Sunday, 12 February 2012

The Rhythm Method

All the songs I've done in this weekly giveaway have so far been fairly rushed affairs, utilising the 'B-Stock' ideas, and designed not to impact too heavily on my life or on my creative stockpile. Any idea I think is pretty decent gets shoved to one side. Only once did I have a borderline case, when I thought a chord progression was 'possibly worth keeping and warranted further work' but I used it anyway ('A Pat on the Back'). For the most part though, I've kept what I consider to be 'the good stuff' as far away from the weekly giveaways as possible.
Sometimes you land lucky and things fall out of your head practically in one piece. For the most part, however, songs I write are a result of several different musical ideas and lyrical ideas, drafted, left alone, redrafted, left alone, redrafted and honed. The hardest bit of writing stuff is deciding that it's finished. It takes quiet; it takes solitude; it takes contemplation; it takes a certain amount of inspiration; it takes time.
And time is in short supply with this project. Odd snatched hours, strict deadlines, no internal editing required. The emphasis is on quantity, not quality. It's a production-line approach. I'm aware that some of the best songs of all time were created that way, in the Brill Building or the rooms above Denmark Street, but a lot of crap came out of those buildings too; it just isn't the way I work.
Add to it the pressure of sidelining anything with any potential to actually be good, and you're left with very little to work with.
Instead of letting ideas gestate in their own precious time, they are jettisoned prematurely into a sort of 'Ideas Withdrawal method'. This method acts as its own creative contraceptive.
It was fine right at the beginning: perhaps the remnants of pre-project ideas were still swimming up the right channels. But within a very short space of time, things have become tough. Musically, the path of least resistance is the cliche, and that's something that is very difficult for an essentially lazy person like me to fight against within the constraints of the project. Lyrically, I just don't have something different and interesting to say, on demand, every week, week-after-week. You pluck ideas from the air; you can't harvest them on an industrial scale.
The only alternative to resorting to hackneyed standard formulae is to start letting the 'good stuff' through too, and I really don't want to give that away to prove a point. There just isn't enough of that to last a year anyway, never mind enough time in a week to knock it into shape. I have come to the conclusion that:
It may initially seem to be creatively stimulating, but I can't see how it can be done on this scale without ending up running on empty and resorting to the banal and the throwaway.
Of course, I'm not saying that a little push doesn't grease the wheels occasionally, and a deadline can sharpen the senses, but this relentless pace is going to sap anyone.
And I mean anyone. Even people who have been paid $16,000 to keep that pace.
It does raise the question: if you were being paid $16,000 to do it, obviously you may spend more time on it, and you could keep the quality higher for longer. But either I don't understand international monetary value well enough, or you'd struggle to actually live on $16,000 without doing anything else. And I don't know if any amount in my wallet would actually stimulate ideas, musical or lyrical. And it's ideas that are drained. You could spend a little more time on dotting is and crossing ts, or getting the production values a little higher, but I'm unconvinced you'd have many more ideas.
Let me ask you this: who can you think of that releases five albums a year, all of which is quality original material?
I'm coming to the conclusion that this way of working can only ever produce 2nd or even 3rd rate results. I haven't written a song under it yet I've been happy to have my name attached to without the context of this blog to justify it's mediocrity. I've started to worry that people will hear the songs out of the context of the project, miss the point and think it's output I'm proud of. There's been a couple of good-ish ideas, but without the room available to develop their potential. I'm starting to worry that I've accidentally condemned myself to a year of producing rubbish, for a reason that will be lost well before the songs.
I find myself repeating the mantra: "It's all about the process, not the product," to myself as well as anyone else within earshot. But the product IS important. It's what will be left over at the end of all this, and it's the most important aspect of the project to some people.
The annoying thing is that I've got a backlog of music I want to record, but I'm stuck matching a banal project, song-for-song. The other annoying thing is that this project is only one of several projects I want to do under the 'No Packet Required' umbrella, and it's the longest commitment of time with the lowest creative return.
I know now that I could knock out a song a week with barely any effort, and without any financial outlay - so far it hasn't cost a penny - but I am starting to wonder if 52 songs I'm not proud of, and an obscure point proven really justifies deliberately spending an entire year prematurely ejaculating dubious material. For me, 'her' and her backers, there are probably more worthwhile avenues to pursue than this over-valued, wrongheaded party trick (unless it's all about the money).
I seriously doubt the validity of this project, both for me or my 'inspiration.' I'm really starting to wonder if it's worth it, or if I would be better served creating music that represents me more fully, free from time constraints and the impositions caused by the financial obligations of someone I've never met.
I don't think this works. But I can walk away whenever I like. She's stuck with it.
So. I'm on the horns of a dilemma. Do I keep on doing this for another 46 weeks, putting in less and less effort, making worse and worse songs, in order to reach conclusions I've already reached, a mere six weeks in? Or do I stop labouring the point, work on stuff I actually want to do and leave the battery-farmed, vapid rubbish to those who are contractually obliged to it?
It's obvious which one I'm leaning towards. I'll give it one more week, just in case this is a temporary blip, and if the song I produce gives me the same feeling the other six have, I'll let it go as an unworkable method for creating anything valuable. Because I can.