5 ways to make songs better: rock edition

To make a song better, a few simple changes can make all the difference. Five ways to make rock songs better are:

I. Simplify chord progressions

Make songs better by taking progressions of six+ chords and boiling them down to their main parts. “Stairway to Heaven” may sound complex, but it’s really only five chords. Bands like the Ramones and Green Day have made an art of the three- and four-chord pop single, so we know success doesn’t depend on complexity.

Complex structures make players work harder, and music fans don’t necessarily respond any better than if the song had a simpler structure. Try taking some chords out of one of your math-ier favorites and see if it really makes a difference. It’s usually possible to keep the same mood without going through so many steps.

II. Make songs better by making songs shorter

Amateur rock bands might struggle with song length more than any other genre’s musicians do. Causes include (but are not limited to) showing off, slipping into “jam mode,” and writing hypnotic refrains that don’t successfully hypnotize listeners.

Too-short songs may leave listeners unsatisfied, but too-long songs bore them. And what’s wrong with leaving your fans wanting more, anyhow? If it’s really too short, tack on another verse or whatever. Just don’t make songs too long. That’s death, and pretty much everyone does it.

III. Make songs better by playing with tempo

Make a song better by slowing them down or speeding them up. Most songwriters pick tempos for their music by accident without thinking how tempo affects it at all. This is silly.

If you meant your song to go at breakneck speed, go ahead and experiment by playing it slowly. Often the best slow chuggers originally came out as ripping fireballs. Sometimes quiet, little ballads like “Brown-Eyed Girl” sound fantastic with a one-two beat. You never know until you try.

And speaking of not knowing…

IV. Let your band mates change your songs

Make songs better by asking your band members to make them better. They have creativity, and they have ideas. Every song will be better if everyone feels welcome to add their perspective to the material.

Lots of bands have a tendency to let each member’s songs stand as-is. If that works, it’s pure chance, and probably they’d benefit from some revision.

Don’t just keep an open mind, actively ask the drummer what he or she thinks — the bassist, the rhythm guitarist, the accordionist, and the mook playing triangle, too. That’s how to make songs better.

V. Add texture by letting instruments rest

Make a song better by letting just one or two instruments carry it occasionally.

Jazz figured out a long time ago that it’s obnoxious to have 100% of the crew playing 100% of the music 100% of the time. Rock bands often have a hard time with this.

It’s ridiculously easy to let everyone drop out but the bass player for a few measures. Or the drummer. Or the singer. Or whomever. The point is that your band doesn’t need to have all the lights on when the song’s fun lies in just a couple rooms. Let the others come in when they’re needed.

And if they’re not needed? Let them take five! The modern motif of “nobody gets to rest until after the set” is bizarre. Audiences respond very well to changes in band size during a set. Use that.


That’s all for this week’s MondoBlog! Happy Hallowe’en, and don’t miss last week’s piece on how to make music using just your phone!

Make Music on Your Phone!

Want to make music on your phone? Going away but don’t want to slow your roll? Here are some apps that help music artists take a mini studio everywhere they go.

Want to make music on your phone?

Apps for Instrumentation

Want to make music on your phone?

Caustic 3

Caustic 3 has synth sounds and audio effects artists can use to write melody lines and chord progressions. It’s simple to use but textured enough that a clever composer can consider it a legitimate instrument. (Android, iOS)

Want to make music on your phone?Animoog

Make music on your phone with Animoog, an application by the actual Moog company, makers of that inimitable 1960s keyboard sound. (By the way, it’s pronounced “Moag,” not “Mewg”).

The app has all sorts of sonic tweaks and shifts available to the discerning artist and doesn’t cost much. (iOS) only, though.


Apps for Recording

Want to make music on your phone?

