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“How do you come up with the ideas for your songs?”
People often enjoy hearing the origination of a song idea. What are the lyrics about? How did you write the melody? Which came first?
Here’s the story behind the muse that bought me of one of my favorites. Of the five songs on Keeping the Dream Alive, Lotto Dust has received the most praise, and I’m really happy with the way it turned out. But it never would have happened without a passing but captivating comment one morning from “Coop”.
This month will mark one year since the sudden passing of Mark Cooper, long time WPDH DJ. I still miss that raspy voice and his knowledgeable and often impassioned on-air musings each morning. In addition to his unique sound, and the simple fact that he was a comfortable, dependable part of my daily life as a Dutchess County resident since the 90’s, there is something else that will always keep the memory of “Coop” close to my heart. Lotto Dust.
So what’s the connection between Coop and Lotto Dust? Well, one morning, as I often did on the drive to work, I was listening to Coop and whoever he was partnered with at the time (it was early January of 2012 and I honestly don’t remember – it often changed over the years). They were discussing Lotto scratch-off tickets and the hard core players who habitually bought sets of tickets and would hang out at the deli where they bought them and sit around and scratch away.
Anyone who has ever scratched off a few lotto tickets knows they leave behind a pile of crumbled rubbery stuff, sort of like what’s left behind when you use a pencil eraser, only darker. Coop referred to this stuff as “lotto dust”. Bang! A song was born. Well it’s rarely that quick, but that phrase stuck in my cranium like gum in your hair. With those two words bouncing around my brain like a pinball in an arcade game over the following week or so, the story emerged of poor Willy and his weakness for throwing his hard earned money away on a chance and a dream.
As for how those two words led to this specific story, well I guess that’s almost as much of a mystery to me as it is to you. The genesis isn’t too hard to relate … the word ‘Dust’ certainly lends itself to some sort of sad outcome (you know, like “dust to dust” or Dust in the Wind). As for Lotto, well that sort of filled in the other side of a simple equation … how might lotto tickets lead to a sad ending? The story just kind of wrote itself from there.
One of the most enjoyable experiences in song writing is when things just come to you and flow naturally. The lyrics to Lotto Dust did just that. It was written with very little effort. The muse came, worked its magic, and left. In fact, it left me with a solid set of lyrics in (very) short story form, but with no music! That certainly happens from time to time. With this song, the words came first, and the melody followed later when the musical Gods decided it was time.
The Journey from Lyrics to Living, Breathing Song
A few months after writing the story for Lotto Dust, I was sitting around having some fun with Nat King Cole’s classic L-O-V-E. Believe it or not, that was the inspiration for the chord structure and melody for Lotto Dust. It was another one of those wonderful moments – something just clicked in my head and I started down-strumming the Dm7 – Am7 chords and singing the opening lyrics to Lotto Dust. It didn’t take long from there for the basic chord structure of the whole song to evolve.
While recording the song, there were a lot more fun moments, like when I got the basic idea for the bass line. As I developed and record it I started to feel like Lotto Dust was going to be something special. Some time later, as I was still working on the song, I was also taking a course on recording with Award Winning Producer Gary Gray and I submitted this work-in-progress to him as part of the online course work. When we had a video call to discuss it, he just loved the bass line and the sound I got from the instrument and amp combination (this was very flattering – Gary knows his stuff!). I think he was rather surprised to learn that it was recorded with an very inexpensive Fender bass copy and a digital amp setting I found in the Reason recording software I use! We’re talking about $750 worth of equipment (not including the computer I was running the software on, which is just a typical desktop PC running Windows 8).
You don’t have to spend a ton to record professional sounding music, you just need time, patience, some talent, decent gear, and access to some affordable professional services to round it out.
As I worked through the lead, I got chills up my spine – it was really all coming together.
The Final Touches
I don’t recall specifically when it came to me that getting a professional female vocalist to add backing vocals could really push it over the top, but I sure am glad it did. I had been working with Studio Pros out of Los Angeles for a year or so, using their excellent musicians and engineers to bring professional polish to various tracks. I popped over to their web site and listened to their available female vocalists and Rachel struck me as the right one for the job. When I got her tracks back I could not have been happier! I encouraged her to just do what she thought was right and she recorded these gorgeous soulful three part harmonies in all the right places.
The ultimate final touch to Lotto Dust was the excellent mix and mastering by Stephen Sheppard of DBAR Productions. I was so pleased to find and work with Stephen on three of the songs on Keeping the Dream Alive. I look forward to continuing to work with him for years to come.
And that’s the story of Lotto Dust. Check out a sample here on Amazon.com and once you decide you like it, go ahead and buy the full record (it’s available here on iTunes too!). If you want it in good old physical format, you can buy that here on CD Baby. Remember, all sales of Keeping the Dream Alive in 2014 will be donated to the Mr. Holland’s Opus foundation to support young music students, so your $$ goes to an awesome cause, and buys you some great original music.
Rest in Peace, Coop. I know I’m not the only one who is grateful for the inspiration, and all of the fun, charm, music, and love you bought to so many listeners for so many years.