A song 6 years in the making (Part 3/4)

At the request of the powers that be at the dueling piano club I was playing at in 2008, I started taking voice lessons. My friend Pete Wilson referred me to Patrick and Bonnie at the Arizona Music Project. I started taking voice lessons, and even started teaching piano lessons. I could have easily gotten paid for these lessons, but I had found a new muse in life and I decided that it was time to record some of my songs, so I traded lessons for recording time at the AZ Music Project. The end result would be a rough (see: ROUGH) demo of three original songs and a cover that I could give to my new muse (see: GIRLFRIEND) as a Christmas gift. The track list was

1. Picture Yourself
2. Mr. Wrong
3. Digging
4. The Luckiest

For legal reasons, at least one of those would never be released to the public. But I had bigger fish to fry: Mr. Wrong only had half of a verse, no solo, and no bridge.

Step 1. The verses

Aside from adding “don’t tell me” to the hook at the end of the chorus, I hadn’t touched the lyrics in three years or so. I’m glad I took so long though. I had many experiences in those three years that honestly shaped where the song went. I knew the song had to be about rejecting immature advice about playing the field in favor of sticking to my own goals, so the pre-chorus (see: Part 1) became a sarcastic jab towards those who would tell me that I’m approaching my post-dumped rehabilitation incorrectly. Apparantly they thought that following my dreams and goals about relationships was incorrect (not to mention dreams and goals about horn playing that had fallen behind since becoming a pianist). The line “Security makes all my doubts so strong” was easy enough – living on your own and buying your own insurance and checking on credit reports and our society’s acceptance of things like pre-nups told me that security is only for the insecure (see: DUH).

And that lead to the insecure line that would round off the first verse: “I’ve my own insecurities to feed”

Where the first verse was speaking directly to those who had hurt me, the second verse would speak to those who were giving me therapeutic advice that I didn’t want to hear. Thinking with a man’s second brain turned into “Your heart can’t lead you where you need to go”, and my urge to be Mr. Right instead of Mr. Right Now gave me a great title for the song (see: TITLE), as well as my favorite line “Mr. Right can’t make it to the show”.

All that was left was the bridge. Given that I have a tendency to find a recording or artist I like and listen to it for many years, it was not unusual that I was still basking in the audio bubble bath that was Radiohead’s In Rainbows, specifically the second track from the bonus disc that came with the LP that cost a lot more than the LP or extended version of the album that would follow, King of Limbs. Though I wish the release date of the two had been switched – then I could have sold KOL instead of Rainbows to pay rent.

Anyhow, the second track from the CD of songs that didn’t make the final album cut had a great progression I liked – Yep, the I – bVII – IV that I was already using for half of the tune. What was the difference? Radiohead had it in Ab, not D. How was I going to modulate?

Well, that may be the way a real composer looked at it. I was honestly just playing the Bb7 to the A7 pre-chorus section and decided to continue descending down a half step and start a new (see: old) chord progression in Ab. After playing it I immediately recognized it as the progression (and key!) that Radiohead had used.

So I had my bridge (musically, anyhow). The lyrics came from my own reaction to the advice I was being given and my general reaction to it, which went something like this:

“I don’t want to hurt a girl, and I can’t fake my way into a casual relationship just to help me get over someone. I’d rather meet the girl and not waste her time by being who she isn’t looking for”…

These jumbled self-righteous thoughts became the lyrics of the bridge: “Am I only one man’s hero? Maybe a villain who’s misunderstood”

Either way, the recording went well. Not great, but well.

I still didn’t have a solo I was happy about.

And I wouldn’t until June of 2011, two and a half years later (see: PART 4!!!!).

A song 6 years in the making (Part 2/4)

*for part 1, click here*

I’d been dumped. I was mad. She was crazy. I was moving away from my hometown for the first time in my life. I wasn’t quite sure how to put this into lyrics, so the first line was stream of conscious.

“Give me a sign, are you out of your mind for giving me exactly what I need?”

I had many more dummy lyrics that I thought at the time were actual smart lyrics. Lines like “you’re running away, not scared of today but frightened of where the day may lead” and “one foot out the door, when you can’t take anymore, yous lip away and label my good name”. These were all things I thought were spiteful to the person who had just “broken my heart”. I put that in quotations only because in hindsight its hard to believe I really felt that way.  But at the time (September 2005) I felt angry. I didn’t feel as rejected as I felt abandoned, left to the devices of whomever would be my next best friend in my new home from home.

