SONGWRITING WITH A GUN TO YOUR HEAD - "THE SECRET RANDOLPH BASEMENT TAPES"

or

"The Time I Came Closest to Saving the World"

by Robert Graham

I am just going to lay this out there: Believe it or not (and this is going to sound very weird),  I have often had dreams in which my ability, or inability, to do something music-related, is the key factor in deciding the fate of my life, or even the fate of the world.  

Yes, you heard correctly. It’s so lame and embarrassing. I am ashamed to say that I sometimes even have daydreams like this, usually during moments of extreme boredom. Often I am actually playing music in a public setting at the time, which makes it even worse. I know, I know, it's so dumb - but it's true.

The scenario is usually something like this: Someone evil is pointing a gun at me, or a deadly laser, or something else, as I sit at a piano. They train the weapon on me and say “If you don’t play this piece of music PERFECTLY, with no mistakes, I will blow you up AND the rest of the world!” Or they might scream at me “Write a hit song and write it NOW! Do you hear me? Do it  NOW or you will get it! 

I truly find this embarrassing to admit. It’s not often I have these dreams ok? But due to this COVID stuff I am navel-gazing to the max, hence this blog. Analyzing these odd dreams/fantasies for the first time ever as I write this, I assume there are several reasons why I have them: 

1) I am a male: I am not sure if non-musicians, or even non-males generally ever have similar dreams. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe as a male, I have watched too many action hero movies - and most of those characters are male. Mind you, I generally find these kinds of movies pretty boring and dumb, so I don’t know. They might have somehow seeped into my porous brain, however. Perhaps it is just the way most males are raised.

Maybe these odd dreams are something specific to musicians - of all-genders - and I am just ignorant of that fact. Or perhaps, like me until now, other musicians are too embarrassed to admit they have these dreams. It is also feasible that horrifyingly, I may literally be the only one in the world who has ever had a fantasy like this - the only person - of any gender. If this is true, I clearly need therapy and I should wrap this blog up right now and book a session. If you are brave enough to admit you have had dreams or weird thoughts like this, I would love to hear from you! (I am serious)

2) I had a classical musical training:  Although genre-wise, my career has taken more twists-and-turns than a cheap garden hose, I initially learned to play piano the old-fashioned “classical” way: i.e. reading the notes, doing the standard technical work and learning the “great” composers (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, etc). I'm not complaining, but there was not much focus, at least not from my teachers, on learning to improvise,  to “jam”, or learn to play in any genre other than Western classical music. Attached to this method of musical education, there is almost always an inherent expectation: the music should be learned perfectly, in the correct style, with no mistakes. AND played very musically.  

It can be a lot of pressure. Ask any classical musician and they will tell you all about it.  A lot of them suffer greatly from these high expectations. Many burn out because of it. As for me, despite occasionally fantasizing about saving Earth from aliens through my sightreading or songwriting abilities,  I don’t think I let that pressure get to me, at least not as much as other musicians I know, and certainly not as much as I used to when I was younger. At least in my conscious life apparently. But the "echoes" of this pressure can be a hard thing to shake. I assume it has played a part in these weird night and daydreams I have had in which preposterous expectations are placed on my ability to play or write music - with earth-changing results occurring if I fail. It is highly probable that somewhere along the line I subconsciously transferred some of that pressure - pressure I clearly internalized during my musical education - into my song-writing process - a process which came much later in my career). Oh, dear. 

3) What I do is ultimately and literally unimportant:  A lot of people, maybe even most people perhaps, like to think, or at least hope, that their “thing” in life - their job, their passion, the way they live their life, their raison d’etre, is important - that it “means’ something. Or at least they hope that one day it might mean something, that they might “do something with their life”. What they want to do with their life, or what “meaning” they want to find or offer, depends a lot on the individual of course. Beethoven, as an example, apparently didn’t care what the people of his own generation thought about his music. He was clear that he was composing for future generations - which turned out to be prophetic.

Other people don’t think about any of this at all.  

