Thoughts on Sharing the Creative Process
With the increase in social networking, fan generated content, reality TV, and the pressure to have a consistent presence online, many musicians try to share as much of their creative process as possible. It's one thing to keep a blog, or regularly update your social networks with the usual "I'm playing a show tonight!" dialog, but pulling the curtain back on the truly creative work is an entirely different beast. I've given this a lot of thought as I've been working on my new album, and made a few attempts to show some behind-the-scenes progress. For example, I tried to blog about writing a new tune once, and it started strong, but the second post of the series was little more than an excuse as to why I hadn't done more. After shelving the tune for a few weeks, I ended up finishing it in one sitting. All it needed was a melody and the form played itself out (at least to me). After playing it once with the trio, I made a couple small changes, and then it was done!
By the way, that song is going to be on Tributary. It's called "Swell" and you can listen to it here while reading the rest of this post.
The attempt to document my own creative process was difficult because I was trying to slow down and analyze what I was doing, instead of just doing it naturally. For me, that's a recipe for disaster. If I spend too much time thinking about an initial idea, it loses it's magic. I do better if I just stop and sleep on it for a day (or month) to let it incubate. In the end, I figure it out.
I really would have liked to document everything that went into the making of Tributary, but it was a process that's taken over two years of sporadic writing, gigging, rehearsing, and eventually recording. But that's neither here nor there, the album is just about done and I'll be able to share it with the world soon enough.
Sharing your works-in-progress has it's ups and downs. On one hand, it forces you to bring your new ideas to a performance ready level. Sometimes a song isn't completely finished, but you perform a piece of it at a show. That's a great way to gauge whether or not things are working. On the other hand, you'll expose people to a few incomplete and mediocre ideas that end up on the cutting room floor. If somebody unfamiliar with your music comes across something subpar, will they understand? If you have to make an excuse for something you share with everyone, should you be sharing it in the first place?
Mediocre and incomplete ideas, along with complete failure, are part of the creative process. Most fans understand this. We've all heard demos or seen behind the scenes "making of" documentaries of our favorite artists, but that usually comes after an album is complete and the public hears the final result.
However, it is possible to show people that you're working on new material without actually showing them any of the new material.
My friend Gary Melvin has been working on his second album, and made (or is making) a series of videos documenting the process. He starts by talking about all the unknowns at the beginning of the process, and updates you with progress along the way. In the third video, he purposefully (and humorously) leaves out the music. All in all it's a very honest and entertaining approach.
I asked him about how much effort went into the making of these videos:
[pullquote] "I didn't do a whole lot of planning ahead for most of the videos that document making this new record, other than to make sure I had the camera charged and the SD cards empty. Occasionally I had an idea ahead of time about something specific to shoot or say, but for the most part I just let the camera roll when it was convenient and got as much footage as possible." [/pullquote]
With regards to sharing the actual works-in-progress, he had this to say:
[pullquote] "I didn't want to get too in-depth with the creative process and show how the songs sounded every step of the way. Part of that is because I don't like presenting unfinished work, and part of it is that because I wanted to maintain some sort of mystery and suspense, and hopefully get people curious to hear what comes next." [/pullquote]
And at the end of the day, you need to be creating this kind of extra content with a purpose so it doesn't feel like extra work:
[pullquote] "Documenting the making of this record was not just a chore for content for me -- I simply thought it would be cool to make the videos so that I could look back at them later in life and re-live the experience." [/pullquote]
Gary managed to document the process without letting it get in the way. The camera was an observer, collecting information that he could deal with at a later time. Here are Gary's videos. You should check them out, and then of course pick up his album when it's ready.