I’ll refertilize the Earth with fresh minds like a new green cut of lettuce picked from the garden on a dewey spring day.
First thing: I’m feeling lazy but oddly productive, meaning I’m not going to format this like I usually do until later (so I can use this productive burst on something else). If you read this and don’t see this, then you got in after I formatted this. SUCKER!
It’s been a while since I chronicled my work on my current pet project. A few months.. crazy— it’s June already? Wow. Anyway, a lot of the going has still been kind of slow. but lately my personal productivity has sped up. I spent the last few months learning and practicing as much as I can when it comes to mixing. I am just now feeling comfortable enough with it to finish up some songs and take the pseudo fictitious hip hop duo part of the documentary live. The real good news out of all this is that I can focus more on songwriting, making music and ultimately circle back some to the film aspect, which is no longer a cub, but a ruthless, starving bear. A picnic basket isn’t going to be enough to satisfy Yogi.
This is a pretty important update because we have officially reached the 1 year mark on this project. The earliest rough draft of any tracks I have on this project dates back to May 27th, 2010, a really rough mp3 of Lactose Intolerant with my scratch vocals, as well as all of Ryan’s verses. The creative process is such an arduous pain. It is probably the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever subjected to myself through, but the more ambitious and broad your scope, the longer it takes to chip away at turning out something finished– and as anyone who creates knows, these things are never finished, you just force yourself to stop working on them and share it with as much as the world that cares to pay attention.
Now that I’m thinking about it, I am actually surprised that we have actual video footage filmed and collecting dust particles of bits and bytes on a hard drive somewhere, yet the actual project hasn’t really started in my opinion. One of my closest friends in college and I had a ritual of nicknaming everyone in any class we had together. If I explained the nuances and intricacies of properly and effectively doing this, it’d take pages, so I’m going to shorten it and say that these nicknames were essentially random. One of the better ones was ‘Hat Wizard’. In my mind, this phrase has almost no meaning, although I do know that when I coined it I was thinking of Merlin or some form of a wizard who wears a wizard hat. Now I know it was all foreshadowing. I’ve made huge strides on being a hat wizard, trying to effectively wear every hat I can, not only in hopes of using it to market my talents and dedication, but really because I have no choice but to.
This has been a year long musical odyssey and I have nothing to show for it– yet. This is a new horizon I’m arriving at. I spent this year drifting at sea, every morning seeing the same painting of yellows, reds, oranges and gold bouncing off an endless navy blue surface, each night watching it turn into an endless void of black sometimes hidden by the silver glow of the sky’s lunar guardian. Soon, I will wake up and find myself wandering an entire new space, new obstacles, asteroid fields and the irresistible pull of gravity from all directions until I reach that new horizon, that new planet of which, in the third phase, I will crash land on. But for now, I am still a sailor.
So, as I said a second ago, I still have nothing to show on this project. The reality of it is that I have nothing I am willing to show yet. In February I played a few rough mixes of a couple tracks for my dad. Up until then, nobody outside of two or three others had heard nary a thing I had produced. This was actually a pretty nerve wracking thing for me. For one, I don’t always like to show things to my family first, because the good and bad thing about that is that they will always be positive about it– especially a loving parent. I don’t always need that positivity, so I usually let myself wrestle with it on my own and get beat up for a while, then when I need that boost, I go to what I can count on. Secondly, as I covered in my first entry, my dad is a musician and I have never not known him to be anything else or less (those two words can spell each other), and as far as musicianship goes, I don’t feel like I hold a candle in any regard (though I also hold the opinion that I am better than him in every way when we interact with each other). As we all know, I’m newer to this in comparison to my other creative pursuits, but I guess I am not ‘green’ new thanks to my upbringing and guitar playing. Then there are a few other miscellaneous aspects, for instance, I have to do a lot of singing on this project. I don’t nor ever have considered myself a good singer. My dad and sister sing, and kind of as a result, I never have. I wouldn’t say I’m bad, but it isn’t one of those natural things for me (I’ve been working a lot on it in the past half year), so it is something I am not always comfortable with, merely because most people don’t know that I ever do. Funny, because every time I let someone new hear a track they never realize it is me singing. Basically, there were a lot more reasons why this was kind of nerve wracking, but it was done and he liked it.