As for me, after a long(ish) career as a musician and songwriter, I am under no illusions that what I do is really “important’ or “meaningful” at all. "Interesting" maybe. But not important. To me, it is, of course, important. But let’s face it, the world of music, the world of piano-playing, the world of song-writing, in fact, the world of anything, would not have missed me one iota had I never existed. My immediate family and close friends are a different story of course (I hope). But my profession is not crucial to the larger economy. I am not responsible for the economic, social, and emotional well-being of anyone other than my immediate family - and even then only partly-responsible. And there are more than enough wonderful pieces of music written by people who are not me, more than enough inspiring performances by vastly superior musicians than myself, to satisfy the musical, and/or emotional needs of the 7 billion people on this planet. It is an undeniable fact that the world does not NEED my input. This is the understatement of the century. I am so good with that. I like to joke whenever I hear about a certain sector of the workplace going on strike, important sectors like teachers, health workers, or public-sector workers: “Well, good luck to them but they won’t get anywhere until the Musicians Union, the Piano Tuners Guild, and the Ballet Teachers Association join them on the picket line! THEN we will bring the economy to its KNEES!  

Maybe that’s what the bizarre fantasies are about…..what would it feel like to actually have that responsibility? To have the fate of the world in your hands. If you fumble a challenging group of sixteenth notes the world will die. If you don’t write the next “Stairway to Heaven” right now, at this precise second, life, as we know, will come to an end. It’s so silly right - but what if?

Do dentists or accountants fantasize about this?: “If you don’t perform a pain-free root canal on me right now, I will launch a nuclear war!”.....“If you don’t artistically and creatively balance the books of my multinational company by my mid-morning coffee break, I will blow up all the orphanages in the world!”  

I really hope I am not the only one who occasionally fantasizes about this when I am bored or asleep. But maybe I am. Oh god. Time to quickly change the subject......

In the old days, record companies had staff writers. These songwriters were sent to little rooms with pianos in them, to write ‘hits”. The quicker the better. Then husband-and-wife team of Carole King and Gerry Goffin, for example, were staff writers at the iconic Brill Building in the 1960s and composed many famous songs there including “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, and “Up On the Roof”. Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote awesome hits like “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” and “Don’t Make Me Over” in the same building. I can only speculate as to the pressure these songwriters felt from their overlords to come up with great material for their artists. Perhaps there were also time expectations, but more ominously, I suspect there were expectations of quality. These record execs wanted hits and they wanted them in a timely fashion. So these staff writers, armed with only a piano or a guitar and their fertile imaginations, were expected to come up with hit songs. What pressure! And the best ones came through - big time. I bet others didn’t and were presumably fired. How much respect and admiration do I have for those that succeeded - who wrote timeless songs that are still popular today - under those conditions? They saved the world…...in a way…...kind of. 

I am saying all this because I want to tell you about a time in my life where I was placed under pressure to “produce” something musical - and produce it very quickly. And it had to be good. I also want you to hear, warts and all, the musical results of that pressure - in real-time. No, I am not putting myself in the class of King or Bacharach. But during that time in my life, I like to think I had an inkling at least, of the pressure they felt. As for the results, well, you can be the judge. 

Okay, at the time I was placed in this situation, admittedly the fate of the free world was not resting on my shoulders. There were no laser guns involved. But I was still under pressure. I was expected, in this case, to write a song, a “good” song, in under two hours - a song which I would then, immediately after writing, perform for a group of people who were all waiting for me, so that they themselves could then learn it, and perform it - sometimes the next day - in public. I had to do this four or five times in about 10 hours - that’s four or five songs I mean. Then after two days, I would do it all over again. 8-10 songs in 20 hours. So that pressure I think. Don’t you?  

For the past three or four years, before I moved back to Australia, I worked every summer at the Randolph Academy of the Performing Arts, in Toronto, Canada. It was a tertiary music-theatre institution where the students were trained to be “triple-threats”, i.e they were trained in singing, acting, and dancing. During my time in Toronto, I worked here and there at Randolph in the tertiary program in various roles, mainly subbing - as a collaborative pianist and a vocal/repertoire coach. I also played for a lot of improv ballet classes. When I say “improv”, I don’t mean that the ballet teachers were unprepared and “winging it”. I mean the music I played for their classes was improvised by me. I was okay at doing that, but let me tell you there were some pianists in Toronto, usually older gentlemen from Russia and the former Eastern Bloc countries, who were simply amazing improv ballet pianists. That’s all they did every day. They were some of the best musicians I have ever heard. But that’s another blog topic! 

