I have had a nice break from blogging and this for several reasons has given me chance to work through this entry. Sometimes just having an opinion can cause quite an unexpected stir and i have certainly been entertained the last few weeks seeing all kinds of counter attacks and some lower base movements over what is, just one guy sharing ideas and thoughts. So without further ado, i want to broach the dark and sometimes unloving world of inspiration and ideas and underline this with the reminder, this is just MY take on music, the industry and how it has affected me. Some of you MIGHT find some elements useful. To either disagree with and know full well your method is better for you, or it may add a piece or two into your own melting pot.
I do write a lot of music. Ill state the obvious for some of you here but yes i admit i have always felt really driven to try as many new styles as i can, and to fear nothing. To the point where sometimes it plainly just doesn’t work at all. I mean, no ones perfect right?? Far be it from me to even suggest im a composer who has crept near a state of perfection! cos that’s as far from the truth as it can get. But lets start with how it makes you feel to write music.
When you delve into your earliest memories of listening to music and then your first ever jams to your fave record, you might recall that fearless naive sense of exploration you once had.When your learning, and you have zero expectations, its probably the safest period of your musical life and the most adventurous and giving period too. You have no state of mind of looking for success or a gig. Your not comparing yourself or judging what you do. In fact self doubt in this formative stage is non existent. Its just FUN. You jam, maybe gig with a local band, you pick up instruments you can make sound truly hideous, and you give everything a go.
This for me is a feeling i try and latch onto when im writing now. From the age of around 13 i guess and im 38 as i type this. I try to remember that music is precious to me on my own terms without critical worry and scathing reviews, or judgement from anyone suggesting it simply isnt your best, or your work is selling out and hitting it low. I have written dozens upon dozens of product demos and during this time ill be honest and say they weren’t all great. Some of those tracks are so experimental and a bit out there, that some of the content would be tough to digest. But the important part is, i didn’t care of no one loved them. I just think its ok to be that kind of writer. To not be beating yourself up over a weird avant garde mentality in pushing for new ideas and sounds. It was ok when i was a kid, and its ok right now.
If you always second guess new ideas and new inspiration and bag it, shelve it before its even begun, then its no wonder you feel limited. You keep screwing the lid tighter and tighter each time so a piece of you doesn’t emerge and if you start developing an over critical view of all you create, then trying to write at larger volumes will become a pointless and most def fruitless pursuit.
I would happily find a specific thing i want to do, be it a genre style or mood i want to invoke, and write 20 cues one after the other to start finding that sweet spot. A familiarity and warmth. Like its a new home to you, and then writing more and more ideas for me personally, comes easier than just feeling so alienated in a new style. You can spend weeks over 8 bars and sweat for the art and all power to you. I would certainly never suggest that someone who has the liberty and freedom to spend weeks per track is the bad guy. But life and your career needs a balance between how much time you can actually spend and what your trying to achieve.
Im fully aware that if i take a year out to explore a life long project , i wont be paying any bills during this time. We have no home and our small family would starve. So until i can do this, writing larger and faster is a survival tool for me, but also a valuable tool for growing new skills and developing instead of being stale and a one trick pony.
So how do you find inspiration for yourself?? What works for you??
Its always a highly subjective thing but i enjoy asking this question and i have hijacked lots of peoples methods for getting a release and learn to explore with greater yield and enjoy the down time in order to recharge and digest new things. The things i have heard and taken onboard i actually use in a juxtapose. And my favourite is this.
“Only listen to what you have done, what you want to do and stay original”.
This first part i do have a big interest in and it is something i can relate to. You can sometimes under estimate how completely brilliant your brain is. We assume that its all quite short term and secular. That we only take in what we focus on and study. But we all know this not to be true. As creatives we are aware that a life time, from birth to present day, we are absorbing every single sound that our ears detect.As i type this, a perfectly awful modern pop song is playing behind me in an ad break. Will i remember all the lyrics and chord progressions??? well i hope not!, but chances are its up there and its filed away without me knowing it may have some value later on.
Being true to your own exploration is def an undiluted affair. It makes you feel at the very least, like you are raiding your mental catalog for things that mean something ‘to you’.At that point, the only person rolling there eyes and questioning, is just you. I also find all manner of retro spective listening to your older works a huge benefit. The forgotten tricks you left behind cos you just didnt see the value or the beauty in what you do.When you distance your ears from your music for even a few weeks, a re listen can show you places you need to goto. It helps you learn faster and it also keeps the inspiration and idea factory fueled and the fires still burn.
