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Posts Tagged ‘creative process’

In the words of Malcolm Reynolds, the stalwart captain of Serenity, I am still flying. It’s been a year since my last blog post (why does this suddenly feel like a confession) and I’m trying to find my way back into the world of creativity and self expression after what has been the hardest couple of years in recent memory.

This year’s FAWM saw a massive increase in my song-writing productivity – from 0 songs the February before to 2 new songs this year. This is good. It’s not the best, but it’s good.

I took the frightening step into full time self employment too, giving up my day job as an administrator to teach singing, so I am now, finally, making 100% of my income from music and music related activities. This is a really huge thing for me, as it has been a goal for the longest time.

So now, I’m actively working on two major projects: Promoting my tuition business (Tiny Cat Vocal Tuition – because we have cats, not because I intend to make my pupils sound like cats, let alone tiny cats…) and getting Hummingbird finished at long last and only several years later than originally intended.

Hummingbird

Album cover – first draft – drawn using Pixelmator on the iPad

Things still feel slow, but there is movement, albeit like a glacier. It can feel imperceptible, and sometimes it’s frustrating, that feeling that I am letting everyone down, that I am letting myself down, that I’m not achieving things as quickly as I would like. I hate that life events have necessitated recovery time, because I am essentially quite an impatient person. But creative projects, businesses and good wine all have something in common: they take time, and time taken makes them better.

So as I step into this new phase, I remind myself that I am still flying, and that I am allowed to take the time I need for my projects to mature. I have survived, and now I will thrive.

 

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Wow, time flies when you’re having fun.

Or working like a dog.

Whichever.

In any case, something more like normal service should be resumed now. After a crazy January of working 10 hour days between the university job and singing tuition, things have now settled down slightly with a reduction in hours to four days a week instead of five. I’m still busy, but I can now enjoy luxuries like eating and sleeping.

Oh, and taking part in the yearly write-fest that is February Album Writing Month. That too. 😉

So far, progress has been good, I think. A week in, I’m bang on target with four songs recorded and up on the site and several on the go. My biggest challenge is keeping up with the listening and commenting – the site is so much bigger this year than previous ones, so it can feel pretty overwhelming staying on top of everything. As always though it’s a fantastic experience and a strong and positive community.

I usually like to blog about FAWM and put up posts highlighting some of my favourite listens. I’m going to open with a post about what I’ve been doing, and then post again later in the week when I’ve narrowed down five or so recommendations – the quality this year is outstanding, which is great but makes finding five or so favourites actually pretty hard!

So my four so far (in order of posting and with the disclaimer that these are rough demos with some errors and glitches!):

Shadows on the Run

January was a horrible struggle this year, as it is for many of us, which is what inspired this one.

I know it’s not always easy
Life can leave you hollow inside
Striped down and defenceless
On a hellish ride

Too many corners and angles
The path ahead obscure and unknown
But nothing is forever
And you’re not alone

CHORUS
See the shadows on the run
In the path of something better coming true
Winter’s time is almost done
And the light is pushing through
See the shadows on the run
See the future stretching out before you
In the golden summer sun
There’ll be nothing you can’t do

I know you’ve been cold in the darkness
Chilled by every little mistake
Sometimes it feels like there’s nothing
More you can take

The wind is so bitter, the land is so hard
Stagnation feels so easy to do
But nothing is forever
And we’ll see it through

CHORUS
See the shadows on the run
In the path of something better coming true
Winter’s time is almost done
And the light is pushing through
See the shadows on the run
See the future stretching out before you
In the golden summer sun
There’ll be nothing you can’t do

Rubbish Fairy Tale

A favourite of mine and one that will be on set lists for live gigs from now on, this is a song about expectations and how reality so rarely matches up.

 

I was looking for a pot of gold
Had to settle for a pin
I dreamt of a knight in armour bold
Got a boy made out of tin

Ooh, what a rubbish fairy tale
Ooh, what a rubbish fairy tale

This “happy-ever-after” thing
Is so last hundred years
The poisoned apple book of lies
Makes a mockery of tears

Ooh, what a rubbish fairy tale
Ooh, what a rubbish fairy tale

I won’t guess your name
And I won’t let down my hair
I’ve kissed a thousand frogs and they’re all still there
You can keep your slipper
You can keep your throne
All I want is a good book and a night at home

Ooh, what a rubbish fairy tale
Ooh, what a rubbish fairy tale
Ooh, what a rubbish fairy tale
Ooh, what a rubbish fairy tale

Battlefield

This was written as part of a song skirmish. Song skirmishes are one of my favourite things about FAWM. Someone picks a title, and everyone who takes part has one hour to write a song with that title. Then they’re shared. It consistently amazes me how differently people interpret the titles. This was my offering.

