Archive for April, 2012

Songwriting Challenge Week 9

Posted in Songwriting, Songwriting Challenge 2012 with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2012 by Gideon K

The last slump is over (for now) and has been replaced by a renewed sense of possibility.

 

I finished an old song I had lying around that I had chords, structure and a melody for, but could never manage to get words for that did it justice. It always felt trite, corny, twee – like a kid with his pants round his ankles.

This time I think I managed to distil a little bit of wine and some suburban country sadness in there. I finished it but I’m still not feeling it. Maybe it was just one of those things where you have to write to get it clear and on with the next thing. Maybe I just left it too long since the initial idea and I’m just a different person now.

 

I tried writing one of the days this week, the day I finished the song in fact, by setting up a mic, picking up the guitar and just trying to play my way through unfinished songs – remembering the memorable lyrics, making up the rest as I went along, going with feel and momentum. It wasn’t exactly 100% gold but it dragged up some interesting stuff. When you’re forced to react, it can be a lot nicer than sitting around scratching your chin for clever lyrics, and when re-examining half-finished older stuff certainly cuts through to which bits are memorable and which are not.

 

I’ve been reading ‘Flow’ by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and have had a lot of personal thoughts and experiences that fit with what is being said. Just looking at the diagram below has made me realize a few things about how I’ve been approaching music and how to maintain focus.

 

 

Problems arise for one of two reasons:

1)      I’m attempting too many things at once, or something overly ambitious – resulting in anxiety

2)      I set tasks that are not engaging, exciting or challenging enough – resulting in boredom.

 

When challenge and skill are adequately matched, heavens collide and Lord, I am changed.

…and songs get finished.

 

One of the ideas that has been playing heavily on my mind is to do with my not setting specific defined challenges, targets and rules for each song I’ve been working on, which in turn hampers progress because there are too many variables to explore. Not knowing what the goal is, I become anxious about my lack of ability to write and am left bewildered. I need to be clearer with my targets, intentions and so forth.

 

I don’t think as human beings any scenario without rules can be fun or enjoyable or even meaningful to anyone participating within. At least I can’t think of any.

 

There are many ways I can avoid doing either of these things, I just need to remember that when I’m in trouble it is because one of these to extremes is occurring and I must devise some way of resolving it.

 

I’ve also had a cleared a number of blocks I hadn’t noticed. I should’ve taken my own advice earlier given that I’ve already written a post about ‘clearing the deck’.

I’ve been doodling away writing poetry, prose based ramblings these past few months with relatively intense frequency for something I do as and when the mood or idea takes me – like a hobby almost. However, I had neglected to sort them or do the 2nd drafts and editing that is much needed if any of it is to be worthwhile or fit for public consumption.

On attempting a full-scale clear-out and tidy up of this raw stuff I’ve been encouraged that some of the work is decent, or at least there is some seed there and have decided to set aside some time to the honing of this particular craft and attempting to ‘perform’ some of it by putting together a spoken word set.

 

I’m very excited.

 

 

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Songwriting Challenge Weeks 5, 6, 7, 8

Posted in Songwriting, Songwriting Challenge 2012 with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2012 by Gideon K

Hello, I’ve been gone a little while but it sure is good to see you again.

Where to begin?

Firstly I suppose I should fess up to the reasons for my lack of posting and keeping pace with my self-imposed deadlines for this challenge.

Apart from having various external constraints such as trying to finish my EP which has been filled with various time-consuming tasks and hassles, the details of which I won’t bore you with, I’ve generally just not been feeling it. I’ve been in a weird blue funk for pretty much the whole of last month without knowing why.

Now, the whole point of the challenge and of writing on command and so forth is to be able to avoid being susceptible to such periods, to maintain consistency and movement regardless of internal weather patterns. Insofar as showing up, working on songs, writing, toying with the word/chord/melody is concerned, I have put the time in. I have shown up, written some songs, finished some, failed to finish others.

I’ve been recording, singing, even played an industry showcase that I’m told went down pretty well, but throughout this whole time I’ve been feeling hollowed out, like I’ve been running on empty.

It’s strange – I had a notion before I started blogging, that doing something online/in public should make you more accountable in some way to keeping track of deadlines etc, but really it got to the point where I just don’t care. The work counts and that’s it. I’m sure if I had people banging at my door or ringing me up demanding how many songs I’d written that day/week/month, my reality might be different, but it’s not like that. This is all primarily dictated by me in the cultural and social vacuum of my own imagination.

