The blog celebrated its fourteenth birthday yesterday. Where does the time go, eh?
I listen to a lot of podcasts on my daily commute. This week I caught up with the latest episode of Graham Cochrane and Joe Gilder's Simply Recording Podcast which I mentioned in last week's blog. One of the points they return to, time and again, is that musicians should finish things and move on. That final step of releasing a track is massively important, they say, as it's how you build up a body of work. And building up a body of work is how musicians develop their chops.
It's surprising how much resistance you have to overcome to take that final step. Deciding that something is finished is difficult for me, because I'm never satisfied with a track. Graham and Joe's advice to people like me is clear: you have to decide that you're done, and put the results out there regardless.
So, as you can see at the top of the current blog page, I have a new single available on Bandcamp called Rollin'. And yes, it's a piece I've been tinkering with for a while. In fact, this is the 4th mix I've made of a song I originally wrote for 50/90 last year; on this version I replaced the drums, changed all the processing on the rhythm guitars and the vocals, and all the 9-string guitar on the track has been redone so that the effect vibrato always falls on the beat (which was a bugger to do, because the pedal that I used to get the sound doesn't have a BPM option to set the rate, just a very arbitrary rotary knob...) Now it's time to let go and move on, and I'm feeling really good about being able to do that. I have new material on sale!
I know what you're thinking: "One track? That's no big deal..."
I agree with you. Which is why I've decided to set myself a challenge: from now until this year's 50/90 finishes on October 1st, I am going to release a single every Saturday. And by "single" I mean a track that people can hum - something commercial, possibly even poppy. Something that's fun to listen to that you wouldn't feel embarrassed putting on the playlist for your party. So that means no seven-minute progressive rock extravaganzas (probably) and definitely no half-hour-long ambient pieces. I'll be aiming at three- or four-minute songs with relatively traditional structures. This week's and next week's songs already exist, so I'm easing myself into the challenge relatively gently. But each single will have its own cover art, too; when I set myself a challenge like this, I don't do things by halves.
That means coming up with 5 songs in July, 4 in August, 5 in September, and let's say we'll add a final one to finish things off on October 1st. All told, that's a total of 16 tracks - a good album's worth of material.
Since I started doing FAWM and 50/90 I've realised how important it is to set goals and deadlines for creative endeavours. It changes how I approach the challenge of being creative. You have to give up being precious about waiting for inspiration to strike, because you no longer allow yourself the luxury of being able to wait. Instead, you have to knuckle down and produce something. And since I started taking part in FAWM and 50/90, the rate at which I produce creative works has changed out of all recognition. It's gone through the roof. In the previous decade I wrote and recorded just three pieces of music. That's right: three. My output since signing up for FAWM nine years ago currently stands at 402, and I may have missed out a few extra tracks here and there. If I improve a little bit with every piece of music I create, that means I've improved four hundred times over the last nine years. In the ten years before that I gave myself just three opportunities to improve. Those figures bear out the relative magnitude of the progress I made musically over those periods, too - at least to my own ears.
This year's 50/90 starts on July 4th and the website is up and running and ready for you to sign up. If you're a songwriter or a musician, I strongly recommend you take part. You'll be a better artist for doing so and even if you just write one song for the challenge, that's a song you wouldn't have written otherwise. Better yet, it's fun! I hope I'll see you there.
The news these days is just one appalling thing after another. I can't begin to express my anger over the Grenfell fire that took place this week; the hypocrisy of Boris Johnson offering his "thoughts and prayers" to the victims left me seething. This is the man responsible for swingeing cuts to the London Fire Service during his tenure as Mayor. This is the man who responded with "get stuffed" when he was challenged back in 2013 that his cuts threatened public safety. He may cultivate a bumbling clown image, but he isn't the fun, circus variety of clown. He's the dangerous, horror movie type of clown; a clown with blood on its hands.
It feels like there aren't any grown-ups in charge any more. I've never felt like this before, and I've been around for a while. I've stopped watching the news on TV; for the last week I've avoided it on the Internet as well. Let me know when the situation improves, okay?
In such circumstances, I tend to retreat into the studio and focus on improving my guitar playing. For the last week I've been playing guitar even more than usual, as I've started getting in to guitar synthesis with a new synth controller (a Godin xtSA) for the Roland GR-55 I bought a few months ago. On Monday night I discovered that there's a free computer-based patch editor for it called GR Floorboard and I have literally spent hours trying out all the different patches that come with it, including at least four renditions of Allan Holdsworth's signature fluid tones. I've updated my music page with some of the nerdier details (and added a couple of new pictures too).
All this guitar playing has a purpose. Yesterday the 50/90 Challenge went live for this year's event. If you're new to this blog, you might not have heard about it: it's a songwriting challenge to write fifty songs in the ninety days between July 4th and October 1st. Each song gets posted on the 50/90 site for other participants to listen to so they can comment and provide feedback. Think of it as being February Album Writing Month's big sister. This will be the fifth year in which I've taken part. Every year I do so, I notice a big change in the quality of the songs that I write. The reason for this is a simple one: taking part forces you to finish songs and release them into the wild. You wouldn't think that final step could make such a difference, but it does. If you write songs, it's a great resource. The people taking part are really nice, too.
It's not just my writing and playing that I want to improve, though. The quality of the demos that I record is very important to me as well, and I get a huge buzz out of creating a high-quality recording. I want my material to sound as good as it possibly can, and once again I've noticed a huge improvement in the sound of my music over the nine years I've been doing FAWM and 50/90. In preparation for this year I've been listening to a number of home recording podcasts, and the most recent of these has been Graham Cochrane and Joe Gilder's Simply Recording Podcast. I've listened to every episode on my commute, and they provide lots of great advice. I'll be putting lots of their quick tips into practice during 50/90. And they agree with what I said just now: it's the final step of finishing a song and releasing it that gives your abilities its biggest kick.
I'm really looking forwards to hearing where 50/90 takes me this summer. You can follow my progress on my profile page, which will have links to everything I record for the challenge. I hope you'll give my music a listen.
With less than a week to go to the general election, the parties are in full-on campaigning mode. For the conservatives, their approach seems to be to plant people in the BBC Question Time audience and get them to pretend to be working class so they can ask questions intended to embarrass Jeremy Corbyn. Fortunately for the rest of us, they're as good at pretending to be poor as they are at everything else: zero hours boy was even grassed up by his mates: he's not on a zero-hours contract and never has been.
We've come to expect this sort of thing from Question Time, though: this is the show whose producer had to be reprimanded for sharing tweets from far-right organizations. Elsewhere on the BBC, guests are being warned before they go on air "not to go too heavy on the Tories". All of this calls into question the network's coverage of the election.
From the way she's been avoiding matters, Teresa May appears to have bottled it entirely. Last week she was complaining about how inconvenient it was to have a general election that she called and now she's refusing to do interviews. Her incompetence has got certain parts of the press severely rattled; look no further than The Telegraph, which in recent weeks has been running one smear after another about the Labour leader. I'm sure it's entirely coincidental that its owners will have to pay more tax in the UK if Labour were to gain power; the Barclay Brothers are estimated to be worth £7.5 billion. And I'm sure it was equally coincidental that the Telegraph happened to further their interests during a two-month campaign against Qatar a few years ago.
The election is on Thursday. Make sure you go out there and vote.
Yello recorded the track 3rd June for their 1988 album Flag and today I made a point of listening to it once again. It's become a strange little ritual of mine. It has no significance; I just like the track. The whole album is exceptional, and if you've never given it a listen, why not give it a go?