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