Saturday, April 11, 2015

Delving for Devils

I know this is coming a little late for all those who actively follow me on social media. This was released on Wednesday after all. Or was it Thursday? Technically, I guess today's Saturday... Well, at this point all I know is what released sometime earlier this week in the wee hours of the morning on whatever day it was. Ah, wait, I can check...

Okay, so the timeline goes something like this if I can accurately reassemble the events of the past week through Facebook posts: On the evening of Tuesday, April 7th, I had completed a rough cut of my newest song, "They Delving." This song took a little over a week to write, even though it had me pretty inspired from the get go. It started out with just going back through the synths that I had on hand to see if I had any that I might use to create some industrial noise or insert into some trip-hop beats. The one thing I had thought "Dusk Devils" (my previous song) was sorely lacking in was strange noises to bring it out of the solely orchestral genre. As far as that song was concerned, the only aspects of composing I had really expanded upon was experimenting with my beat-work by laying down multiple drum tracks, and I had made my string arrangements more complex. In fact, "Dusk Devils" seems to be almost entirely beats and strings in retrospect, with the piano driving it forward.

So anyway, I came across that windy synth someone somewhere decided to call "Solar" and I manipulated the hell out of it until it would be more appropriate to call it "Windy Synth," and I applied my new knowledge of beat-work, and then we were off, heading back into piano and string territory 'cause, well, piano and cello are my favorite instruments and I tend to lead with them. And when it comes right down to it, the piano is my strength, matched only by my ears when it comes to composing.

The song had started off really inspiring with new elements that I had never played with before, and it was going off in interesting directions, even if they were on more familiar ground with piano-and-strings compositions, but I got stuck. Not the frustrated nothing-is-working and this-song-has-gone-to-shite sort of stuck that is the bane of all musicians, just the sort of "Well, I don't know where this goes next, so I'm done for now" kind of stuck that seems to be a song's nice way of telling me to halt before I get my pissed off at it. This song and I had that kind of relationship from the get go, where it would excite me and come quite naturally, and then we would both agree that it was time to stop. There were times when I told myself I should be working, that I should sit down and open up this song and hammer something out, but I just felt too disinterested to follow through...until I was interested again, and then pretty much the moment my fingers touched the keys I'd be excited and we'd start flowing again.

There were challenges writing the string arrangements. At times, nothing seemed to sound right and it would take quite a while to come up with the right counterpart for the cello. The cello is what I usually lead with, though sometimes it's the bass. These two are my favorite elements of a string quartet as well as two of my favorite instruments because they complement other instruments so well, and sounds that can seem completely alien to a string instrument can be elicited from them. But the viola...the damn viola never wants to cooperate with me. It just almost never sounds right to me, but I need that register between a cello and a violin sometimes, so I have no choice, and then it feels like a battle of wills, or like my fingers just aren't made to produce the perfect riff when I finally stumble upon it. No, the viola is not my friend.

Yet when it dawned on me to drop all the instruments for a dramatic change to an entirely trip-hop arrangement mid-song, it was the viola riff that really carried it and kept the switch from sounding too jarring. And it was in writing this "trip-hop solo" that got things really flowing, from the moment I started writing it to the end of the first draft of the song. I used my favorite synth, "Fifth Element," that appears in the majority of my songs, in new and unrecognizable ways, tweaking it to the perfect levels of strangeness as if I knew exactly how it was going to end up sounding, and I used another old friend, "Neon Koto," in its unfamiliar bass register to accompany the electric bass guitar. When the first two measures of that arrangement were written and I started looping it, there was no stopping us until we reached the end, together.

So excited was I at this point that I couldn't refrain from posting the first draft on Facebook, which is how I know that it was Tuesday the 7th, at 9:08pm. Not a whole lot ended up being changed after that. I rewrote a bass line. I experimented with the levels, both on my new headphones - that were bought with a pharmacy refund (metallic orange, Musician's Friend!) that I had handed over to my mom...she was kind enough to buy me these so I didn't have to keep working with the crappy earbuds that came with my iPhone - and on the speakers of my mom's Ford Fiesta, also playing with the track panning for the first time. My intention had been to add vocal tracks as well, using my iPhone for a mic, but when I hit the "record" button, I received the message "There is not enough storage space to record with this instrument." Fuck, I thought. So I did something I still regret and deleted some of the oldest versions of finished songs as well as snippets I had played around with that had already been used in songs, and I tried again. "There is not enough storage space to record with this instrument." Fuck! Well, the only alternatives left to me were to use the mic on the laptop or the mic on the iPad. Which held absolutely zero appeal. Which is why this version is appended "1.0," because as soon as I get my hands on a mic that I can hold in my hand and I don't have to sing at a screen, I'm recording vocals for this song, because I know how they should sound, if not what they should say.

