Barry Power

Offical Site of Melodic Indie songwriter Barry Power.

Filtering by Tag: home studio

035. Anchors

It’s easy to get sidetracked with technology, and that is the danger, but ultimately you have to see what works with the music and what doesn’t. In a lot of cases, less is more. In most cases, less is more.
— Herbie Hancock

How many tabs are open on your browser? Usually, for me, it’s a lot. So much so I get lost. I skip from one thing to the next until I’m not actually sure anymore if what I’m doing even resembles work anymore. I don’t mean that I have gotten side-tracked by my shiny object syndrome and fell down the amazon black hole; Although that definitely happens sometimes. I mean when there is too much platform hopping.

In a typical day I can usually get around 2-3 hours that I can dedicate to my own music business this includes writing and recording, so Its important that I am productive when I get that time. Typically, what happens is, I’ll start with some recording. I’ll open up logic and try to nail down one task and get it done, a bassline or maybe some mixing. As the clock is ticking I wrap that up and move onto maybe some emailing. Then a little bit of blogging and finish up with some ad copy or podcast prep. 

The point is that by the time I am done with my block of time I have jumped through several different areas. I guess it would be like someone working for a big company deciding to spend the morning in Marketing the afternoon in research and development and the evening in the canteen serving food. 

This kind of juggling is not my strong suit. I am always looking for Anchors. Anything that can keep me in the right place in terms of the specific task I am doing. I have done some research and there are several online solutions to these problems like the pomodoro technique or any amount of companies offering a get your shit together spreadsheet. But I find that the task of organising my tasks becomes another task.

Maybe its just the way my brain works sometimes I feel like that dog in the movie UP reacting to what is directly in front of me. I get so lost in the mire of bits of jobs its hard to remember what Im supposed to be doing the first place.

So this week it’s a plea for any tips, tricks and advice to help to keep on point with work tasks. I would love to hear what your Anchors are what are the things that keep you on track or anything that worked well for you.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think! and If you like this post please consider joining my mailing list here, where I'll keep you up to date with whats going on with me.

The brand new podcast version of this blog is now available here.

031. Going Deep

The conscious mind may be compared to a fountain playing in the sun and falling back into the great subterranean pool of subconscious from which it rises. 
— Sigmund Freud

So its been a while, my last blog was August 15th. What have I been up to for the past two months? Well, I made a semi-deliberate decision to unplug for a while, also I just got out of the habit a bit. It stemmed from the influence of two books in particular. The first of which is The Artists way by Julia Cameron Im currently going into week eight, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. If you have an artist living inside you, this book will help you express it. Its not really a spoiler to say that the main method used in the book is to keep a morning journal, three pages of stream of consciousness writing. Through this process you gradually uncover obstacles and self-resistance to your artistic self. This process has been a real game changer for me in terms of my mindset towards writing and creating in general.

Another recommended method in the book is to take a week off from all reading material, so considering the book was written in 1992 I took this to mean in the modern age taking break from all media, social or otherwise a kind of low media diet. This one took me a few weeks to warm to, and to be honest, is still very much a work in progress. 

My second book recommendation is Deep Work by Cal Newport, another amazing book. This book argues that we are in an age where the majority of the work that we do is shallow and arguably unproductive. The reason for this are all the distractions which are not only prevalent but often encouraged. Faster email response, good social media presence etc. The problem with this is that it keeps us on the periphery, in the shallow waters.

Think of all your very favourite works of art, I mean the really influential ones, the stone cold classics. A common thread for all of these was a clear focused concerted effort to apply laser focus to the task at hand. Now try to imagine creating one of these yourself with your phone in one hand and the desktop open with all notifications turned on. How deep do you think you could go?

Ok going a little bit outside here now, but bare with me, I have a point…….I think. There are two sides to our minds the conscious and the subconscious. The conscious mind is awesome at problem solving and completing tasks, the emails, the spreadsheets the minutes for a meeting etc; The so called shallow work. The subconscious mind is where the deeper existential, artsy, bigger picture problem type thoughts live. So lets get binary and look at these two states of mind as tools i.e. one of these tools will be better at a specific task then the other. Then it would make sense to deploy what ever tool would suit best for whatever task you are currently doing, right? Well it makes sense to me anyway but I know for a fact that I am hugely imbalanced with my states of mind. 

My artistic self loves to live in subconscious mindland you know, like when you’re out for a walk and an idea or solution pops into your head, out of nowhere, without you actively thinking about it. Well it wasn’t out of nowhere, it was out of your subconscious mind. The subconscious mind loves to be free to roam, untethered to the shallow work it just does its own thing and gives us whatever we are prepared to listen too. The problem is with so many distractions I don’t prioritise giving the subconscious enough space to breathe and tend to the jobs it is best suited for, namely creating things and generating ideas.

