Sorting Through The Noise.

There’s a lot of online stuff that goes into a career these days. Facebook. Instagram. YouTube. Just making music isn’t close to enough to keep your head above water nowadays. Or so it seems.

I’m less convinced. We’re always being told how vital social media is. Most artists I know and like play a huge game to keep up. I’m not enjoying it, or connecting with it.

I’m dying this to be brutally honest. So you know what you’re buying into when you follow my music. I don’t like all this noise. I don’t like being on social media. I don’t like being on YouTube, in front of a camera. I didn’t come here for any of that. The very thing that we’re told to do to amplify our work feels like the noise that drowns it out.

I like writing here. It’s my corner of the internet. But the other stuff, I’m having a crisis of confidence over. Why am I on twitter? Why do I make blogs? Why the hell do I still use Facebook?

I’ve heard all the arguments why social media is important, and I don’t necessarily disagree. I just don’t like it. Maybe there’s a better way to make it more me, or maybe it really is just not for me. I’ve been an early adopter of most things, I was posting music online before even MySpace was a thing (Overplay anyone?). The conversation was fun, but it’s turned into something else now.

The internet doesn’t feel right anymore. It’s not a place I feel good about spending time in/on nowadays. It’s angry, contrived and trivial all at once. I have no idea what that has to do with making music now. Yes, I know; you have to be online nowadays. But I don’t want to.

Zanshin: Exploring Movement

Japanese and English writing in a notebook.
Ayaka’s bilingual notes.

There’s much going on, but yesterday I was able to put in some more time with Ayaka Takai on Zanshin, the choreography/MiMu Gloves exploration we’re working on at the moment. Big thanks Arts Council England.

It’s really exciting work. It continues to surprise me from all directions. One of the biggest things to get snagged around is just how little I understand my body and how to move it. Everything takes a degree of concentration, even standing and walking, so following choreographed steps? Wow. That’s some brain bandwidth.

I notice things about my body I’ve never noticed before. In one movement, I bring my hands together in a prayer position, and then raise my elbows. The tightness in my wrist and shoulder on my right side is a new experience. But yes, it does feel like I’m getting fractionally better at moving as a result.

Ayaka and I are still at the visual design stage; creating movements and an aesthetic. I knew I wanted this to be informed by Japanese dance, with that sense of delicate precision, and of course Ayaka is able to bring that. I also understand it. I’m not just trying it on for size; it looks how I feel, or at least how I imagine myself. The reality is different I know. Clunky, wobbly, jerky; but inside I’m graceful.

Review. Reflect.

Reviewing sessions away from the DAW or even a screen is so useful. I document every meaningful bit of progress, as well as trying to capture my thoughts on how I feel about the work. It’s where the real work happens now; the recording session is the factory floor. That’s not really where the ideas happen now, that’s where I execute them.

And it almost goes without saying, but this is my favourite bit. More on this in Patron Exclusive – I’ll post about my review process in detail there shortly, but to summarise – give yourself time to think. Don’t rush. Make room for inspiration. It’s there.

Recording, Capturing, Moving.

I’m still making things. Things you listen to. Things you listen to that are made in a computer.

It makes less and less sense.

Making music with computers can be – for me, at least – incredibly frustrating. I don’t particularly enjoy using electronic devices screens with screens. In fact I find it really annoying after about an hour, and I lose momentum. I’m thinking more and more about how to navigate that. I get nostalgic for screenless workflows like tape – I started out with a Tascam Portastudio. But, alas, that seems contrived at this point. Heading back to tape doesn’t exactly serve the song.

But recording itself doesn’t always feel like it serves my art anymore. There’s so much physicality to what I do; my live performances are where it’s at, so to speak. It’s not performance art exactly, but it feels like if I call it that it’s closer than saying I’m a Recording Artist. Hmmm. You can’t get all that movement into Pro Tools. But I’m a songwriter and a singer first and foremost, so those are things that are served well by recording. Maybe I’m just feeling the growing pains of adjusting to a career that is no longer one thing – recording songs is now only part of the puzzle; but it used to be the only piece.

I don’t share these internal processes for any other reason than they might be useful. Maybe reading about how I navigate a sticky creative problem will help you solve one of your own. That’s what I’m really interested in, I’m coming to realise. I would love to think that my process is useful, that untangling knotty problems on a blog – not just in my head – might be useful to someone besides me.

And, yeah; that does have a ring to it – it’s a multisided thing nowadays. There’s lots of different aspects to my work that can’t be captured audibly. See? I just needed to get it out of my head and into yours to see it differently…

What creative problems do you face regularly? How do you untie them?