Here on the battlefield we will take a stand
In the killing fields our test is close at hand
We won’t be bound, we won’t fear death
We’ll hold our ground until the final breath

Those who went before us
Stained the good earth with their blood
And we who follow after
Feel their heartbeats in the mud
The hounds of war are coming
Howling death, despair and rage
But our courage will sustain us as we meet them

Here on the battlefield we will take a stand
In the killing fields our test is close at hand
We won’t be bound, we won’t fear death
We’ll hold our ground until the final breath

There’s no honour in this bloodshed
But some things must be done
As we tumble rank and file
To never see the sun
Some may call us martyrs
And some may call us fools
But to bow before the enemy is foolish too

Here on the battlefield we will take a stand
In the killing fields our test is close at hand
We won’t be bound, we won’t fear death
We’ll hold our ground until the final breath

Impossible Windmills

This is the saddest one this year and carries a trigger warning because of the content of the lyrics (mental health/depression). I’d like to re-record the vocals at some point. Gemma helped out with the lyrics on the last verse 🙂

A note on the mirror, written in steam
I can see clearly, through the glass nearly
A chink in your armour, patched up with glue
A smile sad as oceans, as you go through the motions

You’re tilting again at impossible windmills
I’m helpless again as you fall to the night

A page in your diary, a hole in your heart
I understand partly, through the glass darkly
A word left unspoken, a thorn in your mind
You’re turning away now, you’ve nothing to say

You’re tilting again at impossible windmills
I’m helpless again as you fall to the night

You’re tilting again at impossible windmills
I’m helpless again as you fall to the night
You’re tilting again at impossible windmills
I’m helpless again as you fall to the night

A note on the mirror
Written in steam

 So there you are, February so far. I have several gigs coming up in March and April which I’ll be writing about soon, and at least two of these stand a very good chance of being added to my live repertoire.
If you want to follow my progress on FAWM, head to the FAWM website  🙂 Or you could sign up and take part if you feel so inclined, it’s not too late!

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I had a conversation recently with one of my workmates and it sparked a lot of thought about this, and ultimately, I decided to blog about it, because it brought up a common misconception that, well, I don’t know about other musicians, but I’m getting rather tired of it.

I’ve been having a bit of a down time recently. Yes, I know, we’re not supposed to say these things, we’re supposed to smile so the world will smile with us, and be superhuman paragons of idealistic cheerfulness. But sometimes, just sometimes, the long slog of being an independent musician gets you down. Sometimes the endless rounds of promotion, marketing and the whole business side of it just become a miserable grind. On top of all this, I recently received some very appalling fiscal news from HMRC, so that instead of at least keeping my head above water in a calm financial sea, I find I am treading water in a tidal wave. Like fun, but with an entirely different dictionary definition…

Anyway, I was lamenting this to a work colleague of mine who said these immortal words: “well, instead of doing it for commercial reasons, why don’t you try making music for a laugh”. (I’m paraphrasing but that was the gist of it).

Now. I’m not sure where to start with this.

Do I start with the assumption being made that I’m some money-hungry capitalist running-dog who writes music with dollar signs hovering in her eyeballs?

Or how about the, quite frankly laughable, assumption that musicians make any kind of money from their music at any time at the grassroots level of their careers?

Commercial reasons. It’s an interesting choice of phrase. Is it “commercial” to want to make a living from music? Here is an activity that has high costs, in terms of creative and emotional energy, which means it’s very difficult to do, and do well, around a full time job. It also costs money. Money for instruments, tuition, equipment (cables, batteries, other consumables), studio time or running a computer and Digital Audio Workstation if you don’t have studio – even before factoring in making CDs and the cost of distribution, there is still a sizeable outlay just for the privilege of making music.

Most musicians, especially at this level, make music – not for the money (what an amusing concept!) – but because we are driven to do so. We are driven to write, to perform, to express ourselves through this medium. It’s not optional. It’s a part of who we are. But it needs to be sustainable.

So when you see a CD for sale by an independent artist, try not to let your first thought be that of a commercially-minded corporate money machine. Think of the creative soul behind the music. The hours spent in a studio, or a workroom, rehearsing, writing and struggling to make something beautiful, something worthwhile. And try to remember for many of us, selling music is what allows us to keep going. It helps pay for food and rent, and buy equipment, training and rehearsal space, transport to and from gigs, spare cables, and all the other sundries a gigging musician needs.

