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Dear Readers,

Whenever I have a release on the horizon, it’s a lengthy process to get across the finish line. First, there’s the initial listening process to make sure mixing/mastering went well enough. Then I have to upload the music – typically to Apple Music / iTunes so it will sync to my devices and I can listen wherever. When I’m satisfied, I move to the naming process.

I find that the process of naming music can be difficult. When you’ve spent months upon months creating the music, listening to it over and over, it kind of loses meaning at some point. I mostly file it into three categories: 1) Good, 2) Could be good, or 3) Needs to go to the trash bin. The main issue, really, is that through this process I have to set aside my feelings about the music and approach it in a more analytical approach.

There’s a problem though. All of this happens before the song gets named or before a theme becomes clear. By setting aside those feelings about the music, I kind of lose the ability to envision the story being told by the music. So enter the naming party!

The naming party is essentially a set amount of time where I get to force my loving partner into listening to the music and then leech out her creative force. It can be a collaborative process but mostly, I have to rely on her initial reactions and emotions to set the theme for the music. The theme leads to song naming and song order. She also largely decides on the naming of the songs based on those feelings and reactions.

It’s definitely one of the more important parts of creating an album and I can’t do it alone. If it had been left to me alone, most of my albums would consist of songs like: “House Music – C Major – Song 1” or “Ambient Piano – G Minor – Song 3”. Possible album titles: “Album 1”, “Album 2”, and so on.

The released album is made better thanks to this collaboration and it’s an important part of my whole process. A piece of the process I couldn’t do without a trusted partner.

Sincerely,

Achira

P.S. In case you were worried that it’s a one-sided arrangement, I am occasionally involved in story ideas/editing/proof-reading for her… which I do with minimal complaint…

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Dear Readers,

Being a writer has been forefront on my mind lately. My lovely partner is a writer, and I watch her struggle with the business side of things – researching literary agents and publishing houses, writing query letters, dealing with rejections, and all that. I’m impressed by her commitment and fortitude, truly, but I also get to think about my past desire to be in the writing game.

There was a time when I wanted to be a writer. I wrote short stories as a youth and poems as a teenager (of course I did). Somewhere in my digital archives I’ve managed to keep works from my early adulthood: there are poems, stories, and even a book! I haven’t read them but I can assure you that they are terrible and probably quite embarrassing. I’m not willing to open them and find out.

That unwillingness to open up the archive, refine the work, and pursue the story until it’s finally told and in the world – that’s why I’m not a writer. I’m not a writer because it doesn’t interest me the way other artistic pursuits do. Sure, if I were famous enough where I could just get that book deal – I’d do it. Putting in the time and effort, though, to actually make it happen? No thank you. This blog is the maximum amount of effort I’m willing to put into writing and this basically sums up to being a public journal.

I try harder with music. I research song structures and how other producers make music. I submit to contests in the hopes of getting my name out there. I submit songs to playlists. I release to Bandcamp and successfully submitted to the editorial staff for my last album. I always release my music with a release date that’s 30-60 days in the future – for playlist submission to Spotify mostly. (Fun frustrating fact: you can only have one active pitch to for a single song to Spotify for playlist submission and it’s only available during that pre-release period. You get zero notification if the pitch is even viewed and zero notification when you aren’t put on a playlist.) Every now and again, I remember to get on Twitter and see what other musicians are doing.

Maybe next year, I’ll figure out how to actually do the marketing part…

Obviously, my past self was naïve. My past self thought that publishing a single book would bring untold riches and allow me to live the most luxurious life. It wouldn’t take any work and everything would be easy, because that’s exactly how the world works. It is nice to dream…

I can’t say I remember exactly where I was trying to get in this post so I’ll just wrap with this. If you’re among the creatives out there struggling to be heard, don’t give up. There is an audience for you, it just might take some time to find them.

Sincerely,

Achira

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Dear Readers,

September is here and that means Autumn is right around the corner. In my area, it should remain warm for another month or two but it will still be a marked change from the summer months. It’s time for things to cool off a little – just enough to make you think it’s time to get out winter attire. Then you’ll get it out and it’ll heat up again forcing you to find those summer clothes again.

On the upside: it’s not much of a problem for me since I don’t really have separate wardrobes but I do hear the complaints every year!