“You only listen to the work of your favourite composers,bands and songwriters”
This is the counter argument, except no ones actually disagreeing. Whether you chose to sit and study great music from others or not, as i said above, your taking in a huge volume of ideas and little sparks of new ones to come.It can help you a great deal for a myriad of reasons. One i find a productive boost for me is listening to certain types of music to understand arrangement better.Maybe pic up some new thoughts for production value. Some times you just get a idea from almost nowhere at all.So subtle can the suggestion be, you hear one train of thought, one snippet, and you have a whole new idea from this morsel.
I heard a track the other day by a great composer. He had used an electric piano to build up a sense of pace and also a organic feel in the mood. Now i pretty much raced to my DAW and its important to highlight the following. I then started riffing some ideas but at no point did i TRY and rip the original, nor was i interested in the mood and story of that piece. Its great but not where i need to go.But it gave me a small subtle starting point to head in a new place. Working with some cool delays and time sigs, the tiny reference to the cue i had was long passed but what emerged was a pretty good idea.
Its not stealing, its not ripping other peoples property. Its just trusting your instincts. You can find inspiration in so many ways when you hear other people writing their best. I get a huge buzz when i stroll through the hard drive and start loading up some pretty bizarre patches and libraries i had long forgotten. Just giving them a play through and in minutes, that sound you had written off as “never gonna be helpful, like ever in the history of my career”, now becomes the focal point of a new cue.
It doesn’t matter how bad you think a writing session can be, as i have said, no one at that point is hearing your work and your view point is skewed by self doubts. You spent an hour playing John Williams scores and now all your noodlings feel flat! Well thats got bad idea written all over it hasn’t it. Stop comparing. How many times have you played through some new music and thought, this is all great production – wise, but i dont feel the emotion or where im going with it. Yet you can hit up other new tracks and you hear a much more understated arrangement with less bells and whistles, and just a 100 times more emotion and richness.Dont confuse listening to other types of music and composers with making comparisons. One road leads to complete doubt and worry and the other leads to some liberation and fire in your belly. I dont actively listen and think “my god that guy is just so much better at writing this kind of music”, i just feel like i have seen some new ways to adopt that for myself and self teach. Negativity in others is the biggest stone around your neck. When you kick jealousy out of the equation and just replace it with a hunger and interest to move forward, thats a healthy kind of envy and can create a positive surge.
So i do find both schools of thought a winner but in moderation and when you need to draw more from totally different people or to delve back inside the huge catalog of sound that is your mind, and dare to pull something out, whether you immediately recognise it as of great value or not.
Inspiration does tend to strike when you give it room to move. If you watch and listen to the behaviour of any child, you will see that from the age they can walk and talk and form sentences, they are already trying things for the first time. A small mind that isnt carrying around any worries about household bills, meetings, trying to catch the train, did i file all my taxes correctly? etc, They have a nice blank page to work with and a big handful of crayons. And despite the Jackson Pollock nature of their ideas and artwork, its still an expression without limitation. As you grow older, that space you have becomes filled with worry and responsibility and its a big shame we have to see this in our kids. We need to them to grow and be aware, but at the same time, your engaging emotion, and head space. The frontal head thinking that enables us to walk and talk, have an mp3 on our ears, clutching a paper in one hand, a umbrella in the other, already doing “mental math” over how your day will go and what you need to accomplish.
Children don’t do this. They simply are taught to take on so much responsibility, it absorbs all that frontal and immediate space. So this leads me onto the simple mechanisms i have used and many of my friends have told me to adopt. Taking breaks!!!! Its ok if your a one man machine on a mission to rule the roost and succeed, hurling cue after cue over your shoulder, but with no pauses or ‘jolts’, that head space we treasure, it becomes cluttered to breaking point.
Its pretty much a bottle neck and all the daily woes and struggles are just filling up that space allowing none of the long term magic to pass by. Those collected scraps of audio, the pictures in your mind, heart felt memories, the experimental moments of insanity, are all sitting behind a wall of daily fears and struggles.
So the jolt to unblock this can be as simple as a walk through a park. It can be going out for a drink and just laughing your head off till it hurts and tears fill your eyes, It can be something of such an intense focused nature, their isnt any place for clutter. I had the pleasure of visiting a great guy whilst in LA a few weeks back and i went shooting for the very first time. Now if you are of non USA heritage or upbringing, then being able to do this at all can be something a little tricky to achieve in your country or origin. But my word, the release from all the thoughts and fears was so crisp in my mind.
Complete focus on one very important thing = everything else fades away. You don’t need to always think, ‘i need to fuck off and go hug a tree’ when someone says, stop working and relax. It just means find your own ‘jolt’ and activate that part of you again. Unblock the path for ideas and new feelings.Take all the blogs and advice you read everywhere and tear it up. Find the morsels of info that can and will apply just to you.Cut and paste new ideas into your worlflow and never fear trying new ways to work. You can quite simply hit delete and start over!