Yes, buying music makes you an enabler. Please continue.

 

 

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Yes, yes, just call me Tardy McTardypants. I came home from work yesterday and fell into a tired, headachy heap under the duvet, surfacing several hours later only for food and the final episode of Orange is the New Black.

Anyway.

I’ve been working on the EP and it’s nearing completion. Five out of six songs are basically done and the sixth now has lyrics, I just need a window of time large enough to do the recording which is unlikely to happen before the weekend.

As I was finishing off Leave a Light On recently I was thinking about how it has evolved, which I thought I’d talk about here.

Leave a Light On started as a track written for February Album Writing Month this year. You can listen to the original incarnation here.

The original demo has only piano, vocals and harmonies in it. I double-tracked the vocals on the chorus to give it more impact, and wrote in some harmonies to add interest, but ultimately kept it simple, and as a demo, it more than did the trick as a way of testing out the song idea.

I thought about doing a neater version of that for the EP, but it didn’t feel like I was challenging myself particularly. In terms of the EP, I decided early on that I wanted to try to achieve a more raw, live sound. I wanted to feel more exposed as a musician, to stop hiding behind effects and piles of harmonies and produce something more meaningful and real. Sometimes it’s felt to me like I use those things as a safety net, and I wanted to remove that protection.

That’s not to say there aren’t harmonies anywhere on Tales from the Undertow, just that they’re used with more restraint than on previous releases, I’ve tried to return to basics and keep my vocals as the central focus. My voice is, after all, my primary instrument. As an example of how strongly I feel about this, Eyes Like Summer, another track off of Tales… hasn’t been re-recorded in any way. The original demo worked so well that I have kept it, in its raw form, the only thing I have done is mastered it.

Back to Leave a Light On, or LALO as I’m fond of calling it… The second version to emerge was what I have been jokingly calling the “No Frills” mix. It was recorded live – with piano and vocals recorded simultaneously, in one take. No harmonies, no extra instrumentation, just me and the piano. You can have a listen to that version here: Leave a Light On (No Frills Mix)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like it. But it’s intended to be the opening track on the EP and it just felt like it wasn’t meaty enough as an opener. I want something that thunders through the listener and sets the tone for the rest of the EP.

So, this is the final version, the one that will open the EP:

 

I could hear, in my head, the build up on that last repeat of the chorus, the drum particularly. I’m not a fan of Logic’s strings, alas, they’re the only ones I have, but buried under vocals as a sound bed they do work, and their shortcomings as synth strings are much less obvious. Because I was using orchestra instruments, I decided that an orchestral drum was the best type to use, and I layered two, with slightly different timbres, to give the drum some texture. Ultimately I wanted it to pulse under the rest of the music. I could, I realise, have side-chained it, to make it more obvious and punchy, but actually, I like that it’s messy, it sounds more like the vocals are being shrieked over the top, which is right for the feeling of the song. And for the first time ever in my song-writing career, it sounds EXACTLY like what I could hear in my head.

Something I’m learning as I work through these is that it’s good to take an established track and rework it a few times. I’m preaching to the choir here, I’m sure. This is probably not really news to any established musicians out there. But no-one gives you a guidebook when you start out, and sometimes one take/version is THE take/version. What I’m learning is that if it’s not feeling right, it might not be the song, it might be the arrangement. More importantly, having more than one version is fun. I’m already planning a b-side remix EP to accompany Tales…

So there you have it. Some thoughts as I’ve been working my way through the EP 🙂 Have a lovely week!

 

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Ah a fun weekend of Floydian slips.

Do you see what I did there? (It will all be clear by the end…)

Anyway. Welcome dear reader, to Monday’s blog, being published on Tuesday what with the vagaries of the UK Bank Holiday. I hope you all had a fabulous time in the unseasonably un-rainy weather that we got to enjoy yesterday!

I’m not sure what to write about today, if I’m being brutally honest. The gig on Sunday was fabulous, and I have some photos to share, but I’m feeling a little sad today and it’s hard to find a way to explain it.

Let me be clear about something. This isn’t intended to be a self pity post. I’m sufficiently self-aware to know that set-backs are just set-backs (if every journey ended the minute there was a flat tyre or a traffic jam, we’d never get anywhere, right?) and not the End of Everything (Woe!) and also I am aware that other people’s opinions matter not really much of a jot. But here’s something I genuinely, genuinely don’t understand.