I like to assign all my tasks to my conscious mind, to think out everything in a linear fashion. I have realised over the last few months that this approach is fine for the business, marketing organising things side but it’s kind of a disaster to my artistic side. So how do I bypass my conscious mind and access this all-knowing subconscious creative behemoth living within…..erm I don’t really know Im still figure that one out. 

But here are some of the methods I am currently trying. Turning off my phone more, not just the do not disturb button; Walking more; Meditation; Less TV; more boredom, basically denying all the cool distracting stuff. Deep work sessions, ninety minute blocks of total immersion. No email open, no phone on, just the exact specific task Im working on Songwriting, writing, whatever. Its harder than it sounds, give it a go. We are so hardwired now to be constantly engaged with our conscious mind, checking things and channel surfing, like digital magpies finding shiny stuff. Give the other half some room see what happens.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think! and If you like this post please consider joining my mailing list here, where I'll keep you up to date with whats going on with me.

029. The revolution will be live streamed

Like art, revolutions come from combining what exists into what has never existed before.
— Gloria Steinem

This is for musicians, how much of the following do you believe is true for you?

There is no way to make a living from making your own music. You have to be really lucky to get a break. You have to gig every tiny non-paying pay to play venue at the bottom of every bill to pay your dues. To release music you send it to your online distribution company who delivers it to iTunes and Spotify, you send a couple of tweets, post it on Facebook and all your hard work and effort in making your art gets boiled down to sheer luck. 

Imagine you wanted to open a coffee shop. Coffee was your life you loved it and you knew that your coffee would make people so happy. Now imagine that you decided you would set up your shop next door to ten other coffee shops. Now imagine that you only opened three days a week but you didn’t tell anybody which three days it would be. Next, imagine that you hired someone to sell your coffee for you and instead of charging your regular price they charged people a tiny fee and gave you back .0000009 of a cent on each cup. Now picture yourself going to the bank and trying to negotiate a loan for your coffee business. If you were the bank manager how do you think it would look.

Now I can only speak for myself here but I have a strong belief I am not alone. This was exactly how I thought about being an independent musician. The music will win if its good enough it will connect. If I am lucky a song will explode and go viral, whatever that even means, exposure? opportunities? money? fame? 

If you are reading this thinking, you didn’t really think like that did you? let me add this caveat, the way the music industry evolved was unlike any other sane business model, it is too long to get into it here but suffice to say that thinking your career could suddenly break overnight and propel you to fame and fortune wasn’t outside the realms of possibility.

What polarised my view from fantasist to pragmatist was how the next generation of independent musicians were leveraging that great leveller, the internet. In particular, a company called Indepreneur their overarching philosophy is simple, autonomy in your career. Running it with the same efficacy as a small to medium-sized business. Still making the best coffee, but instead of letting it go cold on the table, finding the perfect people who will enjoy it most and pay you the right price for it. Not because you want to be the next Starbucks but because there is a real and tangible sea change for indies.

Now imagine a world where more and more musicians take control of their own destinies. A new generation making art not to let it slip into the ether but delivered thoughtfully and deliberately into the hands, ears and minds of the people who will appreciate it most of all.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think! and If you like this post please consider joining my mailing list here, where I'll keep you up to date with whats going on with me. There will be access to bonus content and a free song! 

 

028.Deadlines and the accidental tourist

A deadline is negative inspiration. Still, it’s better than no inspiration at all.
— Rita Mae Brown

Deadlines, I missed one…well, actually I missed two but who’s counting? When I started writing these blogs I fell into a weekly format and that really suited me, daily is too much and monthly is too long, but weekly felt just right. When you work as your own boss or at least your own time manager keeping self-imposed deadlines can be tricky there are no real repercussions if you miss any, other than how hard on yourself you are, lucky for me I have a very understanding boss who pretty much lets me do whatever I want. This is not always helpful. Anyway, I am back in a writing chair this week and I want to give you my excuse.

I missed these particular deadlines because I had a grand notion of trying to turn the blog into a vlog and I underestimated both the time it would take and more importantly my skills as a filmmaker which are at the moment zero. I have watched movies and tv undoubtedly too much, I watch Casey Neistat’s daily vlogs. I have a HD camera in my pocket, I have pithy, epigrammatic ideas about what its like to be an independent musician in the modern age this should be easy right? 

It's like that feeling you get when your watching football, if you were to be suddenly transported to actually being the keeper would you have the real-life skills to actually make the save you were so hypercritical of from your couch? probably not, and neither was I.

I fell into that conceit of the zeitgeist, The instant fix, I was trying to do a hack. Take the red pill and wake up in the matrix where I could download a particular set of skills and instantaneously unleash my inner Stanely Kubrick (good thing I was reserved about my expectations!)

So long story short this blog is not a vlog yet but it will be evolving soon whenever I can make a deadline I can stick too!

