Defining a Riff with Todd Jones


Mastering Metal Songwriting


Lesson Info

Defining a Riff with Todd Jones

For anyone who doesn't know this is todd jones from the awesome band nails that I, uh feel like, um feel like, uh no, your catalog really well, but I don't but it's the kind of stuff where here and it's like yeah that's cool, good no in a really good way it's like man, how is that not just like a really, really well known riff so obvious in a good way like we're like, yeah, eso anyways, I'm really glad that you're here and I wanted teo I wanted to include you in this class because a lot of I guess a lot of what I have seen in the way of, uh, education about writing I think is one hundred percent wrong because it's like theory based and technique based and, um, I know that you're not a theory dude at all muirfield dude and people really like your music, and so I wanted to kind of dissect it with you somewhat so that people at home who might be focusing way too much on scales and theory and all that you can get their head out of their ass and focus on what's actually important actually a...

dd some contrast, you know what some of the other guests they're going to be talking about? I think it's really awesome that you could be here, tio represent I guess the other side of the spectrum but not really because good songs are good songs yeah, thanks for having me really excited something I love talking about so much stuff yeah it's I think we're encountering the problem of more con tenth in time but that's uh that's not a bad problem have so I'm going teo skip forward to todd cool so way talked a lot while we were getting this ready teo again so that we won't just be rambling forever and one of things that we kind of came to which I think is really interesting about nails and about how you write is how you define yourself as riff writer or not a riff writer and I wanted to kind of fun for the audience what we came to the conclusion of what a riff actually is I think you said to me that you consider yourself more of a a dude who plays percussive rhythms on guitar riffs I agree yeah, I'm not really necessarily you know there's a difference between a risk and just a simple part you know into the void by black sabbath that's a riff yeah or iron man or smoke on the water like that's a that's a riff head crushing rift where is like you know the opening chords to like a minor threat song it's not necessarily riff it's just no no no no you know I mean I don't necessarily think of myself as like a person writes these big elaborate riffs but you know I don't necessarily think of myself as a person it just writes salt small simple parts think I'm like halfway in between both those things well I think one of the things that I guess one of the defining points of a rift the way that you were just describing it like just riff with a capital r as opposed tio in band practice and being the you got a rift which I guess it has two definitions riff the way I think we're talking about is more like a melody he tore where if you were a vocalist you could sing it and it's almost serves the function of being another vocalist I think like a classic riff like that cancer's riff you were playing earlier something that's a vocal melody you could play it on or is just a good melody you could play it on any instrument and it would still be catchy and I think that I think what you're describing yourself is doing what I think is the guitar element of nelson which is really really cool is is more it's more like a rhythm instrument and the catching this is in the patterns and the variation you know situated patterns it's actually one u know we were talking about before which is the rhythm being I think at the top of the my hierarchy at least for what makes good music is it doesn't need to be a melody or anything uh if the pattern is really really catchy I think that that's actually one things that people work on the least did you actually consciously developed like your rhythm playing or such as something that happened you know I think a lot of my rhythm playing came from morning master of puppets by metallica the whole album it's a good one but you know that's that was a foundation me playing guitar was learning metallica songs and nirvana songs it's definitely something I've I've expanded on is a growing older but only through my own practicing in writing my own songs and did you like uh did you actually like consciously try to play tight like really tart we're just trying to learn cool songs and play them as best you could when I started playing guitar I tried to learn songs and and once I learned them I really focused on playing them as good as I could with the album because thie albums right there if you can hear it you could hear everything the album now play it as good as on yeah and as memorably as they played it yeah yeah I think I think there's something to be said for seven performances the certain songs being way more important than actually playing the risk in perfect time or whatever because uh you could go see a cover band or whatever play the same songs no fur no may be better than the original bands and they just sound like total garbage because the fields missing getting feels there is not everything but it's certainly a lot of it and uh that's cool, I wanted teo talk to you about how if you're not like focusing on stuff like being technical or learning theory or stuff that people used teo I guess categorize how they play then how are you value yourself like where you used to know would you like to say to people who our field based players about actually being critical of themselves? Well, you simply you know what feels good? You know what sounds good, you know, what touches your soul, you know, when you play a riff or you play a part in part a into part b if it makes you feel good, you know, if it doesn't make you feel good, why would it make anybody else feel good? So it basically they got to stay aware of how it feels I don't actually know of any way to really work on that besides doing it, which I wish there was whether you could be like, step one, fill the rift step to feel the riff or something like that, but I think really you need teo you need to be looking for more subtle things, like how it effects that we talked about earlier, how that actually affects listeners like if they're getting bored by a certain point in time or starting distracted like arm bobbin a longer there's a part where the crowd stops moving I just there's definite things you can pay attention to think you guys music and there's some things where it's like you have this, we were talking earlier about you write a song around a raw idea, like if I have, like, a raw idea of a bridge or a slow mosh part or something like that and I know that's going to be the apex of the song, but before it, you know, it's not like I'm gonna put a necessarily a part that hits hard before, but I have to put attention. You were talking about tension release, you put attention part before it, so when that comes in, it just hits as hard as it can, you know? I mean, so it's not like every single part has to be like, well, it will lose its impact, right? It was all one hundred percent. So I guess even if even if you're not like focusing on, uh, cort functions and stupid shit like that, you're still focusing on the essentials of priorities the goal of the song yeah exactly how the listener reacts I guess that brings me to the next thing I want to ask you about which is if you're going by feel and by goal the song if you're just writing without any other way of categorizing like how you told me that I guess if you put your wrist into certain tears like how do you go about like actually formalizing that so you have you know you have those moments of inspiration when you talk about you think you just have to go play guitar now because I have this idea so you make this riff if you make this riff and it's like I love this riff I know that this riff is going to be the focus around a song and I see you have the wide open wound number to the course that song thing now play it off of the album as well just that people could get context um should play the intro first second here sure into it so that will super hard yeah and I and when we made that riff I thought that's