Do You Know Who You Sound Like? 



Yesterday, I picked up the files for The Tropical Dream from my mastering engineer. We were speaking about some of the promotional work I’ve been completing and he remarked that he didn’t know anyone else doing what I was doing musically. I know that I certainly haven’t paved any new musical ground but I’m also aware that I am, in many ways, flying solo. There are people that write instrumental jazz, orchestral music, prog rock, bluegrass and more. But I don’t know anyone writing the sort of instrumental world/tropical fusion I find myself creating. The more I thought about it, I realized that over time, I believe, I have found my own voice. More and more people tell me that my music sounds like me. I don’t receive as many comparisons to other artists as I used to, even though I have many influences (a handful of personally significant albums are pictured). For me, this is a great thing and one of the hardest things to achieve if you are not singing—to be told you sound like you.


 

However, writing and releasing music that doesn’t easily fit into pre-defined categories and that is far from the mainstream, has its pros and cons. Here are a few as I see them:

Pros

-doing something unique is very rewarding

-less competition compared to singer/songwriters and pop/rock artists

-I’m proud that I’m doing a small part in bringing back instrumental music

-I feel a great deal of freedom in what I create

 Cons

-limits how many reviewers/radio people you can approach

-instrumental music is harder for some to embrace

-seen by some as more of a background than a foreground

I can live with both sides. At this point in my musical life, I’m fairly satisfied with where I am and I’m proud of what I’ve created with this new album. The only dilemma I face after its release and subsequent promotion is, what will come next? Even I do not know the answer to this question...yet.

 

Inspiration: AKA Where Do They Come From? 

Composers are often asked what inspires them. I thought this week’s blog might be a good time to ask myself this question.

Here are some of my known sources of inspiration:

1.) Memories

This is a strong one. My memories can be recent, from long ago or even ones I anticipate creating in the future. They might be moments from family, childhood, school days, vacations, walks in nature, old conversations, humorous situations, and other events. The one good thing about memories is that they are easy to tap into. You just need to find one that creates a strong enough impulse to help you “discover” some new music in the air. The tune, “Bye for Now” on my upcoming album came from a combination of memories of leaving to go home after a vacation. We all know that feeling. 

2.) Imagination

This is something that occurs naturally for me. I find it easy to imagine scenarios, places, and events. I believe this ability was fostered when I was young. Being an only child, I often had a lot of time on my hands. As a result, it was not hard to imagine. This ability has come in very handy when writing my music as I try to make my pieces as visual as possible. “A Little Jungle Walk” from my upcoming album is one I had to imagine as I’ve never been in a jungle before!

3.) Films & TV

We can all remember moments in a film or television production that have resonated with us. With so many characters, situations, and settings to choose from, they provide a wealth of musical inspiration. And they can be absurd. My older tune “If It Walks Like a Duck”, came from the vintage TV series, The Partridge Family. I heard that line in the context of the show, and was instantly inspired to write that piece. It was just a one-off thing.

4.) Mystery Inspiration

On occasion, I will have musical ideas that come unexpectedly. They just happen and I have no idea what inspired them. Maybe they are just God-given. The tune, “Clear Skies Ahead” from my upcoming album happened this way. I just sat down at a keyboard and out came the melody.

I usually know when it’s time for me to write. I don’t push it though and I don’t have a daily regimen. I might go a long time without writing a thing. However, during that time I am frequently thinking about music and being inspired. It’s largely a subconscious process but I know it is happening and that I am stockpiling ideas. It’s similar to the long ago tradition of saving pennies in piggy bank. Eventually you have to break it open. When that day comes, you just hope it will be worthwhile.

 

 

Video Killed the Radio Star…and Nearly Killed Me 

Back in early 2017, I had a problem. I needed to come up with a video that I could use to promote, The Tropical Dream. I already had the idea of using a winter scene with photos of me “dreaming” or expressing the emotions I felt about each piece on the album. Unfortunately my photographers would not be available until March—a time when the snow is usually melting. Well, here are some trivial facts about the video that are sure to enlighten!

