(Continuing on from the “Welcome to Real World” post…)

Before even meeting my collaborator for Beatcamp @ RealWorld 2018 we received an assignment from the camp director Marc Langsman: select an image from the National Geographic archive that would serve as the basis of inspiration for the song that we would produce during the workshop. 

At first this felt a bit daunting, as there are well over 9.3 million images in the archive, but I held the attitude that I was going to find it quickly and that I’d know it when I saw it. Within 10 minutes I came across this fantastic photograph taken by Oliver Apicella:  

To me, it said everything about what we would be doing for the project: casting our nets, hoping to catch the big fish – inspiration.

Fortunately my collaborator, Patrick Hill, agreed and suddenly we were working together in the same direction. (Great idea, Marc!) We also agreed to create a completely new song, just for the camp and that everything would be done from scratch.  

From there the song came together rather quickly. We had the chord progressions, riffs, melodies, lyrics, arrangement and drums all done on the first day of the camp. The next day we built the song up by tracking bass, guitars, piano and vocals. The final day of the camp we recorded a violin solo, edited the tracks, mixed it all down and gave it the name “Nets”.

You can listen to the entire BeatCamp at Real World 2018 album on Spotify or iTunes/Apple Music.

Aside from having a dream come true (getting to make music at Real World) the camp taught and reminded me of quite a few things:

1) To stay focused on the goal and feel as if it is already done. I’ve been doing this with great success for a couple years now and it helped a number of times during the camp. Particularly given the time constraints and the ever-present temptation to try too many things.

2) Strive to hear my inner voice even in the midst of chaos/activity all around, as well as differing opinions. This doesn’t mean “ignore everyone else”, it simply means don’t forsake my own intuition/vision just because of what’s going on around me.

3) Go with the path of least resistance. E.g. don’t insist that I do something myself if someone else can do it better/quicker. Early on in the camp I made a conscious decision to involve the studio musicians as much as possible. Normally I would opt to do everything myself but here we had a small army of professional musicians/engineers/producers ready and willing to help out. I realized that I should make the most of this opportunity, particularly if I wanted the track to be finished on time.

4) Be open to seeing how someone else might do something. Originally my plan for mixing was to do a first pass myself and then get feedback as to what should be fixed. Then I had the thought “I pretty much know what I am going to do and how it will sound, why not see how a pro would do it”. So I asked the Head Engineer Oli Jacobs if he wouldn’t mind handling it while I looked over his shoulder and he said “sure”. Turns out that this was one of the highlights of the entire camp for me. It was fantastic being able to see his workflow, his choices/decisions and being able to ask him questions as to why. He was super helpful, responsive and kind throughout the process. 

Thanks again to everyone involved in making “Nets” a reality. Here are the credits:

Glenn Schoonmaker (Composer), Patrick Hill (Composer), Nicole Fermie (Vocals), AD Chivers (Vocals), Howard Gill (Drums), Paul Whalley (Bass), Graham Kearns (Guitar), Jonathan Page (Piano), TiiT Kikas (Violin), Oli Middleton (Recording Engineer), Oli Jacobs (Mix Engineer), Tim Oliver (Mastering Engineer), Marc Langsman (BeatCamp Director), Rena Biring (Beatcamp Organizer) 

Where you least expect it…

As mentioned in a previous post I feel that inspiration can happen anywhere and from just about anything, if we are open to it.

I had been wanting to write a new instrumental song for a while. I wanted it to be melodic, powerful and totally unique from what I had done before. I imagined it as being done and had the thought that before I knew it I’d have something cool. A little while later this magazine showed up:

At first I didn’t notice anything special or unusual about the magazine. It was nicely designed and well written but nothing stood out to me. Right before I was about to put it into recycling the orange tape on the back of the guitar headstock caught my eye:

I realized that it was probably the tuning of the guitar, a tuning that I had never used before. I grabbed my guitar, set it to the pitches indicated and within a couple hours had two new songs that were totally unique from anything I had done before. All from something that I was about to throw away.

