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I need some help with, focus?
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mikedboh
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#1
28th February 2012
Old 28th February 2012
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I need some help with, focus?

OK so here's the story. I'm 30 years old. Starting playing guitar when I was 16 and started picking up drums some time around 20. Played in a punk band growing up, a little rock, and some small meaningless projects in there. I'm an average singer also. When I was younger(and less experienced) I could write songs like it was my job. Now I'm always too critical of any ideas I get. Also since I play a handful of instruments I have trouble knowing where to start. It seems like at most I'll get a short vocal melody/line or guitar lick, and immediately go over to the drum kit to work on adding more rhythm to it. Somewhere in all of this ADD(?) kicks in and I lose it.

In all honesty I haven't written a full song in almost 10 years. It's sad. I'm a talented engineer as well and have a nicely equipped home studio at my disposal, yet it is going to waste(aside from recording projects for others here and there). Another thing worth mentioning is when I'm working with OTHER bands, the ideas flow like crazy. guitar licks, drum fills, tons of different ideas in general.

I want to write songs. Of course I want them to be "good" but deep down I look at music as more of an art(painting) than a competition(sport). There is just something in my mind that is screwing up the whole process.


Can anyone shed some light and possibly point me in the right direction?
#2
29th February 2012
Old 29th February 2012
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I'm very similar to you, and I think the key is to record as soon as an idea come to you. Just a scratch track. Put it down, and then if you want to drum along with it or figure out some lyrics go ahead. From there the ideas will usually keep coming and you can piece it together instead of thinking of it as a whole. However, I would suggest finishing the song in one session, otherwise the creative flow can be lost. But there's nothing to say you can't write a guitar intro, hop over and do a drum hook, write the chorus vocal and figure out the verse progression on bass. It's actually a good idea. I write 40-60 songs a year and picking up a different instrument mid song is a good way to find new ideas.
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29th February 2012
Old 29th February 2012
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Keep the songwriting/scratch recording separate from the real recording/production, otherwise you will never finish a song!
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29th February 2012
Old 29th February 2012
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Sounds to me like you know the answer - the ideas flow when you collaborate...so start collaborating.

IMO you need to worry less about what instrument you start on - and listen to where you muse is leading you. What instrument is the right one will make itself apparent.
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29th February 2012
Old 29th February 2012
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I think a lot of it is this modern ADD world ...

try taking a week without internet, TV, cell phone, etc. The songs may not come right away, but after a few days they probably will. You will likely start thinking about different things and come up with other ideas because you're not distracted. carry a paper and pen around with you.

also, make up a rule that you're not allowed to begin recording a song until the song itself is complete. THEN begin the arrangement/production.

Use a small cassette recorder and a paper and pen.

Think about the way things were when you were writing songs and try to get back to that. forget about recording, just focus on songs themselves.
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29th February 2012
Old 29th February 2012
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I truly appreciate all of the feedback. I agree with most of your points. Especially keeping the writing/recording separate. I can't even count the times where I was trying to be creative and shifted to left-brain because I was tweaking the guitar sound for example.

I think my ego is a part of the problem as well. Worrying that what comes out won't be 'good enough'. Somewhat goes back to what I was saying about music being a way of expression and not a competition. I'm just having a lot of trouble grasping that. This same way of thinking affects my every day life as well!
#7
29th February 2012
Old 29th February 2012
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If you think about it as a competition, there's always going to be someone "better," which is a hard things for people like us to take. What you need to remember is that music is subjective. Some people will listen to dream theater and think it sucks but will rock out to kesha. Gross, I know, but the point remains, you can't think in those terms. Play what you like and have fun. If you do that, you'll always love your music, even if it isn't your technical best or the recordings sound like crap. I can think of a lot of two chord songs I enjoy... Write something that's really meaningful to you, and that will be the first step to getting back to good songwriting. It might even be a good topic for a first song. Finding your way back.
#8
29th February 2012
Old 29th February 2012
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I know exactly how you feel, and almost live the same life as you. I sing decently, and 10 years ago (and even 15 years) I could write songs every day and basically finish them, too. Then the internet happened, then "being an adult" happened. I'm 35, but I act 16, and I never really want to grow up because then my heart will die and I will lose all things about life that make me a cool, interesting person.