Autumn is the time of year when I put away my water shoes and find the hiking boots. It’s time for the mosquitoes to go away and that cool, crisp air to come in. The humidity finally fades and it no longer feels quite like walking through a think water blanket whenever I’m outside. (Admittedly, I like the humidity… until about mid-August. By that point, I’m ready to move on!)

This time of year, you’ll find me dragging my family to the nearest (and safest) mountain trails to go “hiking”. It’s less proper hiking and more a long walk with some trees around and periodically coming across other people out for the same thing. You can’t deny the views are beautiful, though, and combined with that crisp air – it’s a refreshing experience.

One thing that I like about experiencing the changing seasons… No, wait, one thing that I’ll miss the most when climate change takes away our seasons, is the change that comes with every season. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not fond of winter – the thought of it brings a bit of heaviness to my heart. The idea of being home bound because it’s too cold to do anything outside and, even if it were warmer, too dark.

I do like the change though. By the time I’m sick of the summer, it’s gone and I’m left with my happy feelings about all that warmth and sunshine – waiting for it to come back again. With autumn, there will be different activities and experiences coming just in time to save us from the activities we’ve been doing for months – and getting a little bored of doing.

Change is an important force in refreshing our creativity. It’s too easy to get stuck in routine, it’s too easy to get bored. Change can be forced on us from the outside or we can enforce the change ourselves. Whatever the case, though, the most important thing is to not be afraid of the change and embrace it for what it really is – a new opportunity.

I’m looking forward to the new season and starting a new project. I’m looking forward to closing out the project I’ve been working on for months. I’m looking forward to the change that is Autumn.

Sincerely,

Achira

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Maybe I mentioned this before, maybe not, but just in case: I’m a runner. I actually enjoy running and I gather that many people think this is weird, because most don’t find that same enjoyment. Granted, some days are tough and it is a chore but mostly it’s just great to be alive and active. Health and mental benefits aside, one thing I enjoy is imagining the lives of the other people that happen to be out and about.

On most days, I’m time-bound in my runs meaning that I have a set amount of time when I need to be done so that I can get back to my desk and do the work thing. As a result, I tend to run the same route every time I go out because I know exactly how long it takes and there are multiple shortcuts I can take to get back home in the event that I need to cut the run short.

This route takes me through some busier areas in my little city so I’m always seeing people. Sometimes, I see the same people. Sometimes, I don’t see those people but I know they are out because I see their car parked in the usual spot. At least twice, I’m pretty sure I saw the former mayor out for a walk but since he’s not wearing a “I was the mayor” t-shirt, I can’t be sure.

There’s usually at least one person out practicing guitar, a few people experiencing homelessness, the obvious tourists, a couple people on a coffee break, younger moms with their pre-school children, and pretty much always the same people running. I always love seeing the other runners because there’s nearly always a wave and a smile, like, “Yeah, I’m crazy too!”

When I don’t have pressing issues of my own to solve, seeing all of these different people is a fantastic exercise in imagination. I like to imagine what they are doing out and the decisions they made that led to this point. Sometimes I might think about the decisions I’ve made that got me to where I am today, how different decisions may have landed me in their positions. I might imagine an entire alternative life where had I made some series of other decisions, I could be that other person.

Going through this imaginative process often leaves me feeling pretty good about where I’ve ended up. Have I made choices in my life that were bad? Yes. Some of them were likely downright terrible. There are things that are cringeworthy and just stupid. (One upside to being a little older: none of my bad decisions are recorded on the internet!) But that’s life, and sometimes making a wrong turn can lead you to something unexpected and fantastic.

Going through that imaginative process also leaves me feeling creatively refreshed. It’s not that I’m going to capture those lives in my music – it’s just that I’m reminded that I wouldn’t be pursuing any art if not for the decisions that I’ve made in life. Some were good, some were bad, but they all led me to the place I am today.

Sincerely,

Achira

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Dear Readers,

I think I’ve touched on this topic over previous posts but I don’t recall directly writing about burnout. While I imagine people experience burnout differently, it’s a fairly common problem that so many of us deal with. It’s also near and dear to my heart because I’ve often been on the edge of burnout.

My day job can be pretty high stress and demanding. The hardest part, especially working remote, is being able to turn it off at night. Before you know it, you’ve spent the day working and dragged those problems into the evening. You never truly decompress and suddenly it’s time for bed, but you can’t sleep, so you grab a nightcap and try to sleep. But your sleep is troubled and you wake up in the night thinking about those problems you were having all day – and how you’re going to solve them the next day.

