For the last month, I've been writing a new piece of music everyday, with the hope of being less precious about song ideas and more prolific in the practice of writing. The benefits of prolific creation is, by no means, a new idea. In fact, I took inspiration from a few great pieces of writing that articulate these ideas in succinct and profound ways.
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield talks about the value of establishing a regimen of creativity in order to battle the spectre of Resistance, which is the invisible force that keeps us from our creative goals. Similarly, in his e-book, Mastering Creativity, James Clear talks about the value of creating in large volumes because it increases the chance of creating something great.
So for each day of the project, Rachel would write a prompt into my journal and I would wake up at 6:00am and spend 30-40 minutes writing a song in the garage before going to work. Sometimes the prompts were very broad, like "Fear" and sometimes they were very specific, like "Fall (no lyrics, using only the F# Aeolian Scale)." The time limit was something that Rachel was very insistent upon, and for good reason too, because the short time frame forced me to get out of my head and stop editing myself prematurely.
This daily exercise has not only demystified the writing process for me, but it has put me into the habit of creating something everyday. Most days of the project produced terrible songs, some days produced interesting results, but everyday produced something new. I posted a few of my favorite ideas below for you to check out.
It is honestly very nerve-racking for me to post these, as I'm not used to sharing unfinished, unrefined recordings for everyone to hear. And these recordings are as unrefined as they come (I'm not the singer of our band for a reason) - roughly 30 minutes from conception to recording - but I think it's neat to see how the germ of interesting songs are nestled inside these rough sketches.
The exact phrasing of this prompt was "Blue, the color (music only, no lyrics)." I am generally more comfortable thinking of myself as a songwriter rather than a composer, mostly because I don't have any formal music theory training, but I have recently gotten a lot of joy out of composing solo guitar pieces. In one way, it's freeing to not think about words, but then the song still has to tell a coherent story. So, in essence, the music has to do double duty: to be lyrical as well as musical. Since this was only the 2nd day of the project, I was still trying to get the hang of my writing process. So I came up with a musical theme quickly, and then I hit record to see what happened, which is why this recording is a bit long and unrestrained (lots of missed notes and experiments in tempo and rhythm). But what you are hearing is me improvising in the moment - of all the recordings, this one most captures the "throw everything against the wall and see what sticks" spirit.
Bea is our dog. She is a gray and white Shih-Tzu and we rescued her abaout 5 years ago, and we love her to pieces. Sometimes, when she lays in the sunlight there's a little halo of light that reflects off her fur causing her to glow a little. I was writing this little waltz number and then I suddenly was struck with the sadness of what it would be like if she wasn't around, and then I got something in my eye and stopped writing.
Rachel thought of this prompt after seeing the painting, pictured here, at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. After studying the image I wrote a draft of the song, but when I listened back to it, I realized that it was completely wrong. The first draft sounded as if it was capturing the mood of someone looking at this painting and not the actual essence of the painting itself. So I started over and and I really love the result, which, to me, sounds like ocean and sky, but also like the brushstrokes of the painting.
Our dearest friends (and tour companions!) moved away to Tucson this year. The phrasing of this prompt sounded just like an old country tune to me, so I wrote it as an ode to our friends' journey to the desert. I imagine them listening to this while sipping margaritas, surrounded by saguaros, looking off into the endless blue skies in the horizon.
All music and lyrics (c) 2015 Thu Tran