Beyond that, he didn’t really hear anything more than that one time, so the other day I actually let him and my mom (who hadn’t been exposed at all) at some stuff– a mix of old and more recent stuff. The reception and what not is irrelevant, the point is that if I am feeling comfortable enough to do this, then I am almost comfortable enough to offer a true look at this project, and not just words. So here is my guarantee:
My next entry on this project will feature at least a few snippets of some of the tracks for my pseudo fictitious hip hop duo– of course, I may even put some stuff up on their soundcloud before then… so…. We will just see how it goes. I have to just finish tying a few knots on a lot of things, arrangements, mixing, some writing, recording here and there (this excludes the songs I’ve recently started on, but there are also good odds I finish a lot of those first because my process is better and my abilities are more refined).
There you have it. I’m pretty much going to leave it at this for now. Not much insight, or expounding on anything, just more of thing where I place a milestone in the ground for my own purposes.
Final thing I will say is that it is a total bitch (honestly the only substitute I can think of to replace this word is about 2 paragraphs long– I’m lazy) to come up with all this stage and group name nonsense. You’d think for a fake persona and group it’d be easy because it shouldn’t much matter, but there are so many external forces that it has to align with.
Be proud of me, I kept this under 1500 words.
Until next time folks,
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.
Can’t start this part without some sort of preface or anything to kind of get into the context of things. Think of me as Luke Skywalker for a second. Now, scale me down. Let’s say Luke’s destiny wasn’t to bring balance to the force or take down the empire blahblah and so on. Instead, Luke’s destiny was just to be a lightsaber graffiti artist. He was born to wield a lightsaber and go around Tatooine and all parts of the galaxy and inscribe works of art into buildings and structures. Maybe he was good, maybe he was the best, maybe he was awful, but not only was it in his blood, but most paths who crossed in his life also seemed to scream it out. Yet, here is Luke, sitting on Uncle Ben’s farm or whatever it was (surely it couldn’t have been a farm, they lived on a frakk’n desert planet, but I don’t remember the original trilogy well enough at the moment and I don’t want to double check), doing just about everything and anything he can to try and toy with his destiny. Old man Obi-wan down the way? Sure, he’ll go have dinner with him and play chess, but that’s it. Even if subconsciously the force is telling him, “this dude got sabers, man.” Of course, destiny is destiny, and you can only push against the force for so long, so as we all know, at some point, he loses that battle, he wields a lightsaber, and in this instance, he carves a piece of himself into galactic culture, one work of art at a time. Imagine me as Luke.
For me, we aren’t talking lightsabers and artistic vandalism, I was born too late and too far away to ever have a shot to show what I can do with a glowing destruction stick, so it is music instead. My dad is a musician. He gave up the ways of a more normal lifestyle roughly around my age, traveled parts of the world, eventually wielded a guitar and grew our his hair and had a goatee at least a decade before it was ever acceptable. In that journey, he transformed into a total musician. There is no other way to put it. If you have one in your family or were ever close with an actual musician or even any other art form, you know what I’m talking about. He even had a pocket or two in his life where he put it on the back burner, forsook his ways. He tried. Barring something catastrophic and completely life changing, like say, a stroke, it is a self-insurgency that will never succeed. He is still a musician. In fact, he is in his home studio/office right now working on a song he wrote in the late 70’s, which now sounds a lot like Taio Cruz club jam.
I could talk endlessly on predispositions, sociology, psychology, and childhood development, or genes and DNA and what not, but I don’t need to. Plus, it’d take far too long to research enough to have my bases properly covered. But it is clear, from most ends, that any child who is born into this, is going to have good odds to be some sort of creative type (and most likely into music). Of course, there are well-known tactics against this, like having the other parent be the total opposite, like an accountant who enters the national crossword puzzle competition each year and eats Total for dessert, or just orphan that damn kid, but alas, my upbringing was rather conducive to being a creative little bugger. And when you are a little bugger and always exposed to this stuff, it fills you up. So then you have a little bugger that is like a creme-filled donut, full of music inside of him. You kind of always have to stay filled too. I usually was able to do this well enough by primarily listening. Having a vast level influence from an ear that has developed over more years than I’ve yet to live and subsequent;y a mature ear. In fact, this still works quite well, I might even go get my fix of some George Benson or Pat Martino playing live clips on YouTube and have my mind blown, or my world colored in by some masterful Brazilian samba compositions, and so on. But I guess you can only fill something up so much until things start to seep out. I was fortunate to get into video production when I was younger, which took on that role, as well as playing guitar on and off, but nothing serious or involved, call it a buffer.
