Archive for March, 2012

Songwriting Challenge Week 4

Posted in Songwriting, Songwriting Challenge 2012 with tags , , , , , , , , on March 21, 2012 by Gideon K

I just finished reading Anthony Kiedis’s autobiography ‘Scar Tissue’. I have ‘a thing’ about biographies, especially if they’re of musicians and strangely almost more so if they’ve had fucked up lives. A kind of voyeuristic curiosity perhaps?

I digress.

Being an addict he talks a lot about the 12-Step recovery program, and as I was reading the end of the book, it occurred to me that I need to start doing morning pages again.

He was talking about with 12 step how you can’t do 7/10 of the work and expect to get 7/10 results. You have to be 100% committed. This rang a bell because with the artist’s way, I can see it as highly analogous to the 12 step model (in as much as I know about it) – it is a 12 week course covering 12 different stages of ‘artistic recovery’. To me it has always been about furthering my creativity, refining it, maximising it, purifying it even.

In many ways this challenge I’m doing now is a continuation in this spirit. I’m at my happiest when I am engaged with something, challenged and growing. I don’t like it too easy – does anyone really?

I’ve not done the pages too often recently. I do still do them once or even twice a week as a cleansing ritual to de-clutteringmy mind, but I’ve not been as engaged with it. When it came to this challenge, I had this notion about 2 weeks in, that every 4 weeks I would give myself a check-in to look at which behaviours, rituals techniques were being effective for me and my creativity, and which ones weren’t.

So when I got round to it, I was reminded of meditating and the realisation I had to use writing pages everyday. It got me that writing everyday had something going for it, and in fact one of the songs I finished during this challenge so far was born out of the song pages period a while back. I realised a way forward that I will be trying.

Each day, upon rising, after washing and eating, I will sit and do morning pages do a 5 min writing warm up (thanks to Jon Sands and Ken Arkind, whose recent London poetry workshop I got this, and much, much more from) followed by at least one page worth of lyric writing.

Some weeks will go easily, but this doesn’t mean I get to slack off and take the rest of the week off when the song is done because some other weeks will be very hard indeed. I have to fill the page with words no matter what, regardless of whether I’ve finished a song that week or not. This will be a way of levelling them out hopefully and trying to give myself some lee-way.

There is a possibility in all this that these rituals are all nothing, or are a placebo to get me to write or trick myself into thinking I can. It might be the case that it’s never up to us and sometimes no matter where we plant seeds it just won’t rain.

But I’m ok with a placebo if the patient gets better.

Regarding the songwriting (which is, like, supposed to be the point of all this…) I did not get the song finished.

I picked a rock song I had most of the musical structure for and some vague idea of what the lyrics were about and spent ages toying with it, digging into the lyrical possibilities, throwing it into situations that demanded a response etc.

I finally found a way of looking at the song and its intention that was useful to me. When I think of a song I have, there is usually an overriding image in my head. I’ve heard Bob Dylan discuss this too.

 

“These aren’t contrived images. These are images which are just in there and have got to come out. You know, if it’s in there it’s got to come out.” – Bob Dylan

In my head, when I thought of this song I was playing, it was either in a small dimly lit room with the two protagonists talking to each other, or the image was live at a show, and an audience. Not a band looking at or playing to an audience, just the audience itself.

It took me the better part of a week to realize that I was supposed to be writing something that an audience could put themselves IN, rather than something to sing TO them.

It’s still foggy. I will have to revisit it again. When I have some coins to put in the jukebox instead of just tapping the screen.

I was talking to someone about this challenge I’ve given myself and was told “Shouldn’t force art. It’ll show through if you do”. I agree entirely, which is why I haven’t finished a song this week.

What I’m trying to figure out with this is whether I can prompt the parts that make the work flow, and create ways of allowing creativity to flow better. I have no intention of forcing anything. My job is to show up and give as much as I can to get the song done.

Sometimes that isn’t enough to get it done quickly.

I’m okay with that.

I’ll find a way to make up for it.

 

 

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Songwriting Challenge Week 3

Posted in Songwriting, Songwriting Challenge 2012 with tags , , , , , , , on March 7, 2012 by Gideon K

This week has been another partial eye-opener. Thankfully.

I started out with an artistic hangover and itchy pen scrabbling to finish the unfinished business of last week’s song. I had figured that I was going somewhere with the last song and that despite the deadline having been crossed, I should stick with the goal and get it finished.

It didn’t work out that way.

I had a few more glimpses at the overall picture of the song but it has not gotten any closer to me. I have at least cut out a fair bit of what was the excess of the song, and have been finding out that which is elemental about it.

If I’m singing a song I’ve just been writing, and I can’t remember the words, or which phrases go where, it’s usually because they aren’t that good in the first place. There are certain phrases that stuck out right from the beginning and have stayed in the song, because they work, they fit and are memorable. The song can be a bit like a jigsaw puzzle at times, although you’re trying to complete the puzzle while riding an elephant’s back and having a crowd of hooded, cloaked strangers on either side shouting at you and throwing pieces of the puzzle at you. Some of the pieces belong to the puzzle, some do not, some pieces are very nice but do not belong to this puzzle. It’s not always easy. It is often interesting at least, if arduous at times.

