The Audio Sketchbook

It can take an artist a long time to figure out how their sketchbook works best for them, and once the habits are established, the sketchbook is as individual as a fingerprint. Mine is no exception. I have documented mine a few times in these posts so I won’t go into that now, but I have recently though been pondering the nature of the audio sketchbook. I’m sure other songwriters have things that work for them, but it’s not really been my area as a developing artist over the decades so I’m sort of working things out as I go along.

I have my songwriting notebook: a notebook of lyrics as they come to me. Handwritten, scribbled, adjusted and edited. The pages themselves might be, or become, messy with the working. But the pages are titled, dated, catalogued very precisely. This is the lesson I first learned from Dan Whitehouse and it has stood me in good stead as I am easily able to find things at a later date. On these pages I will also note who has participated and contributed, and where any audio files can be found. It’s habit. Thats all. “Housekeeping” which is far more diligent than my housekeeping.

The audio files are also dated, and in folders, and backed up…so the development of each song can be tracked back. If that Sheeran bloke steals something of mine, I will have historical documentation to prove I got there first!

My problem is my brain hasn’t been trained to recollect the audio without going in to each file and listening for two minutes before going “oh yeah, that!” So it is time consuming for me. My visual brain is faster.

Having said all of the above, I am having to adapt and put in place a system to help me organise my slow ears/brain. I am embarking on a plan to develop and record some solo songs/sound pieces. I am in the stage where I collect, review, experiment… try to find ways of going about things that are unique to me. My partner in this solo endeavour (oxymoron I know) is the aforementioned Dan Whitehouse, who has been my songwriting mentor all along. His brilliance lies in his understanding of what I am trying to achieve, showing me what is possible, but without interrupting my slow processes… unless he has a eureka moment…

We have had three studio sessions where play is the order of the day really. I sing chords (clever huh?) and say things like “Can the washing machine sound a bit more violinny? Like it’s breathing?” (the answers are “yes” and “yes”).

Over those three sessions we have established a basic methodology that incorporates my looper, a selection of sound scraps, and some overlaid layers of vocal, and a wide variety of production styles and methods. Now I’m not saying what we have is the finished article, because it isn’t. But it is a page from my sketch book. It is a moment of departure marked. Stick a pin in here, a post-it note, and move along. This track is the reference for the next stage.

It’s going to take a while.

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