Audio Evolution Mobile Studio

AEM Studio will record live instruments, vocals and other sounds and lets you modify the results with popular effects. It also has mixing and editing capabilities such as loop, cut/paste, and even crossfade. Get more functionality through in-app purchases. (Android only)

Want to make music on your phone?FourTrack

FourTrack mimics the old four-track recorders garage rockers used in the eighties and nineties to record practices and demo tapes. Unlike those dinosaurs, though, FourTrack records in CD audio quality. Recording, mixing and equalizing included. FourTrack comes standard with a virtual guitar amp, too. (iOS only)



Song Editors / Visual Composers

Want to make music on your phone?


Make music on your phone with Propellerhead, which gives any music fan an excellent crash course in song composition. You pick an instrument or sound (guitar, percussion, synth, etc) and just tap to start composing. Lay tracks down one atop another until your creation starts to sound like a legit song. Propellerhead won’t let you screw much up, but don’t expect professional-grade functionality, either. (iOS) only, but it’s free.

Want to make music on your phone?


Yellofier records anything you like and makes little colored blocks out of each cut. You can move these blocks around into any arrangement you like. Create a back beat, then a bass line, then a melody, and lay down some vocals. Presto. (Android, iOS)


Bonus: Just for Vocalists

Want to make music on your phone?


Make music on your phone via virtual karaoke!

From DigitalTrends.com:

“Singers can choose a song, customize it by selecting a different key, tempo, or instrumentation, then record a cover and share it quickly and easily via various social channels. Wurrly notes that it is made for singers by singers, and the firm hopes to highlight individuality and empower self-expression and artist discovery. There’s no limit on how much time you spend on Wurrly or how many songs you share, and with features like acoustic piano and guitar backing tracks, a slew of mix filters, and full-band versions of your favorite songs, don’t be surprised if you end up spending hours on this app.”


That’s it for this week’s MondoBlog, but read more about free digital audio software here. Happy recording!

What strings should I use? Basic guitar stringing

What Strings Should I Use?

‘What strings should I use?’ is a question every guitarist should ask.

The answer depends on several factors, including the type of instrument, the style of play, and the sound you want in general.

Every category of music today uses guitar from time to time, so it’s useful to know how to string one even if you’re only going to record a couple notes. This basic tutorial teaches everything you need unless you’re an expert guitarist (in which case you know all these things, already).


A guitar string’s tone comes from:

1. String Gauge

string gauges

  • Extra Light
  • Light
  • Medium
  • Heavy

(Note that light strings on an electric guitar will have smaller gauges than light strings on an acoustic guitar).

Consider heavy strings for —

  • Heavy strumming – because they offer more durability, more sustain, and less breakage.
  • Slide playing/drop tunings – because they hold a tighter string tension.
  • Low-action guitars – because they have tighter vibrations, and are therefore more resistant to fret buzz.
  • Unamplified acoustic playing – because they’re louder.
  • Jazz – because that style of music doesn’t use much note bending.

And consider light strings for —

  • Beginner playing – because it’s easier if you haven’t yet developed hand strength and calluses.
  • Blues/Soloing – because it’s easier to bend notes.
  • Vintage guitars – because they put less stress on the neck.
  • Small-body guitars – because they just sound better.
  • Fingerpicking – because they’re more responsive to delicate finger-work.


2. Metals

guitar string metals

What strings should I use? depends also on the metal used to make the string.

Electric strings use:

  • Nickel-Plated Steel – which has a good combination of warmth and brightness, a strong picking attack, and is the most popular option.
  • Pure Nickel – which is warmer than nickel-plated steel, and has a classic old-school vintage sound.
  • Stainless Steel – which is most resistant to corrosion, least prone to finger squeaks, and has a good combination of both brightness and sustain.

Titanium, cobalt, chrome and copper may also figure in, rarely.

Acoustic strings use:

  • 80/20 Bronze (aka Bronze, Brass) – which is 80% copper/20% zinc, and is the most popular option.  It has a bright, clean sound, but can lose some of its brilliance after only a few hours of play, as the metal corrodes quickly.
  • Phosphor Bronze – which is similar to 80/20 bronze, but with phosphor added to prevent oxidation and increase the life of the strings.  The trade-off is that they’re a little less-bright in comparison.
  • Silk and Steel (aka “compound strings”) – which have greater flexibility and lower string tension, resulting in gentler, mellower sound.  They are commonly referred to as a hybrid between traditional metal strings, and the nylon strings of a classical guitar.