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think! and If you like this post please consider joining my mailing list here, where I'll keep you up to date with whats going on with me. There will be access to bonus content and a free song! 

027. Please keep off the grass and don't feed the gurus

Don’t follow leaders and watch your parking meters.
— Bob Dylan

I just finished a documentary series The wild wild country on Netflix, all about an Indian Guru who tries to set up a utopian commune in Oregon. What struck me most about the story, which was true by the way and definitely worth checking out, was his followers, they were so devoted to him so filled with an absolute unshakable belief. Now I would consider myself a cynic, not so much that I don’t believe in people, but I don’t believe in organisations, especially ones where there is a messianic spearhead promising Shangri-la. 

I wasn’t there and I don’t know what really compels people to follow so blindly, but here's what I think. People underestimate themselves in such a profound way, they feel, like we all do, that life should be giving them so much more but that it's passing them by and they are powerless to do anything about it. How we grow up doesn’t help, we have a society where we put our sense of worth at the mercy of other people, grading, critiquing and dogmatically categorising us in generalities. So much so that we no longer have the ability to accurately assess ourselves without wanting approval and validation from someone else. Then along comes someone who seemingly has answers and can empower them to finally live the life and be the person they feel they were always meant to be.

Unfortunately, there are and will always be people who will exploit and manipulate these insecurities. These people are not just old mystics with long beards starting communes, they are people on keyboards writing alluring marketing emails and making irresistible click-bait about how you can be your best self in five easy tips. It is a seductive thought, I'll just download this ebook pdf and get my life sorted and If only it were that simple. I have folders full of ebooks by the way I am by no means exempting myself from this phenomenon. 

To sum up, I believe that we are not just capable of more than we think, I believe that we have the ability to be our own Guru’s and FITFO for ourselves, I'll leave it to you decipher the acronym.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think! and If you like this post please consider joining my mailing list here, where I'll keep you up to date with whats going on with me. There will be access to bonus content and a free song! 

026. You give what you get.

Creativity requires input, and that’s what research is. You’re gathering material with which to build.
— Gene Luen Yang

I am a diarist, a very inconsistent one, but for some reason over the years, I have kept diaries of some kind. Occasionally, I end up going back through them and I start to notice the repetitive trains of thoughts and ideas. I tend to move in cycles where I swing from being totally committed and productive to the exact opposite where I let things slide for a few weeks and convince myself I’ll never get back to being productive again. For me, it's a little bit like being on a diet where I eat healthily for a few weeks, then one weekend gorge on delicious things and when Sunday rolls around decide, “well there goes the diet so I may as well not even try anymore.” and so the cycle continues. 

When I am on the bad side of the sliding scale, I’ll often turn to things that influence me more and more. I’ll stay up late watching movies or youtube videos about music theory or listen to podcasts about composing or songwriting in general. Anything to regain that spark that motivates me into action. But what if the inaction is as important as the action? What if there needs to be time and space to absorb and let the life experience strain through the mind sieve? 

The way I see it, being a creative person is like being a chef trying to make a new dish, every now and then you need to hit up the market and see what new ingredients are available. But when you have nailed down what you want to use, you still have to make it into something that is worth eating and that takes time. Unfortunately, it has its own deadlines. I can’t really decide when its a time for input or a time for output. I just try to be more aware of which time I'm in and work with that, diaries definitely help.

It is so easy to see these fallow times as being frustrating and ineffective when in reality they are a hugely necessary step in the process, well in my process anyway. 

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think! and If you like this post please consider joining my mailing list here, where I'll keep you up to date with whats going on with me. There will be access to bonus content and a free song! 

025. Subjective matter

An optimist is a person who sees a green light everywhere, while a pessimist sees only the red stoplight... the truly wise person is colorblind.
— Albert Schweitzer

How do you see the world? I have often been asked this question and not for the reasons you may think, I get asked this because I have colourblindness, nothing severe or life-threatening or anything like that, it just means I'll probably never fly a plane but thanks for the concern. I have a hard time defining colours like brown and purple. I find people are so fascinated by what I see or in this case what I don’t see. I don’t really have an answer, I tell them I see the way I see. It is purely subjective to being me, just like the way you may see yellow or green is purely subjective to you.

Whatever way my genes and biology decided to organise themselves is my reality. It is how I view the world. This translates fluently into being an artist. Your view of things and how you see the world as an artist is totally unique to you. Try as you might to explain it to someone you always fall short. Just as my blue is my blue your blue is your blue. 

The only way to even come close to explaining is to show it through your work, your painting photography or in my case music (insert “but where is your music? joke here”) In a way I often see being creative as a personal attempt to try to explain that colour you can’t quite see.

