In May of 2015, I embarked on an ambitious adventure, which I shared on Twitter:
It was an adventure well worth taking for what I desired to achieve from it. I wanted to:
1) Improve as a composer.
2) Compose/arrange several pieces so that I could include some as samples in my portfolio.
3) Get into a more consistent habit of writing (and occasionally arranging) music.
4) Experiment with ideas and write in different styles.
5) Gain more Internet traction.
6) Write. Period!
Most of my weekly postings were original compositions (the main goal), but the wording creative content freed me to experiment with other possibilities: A few weeks’ pieces had sound design elements woven in, and a handful were arrangements of existing music. The link to #TheNoteWeaverWeekly YouTube playlist can be found here.
It was a worthwhile adventure, and in the end I had 52 weeks’ worth of creative content on my YouTube channel!
Here are 8 takeaways from my experience doing #TheNoteWeaverWeekly:
1) Just start writing! It’s so simple, but it’s the honest-to-goodness truth. If you aren’t feeling very inspired, don’t overthink it. Just write something. A note. A chord. A measure. Heck, at least make a decision on a key, meter, style, or instrument. And then just go. About halfway through my year of doing #TheNoteWeaverWeekly, I realized that often my hesitation to start composing (sometimes resulting in procrastination) was because I was afraid for it to sound lackluster. Now ideally, I wouldn’t want the final version of the piece to sound this way, but why would it matter if it wasn't “there yet” during development? Why should the quality during the whole process have to match the quality of the final version? It doesn’t! I realized that if I didn’t know what paint colors to start with on my palette or what brush strokes to use, I should just start by splattering paint against the wall. From there it can be edited (because it’s not real paint, it’s audio – it can be edited!). So maybe paint on the wall isn’t the best imagery to use, but hopefully you get the idea. I realized that I needed to allow myself to experiment with trial and error as I worked on a piece. That’s the beauty of using DAW samplers, recording, mixing, etc. – it’s not a live performance that has only one take.
2) If you are super stuck and feel hardly any inspiration – the ideas aren't coming – then give yourself constraints. Google “creativity and constraints” and you will see that there are a lot of quotes relating the two concepts, specifically that giving yourself constraints allows for more creativity. For instance, instead of thinking, “There are so many instruments out there and I have no idea which one to use in this week’s piece,” think instead, “This week I will write for clarinets only, with an underlying bass drum rhythm.” Constraints are essentially decisions that help us avoid analysis paralysis (too much thinking, not enough doing). Now that I’ve decided to write for clarinets and bass drum, I can turn my focus onto something else, such as meter. “I’ve written so many things in 4/4 time, so maybe this week I’ll try something less common, like 7/8.” Oh, interesting! Clarinet and bass drum music in 7/8? Then the ideas start flowing more easily.
3) Give yourself permission to not be perfect. We all want to be amazing, right?! Well, getting to that point takes practice and consistency. So, if you’re fairly new to writing music, give yourself permission to be less awesome than John Williams. To be terrible even! Because as long as you’re trying your best and having fun, then so what? Realize that these weekly pieces are to help you get better. Your compositional skills will improve and you will notice a difference between weeks 1 and 52. After hearing my first week’s piece again, there are some things that I would do differently now. It’s nice to have the weekly pieces as a snapshot for later to see how your skills improved along the way. You can only get better the more you compose! The worst thing you can do is never start because it’s not at a mastery level from the get-go. And when you begin, you are already a step ahead of the people who never try because they don’t want to do the work required to get good at their craft; they want to be at the ideal destination immediately without the journey of required, consistent, dedicated work.
