How I Ended Up with T wo New Albums
Last year, right after releasing the last entry in the Kokoro series, I went straight into writing and recording for four different albums. Then creative block hit and when I woke up a few days ago I found two complete albums waiting for release. Here’s how that happened and when to expect them.
Creative cycles and creative block
I tend to be at my most creative at the end of an album cycle. It’s really strange but I have a theory as to why that is. Starting a new project is hard and you tend to overthink things a lot at the beginning and throw away a lot of material because you’re being more critical at this stage. Then, if you can get over the initial hurdle of starting the project, you gain this momentum that’s hard to stop. So at a certain point, when I’m at the end of recording an album, I have so many ideas that it becomes overwhelming and I can sort of tell that the new ideas are not in line with the theme or vibe or creative vision I had for the record initially and that’s how I know I’m done writing songs for a release.
But those new ideas are still flying at me because of the momentum. So after I finish releasing the work I just recorded I move right on to the next album. Sometimes this works out but most of the time it leads straight to burnout and a creative rut. I’m not sure exactly why having a lot of ideas would lead to creative block but I think as someone who deals with bipolar disorder it has to do with being overloaded and overwhelmed to the point where I just can’t focus on any one thing because I’m focusing on everything all at once which causes total creative paralysis. I often tell people who struggle with creative block to know their own cycles because that really helps you cope. My cycle is of slowly starting a project, gaining momentum, then spinning out of control into creative block at the end. But I digress…
How my process makes finishing albums easier
Back in September of 2020 I was putting the finishing touches on my masters and releasing Kokoro while starting the writing and recording process for a few new albums I had kicking around in my head. My writing and recording process makes finishing albums painless and fast. And that’s how I ended up with two complete albums I’d been sitting on for months.
When recording you need to strike a balance between getting things perfect and just getting an idea down that you can work on later. I tend to lean more towards perfection which can be dangerous if you let it come at the expense of actually getting things done but luckily I’ve had a lot of practice at this and found a process that works for me.
The trick, for me, is getting the sounds I want right at the source. I have a good idea of the general sound of a song or album and I choose my palette of effects up front, dial in my amps up front, and stick to those general sounds throughout. I make sure to get the tone right before I record, make sure the levels are in the sweet spot, and then I start hitting record. Because I’m getting the sounds I want up front I don’t have to spend tons of time tweaking EQ or messing with plug-ins later on when it’s time to mix. The songs themselves usually come together within a few nights. I get an arrangement down in 48 hours or I toss an idea because if I don’t it either holds up recording of other songs because I have to keep all of my gear’s settings the same (to keep sound consistent between takes) or it becomes almost impossible to recreate the same sound if I come back later (because I turn knobs when working on different songs as stated previously) and will have to re-record any tracks that weren’t laid down to the finish in the initial arrangement.
So what I end up with is basically a demo version of a song that has a final arrangement and a few base tracks that I build on later within a couple of days. Once an arrangement is laid down I’m free to move on to other songs and jump back and forth between songs when it comes time to build on the initial arrangement later. Sure, I could write down all my settings or take photos of amps and I do, but generally, knowing myself, unless I’m really committed to getting back to the exact same song the next day or need a reference to build up additional tracks at a later date, I just know I’ll lose interest.
It’s a very efficient process that leaves me with a bunch of “base” songs with complete arrangements that I then build on later in the process. The first step is the initial writing and recording which goes on for about three weeks. Then comes the part where I build on those initial songs. The third step is reviewing the almost-finished products. I decide what I’ll keep and what gets tossed and occasionally I’ll go back to a song and make some changes to the recording. This is also the phase where I decide track order and start thinking about album art and other release stuff. Finally, I get into mixing and mastering. I don’t go crazy with mixing and mastering. I focus on the basics. I get my levels right, EQ, add effects sparingly, and sometimes do a little automation. Mixing and mastering is not a strong point for me so all the work I put in up front really saves me from having a bad time at the end of the process.
So how did two albums show up one day?
All of this was just some background for the main story which is that I woke up last Monday with two full albums I didn’t realized were finished six months ago.
After hitting a creative block last fall I kind of sputtered a while and finally shelved all the music I had been recording back in January. On Monday I came out of my rut. I went through a period of time where I couldn’t even listen to any music at all and on that fateful Monday I began enjoying music again. I listened to a lot of new music before I decided to listen to the demos I recorded last year. It turns out that the music is much better than I thought and could be released with just a little mixing and mastering. But I’ve been wanting to add to the collection of songs I’d recorded ever since I shelved the projects. I can’t do that though. It’s one thing to put a song together over a few weeks but it’s quite another to try to occupy a specific headspace and set of circumstances long after those circumstances and the headspace it created has passed. Because of this, I decided it was time to just release this music while I begin work on my next album.
That’s how I ended up with these two new releases. I started work on four albums last fall and today I can say that there’s two complete albums worth of music worth publishing. These aren’t throwaway songs either. They’re as good or better than anything I’ve released before. It’s just that I can’t add to them anymore because the themes of the albums are something I’m finished exploring. I’ve moved past it. I can enjoy the music and get into the vibes but I can’t bring myself to add to that feeling and I’m moving on to the next thing.
I have to carve out some time this month to mix everything and I’m hoping to get one out in May and the other in June. I’ll also be starting work on a third album as I’m releasing these first two. I don’t think I’ll get sidetracked because I do all my mixing and mastering on a Mac while I’m trying something new with recording and will be trying out a new totally mobile iPad/field recorder/OP-1/OP-Z setup. That means I won’t be tempted to record new stuff when I sit down at my computer.
I’m not sure exactly how this new mobile recording setup will work or how strictly I’ll follow it but the bottom line is I’ll be releasing one album a month for the next two months.
I know this was a long, meandering story but hopefully someone finds something useful in it.