If you are friends with someone (or even just casual acquaintances), and you follow them on Facebook/Twitter/blogs, why on earth would you get pissy if they post about the thing they are passionate about?

Facebook is packed with uncreative content. Memes shared millions of times that we all saw doing the rounds a few months ago, and even a few months before that. Photos of food, babies, cats, flowers, houses, that new hoover you bought or your latest TV obsession. This is not a problem. These are the memories of our lives, the things we look back on and remember with fondness, or slight concern for our sanity at the time, and as such, they’re important. But why, in the sea of uncreative content, would you complain about the creative stuff? The songs, poems, paintings, short stories and other creations being made by people you call your friends? So you think it’s “average”, or “shite” or “cliched” or any other number of words… are you creating? Or are you just recycling a meme?

Artists don’t get better by stopping creating just because it might make people uncomfortable. Artists move beyond the “average”, “cliched” and “downright awful” by continuing to write, paint, sing, play, compose. And it’s something we HAVE to do. We don’t post our creative endeavours because we’re plotting to ruin anyone’s day (muhahahahaha etc). We don’t do it to try to force you to like something. We do it because these are our babies, like your babies, and cats, and dinners, and we feel compelled to try to share what we’ve put our hearts and souls into.

We have enough obstacles of our own – either our self made fears and insecurities, or the obstacles put in our way in a competitive, over-stocked, over-commercialised world. We don’t need pseudo-support that ranges from complete apathy to outright hostility. And if we post a lot about creating, especially if some of us are lucky enough to be able to do that  for even a quarter of our waking day, so what? How does that hurt anyone?

I’m genuinely sorry if I’ve ever caused offence to anyone in my online sphere of friends and acquaintances by posting about my music, but …wait, no, actually I’m not. Because really, get a grip. Suck it up princess. If you don’t like it, you are free to leave at any time. You know where the “unfollow” button is.

On that note, I’m about to post a final paragraph or, you know, three. About music. Those of a sensitive disposition may wish to look away now… 😉

Sunday was awesome. Sunday was “a cherry-coke float on a hot day, won £10 on the lottery, got given flowers by a complete stranger” awesome. It was bloody superb.

Not only did I not get pelted by rotten vegetables for like, the zillionth gig in a row, but people came. Audience members outnumbered musicians 5 to 1! Despite the fact I promoted the gig only a mere week beforehand, people came. Mor Music, in York, tweeted it as Gig of the Day. I played a 45 minute set to a very attentive room (either that or they were asleep, but I didn’t hear any snoring, so I’m going with attentive!) and it was just lovely. I don’t know if anyone is geeky enough to care what the set list was, but for my own reference as much as anything it was:

Dark Side of Me
Leave a Light On
Voodoo Violet
Braille (Regina Spektor cover)
Around and Around
Exit Ghost (Faderhead cover)
Feelings (Go **** Yourself)
Mary
World Reborn
Rota Fortunae
Midnight Blues

Casee DSOTR

Me in full flow…

Catself followed me with a 45 minute set of originals, including the memorable songs: “Roadkill Happens”, the Hitchhiking song, and one about fish that, I suspect, will now be an eternal earworm souvenir of the gig! She has a lovely, delicate voice, and a surreal yet beautiful style of writing that’s worth catching – she’s in the UK from now until the 26th of May, I believe, playing in Edinburgh tonight and moving around the UK for the next two weeks or so, so keep an eye on her website for more information.

Catself bewitching the audience

Catself bewitching the audience

And finally, headlining for us in their inimitable fashion, The Bleeding Hearts and Artists broke in their new bassist with a cracking hour or so of covers of Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Linkin Park, more Pink Floyd, even more Pink Floyd, oh and some excellent originals too, for good measure. It was awesome.

The Bleeding Hearts and Artists. Rocking. Hard.

The Bleeding Hearts and Artists. Rocking. Hard.

And that was that. We tidied up, crawled home, ate late-night pancakes and then went to bed, because we’re hardcore rock stars like that 🙂

I hope you had a cracking bank holiday weekend too. Until next week, toodles!

 

 

 

 

 

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I’m afraid I’m still battling this evil, evil virus. I went into work yesterday but it must be confessed, I was operating on only about 75% functionality, and I crawled home feeling very sorry for myself indeed.

I can only hope that today’s post, as late as it is, will make up for my negligence!

My plan for yesterday’s post was a sort of trip back in time to a previous, and hitherto largely ignored, song from my past. Some Retro Casee Music if you like. For this one, I thought it would be fun to revisit String.