The best lyrics to songs are ones that I can write and then go and sing straight away, or come out and get written down after I have just sung them. I have a good deal of the song from week two like that, but I realised I should be looking to other songs that need their own bit of attention. I’ve made some kind of peace with this winter song and realise that as long as I’m not going anywhere, it won’t either.

It will come when it’s ready, or when I am.

In the meantime I received a blessing of sorts. The song I’d been working on put me in mind of an earlier song I had been working on at different points in the last year or two, but never quite felt I had the whole thing in the bag, or that I’d tied the various pockets of clarity together.

One morning this past week however, I woke up thinking about the song. In the spirit of the challenge I went to the appropriate song file and pulled out all the worksheets I’d accumulated for it (it pays to be organised) and went to work on it.

The force was with me that day – I finished it in under an hour. Cut out anything that I felt wasn’t vital to the characters and the story, and assembled it like puzzle pieces, like a recipe I was cooking and there it was.

It was one of those beautiful moments when you get lucky.

I say ‘Lucky’ because it’s a spirit that you sometimes channel. I did put in a LOT of work into the piece over the past, but sometimes moments of clarity and power hit you and they ride you just as much as you ride them. When something really powerful happens it is bigger than you, and like Neil Young says “You don’t own that”.

(check out this clip and Neil talking about ‘the essence’)

Now I’m looking forward to the next week, and think it’s time for something a little more RAWK.

Hold onto your helmets people.

Songwriting Challenge Week 2

Posted in Songwriting, Songwriting Challenge 2012 with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2012 by Gideon K

(I’ve been behind on the blog front. I’ve just started Week 4. Always running after myself…)

Week 2 did not exactly go to plan, but I embrace that fully. The gods piss on our plans, and that’s when things get interesting.

I had a tough week in terms of the writing. I was really busting on myself to get this song done. There has been a sense of urgency to it that is greater than simply the pressure/excitement/fear of the challenge, because the song I have been working on is a winter song, and this week has made me increasingly aware of how little time there is left on that clock to get it done before the weather, environment etc becomes inconducive to the song. Not that that should stop me.

I also had this idea that I should get the song finished while I am riding this particular state of mind I’ve been in, which I won’t go into, but it relates to the song. Get it done before I change and can’t access that state anymore. I’m not sure that way of thinking is not folly though.

The song started out a little while ago as simple two chords with a little 7th – 6th melody thing going on. It sounded like that period between Christmas and new years eve to me and I had to get it down, or out.

I spent a lot of time working on the song, chipping away at it from as many angles as possible and working on the chords. It has been a big juggling act following one bit of instinct on from another, because as soon as I got a line I would realise that the chords needed to go a bit differently etc. I spent hours playing with it and twisting it around, trying to find where it was.

It’s hard writing this. I haven’t finished the song. The thoughts are disjointed and I’m partly suspicious of writing about the whole process – it can be crippling and disturbing to the flow to do so. I’ve also been reading and listening to a lot of recent Leonard Cohen interviews and he is VERY suspicious and cautious about discussing the so-called mechanics of writing. Doing so can stop you from writing another word ever again…

So like I said, the song isn’t finished yet. It keeps shifting and crawling forwards, saying that it isn’t quite ready. I’ve made peace with that for now I think, just like when I thought that I might not get it finished in time for the week’s deadline. I threw my hands in the air –  you can only work so hard on something without burning yourself out. Falling asleep in a pile of song sheets and a instruments makes me think I’m doing ok-ish at holding up my end.

There have been several points this last week where I have felt like the song has been getting away from me because I had been grabbing for it. But there have also been moments when persistence and sitting with it thinking “what now? Well, I’ll try and write the lyrics from beginning to end. Ok, now what? Sing em along with the chords” and by doing so I realise which bit doesn’t work.

It’s a strange balance this challenge. The goal is to reveal through trial and error, writing, and bringing the songs through the birth canal, which aspects can be prompted (I don’t want to say forced) by being persistent, and which ones are out of your control and should not be forced. I don’t have an answer. Maybe I never will.

But I’m still crawling down the tunnel, and I’m learning something, even if I can’t quite tell you what that is.

Where does this leave me with the challenge?

I’ve had a lot more ideas for other songs to do though so we’ll see how things pan out from here. One thing I’ve realised though is that whatever goals you have, the fact that YOU have them means you can achieve them. You can do what you set out to do, mostly.

That part is not romanticising or dreaming. It’s just the bit they don’t tell you is how long it can take to do these things, or that you will be a changed person by the time you get to that point. That’s what you can’t predict – what it will cost you to do it. It may be more or it may be less than what it would cost you NOT to do it, but either way you pay.

It’s the lessons you learn on the way there, in between the cracks of the places you thought you’d be going to, that you spend some of your life juice being taught, shown and told.

Whether you want to or not.

You can look back over a year and say “well, I’ve done that thing I set out to do, but I didn’t know it would be this time before I’d be able to say that or that I’d be this person because of it”. But that’s how it can happen.

So where does this leave me with the challenge?

It leaves me to keep going. You don’t stay down with the first hurdle, or any of them. First week went like I hoped, second week less so.

Bring on the third.

(Cue rousing, motivational, and heroic strings. Cue our hero riding a pure white steed off into the sunset, mullet blowing freshly in the wind, off to seek new adventure, to right wrongs, and to challenge injustice wherever it may be found…)