Growing up as the kid of a musician also gives you an understanding of the full spectrum. For instance, being a musician can have some miserable qualities, especially if you ever have a family. I guess part of the problem is the scale of involvement. Music is a powerful thing. It can sweep up an avid listener, carry their life on its wings, so when you get to the creation side of things, the effects can only multiply. Basically, the quick and dirty of it is that “being a musician” can often be a poor life choice, if one considers every major detail looking to the future and the being of one who makes and performs music is the driving force of one’s life. Obviously, a heavy generalization and not always true, etc., Point being, I knew growing up that I never wanted to be a musician of any sort. I was a little kid and I knew that I wanted to get into something that would get me a good career and always be able to more than take care of myself and a prospective family.
Of course, you can couple other heavy elements in my life, for instance, where I went to college. Everyone at Belmont University is a musician. Even the business and nursing majors. In my opinion, if you don’t own a guitar, you’re cool, because its so rare. It seems like I’ve been fighting my surroundings, maybe not consciously, but on some level fighting these hands for walls which have been trying to mold me all these years. Evidently, I fought pretty hard too, I am pretty sure most people I know from school have no idea I have any sort of experience with music (I didn’t even listen to it Freshman year, call it a revolt).
Once again, Me… Luke on Tatooine.
All those years of slithering and snaking my way out of what the rest of my life had been trying to sculpt me into just to succumb to it unknowingly, unwittingly on what seemed like a different type of project. It kind of reminds me how you hear of these serial killers or top 10 fugitives getting brought in on something retarded and menial like jaywalking or getting pulled over with expired tags. Once I got to fiddling around with stuff on that very first night in May, the door wasn’t even cracked, instead, a wrecking ball had come and swiped the entire front of the house off. I was into it. Now I’m really into it.
I don’t think I can really talk about getting into music without comparing and contrasting what I know. I know how to make videos, shorts and stuff that you watch. I guess you can call it my first love, and it still is, my first and truest love, but I guess I’m going to have to turn to polygamy. So I’ll start there.
For me, here is the greatest thing I’ve experienced in my musical odyssey: I can take something from an idea to a more-or-less finished product all on my own. I’m not saying that this is how things usually are done, or how they should be done, in any creative medium. Especially in our modern devices, they are almost always largely collaborative; music and film no exception, but to properly do this on that scale, an immense amount of resources and financial backing is required. 99% of us will never be fortunate enough to be given such an opportunity, so we have to cut corners, or we have to find other ways to not only make these things that are within ourselves, but show that we are darn good at it, too. So on the most basic level, try to film something all on your own, then try to put out a demo of a song all by yourself. Both can be done, and at a high level, but I promise you, its just easier to do the music, you can do more and do more with less. So while I’m not saying it is how any of these things should be done, the opportunity is much greater, because if I am spending all this time with myself, filled with boundless creative energy and ideas, making music is much more accessible than a short film or mini-series, etc. With that said, the opportunity is also diluted because of this accessibility. Look around the Internet and you will see how true this is. Music communities, remix contests, the MySpaces and SoundClouds of the cyberworld, there are millions of people creating. Its great that in this day and age that so many can do this, but it also creates so much noise that most everybody still gets their voice muffled out in the endless amounts of noise. All of which is a line of thought for another day.
So I guess how quickly I can go from idea and opportunity to working and producing something substantial has me hooked. My ideas like my mini-series and so on feel so far away, because I want to do them right. I could bootstrap them as much as possible right now, but it wouldn’t do them right, it might even be good, but not right. Sometimes you have to do an idea right as opposed to just doing it. The stuff you see from swb crew is stuff to just do it (more often than not), whereas the “rapumentary” and the mini-series are things that are meant to be done right. On a general timeline, you have to assume that you only have so much time to take a couple good stabs at something and hope the dice land on any sort of recognition to either scale up the ladder a step to something more ambitious before you get locked into a certain ambition level for most of your life. And that’s why I’m trying so hard to do it right.