The artistic process is like holding a personal mirror to the world you see. What makes it amazing is that everyone has a totally unique view of it. your art is unmakeable by anyone else. Therefore if you don’t make it, it will not exist. Think about it, there could be a whole shade of colour never quite seen by anyone except by you. If ever there was a motivation to go do something that’s it.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think! and If you like this post please consider joining my mailing list here, where I'll keep you up to date with whats going on with me. There will be access to bonus content and a free song! 

024. The Why

The hardest thing is to listen to your instincts, your human personal intuition it always whispers; it never shouts
— Steven Spielberg

I sat at the piano today and I started putting together a chord progression. There was an idea I found online about changing chords in a minor key. So I put the metronome on and started cycling through the chords and singing some gibberish words over it trying to shape a melody on top. This is very typical of how I like to write. I was just about to record a little section into my phone when I realised something which may seem very obvious to other songwriters. I have even heard and given this advice before but for some reason it had never really stuck with me. I had no real Why for what I was writing other than just a technical exercise about chords. 

It is never about the how, it is always and always has to be about the Why. Anyone can put together some chords in a row, but what was I trying to say with those chords, why did I want to use them in this way. I couldn’t come up with an answer. 

The Why, in my opinion, is the most powerful element of art. There has to be the reason to see it through. Be it the unrelenting emotion bursting through or the story that you simply have to tell. What is the reason behind what you are doing and what you are creating?

For me finding the Why is the most elusive part of creating anything. Whats more it is usually the very last thing I try to do, or I mostly try to avoid it altogether.  You know sometimes when you have a really important job to do, so you make a list, and put it at the very bottom do any other job to avoid doing that one. Like, “I’ll just clean the house then I’ll do it” or “I’ll do it after I make this cup of coffee”, I’ll do it later and later and later. 

The how is easy, think about it as a filming analogy all of us have a camera in our pocket that is capable of shooting a cinema quality film. Why then are we not all filmmakers? The reason is our Why. Most of us, I would argue, would have a similar outlook to myself when I say, “but there is nothing to shoot” or “I can’t do that”. But equally look at youtube, there are millions of filmmakers and vloggers making the everyday extraordinary. They are the people that look for the story in their day, what life is trying to tell them moment to moment and shoot that.

I so often preoccupy myself with the how, because I know the how, chord structures, harmony rhythm. The Why is not so easily found and that is probably why I avoid it so consistently but that is exactly why it is so important. It gives the creedence to what you are making. It is the real truth of what you do. It the small voice of inspiration that you need to be always aware of.

Please leave a comment and let me know your WHY! and If you like this post please consider joining my mailing list here, where I'll keep you up to date with whats going on with me. There will be access to bonus content and a free song! 

 

If an album falls in the woods and no-one is around to hear it does it make a sound?

The first act is writing, the second act is filming, the third act is releasing. If you have to partake in the third act, it hurts the first act of the next one. It’s like a prizefight. You get punched.
— Albert Brooks

If you have followed a few of these blogs you will have heard me ranting on about highs and lows of being a musician. But you may ask where is the actual music? If you have checked out the rest of this website you will notice there is only a couple of songs, whats going on?

Well in an effort of full disclosure here it is. I am currently working on an album which will be released later this year. I have been working on it on and off for the past seven years, so why is it taking so long?

Of course, time and money are always a big factor, but they will never be the biggest barriers to overcome. when its a labour of love, you will manage to get there somehow. I find that, for me, the thing that is actually the most difficult to get past in terms of finishing is that when It’s done I have to put it out there and invite all the scrutiny that comes along with that. Or what's worse the lack of interest that might be out there; Facing the void of obscurity.

What happens when an album by an unknown artist is released? Needles and haystacks spring to mind. As you can imagine the buzz you may be able to create for it could be ephemeral to say the least. When you weigh that up with the time and effort you spend on making it, the neurosis instinct can kick in fast. 

How do I deal with it? I do what any rational human does, I procrastinate and do the opposite of what I should in an effort to deflect the asperity.

I realise I am leaning towards the dark side a bit this week but the next time you hear a brand new song that comes on the radio maybe hesitate that extra few seconds before mindlessly skipping to something that is more familiar. You might not realise the time and effort that went into its creation.  

If you like this post please consider joining my mailing list here, where I'll keep you up to date with whats going on with me. There will be access to bonus content and a free song! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

022. Do your research.

Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.
— Rollo May

The first thing that you will learn from the music marketers is to define your genre, your niche where does your music fit on the music map? What does your music sound like? what other artists are you like? From there you can springboard into finding the people who might be likely to have an affinity for your music. There are a few ways of doing this; If you are a Spotify user, you can create a radio from your soundalike artists and an algorithm will compile a playlist of similar music or for a cool visual map of every genre you could think of check out Every noise at once.