I got a lot of advice at the time, usually encouraging me to play the field, avoid commitment, and make bad decisions for the sake of having something to do, or having something to distract me from whatever I told myself I was feeling.

Well I mostly told myself that I didn’t know how to do all of these things I was encouraged to do, probably because I didn’t want to do these things. My song had turned into a love song, of sorts. I was only interested in being some girl’s Mr. Right, not Mr. Right Now.

It would be three years before I would put these feelings into verse, finally finishing the lyrical portion of my song. 2008 rolled around, and I was in a very different place than I was three years earlier. I was still in Tempe, AZ, but I had a job as a dueling piano player, I had a cool roommate who, for all intents and purposes, was my best friend, and to top it all off I had just started a relationship with a girl. I really hoped that I could be Mr. Right.

So while recording a song I had written for her as a Christmas gift (see Picture Yourself), I guess I thought I would reflect those Right feelings by also giving her a recording of Mr. Wrong

The next chapter, Recording Mr. Wrong for the first time!

And for all of you Chicagoans, here is the poster for my upcoming performance at Metropolis Coffee Company on November 17th, 6 PM.

Come see me November 17th!

1039 West Granville, Chicago IL 60660, 6 PM

A song 6 years in the making (Part 1/4)

I’m looking at a tattered, green-covered notebook that has traces of brown, punctuated cardboard in the spine, indicative of a back cover long gone. This one page is written in pen, while many other illegible pages have a strange lead mist about them, which started my policy of never writing song ideas in pencil. There is no date on the page, but its safe to assume that the notes were made during my first month of graduate school, shortly after imagining the song while teaching a marching band in early August of 2005.

The top of the page reads…

key of D
“no love don’t mean asexuality
except for viggie” or “u ain’t me”

I thought it might be cool to put my old “high school nickname” in the song. Rap artists say their name all the time in their songs, why can’t I? It seemed like the appropriate thing to do – it reflected an air of confidence, cockiness even, that I thought the song needed.

A squiggly arrow points to a chord progression: E7 C7 A g9, each chord shows 8 eighth notes under it, indicating the rhythm. Just above this progression is a hastily written line of musical notation, showing the opening riff in the key of F with the notes “horn part – swing shuffle”.

This is how Mr. Wrong started. I remember walking around a marching field in Sioux Falls with this lick in my head, knowing that count 2 of the bar would be a crunchy sound executed by playing the resolution an octave lower than the count before it. I had no lyrics yet, but the feel of the song was already solidified. It wouldn’t be given a melody or verse chord progression until about a month later once I had moved to Tempe, AZ for graduate school. I was late to the game when it came to Ben Folds fandom, and I had just started learning his songs by ear at this point. Song for the Dumped was very pertinent to my situation at the time, and I had just learned the whole thing when I couldn’t focus on horn one day in the practice room.

This trend continued at graduate school, when I found a chord progression that I liked – the Bb7 to the A7, which would function as a lead-in to the chorus. I told myself that it was an uncommon chord progression, so it justified using the tried-and-true I-bVII-IV progression in the verse (Think Sweet Home Alabama, Born This Way, Sympathy for the Devil). Playing the chorus lead-in on quarter notes and responding to each chord articulation with three quick sixteenth notes sounded cool to me, and also let me start the song in a thinner texture leaving more room for piano showoffedness later in the song, so I wrote many lyrics for this melody (what now is “Trying to find/all my dreams/and my goals/couldn’t be more wrong”) that include

“I can’t run/I can’t hide/from what I/know inside is true”
“I wish I/could be kind/but I know/that your mind ain’t clear”
and the even worse,
“I know you’ve/let me go/but the end/of the show ain’t here”

These would turn out to be “dummy lyrics”, obviously to be replaced by something much better at a later date once I figured out exactly what the lyrics would be about.

One technique is to write down a bunch of opening lines for a song. The first thing the listener hears is often the most memorable line of the song, second only to the chorus or hook. I already knew that the lyrics to my hook sucked (“you aren’t me?” come on!). I needed something with a little more confidence, stank, sting for the party who had given this song a reason to exist. I had the chord progression for the verse and a supposed melody, and thankfully no list of opening lines was needed. The first one I had thought of was exactly what I had been looking for:

“Give Me a Sign”

“Mr. Wrong (You Aren’t Me)” now available for download!!!

