Music was my first love and it'll be my last - John Miles
During the past year, I have embarked upon creating a portfolio of music, with a primary focus on song writing. I wanted to take this route for several reasons, but most notably to be able to experience the life of a songwriter and music creative, with all the challenges it can bring. I will use this portfolio of work as a mechanism for attracting attention from potential employment opportunities, industry professionals, as well as other musicians and songwriters who may wish to collaborate with me based on my work, helping me to further myself and stand out as a young musician starting out in their career.
Writing music has been all I’ve ever known, as some of my earliest memories consist of writing and singing songs on my piano. It has only been in the past seven years or so that I have taken my writing a lot more seriously, investing almost all of my spare time committing to the development of the quality of music that I have produced. This was mainly through widening my musical taste and uncovering many new genres, as well as networking to meet and make music with other musicians, revealing a vast array of different avenues for me to take inspiration from. Making music is more than just a passion for me, it’s a way of life. I would not feel ‘myself’ if I didn’t at least come up with a melody, guitar riff or lyrical hook each day. The workings of my head are constant, as not a single minute goes by without me thinking about what song to write next. I wanted to spend the year writing as much music as I have done, not only for my love of writing music, but also to push myself to work in a professional setting as a songwriter. I wanted to be as consistent and proficient in my writing as I could, which a lot of the time is much easier said than done. I have learnt along the way that song writing is a lot tougher than I expected, especially if you are trying to keep up a steady rate in producing the songs. Many factors can affect your creative flow, one of the most notable being writer’s block. Writer’s block is something which I think is every songwriter’s, author’s, or screenwriter’s biggest fear, as it can have a huge impact on the overall quality of your work. In terms of music, it can destroy any excitement about writing songs and artistic inventiveness for long periods of time, which can be very damaging. This was something that I’ve come up against a lot over the past year, as I encountered writer’s block on many more occasions than I would have liked. I am a huge perfectionist already and view my songs as very personal, so writing and releasing music can sometimes be difficult enough as it is. However, when inspiration finally fizzles out, I always find it challenging to find it again. Nevertheless, I knew that it was something that I would have to deal with and overcome, otherwise the music that I wanted to release from inside the workings of my head would never get finished and heard by anyone else. My main method of coping with times of creative struggle was simply to take a step back. As counterproductive as this may sound, I almost always find that if you allow your mind to take a break from creativity, then sooner or later it will start to naturally uncover the music in your head once again, even if at first you don’t realise it’s there. As a musician, I believe that song ideas are always in your head somewhere and that it’s just a case of finding the keys to unlock them. Sure enough, after about 3-4 days of not writing, I would be able to put pen to paper once again and write down some lyrics. Another method of coping with lack of creativity was simply to seek inspiration from other sources. This could include anything from the plot or certain character of a TV show, reading a nature book, or even using my imagination to conjure up a storyline or scenario in my head. Luckily, I do have quite a big imagination, as floating off into a daydream is something that I do regularly. In terms of song writing, this helps me a great deal in getting music finished, as essentially ideas are endless. I would find that in some cases I would be writing about things that have never actually happened to me but that I have some form of personal connection with. I feel that all of the songs I write are based on personal thoughts and experiences, regardless of whether or not they hold a place in my past. They could stem from the way I feel about certain situations that have happened to friends, family or within society today.
One of the biggest challenges I faced throughout this whole process was trying to write songs during the COVID-19 Pandemic. This is something that has undoubtably had an effect on the overall process of writing the songs that I have written. This is mainly because it stopped me from gathering any form of inspiration, as the world had come to a standstill. Sourcing ideas from other assets such as books and films are all well and good, especially as there was all the time in the world to do these things. However, much of the frustration came from purely being deprived of living normal life. I personally went through a period of time where I lost the motivation do to anything, despite having as much time as I had to find ways of filling the days. This is something that everyone all over the world experienced for certain periods of time. This, therefore, brought any motivation I had to an unwelcome halt, consequently resulting in a lack of enthusiasm towards song writing. The main point where this happened the most was towards the end of 2020, when the UK went into a 2nd lockdown. All shops, restaurants, clubs and venues closed down. Meeting other people was forbidden and social contact was restricted, which spanned over a few months. This made writing music quite difficult, as my creative spark simply fizzled out due to the events of that time. The main cause of irritation stemmed from not being allowed to go out and experience ‘life’. I believe that, in order to write great stories and songs, you need to go out and live a life worth writing about, which I was simply unable to do. Nevertheless, I tried to not let this get the better of me, so I applied the same method of dealing with writer’s block as mentioned before and took a step away. I then encountered another reason to show why being a songwriter is tough, which is that taking a break for too long can result in an even bigger lack of drive and somewhat becoming ‘out of touch’ with your craft. This troubled me a lot, as I was eager to start writing music again, but whenever I put pen to paper or came up with a track on Logic, it either didn’t feel ‘natural’, or I just didn’t like the idea, resulting in me scrapping it. In hindsight, I think that this took up a lot of unnecessary time, as I assumed that I had to force myself to like every song I wrote.
This, however, taught me another valuable lesson in song writing, which is that writing songs that you think are not as good as others is all part of the process.
