Demo of Beat It composed using only Michael Jackson’s voice
As Jackson couldn’t fluently play any instruments, he would sing and beatbox out how he wanted his songs to sound by himself on tape, layering the vocals, harmonies and rhythm before having instrumentalists come in to complete the songs.
One of his engineers Robmix on how Jackson worked: “One morning MJ came in with a new song he had written overnight. We called in a guitar player, and Michael sang every note of every chord to him. “here’s the first chord first note, second note, third note. Here’s the second chord first note, second note, third note”, etc., etc. We then witnessed him giving the most heartfelt and profound vocal performance, live in the control room through an SM57. He would sing us an entire string arrangement, every part. Steve Porcaro once told me he witnessed MJ doing that with the string section in the room. Had it all in his head, harmony and everything. Not just little eight bar loop ideas. he would actually sing the entire arrangement into a micro-cassette recorder complete with stops and fills.”
Reasons why I laugh when people say he wasn’t a real musician.
I like to go in depth as to where I know without a doubt that those who receive me understand me. I know they breathe, I know they cry, I know they’re hurt, I know they love, I know they hate. They have all these different feelings. When you speak in terms of depth rather than ride along the shallow surfaces, they can only give you one true reaction as to what you’re talking about.
I’m just sort of trying to find a place to pound my nails… It seems like there’s a board there and all the nails are pounded in all over the place, you know, and every new person that comes to pound in a nail finds that there’s one less space, you know… I’m content with the same old piece of wood, I just want to find another place to pound in a nail.
Every week, Bob Schneider emails an invite-only group of musicians (several of them Grammy winners) with a challenge to write a song containing a certain phrase. If, by the end of the week, they don’t meet the challenge, they’re off the list.
The primary factor stopping people from finishing songs is the critical voice in your head that says it isn’t good enough. Then there’s the part of your brain that thinks every idea you have is wonderful. Those two are in constant battle when you’re writing. With [the songwriting game], you simply have to turn it in. If it’s bad or mediocre or half a song or maybe just a good idea not realized in a workable way, it doesn’t matter. Even the worst songwriter in the world, forced to write a song every week, is going to write some good songs from time to time. Law of averages.
Schneider has written a song a week for 12 years. More on the challenge here.
Sad copyright story: Barrett Strong, who first wrote and recorded “Money (That’s What I Want)” for Motown, has never seen a penny of royalties for the song, because Motown executives had him removed from the copyright registration. (The single was Motown’s first big hit, and sold over a million copies, but you could probably live off the publishing from the Beatles’ cover alone…)
In 2009, Mr. Strong had a stroke, limiting his ability to play the piano and sing. He now lives in a retirement home here, and hopes that by recouping rights to “Money” he will more easily be able to pay his medical bills and residence fees. But he also wants his accomplishments properly remembered.
“Songs outlive people,” he said, with a mixture of sadness, resignation and anger. “The real reason Motown worked was the publishing. The records were just a vehicle to get the songs out there to the public. The real money is in the publishing, and if you have publishing, then hang on to it. That’s what it’s all about. If you give it away, you’re giving away your life, your legacy. Once you’re gone, those songs will still be playing.”
Bill Callahan sketches out his songs lyrics first. The music takes shape once he enters the studio. “I always feel like the sound is already out there,” the 47-year-old singer-songwriter said. “I just need to find it.” Last October, when recording his forthcoming new album, “Dream River” (out Sept. 17), over six days at the Austin, Tex., studio Cacophony, he decided the sound he needed was dub. So he left room in the arrangements of several songs to give himself the option of concocting dub interpretations.
I have never thought of music as a challenge — you always figure, the audience is at least as smart as you are. You do this because you like it, you think what you’re making is beautiful. And if you think it’s beautiful, maybe they’ll think it’s beautiful.