When you compose, do you gravitate toward certain instruments? And how much of the composition is being orchestrated in your inner ear and how much of it are you playing while you write?

Get into the writing room with confidence and excitement next time you’re working with a total stranger on a co-writing song project with these 7 tips.

“Sad!”: The key escaped me for a while here, since the main chord, C minor, appears only as the upper part of the first chord, A♭Maj7, and then as an inversion, Cm/G. And the synth-trumpet riff doesn’t use the tonic, either. But then, lucky for us thumb-suckers always crying for our tonal blankies, the main vocal motif that starts all the stanzas is a classic “me-re-do” tonic returner. The choruses here are doubled up with no variation, the instrumental bridge is basically just the intro again, and for goodness sake, there’s only one verse! I mean, when a song is this simple, you gotta guess that the ultra-restraint was premeditated.

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While many artists we’ve come to know and love first broke out through the channel in the ’80s and ’90s, I attribute parts of my own musical discovery to MTV. If it weren’t for Total Request Live taking an interest in independent (and alternative) music, I never would have heard a band like My Chemical Romance before they were huge or their predecessors, like Blink-182 and New Found Glory.

Some musicians believe that if they make great music, everything else around their career will be taken care of; and this is a huge mistake. The truth is that no one should be more concerned about the non-musical aspects of your career than you. This means paying attention to things like song royalties, licensing agreements, and the details of every contract you sign. You don’t need to be a legal expert to be a musician, but having a passive attitude about the less flashy aspects of your music career can lead to devastating consequences.

I often wonder what would happen if we bring back more of this kind of multilayered, allegorical thinking, this juicy stuff that made the music of Bach and others so meaningful in its day? Reviving these older creative methods and conceptions of music makes a worthy and profound experiment.

Got 10 minutes to learn about the history of the drum kit as we know it today? We talk about how individual drums, players, and genres helped the kit evolve.

The video for “In the 1970’s” (above) is brilliant. Have you always felt free to incorporate humor into your work? I’m impressed when people have the courage not to take themselves too seriously.

Grants for anything

“Call Out My Name”: Hey-hey, look, it’s another compound meter, with an ultra-slow 45 BPM tempo. By comparison, the slowest tempo we reached in last year’s Chartmania was 57 BPM — also a compound meter. The form here is why they made up the word “formulaic.” Though perhaps the absence of any tricks lays a foundation for Abel Tesfaye to take more liberties with his phrasing, starting his melodies first where you’d expect them, later well before the bar lines dictate, and then after the bar lines for a stumbling, dizzying effect. Watch out in the outro for the strong G♭ in the bass making a good argument for a G♭6 chord. Then again, it may be a first inversion E♭.

This scene, where Marissa shoots Trey (I never watched The OC but I’m getting this all from the YouTube description), was where a lot of people were introduced to the artistry of Imogen Heap. Her song “Hide and Seek” stands alone for the British singer, and in this clip, where one character is killing another by choking him, the gunshot by Marissa is justified to the viewers by Heap’s line, “It’s all for the best.”

Kakashi is another example of a great record that went into obscurity after its first pressing only to be dug out and rereleased by Better Days and Jet Set Records. Shimizu, a saxophonist and composer, worked with all kinds of musicians and collaborators, including Sakamoto and even artist Nam-June Paik. This record is deeply hypnotic and visits all kinds of soundscapes throughout, always with the saxophone placed at the center of attention.

I started doing these critiques to solve the practical problems of grading my classes in a meaningful way, and of keeping my early morning sections from staring silently at me with blank expressions. But I’ve noticed that the students take suggestions from the critiques seriously, in a way that they don’t always take the rest of the class. Some kids might blow off assignments and fail to retain technical information from one week to the next, but then they’ll reference a comment about how they should have longer sections in their tracks, months after hearing it.

Unemployment is still rampant (10.4% as of July), and PROMESA, a much-contested law passed in 2016 that promised to stabilize the island’s economy, has wrought austerity measures, from cuts to services and pensions, to controversial labor reforms and the threat of significantly slashing the budget for the University of Puerto Rico.