Burnout is basically that over a long period of time. It’s allowing something to consume every aspect of your life until you become so tired and demotivated that you can’t even seem to do the things you used to enjoy. It’s like the kudzu vine slowly creeping and growing. At first, there’s not a lot and maybe it’s at the base of one tree. Let it go long enough and the forest is consumed and the vines have sucked all the life out of those trees… looking pretty on the outside but empty on the inside.

I’ve been there before.

That experience is why self-care is so important to me and why I’ve tried so hard to strike a balance between my life and my day job. I worry a lot about ending up on the other side again – a place where being creative isn’t an option because the joy is lost. That, of course, leads to a different problem: the worry of burning out.

I can’t really force creativity – I’m either up for it or I’m not. But whenever I’m not in a creative mood, I have a brief moment of worry that it’s the burnout creeping up on me. I have to constantly remind myself: “Hey, it’s okay to relax.” Worrying about it doesn’t help and it doesn’t make the situation better. I just have to recognize that there will be a natural ebb and flow to my creative endeavors. Some days will be far more productive than others.

Also, it’s okay because I’m still progressing and moving forward. Most importantly, I’m still enjoying the process and have the desire to produce more music. I shouldn’t have to worry about approaching burnout because I know myself. I know the difference in feeling between needing a creative break and not wanting to do anything at all.

And having a little self-check like this, reminding myself of what I have accomplished and how I’m feeling – that goes a long way towards keeping that kudzu under control.

Sincerely,

Achira

P.S. Don’t underestimate the value of talking to someone if you’re feeling like you might be burned out. It will help.

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Dear Readers,

Well, it happened! About eight months into this project and I ran out of ideas for my weekly posting… which is why nothing went up last week! Now I’m down to the wire of my self-imposed deadline, again, wondering: what am I supposed to write about? Should I go into more personal topics? Should I try to dive into more technical postings and explain something about my work?

I’m not really sure. Up to this point, I’ve tried a few different things but the one I like the most are the opinion posts. The posts usually tie into music in some way or have a point that might help give some inspiration but they all serve to keep me accountable in this project. They give a little insight into the kind of person I am without spilling unnecessary details about my life onto the internet. Also, bonus points: they are the easiest to write because there isn’t much research involved.

Thinking about all of this, led me to thinking about having direction.

I feel like you have a few options in life: a) you can wander aimlessly never knowing where you want to be or caring where you end up, b) you can plot out every single point and plan exactly how you are going to get somewhere, or c) you can pick a direction and just go towards it. You probably know people that are on each of these paths. Or more likely, you’re thinking that it’s not such a simple choice and it’s situational.

You’re right. When it’s road trip time, I’m definitely more in the Option B category! But when it comes to general living, I think I gravitate towards Option C.

This option is right in the middle – you know you need to be somewhere or want to be somewhere, but you aren’t concerned with the specifics of how you get there. It affords flexibility, plan changes, and random acts of life that would just interrupt all your carefully laid plans anyway. It’s a way of enjoying the journey without being disappointed by every planned stop going awry along the way. But the path to your destination is winding and a little longer than it needed to be.

Also, this option is the best for me because I accept two truths: a) We don’t have control over everything; and b) Your fate and future isn’t predetermined. Which I guess is just another way of saying that you need to work hard for what you want and accept that failure is an option along the way.

Missing my schedule last week? That was a minor setback. A minor failure. But it’s okay, it’s not going to derail the direction I’m heading and I’m back at it today – getting something out there and holding myself accountable. Maybe my path is a little longer now but I’m still pointed in the right direction.

If you can take anything from this post, maybe it’s this: don’t let little set backs get in your way. The most successful people have lots of failures along the way, what makes them successful is that they continue to push forward.

Sincerely,

Achira

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Dear Readers,

I think I’ve mentioned before in this blog that I’m fortunate enough to have a day job. A day job completely different from music and art, but I get the bills paid and am happy for that. Thing is – making music is a job too. It’s a job that takes up a lot of time. Probably a little blood, sweat, and tears too. I see it as two lives contrasting from each other with very little overlap.

How do you keep those lives separate? Depending on your generation, you probably have a different approach. It seems the older generation would keep these as separated as possible while the younger generation would take every opportunity they could to tell you all about their side hustle and why you should support it. You can probably tell which side of the generational gap I’m siding with on this topic. (To be clear: it’s the side that keeps things separate.)