4) Be consistent and work a little on the piece every day. Sometimes you might not feel like working on it, since you have been doing it every week, and it’s easy sometimes to get lazy and/or find reasons to procrastinate. When I followed through on the philosophy of working on a piece over several days instead of pushing it off, there were a couple of benefits:
a) I felt more relaxed because I wasn’t waiting till the last minute. Instead of feeling the need to just crank out a piece as quickly as possible (which can sometimes be beneficial, don’t get me wrong – sometimes pressure is a motivator), I could take more time to craft and fine-tune my work. It could be much better because I didn’t procrastinate. Don’t let a deadline just around the corner be your only inspiration; give yourself enough time so that your mind can be free from worry, with more creative power unlocked.
b) Working on it a little here, a little there, allows your ears to rest. This is important so that you can have “fresh ears” after working for a while on the piece. Your ears can get tired or get used to a sound if heard enough (even if it’s initially unpleasant or too soft/loud), so it’s important to have breaks. Just a few minutes can help somewhat, and even more so if it’s an unrelated activity (e.g., doing the dishes). When I took breaks and came back to my work, I would have a fresh perspective and sometimes hear things I hadn’t noticed before that I felt needed to be adjusted.
5) Set a very manageable and easy goal to ensure that you work on it every day. This is something I learned near the end of the project, and would want to apply were I to do this challenge again. Make the goal so easy that you can't not do it. For example, perhaps your goal is that you will work on your weekly (or biweekly, monthly, whatever it is) piece for 15 minutes every day. Does 15 minutes seem too long? Then make it 5 minutes. Five minutes is a very approachable goal, and once you start working on it, you will likely have a hard time stopping when 5 minutes have passed! If you prefer a progress-based approach rather than time-based, make it an easy goal such as writing a measure or two a day. Don’t feel bad that it’s an easy goal because the point is to get into a habit and have your brain associate completing the goal with positive feelings. This will make you want to do it again, because the brain likes that association. If you make the goal too hard initially, then you are likely to not do it, leading to negative feelings. Once you feel that you get the hang of either of those goal methods (time or progress based) to the point that they no longer feel challenging, then take it up a notch and write for 30 minutes a day or write 4 measures a day minimum – you get the idea.
6) Stick to your deadlines. It can be tempting to push things back a day or so; sometimes unexpected things come up in life, we procrastinate, or we want more time to improve the piece. While that can happen, it’s in your best interest to meet those deadlines as consistently as possible to avoid the demotivating feeling and slippery slope mindset that can accompany a late project. When that happens, it takes more effort to ensure that the deadline doesn’t progressively get moved back to the point of being so far behind that you miss your goal of posting every week (e.g., having 51 pieces at the end of the year, within the allotted time frame, instead of 52).
7) Accountability is incredibly valuable. Those close to me, as well as the Internet (via my Twitter post), knew about my goal. By announcing #TheNoteWeaverWeekly, it helped motivate me so that I would have an answer ready in case someone asked me, “How’s your piece coming along?” If you’re the only one who knows about your endeavor, then who would know any differently if you weren’t following through on it? Motivation can ebb and flow, so it’s helpful to have people who can encourage you to keeping pressing forward during the most trying times.
8) Always back up your work. While we live in the 21st century and technology continues to advance and improve, things can still happen. My computer’s hard drive failed while working on one of the pieces. I was able to recover most computer files but not all, so from that point on I became diligent to back up my computer on a regular basis. I recommend investing in an external hard drive and/or using an online service such as Google Drive or Dropbox.
Disclaimer: It's possible to experience a period of burnout during or after the challenge, if you are not careful. I think what can help prevent this is working on the composition a little bit every day (see takeaway #3 above), and not waiting till close to the deadline. It will help keep your stress level down and you will experience a satisfying, rewarding feeling for staying consistent, which is super important.
As a composer and sound designer, this challenge helped me to increase skill development, gain more experience, and develop a more productive routine. Perhaps you wish to embark on the same or a similar adventure – i.e., instead of on a weekly basis, perhaps you wish to do this biweekly or monthly. (If you do it weekly, I just recommend not using #TheNoteWeaverWeekly hashtag for yours – wouldn’t make much sense! ;-) )
If you succeed, you will come out at the other end with the feeling of “Wow, I really did this!” (Confidence and motivation booster!) And you will have, in general, progressively stronger pieces as the weeks go on. You will have 52 pieces to choose from to add to or create your portfolio. And you can experiment with a variety of styles, instrumentations, keys, meters, melodies, and harmonies to improve your skills and to have fun!
Thanks for reading! If you decide to embark on an exciting similar challenge of your own, please let me know in the comments – I’d love to see your progress!
Best of luck! 🎶