Archive for the Songwriting Challenge 2012 Category

Songwriting Challenge Week 13

Posted in Songwriting, Songwriting Challenge 2012 with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2012 by Gideon K

I still don’t know how good any of the recent stuff I’ve written has been. I don’t get the feeling that these have been songs that I will be singing year after year, or that people will ask me to play to them etc. Although I don’t want to judge these poor scabby babies just yet.

 

What I love about all this is the element of surprise involved. I had no idea any of these ideas were in there or that they were coming out. I had no idea they would exist until they did. It’s a nice contrast to a lot of my songs and how they’ve been written, which is that I’ll have an idea, a theme, or an image and from that point it’s a case of wearily carving away and sweating really heavily over them until they feel like they do justice to my inner feeling of what the ideal could be like. My point is, that once I have the image in my head, I have some idea, often a pretty good one, of what the end result will be, especially from a musical point of view and it’s just waiting til the lyrics sit right.

 

By contrast, all the things that have come out in the last month or so have been a complete surprise to me for the most part – and thus a pleasant one no matter how they come out. I just love feeling that I can surprise myself with what I do – it gives me a generous feeling of being touched by or touching, reaching out into the unknown, pulling something raw out of my subconscious. I’ve had that a lot recently, and all along from doing the morning pages, but here is something that has gone into songs. I hope it will continue.

 

This week I’ve been working on a song that was mostly a case of reportage of something that was happening between me and someone I know late one evening. (No, not that – for once). I was just trying to get the important details of what was taking place and why I felt it was both important, and resonant. This has been another song I’ve written lyrics first, and tried to find some melody and chords for it afterwards.

The advantage of this is that in this scenario the rhythmic flow of the words is able to suggest the structure of melody itself.

The disadvantage is that the fairly standard structure and meter of the words means the musical side of the song won’t be too original necessarily. But that’s fine, it will suit it as a late night folky/lullaby, gentle rain song that it wants to be.

 

All is going well, although I’m at another stage where I have far more song ideas than I have time to devote to them. My only hope is to dive into attempting to writing them as fully as I can in the moment they are conceived. If I can do this, and do it well, I will not only be able to capture a breathless spontaneity and possibly livelier aspects of the songs, but a whole new (for me) songwriting skill, talent, or tool.

 

Forcing myself out of my comfort zone.

 

Fingers crossed

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Songwriting Challenge Week 12

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

 

I spent most of Week 12 in Cornwall hanging out with a friend, recuperating, writing and reading. I wrote a song very quickly one morning from some rough lines I had in my notebook. They seemed to call out for me to do something with them, so it was just a 2-section, simple chord thing. Very minor, sad, gloomy. Very me. The whole thing still needs a bit of polishing but is essentially ready to go.

 

My friend Anna and I also wrote a song together with full chords, melody, structure etc, and made a start on a lyrical theme but have not crystallised that last part yet. We were trying to get some kind of underworld, transvestite gangster subplot into the lyrics of a 3-4 minute pop song and have not got it tailored to fit yet.

It was great fun doing it though, and quick. It worked so well and fluidly I think because neither of us was saying ‘no’ to anything, always accepting each other’s ideas and adding to them. Or, one of us would give to 2 choices as to where we could take it, the other would choose and off we went, always keeping with the playful, experimental side, allowing the whackier ideas to play out and show their usefulness. It’s a catchy little number too.

I’m looking forward to finishing the song and doing more collaborations soon.

 

So, at the end of 3 months in, it turns out I have 5-7 songs finished, depending on how far along or how happy I am with them. I plan on having some rough demos of things up soon.

 

There’s also a hell of a lot more work to do on unfinished stuff. The key is to keep doing it. I can already feel a difference in how I approach songs.

More importantly, I feel like I’m not quite there yet. I can feel myself in mid-air if you will, and where I land will be quite different.

I’m at a stage where some things are happening now very quickly although very nebulously, so I get a finished piece but it seems cloudy, misshapen. I don’t really have any idea what it is, but I celebrate because I AM creating. It is my job to create and not to judge – at least that’s the received Artist Way wisdom on the subject.

