It's been over a month since my last post here--and I can feel this awkwardness between us. We shouldn't let this much time pass between meetings.
I missed you.
In the beginning of February, I took a break from the Greatest Albums Project because I really wanted to try a Song-A-Day challenge for the month of February (more on that below). I had also gotten it in my mind that it would be a good idea to take two Coursera courses at the same time--while also taking a grad-level Audio class at The New School.
It's strange that once my album was released--it left a void.
I knew I could either fill it with self-promotion--which is clearly not my bag. Or I could try to keep on creating--which is what I opted for. Relaxing was not an option. This will all take on more (crazed) gravity when I can finally share another HUGE life change...but, alas, that will be a bit further down the road.
I have really been into podcasts again lately. One podcast I can't speak highly enough about is the Sodajerker (on Songwriting) podcast. These two Brits (Simon Barber and Brian O'Connor) host the monthly podcast where they interview some major songwriters from a wide array of genres and time periods. Simon and Brian are witty and, as songwriters themselves, guide the conversations through many aspects of interest to those of us trying to learn from our predecessors and giants in the industry. Some recent guests have been KT Tunstall, Adam Schlesinger (of Fountains of Wayne), Suzanne Vega, Ron Sexsmith, and Dan Wilson.
The Dan Wilson episode really inspired me to give the song-a-day challenge a try (after having avoided it fiercely up until now). Every time I'd heard about it, it seemed so beyond my capabilities. I considered myself the type of songwriter that stumbles upon a chord progression that I find interesting, then find a melody that holds my interest, then lyrics take shape from the harmony and melody--a painstaking process that TAKES TIME.
Dan Wilson mentioned something about how in his song-a-day months, the act of writing every day eventually gets his mind in the right frame so that song ideas become more of a daily occurrence--a constant throughout the day because that's the headspace you're creating. He also mentioned something about returning to a song fragment he had come up with during a challenge...
A song FRAGMENT!!
Wait--I don't have to write complete and wonderful songs every day for a month?
I can just sketch and see what happens and get out of my own way?
So, from that I was open to the idea...and then I came upon an article in American Songwriter magazine that lists part of the chord progressions for some of the most influential songs of the past several decades (from many genres). In light of the recent Blurred Lines controversy, let me clarify that chord progressions are not copyright protected.
From there, I had my new project:
- I would take the fragment of a chord progression and use that as a basis for a new song IDEA every day--making sure the new song was unrecognizable based on the old.
- I would come up with 3 sections of that new song each day (i.e. a verse, a pre-chorus, and a chorus).
- I would record a demo of the song as it was happening, with no regard for perfect performances. I used Logic Pro X's virtual drummer to give me a guide rhythm track, randomly selecting a tempo and time signature.
I had trouble on the first day, because I was still trying to write complete lyrics--and found my perfectionist self spoiling all the fun. So after a frustrating start, I tweaked the rules a bit more to say that words were unimportant for this phase of the project. If I found a melody that I liked, I would sing it with whatever nonsensical words came to mind as long as they fit the melody.
My goal was then to get 30 song ideas down that I could then pull from and develop more.
I tried not to listen to previous day's work during the month (but that was hard to do).
There were a couple of days where I didn't get to it--and a week in the middle of the month where we went to Nashville. I was flexible with myself, and just extended the project into March and made up the days at the end.
Tonight, I listened back to all 30 ideas, rating them in iTunes so that I know which ones are stinkers--and which ones are worth revisiting and fleshing out. Here's how they break down:
- Five Stars: 3 ideas
- Four Stars: 11 ideas
- Three Stars: 9 ideas
- Two Stars: 6 ideas (that didn't take flight)
- One Star: 1 turd
That means I now have at least 14 ideas that I think I want to spend more time with. From that, I can probably walk away with 5 solid songs (being very realistic/conservative).
I wrote one song last year. One. Granted it is one of the songs I'm most proud of ever writing ("Already")...but still. One song.
So the potential of 5 or more new songs before we're even to Spring.
Yeah. I'm loving the project, and will definitely be returning to it. I'm thinking of doing it every other month.
I mentioned that I also took two online courses (for free) from Coursera. If you haven't checked this site out yet--do yourself a favor and do it. It provides free courses from accredited colleges and Universities around the world. The courses span any topic you can think of. The delivery of the content varies by the host school--but the two courses I took (both from Berklee, my alma mater) had really high production value.
Take that in.
I dropped a course I was paying several thousand for because I preferred the course I was paying zero dollars for.
Zero additional student loan debt.
Your next question might be--why would someone who has been writing songs for more than 20 years -- and someone who just recorded and produced his own album need to take these courses?
I believe there is always more to learn...and I'm obsessed with filling those gaps. I once heard Javier Bardem do an interview where he stressed the importance of continuing education. Even though he has won so much critical acclaim as an actor, he still takes weekly private lessons because he knows you never know enough to stop. His respect for his craft really instilled that for me.
I loved both of these Coursera courses--and cannot recommend them highly enough. I had taken the songwriting course from Pat Pattison while I was at Berklee--and dropped it because I didn't get his deal. A couple years back, I started to read both of his books--and saw improvements because of them, yet still, somehow, didn't finish the books. I now see that he is a genius--and that I was an idiot to not see it then. His method is somewhat complicated--and is certainly focused mostly on lyrics...but I've seen the light.
The music production course is a solid primer for anyone interested in recording and music production. It definitely filled in some gaps for me.
100 Greatest Albums Project
I will be starting the blog project back up next week. I really needed a breather--but also really missed having my listening assignments plotted out in advance.
Next up: Lou Reed's Transformer; and The Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy.