Eclectro

It’s 20th June, which means two things for me: first, it’s release day for Manipulant’s Eclectro album. It is also Day 20 of the Tune-A-Day June challenge, so once I’ve written a tune today, I’m 2/3rds of the way through.

Tune-A-Day

I am quite surprised to still be going with the challenge. Knowing that there are a bunch of people waiting for the next track has helped enormously!  The Tune-A-Day 2017 playlist is currently on Soundcloud. I’m going to run out of space on Soundcloud before I finish the challenge, though, so I’m going to need to do a bit of reorganising of some of my older tracks, starting with removing the ones that I didn’t make public.

Eclectro

Late last night, Manipulant, aka David Speakman, got in touch to let me know that Eclectro was already ‘live’ in Japan, and that it would be available on Amazon and iTunes at the stroke of midnight.  Exciting stuff for me, as I’m on the album’s lead track, Run.

Keeps Me Alive reviewed the album along with a great interview with Manipulant, which you can read here.

As well as me singing, the album features contributions from astrophysicist Dr Fiorella Terenzi, who made an album in 1991 called Music from the Galaxies. The music on that album consists of the radio-wave signals from planets and stars and sounds like an eerie sci-fi movie. Who knew that space would already have the best sounds for its own film sound effects?

 

 

Tune A Day June 2017 Update

I thought I’d write a quick update for you on Tune A Day progress (etc). It’s already Day 11 of the challenge, more than a third of the way through, and amazingly I am still going. You can hear the tunes so far via the playlist, above.

I feel more confident of making it to the end of the second week now. That is usually when it suddenly starts to feel like a total uphill struggle, from past years’ experience. This time around, I was quite rusty to begin with, so I had some days in the first week where I really didn’t feel like writing. Added to that, there was the distraction of a UK General Election on Day 8. I normally follow election results online or on the radio overnight, as they come in, so I worked late, when I was already tired, and then caught up on what had been happening in the news whilst I’d been concentrating on writing Tension. (In case you’re wondering the tune was a deliberate reflection of the feeling of being on tenterhooks that I’d had all day.)  With the results going the way they did, with no-one winning outright, I didn’t get to sleep until a little after 6am and the late night messed up my body-clock, which didn’t help me with the next day’s task.  The election has provided some inspiration towards making the tunes as well as being a hindrance, so it balances out.

Last year, someone stuck a referendum on Brexit in the middle of June, but it didn’t affect the Tune-A-Day June challenge because I’d, ahem, given up by then (gasp!), having decided I wanted to write more songs with lyrics. I was finding I was just rushing to write *something* to meet the targets and not making real progress. This time around I’ve only written one song with lyrics so far, but one of the earlier tunes, Day 6, keeps suggesting odd fragments of lyrics to me. I kind of know what it’s about, but haven’t got the words yet. Because I was so rusty, writing instrumentals is good for me, even if I don’t manage to write many songs.

I’m not 100% happy with everything that I’ve made, of course. There hasn’t been time to mix most of the tunes properly, and there are loads of things I would want to change if I had longer to work them out more. But I’m very pleased to have lasted longer than the first week, and I’m delighted with having made so much new music in so little time after a long hiatus.

Looking at the progress so far, I would want to develop at least some of the tunes further. Reviewing the tunes also showed up various really annoying things I hadn’t picked up on earlier, but that’s pretty normal – you always need to take a break and listen again, and that’s not possible with the Tune A Day timescales.

 

Tune-A-Day-June 2017

Quite possibly against my better judgement, I’ve decided to have another go at the Tune-A-Day-June challenge this year. I don’t honestly expect at this point that I will last above a week, as I have just recovered from a nasty cold and am still getting tired more quickly than normal. But I might just surprise myself and get beyond a fortnight.

The Tune-A-Day-June challenge is basically exactly what it sounds like – the idea is to write a new tune every day throughout the month, publishing the better ones on Soundcloud. My first year at this challenge was a couple of years ago, when my friend Max mentioned it, and I decided to join in. I lasted almost the whole month, with a bit of cheating on a few days where I made two tunes to catch up for the odd lost day. Last year, I managed to keep going for about a fortnight, if I remember right.

The challenge tends to start off OK then begins to feel more and more like an endurance test. I actually did a couple of warm up writing exercises this year, ahead of June, because I was feeling a bit rusty, having spent a lot of time trying to promote my work and not so much time writing of late.

There seems to be a lot of psychology involved, as during the challenge, almost everything you make feels like it is below par, because of the rush to complete something each and every day and the difficulty of maintaining creativity over a sustained period – discipline not really being creativity’s most obvious friend. I don’t have the time to produce more than a working demo of each track – sometimes, I don’t even get that far. It can feel unsatisfying to not reach a finished arrangement or mix.