3. String Core

What strings you should use depends also on the core. String manufacturers wind metal around the core. The core comes in two shapes.

hex core round core comparison


4. Winding Method

Technically you can find strings wound with three different styles, but only two matter to 99% of the guitar-playing world:



roundwound vs flatwound sound


5. String Coating

Since 1997, you can get strings with a factory-applied coating which will make them last several times longer than un-coated strings. Coated strings have a smoother feel under your fingers and “squeak” less.

However, many players insist that coated strings have less “brightness” and decreased sustain. It may also concern the guitarist that coated strings cost considerably more than un-coated strings. Whether the benefit coating may give is worth the added cost remains up to the player.

Have fun choosing your new brand of strings! And don’t miss last week’s MondoDIY post on free software for your home recording studio.

The Best Free Digital Audio Editors

The best free digital audio editors can help anyone with a computer become a music composer in minutes. But where can these programs be found, and which one is right for you? Let’s take a look at the most popular choices in 2017.


The best free digital audio editors must be led by the ultimate in free Digital Audio Workstation software, Audacity.

Audacity has been around for years and runs on Win, Mac, and even Linux. It can be used to do virtually everything any other DAW editor can do, and boasts many, many more features than the average music producer knows how to use.

What’s the catch, then? Why are there even competitors? Because Audacity doesn’t hold your hand at all. Even if you do know what every little knob on a pro- soundboard is for, Audacity still challenges most people just starting to use it.

It’s everything you need at a fair price: plenty of frustration.

Get it HERE.

DVDVideoSoft Free Audio Editor

For those looking to make basic edits to sound but not to produce a professional release, there’s DVDVideoSoft’s Free Audio Editor.

You can get an idea of its streamlined, no-frills format by the straightforward name DVDVideoSoft gave it: Free Audio Editor. Don’t expect much more.

Don’t get the wrong idea, though. It’s still useful for making simple edits to audio files, like cutting silence from podcasts, adding metadata to song files, and converting between different file formats. Its only filter is a volume control.

It’s a handy little tool, but it’s a little tool.

Get it HERE.


Ocenaudio has far more capability than the above Free Audio Editor, but very little of the confusion that comes with Audacity.

It doesn’t have all of Audacity’s features, either, though. Ocenaudio doesn’t let you stack sound effects, for example.

What it does have, it has in spades: easy user interface, precision selection tools, plenty of standard effects, additional plugins, keyboard shortcuts, and a real-time preview that lets you see what you’ve altered before needing to save your changes. You can even export your file as a ringtone.

Available on Win, Mac, and Linux.

Get it HERE.

Acoustica Basic Edition from Acon

The best free digital audio editors also include Acoustica Basic Edition.

Acoustica Basic Edition hasn’t been updated in years because Acon released newer versions of its paid counterpart (and didn’t release a freeware version). That doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong on this list, though.

Acon’s ABE can make recordings, import and edit tracks from CD, and combine multiple sound files. It can do all that with zero frustration, too. Having unlimited UNDO and REDO functionality, you can revert to an earlier or later version of your current project at the touch of a button.

However, it’s intended to sell you on the paid version, so don’t expect a multi-track editor, support for 7.1 surround sound, nor tools for digitizing vinyl or cassette recordings.

For a balance between minimalism and professional functionality, a basic DAW could do worse than Acoustica Basic from Acon.

Get it HERE.


Now that you’ve got all the software you need, make sure you know how to use your voice to garner fame and fortune by reading last week’s MondoBlog DIY post!

And cheers to all of you from the MondoCrew!

Become a Famous Singer!

Become a famous singer by following these sensible, tried and true instructions.

Become a famous singer through persistence and determination.

Singers and rappers like Chance the Rapper (above) have been climbing to the top by simply never giving up since the beginning.

