Voice Memo Monday

I’ve been on a real creative kick this year. My writing seems to always happen in little pockets of 6-8 songs, but this pocket seems to be never ending as I round nearly 20 new songs since my last release (knock on wood). I’ll post something soon about when you'll hear all of these new tunes (preproduction in a few weeks!) but I wanted to take a moment to salute one behind-the-scenes hero that made all this writing possible. The stock iPhone “Voice Memos” app.

The Voice Memos app came into my life with little fanfare. When I first got my iPhone, I was so impressed with Angry Birds that I paid little mind to memos. But as the years go on, my love for this little bugger has become so strong that it has earned a coveted spot in my iPhone home screen dock.


Before I had an iPhone, I used to record videos of my ideas and daily writing sessions into the “Photobooth” application on my Mac. I actually still use it out of habit when I’m writing at my laptop. While it’s great having boatloads of awkward videos that document the evolution of my haircut, the Photobooth demo method has some major downsides.

First off, the organization in Photobooth is a nightmare. There's no real file structure, so It's hard to find a specific demo or idea without going  back through all of them. But more importantly,  I don’t always have my laptop with me when I have an idea on the subway, in a cab, or at the VIP booth of the hottest club in town etc. Before Photobooth, I had a similar chaotic method with Quicktime and Garageband... and before THAT I guess I actually wrote stuff down? I released two 13 track albums in high school (oh we’ll get there one day) and I honestly have no idea what the workflow was. Word 2000?  

Here’s a few reasons why the iPhone Voice Memo app is amazing, and of course… some never-before-made-public, raw and un-edited voice memos from my archives.

ideas in the moment

A voice memo recorder is not a new technology.  I can picture a Sony micro-casette recorder on my dad’s desk in the 90’s, and I’m pretty sure I owned a Talkboy around the release time of Home Alone 2 (side note, how weird is Kevin's relationship with that bird lady?). If either of those were the hot-gadget today, there’s no way I would remember to take them with me everywhere I go. My iPhone on the other hand… I’d be quicker to forget my shoes. Which means I always have the Voice Memos app. 

If I'm digging some new idea I try to get it recorded into Memos ASAP, even if it's only a really raw concept. New ideas can often come out of thin air, and they're pure in the sense that they haven't been mucked up by over-thinking or repetition. There’s always something perfect about an unedited, original idea. For me, it’s usually the rhythm of a lyric or the tempo and groove of a song. But even if I write down the lyrics, the notes, or the tempo of an idea… the feeling behind it can slip away in a matter of hours.  I'm always going back to check-in with original memos when I'm fleshing out a song. 

Let’s listen!

VOICE MEMO: this was recorded very quietly on a New York City bus, which must have looked weird to fellow bus-riders. This ended up being the initial lyric + melody idea for “The Good Son”.

VOICE MEMO: this was recorded in my kitchen, as I was working out chords and melody to “The Marais” on my guitar. This song is yet to be released, although you may recognize it from my live show.


The Voice Memo App has made rehearsals WAY more efficient. As much as I’d love to, I don’t get to rehearse with the band every week. If the band doesn’t remember what happened at these rehearsals, then we end up doing things over and over again which really gets Adam Podd’s goat. Mark was the one who really started using Voice Memos as a way to take notes at rehearsals. Song forms, guitar parts, and vocals harmonies are way easier to remember and practice when you have a recorded memo from rehearsal.

I also recently started recording Memos of the band’s initial ideas on songs that I’m still working on. I'll show them a tune I'm writing, and have them play along  with me a few times through. Catching a glimpse of how a song is going to sound with the band is really inspiring to me, and can really relight the fire in my belly to finish writing a song that I’m getting lazy with. Let’s listen!

VOICE MEMO: Mark and I were writing some electric guitar parts for a new song called “Crossed the Line”.

VOICE MEMO: Here’s a little country song I wrote called “Let Me do Me” that we just started playing unplugged at shows. We recorded this to remember the quick arrangement we put together for a stripped down show at Rockwood Music Hall stage 3.

sharing with other artists

One of the benefits of putting years and years into songwriting is that other songwriters who have done the same will trust you, and let you into their secret creative world. I have a few songwriters that are close friends of mine (Adam Day, Billy Woodward, LOLO, Stevie). I sincerely value each of these relationships, and can’t imagine not having these folks to bounce things off of. We trust each other, inspire each other, and value each other’s opinions about songwriting. It’s not uncommon for me to open up my email and get a little demo that one of them recorded simply singing and playing into the Voice Memos app. These recordings are hands down some of my favorite! There’s an honesty and intimacy that is captured when an artist is working on a tune, performing into their iPhone.  One microphone, one take, and no production to hide behind. Now obviously I can’t share their demos with you, since I'd like to continue to receive them...but I assure you they are the best thing on the planet and that you should be super jealous. HOWEVER! I can share some memos that I’ve sent along :) Let’s listen!

VOICE MEMO: this is an idea for a song that I have, and for some reason I kind of think it is better suited for another artist.  I sent this voice memo along to a singer/songwriter friend of mine to see if they wanted to collaborate on it.

VOICE MEMO: I compose for musical theatre. This was a song I was working on to connect two points in the plot of a musical, and it would be sung by a cast of 5. I made this quick little voice memo to send to the other members of the writing team to see if they were digging the direction I was taking.

free download 

And now for your parting gift. Below is a version of "Let Life Do" that I recorded today using my iPhone 5. Check it out, and download it if you like it! You'll be prompted to name your price... it's totally cool to put $0.00, but if you're feeling saucy and want to pay for it, I won't mind. The studio release version of "Let Life Do" is available, HERE.

Dan Mills1 Comment