I do know that the theme of this song's lyrics is going to be about "digging" or "going deeper"..."delving," if you will. When I was titling the song, I typed "Delving," then thought that, while that was the right word, there needed to be another word in front of it. I don't know exactly what I started typing, but the predictive function suggested "They" and I mouthed the words together - "They Delving" - and loved the way they tasted. Or whatever you want to call the sensation on your tongue when words are pleasing when formed together. Come on, I know I'm not the only person who knows what I'm talking about here. Anyway, that's how the title was formed, and that's how the song came to be finished, as far as version 1.0 is concerned, at 3:25am on Wednesday the 8th, at which point I promised my Facebook followers that it would soon be released as a streaming "single" on Soundcloud, accompanied by a new version of "Giger's Lullaby."

Even as I was assembling Pentacental for downloadability, I knew that the version of "Giger's Lullaby" I had finally deemed an "official release" was not entirely to my satisfaction. It was good enough to put on a record, to let others listen to and judge, but I already wanted to make changes to it. Hell, I already knew what some of the changes were going to be. In some ways, I wanted it to sound more like the demo that I had had such a positive reaction to on Soundcloud. And I knew that I hated the piano toward the beginning. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time... Well, this song's always been really fucking difficult, and I'm not just saying that to be vulgar. It has been fucking difficult. The first time I shared a version of this song was on January 19th, a full month before the release of Progress Report. I might have begun work on it as early as December... It is one of my oldest songs, one of my first experiments, and I've always had difficulties with it. There are sections of this song that I absolutely love, or in some cases there's instrumentation that I love while some of the accompanying instrumentation, not so much. I've changed this song so many times...there was even a time when I lost a whole track on string arrangements and had to go back and rewrite it from the beginning. There's just always been parts of this song that have sounded wrong. I'll make a bunch of changes, be in love with what I've done when I'm finished, and I'll go back and something new will sound completely off.

So, already it was time for another rewrite. For one thing, I had sped it up too much. I needed a speed between this version's and the demo's. That was where I started, as well as removing that damn piano part. I was going to just rewrite it - I started out writing new chords - but it was more satisfying to just  rip it out completely, I hated it so much. And if I was going for a sound that was more like the demo, well, that section of piano hadn't been there to begin with. From there, the changes I made were more subtle, such as rewriting a section of bass or strings. As a whole, I'm happier with it, and this version will probably end up sticking around as the definitive version of the song until I finally perfect it, if that ever happens... But I am happy that it's out in the world, and to my surprise, people actually seem to like it.

Now, according to the picture we're putting together with my Facebook posts, it appears that I never slept after posting "They Delving 1.0" and worked through the night on the changes to "Giger's Lullaby," completing them and then posting these songs together as the "single" I had promised only a few hours earlier at 6:47am on Wednesday the 8th. In this post, I told my Facebook followers that I'd make these songs available for download at my Bandcamp site within the next day or two.

At this point, I think I was feeling rather leisurely about releasing any new content. I mean, I'd already technically released these songs when I made them available on Soundcloud, but when I say "release" I mean it in an official capacity, and all of my "official" releases are made through Bandcamp, as I consider the site not only a storage and selling tool, but my label. My career, such as it is, would not exist without that website, and I owe its existence quite a bit. It is one of the best resources any musician, aspiring or professional, could use to their advantage, and it's no wonder that I share it with the likes of Thom Yorke and Amanda Palmer, musicians that have a decade (two decades, in Yorke's case) of experience under their belts.

But I'm getting away from myself, my self being the focus of this blog and this article in particular. Ahem. So I stopped working with that announcement after working through the afternoon and evening of the 7th to the morning of the 8th. I think I slept a couple of hours, maybe ate something and watched a DVD. I'm on the third season of Hell on Wheels and the ninth season of Supernatural these days... I let myself relax, as far as relaxing goes these days. I mean, I'd just released Pentacental a week earlier and had the ride of a lifetime promoting it and keeping up with this blog, which I had made many improvements and additions to, as well as another post. As I look back through my Facebook posts, it looks as though I didn't even pay much attention to social media or make much of an effort in promoting for nearly an entire day...and then it looks as though I worked through the night of the 8th on the Whirlwind mix of "Dusk Devils."

I had probably slept for a few hours during the day on Wednesday, then had dinner while watching a show with my mom, as is our daily tradition. Then, while she was winding down for sleep, I was probably winding myself back up with coffee and donning my metallic orange headphones to get back to work.

Sure, I'd already assembled the "single" for "They Delving" and only promised my followers that it would be available for download, but to make it even more enticing, I decided to add another song as a surprise, and I had already been thinking of changes I would make to "Dusk Devils" since releasing Pentacental and hearing it a good number of times. The biggest change I wanted to make was to the tempo. I love the song's original version, I really do; in fact, I'm quite satisfied with the original version. It's lovely. But it always occurred to me that it could be faster and that it could probably use a little something other than multiple drum tracks to set it apart from just being another piano-and-strings composition.

