The nightmare of curating musical and written ideas
Over the years I have accumulated reams of paper, GigaBites of audio and Kilometres of tape, full of music and ideas. How the hell do you deal with it all?
We have all had it.
It’s 0330. You are in bed and wake up suddenly with an idea. A lyric, a melody, a concept for a photo, a note about the mix you are currently working on. So you grab anything to record this revelation.
Now of course, you use a smartphone or notebook, but in the past, it could have been a roll of parchment, the back of your hand, dictaphone, small cassette recorder, a reel-to-reel tape machine, mini-disc (remember them) or DAT machine - anything.
Relieved, you go back to sleep in the secure knowledge that you have preserved the moment. It’s there, committed forever.
On the other hand, how many times have you tried to keep it alive in your mind because you couldn’t be bothered getting up, or there was nothing to scribble on or sing into then get slightly distracted to find both the moment and the idea lost?
It’s happened to me a lot.
Finding it all
Most writers go though creative feasts and famines.
I have written complete songs in a five minutes, end to end, chords, words everything but sometimes it takes weeks of mulling stuff over, recording and tweaking as you go.
Sometimes its just not possible to finish an idea you have immediately and hence get a nasty build up of snippets, chords, lyrics and riffs.
The question is once you have managed to save it, how do you find it again?
In the studio, Suzy and I try and whack ideas into a Pro Tools or Ableton session as soon as possible, but of course that causes a similar problem - lots of unindexed sessions that you need to open to find out what you have done.
Touring for me always sparks ideas. Soundchecks, bars and restaurants all seem to give me inspiration and when in the UK this October, we will be loading up the iPad with some suitable software to capture anything that comes along. Of course when we return the same problem will manifest itself.
I distinctly remember recording two little acoustic guitar pieces, one from our French frolic around ten years ago and the other from our first Spanish sojourn. It was before the iPhone voice memos moved to the stand-alone app.
Can I find them? Can I fuck. Immensely frustrating and actually really upsetting.
Clearly, this is not a great way to work and remember watching a video (which I have tried to find but have not succeeded) of David Gilmour talking from his barn/rehearsal room at home about the same subject.
He had a man to help him with this sticky problem asking his long-time collaborator Phil Manzanera to go through a load of material - yes, you guessed it tapes, files and notebooks - and choose the best stuff for him to work up.
If you can find the video, please shove a link in the comments.
Grab a cup of tea and take in one story and one great song.
We don’t usually have guitars in the bedroom, but now the studio is right next door, I can be there in seconds.
Not so when we first moved to France, as our bed was actually in the studio and remember one morning jumping up, stark naked, strapping on my Gibson ES335-12 (which I have since sold) and playing a new riff idea to a very startled Starlite who was not accustomed to seeing a naked man strutting around the bedchamber - fully tooled up so to speak.
Finding the ear-worm
I remember trying to find an ear-worm song on a Moody Blues album. I could have sworn it was on one of the first classic albums and played each vinyl several times but couldn’t find it, only later to discover it wasn’t them at all but ‘Love’.
Listen to this wonderful track and tell me it doesn’t sound like the mighty Moody’s. Oh, and while you are at it, why not subscribe - it’s free.
VIBES is a reader-supported guide to life, culture, music and current affairs accompanied by a weekly music-inspired podcast. Both free and paid subscriptions are available. If you want to support our work, the best way is by taking out a paid subscription..
Putting together an album
Last year, we embarked upon writing material for our third studio album STARLITE.ONE. Where did we start?
Well as we have always done:
by trawling through old notebooks which, having a good contextual memory, generally sparks off the original idea
listening to hours and hours of voice memos and Pro Tools sessions
playing each other the ideas/ memos then voting upon them (democracy is alive and kicking in our home)
programming the Sequential Tempest drum machine or recording a percussion instrument to get a groove going
writing riffs and motifs around the melody/chords and groove which occasionally resulted in a totally new song - return to #3 and repeat
Technology is our friend
This time we changed it up a gear and meticulously sifted through our individual books/recordings, then exported the audio stuff we liked to a big shared folder on Google Drive - which of course unless you take pictures, can’t be done with notebooks.
As we had been working with synthesisers for the first time we did come up with quite a lot of brand new material based around the new sounds, loops and arpeggios, but quite a few historical lines of lyric and motifs found their way onto the record.
Inspired by the new technology, one complete demo written by Suzy - The Coat - was completely reimagined.
The ability to search and curate
On one hand, I love and totally embrace technology and an early adopter. On the other, when it comes to audio quality and recording, I can be quite the Luddite.
In this instance, technology is cool. Being able to search for words, lines and musical ideas is a real bonus, but of course, it means organising and naming files and still doesn’t get over the problems associated with paper.
We have started to use Notes in macOS into which you can quickly dictate and is helping, but I still look at all those notebooks, tapes and unnamed audio memos with longing.
One of these days I am going to go through the lot.
I hope you enjoyed this short piece, but could do with your words of wisdom and it’s over to you.
Suzy and I are very keen to hear your stories and learn how you deal with these curation issues. We would very much love for you to comment below; sharing the love may save us all a lot of time and heartache.
Next week Suzy will again be laying before you some pearls of wisdom…
Working on: Learning Ableton and creating all the MIDI stuff to run our UK tour gigs
What’s cooking: Marinated and BBQ’d free range chicken with homemade Aubergine Zaalouk, fresh salad and Berber griddle breads (recipes from The Food Of Morocco by Paula Wolfert)
Listening to: Lindstrøm - Everyone Else Is A Stranger
VIBES is a reader-supported guide to life, culture, music and current affairs accompanied by a weekly music-inspired podcast. Both free and paid subscriptions are available. If you want to support our work, the best way is by taking out a paid subscription.