Volume 2 – My Odyssey Into Music Production – Volume 4 (coming soon)
I do a lot of my writing in my head. I had my first 3 paragraphs already written out, and in my head it was exactly what I wanted to say, as well as the perfect way to start this off. Much to my dismay, I forgot everything, even the general idea of what I was saying. All I remember was thinking about the word enthusiasm. I actually had just received a text from Baka about him being amused by my enthusiasm. I’m amused by my own enthusiasm (which actually was ignited only by his initial enthusiasm).
I guess it just got me hooked on that thought for a while. Outwardly, I’m definitely not the most enthusiastic guy in the world, though I guess if given a chance for this side to arise, you will see that I really am a heck of a closet enthusiast. It’s funny how an idea, concept such as enthusiasm works. People become enthused and they do things as a result. Let me reemphasize the do things part, enthusiastic people get things done. Let’s keep this from an artist perspective, as to not dilute things, and Nashville is a good town to use as an example. Your friends you have, people you’re acquaintances with, who are out there getting gigs, grinding out tracks or scratching and clawing to their album release; they are undoubtedly enthusiastic about what they are doing. They are in love with what they are doing, they are inspired, they are excited, driven, and so on. Say I’m a really talented finger painter and play-doh sculptor, I could have all the talent in the world for fingerpaint and play-doh, but without enthusiasm for doing something with that talent, or just passion for creating with those tools, I’d be lucky to even sculpt a chunk of play-doh into a ball.
That, I’d wager, was the thesis of my thought. Especially at a local, smaller scale level, the idea of talent or skill at a craft is secondary to enthusiasm. If you are enthusiastic enough to create something, people around you will see that enthusiasm in the forefront (because you’re actually, once again, doing something), and thus there will always be people to feed off of that enthusiasm and develop their own from you. I think that is the perspective I have been gaining, and maybe its an incorrect observation, but as Charles Barkley put it, “I may be wrong, but I doubt it.” Enthusiasm all around.
Of course, I think that is what artistry should be all about. I realize how enthusiastic I have gotten about this project, and I have to ask myself, how and why have I gotten so hyped up about all of this? What are my goals? I don’t really have any, nothing definite, but I can see goals all the way from realistic to near-fantasy. Realistically, this is something to do– to continue my current interests and creative ambitions, as well as something that pushes my own bounds a bit further. Realistically, the most that will probably come of this is maybe a year of time where I get to fake something and have some good times as a result, some songs that I’ll always have in my rotation (go go gadget vanity), and a documentary style project marked off the checklist. Furthermore, this is something that will build some sort of reputation in at least a few circles, probably as someone who a) can get into something and get it done and b) someone who prefers to tackle something creatively, at least those are my best broad guesses. Also, when you apply further practicality to it, believe it or not, these type of things can be the edge that could get a person hired. Think of the enthusiasm factor again. What does enthusiasm say about a person? Job postings almost always use those terms like, “go-getter” and so on, of course an ambitious employee will be more valuable to a company than an apathetic one, but how do you sell enthusiasm on a resume? You can’t. But if you spent a couple of years self-producing your own fake hip hop group, even performing live, and making a mockumentary out of it on top of all that, well I am pretty freaking sure that says a lot about the capabilities of one’s ambition. That just spells out enthusiasm.
Then again, for all I know the fantasy could end up being the reality, and the two key factors for the next level beyond the local fall into place, luck and it’s more technical brother, timing. I will note as an aside, because I might one day expound on this, but I have a third level above this, as far as level of success goes, and at this point, I still consider selling your soul as the key factor in that one. Notice how talent drives none of the three levels, of course we do cover it in a way on the first, local/small level, because there is the hard-work which comes coupled with enthusiasm, and my belief is that talent has to be refined. You can’t refine talent without an insane amount of work put into it (basically, my long version I can argue that ‘talent’ is pretty much non-existent altogether). Anyhow, I’ve rambled on this enough, on to the show.
As you may notice, the title of this entry is Writing Songs About Chocolate Milk, which when you think about it is slightly nonsensical, but then again, when you REALLY think about it, it is actually less nonsensical than just about everything you hear on the radio. Of course, the real crux of this is the difference in songwriting I have as someone who is coupling this musical element with another project.
For the record, we do, in fact, have a song about chocolate milk. It is called Lactose Intolerant, and it is the first thing we actually put down on this project. I imagine the process of creating the song isn’t even too unlike many songs written for major acts these days. Everyone has a persona. Ke$ha, for example, is actually a pretty experienced songwriter. I’d wager that when she and whoever else is working on another Ke$ha song, they have to think in that whole sort of angle. Like, I can just imagine being in the room and the first thing being said is, “Ok, what’s really sleazy and trashy?,” then later, “Ok, now how can we make it sound appealing?” And I’m not saying that everything has this approach, I guess that Love Is My Drug song doesn’t quite have that angle, but it seems like most of the songs I’ve heard do, that is the angle, that is the persona, that is the act. Interestingly, one of the first songs I heard that she had any writing credits on was a K-pop song, performed by a girl group (if you are unfamiliar with k-pop, I’ll summarize it by saying that it is still Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls structured acts out there, mixed in with club rap elements). I think this is demonstrative enough of an actual versatility in her ability to write beyond what us, the public, knows of her. Once again, everyone has a persona. As a pseudo fictitious group, we definitely have the cater to the personalities we are crafting.