*I searched for almost a month to settle on the right chair—finally decided on the Genuine Beach Bum Chair because of the brilliant colours



*finding cheap, wireless headphones was a real challenge—ended up getting a $4 wired pair from Salvation Army and cutting off the cable!



*my wife and I did an initial “faux” shoot at Mud Lake in Ottawa to see if the concept would work



*we had an early thaw in March and not much snow remained—I prayed for one more snowfall but time was running out

*thankfully, the snow came back and we were able to get it done on March 21, 2017, at Britannia Beach in Ottawa

*the temperature that day was a comfortable 0 degrees Celsius

*walking scenes were no problem—sitting down and getting up were painful because of my back injury—watch the initial scene of me sitting down before I put on headphones—I’m in a lot of pain but you’d never know it, thanks to my great acting chops ;)

*in a moment of pain and delirium I did my best Hamlet Soliloquy to a coconut



*camera angles were carefully chosen (most of the time) to avoid lamp-posts, park benches and other people 


*a few weeks after the shoot there was severe flooding in the area—geese and fish now swam in the area where I sat!


*I settled on a slideshow format with stock photos from Unsplash (great site, by the way) because of costs—my budget was already blown on the music!

*with limited skills & budget but a whole lot of determination, it took me about 3 weeks to edit and put the video together


Thanks for watching and sharing it!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B20zZZ-HD8g
 

To My Fans…I Mean, Listeners 

Fan or fanatic “a person who is enthusiastically devoted to somebody or some thing”

Listener “a person who listens in an attentive manner”

After making a more concentrated effort to connect with music industry people on Twitter, I’m often seeing references to music “fans”. There is no shortage of businesses telling you how to build a fan base, reward your fans and engage with them. To be honest, I’ve never thought in terms of fans. It feels very foreign to me. I’ve always viewed them as the definition above suggests. Instead, I prefer the term, listeners. I see a listener as someone who would focus more on the musical details and craft and less on image, clothing, hair and accessories. Though I know all of you can’t take your eyes off my gorgeous, new silver locks, my craft is composing music. And as far as music goes, I am truly a fan of no one. I am a listener. There are a great many people that I highly respect and admire (living and dead), for their abilities and creations in the world of music. Maybe these recent occurrences will help to illustrate:

Example A

Walking in a local park last week with my purple cap, I was taken aback by the shouts of “Gah-omes!” “Gah-omes!”.


Example B

Another person sent me this pic of her chilling out with my EP, The Sand in My Shoes, anxiously awaiting my new album, The Tropical Dream.


Personally, I would much rather interact with Example B. This is how I think of all of you. Some of you have been with me a long time and I’m thankful for your continued presence. I know that one of you (thanks, J!), even uses my music to help children in school with visualization. It’s amazing what she tells me they “see” after hearing some of my work! It’s also very gratifying.

So, thank you for being great listeners. And the next time we meet, please do not scream to get my attention.

 

Saying it with Music Alone 



Back around 2010, I reached a point of saturation. I was so bored of being one of the multitudes of singer/songwriters and pop/rock acts that I needed a change. I did write some songs I am proud of and I did have fun “playing” with words as this paranoia quote illustrates:

“I don’t always hear what you say when you say it,   
it’s what you don’t say I always hear.”


(What You Don’t Say © 2009 Terry Gomes)

However, I decided I needed to go back to my first love—instrumental music. It was the first music I heard as a child and it was what I was writing when I studied composition. Now, by this I wasn’t thinking of improvised jazz, piano drones with birds tweeting in the background, contemporary orchestral music or EDM. I had no interest in any of them. Instead, I wanted to write concise, memorable pieces that had a sense of direction. I wanted them to be carefully written, not winged off the cuff. Much the way many of “wigged” composers approached their craft. I also knew that the type of audience that would or could appreciate it, would change.