I don’t announce anything at my day job about my artistic pursuits. Sure, there are a few people that are more friends and less work associates these days, so I tell them a little bit. Sometimes, people will ask when we’re on video calls about the paintings in the background and I might give them a quick tour around my office – beyond that, it’s all professional.

One thing I’ve noted over the years and through a number of jobs is that it’s becoming more normal for people to share about their personal lives. And now, when so many people out there are using video conferencing for the first time ever, things seem to be getting even more personal. I don’t approve. I won’t drag this out but the next time your company leadership goes on about how “we’re all Company family” – you should think about that.

I know this much: I’m not allowed to fire my family members for not making money.

Anyway… separation. It can be incredibly difficult to enforce separation between your job (day) and your job (night). Everyone’s circumstance is different so let me explain mine a bit.

I’ve been a remote worker for about eight years. I have an office. The office has one main desk that houses my music equipment, personal computer, some art supplies, and work supplies. In another corner are the art supplies. Somewhere in the middle of this room, right now, are guitars. During the colder months, I also bring exercise equipment (small weights, mats, etc.) into this room. I pretty much live in this room. (Inside the Red Room. Get it?)

Keeping these lives separate becomes a real balancing act. I have to place things in my office just right to ensure they are out of camera view so I don’t have to deal with questions. I can’t make too much of a mess when I’m painting because I need a clean space to work in and, when it’s colder, I need room to exercise. This also limits just how much gear I can acquire since there’s a limited space in which to put the kit.

The main problem, though, is that all around are the various temptations of things I’d rather be doing than my actual job. And when I’m actually doing the things I want to do, I’m right next to my work computer where if I only spent 30 more minutes on that project, I could get it done… (Which almost always spirals to hours because there’s never enough time to do all the work.)

How do I handle it? Well… there’s a Chris Rock stand-up comedy special where he makes a few jokes where the main punchline is, “A mortgage makes you act right.” I can’t argue with that! But what does it mean to act right?

In my case, I keep a consistent schedule. I work the same hours throughout the day and I unplug at a predefined time. Sleep gets, more-or-less, the same priority with a set number of hours and timing every day. The remaining hours are split for all the other things where I try to keep some flexibility. On some days, I’ll work on music for hours while on other days, I spend all that time with my family instead.

And I’m sure you’ll love this circular logic: the most important thing to keeping things separate is to keep them separate. You know, setting boundaries. If I were to sit around talking about my artistic pursuits all day, I would feel a stronger desire to work on it during that time. Even if I were to refrain, I would still be watching the clock waiting for the exact minute I could be done with work in order to get on with the better pursuit.

Many years ago, that’s exactly how it was with my coworkers. We would play video games together in the evening, show up late to work, and then sit around and talk about those games all day along with strategies for that evening. With all that talk and planning, we were all itching to get out work, often trying to find ways to leave a few minutes early so we could get started on the all important game.

On the other end of the spectrum, in more recent years, I was so attached to work that I was never able to more forward on any artistic pursuit. I’d work all day and sometimes in the evening to wrap up sometimes and then I’d communicate to work contacts through all the waking hours – I never unplugged. So every time I went into my office, I felt pulled to my work device… because there’s always work to be done.

Ultimately, blurring the boundaries between things that should have stayed separate was a terrible idea.

Sincerely,

Achira

P.S. Yes, you could say that I have one job and one hobby because I could walk away from music. I consider it a second job because of the amount of time I put into it and the effort spent on things like this blog. For as long as I continue to do this, I’ll continue to think of it as my second job.

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Dear Readers,

I was recently at a local outdoor music event, eating very interesting (also very good) Moroccan red quinoa tacos and listening to live music. After a while, I realized I wasn’t hearing the whole music anymore – instead, I was trying to find the song structure and the chord changes. Was that a 12-bar blues I heard? Was that a major turnaround? What was that drum pattern? So this is where I am at now – finding enjoyment in deconstructing other music to see what I’ve learned or what I can learn from it.

Song structure is important when you’re working with lyrics and vocals. The reading I’ve done on this seems to reinforce the idea as almost all the descriptions revolve around the lyrical portion of the song. All examples provided are lyrical songs – no instrumentals. It leaves me wondering how important having a formal song structure is to my own music.