But, looking back over what I’ve produced during June in the last couple of years, it has been a very useful exercise and pushed me out of my comfort zone. With hindsight, it has given at least the beginnings of several of my album tracks and some that will very likely be included on future albums, so it has been incredibly worthwhile, even if it has felt rather painful at the time. Several of the tracks I made last year have received quite a promising reception on Soundcloud. The most surprising response being to Toil, which I posted rather reluctantly at the time, feeling it wasn’t really good enough to upload.

So, on the basis that it will be good for me, I’ll likely be driving myself a little bit crazy over the next few weeks as I scramble to meet the daily deadline, probably stretching it into the wee small hours before I go to sleep. The first tune of the month, Dystopia, is now up on Soundcloud…. more to come!

Oh *$&@, it’s got swearing on it!

This post is purely personal opinion.  I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about why I don’t typically like songs with swearing in. I don’t think I’m a huge snob… I’m not terribly bothered when people use the occasional swear in normal speech. Well, I might be a bit shocked if it was the vicar doing it, I suppose, or my mother. But normally if I hear something when I’m out and about, I’d just think of the swear words as being part of the person’s everyday vocabulary and mentally translate, without considering the words’ literal meaning.

 

I get the argument that art needs to reflect life, and in real life lots of people swear. Most, maybe, in the UK, where I live. It’s not like I never use any swears myself for emphasis either, when I want to make a point and underline how something makes me feel. I’m not ruling out ever using strong words for making a point in my music, even. I just don’t like there to be swears in the music I listen to, as a general rule… it seems unnecessary, usually.

Part of the issue is that listening to music creates a kind of personal space. Swears in music can feel like a violation of that boundary. Another reason is that I pick up language and absorb it like anything. If I surround myself with foul language, it’s bound to seep into my mental vocabulary, even if I don’t verbalise it. I’d prefer for the strongest language to not get in that far, even, and with music I have an abundance of choice about what I can listen to. Why choose something with swears in?

Music, to me, is a beautiful form of art, as well as being a means of expression. I feel that some swear words are particularly ugly, especially the f-bomb. Given the choice, I prefer to listen to something that reflects my idea of beauty… I don’t automatically reach for the off button the instant there is a swear, but will do if there are lots of them in a short space of time.  If a song is littered with swearing, if it is intended for the swearing to help get a message across, in my view, the song loses impact.

Some songs seem to get away with having the odd swear in. I can’t think of a good example off the top of my head, but, like film violence, if it’s not gratuitous, if it makes sense in the context of the story that is being told, or is done in a humorous way, I can stomach it. I was thinking Fairy Tale of New York might be a good example, but when I checked the lyrics, I found the Pogues hovering over the fine line of using strong insults and coarser language without actually swearing. You might disagree and conclude that they cross the line with some words. It’s a close call.

On the other hand, I object somewhat to cleaned-up versions of songs for the radio, if a version that is available to buy is not going to have the expletives deleted, e.g. if it’s going to be the version on the album. I heard and liked the Ce-Lo Green song Forget You on the radio, but was disappointed when I heard that it was a clean version of the song and discovered what the ‘real words’ were. Some people got caught out buying the ‘non-clean’ version on the basis of radio-play, as well, and were even more disappointed than I was, as I understand it from the grapevine.  I’m not sure what Ce-Lo Green did with his album, but I would feel cheated if I bought an album based on liking a cleaned-up single and then the version on the album was a different version of the song I liked, with expletive non-deleted lyrics. It would mean they were a different artist to who I thought they were. It would almost be a betrayal.

Apparently there is already technology available that would allow you to bleep out offending words, when it works.  Apple also have a patent on software with a similar aim. No problems of course with instrumental music…

Niagara & Album Progress

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Fountain in Lincoln Arboretum. (I’ve never been to Niagara Falls, so have no photos of it that I own the copyright for).

Earlier this week, battling a migraine, I tried to take stock of what material I have for Albums 2 & 3 and get myself a bit more organised towards getting these both out of the door.

Album 2 is a ‘fake filmscore’ based on a book that is quite well known in the UK. It needs another track mixing then all tracks mastering, one of the trickier parts of the process for me, that could delay its release. It’s looking like it will be 35 minutes long, unless I have some last-minute inspiration for a further track or add any bonus items. (Either one of those scenarios could happen at this stage – I’m planning to get a significant portion of Album 3 ready before I release Album 2.)

There’s already quite a lot of potential material for Album 3, but the styles are rather mixed, so I could need to prune it back drastically to make it a coherent body of work, and I may, therefore, need to write some more new tunes to make it hold together better. There is a huge amount of work that still needs doing on most of the tracks for Album 3: many are in just the early stages of production and some are currently just a loop of an idea.

