Monday, May 18, 2015

The Monday Morning Crayon Report

I've been feeling like I've been missing something this morning, and I was having a helluva time trying to figure out what it was. I mean, I knew I was procrastinating on getting some necessary work done, but that feeling is pretty much a daily occurrence. Then it hit me: I've been reporting on the activities of my band They Stole My Crayon each Monday, since I am able to devote time to working on music over the weekends. It makes sense. So, I'll fill you in on the most recent round of Crayon work. This weekend, we didn't do much work on our current round of songs, but instead focused energy on some new music.

Thursday May 14: "Hummingbird"
Yeah, I know: Thursday isn't the weekend. But I'd been hoping all week that I'd get inspired to work on music, and it hadn't happened. I was kind of bummed about this, but I've said many times... you can't force artistic inspiration. It happens or it doesn't. On Thursday evening, after I'd wrapped up a day of work, I decided to pick up a guitar, which is often a good first step toward making music. Gradually, a patter of chords came to me, so I did what I usually do. Let me tell you about what that is.

When a song is brand new, it may not be perfect. Hell, it may barely be a song. I used to make the mistake of trying to completely flesh out a song with lots of musical details and a complete set of lyrics before recording the idea. Huge, huge mistake. Here's why: first off, the song might not be very good. You'd be surprised that a musician can put a whole lot of effort into a tune only to realize somewhere down the line that the song just isn't great. It happens. A lot. So, getting it down quickly might allow you to make a better determination if it's worthwhile continuing to refine. Second, and probably worse: in the time it takes to get gear set up, choose the perfect arrangement and instrumentation, and all that, you might literally forget the song. It's happened to me, and I'm certainly not the only one.

I used to fight this potential tragedy by keeping the old paper and pen handy. I'd jot down the chord progression, and sometimes make notes about lyric ideas or other thematic plans. But in They Stole My Crayon, I still have the task of sharing the song idea with my bandmates to get their opinions. So, my current method is even easier. I just fire up my webcam (which is a completely average Logitech), point it at my guitar, and play the song. I never have lyrics at this point, so I usually kind of hum along, giving a possible path for the melody. And that's it. I go through the song once -- sometimes writing portions of the song while literally playing it at the same time -- and that's all. Make a mistake? Who cares! I just keep going and wrap up the song. Then I post it as a private video on YouTube, and share the link with Christina and Bunny. I'm often unsure at that point whether it's even worth pursuing, and rely on their input to see if we should move forward on it.

Anyway, back to Thursday night. The song I did has a working title of "Hummingbird", courtesy of Bunny. I had told him that day about how I maintain a completely ridiculous superstition about being inspired to do music when I have encounters with hummingbirds, so that title works as well as any. It's currently a pretty minimal song, but no one (self included) has any idea of how it will turn out later. Since I'm in a band, I like to make use of the talents of my bandmates. Bunny or Christina will probably write the lyrics, and Bunny will refine the melody (or create an entirely new one). I think it has some potential. We'll soon see.

Top and above photos are stills from the videos I made to show my bandmates these new songs. Why not just post the video? Because the songs are barely even begun, and might change a whole lot before we're ready to allow people to listen. It would be like serving a food dish that you just started cooking. They're not ready yet!

Saturday May 16: "Land of Tears"
Similarly, on Saturday night, I found myself with some open time and a guitar that was ready to be played. I had done a live show earlier that day in Second Life at Hesperia of Templemore, so I was pretty warmed up to play some more.

I've addressed the "How do you go about writing a song?" question on numerous occasions, and honestly I don't feel I've ever been able to explain it very well... especially the crucial earliest phase of which chords get chosen, what key to use, what tempo to choose, what overall feel to impart. I have never, ever, sat down with my guitar or keyboard and tried to write a particular kind of song. Ever. I write what I'm feeling at that moment. Why is the first chord of this song a G? Because that's where my hand went when I grabbed the guitar. Why did I put a capo on the second fret? I don't know. I grabbed the capo and that's where it ended up. Why did I shift to an F# in the bridge? Look people: I don't know. My hand went there while I was playing. Wasn't I in control of my own hands? Yes... but not on a conscious level. To be artistic, you need to let go of part of your conscious control, which is not easy, and explains why most people are simply not capable of the creation of original music.

I did my usual routine, recording the song via my webcam and posting the video to YouTube, and then sending my friends the link. Both of them liked it (as they did the other tune), and Bunny asked if I had any idea as to what the song was about. I thought about it for a couple of minutes, and then responded with a quote from the iconic novella by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry, The Little Prince. The quote was, “It is such a mysterious place, the land of tears.” Well, Bunny reacted positively and dubbed the song "Land of Tears" at least as a working title.

On Sunday morning, I spent a short while seeing how the song might work with drums and keyboards and so on, but I think I ran out of creative steam, and didn't get very far. But that's okay; the important part of creating two potential new songs was accomplished, so I feel like I had a productive musical weekend. That's something I'll never complain about.

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