It didn’t sound like my kind of thing at all, but at the start of this year I thought I’d give the Bullet Journal thing a try. It’s *really* revolutionised my life and work. I couldn’t imagine a notebook and pen replacing apps like OmniFocus and OneNote, but the analogue process is why it works. Music making in the digital age requires so much screen time, it’s really important for me to reflect and collect my ideas away from a computer. There’s apps for that, but I now think organising your life on a device that is designed to distract you is a contradiction. Putting the smartphone down and picking up a pen and paper *really* focuses and refines your ideas. Two caveats: it takes practice – I spent 6 months refining my process. And that’s the other thing; you have to make it yours. But that’s the genius of the system; it’s enough of a framework to build your own system on top. This is my second BuJo; I’m so glad I hopped on the BuJo bandwagon. It’s making me a better musician, a better human even.
It didn’t sound like my kind of thing at all, but at the start of this year I thought I’d give the Bullet Journal thing a try. It’s *really* revolutionised my life and work. I couldn’t imagine a notebook and pen replacing apps like OmniFocus and OneNote, but the analogue process is why it works. Music making in the digital requires so much screen time, it’s really important for me to reflect and collect my ideas away from a computer. There’s apps for that, but I now think organising your life on a device that is designed to distract you is a contradiction. Putting the smartphone down and picking up a pen and paper *really* focuses and refines your ideas. Two caveats: it takes practice – I spent 6 months refining my process. And that’s the other thing; you have to make it yours. But that’s the genius of the system; it’s enough of a framework to build your own system on top. This is my second BuJo; I’m so glad I hopped on the BuJo bandwagon. It’s making me a better musician, a better human even.
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?
Here’s a version of Hand At Emotion I shot earlier today. This is as I wrote it – long before the gloves were a thing…
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Just a simple tweak to this today. I’ve added some pretty chuggy chords w/ a 7-String, and a cool little chorus pedaled arpeggio. It’s evolving; it feels like the scenery is in place now, next it needs vocals, structure… to become a song, basically.
It starts by not thinking. If I sat down and tried to think up a lyric, I’d look like a dog being shown a card trick. Blankest of blank expressions.
My approach to lyrics is just to capture enough stillness of mind that whatever words are there (and they’re always there) can come into focus. It’s an exercise in listening to your subconscious, and it starts with a quiet mind.
Around the age of 14 I discover R.E.M. and my ideas of songwriting were twisted around. This surreal language that Michael Stipe sang in, personal yet distant, felt like a puzzle of the heart. I wanted to unravel the stories, and I learned more of who I was as I did so. This is long before the internet was reliably a thing, but I did manage to find lyric sheets via the school’s library computer, and slowly complied a songbook of lyrics. I poured over them, and they informed my approach.
I read somewhere that Stipe saw sleep deprivation as a technique, so of course, I explored that. Not a healthy place to go when your dealing with a lot of mental health issues, but I went there and found the sweet spot. In that weird fog of tiredness, I could pour lyrics for days.
As I matured I realised that I didn’t need to push myself so far to the edges of my wellbeing. Quietening the noise of the conscious mind’s endless narrative was enough. I dabbled in Buddhist meditation on my spiritual cherry picking journeys (another post, another time) and I got a vague grasp of my mind.
I’ve let it slip many times, but when I’m writing lyrics, that’s the space I need to be in. Quiet enough, still enough. Then, I write. I don’t analyse anything. I don’t question it; whatever flows, flows. No, it’s not all good.
There’s normally a lot of it. There’s loads of clunky lines. Maybe I’ll come up with one interesting line in 50. Making a conscious decision to focus on a subject a little definitely yields more robust results. I have books and books of stuff that doesn’t read as if it’s about anything. Gentle direction is useful, the trick is not to steer it. I just listen.
I plucked one out of the archive to share here. I wrote this in the lat couple of weeks; subject matter is obvious enough. There’s a few nice images, maybe it’ll grow up to be a song. Maybe it won’t.
Shaping them into songs is a whole other process. I’ll follow up on that soon. Tl;DR – it’s slow work.
What excites me about this still is that imagination is always bubbling, always ready. There’s always something to be said. You just have to be quiet enough to hear it.
It’s a game of two halves. The scene is set when I bring into focus the right kind of electronic elements with the right kind of live elements. So what are the right elements?
As I mentioned recently, my refocusing of electronic sounds comes from revisiting the world of synth based music I grew up hearing. I can always get emotional about that stuff. And emotional it’s supposed to be. The problem with most of the music I’ve made that I haven’t released – of which there is a lot – is that it’s music of the head. It’s not moving me, it’s only intriguing me. But to commit to anything long enough to see it through, you have to love it.
One of the new songs is called A Generous Breath. I’ve been building the electronic sounds today. I’m not sure I’ve got anywhere, but shipping often means sharing it now. This feels like a digital skeleton that I’ll add muscular riffs to.
The aesthetic is coming into focus, and that’s the key thing. I think about how it “looks” in my mind; I’m applying my art college thinking here. Does it conjure up the images I want it to? As a matter of discipline, I’m trying to lean more heavily on my visual imagination to make sounds. To be continued.
Fair warning: it’s just a bag of ideas, and it will change dramatically I’m sure. Still, it feels good to share *something* nevertheless.
Patrons will know this one. I was making a collection of new songs (“album” doesn’t quite sound right), which there was a series of behind the scenes webisodes made for. I’ll add those here soon, but this is Chapter 2 of that making of.
I put the idea to bed for a bit, partly because I was busy with live stuff, partly because I’d lost connection with it. But, it would be a great thing to finish off, so I’m picking it up. Dusting it off. It sounds awkward, and a little ugly. It lacks focus. But the stories it tells are worth telling.
So this is the Captain’s Log. Written word this time around. I’m not sure how useful all that footage of me sitting in a room is. Log II is this, me picking it back up. Log I as it’s now referred to is the series of videos in the Patreon. I will try and ship often, as the modern way. Snapshots of audio, images. It’s an open, unfinished book.