Of all the things I did at Randolph, the one I enjoyed the most, was working in their summer program, which was largely based on the same “triple-threat” model, but designed for kids and teens. I worked with teens (aged 13-18) in a program called the “Music Theatre Creation Lab”. The idea was that I worked to create, together with a director and a choreographer, and anywhere between 4-16 highschool students, a short “musical’ - usually 4-5 songs and 3-4 scenes. The whole thing was devised, written, rehearsed, and performed publicly in a nine-day span. I worked with talented people - the extraordinary director, educator, singer and vocal coach Kara Spencer, and amazing choreographers like Alison Daley and Sarah Williamson. And of course, the students theselves were often very talented. I did this for three or four years.

The musicals we did were many and varied - two musicals every summer. Some were full musicals with a beginning, middle, and end. Plots? You name it - plane crashes, school dances, magic and spells, magic potions, aliens -  the whole nine yards. Some were more condensed “vignette” musicals about certain themes the students wanted to explore- friends, lies and betrayal, ambition, peer-group pressure, parental/teen relationships, etc. 

When it came to the music, the process went something like this: The students decided as a group a) what the song would be about, b) which character would be singing it (solo, duet, small group, or full-cast, c) what the “purpose” of the song would be (i.e developing a character(s), introducing the central “problem” of the story, the “conclusion of the story” etc), and d) what “type” of music the song would have in it (uptempo, ballad, dance number, pop, etc). Then each student would write down either a few rhyming lyric couplets that their character might sing -  plus lyrics for a suggested “chorus’. Sometimes they didn’t provide rhyming couplets, but just some “ideas” as to what their character might want to sing in that song (e.g. “I am frustrated with my overbearing parents”). Once all that was done, everyone would look at me and say “See ya Robert - good luck’! and i was sent away to "write' the song. I was usually the only musician in the room so I had to provide the music. 

So off I would go into the bowels of the Randolph Academy of Performing Arts, which is a lovely old, and characterful heritage building in the Annex neighbourhood of downtown Toronto. I trudged down to the basement - to these tiny little rooms where there was nothing but a small keyboard and a lamp. Maybe a poster on the wall.  My hands were filled with small flashcards, each with couplets or lyrics “ideas” scrawled on them by each student and a larger piece of paper on which I had written something like:  

“Latin Dance/Pop. Upbeat. Introduce 14 characters in verses.  Everyone in an airplane. Incorporate actual plane crash in music. Verses and bridge: character development: who are they and why are they on the plane?” “Happy” chorus - “We survived the plane crash!” 

I always felt panicked as I took that walk down to the Randolph basement. Every time. Like I was walking to the gallows, dreading the fact I might fail. 

I should point out, I am not a prolific songwriter - at all.  Since I took up songwriting seriously, I have probably never written more than 5 songs in a year, largely because I was not writing them under the same conditions as the songs I wrote at Randolph, i.e there was no “gun” to my head. But every August at Randolph, as I said had to write four, sometimes five songs, in three or four days - twice. 8-10 songs in about 20 hours, like I said. I couldn’t fail to write a song, because the students needed time to learn them, rehearse them, and perform them - as soon as possible. Every time I took that walk I was shitting myself. I was not allowed back up until I had written a song. Did I have another song in me?

Oncce in the basements studio "cupboard", I would sit at the keyboard and spread out the flashcards.  A lot of these students were talented lyricists. Sometimes the lyrics for whole verses, or at least parts of verses were written and I just had to set them to music. Some of the lyrics were brilliant. But often not. Sometimes all I had was "ideas"  like “I work in real estate and I like yoga”, or “my parents don't understand me”. Sometimes the rhyming couplets were scanned unbelievably poorly like:  

“I wish I was dead. 

But I know now that all I need to do is take a deep breath, believe in myself, and try to somehow move ahead - if I can”  

There were other challenges, other than you know.....writing a song that all the students, my peers, and the audience would like, in as little time as possible. I also had to make sure the students saw their characters, and their input (and thus “themselves”) reflected in the finished project. I always told them as I left the room to head downstairs that they would not hear everything they had written down for me once the song was done, but they would at least hear the ‘essence” or “flavour” of their input, without using the actual words necessarily. But each student and character had to be in there somewhere. Even if what they had given me was a rhyming couplet, meant for a heartbreaking ballad that read (and yes, this is a real example): 

“I was always told that I was dumb. 

But now I think I finally know enough to make dim-sum”. 