It’s true, too, that some artists have a style so undeniable they get launched into the spotlight, but for each of them there are twenty more who made it by sheer grit and perseverance.

Become a famous singer for your best song.

Whichever song you sing best, perfect it and stick to it.

Know it better than your name. Work out all the kinks, polish every angle to a high shine, and if it’s not a song you wrote, sing it better than anyone else can.

It doesn’t have to be the last song you’re famous for, just the first one you’re famous for.

Become a famous singer by breathing deeply.

Breathe deeply, breathe more, become an expert breather. Vocal range, volume, texture and timing all depend on the amount of air you can expel.

Even though he’s screaming half the time he’s singing, Axl Rose can still rank at the very top of the world’s best singers. The man has startling lung capacity.

Breathe as deeply as you can when you sing. It can be as easy as that.

Become a famous singer by choosing great songs.

Writing great music challenges artists much more than simply singing great music.

Of course, singing songs you wrote yourself can feel better than anything (and if you write songs to match your personality and voice, that’s important, too).

But if you can’t or don’t write your own music, take time to really research the kind of music you want to cover and pick a real knockout.

Pick one nobody knows, if you can. If you can make a forgotten, wonderful song famous again, it will do the same for you.

Lavender Fields (photo: Mekael Dawson)

Become a famous singer by playing live as often as you can make it happen.

Singers become famous because great singing arrests people where they stand. It’s a law of nature.

If you want people to know you for your voice, you need to let them hear you.

Don’t wait for the phone to ring. Make it happen, and make it happen as often as you can. Create your own shows, if you have to. The other performers will thank you.

Become a famous singer by creating a YouTube channel.

Make an official YouTube channel for yourself and sing live music on it once a week.

This may seem like an amateur move, but consider the list of people who’ve broken big virtually without doing anything else at all: Charice Pempengco, Austin Mahone, Greyson Chance and the undisputed king of Internet fame, Justin Bieber.

Become a famous singer by getting good at publicity.

Finally, you’ll need to make publicity and manage it well.

Make stickers of your professional name and give them to anyone who will put it on their car, notebook, or anywhere else. Make flyers for your performances and post them on telephone poles. Make business cards. Get online and make a social media page every place you can be regularly active. Get your name out there.

Network. Meet people. Know their names. Have coffee or beer with them. Make friends in the music industry, as many artists as you can, as many professionals as will welcome you.

And last but not least, make sure you accept every shred of advice and criticism with gracious thanks and a winning smile.

You might have the best voice in a thousand miles, but unless you have a friendly smile and a humble attitude, expect to sing to your bedroom mirror the rest of your life.


That’s what we’ve got for you this week, you beautiful, brilliant artists, you! Don’t miss last week’s crash course on recording your music, and see you next time!


A Crash-Course on Studio Recording

The best recording order? It’s a smart question. You have a Digital Audio Workstation, a great song and all your instruments. But in what order should you record them? Here’s a crash course to get you good to go.

     Step One: Programmed Beats (or a click-track)

The very first thing laid down in professional studios are programmed beats.

If you’re recording hip hop, EDM, electronica or some other genre using digital drums and percussion, programming these beats will be your first step. Other instruments and vocalists will use these beats to keep time.

If you’re recording a traditional band or other form of analog music, your drummer will need a click-track to help keep time.

A click-track is just a metronome.

Most modern recording software has a click-track setting somewhere. Set the tempo to the speed of your song and you’re ready to lay down drums.

     Step Two: Drums and Percussion (skip this step if you programmed beats)

The drummer should play right on top of all the sounds the click-track makes. If you can hear the click-track as the drummer plays, it means the drummer is playing between the intended beats and has to do it over.

When you’re happy with the drums you’ve recorded, take out the click-track so just the real drums are left. If the percussion section has done their job, you shouldn’t need it, anymore. Everyone else is going to use the drums to keep time.

