriel's song In Your Eyes in the John Cusack movie Say Anything "Cusack is standing there holding a stereo over his head and it just made that scene. Every time I hear that song, I think of that moment. That's priceless. People never forget that."

Finale Notepad - No Longer Free

So I found out that Finale Music will no longer be providing its basic NotePad product for free beginning with its 2009 version.  Here is what the company says on its website:

September 4, 2008
Dear Finale NotePad user,
We’re writing today to share some exciting news surrounding the upcoming release of Finale NotePad®.
When it was first released in 2000, the initial idea behind NotePad was that it would work like an “Adobe Reader” for music notation, letting anyone open, play, and print any Finale file. Since then more than four million educators, students, and other musicians have downloaded and made excellent use of Finale NotePad.
In the intervening years NotePad’s feature set has been greatly expanded. Recent additions include guitar and bass tablature, MIDI file import/export, step‐time entry, and MIDI playback. Even so, we continue to receive requests for additional functionality, and this year NotePad has reached a crossroads.
In the next few weeks we plan to release Finale NotePad 2009 with even more features, including an all new Expression Tool and the ability to import/export MusicXML files. It will continue to include free online support. At the same time we will begin charging $9.95 for the NotePad 2009 download.
Then, within the month, we will also release our Finale Reader™. The Finale Reader will be able to open, play, and print (but not edit) any Finale family file – as well as MusicXML files – and it will be a free download.
Please note that with the release of the Finale Reader, we will no longer offer previous versions of NotePad from our site. Keep in mind that among the many advantages in NotePad 2009 is its ability to import/export MusicXML files: this means that it can save files that can be opened in earlier versions of Finale.
We hope you agree that these changes represent an excellent balance between free reader software and low‐cost notation creation software.
Best wishes in your music making,
John Paulson and Ron Raup
MakeMusic, Inc.

So get it while you can...

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Stevie Wonder the Gershwin Prize Winner for 2009

Singer/songwriter Stevie Wonder has been announced as the latest winner of the U.S. Library of Congress's Gershwin Prize for Popular Song and will accept the prize February 23, 2009 at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. He will also write a new piece of music for the library.

The prize is named after George and Ira Gershwin, an American songwriting team whose large collection of songwriting paraphernalia are currently stored in the Library.

This honor being given to Stevie Wonder recognizes his lifetime of contributions to the field of popular music.

Stevie Wonder has created such hits as "My Cherie Amore", "Superstition", and "I Just Called to Say I Love You" has been blind since birth and learned to play various instruments before the age of 10.

At the age of 12 he was signed by Motown Records and has since sold over 100 million albums and received 25 Grammy Awards.

Last year's winner of the Gershwin Prize was Paul Simon.

SOCAN - EchoPrize for 2008

News release just issued by SOCAN:

SOCAN (Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada) wants the public to vote - for their favourite Canadian song.

SOCAN announced the Canadian songs nominated for the third annual ECHO Songwriting Prize, a prize that highlights and celebrates the songwriting talents of some of the best independent, up-and-coming songwriters in Canada.

The contest runs until September 29 at www.echoprize.ca.

The five nominated songs, as selected by an independent panel of ten (10) music community tastemakers, are:
"Double Suicide" written and performed by Sandro Perri
"Lucklucky" written and, performed by Veda Hille
"Night Windows" written by Stephen Carroll, John Samson, Greg Smith and Jason Tait, performed by The Weakerthans
"Weighty Ghost" written by Loel Campbel, Tim D'eon, Paul Murphy and Jud Haynes, performed by Wintersleep
"You Are Never Alone" written by Josh Dolgin, Doris Glaspie, Katie Moore and Waleed Shabazz, performed by the Socalled

During the nomination process, panelists each nominated three songs and from there they reviewed these songs and, using a point-value system, determined the five songs to present to the public for voting.

"Given the uncertainty of arts funding these days, it is refreshing to know that there are organizations like SOCAN that fight for performers' rights while continuing to support the development of emerging music creators. The ECHO Prize is a fine example of this. Not only does it support up-and-coming songwriters but it involves the Canadian public and helps turn people on to music that they may not hear on commercial radio," says Daniel Seligman of Pop Montreal.

The Prix de la chanson ECHO, celebrating the songwriting talents of some of the best independent, up-and-coming Francophone songwriters in Canada, is launching concurrently.

SOCAN is the Canadian copyright collective for the communication and performance of musical works. It administer the rights on behalf of its members (composers, lyricists, songwriters and their publishers) and those of affiliated international organizations by licensing the use of the music in Canada.

The fees collected are distributed as royalties to members and to affiliated organizations throughout the world. SOCAN also distributes royalties received from those organizations to members for the use of their music worldwide.

SOCAN has offices in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton and Dartmouth.

Make a point to visit the site, vote and support your Canadian songwriters! May the Muse be with them all... (even if, somehow and inexplicably, I didn't make the finalists cut.)

U2 Ready for 2009

It's easy, sometimes, to forget that even the greats have to go through the mundane... it all starts with a song... simple as that and U2 have it going on in their latest recording/writing sessions for their upcoming album... You can read the official website blurb here... and here's a little piece to chew on here:

'When we set out on this record it was Larry who came up with the plan not to have a plan. He put up this idea that wouldn't it be great just to make music for its own sake, not for the purpose of a live show or on album but just to see what we're capable of…'

It's an idea that's paid off. Following sessions in Morocco, in Dublin and through the summer in France, the band have written 'fifty or sixty' tracks. And counting.

'We've hit a rich songwriting vein,' he explains. 'It gets a bit dark down here but looks like we've found diamonds not coal. I thought a while back we might have the album wrapped by now, but why come up above ground now if there's more priceless stuff to be found?

May the Muse stay with Larry, the Edge and Bono... they certainly have provided some great tunes over the years...

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