Album concept development: the process!

As always, when I figure out how to let go of expectations and just show up, something new and surprising arises. After taking Sweet Rain through my written process, a thousand ideas sparked.

What if I didn't think about this album existing only in the aural realm? What if the song could move between artistic forms of expression and gain emotive depth as it did so (for me as the creator and hopefully for an audience too)? What is it to take a song (written potentially years ago) and move between genres of music, visual art, performing arts and poetry? How could that transform the song? What if the concept that unites my album is the process, rather than the songs themselves or any literal and overt threads of story that might connect them?

First, I realised the most important part of this process (wherever it takes me next) is that I feel connected to my heart and the beauty that made me write the song in the first place. This isn't an intellectual exercise of connecting dots or drawing parallels. My songwriting process has always been emotional driven: a song has to move me to tears at a certain point, otherwise I'm not inspired to keep working on it. Why should my album concept development be any different? I have to find the process interesting and meaningful.

The second thing I realised is that I need to approach my musical body of work from the present moment rather than from a memory of the past or from the person I was when I wrote the song. For a song to be considered for the album, it has to land as real now. This might well become an easy selection method as there are many songs I have poor or no recordings of... or I didn't write down the chords so they're forgotten or lost... or the song makes me squirm with embarrassment because though the heart of it was relevant at the time, it's immature or too basic to consider sharing. In a nutshell, a song has to have stood the test of time.

Finally, I was reminded that making art is about responding to limitations. I have to put limitations on processes, on time, on medium, on colour, on surfaces, on songs and quantify numbers of experiments or I will (quite possibly) go insane and (highly probable), never actually finish an album at all. I don't want that. There's a hefty backlog of music inside that needs a shape to fit into. Something I can stand back and look at from a distance and mark as "done" so I can move on to the next creative thing. Therefore, in order to preserve my fragile sense of self and the position of the marbles inside my head, I must decide these limitations in advance.

So, the process is (drum roll please)...

1. Choose songs that have stood the test of time and touch me emotionally, now. Start by playing the songs (proving they're still alive and accessible) and feeling my connection to each song in the present moment. Aim for a certain number of songs ie. ten or twelve. This number doesn't have to be fixed, just something to aim at.

2. If I don't have a voice memo recording of the songs, do this. Listen. Again and again. Take any songs I'm uncertain of through feedback and pre-production sessions with my community of songwriters. Become quiet. Listen and feel if the song still means something to me.

3. Take each song through the written process I created.

4. Identify potential pathways of expression (ie. written story, visual artwork, poem). Make lists. Research and explore how other artists do this. Especially look at artists who have an interdisciplinary approach, who move between worlds of music and visual art.

5. Begin experimentation! Get out my visual diary and sketch initial ideas. Find examples of mediums that could work visually. Write drafts. Do more stream of consciousness stuff. Take photographs. Lots and lots of experimentation. Document this experimentation. Apply limitations to the experiments by quantifying the time for experimentation in different genres (ie. Most of my songs take between 4-12 hours spread over multiple sittings to get to a shape I'm happy with and to finalise lyrics. Some take much longer. As a general guide, aim for 5 - 10 hours for short story writing and poetry and 5 - 10 hours for visual art.). Apply limitations to visual art works and experimentation (ie. I must not purchase any additional art supplies and use only what I have access to right now).

6. Develop the experiments that move me into finished artifacts (ie. song + story + artwork + poem).

With thanks: