It’s getting on towards sunset and I’ve spent the last few hours putzing around the office or my apartment watching Amanda Palmer, Ben Folds, Damian Kulash and Neil Gaiman putz around a studio making music live.
For the Rethink Music conference today, they decided it would be more interesting if instead of standing around talking about music all day and eating thai food, they would take eight hours to write eight songs, record them and release the album the following day for free on Bandcamp (details about it can be found at Amanda’s blog here).
As someone who has always wanted to write music, but never really understood where to start, watching these four pros pull song ideas from twitter with Neil scrawling lyrics and Amanda, Ben and Damian crafting songs from them has been illuminating.
Now you would think that the songs that would come out of this forced creativity are no good, but listening to them as they come together, they’re not. They’re far from it. Personally, I can’t wait until tomorrow so I can download them and spend the afternoon writing e-mails and listening to them in a loop (albeit a shorter loop than they originally intended, as they’re two hours away from the deadline and they’ve only got two songs done).
It’s impossible to sit here now and think of all of the different things I could be doing with my time as they argue about arrangement or melody or word usage. And how much of that time I waste for one reason or another (and they’re rarely good reasons).
Seeing a song come together like this, it’s apparent how important it is to be proficient at whatever instrument it is you’re trying to write with. It’s hard to follow the train of a melody with chords if you can hear the chord in your head, but don’t know how to make your fingers play it. It’s apparent how in order to have one song sound like the next, style-wise, you need to write songs a lot, so the habits take hold, so that when you go from a sad song to an upbeat one to a trance-based piano song about a dead squirrel in a bathtub, it still has the things you like in it – the things that comprise a voice. And it’s apparent that in collaboration, you can sometimes find that thing that you kept trying to hear, but couldn’t (because your thoughts or too loud or you’re stumbling over the wrong choice of words or your hung up on how much the chord progression you wrote inadvertently sounds like a Creedence song), because other people are talking louder than the noise inside your head.
This exercise, this enterprise, this exhibitionism – whatever you want to call it – is nothing more than the single most valuable workshop on songwriting I have ever seen. It tears away the egg-foam crate-covered walls of the studio and lets people – sometimes desperate, always passionate people – who struggle to do the thing they want to do see one way that it could be done. A process to imitate and to emulate and to deviate from as it’s discovered what works for them and what doesn’t: it’s an illustration of the art of making art.
B(en). A(manda). N(eil). D(amian). Did so much more than make a record today. They showed others a place to start.
Now where did I leave my banjo?
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