The general creative pattern for each of the 4 weeks in question was:

–          An attempt to finish an older song that I’d built up in my mind as important than others and thus ground progress to a halt. Chipped away at said song, but did not get to the finishing stretch.

–          Unrelatedly (and unconsciously) wrote an impulsive quick song about something or other that had been on my mind that week. Had a luke-warm feeling of finishing something, but did not feel impressed by it and did not play with it further to refine it or make something better.

–          Generally felt a bit crap and powerless regarding both my failure to come up trumps, and my lack of mojo or clear vision regarding where the writing is going.

Week 5

Attempted an old song,  then realized why I hadn’t finished it back when I started it. I was approaching the song from a One-dimensional perspective and needed to take it somewhere or let it take me. Dylan refers to a lot of songs of his as having been written because of an image in his head. I had the image in my head, and the memory. I’d just been wrongly interpreting what the image meant. Did not finish that song though.

Week 6

Similar story. I attended a Comedy Improv workshop. One of the many valuable creative tools that was brought up was a game I’m now a huge fan of called ‘Yes, and…’. The idea of it as an exercise is that collaboration works by accepting as a gift anything that your collaborators have to offer (and you can expand this to anything that happens in life), this is the ‘yes’ part. You say ‘yes’ to it, then you say ‘and’ by adding something to the picture, and take turns in doing this.

ie

“Let’s go for a walk”

“Yes, and let’s get some ice cream”

“Yes, and lets go to the park and throw things at the ducks”

“Yes and lets scare little children by making bear sounds at them as they run past…” etc etc

I really clicked and had good creative rapport with a girl I met there. We were chatting online a day or so later and she suggested we write a song. I suggested we do so then and there, so we ended up writing a song in the space of around half an hour – two different versions of the same thing. It was insane fun, although really we need to get together and finish it.

Since reading ‘The Craft and Business of Songwriting’ by John Braheny, I have wanted and tried implementing a ‘No-free zone’ in both my own space and in any group or band spaces I’ve been in, with varying degrees of success or acceptance. I keep trying though.

Week 7

At some point I had the notion of trying to rationalize all the various scribbling I had made during the previous few weeks since completing the last song – a list of all the started songs and worked on numbers, and another list of all the various poems I’ve been writing. The list was not insignificant. It seems I have been very good at catching that initial glimpse of an idea but not developing it all the way.

I have a number of songs that could become finished but I have been worn out. Until I wrote the list down it felt like I had not done very much work at all. My muse knows I haven’t been getting down to the heavy lifting yet but frankly I have been burnt out. I’ve been trying to lavish myself with inspiration but I’ve just been tired – mood swings a plenty, really bitter down-ness and general malaise. It’s strange, because I’ve been reading really good books that I’ve enjoyed, and listening to a lot more music.

Recording the EP I’ve felt exhausted during and before it has been finished, which is not good, but although it has been a struggle, it has gone well.

Week 8

I was not even consciously bothering at this point and decided to have as much of a week off as I could. I went out for dinner 3 or 4 nights that week, watched lots of Twin Peaks episodes, listened to lots of different music, did some exercise, and generally tried to do something else, because nothing was working with me at this point. I was a wound up toy-car bumping into the same wall whichever direction I faced. I wasn’t even sure why. I was very frustrated and most likely a pain to be around. Somehow I still wrote things down and toyed with ideas despite myself.

I’ve said it before, but I don’t find myself motivated too much by the idea of songs for the sake of songs. I want my songs to be useful. Art is a means to an end, or should have an element of that just as much as it exists for it’s own sake. I don’t mean I would write a song to try and clear greenhouse gases or something like that, but celebration, dancing, introspection, are all intentions regarding some of the effects of art. It might be that even with that target in mind, the merits of a song or piece of work might just be that it is enjoyable in and of itself, but I need some ‘higher’ goal to motivate me, and recently this has been somewhat missing. Oscar Wilde might disagree strongly on this point, but I can live with that.

However, I knew this was all part of some sort of growing pain and transition and that more fields of glory lay on the other side of this if I could only get to the bottom of what was not working.

“When problems arise in my life, I know I need to work on my art.” –  I think Julia Cameron said that.

“When problems arise in my art, I know I need to work on my life.” – I said that.

And true enough I turned a corner on all this big blue funk in Week 9….