I initially experimented with other genres, some of which are not easily categorized. I referred to them as cinematic as their influences often came from TV and movie scores. However, my earliest musical predilections tended to veer towards Latin, Caribbean and Smooth jazz. I eventually settled into what I call evocative “tropical” music for want of a better term. It’s a big enough umbrella to include fusions of a wide variety of styles/genres into something simply reminiscent of a warm climate. This is where I am today.

What I do will never be immensely popular. Then again, I've never aspired to be a commercial writer. So far, it’s worked out very well and I haven’t missed lyric writing. I’m happy to be doing my small part in bringing back instrumental music to the foreground. Would I ever go back to lyric writing? I don’t know. However, I don’t see any point in closing a door that’s not letting in a draft.

 

 

I Know Where This is Going 



At this time of year in Canada, I’m reminded of the beauty of the fall season. This period of change has been written about, sung about, photographed, painted and rendered in so many artistic forms. Even back when I was writing songs, I wrote, “A Pile of Leaves” from my album “Loose Ends”. It detailed the memories of jumping into mounds of leaves from a high perch. It was something so vivid.

What makes the autumn so entrancing, I think, is its brevity. As Canadians, we enjoy it for a brief period because we know what’s coming next. Now, I know some people love the winter season. They wholeheartedly embrace it and take part in every conceivable activity that the powdery stuff allows. For me, it represents a dormancy or hibernation. It’s a great time for composing music and I always find it productive, more than any other time of the year. It’s a time when I enjoy looking out the window and then looking inwards.

This is why my new album, The Tropical Dream, has such resonance for me, and hopefully for you too. It is escapist and evocative. Many of us enjoy dreaming about getting away when the snow flies—and the warmer, the better. As I approach the culmination of this project and revel in the autumn, I feel secure in knowing that I’m more or less prepared for the impending winter. Are you? If not, be sure to watch my video for The Tropical Dream. It just might shield you from the cold.

 

Tropical Adventures and The Purple Balloons 


As a child, I travelled quite a bit to the Caribbean and to Florida with my family. I have great memories of those trips as it always seemed like an exciting adventure. I was fascinated by marine life and having the opportunity to go snorkelling in the ocean was an amazing experience. I also soaked in the music, especially from places like Barbados and Nassau. In addition, I enjoyed the sandy beaches, making sandcastles, eating tropical fruits and taking in a very different atmosphere than the one I knew growing up in Toronto, Canada. Oh, and how could I forget about popping those purple balloons on the beach? More about this later.

One piece on my new album called “Sand Buckets”, is whimsical and nostalgic and strives to encapsulate my memories of those trips and especially of being a child there. Played on piano and acoustic guitar, it’s gentle and in 6/8 time. I don’t know what you will think of it when you hear it, but it is like a time machine for me. The beauty of instrumental music is that you can bring your own personal experiences to it. You’re given a framework but the details and memories that you put into that frame are all your own.

Setting aside my piece and idyllic tropical memories, I also have an unusual memory from some of those trips. I recall being in Miami Beach and seeing all of these dead, purple, balloon-like things on the shore. They were everywhere! I soon found out that they were called Portuguese Man O’ Wars. My Dad taught me to bury them in the sand with my shoes and jump on the sand to “pop” them. Little did we know how dangerous these things were—even when they are dead. The fact that they were covering the beach obviously meant that they were in the water as well. And we swam in the ocean A LOT. To understand how lucky I was, do an online search about them if you are curious—yikes!

Ah, memories…

On Songwriting: Task Avoidance Times Two 

Nowadays, I write instrumental music. I enjoy the challenges and flexibility it allows. However, when I was writing lyrics, there were two things I always tried to avoid because I saw them as impairments—even in hit songs! See if you agree.