Writing Funding Bids (The Writing bit).

Today I submitted my second application to Arts Council England’s Developing Your Creative Practice programme. It’s really great opportunity for artists to develop work without a lot of the pressures that traditional project grants involve. Crucially, there is no Match Funding needed, and no Audience. An Arts Council grant requires both of those things: you have to raise some of the money (minimum 10%) from another source, and you have to have realistic figures for audience repack (i.e. how many people you expect to see your work).

That’s how my first tour was funded; I had money from another organisation (maybe 20%) and I had (hilariously underestimated) attendance projections. I’ll do Project Grant’s again in the future, but for my latest live show, I wasn’t quite ready. I needed to develop a new approach first, which is why I applied to the DYCP programme late last year. That was a success, and I was able to develop a new live show, which opened in Birmingham in April this year. More on why I needed a new process another time.

This time, I’m digging a bit deeper into the process. I’m not going to give too much away about why I’ve applied a second time, but the proposal takes my work with the gloves in a new direction, and one I get asked about a lot. More on that soon. Feel free to guess in the comments.

But anyway. Writing funding bids is a difficult but necessary part of making art sustainable for a lot of people and organisations. I have a few strategies to share over a number of posts. But for now I wanted to give you my thoughts on the writing process itself.

I wouldn’t go as far as to call this a tip, and it’s certainly not a plug, but I find iA Writer really useful for this stuff. A couple of things:

  1. Focus mode. I can keep the line of text I’m writing in the centre of the screen. It’s a really distraction free way to write
  2. Dark Appearance. This is not for everyone, but I find typing white on black background much easier on the eyes and I can type way longer. Some people find it horribly distracting, YMMV.
  3. The killer feature: always visible stats. Especially character stats. The Arts Council Developing Your Creative Practice application portal has a maximum character count – not word count. iA Writer allows you to keep that stat visible at all times. Really useful when you have to hit a really succinct few points in very few characters.
iA Writer.

There are other free apps that do all of the above and more, but after a lot of time trying different things, this is the workflow for me. I’m finding it really useful for all writing too, so I’m gradually moving blogging and lyric writing (when not done in a trusty Moleskine) to here.

So that’s how I write a funding bid. Oh, and I use the Pomodoro Technique, and this one is nearly up. So I’ll save the rest of this thread for another time..!

Go Deep or Go Home.

It’s kind of a cliche to talk about creativity as an elusive thing. Terms like “Writer’s Block” validate our perception that inspiration can escape the gravity of our ambitions at any time. I’m less and less convinced that this is true.

It doesn’t follow that I am therefore inspired all of the time, sadly. Imagine! If I’d found the “cure” to writer’s block! And look at you; finding this blog post. Together, we’ve turned the key, and unlocked endless creativity. Sigh. It’s a nice thought. I’ve done almost nothing, except noticed a side door we can maybe squeeze through.

The sense, the essence, the flavour of creativity is a mindset. You know what focus feels like. In NLP, we might refer to it as a state. The internal “weather” of our emotional inner landscape is incredibly vivid when we feel creative. It may appear elusive, like it comes from nowhere, but we can kinda game it.

If you pay enough attention, you notice the things that get you in that kind of flow. Listening to really great music will reliable fire up my ego with enough “I wanna make something THIS good” enthusiasm. Finding quality work to inspire is easier than ever.

Of greater threat is distraction, which is (surprise surprise) easier than ever to find. Social media is gravitating further towards toxicity in many of our lives, and I’ve personally been slow to respond. Tellingly, I’ve noticed more and more great minds I admire are stepping away from the noise. Between Brexit, Trump, Inspo, and the endless chatter of not-much-at-all, there’s never been more information thrown at us more indiscriminately. It’s just noise. It seemed comedicly unrealistic when Marty McFly Jr sat down to watch 12 channels at once, but that’s literally the future we live in. As a minimum, we should be honest with ourselves about how bizarre and unhealthy our social media habits are.

My life is a little disjointed now. Kids bring endless joy, but seemingly endless responsibility. Three school runs chainsaw straight through my day, and any hope of working for hours and hours uninterrupted is long gone. But that’s just life. Most of us have reassuringly normal responsibilities, few of us can live the retreat life of the fictional artist. So that’s why it’s vital to keep that headspace intact. Keeping our creative internal weather conditions stable. I get yanked around by my schedule, but if I can stay in the right state, I can always pick up where I left off.

So I’m focusing on nurturing that space. Be ready. Be open. You don’t actually have to do anything. Thoughts think themselves. The clever bit, the real skill, is turning the volume down enough to hear them.