Note: some music groups have a “live” feeling. Their sound fluctuates in a way fans like. A drummer may have a hard time playing to a click-track, and forcing him or her to play to the click can result in a forced, mechanical-sounding album or single. Consider setting up mics around a room and recording the band playing together. The result will be much more messy and hard to mix, but you’ll preserve that spirit which a click-track can kill dead.

Step Three: Bass Instruments

Bass instruments should come after drums. Often this means electric bass guitar, but it can also mean cello, tuba, double bass (stand-up bass) or even saxophone.

Traditionally the bass should follow the bass drum so the bassist times notes to land on the kick of the drummer.

However, the recording engineer should not instruct instrumentalists in how to perform on their own recording. (That’s the producer’s job…).

Step Four: Melody Instruments (Body Instruments)

Once you have bass lines recorded, lay down the instruments which play out the main chord progression of the song.

Often this means the so-called “rhythm” guitar, the one playing the body structure of the song.

In hip hop it may be a loop of synth chords, or a sample taken from somewhere with a chain of notes.

In Latin music it’s often a duo or trio of trumpets.

Other common instruments used to form the body over the bass lines include keyboard, some violins, or a chorus of singers.

Lead guitarist Karl Caleb of Caveman Voicebox

Step Five: Harmony Instruments (“Lead,” Head or Solo Instruments)

Home stretch!

By the time you get to leads and heads, recording sequence matters much less.

Traditionally solo instruments which play harmonies — nearly always using single notes — are recorded before vocals or other finishing touches. This is not a concrete rule. If the lead singer or lead guitarist is having a baby the day of recording, feel confident swapping dates.

Lead instruments can include electric guitar, clarinet, violin, flute, trumpet, runs on the piano, or really pretty much anything.

G Funk Supreme at Rec Your Mind Studios, Long Beach (Photo by Stephen Carr / Daily Breeze)

Step Six: Vocals

Usually by the time the engineer and producer call for the vocalist, everyone wants to go home.

That’s OK, though, because when the producer says, “That’s it! I think that’s good,” the musicians can go home.

Of course, the lead vocalist quite often provides vocal harmonies, too. Record these right after the lead vocals go down.

From here on out, the engineer and producer will often steer everything else — unless…

Step Seven: Knick-Knacks, Bells-n-Whistles, Other Finishing Touches

The producer may decide to throw in some surprises at this point.

Hip hop often throws in a few additional samples for style or laughs. Other forms of music may lay down some tambourines, castanets, maracas, “egg” shakers, or sound effects like breaking glass, doors slamming, or any other cool, creative thing.

Step Eight: Mixing, Mastering and Distribution!

After the recording artists go home, the engineer and producer get all the levels audible.

That’s mixing.

Mastering is done by professionals.

And so is distribution!


That’s all for this week’s MondoBlog. Be sure to check in next time for more how-to’s from the crew who help you do you.





Rappers should use SoundCloud. Here’s why.

Rappers should use SoundCloud. Hip hop is dominating SoundCloud while SoundCloud fuels hip hop with new artists.  Read on to see why every modern hip hop artist should use SoundCloud.

Rappers should use SoundCloud. That’s a given today, when hip hop artists like Chance the Rapper get big enough breaks by using the platform that they can actually turn around and save the platform itself with profits from their original music.

Of course, these talents needed to distribute their music professionally, too — not just sell it on SoundCloud — but Chance the Rapper and Trinidad James still supply examples of hugely popular artists who can get signed and go on tour without even an LP album to sell while they’re touring.

A couple years ago, nobody would think that possible.

Today, though, the number of SoundCloud titans grows every day.

These popular artists include names like XXXTentacion, Lil Pump, Ski Mask the Slump God, Smokepurpp, Lil Yachty, Princess Nokia, Lil Uzi Vert, WifisFuneral, Gold Saint, and SIDMFKID.

The enormity of rap on SoundCloud even pushed the prior genre giant, EDM, right out the door.

According to NestHQ.com, “The imbalance between the consumption of singular hip hop and dance music tracks has become so great that as of this morning’s chart, there is not one song from the ‘Dance & EDM’ or ‘Electronic’ categories in the Top 10. Or Top 25. Or literally the entire Top 50. And it isn’t a fluke. This complete absence of dance and electronic music from SoundCloud’s most played songs has occurred on numerous occasions over the past six months.”