I think beyond this, we have more liberty in this idea of writing to an attached persona or project, though, at the same time, I don’t pick up a guitar and try to express my heart or write something purely on emotion. So it is still kind of pocketed, but in an anything goes sort of way. I guess any song Ryan and I work on, is a dual-writing of sorts. We are writing a song, of course, and we are also further developing two characters for a movie we are also writing, and you know what? I really like how that works. That was definitely the process for the first couple of things we did. I had all these ideas. Later, Ryan shows up and I just flooded him with it.
“So this dude (his character) is kind of crazy, because he is trying to become a rapper out of nowhere, of course, so definitely loopy.. so I’m thinking a song about how much he loves chocolate milk and how he believes Starbucks is worse than any rapist and his dog that he believes is the reincarnated spirit of Shoeless Joe Jackson and…”
You get the point, anything uncanny I could think of was fair game. And this is the first layer of our song ‘cake’ I’ve encountered. It always starts that way. It’s like the mantra I base the entirety of my life on, everything always starts with an idea. Let me try to continue using our example song, Lactose Intolerant, as an example— the idea, of course, was simply let’s take this dude, of whom is a borderline nut, trying to rap and have him rant about chocolate milk. Well, as with all ideas, you can take it any direction, on any axis. Does he just talk about how its his favorite drink? Or maybe he can make each verse comparing brands, maybe he starts off by ripping on Ovaltine and the main thing can be him pledging allegiance to NesQuick.
Let me pause right there for a second, because I need to visit two thoughts with this: first, the persona is the first consideration starting at the idea. We are writing out these two personas as we begin on each song. With this being the first one, it was more of a, “would he do this and why?,” sort of thing. Further down the line it has become more of a combination. The first being that it isn’t what we/they (the pseudo fictitious hip hop duo) will or won’t do, but how they will do it, because ‘they’ tackle anything, from the stereotypical to the inane. Thus the second half is what do I, James Curtis, want to write a song about? Or what does Ryan want to write a song about? From there, we mold it into these personas we are still developing, but that also doesn’t take much work, because I think that creatively our personas are pretty much the same as our actual selves. The personas are just there to give us a way to bring these ideas beyond ideas in our head, and a vehicle to deliver them.
This isn’t an absolute process, sometimes we have based our writing and content on an idea for structure. I won’t get much into the details of our best example of this, but if there is any confusion on a structure idea, usually it manifests by taking some sort of literary device and running with it. Or another one we just did (more of an act of torture to Ryan/amusement to me) involved dropping out a prominent letter of the alphabet and having to skip the pronunciation.
That idea ended up a bit ridiculous, even for me.
So let me step back to the whole sentence about taking this initial chocolate milk idea and the whole ripping on Ovaltine, pledge to NesQuick thing, then I’ll hopefully bring them together. Ok, let’s say that prospectively, I really felt like there was something to work with on this chocolate milk brand thing. For instance, let’s say I see the love angle (of course). Ovaltine can be a certain kind of girl perhaps. To stick with the brand perception, maybe Ovaltine represents the really good, genuine women of the world, looking for commitment and something serious; worthwhile. NesQuick, much like the name, could be the kind of girl just living life on a highlight basis. Full of energy and seeking out excitement, not looking for any stability, just for a good time in all aspects of life. From the man’s perspective, the NesQuick girl would represent exactly what the name says, just someone quick and easy, maybe even stretch it to ‘quick, easy, AND fun’ (because they have the NesQuick bunny, and animated mascots are fun).
Now we not only have a song about chocolate milk, but he spends his verses talking about these brands, then maybe use the chorus to have him say something that conveys, “hey girl, you’re not my Ovaltine, I pledge my allegiance to all you NesQuicks of the world. You’re who I want,” etc. And that essentially covers this other half of things, finding a way to make it still mean something, even if its a stupid lust song and a crappy idea like that one I just pulled out of the cellar. You have the two personas/duo and then you have the artist. On the character’s side of things, they may not be seeking to make anything with meaning, but the actual people involved (or at least me) has the end that wants to do something that isn’t totally weightless. When you think of it that way, it further fits the characters we have so far worked out. These guys have loose cogs, but in all their overwhelming charisma and oblivious charm, they, much like Agent Smart from Get Smart, actually pull off something substantial in their own oblivious, loopy world. If they get lucky, maybe even a little hidden genius, but that would require that innocent luck on not only my alter ego’s end, but mine too.
I think this covers some of my thoughts I’ve had on writing songs about Chocolate Milk and the like. So there, we wrote a song about chocolate milk, but we also wrote a really bitter, angry anthem that bites back at people (mostly girls) who have, in our characters past experiences, been quick to judge and snub due to little things. I actually don’t know if I’ve encountered much of this in my own life, I think I might be too selective with stuff like that to really have ran into it a lot, but I know its out there.
Idiosyncrasies are oft unappreciated if they fall too far from the norm, but you know what, next time I go to a (fancy) restaurant you better believe I’m ordering me some milk or maybe a bowl of cereal just in honor of my two boys out there writing songs about chocolate milk and spurned feelings.