I love collaborating as well, but unfortunately I can't find a lot of people who are at my experience level, in the area I live in... or worse, don't want to do music like I want to do (style/genre). I think I write amazingly when I collaborate, too. Ideas just flow, and songs do get finished.

Haven't been in a serious band since probably 2004... and before that, mid-to-late 90s... both bands are obviously now defunct.

I agree with people saying don't worry about the production or engineering... just write the song, finish it. Then record it.

My problem is, I have all these cool riff ideas, pretty piano things, etc... but have trouble piecing all these ideas together to make a full song. My head is just all over the place.

The thing is-- keep at it. And turn off the inner critic. We all feel that our songs suck incredibly... but chances are, most people who hear your stuff will hear it so much differently than you do. "I wish I wrote that!!!" You say that about a lot of songs you hear, or "I wish it were as good as THAT song." More than likely, there are thousands of people who feel the same way when they hear your songs.

Hope this helped... feel free to PM, I always like to talk with people who are in the same boat as me (btw, I play drums, guitar, bass, piano, and sing)... so I definitely feel where you're coming from.

-Chris

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Last edited by themixtape; 4th March 2012 at 05:12 PM.. Reason: sig
#9
29th February 2012
Old 29th February 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by themixtape View Post
My problem is, I have all these cool riff ideas, pretty piano things, etc... but have trouble piecing all these ideas together to make a full song. My head is just all over the place.
-Chris
Maybe you've already tried this, but I figure I'll help if I can. Try taking some of those ideas and putting them all in one key/tempo etc. You may be against the idea of changing any of them at first, but then might find it changes into something new an works with something else in a different context. Or keep them both as they are and try to write a part that connects them. Possible verse-bridge-chorus outcome. Never grow up though, that's where creativity dies.
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29th February 2012
Old 29th February 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mikedboh View Post
Somewhere in all of this ADD(?) kicks in and I lose it.

In all honesty I haven't written a full song in almost 10 years. It's sad. ...

There is just something in my mind that is screwing up the whole process.
Yes, this blockage is common across all the intellectual endeavors. Consider all the aspiring literature writers out there that have that blockbuster novel waiting inside them. But, they've been stuck for the last 10 years on the first page with "It was a dark and stormy night..."

Some good suggestions have been made about the actual composition process of music. I'm going back up one step before that and suggest that you take an honest inventory of how you like to spend your time. It may or may not include songwriting -- or -- it recasts what "accomplishment" in songwriting would mean to you.

Here's an example. I write songs and usually spend about 6 to 8 hours per day on it. This is natural for me. I don't have to fake out my head with a pep talk to do it. But while that's happening, I've also got a stack of wood in the garage that's waiting for me to make a table out of it. I've also got a computer in another room that's waiting for me to upgrade it from Windows 2003 to Windows 2008. I even bought a harddrive over a year ago for that purpose and it's still in its shrinkwrap!

It's just not been an exciting priority at the moment to cut & sand that wood for the table. And, I dread messing around with the computer server because I guess I'd rather do something else. In contrast, a hardcore geeker would've pulled an all-nighter to upgrade that thing the same day the new harddrive was purchased.

If I were to visit and woodworking forum and ask "why can't I finish my woodcutting project?" and then visit a computer tech forum and ask "why I can't seem to focus on my server upgrade" ... they might offer specific advice to each hobby such as "get nicer table saw tools to make it more pleasurable" or "ditch Windows and get Mac Pro" etc. The real underlying problem is that I obsess too much over the songwriting and neglect the other tasks. Basically, it's the opposite problem that you're having.

So, you have the same 24 hours to spend like everyone else including Bruno Mars, Diane Warren, Dr Luke, etc. I read that Diane Warren typically works 10+ hours 6 days a week on songwriting. So in the next hour that you and I might be surfing the web or watching ESPN highlights of baseball basketball, she was polishing the bridge of a a song... or reworking some tricky lyrics in a difficult section. In that hour that passed by, she made progress, while you did not. She didn't necessarily write 1 complete song in that hour but she progressively inched toward completion of a song. Again, it's the same 24 hours we all have.