The point is, rappers should use SoundCloud because SoundCloud is where all the new hip hop is coming from.

On the other hand, though, rappers will still want to move up from SoundCloud to more professional means. While it acts as a great stage for amateurs, it’s not as legit as distributing your own singles through real distribution networks like MondoTunes.

Denver’s 303magazine.com says of this, “…garnering a SoundCloud following is important, but it’s not the end goal. ‘You can get a lot of clout from it,’ [Gold Saint] said. ‘You can win a grammy from SoundCloud now, because of Chance the Rapper. There’s a lot of sh-t you can do on SoundCloud… however, I don’t want that to be my limit.’ This is something that most artists would probably agree with. SoundCloud is more of the track itself than the finish line.”

Why Rappers Should Use SoundCloud
Rappers and SoundCloud

So, rappers should use SoundCloud. That’s obvious.

But they should never take it as a replacement for real studio recordings, mixed and mastered by the pros, distributed to over 600 quality music vendors online worldwide.

The fact remains that just a few people listen to music on SoundCloud.

And most of them are aspiring music artists, too.




What Do Great Musicians Listen to?

What Do Great Musicians Listen to, you ask? Luckily for us, nearly every legendary music artist has been asked, and nearly every music legend has answered. Here are the top names from the top five genres on what music they love best.

What Do Great Musicians Listen to: Hip Hop Edition — Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar may not have been the best-selling rapper of 2016 (that was Chance the Rapper) but his socially aware lyrics and tough-love straight talk reach right through his albums to seize the listener, arguably making him the most inspirational hip-hop star of today.

According to Complex.com, Lamar cites as main influences many of the titans of the 1990s you’d expect. These include Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, the Notorious BIG, and Snoop Dogg. He also names some less obvious selections, though, including several DJ Quik records and “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”

Kendrick Lamar says of the Lauryn Hill album, “That [record] probably had the most hits on it than I’ve ever heard. Even going back and listening to it now. Crazy, I think she was way ahead of her time—just the feeling and the cohesiveness and the concept behind it. It was just genius to me.

“[I] Really just [remember] the videos, how dope the videos were. They were cool and it was just a different feel. It had a natural organic feel. Back then the videos coming out, everybody had the high-class, high-end type look, hers was more natural, being-herself type look. I thought that was dope, and it’s dope that I recognized that at a young age.”

What Do Great Musicians Listen to: EDM Edition — Deadmau5

Yes, that’s what he looks like! and his name is Joel Zimmerman.

When you think of the best-selling EDM artists of all time, names like Avicii, Steve Aoki and David Guetta probably come to mind, but it’s usually Deadmau5 who takes the crown.

Nevertheless, Zimmerman is a man of the people and likes to make playlists for his fans. His popular 2014 list includes EDM tracks from the likes of Dillon Francis, Aphex Twin, Plastikman, James Holden, Pryda, Eekkoo and Spor.

What Do Great Musicians Listen to: Country Edition — Garth Brooks

Garth Brooks isn’t just the reigning king of country music, he’s actually the top-selling solo artist in the history of recording.

But he doesn’t open up often about the music he loves best. He once mentioned on the ‘Today’ show his love for James Taylor’s “New Moonshine” record, and talked up George Strait, too.

“George Strait‘s ‘Strait Country’ just was fantastic,” he said. “I think I’ve worn that thing out. I bought it in eight-track, album, cassette and CD.”

Finding additional comments from him on other artists he likes is more difficult, but America’s beloved genre-bending cowboy has recorded covers by artists including Billy Joel, the Allman Bros., Huey Lewis and the News, Bob Dylan, and even Kiss.

What Do Great Musicians Listen to: Pop Edition — Adele

Deciding on who should represent the best-selling genre of all, pop music, wasn’t hard. Adele had the best-selling album of 2016, and she had the best-selling album of 2015. Billboard also announced recently that her 2011 album, “21,” has registered more weeks on the Billboard 200 chart than any other album by a female artist.

