I thought I’d spend some time to reflect on my songwriting journey over the past year in this post. (Warning: It’s going to be a long one so please bear with me :))
Honestly, I am still in shock over how fast the 52 weeks went by. Scrolling through my previous entries, I ask myself sometimes – did I really write all this?
Now, I’m not the kind of guy who talks about his feelings that much (I’d rather much sing about them ;)), but this blog has become more than a place for my music. It is my personal diary, and that’s saying a lot because I have never kept one. Every week, I’ve written about the inspiration behind each song, and shared a little of my life in the process. Putting your own music on the world wide web, baring your soul with each song… it exposes you to both the compliments and the barbs. It takes getting used to.
“Songwriting is a stream of creation that flows faster and stronger the more you give”
… That was what I wrote on 3 May 2010, the day I started this project – and I’ve found it to be true.
I’ve always felt a burning desire to express myself through songwriting, but because of work and other commitments, I knew I could never do enough unless I threw myself entirely into it.
It’s funny how life gives you what you wish for.
Last year, I lost my job, thanks to the financial crisis. Lo and behold, right in front of me was a real opportunity to launch myself into what I was truly passionate about – with the blessings of my wife of course, without whom I never could have done this.
And so for the past year, songwriting became my life. I lived and breathed it. One song every week, for one whole year. Frankly, I didn’t know how I was going to do it; I only knew I had to compose something by midnight every Sunday.
The only thing I could do was to keep going at it, week after week. I kept my eyes, ears and heart open. I tuned in to the smallest details; everything around me became a potential song idea: a newspaper article, an overheard conversation, the book I was reading, even my dreams at night…
After several weeks had passed, I realised that I had unconsciously developed a system of sorts. It went something like this: brainstorm an idea, write the lyrics, put them into music. I’d divide my week into writing days and recording days. Generally, I’d spend the early part of the week crafting the lyrics and music, and the weekend recording the video. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?
Far from it.
Coming up with ideas was a big challenge, of course. Some people say you can’t force an idea out, no matter how hard you try. You have to wait for inspiration to hit. While that’s true to some extent, I firmly believe that being disciplined and consistent about creativity stimulates us to do more good work at a faster rate. That is, the more you create, the faster the flow of new ideas, and the better and quicker you become at creating something. That’s one thing I’ve learnt from this project.
Ideas aside, the biggest stumbling block I faced in this entire journey was – me.
… You see, I had one entire week to devote to a song, but I’d find myself getting distracted easily, going online, eyeballing my Facebook page, obsessing over how many (or few) views I was getting on YouTube. I had to constantly push myself, no, discipline myself to write.
Always, I heaved a sigh of relief by the time Sunday came and I had a new song uploaded. Then, I’d worry about the next song, and the one after that. Often, I’d find myself crippled by self-doubt… was I doing the right thing? Was I wasting my time chasing a silly dream instead of settling down and looking for a job? These were the demons that I battled, day-in, day-out.
Isn’t that the way with any dream, any creative endeavour? Perhaps, but I know I needed a lot of encouragement. My wife was a major inspiration to me of course. I also drew strength from the positive comments I received from complete strangers about my songs. Lastly, I believed wholeheartedly in my music – and I still do.
All this kept me going.
As the weeks went by, I began to pay more attention to the videos themselves. Before this, a passable recording was all I needed. I didn’t really care much about how I looked, whether the audio levels were too soft, or if the lighting was bright enough. I began to realise that on a platform like YouTube, I was competing with songwriters who were churning out professional-sounding recordings and classy-looking videos all the time. I certainly could do a lot more.
Thankfully, I had a pretty decent audio/video recorder – the Zoom Q3, which was able to give me good sound levels, and pretty okay video quality.
I experimented with different camera positions and settings. I remember once placing the device at a corner of my room to allow sound to bounce off the walls. I hoped that it would create a natural reverb, but I felt the difference was not noticeable in the end. So much for that.
At another point, a friend told me he was tired of watching the same old room in the background. So If you check out some of my later videos, you’ll see a completely black background, which I created by stringing a black cloth behind me to hide the mess. To add some variety, I also experimented with photo and lyric slide shows in my videos.
Yes, slowly but surely, I was writing one song every week. But if you ask me now whether I have a formula for writing a song – I’d say no.
… Sometimes, I’d finish a song in an hour. Other times, I’d spend days crafting the lyrics. It always varied. And do the lyrics or melody come first? It really depends. I often started with the title, which gave me the general theme of the song, and then went on to write the lyrics, coupled with a rough melody which I would fine-tune once I had the lyrical structure in place. That was one approach.
However, my recent collaborations with Jaye Foo were done using an entirely different method. Jaye would come up with a basic chord progression – we would “feel” the rhythm and the music, and think of the kind of song we wanted it to become. Then, I would focus on developing the lyrics and let him expand on his chords. After that, we’d finalise the lyrics and chords; and finally, sing countless melodies out loud until we heard something we liked.
Like my dad always says, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
If you look at the past 14 or so weeks of my project, you’ll find that they’ve been collaborations.
… I’m thankful that towards the end of my journey, I found a fellow songwriter to come along with me. The Glad Stones was born early this year, and I’ve been nothing short of stunned by the feedback we’ve received.
Interestingly enough, we both initially felt that our styles were worlds apart. When we tried writing songs, however, it just worked out. It’s been a blessing to have such a hardworking and talented songwriting buddy, especially on the last leg of my journey, when I felt that it was getting harder and harder to produce fresh material. Plus, with Jaye’s home studio, we were able to produce videos that not only sounded good, but were entertaining as well!
I’m tremendously grateful for the many high points of my journey, one of them being my first solo showcase at the Esplanade Library in August last year. I was really encouraged by how it went and the audience turnout was larger than I expected. The show was such a confidence-booster for me; after that I continued to perform whenever I could.
My performance at TAB early this year, as well as the gigs at the Maestro Acoustic Lounge, were some of the ones I enjoyed tremendously. (In fact, it was at my second Maestro gig that I met Jaye, who performed immediately after me.)
So, what’s next?
Well, Jaye and I will be working on a Glad Stones’ album! It will include some of the songs we’ve written together, plus others that both of us have written individually. I’ll keep everyone posted on our progress in the weeks to come.
We’ll continue to write new songs and upload videos on YouTube, that’s for sure. We’re even planning some outdoor shoots, so look out for that on our channel!
“A Song A Week” has well and truly come to an end.
Looking back, I have no regrets whatsoever. I’m glad I did it. I’ve met so many people on this journey, and learnt so much from it. It’s a cliche to say that this is only the beginning, but it is.
Thank you for being a part of it, and please continue to walk with me.