Whereas, Adam A Nelson has reached over 100 fans, and

Whereas, it happens to be a national post-mortem holiday, and

Whereas, I have never had anything available for download before,

the Interwebs is happy to bestow upon you, the fans, the first downloadable song from Adam A Nelson!!!!!

Visit the BRAND NEW WEBSITE adamanelson.bandcamp.com and name your price for Adam’s first downloadable singls, Mr. Wrong (You Aren’t Me). For the first time ever, you can download one of my songs, and it is all thanks to you for helping me reach over 100 fans and supporting me online.


All week I will be celebrating with entries on the trail I hiked just to get this single to you. From inception to final edit, how to take an idea, turn it into a song, and release it to the public. A story 6 years in the making, written down over four days of blogging.

So visit adamanelson.bandcamp.com and download the song, send it to all of your friends and tell them to help me get yet another 100 fans, and keep checking back to adamanelson.com for more information on previously released songs and what is yet to come from Chicago’s newest piano rocker!


Good Saturday Morning to all!

I am celebrating breaking 100 fans on Facebook with the release of my latest, full band recording of Mr. Wrong (You Aren’t Me)

It has escaped my clutches and was released just now on Reverbnation. By early next week, it will be available for download.

Raise a glass and help me celebrate with a listen to my rocking-est piano tune. Then go out and have an awesome Halloween weekend, tell all of your ghouly friends about the new song, and stop by to download it for yourself on Monday!

Thanks again! go here for the stream:


And if you want to pledge some of your support, click “like” on the right!!! Thanks!


*annoying news show music* Everybody Everybody! I have just posted my new mix of Picture Yourself online! You can find it on


as well as



And I’m ready to release another full band track, with drums, bass, and professional production. The track is called Mr. Wrong (You Aren’t Me) and features some real bad-ass playing from my friends Steve Giedosh on Bass and Darrell Grey on Drums, with production by Rick Freimuth. This track will be available for download, at any price you feel fit to pay. And it will be available AS SOON AS I REACH 100 FANS on Facebook.

So if you haven’t yet, click on the link just to the right to “like” me on FB!

Tell all of your friends to do the same!

If you know anyone who likes new music, singer/songwriters or sexy piano players, then let them know immediately about my page and my music.

HELP MY FAN BASE REACH TRIPLE DIGITS! Like me on facebook and very soon I shall release my never-before-heard, full track, full production song “Mr. Wrong (You Aren’t Me)”

And when you’re dong telling everyone about it, sit down with some good hot cider, listen to my new mix of Picture Yourself, and have a very Happy Halloween!


…will be uploaded tomorrow. Got some new mixes, with brand new vocal takes, for Another Day, Picture Yourself and My Greatest Wish. Listen to the current mixes while they last! You will be able to stream AND purchase some of the tunes. Until then, come out to Downer’s Grove, IL and see my performance at Ballydoyle’s Irish Pub. The fun starts at 8:30. Come by and say “hey”, and tell your friends to come out too. Thanks so much for the support!

Yet another open mic

Went to Uncommon Ground once again last night for another open mic.

Wow – there was some talent there last night. A lot of great guitar players, singers and song writers, all inspiring me to write new stuff in a new way. That always happens when I see new artists. They make a rhyme I never thought of or do a chord progression that my music theory knowledge tells me *should* be wrong, and they go and do it anyway. Or they go ahead and do that angry song about cheating or how not to live your life. The audacity! These people have real talent and guts and it always inspires me to take my music a step further to places I used to think that no one would go with me.

I gotta say though, the one who really stood out for me was the guy who opened, and I assume, didn’t participate in the contest at the end or he would have kicked me right out of the running. I’m talking of one of my new influences, Mike Maimone. He went on stage, slapped the piano into submission, and hacked up a myriad of deep emotions onto the microphone. And I loved it. I had a nice chat with him afterwards and got a free CD from him, though I would have gladly paid for it.

So while you’re liking me on FB and checking out my music, definitely click on this guy and keep an eye out on what he’s doing. I’d tell you to see his next show at Uncommon Ground on November 17th, but we all know I’m playing that night at the Metropolis Coffee Company at 8 PM.

I know where your loyalties lie…and if you betray them, I know where you live!

Adding more shows!

I have just just booked another performance: I will be playing at the Big Shot Piano Lounge in Arlington Heights, IL on Saturday, November 5th from 10 PM to 2 AM. I will likely not play any originals, though. This will be much more like the dueling piano shows I have done for the past few years.