In more concrete numbers:
365 days a year * 16 waking hours = 5840 hours
subtract 2500 hours a year for fulltime job = 3340 hours
multiply by 10 years you haven't written a song: 33,400 hours.

You have to examine yourself critically without preconceived notions and determine what it is you naturally like to spend time on. You probably didn't spend those 33,000+ hours staring at 4 blank walls. You did do something during all that time -- but what was it exactly? Hard to take accurate inventory now since all that time is gone and forgotten. I suggest keeping a daily journal of all your thoughts and activities. When I was younger, I used to think a journal/log was too much like a teenage girl keeping a silly diary but I've changed and now see the immense value of it. It's human nature to easily forget how you fritter your valuable hours and days away on things that are not important. A log with months and years worth of entries that you can look back on will help you do some forensics on how you live your life. You don't need fancy software such as Personal Information Managers. You don't need to download a cute iPhone app for this. In Windows, you can just use Notepad; in Mac use Textedit. Enter the date&time and write a one-liner of what you did or were thinking. Perhaps instead of songwriting, you spent several hours building sandcastles with your kids at the beach. Write that in. If you were songwriting the morning of 2012 Feb 29, you write that in. You add as many entries for the day as you feel comfortable. In my log, there are typically between 1 and 5 entries per day.

You start to learn all sorts of strange and wonderful trivia about yourself. For example, I noticed that I came up with most ideas in the morning. I also learned that I spent too much time on the phone with some folks that didn't help my goals. Before keeping a journal, I had a vague feeling that they were wasting my time but it was the rereading of my log notes that I was able to quantify it with concrete numbers. Armed with that knowledge, whenever Person X's caller id showed on my phone, I let it go to to voicemail instead of becoming a 1 hour timesink.

Is songwriting a natural activity that you prefer to do? Keep a log for a few weeks. Maybe there are other enjoyable activities competing for your time and therefore, cranking out 1 song per year is the right pace for how it fits in your life. Therefore, no guilt or sadness for whatever the natural productivity level is for creating music.
#11
29th February 2012
Old 29th February 2012
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Very interesting post. Never thought about it that way because, like you, it's natural to me.
#12
29th February 2012
Old 29th February 2012
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Very thoughtful and helpful post...Thanks!!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jason West View Post
Yes, this blockage is common across all the intellectual endeavors. Consider all the aspiring literature writers out there that have that blockbuster novel waiting inside them. But, they've been stuck for the last 10 years on the first page with "It was a dark and stormy night..."

Some good suggestions have been made about the actual composition process of music. I'm going back up one step before that and suggest that you take an honest inventory of how you like to spend your time. It may or may not include songwriting -- or -- it recasts what "accomplishment" in songwriting would mean to you.

Here's an example....
#13
29th February 2012
Old 29th February 2012
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Book a room at a hotel a few hours away. Take your guitar and a pencil and leave your phone behind.
#14
29th February 2012
Old 29th February 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by piper View Post
Book a room at a hotel a few hours away.
I used to do stuff like this but I don't think it's necessary for most writers. I used to book a vacation out of town thinking that I'd get some writing done "away from all the distractions." In the end, no serious composing got done.

In Jimmy Webb's book "Tunesmith", he emphasizes that as musicians, you are one of the lucky few professions where your "office" is right between your ears. That really drove the point home for me. You don't have to be on the beach at French Riviera or some exotic island to write music. A lot of music is can be made sitting at the bus stop, laying in bed, etc.

This is the "guerrilla" songwriting mindset that will enable the most productivity. Anywhere and everywhere.


EDIT: I found a link to the actual page in Jimmy Webb's book that talks about this:

Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting - Jimmy Webb - (page 29) Google Books
#15
29th February 2012
Old 29th February 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jason West View Post
Is songwriting a natural activity that you prefer to do?
Is it?

If it is than don't be trying to hard to focus. The better songs come on their own to a natural songwriter.

If you have to force the issue than it might be best to just play for a while until you are ready.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mikedboh View Post
I want to write songs. Of course I want them to be "good" but deep down I look at music as more of an art(painting) than a competition(sport).
Ah, yes...and art is all about inspiration. Take some of those licks and work with them. See if the muse strikes.

Songwriting, as I see it, is a river that you can not push.
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#16
1st March 2012
Old 1st March 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Unclenny View Post
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jason West View Post
Is songwriting a natural activity that you prefer to do?
Is it?