For me, it was an eye-opening experience. I never cared that much about genres or being pigeonholed into being this way or that, I wanted to be unique, free of the confines of style. This, of course, was more ego massage, as I am prone to doing. Of course, I sound like people! and that's a good thing I want to sound like people it helps me to make the music I would like to hear myself. So I went to research land to try and define what my music was like. 

At first, this was not a job that sounds like fun but as with any task that has resistance it has big rewards. The more soundalike artists I found, the more familiar patterns were in the orbit around them. A band could lead to a movie I hadn’t seen, or a book I hadn’t read, or a comedian I hadn’t heard before. Researching these artists was in a way like researching myself and it really couldn’t have been any other way, could it? It was like taking a tour of all the things that I was interested in; Like the way Netflix will recommend something as a 97% match. 

An amazing thing I have found is that there are so many people out there with the exact same interests and tastes. For everything, I found there were hundreds of comment threads, likes and shares for the same things. There was a heartbeat to it, a community, a tribe.

And so for the last paragraph, I am going to go a bit meta. What have I learned? For all the anonymity and seaming vastness of the online world, it appears that we are still trying to break out into small little Islands to find our communities and our tribes. Not only this but the advancement of machine learning and algorithms means that the digital landscape is sending these like minds to similar places. I am not naive enough to think that this is not a frightening prospect but nor am I cynical enough to feel that this is the doomsday machine. I believe, for the optimistic among us, that this means a way to connect, a bridge for ideas, advancement and creativity.

If you like this post please consider joining my mailing list here, where I'll keep you up to date with whats going on with me. There will be access to bonus content and a free song! 

021. Absolute beginners.

I’m an artist, and if you give me a tuba, I’ll bring you something out of it
— John Lennon

When I started to play in bands as a teenager, I was lucky enough to be adequately proficient at playing my chosen instrument, namely the guitar, that I didn’t get landed with the role of being the bass player. At the time, the bass player in the band was always the person who said, "Fine, everyone is playing the cool instruments so I’ll take one for the team and play the bass." Bass players, don’t hate me, I am going somewhere with this and besides this is what happened to Paul McCartney in the Beatles so you are in good company. 

In my experience, not one of my friends who decided to take on this, or any other instrument, has ever regretted it. Not because of the usual, learning an instrument is really rewarding stuff, but because being forced to think about the way a different instrument functions made them appreciate music in a way which they may have never gotten to otherwise. However, I think there is an even more profound side effect; Choosing a foreign instrument allowed them to be more creative.

I feel that so much of the creative decision making can be caught up in identifying yourself in a certain way. I'm a guitar player, therefore, I play like this or I try to put more and more flashy techniques into songs to prove what a good guitar player I am. I think that the people who adopted different instruments have a great luxury in whatever they play because they don’t have the weight of their own preconceived notions.

For me it's the piano, I love to play it, I love to write on it, but I would never call myself a piano player and this is the beauty of it. Because it's not me, I am free to use it in whatever way I want. If I play a weird voicing of a chord that a trained player would never use, it's fine, because I'm not a piano player; If I don’t have independence with both hands, It's fine, because I’m not a piano player.

Look at how many great songs were written by people who were not trained in music. They were free to put things in whatever way suited them. They didn’t have to be bound by the regular rules because they didn’t know what the rules were. 

I think one of the greatest ways out of a creative rut is to pick up an instrument you can’t play and write with it, or try to approach your own instrument in a new way. For guitarists I recommend playing with your bad hand I guarantee whatever you play will be unique.

If you like this post please consider joining my mailing list here, where I'll keep you up to date with whats going on with me. There will be access to bonus content and a free song! 

016. Slow is fast

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit
— Aristotle

Did you ever notice how in movies about time travel, everyone is really worried about how one small action in the past can throw off the whole space-time continuum, yet nobody is really worried about their small actions in the present? These small actions when compounded are the ones that make for the big ideas and the big achievements but in order to have them lead to something tangible, you have to be consistent. Through time and repetition, the big moments will realise themselves. 

But this small consistent momentum is so far from the modern approach of, "I'm sure there is a hack for that." It can be a real challenge to enjoy the incremental. Even though I know the rewards are so much deeper in the long run, I kind of just want to be good at something straight away. It's like when you cram for an exam, the result might be really good but the knowledge is only at surface level, it is never really internalised.

I think it is a question of integrity and how deeply I would like to experience the things I find important in my life. The more I find hacks for things, the more I only experience them on the surface. I think it is in the small daily actions that you can gain a profound depth and insight into your life experience.

Why then is so easy to avoid these small things in the day, to make excuses and to not follow through? If they are so small then they should be easy to do right? For me, I feel it is the weight of expectation that comes with them. You go to the gym once and suddenly in your mind, your going six days a week and in amazing shape, then you miss a day and that's it, you quit. The emphasis is no longer on getting to the gym for that one day, it's that now you can't do your imaginary six days. 