that has a hell of a lot of impact to it and I could in my head I could envision the drums playing that I'm like we're going we're going to make it this is the raw idea for the song that we're going to make and so I visited my head with the drums I knew we I knew that was that was like the apex of the song we're going to focus on around that so I just in my head I'm like we're gonna make this the chorus and um and I just I just know it some of those riffs you just know they're there for you for your ability there a plus riffs and for my ability that was for the structure of nails that was an a plus riff it fit and to me that was a tier one room it was going to get used no matter what that was going to be on our next album you're weird how like uh you just know how but I know exactly what you're talking about like it's undisputable you know that's like this is this this this is nana ls this is a nails riff and it's great I have a lot of sense but I have a lot of emotional attachment to it makes me want to move makes me want to physically you know, head banger or whatever you know when we played that song line that's one of our most well received songs and I could just see that from when we started playing it and I guess that brings me to the I guess the exact officer like have you ever been wrong with the feeling oh yeah where you like you think this is it and I know yeah I mean absolutely and in your slide I think we had an example of we have a song called abandon all life which is from our last album it's the title track of our album and before we record the album we wrote that song off obviously before we recorded it and we all thought very highly of the song and after we recorded the song it was just like songs pretty good but it didn't end up being what we thought it would be or at least what I thought it would be and um well I'll play it and then maybe like tell us how reality and fantasy work different what I really like about the songs the chorus it's it's a triple it guitar riff over a blast beat that to me that was the hook of the song and that but did that part turn out how you want that part? I really like that part I think it's awesome I just think this song is a whole maybe didn't work out that well and it's not necessarily anybody's fault I think all the parts are good I think they were performed well and I think the song is mixed well just you know it's just that human emotion inside you know I can't explain it I just just don't end up being the big song that I wanted it to be it's ah it's interesting I'll place I'll tell you guys something about that still hits pretty hard, though. Um, I've noticed, though that s in my time making songs and recording people songs that there's some that no matter what you think it's going to be in pre pro, it just doesn't come out the way you think it will, and that doesn't mean it's batter good it just you just predictions air off sometimes and uh um, I haven't been able to figure out what it is about a song that comes out different than what you imagine, but I think that the thing for upcoming writers tio to gain from that is to not be too attached to their songs, but they're imagining isn't exactly what what's really there, but I guess it that said you did totally know about the other song yeah, the song that ended up being oh, with wide open wound yeah, I knew I don't know how or why, but I just I knew that was gonna that was gonna be awesome. So how's, how you recommend like, uh, I guess refining that awareness just do it a lot, you know, it's it's just, uh this is something you feel you can't you can't just sit down and write an awesome party, sit down and write an awesome song, it comes to you at random times and as faras defining the awareness it's, you know, you have a new album, we're talking about the songs, but really they going context of an album in ten twelve fourteen song album and a lot of people talk about when they write albums, they don't necessarily way don't think about what we're going to do, we just go in and do it, and then we have an album, I don't work that way, and I don't believe that bands really work that way. I think that's a lie, I think that bands go in with a mission, you know, they're going to write an album of this style or they're going to write an album that makes somebody feel a certain emotion and at least that's how we do it, and so all right parts and in context of our of our goal, our huge goal, if it may, if I feel it makes sense, it's, just something you just need to think about in your head like nails were goingto crushing album it's gonna be really fast. The fast parts are gonna be incredibly fast in extreme, the slow parts going really slow and maybe atmospheric or just maybe completely crushing. And so I knew that riff it was crushing it's undeniably crushing nobody could listen that and tell me it's not crushing, so basically even, uh you're going by feel there's still like basically like some sort of a mission statement not to sound like like no there isn't this much there absolutely is a mission statement no there's all that yes I don't think that's cheesy I don't think it's arrogant it's just you have a goal you want to complete it how do you come to it like buy lots of solid awareness yeah ok lots of practice in buffalo awareness so it's it it's interesting because it sounds to me like it's a combination of field and on dh eyes intellectualizing what the goal is for the album I think that it's seriously important too because who wants to listen like we said earlier to just rambling nonsense now I could I could tell you something as far as being self aware every band has spears whether their peers from you know the eighties their peers from history reappears from president piers you have these bands that you necessarily you know you shouldn't start a band with the intention of at least I don't feel you should start being with the intention of sounding exactly like a band but you have influences and you have bands that as faras sound that you could get something out of it and make it your own now when you listen to your own vanity listen to your own risk you could think of how does this stand up in context of them yeah, absolutely I actually think that that's a really good way tio tio gauge it is to be totally honest with yourself when when you listen to professionally done records I think this is actually something that a lot of amateur mixers do wrong we're talking during the break about how mixing and writing have a lot of parallels but a lot of amateur mixers don't abie their work to other stuff because they're afraid of getting crushed on dh I know that feeling like you know sucks if you play your stuff next to somebody else's and you just get annihilated but you got to do it because you have to know where you stand and I think the same is true for song writing if you have a great song it'll stand up against your competition or whatever and if not you'll know right away when you hear something else a song and production doesn't matter yeah that's a good way to actually bypass your friend's lying to you uh you know parents lying you and all that stuff is tio listen critically against against other people's music I guess the same style sure that and that and I just want to clarify that doesn't mean like you have to think would this band play this riff or is this something they would write because I only want to play music like they would write it's just simply kind of comparing trask yeah, I think it's it's, just good to have standards. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's, not us, it's. Not that you want to copy them or whatever, it's just know the bar that it's music so it's hard to talk about, but the bar is definitely in a in an actual place. You have to have standards absolutely have teo to definitely reach the bar. You said earlier that you used a tension building devices and stuff, and I wanted to talk about that because that's ah, I mean, that causes a field based reaction, but that's, not really. I think using attention released tricks isn't, um, is not something that has to be totally field base, that you can actually do it at calculating, yeah, that's scientific. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the reaction isn't but almost, isn't it? Yeah.