I would have to juggle all these expectations and come up with a song that hopefully everyone would like, one I myself could live with, and all preferably before we broke for lunch if possible, so that in the afternoon session they could hear it, learn the melody, learn the harmonies, and add choreography. But that wasn't all. I also had to write these songs not for me to sing, but for people who had totally different voice types - timid high sopranos, boys whose voice hadn’t broken yet, or boys whose voices had indeed broken and had the vocal timbre of a water buffalo. Other singers in the same group might already be professional-sounding. Some students, who may have been great dancers and actors, just couldn't sing at all - couldn’t match pitch. No time to teach them to sing - show time was Friday! Thus spoken raps or melodies with minimal ranges had to be written and integrated into the overall songs - right next to the ones with great singing voices. The harmonies too had to be written with all these registers and abilities in mind.  

Whatever I came up with I would then have to perform for the students, Kara, and the choreographer -  as soon as possible after completing it. Having done so, I would then face instant judgment. As an audience member, it is one thing to hear a song you don’t like. Big deal. But if you don’t like it and the song has been written for you to sing in front of your friends, family, and peers, it is hard to keep that honest reaction off your face when you first hear it. As I said, there was no gun to my head, and the fate of the world was not hinging on me. But I was still always terrified of failure - that I would write a dud, or just fail to write anything. Terrified the students would not like what I had written for them to sing. 

You are about to hear a few of the songs written under these conditions. Not professional recorded versions mind you. These are the actual versions I recorded at the time - immediately after writing them. On my crappy iPhone. I have never played these to anyone. I recorded all of them in one of those little broom closet studios on a dinky keyboard in the basement at Randolph. Like I said, these recordings were made as soon as I had finished writing the song. This was because if I went to lunch, or home for the night, without recording them, I would forget how they went. The charts I had written were indecipherable, with lyrics, chords, and scraps of notation all crossed out, arrows going everywhere. Even an hour later I would never be able to reproduce what I had just written solely by looking at those written charts. I could barely read them well enough to make the recording and I had just finished writing them! They were doctor’s prescription pads on steroids. If I didn't record them into my phone, right then and there, there was the chance I could return from lunch, ready for the big “reveal” and not recognize 35% of what I had written down. They had to be recorded immediately after being written. I would then play the song for the group as soon as possible while it was still fresh under my fingers. These are the recordings you are about to hear. 

You will hear all of that pressure in these recordings  You will hear “mistakes” - mistakes in what I am singing or playing, I may play a bar over two or three times to get it right - literally because I had only just finished writing it - and I not yet learned how to play it exactly right. You will hear me sing words that are slightly different from the ones on the lyrics provided. You will hear me singing in a register that clearly doesn’t suit my voice, and I am not a gifted singer, even in my own comfortable register. You will also hear me shuffling paper, and the “clunk’ of my phone, or pencil, as I lay it down on the keyboard. Some of them I sing really softly because there were people on the other side of the wall.

I re-discovered these recordings just last night. I got goosebumps listening to them as I remembered where I was and how I was when I wrote them. I got goosebumps even though they are, in so many ways, inferior to the other songs I have written and recorded in the past 

Let me tell you, writing songs is, more often than not, really hard. For me anyway. Once written, it gets even harder. Teaching others, like your band, to perform the song can be hard. Recording them is often hard, time-consuming, and expensive. Getting people to listen to them is the hardest of all. My favourite part of songwriting is, by far, that stupendous moment when you have written the last word, the last note, and you perform the whole thing, for the first time, for an audience of one (you). This is a type of “birth”. 

At the risk of sounding overdramatic, that moment represents the birth of something new - a brand new “thing” has entered the world. An organization of musical notes and words never before created in exactly that way. Something to add to the musical canon of every song ever written. It feels so good at that moment. Nothing in the subsequent life of that song that feels as good as that. Maybe if it wins a Grammy, but that has never happened to me. Like human births, some songs turn out to be better than others, but they nevertheless represent a type of “musical birth”.

I have never played these recordings to anyone until I wrote this blog. When you listen, I hope you can forget about all the things that are “wrong” with these recordings. I also hope you can hear the “potential” of each song, hear them as I heard them in my head as I wrote them: with a great singer singing them, and recorded by a great producer. In other words, try and hear them in the context of how and when they were written and who they were written for. Try not to hear the inadequacies of the recording and my performance, but rather try to hear the “spirit’ of the song themselves. With every one of these examples, I really tried my hardest, under difficult circumstances, to give these young people something great to sing. Remember, as soon as I had finished writing them I pressed “record” and sang them. I “sang” their “birth”. That is why I love listening to these. I may be the only one but that’s okay with me. I hope you like them but you might not which is also ok.

