My Daily Song Project turns 0.4167 today. It feels like far too long since an update. People have asked: “what’s your process? how’s it going?” It’s high time I answer.
It’s going fine, thanks.
Heh, no, I’m not going to leave it at that. Read on for the gritty details.
A Cycle of Song Cycles
It became apparent to me about a month into it that I’m in a place where leaving it open-ended—”I just do this, five days each week, for the rest of my life”—doesn’t fit neatly into my brain. I need mileposts, stopovers, intervals to take stock and then begin anew.
So I sat down with a calendar and an astrolabe and determined that I’d done my first one about 1/12 of a year before an Autumnal Equinox. Aha, then, monthly. If only there were a calendar system that divided the year into 12 equal parts and lined up nicely with the equinoxes and solstices. Something more to do with the stars and the planets than our arbitrarily-arrived-at system…
Oh damn. The Zodiac. I used to be a big nut for the stuff. I no longer subscribe to the theory that the relative position of the stars and moon at the time of one’s birth has any determining power over one’s life (unless one invites it), but it remains potent symbolism for me. Fine, then, each month of stuff is in a collection named for one of the signs of the Zodiac, and that gives me twelve months of signposts before I have to think of something new.
Gradually, this organizing schema came to mean that each song was part of something larger. Each song was free to be what it was, but it had a broad theme that it could touch base with if it wanted. Each song is a member of a set of 21 or 22, and each set is a member of a collection of 12. Gradually, I’ve come to think of this project as an ongoing song cycle that will contain some ~260 songs; a musical artistic statement documenting a year of the experiences—and the growth—of one vocal musician.
This effect was reinforced by a whim that came over me at the end of the first month. My very first song in this cycle, you see, kinda sucked. (I know, I know, there’s no accounting for taste. But if the artists themselves cannot use their artistic discernment on their own output, who then may?) Generally, I try to avoid repeating myself from one song to another. (A trick that started becoming very difficult to keep track of after about song 75 or so.) But it seemed fair and permissible to bookend a set by revisiting and reinterpreting the idea I made up at the start of the month. Song 1—”Re-Entry”—inspired “the Maiden’s Voyage” to cap off the set named after Virgo. Luck, it seemed, was on my side.
So that’s the organizing principle I’m using to keep myself sane. Because this is a marathon, folks. To keep going at a sustainable pace… I need a finish line. Even if my task at the finish line is to re-frame my regular practice.
Each Day Is Each Day
But that’s the macro, and while that’s good for motivation, it doesn’t apply when the rubber hits the road and it’s time to record. So, how’s that experience? Well I’ll tell ya.
Turns out I started this blog post two months ago, and so I have some notes from back then to refer to. “The first month was heady,” I wrote. That’s still true. It seemed like there were always new ideas in my head I could connect with, and there was little tendency to repeat myself. Execution, however, was a challenge. I learned fast how wobbly intonation and sloppy rhythm could turn a good musical idea shaky, quickly. Correcting those problems with execution has been a part of the journey.
“The second month, it felt like the real work was beginning,” I wrote at the end of month 3. Ha! Little did I know what month 4 and 5 would feel like.
I’ve started to find formulae that work, but I don’t want to become formulaic. There’s a tension there, between improvisational freedom and taking advantage of musical structures that are known to work. I’ve come to see the value of both: I need to hone my ability to execute, say, a breakdown, but I also need to effectively communicate in the moment. So I haphazardly bounce back and forth between refining formulae and trying stuff way outside of my developing comfort zone.
I try to keep an awareness in my head of what’s in my last few songs. What am I happy with? What am I limited by? What am I doing well? What should I avoid doing… or, try doing more-or-differently to find a way for it to work? What have I done too much of lately? What might I need to try on some occasion, as an antidote to the things I hear that I want to grow out of? So, that informs my decisions on a daily basis.
Another thing that happens to me on a daily basis is: I have a day. Some days I get a new puppy; some are a holiday; some feature rare celestial events like a Blood Moon; some come with bad personal news, or an argument with a friend or an enemy; some come with great news from the world about a heroic or compassionate person, or horrible news from the world about a disaster, an atrocity, or a social ill. Some come with rest and peace; some run me ragged and wring me out. It all goes in.
I’m transforming. Parts of my brain are rewiring, solidifying music-making pathways that have been developing all my life but have only rarely been given a daily workout. Growing annexes. I never know whether I’ve plateaued… perhaps I’m experiencing one at the moment. I’m not too sad about it; I feel like I’m at a level that I’ve always known I could go to, but have never really been at. And yet I know I want to be capable of so much more.
And that’s the real work. I had glimpses of it in month 2, but I didn’t know how deep it would go. Now, I know that I don’t know how deep it will go. And so, it continues.
Now I leave my office to sit down and make the bookend for this month’s cycle, re-interpreting “Neither Fish Nor Fowl” to make a song I’ll name “A Goat Of A Different Color.” To keep up the pace. To see what I’ll be capable of learning, in a year of this.
And, of course, beyond.