1.) References to Technology

I think as songwriters and composers most of us would ultimately like our music to endure for as long as possible. One quick way to shorten its lifespan is to reference technology in your song. Technological innovations change at such a rapid rate that your smartphone, laptop or whatever device you are crooning about could easily become antiquated in a very short time. Unless you are really committed to making a contemporary social statement that you don’t mind being trapped in the annals of time, why limit a song that’s newly born? Give it a chance for a future!

2.) Excessive Repetition

Used sparingly and with purpose, repetition can be a wonderful thing within a piece of music. It causes a listener to eagerly anticipate the return of a musical phrase or texture. There are always exceptions though. Consider the Police song, "Message in a Bottle". That coda about sending out an S.O.S., repeats approximately 24 times! I would say it works in this context though because it’s building and conveying a sense of urgency (or emergency), and there is an emotional drive sending it forward. It has meaning within the song. Now, consider Pharrell Williams’, "Happy". This song could have easily trimmed a minute of time and not lost anything. It goes on so needlessly. There is nothing worse than hearing something repeating without purpose. Some may argue that the purpose for repetition is to make it stick in someone’s head. I think if it is memorable and engaging, listeners will want to hear it again. But they should be the ones to control that…via a repeat button.

 

 

 

 

It usually is a Tropical Dream… 

Even though my musical focus is to evoke a tropical oasis where things are idyllic and peaceful, recent and occurring events have reminded me of just how vulnerable these places can be. I’m amazed by the sheer will of those who reside in the Caribbean, southern US and other tropical areas that sometimes experience severe weather. Despite natural disasters, they always seem to find a way to rebuild, restore and resume their way of life. It’s remarkable, really.

My parents and family members were and are, such people. They were born in what used to be known as British Guiana. Since achieving independence from England in 1966 it is now simply called, Guyana. Their values, culture and traditions were a blend of British, West Indian, East Indian and Portuguese. It’s an interesting mix to be sure. Above all, they were tough and often fearless in confronting daily challenges. I guess when you grow up in an area where challenges can be frequent and intense, resilience becomes a way of life.

As tourists to tropical areas, we don’t often think of or see what it took to make these places habitable. We tend to focus only on the “Paradise Skies”. But that’s okay. That’s what a vacation to the tropics is for. You’re there to enjoy all that it has to offer and absorb its beauty for a brief time. Many of us dream of this very thing as soon as the snow begins to fall.

I know as I continue to move forward with my new album, I will think and pray for those who will be struggling over the next year or more to rebuild their lives. I also hope that there will be a minimal loss of life. Although it will take a lot of financial resources and many other forms of assistance, the one thing these people likely won’t need is encouragement to move forward. Their unfailing spirit will do that.

Atmosphere and Nothing to Sing Here 

Market Rush. This is the title of a piece on my upcoming album. It was never intended to be a tune you would walk away humming. There are other pieces on the album that clearly aim for that. The function of this piece was simply to create an atmosphere. If you’ve even been to a tropical market or any other marketplace, it’s usually filled with many people, lots of noise and a sense of controlled chaos. This is what I wanted to capture.

I decided early on when writing this to see if I could convey this feeling using only four different notes (C, D, G, A). I followed through on this objective. Every part of the piece—melody, harmony, and bass line—only uses these four notes in various configurations. This was to give it some feeling of consonant familiarity as it is only one note less than a pentatonic scale--which your ears know well!

To create the more exotic feeling of being in a foreign and bustling environment, the meter (or beat count) is in 6. But it’s not the familiar division of 6 into two groups of 3. It’s divided into 4 and 2 which is not as commonly used. 

So, in technical terms, this is how I tried to combine the familiar and the unfamiliar to experience the tropical market. But truthfully, it’s probably too much math to worry about. You’ll just have to take a listen when it’s closer to my release date. As you do so, let your mind quickly browse the vendor’s wares, the tropical fruits and vegetables, and maybe do a little bartering for a keepsake to remind you of your vacation. But do so quickly. There is more to dream ahead!