I feel like what I’m going to get into next is a feeling most of us know, that feeling of numbed dread and worry, when you have a friend who is about to put themselves out there.. which means they might fail miserably. Chasing a dream or a passion does not hold failure in any sort of regard, which is why the number dread and worry is there. For instance, your friend has always had a passion for stand-up comedy and they get a small-time gig at the local club. You’ve never actually seen them perform, or heard any of their bits. in fact, their personality doesn’t really strike you as some hilarious or center-of-attention type of funny person, so it builds even more. This is their dream though, they want to give it a shot, and in most cases, your role in their life is an encouraging friend. Sometimes we get put in the role of the realistic friend, but most of us will be the encourager to most people. Maybe they do it and have a lot of potential, pleasantly surprise you. You didn’t want them to fail, or expect them to, but you didn’t know, so you kind of braced for the worst. Maybe the worse did happen, so now what? You have to watch them struggle through that dream, but you are stuck with encouraging for now. Maybe they get better, maybe they don’t, but the key is that feeling of dread. I hope you know what I mean.
I’d like to think that this is the kind of dread that might build if I tell people I am making music, singing and rapping out of nowhere, which is basically what I tell people a lot, nowadays. There are all sorts of reasons I’d expect, and I don’t think I’d expect this out of myself, but this all circles back to what is becoming my mantra. If I actually bother to do something, yeah I do it my way, but I also make sure I do it well, really well. That’s what I call doing it right. It’s been a ton of work, from learning ProTools (foff to all of you babies who are gonna cry because I’m using PT and not whatever DAW you use), to developing my musical knowledge, learning all sorts of technical stuff that still feels reasonably over my head and always will (as to be expected with things that are both an art and a science like mixing and mastering).
It is intimidating, getting into something that isn’t in my usual repertoire, even if it has always neighbored my skill set and interests. I think the fact that I am suddenly stepping onto the turf of many of my friends’ gives that intimidation a growth spurt into something mythologically terrifying as the Boogie Man. It isn’t think that I am not as competent or as good even, but it just hasn’t been the focus. If I pick out a few people I know, I am going to be able to point out many things where I they’ve had a head start on, but the question has to be asked, what am I intimidated of? I think I am just worried about not being taken seriously more than anything. Because I am taking it seriously (even if some of the areas intentionally call for me to not).
All I can really count on at this point is covering as many bases as I can. I study my face off. I study anything I can. I spend weeks at a time obsessively listening to pop music, mainstream rap, old school-classic hip hop, stuff in other languages, and so on. Anything that can touch into what I’m doing, or what I might try to do. I listen and listen over again, focusing on just the production aspects, then the musical qualities, then the writing, the flow if it applies, the performance aspects, reading up on anything related that I can find (if worth the time) and so on. Of course, I am trying to not influence myself much at the same time, so then I disconnect, hoping to gain something I can recall at will as opposed to embed within myself. I have always done this with TV shows and films. You might call it what it looks like if you saw me binging on these things, but trust me when I call it study. Always mentally ingest and digest, I guess that’s my goal.
Furthermore, I read up or get any sort of knowledge passed on from those with expertise. Sometimes I even just steer conversations with friends in that direction just so I can pull in small things via osmosis (also known as listening). I’ve been learning each part of the process as I arrive to each step. For instance, I’ve worked on about 7-8 of our songs on various levels since June, but have only recently even thought about the mixing process on a couple songs. So I have only recently started my real education and training on the art and science of mixing.
This all feels very vague and uninteresting to me, which it probably is, but I think it is important, for me more than anyone else, that I reinforce this whole concept that I am doing my homework in everything I’m doing. I don’t want to feel a numb dread toward myself.