By the way, I have included the lyrics. And just for context,  I will offer a few sentences about who these characters are, why they are singing these words, and I explain some of the “weirder” references in the lyrics. Remember these are theatre songs - there's a story behind them. Incidentally, I tried to embed the songs into this blog itself, but this website company can't do that. So please click here now, and on the new page just scroll down to the "album" called "The Randolph Basement Tapes".  Keep that page open and play the songs there - while you read about them - and follow the lyrics -  back here. Or you can read the rest of this blog and go listen afterward......your choice. But either way the songs are available for listening here. Okay here we go!

1. “Do it Yourself” 

I can’t remember the character’s name, but she was a frustrated author working as a bartender. She felt stuck there and couldn’t motivate herself to start her novel - which, believe it or not, was going to be about killer Canada Geese (her idea!). She sings it from behind the bar. She suddenly has a realization (signified by me saying “ding”) that she has no option but to suck it up and get on with it - hence the title “Do It Yourself”. Here are the lyrics, listen on the new page.

Stuck in this bar, it is truly bizarre, how much time I am wasting away. 

Cheating on crosswords, should be using my OWN words, cos inside I have so much to say. 

Trying to look busy, but it’s all just for show. 

The words are inside me, I just can’t let them go 

I feel like I’m trapped, like I’m lost in a cage 

How long can I stare at a blank empty page? 

(“Ding”) 

Do it yourself 

Don’t ask for permission just jump right on in 

Do it yourself 

If you can’t even start a race how can you win 

Do it yourself 

This procrastination is wearing quite thin 

You won’t get too far serving drunks in this bar 

So do it. Yourself. 

It takes lots of “braining” to be an author-in-training 

The whole thing’s quite draining at times 

This bar is constraining, my output is waning, as I cut up the lemon and limes 

My dream is the book - gonna write it somehow 

I can hear the geese calling - they’re calling me now (geese “honk”) 

I need to get started and stop being a chump

Who else will save me from this greasy dump? 

Do it yourself 

Don’t ask for permission just jump right on in 

Do it yourself 

If you can’t even start a race how can you win? 

Do it yourself 

This procrastination is wearing quite thin 

You won’t get too far serving drunks in this bar 

So do it. Yourself.

Spoken as she stares at her notebook: and says 

“Attack of the Killer Geese. By Sarisha.” 

She begins to write. 

(listen to "Do It Yourself" here)

 

2. "Dad Jokes" 

This character is a comedian specializing in Dad jokes. He has based his whole career on this format and he is not doing well. He has left behind a wife and three children to pursue this career which is failing. He sings this comedy song as part of his act in the same bar that our aspiring novelist works at. He is drinking shots throughout the song and the act is not going well. Halfway through the song he has a quiet "meltdown" and starts singing of his regret over his life choices. The song ends with him completely dejected and the audience sitting in stunned silence as he walks off stage 

I’d like to send this song out to all of the Dads 

It’s a kind of call-out - to the middle-aged lads 

When it comes to comedy there really is not test 

I am sure that you agree - Dad jokes are the best 

Dad jokes. Dad jokes.  

My whole responsibility is to make you slap your knee when you hear 

Dad jokes. My dad jokes. 

When it comes to comedy, Dad jokes are for me. 

(tells a “Dad joke”) 

It’s time for Dad’s to rise up - our hands upon our heart. 

Who else can make the public laugh with a joke about a fart? 

Even though the critics might often disagree 

I live my life for Dad jokes with no apology 

Dad jokes. Dad jokes. 

I have based my whole career on Father jokes and corporate beer, it’s 

Bad jokes. Dad jokes. 

They are never out of style - they always make you smile. 

(tells another “Dad joke”) 

Dad jokes are a lifestyle - they’re not just for fun. 

To get em rolling in the aisle takes more than just a pun! 

Politics, religion, there’s so much you can use 

When you lay down a Dad joke, there’s no way you can lose. 

Dad jokes. Dad jokes. 

If you want to live this life, forget about your kids and wife, it’s  

Dad jokes. Dad jokes. 