Well, I did add another drum track to most of the song, but nothing to drastic all in all. I mostly just wanted to accentuate the tracks I already had. In fact, going into making this version, my goal was to make it so that all the changes were so subtle that if you hadn't heard the song before, you would automatically assume that this was the original version. That's my biggest issue with remixes is that the changes are often so glaring that upon hearing it, you know it's a remix even if you've never heard the original song. In general I don't like remixes. The only exceptions that come immediately to mind are tracks from Nine Inch Nails' Further Down The Spiral where you might mistake what you're hearing for the original version if you're not already familiar with The Downward Spiral.

So while I wanted some electronic effects and additional drums, I didn't want the changes to be too jarring. I wasn't entirely successful, in my opinion. While I think the new tempo and the additional drums work just fine, I'm not entirely convinced of the synth that accompanies the viola in a couple of spots, nor am I convinced of the first appearance of the electric guitar in the song. However, the metal riff that accompanies the "berserk" section of the song, where it already takes an uptempo turn into orchestral rock territory, works beautifully and would be essential to include if I were to ever do another rewrite of this song. With my history, that's not at all unlikely, even though I love the original version and, as a whole, I like this new mix and it was a lot of fun to work on. Maybe because it was a lot of fun to work on I might end up trying my hand at it again.

Back to the timeline: at 8:29am on Thursday, I had finished the Whirlwind Mix of "Dusk Devils," created a cover and a track list with credits, and uploaded the tracks and artwork, including the art that had accompanied each track on Soundcloud, to and published all of this in the "single or EP" category as Delving for Devils. Shortly after, someone bought the first copy of it that was downloaded. Well, according to cyber busking language, someone downloaded a copy and gave me a very generous tip. Which is enough for me to say, "Job well done, Me! Job well done!" And I actually let myself be relatively lazy and relax (though I haven't been entirely inactive, but I do want to keep some things from y'all or else I'll have no surprises for you) with only a tweet or a post here and there to let people know that this thing exists.

And now it's Friday night/Saturday morning, and I'm finally getting around to announcing this release on this here blog. Sorry it took so long, but the mini-EP ain't going anywhere, and it's looking as though I made up for the delay with the length of and level of detail in this post. Hopefully my personable writing style was enough to keep you riveted through the story of the thought and process that went into this creation and it's rather gradual release. Part of the point of these posts, after all, is to share the experience of creating; to share what goes into the music that you hear and what my journey into becoming a working artist has been like. 

For me, personally, it's been a lot of irregular sleep, forgetting to eat, and anxiety whenever I'm not putting effort into it. Like if I'm not at least advertising on social media or blogging about the act of creating, my life as a working artist might cease to exist, and I can't imagine anything worse than that right now. I love this, I really do, to the point that I am most definitely manic about it. I want this to work out for me so badly that every moment of not putting effort into it nags at me, telling me it's not quite real yet and that it may cease to be before ever becoming a fully realized reality. I have to wonder if that feeling will go away if ever I start to make enough money at this to support myself...

Which brings me to the final point of this post. This is my job, y'all. I'm working full time at this, and I'm working hard. It is busking and I am rebelling against the tried and true ways musicians usually make a living in many ways... I'm not actively seeking a label (in fact, I should post on here someday about my half-serious mission to collect rejection emails...well, I guess I just did), I'm not asking for money for my work (just trying to "strongly encourage" tips), and I'm not selling ad space on this blog and hopefully I never will. I can't promise that I'll never set a price on any of my work, but if I could avoid that, it would be ideal. To just make art and let people have full access to it and give money to me if they have it and if they want to would be the best possible job I could ever hope for and it would fit into my belief that art should be free, even though artists should be able to make a living making art.

So I will "strongly encourage" y'all to keep in mind that "Support Cyber Busking" button in the sidebar that will let you make a donation to me through Paypal. And I "strongly encourage" y'all to keep in mind that when you're given the option to "name your price" for my music at my Bandcamp site, you can enter ANY amount. You can, in effect, toss a quarter my way if you like what I'm doing. It is imperative to me that people feel free to download my work and download it for FREE with no guilt. But it's imperative to me as a working artist who is actively working their ass off at this job to urge you to toss whatever you feel is justified or whatever you have to spare my way if you want me to keep being active on this blog and to keep making music. Also, I'd like to remind everyone that all songs are available for individual download. If you only like one song on this release, just download that one song. And if you have a quarter to spare for that one song, that would be good news for me.

Okay, enough of that. Talking about the money-making aspect of a job is always extremely awkward for me, and I'm not just talking about making money but asking all of you to let me keep my job, which makes it that much more awkward for me... I guess it's about time I read Amanda Palmer's book The Art of Asking, because it is a necessary skill and one that I have yet to master. So all that babbling for the last paragraph-and-a-half...well, let's just sum it up as what I said a moment ago: I'm asking you all to let me keep me job, and you can do that through tips and donations. Thanks for whatever you have to give, I really, really appreciate it.

There. I guess that wasn't so hard.

Until next time, may all your inner snails remain resilient and determined.

(..and here's Your Lady, unshaven with no makeup...
but check out those awesome headphones!)