Now that I’ve covered the general scope of things, I am finally prepared to get into more specific details on my experience with this project, and hopefully more interesting thoughts than what I’ve presented here. The real thing to note here is that I feel somewhat like a musician these days, like, that mentality. I’m working on new songs all the time, and I even have started writing songs on the guitar apart from this project. I don’t plan on being a starving musician for the rest of my life, or really for any part, but I also guess I ran my course and have to accept where I’m at and who I am. I was practically born to celebrate life musically in some way, even if all to myself. So from this day on, I plan on doing that. Consider this my rebirth. Maybe for a lot of you I know, this may even come off as foreign, but pretty much the instant I started down this path, I knew, this has always been some part of me.
Here it is, me finally blogging about the current project I’m working on. I’m gonna try to kinda keep this series organized. I also kinda gave headings for the various parts of this, in case, say, you didn’t want to bother with the preface or parts of whatever (e.g. preface is irrelevant to what I’m actually up to)
I went through a phase where I debated if I wanted to discuss the current creative project I’ve been working on, or if I just wanted to work on it and whenever pieces of it start to surface, it would be what it was. For whatever reason, I tend to hold my pet projects very close to my chest. For instance, the mini-series I’ve been developing for the past year is something that I don’t even really discuss with any other member of the crew. I have so many ideas for that thing, from characters to visual techniques and so on, I guess a part of me is paranoid if I blab too much that pieces of my precious baby will be transplanted into other unrelated projects/crew videos, where as this is something I have a really strong vision for and don’t want anything diluted. This mentality is pretty ordinary though, people in similar spheres often poke fun at photographers and how paranoid they are with their endless watermarks and other methods of ‘protecting’ their IP and work. I will say one thing, ideas are everything to me, and I just like the whole potential shock factor– as in, when something finally gets produced, hopefully someone (who likely knows me) sees it and will think, “wow he did this?,” and hell, maybe that is coupled with a negative connotation instead of positive, but at least I surprised someone. It is that whole self-expression thing. I don’t feel like anyone really knows me until they see these grand schemes that are extensions of myself that also explore the realms of art and creative energy.
Anyway, back to the point: I realized a few things. In summation, I was being foolish. For one, this isn’t one of those “idea is everything” kind of projects. It relies more on execution than the idea, just ask Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix. Secondly, and I’m surprised how long it took me to realize this, I can talk about any project I might be working on in a vague enough manner to not compromise any details that might need to be protected– if that were ever something to worry about. I already have an tendency to be over ambiguous as it is. Finally, I am pretty sure that most people who ever read this are people who have actually mentioned reading it or discussed my blog with me before, these are people who likely have heard me talk about these projects in some way already, or I wouldn’t mind talking early details with and so on. On top of that point, anyone who I don’t know of reading this, it isn’t like I care because I’m not giving away the secrets to immortality or anything anyway. I guess the main point is that my audience is really small, so if you’re cool enough to be in that audience, then you deserve that extra insight and exposure to what I’m working on.. not like that’s a great life bonus or anything (but it is good resume material). I’ll also go ahead and say that if you do read these entries and I don’t know you do, you’re more than welcome to mention it to me, even if I don’t know you well. Because that makes you cool to me (ego fertilizer), and gets you up on my employee of the month wall. OK..
Let’s start it like this, I am now one half of what can only be referred to as a ‘pseudo fictitious hip hop duo’.
I feel like, from a surface view, this is one of the most unlikely things I could end up saying about myself, but I must reinforce that my idea of exterior perception is often pretty off, so who knows.
This project is much more than that, though I was recommended to introduce my project like this by a friend, and I agreed with that suggestion. It’s like the triple threat/attack in basketball, I can pass, shoot, or dribble from that point– take it any direction. Let’s take it back to the beginning.
This project has roots that begin in high school. Years blur into each other at a certain point, but I’m thinking it was junior or senior year, so 2005-2006. We, the swb crew, had a really simple idea of taking Ryan Baker (our resident rap encyclopedia and tall guy) and making him spend a week or two pretending he was trying to become a rapper. The two main ideas that led to this general idea were the though of having him go to an open mic night somewhere acting like your average suburban, middle class caucasian’s idea of a rapper/wigger/gangsta blablah, looking and acting the part and then trying to rap. Of course, the furhter away this open mic or writer’s night was from that genre of music and subculture, the better. Secondly, we wanted to put him somewhere, like perhaps on the streets of downtown Nashville with the whole donation hat or whatever and him try to freestyle to people walking back and so on. Basically, just another ruse that we thought up to make Ryan make a fool of himself and film for our own enjoyment.
