The Stories Behind the Songs
In 2021, I was asked to give a talk and I choose to focus on the remarkable life of Stephen Soundheim. I was already a fan having watched and performed in his musicals, but I found researching his life to be very inspiring. As the presentation was for a business networking group, I decided to approach it from the perspective of adapting Sondheim’s methods as life lessons.
Here’s a summary of what Sondheim practiced that I believe can be applied to any business or life pursuit. Watch the presentation to learn more about each of these lessons and how they applied to Sondheim’s life.
1.Get a mentor
3.Taking a step can lead to greater things
4.Learn from the past but be willing to innovate
5.Do what you love
6.Make sure the client’s brief is specific
7.Make things easy for yourself
8.Make your weakness an asset
11.Timing may be off… Try, try again
I recently entered a contest held with Wikimedia (affiliated with Wikipedia) who are running a contest to produce an audio logo. But before I go into my process for deciding how to write one, I think it’s important to explain what an audio logo is. I’ve created a presentation on audio logos and audio branding in general.
According to Creativebloq.com, audio logos are soundbites, no more than a few seconds long that accompanies the appearance of a visual logo strengthening brand recognition overall or substituting it for audio-only media such as radio, podcast or apps like Spotify. The latter reason is why Wikimedia wanted to add an audio logo to their brand. With virtual voice assistants using Wikimedia knowledge, it is not always clear where the information is coming from. But, as Wikimedia explains it, the expectation is that this mnemonic device will, with time, help increase positive emotional responses to the Wikimedia brand, and since the source of content will be accurately identified, it could lead to more people thinking of Wikimedia as a trusted source of verifiable information.
For the Wikimedia contest, ‘The Sound of All Human Knowledge’, the rules were very specific concerning the themes to aim for when writing the sound logo, as well as the length (between 1-4 seconds) and source (any sound samples had to be creative commons, with a link to the source material). The themes were fascinating to me, and very much on brand for the Wikimedia Movement, of a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.
- Connections Forming
- Question and Answer
- Trusted Information
- Free & Open Knowledge
- Knowledge Growing
All three of my sound logos can be heard here as part of the audio branding presentation.
The first entry, called Wiki-Enchant. I choose the custom theme of discovery and enlightenment, playing a middle-eastern sounding scale on woodwind before other instruments join in for the ‘enlightenment’ moment. Additional instruments were added in the background for the beginning part, to add to the enchanted sound.
The second entry is called Wiki-Harmonics. It is inspired by the ‘free and open knowledge theme. I used creative-commons sound effects for a crackling fire and crowd, and added harmonics on the guitar. Finally I had a resolving chord at the end. The idea of this one is an inviting atmosphere such as a friendly library or tavern.
My third and final entry is called Wiki-Piano. It is inspired by the themes of ‘connections forming’ and ‘question and answer’. The piano arpeggio is fast and symbolizes the confusing but rewarding process of building up knowledge and joining the dots. The harmonic chord at the end symbolizes finding the answer.
What entering this competition showed me was how useful it was to have an audio logo in standing out and reminding listeners who you are, especially one which is personal to your business and to the audience you are trying to reach. It also made me realize that I needed one of my own! Below, is my audio logo, that I will be using on all of my videos from now on.
I started supporting other businesses while networking. It was the ideal way to show what I could do. So I asked business owners to put me in touch with charities who might appreciate and be able to use a jingle, free of charge.
The first to want to collaborate was Val at Business Against Poverty. She wanted a custom cover song to explain what it is Business Against Poverty did. I wrote lyrics over three well-known songs and sent a recording of me singing them. Val chose Volare in the style of the Gypsy Kings.
Later the same year, I was put in touch with the Brain Tumor Support charity. They run a Sparkle campaign where people are encouraged to get dressed up and raise money through community activities such as running, or a coffee and cake event. They wanted an original song and used it at the end of the event to capture different ‘sparkly’ photos that had been sent to them.
I met with the Ian, the founder of the Stan Bowley Trust to see what I could create for them. One of their money-raising campaigns is counting steps to represent the distance Stan Bowley had to travel to get cancer treatment. Asking volunteers to count and record their steps, is a brilliant a meaningful way to raise money for cancer treatment technology to be available in the UK. One of the campaign slogans was ‘Best Foot Forward’, so I used that, along with Ian’s request that it should be a realistic, but hopeful call-to-action song. I found doing research for the song very interesting and awe-inspiring what the charity was doing.
I have no doubt there’ll be more charitable songs in the future, including a song in celebration of Off The Fence‘s 25th Anniversary. They help homeless and vulnerable people in Brighton & Hove. It was a pleasure to collaborate with them. As Off The Fence’s Sara is an excellent singer they wanted to perform the vocals themselves, so I have left the composition in their care.
This is my musical tribute to the brilliant eco-friendly company, Who Gives A Crap? Their toilet rolls kept us going during the shortage in 2020, and our household is huge fans of their products and the company’s values. Not only is all of their packaging plastic-free and recyclable, they also donate half of their profits to help build toilets in areas worldwide where they are desperately needed.
The song’s style came from the phrase ‘Toilet Roll of Love’. I knew it had to be a ballad, and two songs came to mind. Cherish by Kool & the Gang, and The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, by Prince. After writing a few lyrical phrases in the first chorus, I let the music take the lead and enjoyed discovering where the verse went. I then wrote the lyrics over it. The most important thing for me was to include that Who Gives a Crap are both sustainable, and donate profits to build toilets. Although the song is quite high for a baritone singer, adding harmonies to this was a delight!
