I have an exciting thing to tell you…
So. I released “Masks” on May 8, and suddenly found myself with a LOT of free time (because, you know, all of my summer gigs were cancelled ). And the way that I handled all of that free time was to compose, compose, compose, compose. Just writing and dreaming and writing and dreaming.
Annnnnnddddddd I WROTE AN ENTIRE NEW ALBUM! Ta daaaaa!
Now, before you get TOO excited, I’ll add that I have to save some serious $$$ before I can actually record these new songs (and once again, all of my summer gigs were cancelled ). But for me, the writing part is the scariest. So I’m PUMPED to have a whole collection of brand new songs to live with and love and develop until they are ready to enter your sweet earballs.
I’m going to hold off on sharing any details now, but I CAN tell you that like “Masks,” this new collection of songs is concept-driven. All of the songs are related, and I’m feeling all buzzy-brained and warm-hearted about the new themes. More on this at a later date…
IN THE MEANTIME…
Teaching and mentoring beginning artists is something I spend so much time thinking about (and doing), but I hardly ever remember to WRITE about it here. And I want to change that!
So today, I thought I’d share a bit about how I organize my thoughts as I compose toward a complete album.
I love albums that feel cohesive, and simultaneously full of variety. I want the perfect blend of light and dark, fast and slow, etc. Now, depending on your genre/theme/preference, the particular parameters may change, but I think the principle is true.
So, how do you WRITE with that kind of balance in mind?
I came up with this strategy while I was writing “Embark” back in like…2010. I had written a few disparate songs, and I was struggling to think of what I’d need in order to complete the project. I had a general concept of what sounds and feelings I was going for, but it was all very fuzzy.
Being the analytical type that I am, I decided to build myself a tool…
DOWNLOAD THE ALBUM PLANNING SHEET >>>
My 2010 version was a little different from this one. Since I was writing a jazz album, I included a column for which instrument(s) would improvise on each song. I also had a column dedicated to meter, as many of the songs from “Embark” are written in various odd meters. I think I also had columns about which instrument(s) would begin and end each song.
Every time I wrote a new song, I would fill in a new row. And over time, I could start to see where there were gaps. I could see that maybe I needed a few faster songs, or that I was spending too much time in minor keys. Eventually, I would set out to write new material specifically to close those gaps.
When I started writing for “Masks” in 2015, I adjusted the method further. First, I spent 3-4 months just thinking about masks, as a concept. I read masks-themed poems, anthropology texts, and psychology articles. And I made lists of all sort of different kinds of masks—figurative and literal. I knew I wanted to write 10-12 songs, so I made sure I had at least that many angles on the subject matter.
And each time I completed a song, I made sure NOT to write another song that had the same groove, or the same key center (not that any of those songs really live in any one key center…). I also tried to be sure to really thoughtfully balance the beauty and terror of masks throughout the album. I wanted the listener to experience a whole range of emotions throughout the record. And I’m happy to say I think I really succeeded there!
I learned SO much during the writing and making of “Masks,” and I can tell you that I’ve put that new knowledge and experience to good use in the writing phase of this new project. Sometime soon(ish), I’ll tell you more about how I developed this tool even further for album #3.
Ok. One last thing…
If you listen to Artifice, you KNOW how I feel about applying creativity all around your life. I can’t emphasize enough how much this concept means to me. I see my album-planning tool as a perfect example. The writing itself is the BIG creative…but my approach to the writing is also creative. And for me, it’s a real struggle to do one without the other. In fact, I’d venture to say I would NOT be able to do one without the other. That’s just my brain. I know it. And I work with it.
So. I want to leave you with this final thought. Get creative about HOW you get creative. You don’t need to jump right to the project that scares you. Design your baby steps so they fit YOUR brain. You can start so so small. And you can start anywhere.
I’ll do my best to keep sharing little ways that I “hack” my creativity in order to make it work for me. And I would LOVE to hear what little strategies and tricks you keep for yourself.
In the meantime, stay healthy and creative!