For almost a year, I have been working on a book (which isn’t a book, it’s an app) about making music in the digital age.
A couple of weeks ago, late on a Friday, I wrote what I later realised was the last sentence in the book that isn’t a book.
Sometime during the following day I realised that I had missed my own deadline – not for the book, but for my weekly post to this blog. Well, it’s coming up to Easter, I consoled myself. Everyone’s busy. No-one will miss it for one week.
The following week went by in a rush as I gathered together an army of statistics that will be turned into graphs, bar charts and illustrations for the book that isn’t a book.
And then on Easter Saturday morning, I realised that I’d missed the deadline for this blog – again. Two weeks in a row seems like bad manners. Sorry.
Honestly, sometimes I have to tell myself to breathe.
It’s true. I get so involved in what I’m doing, that I frequently become aware that I haven’t taken a breath for quite some time, at the very least not a deep breath.
So this week, just for fun, I set myself a target that would challenge my focus and my breathing patterns.
This is the challenge – start from scratch with a new song, and build a track in time for the blog.
And then – just to keep it exciting – I gave myself just two hours in which to write this post. (Usually, I write it across three days).
It helped me that I have been studying the pop star who lives in my house for the past few months. She has a technique for writing her songs that I find fascinating.
Most of the time, she is a gobby and frequently scatological teenager, supremely irritating to her mother and to me. Sometimes, though, she’s sweet and charming, and you think, “Oh, yes, that’s why I put up with the rest of you”.
And then she writes these songs that tear at your heartstrings, and seep into your brain. I can’t help but think of Mozart as portrayed in Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus.
There’s an unforgettable scene in the film version where his arch rival Salieri finds a newly written Mozart piece. No mistakes. No rewriting. Just a perfect and sublime piece of music straight from the brain and the pristine pen of the pranking, irritating, rude, scatological boy whose behaviour torments the formal and mature Salieri.
Now, confronted by such precocious genius, he is doubly tormented.
I am not Salieri. I am not tormented by the pop star who lives in my house. But I am fascinated by her process and progress. Doubly fascinated, because when she is not in the process of recording her darkest thoughts and forming the musical framework around them, it’s like living with Tigger.
Except, this version of Tigger swears like a trooper, drinks vodka (occasionally) and is an unending source of appalling tales of the weirdos who follow or stare at her (on buses, in Waitrose, on the street, at college).
A teenager, in other words.
So, as I said, she has this writing technique. She’s had absolutely no formal training. She knows the back of a stamp’s worth of music theory. But somehow she has intuited – from learning to sing and play her own favourite pop songs of the moment – the current way of writing commercial pop and r’n’b.
I’m not giving away any secrets. But let’s just say that modern pop music has reduced itself to a chord palate which, in painting terms, might be Piet Mondrian’s.
In order to help me achieve my target of a completely new track in two days, I decided to take the same approach. And – bugger me – it works.
I made it easy on myself. Another thing I’ve noticed about some current pop hits is that lyrics barely matter. In dance music particularly, the ‘song’ is mostly reduced to a simple line of lyric that provides a hook.
So here it is: Breathe, a work in progress, whose only line of lyric is “Sometimes, I have to remind myself to breathe”.
Warning: put on your dancing shoes, and try to play it loud. And let me know what you think, please.