We expend quite a few words judging the final products of the hours of blood and passion that artists put into their work. In The Art Class, a new column debuting today, we’ll pick artists to provide us with a direct window into their minds and souls as they create (or, in some cases, as they don’t). We’re certain there will always be more that us critical types can learn from watching the creative process unfold in real time. Today, independent singer/songwriter Scott Orr introduces the column with some thoughts on creative outlets.
It’s snowing a clichÃ©d amount right now. I am literally a gunshot away from Lake Ontario, and this afternoon’s snowfall is attributed to what we call the “lake effect” (when the cold winds gather momentum across the water, picking up water vapor which freezes and is deposited on the nearby land). There is nothing more satisfying than watching my neighbors getting stuck in the middle of the road while I am inside, warm, wearing a T-shirt. Earlier, the weather reporters were using medical terms to describe this snowstorm—“crippling,” for example. And if you are trying to get to work, church, school or for coffee, then yes, it is very much crippling weather. But the afternoon’s snowfall is by no means crippling me from accomplishing anything. In fact it has provided the perfect opportunity to clean the house, read a chapter or two, play guitar, and begin to write.
I have always been drawn to writing the “real” way. That’s my personal term for writing articles, books, columns, poems, etc. I have been a songwriter since before I can remember, and I’m confident in my songwriting to the point that it’s indescribable why I am so self-conscious about writing without the security blanket of music.
I’m quickly seeing the commonality between songwriting and creative writing. In songwriting, I would take a situation (i.e., love found, love lost, bad times, good times, etc) and try to discover a new way to give an account of a common storyline, as if to translate from “common” to “original.” It is essentially saying something that someone has already heard, but saying it in a way that hasn’t been heard, or at least one that’s been heard less often than all the others. I know that everyone has heard a similar story about finding true love, so it becomes the responsibility and challenge of the writer to say it in a way that has never been said before.
In the song “Take it With Me,”, for example, Tom Waits tells about love in a way I only wish I could:
In a land there’s a town,
And in that town there’s a house,
And in that house, there’s a woman.
And in that woman, there’s a hart I love,
I’m gonna take it with me when I go.
I finished writing for my latest record, Miles from Today, back in March of this year. I completed the recording and mixing in May of that year and sent it to press in June. I spent most of the summer promoting. By the beginning of the fall (the actual date of the official release), I was exhausted and felt that I had completely milked the record of its freshness. I experience such creative moments during the recording process that most everything that follows can’t match the excitement that’s found in song-discovery. Recording a song is similar to taking a photograph: you are essentially capturing a unique moment in time. And as hard as it is to take the same photo twice, it is equally as hard to replicate a sound or a feeling. In August of 2006, I wrote a song called “Dreamer” on my front porch. It was early in the evening so I had the whole night to get the base of the song recorded in the studio. When I hear that song now I can’t fathom how the opening guitar recording carries so much emptiness and raw emotion—a sound that I tried to recapture so many times while recording the remainder of the album. That was the first song to be recorded for Miles, and I used it as a foundation for the sound of the record.
The majority of the other songs came to life in a similar manner. First, the song was written and the recording process was begun as soon as possible. New songs have a freshness that provides a lot of inspiration when they are first created. With that in mind, it’s key to start tracking as early as possible to capture some of that newness. A lot of producers will encourage you to try out a song for weeks or even months, reworking structure, lyrics, tempo and keys. But there is something about taking a sonic photograph at the exact moment of the song’s birth. Today, two years later, I can hear that recording of “Dreamer” and know that the recording was from the night of its conception. Unfortunately, that sense of pride and excitement lingers for such a short time, in both the studio and in my soul. Either the discovery of a new song or the natural passing of time, those first emotions dissipate.
When the end of this year rolled around, I had experienced a full year of writing, recording, producing, marketing and performing. And if my passion for creating music had a fuel tank, it was certainly empty. So, in the later part of the year, I decided to cancel all of my upcoming gigs and stop any existing promotions. The studio was collecting dust and I hadn’t written a song in months. I felt no desire to song-write any longer, I had no reason to do it all again; I was drained, milked, and exhausted. As Christmas approached, I felt some creativity had begun to stir internally. But I had no desire whatsoever to write music. I tried once or twice to no avail. To be uncomfortably honest, I think I lost my creativity because I felt my previous expectations had not been met. I felt I had made great strides with this new record and I expected the praises from the fans and critics to match the effort I put into it. I am not even sure what my expectations were. In fact, if I had written down my goals back before the album was finished, I probably have met most of them (at least the realistic ones). But if there is a lesson to be learned, it is that the return a creative work reaps in the public rarely matches the artist’s investment.
In the wake of my music career hangover, I went looking for a new creative outlet and a new audience. “Real” writing came easy. I found myself just typing on my computer (the new Mac Book Pro sure helped) about anything I was experiencing. I became obsessed with reading and discovering how to express your thoughts (fiction or nonfiction) on paper (or screen). I am thrilled to now have a new channel to pursue creativity. I discovered that creativity always existed within; it was just in a different spot from where I left it. Creativity is in my genes and always will be, but it will continue to take unexpected and irresolute forms. Author and Inventor, Buckminster Fuller said, “There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it is going to be a butterfly”.
I know that music will come back around and I know that I am on a sub-consciously imposed vacation from music and one day I will be able to discover new melodies and the lyrics to match. It is a regular case of, “the ebb and flow of things,” and it will be back. There is no set date, but I’ll let you know when it comes. In the meantimeâ€¦
Scott Orr is an independent musician living in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. He released his second album, Miles from Today, in 2007. Scott can be contact at scottorrmusic.com.
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