I think what I am trying to say is that, for me, I find the choice to practice something daily, be it  writing, playing guitar or even not having a muffin with coffee, can be simultaneously the easiest and most difficult decision as it holds both the most pedestrian and the most extraordinary.

 

 

 

 

015. Out with the old, in with the old.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and the by-product from one food can be perfect for making another.
— Yotam Ottolenghi

In the house where I grew up we had, and still do have, a room that was totally devoted to music. It is the room where my mother has taught piano for over thirty years. It is filled from floor to ceiling with sheet music. Nothing is digital in here, all tactile and organised in a unique filing system that is only really known to the librarian. This room also has a vast collection of instruments from weird ethnic strings, to ukuleles and percussion toys.

I recently performed a song in this room for the Sloe Sessions check it out here. While we were making some space to shoot I moved an old bass guitar that had been lying around idle for years, so much so that I didn't even see it as an instrument anymore, it was just some wood and metal that had been accumulating dust and cobwebs. Ben (who runs the slow sessions) Suggested that I should give the bass to our close friend and all-around Bass enthusiast Alan to have a look at and see if he could bring it back to life. At first, he thought it was too far gone but a couple of weeks later he told me that with some meticulous care and attention he had worked it back to a playable working instrument again. 

Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 19.41.28.jpg

I always find that one of the biggest struggles to overcome when trying to create something, is to stop procrastinating and just do the work. In Stephen Pressfield's book The War of Art (I highly recommend it), he maintains, the biggest barrier to creating is what he terms resistance. This resistance is the times when you sit staring at a blank page and can somehow think of everything except what you are trying to do, Resistance is the, "I'll just go on youtube for five minutes first," I'll just make coffee then I'll be ready," You get the idea.

How does this tie in with the old bass I was just talking about? Well, it started me thinking about how often I use the excuse of not having the right equipment as a resistance. I so often say to myself, If I only had this piece of equipment or I can't finish this because it really needs a bass part and I don't have a bass when all along I actually did have a bass I just wasn't seeing it as a bass.

I think my point is that although having the right tools is important actually seeing things as tools is a path to least resistance, so go have a look in your attic or wardrobe and see if there is anything in there to reclaim and start seeing as a tool. You never know what you might have been forgetting about in the quest for the new and shiny. 

If you like this post please consider joining my mailing list here, where I'll keep you up to date with whats going on with me. There will be access to bonus content and a free song! 

013. Cognitive Dissonance

If your in marketing or advertising ...........kill yourself
— Bill Hicks

Your music is really good but how do you get people to hear it? The answer is you find a way to put it in front of the people you think will enjoy it the most. How do you do this? apparently, it is called marketing.

Learning about running my music career as a business this past year, has been like exploring an alien planet. I was always more interested in the creative side, the artistic vision, I didn’t care about all that business stuff. But to get where I want to go, I needed to understand more. So I went down the rabbit hole and how did I go about this? The internet of course.

As I am prone to mentioning, the amount of free resources available to the human race today is astounding and the people willing to teach their unique skillset is unparalleled in history. But when I started looking into the business world, and more specifically marketing, it was like the gate closing in the alligator pit. You suddenly start getting marketed to in a very specific way because these people are really good at well...Marketing. The problem is that there are so many Snake Oil salesmen out there.

For all our advancements, it is like going back to the wild west; The universal Panacea readily available for whatever in the world you desire, and they know how to get you hooked too. Unfortunately, this is what also part of what makes really good marketing.

Now the irony of all this is not lost on me. Being someone who considers myself as having a relatively good moral compass, what I ask myself is, how do I Juxtapose these ideas for my own career? Can the artistic and business really live together? To what extent do you become the seller of a product over the provider of existential solace which can't really have a price? 

My answer is, for me, there can be creativity in both and there can be artistry in both. You need to do it with your best intentions and if you are going to sell something then provide something of real worth and real value that is worthy of your art.

 

011. Flow States.

The zone is a state of mind which is marked by a sense of calmness. In addition, there is a heightened sense of awareness and focus. Actions seem effortless and there is an increased belief that your dreams or goals can become achievable and real.
— Dr. Jay Granat

This week I learned one of those, especially valuable lessons. You know the kind that leaves you feeling irritated afterwards, but ultimately you know are the most important. 

I was at my tai chi class, the first day back in the new year. It had been a few months since I had been able to attend a class. I had been practising, but without the direction of a teacher, I had drifted off into my own idea of what the practice should be.

When I arrived I said to the teacher, "I have lots of questions." I had stockpiled, and my brain was brimming with tiny, and as it happens, quite inconsequential details. As a result, when I tried to do the form It was slow, thoughtful, uptight and robotic. There was no flow. I was trying too hard thinking too much and outside of the moment. 

