So I’ve been getting back to work on my musical, after a break of about a month or so, and I happened upon a little milestone. I gathered all of my songs – finished and works in progress – from The Lil Death together into an iTunes playlist, and I have about 30 tracks. Over 2 hours of music. Almost all of it written in the last year. What the hell?
Let’s compare this to 2005 Mafoo, who was basically dicking around on his sampler creating silly noise loops. I would say that one of the main things that has gotten me going has been my adoption of Ableton Live as my primary DAW. I think that productivity in composing is all about finding the right interface, whether it be pen and paper, Sibelius, Pro Tools, or hardware. Contrary to how most people use Live, I use it almost predominantly as a sequencer. I also perform with Live, but I’d say that aspect is about 3% of what I do on it. Live is great because of all of the DAWs, it feels the most like an instrument. I feel comfortable in front of a piano, just dicking around and seeing what comes out. Live essentially feels like that, but I’m controlling synths, samplers, and drum machines on my laptop.
It has also changed the type of music I make. My first fully-sequenced tracks were instrumental, collage-type tunes built around odd and humorous samples from my record collection. Now I’m writing very tonal weird pop songs that are increasingly free of samples and are built using mainly the instruments in Live. I often consider upgrading my synth from Live’s basic Operator FM synth to, say, the synths in Logic, but I dig the simplicity of Operator. Sometimes I consider moving into Pro Tools, with its superior audio editing capabilities, but I don’t think my edits in Live ever really sound that bad. Live is what it is, a specific tool, and I use that tool to create music.
I’m sort of a ‘take it as it comes’ kinda guy (I’m from California…). As a horn player, I’m not the type who is constantly seeking to tweak and make little changes and modifications to my instrument. I bought my Paxman because it felt great, and I’ll live with it until it fucks up or I want something different. I’m the same way with DAWs. I’m an instrumentalist at heart, so I find the program I like and I fit inside of it. Sure, the minor changes and improvements that come with various upgrades are often very welcome, but overall I take it as it comes. Contrast this approach to the approach of many Max users. There is such freedom in Max. You can build your own synths, samplers, sequencers, etc. The only limit is your imagination and all that. It sounds great in theory, but that openness isn’t always conducive to the production of art, which works well under restrictions and limitations. At least for me, I don’t know if I could ever make music in such an interface. Max seems to be predominantly the domain of the builders – Ableton was actually crafted in Max – and this makes sense. How many instrument makers are accomplished musicians? There are a few of course, my buddy Mark Houghton is a horn player and a builder; and my dawg Presh is a producer, performer, and Max wizard. But they are freaks of nature.
Part of me wants to analyze what has helped my creativity and productivity; part of me wants to tell my brain to shut the fuck up and keep working. I’ll probably go with the second scenario because, ya know, I’m from California. But I want to acknowledge the other thing that has crazy motivated me, and that’s my zany partner in crime Melly. She has had to listen to every single track good or bad that I have vomited into my sequencer, and she’s been ridiculously supportive. It helps that she’s a badass musician herself, so we have a nice healthy competitiveness. I would feel like a serious douche if I wasn’t keeping up with her crazy list of achievements.
Anyway, this Lil project is ballooning larger and larger. It was originally going to be an album. Then I had enough material for two. Now I’ve got almost enough for three. It may be hard to sustain interest for enough time to actually produce the whole thing, but I kind of like the idea of releasing albums as a serial drama. I believe that’s a unique idea (correct me if I’m wrong), releasing albums episodically as part of a larger drama. We’ll see. Maybe my inspiration will dry up. Maybe I’ll lose interest in the story. Maybe I’ll get sidetracked by other projects (after I finish Part 1, I’m going to do a covers album, seriously). Who knows. I guess all that is really important is that I keep working.