On conscious composition
One of the focal points of my approach to songwriting these days is something I’ve come to refer to as “conscious composition”.
Conscious composition is composing not only chord changes, say for instance a 4-chord progression in a pop or rock setting, but also thoughtfully writing the lyrics and melody line above it. It’s the exact opposite of “get in a room and jam.” Sure, I could pull together a drummer, a bass player, an organ and a trio of background singers, but without the time spent investigating lyrics, ideas, note selection, etc, all I’m going to have (at best) is a groove that underscores nothing but very basic ideas. Even if I’m able to turn it into something sophisticated, that’s still because I was thinking back on a past moment in my songwriting that was fully conscious, except I’ll remember it as having come up with it “on the spot”… When there aren’t enough of these conscious moments of songwriting to draw from, the creative energy of making music is lost.
Even going into the studio with a guitar and a microphone and singing and strumming until I get something worthwhile isn’t conscious enough, because my mind still knows that there’s somebody engineering the recording session and my performance brain will take over and make sure I don’t sing or play anything embarrassing. The work has to be done alone and ahead of time.
Undoing self-consciousness and bridging into creative consciousness has been and still is a very daunting process. There’s nothing new about the template; guy puts everything he has into making music, music rewards guy with everything he has, guy forgets how to make music like he used to. But there is a way to use all that music has given me to dig even deeper than I have before. I’m glad that I’ve had as many years playing guitar under my belt as I did before I became successful, and I’m glad I have the resources to do whatever it takes to stay focused in that place I know so well.
It’s easier to end the day early and go to dinner, but it gets nothing accomplished in the way of answering the question “and why are you taking up space here on Earth again?”
I’m not saying I won’t someday go through musical menopause, it’s just not going to happen yet. It’s being a conscious composer that’s going to keep me relevant, and it’s refraining from believing that I can jam for 2 months and make a record that’s going to return the favor that success has given to me.
-JM. Battle Studies Blog
March, 4. 2009