Musically, I find this happens to me all the time. I tend to think about the details of the music rather than the sound and the feeling. If I'm playing a gig and it's my turn to solo, I'll often think major scale, diminished arpeggio etc. which as terms really mean nothing, but as sounds can mean everything.

Then there are moments when I don't think about anything at all, those small slices of time where everything is still and I am simply observing what is happening. I feel like I am not in my own way, like a brief ray of sunshine breaking the clouds and then disappearing. It is these moments that I am most fascinated by. When you are in the zone, the greater truth of life appears. I am so often in awe of the people who are truly world class at whatever their chosen field is, how they can transcend all the mental clutter and seem to live in that space that I can only catch glimpses of.

I watched an interview recently with the Irish fiddle player, Martin Hayes. When asked what went through his mind when he plays, he answered that he would take inspiration from the local musicians he was surrounded by growing up. Not so much from their big achievements, but from those small fleeting instances of truth, those magical moments in sessions where the world stopped. That was what he wanted to present when he played.

So I find myself questioning, how do I get there? How do I tap into that zone? that flow state where I am simply in the moment and expressing myself honestly. I think the answer that most regularly presents itself to me is, as always, the simplest and yet the most ethereal; In the words of Yoda

"Do or do not there is no try" 

 

010. The freedom of limits

Reduce. Do as little as possible to do what you have to get done
— Joshua schachter

There are many challenges I find in trying to be more productive, but I think the biggest of all obstacles for me in my creative process is finishing things. I so often leave work half done, abandoned and left to the lost archives of notebooks, phone notes and hard drives. When I think of why that is, there are a few reasons that come to mind. The work is no good, I am afraid of what people will think so it's safer to leave things undone. But the main reason is choice, I simply get confounded by too many options. 

Decision fatigue is a real thing. Think of all those micro-decisions that you have to make throughout your day; Every time you need to choose something there is a little bit of energy spent and although it seems like tiny amounts it all compounds and leaves you drained. 

To try and navigate this, I have been trying to limit the amount of choices I have to make. I would say it is akin to a painter limiting his palette, what she has set out for herself is what she uses. I read an article about this recently and some of the benefits are; a greater balance for your painting, less over mixing, better colour harmony and it forces you to think more about form and composition. I thought this is totally interchangeable with music.

Even the version of this blog you are reading now is actually the fourth draft, the earlier outlines were much much longer. I indulged in several paragraphs all saying the same thing. 

So at the risk of repeating myself and not staying true to my newfound reductionist standpoint, I will try to eliminate the decision fatigue in my creative process and remember the more options I have, the more of a bottleneck my thoughts become. The more clogged up with ideas I get, the more likely I’ll abandon my work because I can't remember what the crux of the idea was in the first place. So streamline, that's my new motto. Hack away the unessential.

 

 

007. All part of the process

There are three parts to the creative process. First, there is inspiration, then there is the execution and finally there is the release.
— Eddie Van Halen

I am almost finished with the recording part of my debut Album entitled "Of Little The Instant” If there is anyone reading this who feels they should make an album themselves; What follows is an abject lesson in how not to make life easy for yourself.

Back in December 2011, three of us arrived in Bay studio, Wicklow to begin recording some bass and drums for a couple of tracks called Abjure and Incertitude. I had a rough idea of what was happening in these songs but had a, “let's see what happens” kind of attitude. This is fine when you are on your own time but when you're paying money for studio time and a producer, then this attitude is nieve and green. Tip no. 1 have your shit together. 

So after a blunt conversation with Pete (Producer and all-round genius), I knew this method was not going to work.  It was time to get deep into the concept of pre-production. I have to say, this turned out to be my favourite part of the whole process. I began by making rough demos for all the songs I felt were the strongest and we began to pick them apart and focus in on every aspect; the arrangements, instrumentation, what microphones to use, the whole sonic palette. I put together a playlist of reference tracks on Spotify, check it out below, so I could borrow instrument sounds and production techniques from music that I loved. It started to make so much sense as a whole project, sounds from one track we could use as motifs on others to tie them together. It was like a giant puzzle that we were adding to, piece by piece. It may sound like a methodical method but for me it meant that you could shine a light on even the smallest part of a track and make sure it was right.

When It was time to go into the studio again, it was a very different experience. There was a direction, it was an easy enjoyable time and recording takes were less stressful because you knew exactly what was to be done and how you were going to do it. Furthermore, you could hear all the temporary tracks melt away to real performances. 

One of the drawbacks of this way of working, was that it is very easy to disappear into the ether of creation (or up my own arse). It was so satisfying to put all this together, that I forgot there was a finish line. At some point it was going to have to be done, ready to release, Shared. Tip no.2 Know when it’s done. In the time it will have taken to do this one record I could have made and released three! 

The Record is called “Of Little The Instant” (Yes an ironic title I know! but thats for another blog) It will be released in 2018. I hope you will enjoy it. Whatever comes from it, I will not work on music in the same way after it and whatever I release after will not be as long in the making.