Realistically, it is nearly impossible to like every song that you produce. Being my own worst critic, I regularly get rid of songs that I personally don’t feel are as good as others. Although this is down to personal taste, I am always striving to be the best I can be as a musician, therefore if I do not feel that I like a song it usually never develops any further than my notebook. After spending so much time procrastinating over the songs I thought were the best, I started to realise that it was fundamental to embrace this as part of the overall process to achieve writing great songs. By accepting the fact that some songs were going to be better than others, an entirely new point of view on song writing was unveiled to me, in that I realised that you must write songs of all qualities in order for the songs you cherish to break through. I found that I was sitting on songs that were 90% finished, but due to my perfectionism, allowed the songs that I had tracked fully on Logic to overshadow the many other songs that I was sitting on, mainly because at the time, I thought they were no good. This is a perfect example of how taking a step back and revisiting songs is so beneficial, as I was able to realise that the songs I thought were no good, actually were not bad at all and potentially some of the best on my portfolio. This also gave me a whole new appreciation of the processes for writing an album. Truthfully, being lucky enough to write all songs that you believe are strong enough to release on an album first time is something that most artists can only dream of, although no matter what your ability, the quality of a song is not always determined by this. In reality, music and songs come in all forms of decency, so to assume that every song you write is going to be the best one yet, in my view, is very unrealistic. I now know from experiencing this that acknowledging weakness is required to achieve great songs, so instead of scrapping music I don’t feel is as good, I now realise that if I hadn’t written that music, then the songs I do like would not exist, or least come around as often. This has given me a new sense of discipline and determination to write the best music I can, simply from embracing the songs I write of all levels.
The ways in which I write vary. A lot of the time, I will have an idea for a guitar part or vocal melody, which I will then record into Logic as an instrumental demo. I will then hold on to this idea until thoughts for lyrics start to arise based on the melody I have already written. This method usually works very well, as most of the songs I have released have come about this way. The only downside to this is the amount of time it occasionally takes for lyrics to be added to the track. This mainly stems from me thinking that the lyrics I write will ruin the track and not do it justice for how good it sounds musically. This again wastes valuable time in getting songs finished, as the amount of time spent trying to write lyrics for one track could have been used to write many more songs that may well have been just as good. This is something that I wanted to avoid doing for this project, as I knew the precious time I had would be wasted if I had stuck to my roots. I therefore approached the writing by starting out with very minimal ideas, sitting with either my acoustic guitar or on my piano and notebook, and seeing what would happen. This took a bit of getting used to at first, as I wasn’t familiar with writing in this manner. In fact, I spent a few weeks getting almost nowhere because of how ‘alien’ this was to me. But sooner or later, I started to get used to writing in this way and songs started to come. Another way in which I found inspiration for song ideas was coming up with a title first. This proved to be an effective way of working, as having a title beforehand was almost like being given a brief for a piece of work to complete. The title is the face of a song, so it gave me a lot of substance to work towards when writing lyrics, as the theme had already been created. I would then write the lyrics based on the direction I wanted the song to take symbolically, constructed around the title. As mentioned before, I would write songs that I would not particularly be a fan of to start with, but instead of deserting them, I took them within my strides which resulted in a song that I really loved. This happened at approximately a 4:1 ratio. This then enabled me to unlock a new creative flow. I would find myself writing songs with more ease than ever before, getting to the stage where I was writing so much music that I found myself in the position to be able to get rid of bad songs, as I knew I would make up for it from writing more. This successively enabled me to get back into the rhythm of writing which resulted in much more motivation as well as inspiration. I started to come across many new ideas, whether that was from music I had been listening to recently or from my own personal experiences. Most importantly, I feel that experiencing this has solidified an even stronger belief in my own ability. It has shown me that I can write music to an efficient and consistent standard, which I feel has hugely boosted my confidence as a musician, something that I hope will continue from the more music I make.
Promotion of my music and portfolio was also a key element I wanted to incorporate into this project, mainly as it would help to attract people to view my work and find out more about me as a musician. Aside from my own marketing on social media, I have also been involved in events and interviews to help further my name. I have been featured on both Jamie Watson’s podcast ‘There’s A Song For That’, as well as Maddie Christy’s ‘Safe With Sound’ livestream gigs, from which I played an hour long set. Featuring on the podcast with Jamie was a lot of fun, as I had never experienced such an environment before. It was great speaking about my song writing, including the way in which I write, the influences that have impacted me along the way, as well as any insecurities that come from creating and releasing music. The podcast is very popular among my local music scene, which meant it was a great form of exposure for me and my work. The livestream set for ‘Safe With Sound’ was very enjoyable too. Not only was it my first time playing via livestream, but the cause that ‘Safe With Sound’ stands for was amazing to be able to support and represent by playing my music. It was also the perfect opportunity for me to debut some of the songs from my portfolio, which people had never heard before.
In summary, my overall on experience in venturing out to create the portfolio I have made has been nothing else but a positive and enjoyable one. I feel that I have gained a whole new mindset and attitude towards song writing and creating music, more so than ever before. I feel that my song writing skills have undoubtably improved, as well as my attitude towards becoming a successful musician. I now realise, more than ever before, the amount of time and effort that needs to be put into writing in order to become an established musician and to write amazing songs. Furthermore, I am more excited and willing to branch out into the music scene and collaborate with even more artists, as I believe that this will unveil many more opportunities and openings for me, not only as an individual, but as a creative. If anything, creating this portfolio has made me realise how much I love writing and making music, solidifying an even bigger ambition to succeed in building my career in the industry. I have learnt lessons about writing within a professional setup along the way that I would never have been taught had I not embarked on creating this portfolio and writing the number of songs that I have written, which I view as an incredibly rewarding outcome. Furthermore, my future plans are to now spend time releasing a handful of the songs I have written to further my name, as well as expand my portfolio with even more music and start to pave my way through the music industry and use the knowledge and willpower I now have to make a stamp and begin my career as a musician. I believe that my portfolio will help greatly in gathering attention to my artistic capabilities and help support me in any future roles and professional opportunities that may come my way.