You may think it’s glamorous…..but my life really sucks. 

(Tells a devastatingly sad “Dad joke”) 

I’ve been thinking lately - about who I’ve left behind. 

Twin daughters - a baby son! My God, I was so blind! 

A wife who always loved me, and yet I couldn’t see 

Dad jokes may be funny, but I guess the joke’s on me 

Dad jokes. Dad jokes. 

I’ll make you laugh but deep inside there’s shame I can no longer hide with 

Dad jokes. Dad jokes. 

I’ve got no more jokes tonight. 

Goodnight. 

(Listen to "Dad Jokes" here)

 

3. "Money"

The character in this song has been offered a plum job with a mind-blowing salary and a license to print money for himself forevermore. It’s a great opportunity but he was also recently thinking about getting out of the rat race and starting a family. Ahh…. the old family/work balance dilemma. What to do? 

Life is full of choices - and choosing can be tough. 

But I have made my mind up, that I need lots more stuff! 

I don’t need no family to drag me down financially 

I’m taking what's in front of me - too much is not enough 

Changing dirty diapers - that just sounds way too hard 

The only balance that I need is on my Mastercard! 

Money!  

Private jets and limousines 

Money!  

My face in all the magazines 

It’s a fact you can't deny - you got no cash then you can’t buy 

Cos money’s always greener - than the other side. 

Dora the Explorer? Or a trip to Bora Bora? 

I am aiming for a rich and single life 

Nothing could be better than buying an expensive sweater 

Made from rare bald eagle feather. 

Well, that would be quite nice. 

There really is no contest - I don’t need this family scene 

I’ll just watch the family channel on my 90-inch flatscreen! 

Money!  

I can dine with kings and queens 

Money!  

I can pay to be in movie scenes 

Ain’t it the truth? It ain't no lie 

All kids do is poop and cry 

And money’s always greener - than the other side. 

(Listen to "Money" here)

 

4. "Nina’s song" 

This song is sung by Nina - a waitress in the same bar as the first two characters. She is a classically trained pianist. When the comedian who sang “Dad Jokes” leaves mid-song, she is pressed into service to play for the customers. She plays something classical for them and then sings her story, and what she has learned from playing for them - her “regulars”:

Hours and hours in front of the keys. 

I’d play till my fingers would bleed. 

Working all day to earn enough wages 

To play on the stage was my dream. 

Yes, I had a dream: millions of people who held me in the highest esteem. 

The thought of performing put my stomach in knots 

My whole career was sabotaged by my thoughts 

But when I play this bar, and I play for you. 

I remember what music can do 

Now I have a dream: playing to share with the people who care for me 

Life doesn’t always go where it should. 

Something that’s bad may turn out to be good. 

Change is a choice if you’re willing to see. 

Follow your own road wherever it goes and who knows? 

You may find a new dream. 

Now I have a dream: playing to share with the people who care for me 

Life doesn't always go where it should. 

Something that’s bad may turn out to be good. 

Change is a choice if you’re willing to see. 

Follow your own road wherever it goes and who knows? 

You may find a new dream.

(Listen to Nina's Song here

5. "Only One Life"

This is a duet between two sisters. Both work in their mother’s company. One of them has been offered an opportunity in another city and wants to leave the family business. The other one also has dreams too, but is not ready to take that step, and is not clear now whether she ever will - now that her sister is leaving all the responsibility to her. There was more to this song but for some reason, I did not record all of it. 

Sister 1: 

You are my sister and you’re always be 

A big part of my picture cos we are family 

But lately, I’m changing - I’m thinking about a different way 

My whole life’s rearranging. There's something I need to say 

Only one life. You better live it. Only one life. If you wanna win it 

Find your own dream, take it to the extreme and you will find that you are living the dream

A dream that was made for you. 

Sister two: 

You may not believe me. But I’ve been dreaming too. 

And there’s something inside me and I don’t know what to do 

Cos I have a passion that I never have told. 

And I know what you're saying 

I’m not sure if I can be that bold 

Only one life. You better live it. Only one life. If you wanna win it 

Find your own dream, take it to the extreme and you will find that you are living the dream

A dream that was made for you. 