It was a great idea for us at the time. Little planning needed, fewer resources, quick and easy to shoot and also gave Ryan a role, which was always important because he would come around pretty rarely, so it was always important to use as much of the limited mileage as possible. Of course, this project was never to be, just like dozens to hundred of others. I think Ryan’s availability was the main thing, plus we probably were mostly all talk on it.
A few years of dormancy passes until opportunity springs out of the earth, much akin to the moment that Jed Clampett misfired at some game and oil came gushing out. Except this oil geyser was carrying the precious gold statuette of Ryan Baker, the rap artist. Double jackpot. Around this past April, Ryan told me he was going to be in Fairview, or at least Middle Tennessee for the entire summer. Working off of a few assumptions, I knew that the people in the crew with the most availability would be solely me and him. Basically, my schedule was wide open, his would be wide open, all the other guys would be in and out. It was obvious. All my other projects I had been working on were so far down the pipeline. So I pitched revisiting the idea to him, he was down, though I’d also guarantee he didn’t take me seriously, or believe I was going to take it seriously.
The format was supposed to be weekly to bi-weekly web episodes, with the goal of being able to compile them into somewhere in the vicinity of a feature length mockumentary. In my head, it was the perfect solution. I saw this as having the same commitment level of the original idea. Something that doesn’t take much forethought, or work to execute and push out. We’d be able to rely on always having something to work on each week, while having room to do other swb crew projects, and then I started working on the thing…
School got out for me and Ryan said he wouldn’t be out of Knoxville til June. This was a bit of a disappointment because his initial declaration made it sound like he’d be around sooner, but on the other hand, I had the green light from the girlfriend who was excited to see me actually working on something after 1-2 years of nothing, no job or school clouding my time, a new computer that I had dedicated to video and music production to keep me away from gaming too much, and so on. Basically, I was set to launch, so I decided to do some test flights and work on some of the music end. Since we wanted to do everything in house, I was taking on the burden of pretty much every aspect of musical production. From songwriting, producing, even singing and rapping. Of course, I didn’t have plans on actually being on any of our main character’s tracks, but rather just recording scratch vocals so Ryan could get an idea of what I was thinking for any given song and beat. Problem was, he ended up liking what would eventually become my parts. This led to the birth of another character in our mockumentary and eventually to the evolution of one man with a dream to two men in a group with a dream.
That summer had many plan changes, for instance, Ryan was only around a tiny fraction of the time he said he was going to be… then he moved to California. Your lead man being that unavailable is pretty gamebreaking. That, I think, has been more of a good thing than a bad thing though, because the entire time I’ve been able to focus on the music aspect of the entire project.
I’d consider this at least a three tiered project. Music, performance and film. The music has to come first, we want the music to actually be good. We have to build the idea of legitimacy even if the characters and personas are ficitious. Of course, the music sometimes is coupled with these characters, so things like subject matter and what not are not as immune as the music, but I want to get into this later. Then once the musical foundation is established, build off of it and get into the performance and filming aspect, which are tightly coupled, but not quite joined at the hip with each other.
All things of the filming part fit in well with my experience, but the other two are only in the periphery of my background. Music production is time intensive as it is, I’d say more so than anything performance based. For instance, I can write a song, and to get a demo out of it will take exponentially longer than if I wanted to go grab a guitar and play it at a writer’s night. So like I said, it’s been good how things have worked out so far, because I’ve really devoted enough time and energy into the music for this pseudo fictitious hip hop duo to crush an anvil. There are other elements, such as writing and idea and character development that are brought along at all stages, but this is how I divide it up, and this is the stage that project is currently under.
So we arrive now at one of those retrospect moments. In retrospect, I had no idea what I was getting myself into at the time. It’s kind of funny that I expected to be able to one-off on these songs and get them out quick, but then again, at the time we were expecting to merely make stuff that was passable for the character. The problem is, if I get started doing something, there is only one way for me to do it: do it right.