When it comes to creating art, my process is very much like making spaghetti noodles. You boil the water, dump in the noodles, and then after some amount of time you take out a noodle and throw it against the wall to see if it sticks. I should say that this spaghetti trick has never worked for me, so I don’t do it because it just leaves me with a mess of noodles and wasted food. I’m now wondering if that is even a real thing or if someone told me to throw that spaghetti a long time ago just to mess with me…
Anyway, that visual aptly describes my creative process which basically work like this:
Step 1: Pound keys on the keyboard until I have a tune that I like
Step 2: Put it away. Repeat Step 1 in a new project.
Step 3: Continue doing this for a while, just depending on mood.
Step 4: Start revisiting the previous projects
Step 5: Add or remove things from the project until I have something that I like
Step 6: Put it away!
Step 7: Continue to a new song
Step 8: Revisit projects for mixing
Step 9: Listen to the complete song on multiple different outputs (car audio, headphones, office speakers, etc.)
Step 10: Revise or delete as necessary
A big part of my process is just pure experimentation and throwing stuff at a wall until I have something that sticks. The second biggest part of my process is taking breaks from the creating. This is true in all things: if you do something long enough without a break, you lose the ability to objectively find and fix the issues. You get tired or you tune out the thing that was wrong.
Which brings me to some rules that I try to keep:
Rule 1: Have a defined target or goal
Rule 2: Accept that 90% is sometimes good enough
Rule 3: Take breaks and take care of yourself
For me, my defined target is pretty situational. For “Inside the Red Room”, I wanted a collection of songs that could be in the background and not be distracting. For the ongoing RPM Challenge 2021, I want to tell a story with music targeting a more sci-fi feel. And then for my next project, I’m planning to try for more lo-fi sound though I haven’t decided if I want to go upbeat or chill.
When I don’t have an active goal, I just target trying to create a little something every day… Something that I can come back to when I do have a goal. How does that work out for me? Well, here’s a sample of something I created a few weeks back and put away because it’s fun and nice but doesn’t really go with my current sci-fi story goal.
Untitled WIP by Achira
I do like the vibe of this thing but it’s not finished and it’s not fitting in with anything, so I put it away.
As an aside, the reason why that piece ended up sounding do different from my other work, really, was a reflection of something that I was trying to do based on reading I was doing a few weeks ago on song structure. Basically, I wanted to compose a song that followed a specific format while also trying a different time signature. (This was 6/8 instead of common time.) If you listen closely to the track, you can hear the pattern reflected in this screenshot:
I worked on it for a bit, adding bass, acoustic guitar, drummer track, and doing some basic mixing in an attempt to make it sound somewhat right and this is where I apply Rule 2.
Many artists that might want to work on this more and make it perfect, but I’m done with it for today because it’s 90% complete in its current form. Could it use more work? Yes! Could I refine it and bring it into my target genre of music? Definitely and that’s the long-term goal. But it’s better to leave it alone for now and figure it out later with fresh ears. If it never gets used as part of a collection, oh well, at least it was fun working on and I didn’t spend a lot of time nitpicking it to death.
Because nitpicking it to death would take hours and hours and hours… reducing the amount of time I spend actually creating. I would never get anywhere on my actual goals.
Speaking of that 90% rule, I feel like you can hear that rule in most of my upcoming album “Inside the Red Room”. Here’s one of the songs on the album:
The Last Toy Soldier by Achira
Like anything I do, I can hear the imperfection and think that I could have made it better but I had to stop somewhere. (By the way, if you hear a clipping sound when pressing play… that’s not actually part of the song or heard in other method of playback than here. And even then, I could only reproduce it in one specific browser during testing.) The question wasn’t, “Is this done?” Rather, the questions were, “Is this good enough? And does it match the vibe I want?” Yes, yes it did.
This is something that, as an artist, you have to come to terms with. You have to know your audience. Often times, we put things into the world for our own community to see – I like to draw therefore I put my art into the world in a community filled with artists that are also capable of seeing all the flaws in my work. Every one of them could pick apart any of my drawings and tell me that I could do better but it becomes a question of whether or not I need to do better. Would my target audience spot all the same flaws?
I struggle with that concept a lot – at what point do you stop and call things good? You have to have a place that you call “done” otherwise you’ll spend all of your time revising in search of perfection and never have a finished product to put out there. So really, the 90% rule is about knowing what complete looks like.
In the process above, I mentioned taking breaks and walking away, which is reinforced by Rule 3. Right now, I’m taking a break from new artistic creation to write this blog post. I took a break from writing this blog post, at one point, to do yoga. (It’s an active recovery day.) While I try to put as many hours towards my creative pursuits as I can, I have a scheduled bedtime (even on the weekends) and I work in time for exercise and my family.
Taking care of yourself – eating right, sleeping, exercising – is the most important thing you can do for your creativity. Trust me on this one. I’ve spent months of my life not being able to accomplish any creative pursuit because I wasn’t taking care of myself. The end result was that while I may have felt okay at the time, my creative output was stunted.
No matter how much you love your artistic pursuit, it’s a job. It’s stress. It has to be managed appropriately. So next time you’re feeling stressed or creatively blocked, go for a run. Do anything that cultivates some relaxation and gets you back on track… even if it means stepping away to take a nap.
That’s it for this post. I hope that you’re still with me, you enjoyed the music within, and most importantly, I hope you are taking care of yourself. Feel free to write and tell me what you think about my process or to tell me your own process at achira(at)achira.art.