(Listen to "Only One Life" here

 

So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed these rough little theatre songs. I should add, although I was under a lot of pressure when I wrote them, I also kind of enjoyed the whole notion of “living on the edge” - a notion I explored in a previous blog called “The Secret Life of an Audition Pianist"

While writing them, I also would every now and then, allow myself to sit and think…’Wow, I am getting PAID to write songs - while I write them!” In these times of streaming music, where songwriters get a fraction of a penny per stream, that notion made me feel great. It has not happened very often in my life. I have earned money from my songs - but I am not often paid to sit and write songs. It was scary but also weird and cool all at once.

I would love to know what you think of these songs. Have any of you out there experienced a similar pressure in your workplace?  

If you are a songwriter, particularly a staff-writer, how do you cope with working to a deadline?  

I sincerely hoped you enjoyed reading this blog - I am grateful to you for doing so. Please check out my other blogs here.

I would love you to hear some of my songs here.

Like all musicians, it is hard for me to make an income right now. If you can, please consider donating a small amount to help me out. Or perhaps you could join my mailing list

Most importantly, let me know you were here by commenting at the end of the blog. I would love to know your thoughts.

Thanks for reading! Please leave a comment below to let me know you were here!

Thank you so much!

Robert Graham

7 comments

  • Sydney Scott
    Sydney Scott Toronro
    Robert, I adore your blogs! I can honestly say that my favourite part of camp, for the two years I was there, was waiting in the studio in anticipation to hear what you wrote for us. Those moments we’re like no other, and reading about them from your perspective was eye-opening! I remember talking about camp to my friends at home after it was done and gushing about your songs, I really did think (and still do) that you are one of the most gifted song-writers there ever was. Thank you for your music!

    Robert, I adore your blogs! I can honestly say that my favourite part of camp, for the two years I was there, was waiting in the studio in anticipation to hear what you wrote for us. Those moments we’re like no other, and reading about them from your perspective was eye-opening!
    I remember talking about camp to my friends at home after it was done and gushing about your songs, I really did think (and still do) that you are one of the most gifted song-writers there ever was.
    Thank you for your music!

  • Sarah Williamson
    Sarah Williamson Toronto
    Robert, I really enjoyed reading your blog. I can somewhat relate to the pressure you feel in your dreams to produce perfectly “with a gun to your head”. I’ve had several dreams about forgetting choreography moments before having to perform on stage. Or being asked to save the day and replace another performer with very little preparation. Or having a costume disaster that I cannot recover from. Or recently an obstacle course/maze backstage preventing me from making my entrance to the stage on time. Death may not be the result of not knowing the steps or missing my cues death may not be the result of not knowing the steps or missing my cues, however panic and humiliation are just as Daunting . The experience at Randolph puts us all into that pressure phase to create something good but admittedly your job is definitely more challenging. I can say honestly that every time you came out of the bowels of Randolph with a new song, I was always thoroughly I mean thoroughly impressed. Not only because you produced a catchy tune, but they never came out sounding rushed or haphazard. If it wasn’t for me being privy to the process, No one would know by the sounds of the songs and relevant lyrics the unusual conditions in which you made them. Be sure to save every single one of your recorded tunes. One of my biggest regrets It’s not keeping track of my choreographic endeavours, the good, the bad and the rushed.

    Robert, I really enjoyed reading your blog. I can somewhat relate to the pressure you feel in your dreams to produce perfectly “with a gun to your head”.

    I’ve had several dreams about forgetting choreography moments before having to perform on stage. Or being asked to save the day and replace another performer with very little preparation. Or having a costume disaster that I cannot recover from. Or recently an obstacle course/maze backstage preventing me from making my entrance to the stage on time. Death may not be the result of not knowing the steps or missing my cues death may not be the result of not knowing the steps or missing my cues, however panic and humiliation are just as Daunting .

    The experience at Randolph puts us all into that pressure phase to create something good but admittedly your job is definitely more challenging.

    I can say honestly that every time you came out of the bowels of Randolph with a new song, I was always thoroughly I mean thoroughly impressed. Not only because you produced a catchy tune, but they never came out sounding rushed or haphazard. If it wasn’t for me being privy to the process, No one would know by the sounds of the songs and relevant lyrics the unusual conditions in which you made them.

    Be sure to save every single one of your recorded tunes. One of my biggest regrets It’s not keeping track of my choreographic endeavours, the good, the bad and the rushed.