If it is than don't be trying to hard to focus. The better songs come on their own to a natural songwriter.
I want to clarify that I'm using "natural" in a very specific context of "time expenditure." I'm not using "natural" in the sense of assessing the unresolved mystery between innate talent vs hard work.

Aspiring artists (songwriter, author, painter) have to take stock to see if they naturally prefer to allocate time to their respective artistic activities. That has to done before they can fairly measure the quantity of output they think they should have in relation to what total sums of time they've allocated for it.

To put another way... most normal teenage boys have raging hormones and they have a natural inclination to think about pretty girls all day long. They like thinking about girls. They do not need to ask others how to block out a chunk of time to dedicate to female daydreaming. They don't need to make an appointment with themselves on a calendar to think about girls. In fact, they have to exert immense effort not to think about chasing girls (or photos of pretty girls) so they can get other stuff done.

So, the questions of how to focus on songwriting seem a little strange to me. I always suspect they have other enjoyable activities that they don't realize they prefer, and that it consumes all the hours that might have been used for songwriting. This is not a bad thing. It just requires honest assessment of what one thinks he/she really likes to do. The whole "know thyself" and all that jazz.

If one truly likes songwriting as an activity in itself, how can one not focus on songwriting?! (See teenage boys analogy above.) I've got a bunch of non-music projects that are piling up in my queue because I'm immersed in songwriting.
#17
1st March 2012
Old 1st March 2012
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I agree with what you're saying Jason. It's also possible though that some elements of songwriting come naturally to a person while others don't, and that can be a big part of having trouble finishing things. There are times when you may have to power through stuff that doesn't come naturally in order to be able to finish the things that you love to do naturally.

Like I can write wordless songs with just melody and chord changes all day long, arrange them, record them, etc. but lyrics are much harder for me. But I love to sing, I want to write songs with lyrics, and I haven't had any luck finding collaborators, so I have to push myself to work on the part that doesn't come naturally. I think a lot of that comes from fear. As I work on lyrics more I'm learning to enjoy the process but it's still easy for me to freeze up and avoid the problem.

It's also possible that there are things that could come naturally to you that you don't know until you even try. I love to work on first drafts of songs I've written and try to find ways to improve weak parts, add chord substitutions, rewrite parts of the melody, add new sections, or anything else that can take something I already like and make it better. I never used to do that and didn't realize that it would come naturally to me, but now that I do that it helps me finish pieces that in the past I would have abandoned.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SlowCheetah View Post
Keep the songwriting/scratch recording separate from the real recording/production, otherwise you will never finish a song!
^^^ this is also key for me
#18
19th March 2012
Old 19th March 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by initialsBB View Post
It's also possible though that some elements of songwriting come naturally to a person while others don't, and that can be a big part of having trouble finishing things.
^^^ this is also key for me
Yes, this has to be true or we would all be able to create music as well as the Beatles. In order to finish songs you have to want to, and be willing to, put in the time. I write my best when I can live a totally unstructured time. I mean being able to wake up when I want, go to bed when I want. No distractions. I only use a small Zoom recorder and pen and paper. When I get an idea I work on I just keep playing it over and over. Each time trying to find what it wants to be. To finish something could be short. Think of Her Majesty on the end of the Beatles Abby Road is all of 25 seconds long. That is a complete and finished song. Take a bunch of unfinished bits and combine them like the Beatles did on Abby Road. Maybe it will work out that way.

-Gary
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20th March 2012
Old 20th March 2012
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I find that my "special place" where I become creative is simply in the middle of the night. I often come home from work. Then go to sleep. Wake up...whenever....1am?... Just get into music. Then the words just start coming. This is a special time for me. The night is peaceful, serene. "They" are all asleep and unable to bug me. I enjoy this time tremendously. Then morning comes and I have to go to work. Get done as fast as I can so I can get to sleep, wake up, and repeat it all over again. I romantically love to call this my: "Music of the Night".
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21st March 2012
Old 21st March 2012
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you need a partner/music buddy.
#21
23rd March 2012
Old 23rd March 2012
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Wait, so your saying your creative flow will comes out when your using the right side of your brain?
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