Music and poetry can be playful, useful tools for memorizing information. With these three songs, I had fun applying Mathematics to music.
With schools starting a new year (this was recorded in September), the timing for this musical experiment was ideal. The reason I started creating them though was because I’ve been listening to Amaranth by Nightwish a lot. It’s one of my favourite songs at the moment, with a incredible chorus that both rocks and hits all the right harmonies. When the chorus starts, I started playing with the lyrics. Rather than ‘Caress the one’, I thought, ‘Carry the one’ would be a brilliant start to a mathematical parody of the song, or in other words, an excellent mathematics ear-worm. In the final version, it became ‘Carry the number’, to apply to other sums, but the education train had begun!
The subject I tackled for the next song was algebra. I found an education website that referred to ‘X’ being an unknown quantity. When I saw that to get X, you needed to balance the entire equation, I summarized this in my head. That’s when ‘Into the Unknown’ from Frozen 2 crept in. It’s a perfect quick way to summarize this process.
Finally, when looking for another mathematical area to write about, my wife suggested Pythagoras’ Theorem. The word that gave me my song choice was ‘hypotenuse’. It’s an odd, barely-used word, and it’s closest sounding neighbour is hippopotamus. The classic comic song by Flanders and Swann was a joy to work with!
The music the songs are based on are: Into the Unknown by Idina Menzel and AURORA, Amaranth by Nightwish, and The Hippopotamus Song by Flanders and Swann.
Inspired by the brilliant @Hannah Bourne-Taylor , this theme tune is dedicated to the community that starts their day by ‘tweeting’ what bird they’ve seen. Positivity and an affinity with nature are ingredients I’d like more of in my everyday life.
This composition was music-lead. I had the first question (‘what’s your first bird of the day?’) I knew I wanted it to be light and airy, like the subject itself. As I was adding the piano part with bass, I found there were natural hooks and key changes that I felt the song should go in. Writing lyrics to such a musical journey is exciting! Each section had a certain feel. The first was the announcement or subject. The second upbeat section was the context (the best part of the morning is basking in the birdlife). The third part, which steadily progresses in pitch, was the perfect place to list some of the bird species. Finally, the subject section, to book-end the song.
Finally, the flute and clarinet harmonies gave the music a bird-like flourish at the top end.
Music is a wonderful memory tool for transporting the listener back in time, and if you layer that with personal lyrics then you can have a very meaningful result. For my Dad’s funeral I created a musical tribute which combined stories from his life with music that was either a favourite of his, or appropriate for the story.
The first excerpt (Side A) is a story that typifies Dad’s behavior. Rather than join the family on a much faster journey from UK to Berlin Germany, he took a ferry across the English channel so that he could drive while listening to his audio books. For this custom song, I used Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Pirate King’ from Pirates of Penzance, as he was a big fan of their operettas.
The second excerpt (Side B) was a favouite pastime of his. He had stayed in touch with many of his colleagues at Culham Laboratory and travelled to Oxfordshire every Friday to play tennis, table tennis and golf. He could treat himself to food that he usually wouldn’t touch, such as chips. For this song, the lyrics worked really well with the ‘Happy Days’ theme tune.
When Rachel approached me to create a theme song for her podcast, I was excited by the challenge. It was a personal interviewer-interviewee conversation, but connecting it back to nature and what thoughts the audience could take into their daily lives. Rachel wanted a nature-themed song, but to avoid the cliches such as mimicking birdsong and the expressive flourish of a harp. Instead, she wanted a livelier country vibe that had a connection to nature but also kept its feet firmly on he ground.
We had a couple of passes at creating the right sound, and eventually landed on a hybrid from the ideas. The result was this mellow but upbeat number. Rachel was pleased, and as a listener of her podcast, it gave me much satisfaction to hear it introduce and conclude the episodes.
Rachel Woods is a passionate coach who helps guide clients by helping them discover themselves and where they want to get to. She is also an HR specialist and is can provide invaluable support to HR. professionals. Her Thought Garden podcast is available on Spotify, Apple, Listennotes and other streaming services. She is starting a new podcast called We’re Human, launching in September 2022.
I met Bridgette Sunman when networking online. Bridgette is a yoga instructor, Life Coach and Wellbeing Professional. She was keen to share her knowledge within an online series demonstrating short, easy exercises that people could do from home. She approached me as she wanted a theme tune for the series.
For this theme tune I tried to walk the fine line between relaxing, comforting, but without sending the listener to sleep. This was an exercise series after all. Once Bridgette had selected her favourite idea I created the final mix ready to use.
If I had to select my favourite elements from the song, it would be the section from the 7th to the 9th second after the first chord change. The guitar notes momentarily whisk me away to the Mediterranean! As for my least favourite part, if I was to redo this song now, I would look for a different instrument sound for the keyboard at the end (15-20 seconds) as it doesn’t quite sit right with the guitars for me.
Today, the music wanted to be written, and I wanted to work on a more positive subject after tackling world news the day before. The result is ‘It Begins’. The idea is simple but the rhythm is a playful 6/4 and allows for different harmonies to jump around.
To me it is the expression of a spark or an idea that becomes something greater. With that in mind, I complemented it with motivational photographs that encourage the viewer to take the next step on their journey.