  • Lauren Brett Randolph
    Lauren Brett Randolph Toronto
    Thank you for this homage to your time guiding Randolph youth in an incredible experience. You and your music have impacted our participants and our community in such inspiring ways. We are grateful for your gifts. And....I know how stressful this was for you. It’s amazing what one can do when you have a deadline or a gun to your head! Thank you from the bottom of my heart. We will miss you this year! Lauren

    Thank you for this homage to your time guiding Randolph youth in an incredible experience. You and your music have impacted our participants and our community in such inspiring ways. We are grateful for your gifts. And....I know how stressful this was for you. It’s amazing what one can do when you have a deadline or a gun to your head! Thank you from the bottom of my heart. We will miss you this year! Lauren

  • Robert Graham
    Robert Graham Perth, Australia
    Thanks for reading Sydney, Sarah, and Lauren. I appreciate all your kind words. Sydney: I was glad that when I "re-surfaced" with a new song there were talented people like you to interpret them! I really appreciate your impressions of the same events. I hope you are well and happy. Sarah: I have had very similar dreams containing obstacles to getting on stage, losing my music, etc. Maybe this is quite common! Thanks for the nice review of the songs. I love working with you at Randolph. You did indeed have to deal with some of the same issues I mentioned in this blog. Congrats on your new arrival too! I hope all is going well with your new family. Lauren: Your words mean a lot. I hope I have redeemed myself for parking in George's parking spot on my first day at Randolph LOL. All the best to you and the folks at Randoph - that place has special memories for me. Say hi to everyone for me.

    Thanks for reading Sydney, Sarah, and Lauren. I appreciate all your kind words.

    Sydney: I was glad that when I "re-surfaced" with a new song there were talented people like you to interpret them! I really appreciate your impressions of the same events. I hope you are well and happy.

    Sarah: I have had very similar dreams containing obstacles to getting on stage, losing my music, etc. Maybe this is quite common! Thanks for the nice review of the songs. I love working with you at Randolph. You did indeed have to deal with some of the same issues I mentioned in this blog. Congrats on your new arrival too! I hope all is going well with your new family.

    Lauren: Your words mean a lot. I hope I have redeemed myself for parking in George's parking spot on my first day at Randolph LOL. All the best to you and the folks at Randoph - that place has special memories for me. Say hi to everyone for me.

  • Alison
    Alison WA
    Robert, I always thought I was the only one who felt this fear (performing - not writing - I've never written a thing). Everyone else, you included, always seemed so cool and collected. Thanks for being honest enough to admit to the fear! It paralysed me. It seems, apart from differences in talent level, differences in 'dealing with fear' also help sort the wheat from the chaff....

    Robert, I always thought I was the only one who felt this fear (performing - not writing - I've never written a thing). Everyone else, you included, always seemed so cool and collected. Thanks for being honest enough to admit to the fear! It paralysed me. It seems, apart from differences in talent level, differences in 'dealing with fear' also help sort the wheat from the chaff....

  • Darryl wood
    Darryl wood Toronna!
    This blog resonated with me for sure; especially #3. It's probably the thing that comes up for me in songwriting a lot. "The world does not need my input" really and truly. I've written under the self-imposed gun and that works ok for me. (e.g you're not allowed to leave until you write a verse and chorus). However, I feel more relieved than triumphant when I'm done. The only way I write that ever seems fun is when I'm writing something that just makes me laugh and I have someone I'm excited to play it to. That's what drove me when I was writing "We are ugly - but we have the music" for the band. I was excited to hear how you guys would enjoy it and put your stamp on it. BTW - i know what you mean about it being hard to teach a band your song. I totally feel that. I just didn't know you thought it was hard. You always made it look so easy. Cheers Brother.

    This blog resonated with me for sure; especially #3. It's probably the thing that comes up for me in songwriting a lot. "The world does not need my input" really and truly.

    I've written under the self-imposed gun and that works ok for me. (e.g you're not allowed to leave until you write a verse and chorus). However, I feel more relieved than triumphant when I'm done.

    The only way I write that ever seems fun is when I'm writing something that just makes me laugh and I have someone I'm excited to play it to. That's what drove me when I was writing "We are ugly - but we have the music" for the band. I was excited to hear how you guys would enjoy it and put your stamp on it.

    BTW - i know what you mean about it being hard to teach a band your song. I totally feel that. I just didn't know you thought it was hard. You always made it look so easy.

    Cheers Brother.

  • mr dias
    mr dias russia
    hi

    hi

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