 

 

 

006. Love your masks and adore your failures.

When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.
— Eloise Ristad

 

I remember deciding that I wanted to be a musician. It was an easy decision. There simply wasn’t anything else I could imagine being, or at least, anything else that I felt I was as good at. It took me a long time to realise that the way a musician thinks about themselves can be quite different than the way people in other professions view themselves. 

When you grow up with a skill for something, you start to value yourself through your skill. So, if I play well, then I’m a good person. If I play badly, then…well you get the idea. I wonder if a graphic designer, who goes to work and has a bad day, comes home and think they are a terrible person? There is even a term for this; It’s called Musicians Focal Dystonia. It basically means, “I broke a string, I hate myself.”

Now, obviously, this is not the healthiest state of mind. However, I think that the worst outcome of this way of thinking is that, because your sense of identity is so strongly rooted in being something, a writer, an artist or in my case a musician then you find yourself afraid of failing. If I fail at my task then I fail as myself.

The problem is not that failure is not a bad thing; Failure is great! It is one of the only true ways that you really know that you are going in the right direction, creatively. How many times have you gone over and over something so you could get it just right? Failure, after failure, until its perfect. If it’s too easy then what you’re doing is not worthwhile. If you are not failing, you are not growing. If you are not trying something thats outside your comfort zone, then you are not living. You’re just going through the motions and playing it safe. 

005. Under the influence

The real beginning of influence comes as others sense you are being influenced by them - when they feel understood by you.
— Stephen R. Covey

 All week I have been racking my brain about how to approach this post. You see, the idea I have is a kind of philosophical observation and these ideas are difficult to explain, especially by me! So this weeks blog comes with a disclaimer; I am attempting a big idea.  I will probably fall short and it will take a big leap to get on the wavelength with this one, but I definitely think there is something in it.

(You can always just listen to the song at the bottom)

Ok here goes;………

From when we are born we start to understand ourselves through the influence of others. We see someone walking and we try to copy them until we can walk ourselves then we keep doing it until it becomes our own natural movement we internalise it, it is now ours.

As  musicians, we follow the same process. We learn our instrument, how to write and how to understand by copying the influence of others who inspire us; Until one day we internalise it and make it our own. 

Ok, here's where it is going to get far out. Where do our influences come from? The first music started somewhere in the prehistoric period and subsequently each generation influenced the next, who  in turn internalised it and changed it to represent themselves. This process grew and grew exponentially all over the world until we have all the variations of music that influences us today. So you could say that when you listen to music you are listening to the result of influences on the whole human race since the beginning of time. 

Did you ever get a song stuck in your head but couldn't figure out why? Me too; Most of the time it is a random song that doesn’t seem to have any relevance on my life, but every once in a while a song gets into my head in a way that seems a bit deeper.

This happened to me recently when I saw an ad for The Blue Planet 2 and the soundtrack was a Radiohead song called Bloom. It was a reworked version with the film composer Hans Zimmer. They were influenced by the concept of pointillism in art, which is a series of tiny dots which when looked at as a whole makes a picture. A perfect analogy for influences? 

So, whether it was the history of the world conspiring or just finding meaning in random coincidence; I had to do a version of the song, a reworking of a reworking, an influence of an influence.

 

003. Create before you consume.

I hear and I forget,
I see and I remember,
I do and I understand
— Confucius

There is a phenomenon among musicians called Gear Acquisition Syndrome or GAS. The Idea is that you become obsessed with buying the latest equipment and thinking it will somehow make you become a better musician. It's like if a photographer has the best camera and doesn’t take any pictures with it.

I think there is a parallel with how we consume information online. I have signed up for countless online courses thinking that somehow I would magically attain a deep understanding of complex skills by reading a 2-page pdf and watching a youtube video.

Everything moves so quickly it is easy to mistake learning for understanding. There is a disconnect between what you know and what you can do. I think it's easy to fall into the trap of absorbing knowledge and not doing anything with it but having it still feel like progress.

The internet sets you up perfectly for this. I follow people on social media who can do amazing things and because they can put it in a 5 min video I get fooled into thinking that's how long it takes. I put it in my mental notebook and think "yeah Ill get around to that", regardless of how complicated the task.

This, of course, is a fallacy, It's the illusion of participation. Vicarious achievement. 

This is not a totally negative comment I actually have learned very useful things. In fact, I built this website by learning how to do it online. 

but here is the rub, with acquiring more information you are a more enriched creator. But by only consuming, what are you enriching? 

So for me, I am going to try to redress this balance and apply things more. Use them to create with rather than thinking if I just move to the next thing then I'll be better.

Create before I consume.

 

 

#showyourwork #createbeforeyouconsume #indiemusician

#showyourwork #createbeforeyouconsume #indiemusician