String was written as part of FAWM some four or five years ago. There were many strange in-jokes that year, as there often are, and that particular year I recall there was a rash of haiku about dingoes that had been written. There was also a challenge to sample a section of another person’s music and turn it into a song. So I wrote a public service announcement about why string is awesome and dingoes, well, aren’t. Poor dingoes.

The song kind of disappeared onto my hard drive somewhere, but I’ve been wanting to experiment with making a music video that isn’t just film of me in front of the piano. It’s not perfect, by any stretch, I’m still a bit scared to play with chunks of actual moving footage, but this gave me lots of practice with gimp and iMovie, and I’m pretty happy with the results. There’s even a couple of drawings by yours truly hiding out in the film! If you like it, please share and subscribe and stuff!

I leave you with the debut video for String. Enjoy!

 

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Ah, Thursday again. As I understand it, a very squelchy Thursday for much of the country, I hope wherever you are you are warm, dry and happy. FAWM is progressing slowly for me at this end, I have another demo up, of new song Leave a Light On – enjoy!

I had a very happy walk to work the other day, as I’d downloaded an album that I hadn’t listened to in ages – Erasure’s Wild. This album came out when I had just turned 14, and I remember buying one of the singles, “Star” on vinyl. So I lost myself in nostalgia as I wandered through York, and I pondered which other albums had had an influence on me during my formative years.

The first album I ever bought was The Stranger, by Billy Joel. I saved my allowance for this one, at 50 cents a week (I was in the US at the time). It came out in 1977, when I was two, and I doubt very much, given my young age, that I bought it at the time of it’s release. But I do remember, vividly, going into our local record store with my parents, and handing over a grubby pile of half dollars, and going home with the vinyl LP, which I loved, and played on repeat for many years after it’s acquisition. The net result of an early love of this album was an early love of the piano, and I was determined to learn to play. However, my parents could not afford a full size piano, and instead got me a small electronic keyboard. This was enough to start me on my long journey as a songwriter! (The other, more unfortunate side effect of this album was a determination to marry Billy Joel… in hindsight I’m rather glad I got over that one!)

Billy Joel – Scenes From An Italian Restaurant – Live at the Tokyo Dome 2006

Next up, although these aren’t in chronological order, Wild, by Erasure. I’d already heard and loved “The Innocents” , but “Wild” was the first Erasure album I bought, this time on cassette. At this time in my life, I was 14/15, and I was obsessed with this synth driven joy I was hearing. It’s hard not to feel happy when listening to Erasure, even with the occasional sadder song, and while the Pet Shop Boys had never quite managed to suck me in, Erasure managed to completely convert me to the cause of synthpop. My favourite song off the album is “Star”, although honourable mentions go also to “Blue Savannah” (that piano!) and “You Surround Me”. Several of Erasure’s B-sides are also superb from this album, “Dreamlike State” being the B-side for “Star”. I miss B-sides…

Erasure – Star

The next one isn’t an album, but it’s important for understanding my burgeoning synth obsession. Future Sound of London’s  Cascade, an EP, or mini-album. I was in 6th form when a school friend introduced me to this and I loved it. I’ve long since lost my cassette copy of it, and for a long time was unable to track down the whole thing. The power of the internet returned it to me recently however:

iTunes: “Would you like to download Cascade?”

Me: “Shut up and take my money, why isn’t it here already??!”

Here’s the first track, Cascade part 1.

A run down of albums that shaped me would not be complete without Tori Amos, and her fantastic album, Little Earthquakes.  I remember, one damp, long summer at my dad’s house in Lancashire, lying on the floor listening to “Crucify” and feeling like no-one could possibly understand how I felt, except maybe this woman, with her piano, her crazy lyrics and cracked, heartfelt vocals. She solidified my need to write, although it took another decade or two before I found the courage.

Tori Amos – Crucify (Live at Montreux, 1991)

Last but not least, the album that contains my favourite song of all time, Hounds of Love, by Kate Bush. My parents had this album in their music collection, and I remember hearing it repeatedly growing up. It wasn’t until I became an older teenager that I really rediscovered it, and learned to love it myself, I suspect I was a bit too young before. Something about the anthemic “Cloudbusting” always stayed with me, and it occupies the rare position of being my absolutely favourite song, it has never faded or become too familiar, and punches me in the gut every time I hear it. In a good way.

Kate Bush – Cloudbusting

That’s some of the music that has had an influence on me. It’s not exhaustive, but it’s a pretty good starting point. Thanks for reading/listening and I hope you enjoyed this journey through my past!

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