 

I also sense instinctively that it is only the beginning, and that I have to keep it up and it will really go somewhere. The writing will improve as I go along and find myself within this different context of working. I am slowly shifting my efforts from the excruciatingly involved method of writing I have used where a songs can take months even years to develop – the results of which I’m very happy with – I just need change and variety as well as wider knowledge.  I still have that patience to not call things finished until they are, and they meet certain standards, but I’m also exploring much more the spontaneous side and trying to combine the two, just experimenting.

 

 

Songwriting Challenge Week 11

Posted in Songwriting, Songwriting Challenge 2012 with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 14, 2012 by Gideon K
Ajax the dog - Photo courtesy of RecordProduction.com

Ajax the dog – Photo courtesy of RecordProduction.com

I tried a ‘new’ approach I’d been meaning to have a go at for ages. Start with a riff or anything and play it into the computer, then listen back, sing over it, or add another bit – let it all unfold piece by piece.

One advantage to this is that my conscious capacity is not burdened with trying to remember all the various ideas I had for it of where it could go and so on, I just lay them all down, react to them, rearrange them and play with them, put new ones down, adding and subtracting as I go – jamming with the software program essentially.

Another advantage is in the case of editing, speed and immediacy of cut n paste, instant arranging etc – far easier to work with in this capacity than tape. With this method I felt like I was working with an army of me as I could instantly react and come up with new parts and ideas.

What started as a 2 chord thing, got twisted into a weird bunch of rock riffs and lyrics about labs, pavlovian dogs, and ghosts. I still don’t really know what the song means exactly, or if it means anything at all, but there was a sort of insistent rhythm to how it came out.

I seem to recall something Bob Dylan said about songs being strange gifts of the spirits – they come and give you these songs, and then they go, and you don’t know what the songs mean, but there they are. I was trying to respect that aspect and feel that. It seemed to resonate. I didn’t want to feel like I was killing that mystical side off by trying to pin down all these words that just came, by insisting they made sense to me. I think that may have been a mark of restraint on my part.

Time will tell.

As I said I had avoided this approach, partially because I’ve always tried to avoid going anywhere near recording a song until it was ‘finished’. But part of this challenge, and my general quest is to find out where things work and don’t work, by trying things out for myself.

In a way I can’t believe I’d never used this process for actually writing songs until now, given that I often use similar trial and error processes for arranging song demos at home.

Whenever I ran out of juice I just stopped and picked it up again later or the next day. This approach seems a lot more fun, and rewarding for me than sitting down with an acoustic guitar alone to write a song – which I often find quite boring. My ‘successful’ attempts at that have all started long before I actually pick up the guitar itself.

Anyway, the train keeps rolling…

Songwriting Challenge Week 10

Posted in Creativity, Songwriting Challenge 2012 with tags , , , , , , , on May 14, 2012 by Gideon K

I know I haven’t been good at keeping this blog on a weekly basis, but they seem to go by with so much happening and I’ve been working hard trying to get all my writing done…

 

I’ll try and summarise as best I can.

 

I didn’t get much done as I was concentrating on mixing and trying to finish my EP to a satisfactory degree, and spent the weekend in the countryside with a friend I hadn’t seen for 5 years, so no writing got done then.

 

Regarding this idea of hard work, I thought I’d include a quote from James Ellroy’s brilliant ‘L.A. Confidential’ which I’ve just finished reading. It was a stupendously captivating and immersive reading experience. I had great difficulty putting it down at all.

 

‘I’m working hard at it.’

‘Work harder. Good efforts are for schoolboys, results are what counts. Go to it, gentlemen.’

 

The character who said it was a bastard – most of them are, but he had a point.

 

Also, I saw an excellent talk by the mighty John Cleese about creativity which is highly recommended, and I have been following his 90 min guideline since. This video is pretty much a must-see.

 

 

I have made a start at recording presentable basic demos of the songs I have accumulated on this challenge so far and will be putting them up on my soundcloud page soon. I decided enough paying lip-service to it all, it is time to actually display some of it for proof.

 

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.

 

 

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….

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.