All of which begs the question, what does Adele listen to? As it turns out, some very surprising names.

According to the Guardian in 2015, Adele’s noted favorites were Alabama Shakes, Karen Dalton, the Maccabees, and Macklemore.

What Do Great Musicians Listen to: Rock Edition — David Bowie

Also breaking records in 2016 next to Adele was David Bowie, the man, the myth, the Earthling.

Bowie’s infamous collection of prized vinyl albums had 2500 names in it 15 years before his death in 2016. Thank goodness Vanity Fair saw fit to ask him about some of his favorites back in 2003 when his health had not yet deteriorated.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bowie’s selections are the most unpredictable of all.

He mentions 1970 hip hop group the Last Poets, ’60s proto-punk comedians the Fugs, and a 1972 Chinese collezione of traditional music called “The Red Flower of Tachai Blossoms Everywhere: Music Played on National Instruments.”

More intuitively, Bowie cites the Velvet Underground, John Lee Hooker, Charles Mingus, Toots and the Maytals, Little Richard, James Brown, and Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett, as well as many others.


That’s it for this week’s MondoBlog! Don’t miss last week’s bit on drug use in songwriting, and meet me back here on Tuesday for more talk on rock, rap, rhythm, and the rest.



Do Drugs Help You Write Music?

Many great music artists have used drugs, but do drugs help you write music? In this week’s MondoBlog, we look at some facts and decide for ourselves.

Do drugs help you write music? In the US and Europe, the debate goes back to the early 20th century.

In 1933, Cab Calloway sang “Reefer Man.” Swing and jazz artists often had references to pot smoking in their songs. But the Great Depression and WWII shifted the focus of the world’s lyrics, and drugs didn’t openly come back into music for about 30 years.

The sixties and seventies turned drug use into a fertile field of music from artists like Janis Joplin, the Doors, and the Beatles. John Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1972 that, “‘Rubber Soul’ was the pot album and ‘Revolver’ was the acid.”

More recently, Miley Cyrus admitted she supports “happy drugs” like pot and MDMA. “They make you want to be with friends,” she said. Madonna said on the Tonight Show that MDMA causes “euphoric feelings of love” and defended her lyrics about it.

And of course, artists often use more than just heavy-hitting drugs like hallucinogens. Coffee and cigarettes may seem mild as creativity enhancers, but millions of artists use them.

Stephen King, one of the world’s most prolific writers (and frontman of the Rock Bottom Remainders) says in On Writing, “I think it was quitting smoking that slowed me down; nicotine is a great synapse enhancer. The problem, of course, is that it’s killing you at the same time it’s helping you compose.”

Which brings us to the obvious counterargument: even if drugs help you write music, should artists use them?

Chris Cornell’s wife probably doesn’t think so.

The Soundgarden singer, who committed suicide in 2017, may have died of depression, not drugs. His wife said at the time, though, “I noticed he was slurring his words; he was different. When he told me he may have taken an extra Ativan or two, I contacted security and asked that they check on him.”

When Cornell died, all the songs he could have written died with him. Other artists whose drug use may have contributed to their deaths include Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Scott Weiland, and scores more. That’s a ton of unwritten music.

Artists whose tobacco use contributed to their deaths include Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Nat “King” Cole, Duke Ellington, Lou Rawls, Serge Gainsbourg, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Frank Sinatra, and even the great Russian composer Shostakovich.

Let’s not even get into alcohol.

But when we ask, do drugs help you write music? we do need to consider that many of the very best musicians have been stone-cold sober.

The Melvins make an interesting argument for sober music because totally sober singer/songwriter “King Buzzo” Osborne grew up as close friends with Kurt Cobain. They have shared band members including bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dale Crover.

Kurt Cobain even produced many sessions of one Melvins album, “Houdini,” until the band fired Cobain for being “out of control” on drugs.

In the end, the Melvins have recorded nearly 10 times as much music as Nirvana.