Class Description

It’s easy for musicians to get so caught up in the latest gear, plugins, and presets, and forget that ultimately, it’s all about the music. Join Eyal Levi and special guests Ryan Clark (Demon Hunter), Todd Jones (Nails, Terror), and John Browne (Monuments) for an in-depth exploration of what it takes to craft great songs.

Eyal will share the tricks of the songwriting trade he’s learned over years of experience as a producer at Audiohammer Studios (The Black Dahlia Murder, August Burns Red, Whitechapel) and guitarist for Century Media/Roadrunner artists Daath. Throughout this two-day course, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the three core components of metal/rock songwriting. You’ll learn about basic song structure and riff-writing; melodies, leads, and vocals; and fine-tuning the arrangement to take your song from good to great. Eyal will be joined by special guests -- from musicians to producers and more -- who will empower you to take your songwriting to new heights.


Mike Lamb

This was a massively inspirational and incredibly helpful course. By the end of it I had a notebook full of incredibly useful tips and tricks, and I definitely plan a rewatch as soon as possible. I've been in bands writing songs for the better part of 15 years, but this has put a lot of focus on some of the corners I've cut or the areas where I've been lazy with the smaller details. No matter where you are in your songwriting you'll definitely benefit from this, and Eyal articulates everything in an engaging way and positive way. Even if you think you're a good songwriter, there's a tonne here you can benefit from. 10/10 - Thanks Eyal!