When the migraine had subsided, I finalised the lyrics & I put down guide vocals for another new song Thieving Autumn^. This song has been in the writing stage since about September last year. I was really pleased with how the vocals went and may even use them as the final vocals with a few tweaks, if I’m not satisfied with how a ‘proper’ recording goes using a condenser mic.

I’ve been arranging a new song that I’m calling ‘Niagara’ this afternoon, and recording some vocals – it has gone from being just a snippet with the main ideas in to a full demo. It’s not easy to sing this one in tune all the way through (I have failed thus far) so I’ll need to practice it a lot more to get the required level of pitch control in the parts that are going wrong.

I also realised today that I have another couple of songs I forgot to include on my list of potential tracks for Album 3. Ooops! With the work on Niagara today, that brings the total duration of the demo tracks to 1hr . It’s starting to look like I could end up with more than an album’s worth of material. There seem to be a couple of different overall genres which don’t necessarily complement each other. Basically, it’s 70s influence and indie-folk-electronica versus 80s synthwave and its progeny. It’s not clear how it will pan out though (no pun intended) as the draft playlist I created doesn’t clash as violently as it threatened.

^Thieving Autumn was provided as an instrumental exclusive with last month’s email news.  If you’re not yet on the email list, sign up so you don’t miss out! I only send one email out around every month or so. With definite emphasis on the ‘or so’.

Pick Myself Up & Start Again

The last few weeks have been a little rough. I worked fairly hard through January, then after helping out at a local community event on 4th Feb (just in the kitchen, no music involved) I was super-tired. I took the Sunday off to recuperate, but had a sore throat all day Monday, and then got ill for a couple of weeks with some sort of lurgy which just didn’t want to shift. The glands on my neck were up, my brain wasn’t on full power, and even simple tasks were wearing me out quickly. I was starting to wonder if I’d somehow managed to contract glandular fever* when things suddenly started improving and I began to get my life back again, just slowly.

Anyway, the reason I’m telling you all this is to explain why I vanished off the face of the internet for best part of a month now, bar a few random tweets. I’m working again, but it’s taking a while to get back up to my normal pace and have the energy to communicate. (Spot the introvert?).

I had wanted to work on what should become the second album this month, a set of instrumental tracks based on a well known novel. The aim was to write ten more minutes of music, give or take, to finish it off. I did make a start, but found I needed to do something where I was making more definite progress, before I move onto that project.

Digital StillCamera

So, there’s this song called Thieving Autumn which I have been working on intermittently since the end of September, and which I want to include on the third album, whenever that happens. I’m still not sure about all the lyrics, but I’ve gone ahead and started to work out instrumentation and parts for a recorded version, because that was more straightforward than writing something completely from scratch when my brain was still woolly from the lurgy.

Somehow the recorded version has ended up with a substantially different chord set to the guitar version I worked out in January, which is odd, because I have sung along to both. I haven’t figured out what’s happening there yet – some of the guitar chords may be alternatives, I may have accidentally taken it into a different key for the recording, or just not noted using a capo when I wrote down the chords in January.

I’ve got most of the backing track roughly together now, and need to work out how I want it to end. Then the main thing will be to do some serious work on developing the lyrics, trying to put into practice what I learned from the Berklee-based lyric-writing course I followed on Coursera last autumn. Off to the rhyming dictionaries!

*Glandular fever is called mono in the States.

Out with 2016!

This year has been a tough year in a lot of ways and I’m sure it’s not just me who will be glad to see the back of this year at midnight tonight.

But what of the future?  I have a few goals for 2017, but haven’t set myself any resolutions at this point. I actually tend not to even think about New Year’s resolutions until the start of the new year, if I make any at all. I would rather think in terms of broader goal-setting and trying to improve habits than setting impossible hurdles up for myself with the inevitable result of feeling bad for not managing to keep jumping over them. That said, I did start out on one of these schemes last year, with a rare NY resolution which required completing a daily task. I started to flag in about mid February and by the end of March it was all over with a big guilt trip. The main reason for not picking it up again, apart from it taking longer each day than I’d been led to believe, was because I would see long lists of dates in the past with unfinished tasks every time I looked at it. Looking back, I feel pleased with myself that I made it beyond the first few weeks.

So, instead of resolutions as such, I think I’ll be thinking for a little while in January about what I want to achieve next year and how I might go about it. Sometimes plotting and scheming isn’t the best way to get started though – it can be easier to just write a list of specific things that need doing and then attack them in an order that makes some sort of sense. You can spend too long thinking and not enough time doing…

I’d be interested to hear how readers of this blog approach New Year: Do you have any strategies you’ve used for making or keeping resolutions? Do you even make them, or do you do something else to mark the passing of the old year and look forward into the new one?