I love it when stuff like this happens but looking back at it now makes me wonder just how often this type of thing could be happening. Where the seeds of what I want could be right in front of me and I just don’t see it.

Hans Zimmer

Last year I took the Hans Zimmer Film Scoring course on Masterclass.com and really enjoyed it. While there wasn’t too much technical information in this class it had plenty in the way of mindset and approach that Hans used in various real world situations, which helped him to become one of the most prolific and successful film composers of our time.

I particularly enjoyed doing the assignments, creating compositions based on specific limitations/requirements. My Music Sketch #55 “Perception” was based on the following assignment:

“Think about one of your favorite directors. Find an interview in which he/she talks about the making of one of his/her lms. Use this as a jumping o point to create your own version of a score that’s informed by how the director talks about their intentions behind the film. How can you translate the director’s approach to telling the story into a score that helps serve that narrative?”

The director I chose was Terry Gilliam and the movie interview was about his film 12 Monkeys. The key point I got from the conversation (which inspired the song) was this:

“We seem to be inundated with information. It’s hard to know what the real stuff is, which is the stuff that counts, I think that the hardest thing in modern society is to know what to listen to and what not to.”


I used to really struggle with writing lyrics. It felt so important, with a such need to be significant that I usually stopped before I began.

Along with “starting with the end in mind” I’ve been using a cool technique that I learned in a songwriting workshop that Richard Adoradio and Kenny Schick put together back in 2006.

The process is simple. Get a timer and free-write without stopping for 2-3 minutes. When I say free, I mean completely free. Write whatever comes into your mind and don’t stop until the timer goes off. What you write for these 2-3 minutes does not matter. The point is to get into the creative mode and to get past the inner critic. Don’t filter, don’t analyze, don’t evaluate. Just write.

Once the timer goes off, work on the actual song lyrics can begin. The “stage has been set” for focusing on a theme and what feelings are to be conveyed. Rarely do I use anything that I came up with during the free-write. It was just a means to getting ready for the real stuff.

Now days I can usually finish a song’s lyrics in one sitting, as long as I stay open to the idea of it being done.

Thanks to Kenny and Richard for the great tip!

Start with the End

“Start with the End in Mind” was a phrase that I heard from time to time over the years. I thought it sounded good but I had no idea just how useful it could be when applied. It wasn’t until I started working on the Music Sketches project at the end of 2016/beginning of 2017 that I found out first hand what it could mean.

Up until then, writing songs had been a difficult and arduous experience. I was lucky if I got one whole song together in a given year. Then I tried applying this idea of starting with the end in mind, as if the song was already done and that the process was easy and (dare I say) fun. I just focused on the idea and feeling of what it would be like if I had already finished the song. Before I knew it I would have a new idea which would lead to another new idea to another and so on. Within a few months I had over 50 song ideas recorded. These were full song ideas with chord progressions, melodies, grooves, hooks and sometimes lyrics and vocal parts all recorded and posted on YouTube.

It was a huge realization for me, that all those years I had been the starting with an end of difficulty, confusion and futility. Good to know.


I love the feeling of being inspired. That feeling of possibility is so fun, free and full of hope, hope for something new. It can happen in an instant, in any number of ways and can become the basis of a whole new direction in one’s life.

In the past I thought inspiration was something that just happened to us if we were lucky and that we needed to really treasure those moments. But now I feel it’s a choice. I can invite inspiration by being ready for it and welcoming it through seeing it as a choice.

I get to choose how I feel in any given situation. That is the one thing in life that I can control. In the past I mostly felt things in a reactionary way, responses learned from previous life experiences and assumptions. Lately, I’ve been trying to ask myself on a regular basis “how do I want to feel right now?”.

Right now, I chose inspiration.


I love making new songs. I love the feeling of getting a new idea and imagining where it can go. Often I’ll get next inspired through studying a scale or chord voicing. It can be one or two notes that triggers something in my mind that that will later blossom into a fully formed song. The biggest factor in this process is in me being open to “hearing” the idea in the first place. It’s almost like having a net out in the water to catch fish, but this net is in my mind, open to catch ideas.