I could muse for hours and hours on the how what who where when whys of starting a career in dueling pianos and eventually ending it just a few months ago. I just knew that after witnessing it, I would regret never going for it and auditioning. I auditioned quite a bit before I got a job doing it, but for now I definitely prefer performing alone. I get to make my own rules, and its not an oppressive boss thing. Its more of a strange inferiority thing. When I play with another dueler on stage, I find myself trying to impress them instead of playing for the audience. I have a lot more freedom to be myself when I do an all-request show by myself. It’s also a bit easier because I just don’t have a very loud voice – my instructions and jokes often get lost if the other person on stage isn’t completely paying attention to what I’m trying to do, and I have a hard time being consistent and sticking to a script.

So come out November 5th to see me bullshit my way through the biggest hits and kitchiest favorites from the last 60 years of popular music!

And don’t forget about the Acoustic Showcase at Ballydoyle’s Irish Pub in Downer’s Grove THIS THURSDAY NIGHT! 8:30 PM!


There is a lot to be said for working alone when creating something, whether it be a song, painting, poem, anything. Performance is of course a very personal experience – the performer is sharing his or her thoughts, emotions, moods, idiosyncrasies, dreams, beliefs, and any number of private things with the audience. But during performance, one usually has their song, painting or poem in a finished state. The artist has already weeded out the lines that are too cheesy, the melodies that were unconsciously stolen from another artist, the lyrics that serve as a placemat until the better synonyms or phrases present themselves. When you work alone, you can get all of this stuff out of the way without instant feedback, misinterpretation, a deadline, or creative compromise. And you don’t have to open yourself up before you’ve found out how to say exactly what you want to say.

I participated in a songwriter’s meeting last night, where we split up into two groups to go and write songs. Me being a pianist, I did not have an instrument with me. There was another pianist there and I decided not to make a big stink about getting to use the only piano in the building, as he said he was particularly stronger at the music side of songwriting than the lyrical.

So I headed upstairs with two men I had known for about 10 minutes, and we spent probably 80 minutes brainstorming lyrics. We never really settled on a melody or chord progression, just went through the creative process of writing lyrics. We started with a first line I had come up with, which we all three decided would be the title and hook of the song. Many ideas were brought up, about what angle to take on the song, how descriptive to get, what point of view to have, how we were going to make this song stand out amongst all of the other silly love songs out there…It felt a little uncomfortable, “going from zero to sixty” as one of my collaborators put it. I had just met these two men and now we had fallen into the trap of writing a love song together – exposing our emotional pasts and interpretations thereof, our musical preferences, what we thought was cliche and what we thought was forced, and what we thought was musically essential to make a song work…

But I never really got the impression that the song was working.

and all the while, we could hear the other group singing strongly with a piano accompaniment, clearly making a lot more progress than we were. And I was very happy to discover at the end of the meeting that the highest voice in the other team’s choir was infact a woman who had arrived late to the meeting, and not an awesome tenor. I was no longer jealous of someone else’s voice (yes, that happens a lot). Before, it was a bit distracting knowing that the other team had great singers, a fleshed-out musical idea, and were all collaborating very well.

I came to a very simple conclusion (gleaned from this experience and from many tv show commentaries about the writing process): I work best alone.

Or at the very least, if I want to collaborate, its best to give people something to start with and just let them go at it alone for a while. Once they’ve taken the concept somewhere and, its time to get back together. Each collaborator presents what they came up with and then combines the ideas, feeding off of eachother, and making the musical, lyrical, and conceptual compromises necessary to do the song justice.

To that point, I am going to start my first official collaboration sometime this week. A good friend of mine, whom I have known for about 13 years (YIKES!) has sent me some lyrics, and I’m going to try to make a song of them. I think this approach will work much better for me. Someone else has done some work and given me a framework from which to start. Now I can shape those lyrics into a song (or a few songs) for her to approve/amend later, without having to wade through the knee-jerk-reactions to ideas that aren’t fully realized. When I react quickly to input I typically put my foot in my mouth – I’d rather have time to soak it up and take a step forward with that foot instead of standing in the same place, too quick to judge initial contributions.

Thanks for reading, and don’t miss the Acoustic Showcase at Ballydoyle’s Irish Pub in Downer’s Grove, THIS THURSDAY NIGHT at 8:30. Click on SEE above to view my entire performance schedule, and stay tuned for new mixes of songs, and some new tunes never before released on the internet. CDs available at the Acoustic Showcase, so don’t miss it!