Is Nirvana 10 times better than the Melvins? That’s a hard sell.

Other sober music artists include Calvin Harris, Anthony Kiedis, Ozzy Osborne, Trent Reznor, Tom Waits, James Hetfield, Ringo Starr, Elton John, Eric Clapton, and the legendary David Bowie.

So do drugs help you write music? Artists need to answer that for themselves. Finding reasons to use them might prove difficult with titanic minds proving it can be done sober, though.

After all, everyone in the above list of sober musicians is still making music except Bowie. And our beloved Bowie died of liver cancer, decades after he beat alcoholism.

Hear him talk about the importance sobriety plays in his music here.


That’s enough about drugs in music for now. Don’t miss last week’s bit on putting live instruments in EDM, and stay tuned next week for another MondoBlog you beautiful, brilliant people, you.








Live instruments in EDM and why they make sense

Live instruments in EDM make more sense than many DJs realize. Here’s why.

Live instruments in EDM may seem contradictory, but the music world can expect more and more of them. Digital composers looking for success in 2017 and beyond should see live instruments as an opportunity, therefore.

This is because the trend of live instruments in EDM has been coming for a long time.

In 2012 The LA Times quoted Deadmau5 as saying, “People assume there’s a guy on a laptop up there producing new original tracks on the fly. None of the ‘top DJ’s in the world’ to my knowledge have. Myself included.”

This caused a huge debate among EDM artists, themselves, while everyone outside the scene nodded in agreement with Deadmau5.

EDM moved on.

Then in 2014, Saturday Night Live’s “When Will the Bass Drop?” skit lit up the discussion again. How can we consider EDM live music unless it has an obvious live component?

In that article, Autograf’s Jake Carpenter said of the SNL skit, “Build up, raise your hands, insert Lil Jon vocal drop and everyone starts jumping like pogo sticks. We’re starting to see a reaction to that.”

Now let’s skip ahead to 2016. This is four full years after Deadmau5 pointed out the problem.

Connor Jones writes for Magnetic Magazine: “The DJ model set the standard in the culture and helped foster the current era of prosperity in the scene, but it always felt as though the live aspect was a missed potential. A few artists broke the mold over the years as the EDM movement developed, but this just wasn’t the mentality driving the live scene.”

This mentality can be easily understood in terms of music evolution. Fans and artists who consider EDM to have been a brand-new invention of the year 2000 are mistaken.

EDM came from electronica, trip hop, industrial music and other genres. To get it, all you needed to do was take out the live instruments.

Naturally, that left a hole.

Today, the roster of artists who blend live instruments in EDM thrums with new blood.

It includes Gramatik, Empire of the Sun, the Chainsmokers, Calvin Harris, Disclosure, the Glitch Mob, Emancipator, Modestep, Octave One, KiNK, Detroit Swindle, Destroid, Opiuo and many, many more.

Let’s remember, too, bands that helped pioneer the sound in the 1990s like the Prodigy, KMFDM, and Pop Will Eat Itself.

But the point is: what’s the difference between live instruments in EDM and great digital dance music alone? How can EDM artists use this to their advantage?

As far as live performances go, the answer is plain. Live instruments add to the entertainment factor. Music fans get more. The end.

What about the sound, though? And what about EDM artists who never play live?

True music fans can be very hard to fool if you’re trying to synthesize a live solo. The sound of live music is worth the trouble, but recording a live instrument is often easier than successfully imitating one.

Millions of people play instruments all over the world. Most of them enjoy a recording session, even an unpaid one.

Never underestimate the power of a vocalist, either. Good singers love nothing more than a microphone. The most popular EDM tracks in history include live vocals.

Should the EDM artist not want to share creative responsibility, there’s nothing stopping him or her from sampling live instruments. After all, samples of live music represent the original heart of EDM.


Comments and questions on this topic or others are welcome here or at smccauley@mondotunes.com. Also be sure to check out last week’s post in which we explored the advice of Rolling Stone’s top ten songwriters on writing great music.