Song Number One: Far Away

Dec 07, 2013 •

As I promised, here is this week’s song. More than a few hours (and even now technically into the next day) late, but better late than not at all. I like how it sounds on acoustic, but it’s definitely not meant to be ONLY acoustic, or even primarily acoustic. Speaking of the acoustic, I have an intro that I like a lot, but it’s really boring with only the acoustic so I didn’t play it. Also, I’m not completely satisfied with the verse, bridge, lyrics or the song structure. Since the recording quality isn’t all that great I included lyrics in the description of the video on youtube and also here: Far Away

Earlier this year, on an episode of Back to Work, Merlin Mann talked about a particular way to think about the act of creating, that was apparently the idea of Roger von Oech. The idea is that there are four characters involved in the creative process: Explorer, Artist, Judge, Warrior. First the Explorer has to find inspiration, for me this is when I pick up my guitar and just “noodle” trying random phrases/chord progressions. The Explorer is a free spirit who should be allowed as much freedom and as few limitations as possible. At some point however the Explorer needs to give way to the Artist.

This is where the act that we (or at least I) generally think of as “creating” happens. The artist takes the kernels of ideas that the Explorer found and converts them into something complete. For me this would be the process that happened this week - taking a riff/lyric phrase and creating a complete song. Once you’ve completed the act of creating, it’s time to hand your creation to the Judge for review, and this is where I (and I believe a lot of people) struggle.

It’s the Judge’s job to look at the creation and decide if it’s good enough. If it’s not then the Judge hands the creation back to the Artist. Sometimes the Judge is able to articulate exactly what needs to change or improve, but sometimes it’s just a gut feeling that something isn’t right. When the Judge and Artist are working in harmony you can end up bouncing back and forth throughout the process allowing you to refine quickly. For me when I’m writing this tends to manifest itself as inline editing rather than a full draft, revision, draft, revision process. But when the Judge is too intrusive or too negative, then the Artist can become discouraged and never finish anything. Thats what so often happens to me when I’m writing music - lyrics in particular - and definitely happened this week.

The point that Merlin made was that sometimes you need to just silence the Judge for a little while. Make the Judge sit off to the side until something is COMPLETE. Even if as soon as the Judge gets ahold of it he sees all sorts of problems, there is still value in having completed something. Also, sometimes the Judge is too close to the creation and needs the perspective of time. I read an interesting article about the production of Michael Jackson’s song “Billie Jean”. Apparently the studio engineers ended up making 99 different mixes of the song, before going back to the second mix and using that for the record.1

Once the Judge approves of the final product, it is handed off to the fourth and final character - the Warrior. The Warrior’s job is fight and do whatever it takes to get the product created. The Warrier is the one who campaigns tirelessly on Facebook and Twitter or who create the poster for the band’s concert or puts the labels onto the CDs by hand. Whatever it takes, the Warrior gets it done.

I battled the Judge this week to get this song “finished” and at some point (probably sooner rather than later) I’ll come back to “Far Away” and let the Judge review it and pass it back to the Artist for revisions, but until then I’m going to move onto a new song for next week.

  1. I thought it was a post by Bobby Owsinski: How to Know When Your Mix is Finished but he only makes the briefest mention of it, and I thought I read about it in more detail…