I mean, in the strictest sense of the thing, any song I create will have structure. There will be a beginning, middle, and end. There will be volume changes and instrument drones that fade in-and-out. There will be chord progressions and multiple instruments, but many of the songs I’m working on don’t follow standard structures (12-bar, ABABCB, verse-chorus, etc.). Does it matter?

Well, what I’ve found recently is that songs following a defined structure definitely stick around in my head longer. I’ll walk away from working on the piece and still be humming a catchy part of the song later in the day because there’s some repetition in the music and using a common structure leads to having certain expectations. It’s like watching a movie – once you’ve seen enough in a single genre, you know what’s coming next.

The music I’m creating that is free-flowing and doesn’t focus on structure? Mostly, I walk away from these songs with just a feeling. The melody is forgettable, nothing more than a snapshot in time from the day I originally played the part.

I call it forgettable but that’s not the most apt description. The goal of the music isn’t to have a melody that sticks out or be distracting in any way. It’s music that goes in the background. It fills the void of silence, but it doesn’t have to draw you in. When done right, you will enjoy the music enough to remember the artist name but forget all the song titles.

Hopefully, you’ll be left with a good feeling and forget all the rest.

Sincerely,

Achira

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Dear Readers,

It’s been a little while since “City Dreams” came out and I thought I should tell you that, yes, I have been busy working on new material! Here’s a small sample:

Untitled Work in Progress

For this work, I’ve been focused on making a clean ambient sound. This should be the kind of music that can sit in the background while you study, sleep, or meditate. And, so far, I’m pretty happy with the results. That said, I’m still very much in the initial creation and mixing phase of my workflow – so I don’t yet have a target release time or any more details about the album.

My main focus, in creating the cleaner sound, has been in improving my mixing. I’ve largely focused on doing better with equalizers and, in some cases, attempted to apply a more standard song structure. My plan is to avoid drums in this release or, if they are added, having a minimal amount of them. What I want is to have a mostly free-flowing piano lead with a variety of ambient drones and strings in the background to invoke a nice sense of calm.

As for other techniques, I’m using a limited amount of compression, a variety of delay and reverb techniques, and a whole lot of shimmer. (See: https://valhalladsp.com/shop/reverb/valhalla-shimmer/). I don’t have too many third-party plugins but that one is definitely one of my favorites!

Anyway, I wanted to share some updates because I’m excited about this future release!

Sincerely,

Achira

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Dear Readers,

I think any parent will tell you that it’s pretty common for kids to complain about their education. For that matter, many adults might recall their own complaints about school – or maybe they have complaints about what is being taught in school to their kids because they think it’s useless. People have their reasons for hating on education but it’s pretty common. It’s been on my mind lately between summer vacation for the kids and my own attempts to learn new things.

What I’ve mostly been thinking about is that we waste a lot of time complaining about education or trying to justify the “why” you need to learn a subject. There’s an inability to just accept that you have to learn things to grow as a person or that you need to learn a specific subject in order to learn a subject that seems more interesting to you.

I mean, you have to learn a few things before you can jump into differential calculus, am I right?

As an adult, though, I accept that sometimes I’m learning just for the joy of learning something new. In recent months, I’ve taken on trying to learn the guitar. When I decided to learn the guitar, I started with doing research on the type of guitar I should buy as a beginner and resources for learning. I subscribed to Fender Play and now I practice every day to get better because I want to learn.

Do I need to learn it? Not really. I’m doing it for fun. It’s a choice I made.

I’m also spending this summer trying to learn about gardening. I bought some ebooks via a Humble Bundle sale in the past that cover small-space gardening and I finally decided to move forward on that. Again, do I need to learn this skill? Nope! I’m just doing it for the joy of learning.

Some out there might be inclined to say that it’s different. I’m learning now because I choose to and that makes it better. My response is that I can learn these things now, for fun and faster, because I learned the bare minimums provided to me before. Math helps with music. Math helps with science. These foundational ideas help with art, both visual and auditory.

Music mixing and production is nothing more than making sound waves that appeal to human ears without having too much or too little in any one frequency band. While I don’t need a background in math and science to understand this, my ability to understand this is improved by having that knowledge.

Consider this my plea to change your perception of learning – it’s not a chore, it’s important, it’s fun, and it’ll expand your horizons. Sometimes you have to learn something not directly related to your goals. Sometimes learning is difficult. All that effort, though, just makes it all the sweeter when you come out on the other side having learned something new.

Sincerely,

Achira

P.S. Don’t let this blog fool you, I rot my brain cells with TV too.