Today I’d like to take a deep dive into the making of my latest song “Kansas 1935”. I’m going to talk about how it was made, what is what made for, and how I feel it ultimately turned out.
Kansas 1935 was a song I wrote for the Charity EP Jam. The Charity EP Jam is a project where a handful of composers write music based on a theme and the proceeds go to the Charity Able Gamers.
The theme this year was dust. At first I struggled with how to approach dust. What does dust sound like? What does dust feel like and how can I convey it? I started by looking up dust storms, wind sounds, and even watching some documentaries on the Dust Bowl. That’s when I decided to write the song about Kansas in 1935. I wanted to share what I felt listening to the stories from that dust bowl and try to capture that feeling via music.
I started with an entirely different song and thought it was a solid beginning. After a couple days and some feedback I realized that was not the case. At first I tried to salvage what I had and make something good out of it, but after a while, I realized it was best to throw it all away. Sometimes the best thing you can do is start over so I did. It’s tough to admit something you made isn’t good, but it wasn’t good. Better to realize that and try again then to just have a meh recording.
So I went back to the drawing board. This time I went with the instrumentation of piano and guitar. I also went in thinking of having one idea that would turn into different ideas and eventually end on something completely different. This turned out quiet well and I was able to also get my friend to play guitar on it.
Putting Together The Pieces
So the way the song works is we have four parts. At first all four parts are played one after the other. There are two piano parts and two guitar parts. The song is essentially done with new ideas when the piano is done playing at the 1:10 mark. Then there is a dust storm that occurs until 1:35. Once it settles down the music is rearranged and returns in a different order. The new order is 3,1,2,4. This is done to represent how the dust storm rearranged and changed the music. I didn’t choose the order. I actually wrote these numbers representing the different sections down on a sheet of paper, placed them in a jar, and threw them on the floor. I picked them up off the floor in order of the pieces of paper closest to me.
This actually turned out quiet well! I like the new order and I like the fact that the new order is kind of subtle. Many people don’t notice that things don’t come back the way they began until the songs is nearly done. I like having this kind of inside joke or hidden secret in the song that’s available for anyone to notice if they pay close attention. And if they don’t, hopefully they just hear a good song.
I really enjoyed the process of writing this piece. It was hard, required a lot of rewriting, and it really forced me to reflect on my work and brought out my best. I hope in the end I did good work and made great art. If you have the ability to do so I’d love it if you’d make a donation for this album. It would really mean a lot to me and the proceeds all go to Able Gamers.
The Coronavirus also known as Covid-19 has dramatically impacted the lives of every American. At the time of this article everything except non essential jobs have stopped. Most of our cities are in a Stay at Home order with no end in sight. This has devastated us in many ways. As musicians and artists our lives have been turned upside down. Many of my friends have gone from having good paying jobs to no income. While this situation is dire and sad I’d like to take some time to reflect on some takeaways we can have from this situation. What can we do as musicians and artists to prepare ourselves from other disasters?
Now I don’t expect another global pandemic to happen anytime soon. But there are other scenarios that can affect our ability to make an income. Depending on your location you can experience an earthquake, hurricane, tornado, or just a general economic hardship in your community. If you plan on being a musician for life, one of these will occur near you and affect your ability to work. Covid-19 is a reminder of that. A reminder that it’s not just about mastering our musicianship, but understanding that our ability to work goes hand in hand without the local economy. You could be the greatest musician of all time but if people are hurting and unable to pay, it doesn’t matter. So what can we do to prepare for this reality? How can we be better prepared for the next economic or natural disaster?
HAVE A SAVINGS ACCOUNT
I know this can be a touchy subject for people, but ultimately we live in a capitalist society and money can solve a lot of problems. Not every problem and maybe not even the important ones, but having a savings account can greatly help alleviate the financial stress we have in tough times. I myself have done a poor job of this and honestly I have no good excuse. Sure I can rattle off a bunch of unfortunate things that have happened the last couple years to justify a lack of a savings account, but honestly those are just excuses. I have to hold myself accountable. I have done a poor job prioritizing my savings and I’m sure if I was more dedicated and disciplined on it that wouldn’t be the case. We all need to have a savings account. We should all be budgeting for savings. It should not be something we think about once we make an unknown amount of money. Whether you work minimum wage or have a six figure income you should be taking a portion of that money and setting it aside for emergencies. Now how much and what your goal is that is up to you,but this should not be negotiable. Most experts say three months of bills saved up is a good savings account. That’s a lot, but again, we have to start somewhere and with something. I’m making the commitment now that I’ll never be without a savings account that has at least 1-3 months of bills set aside ever again. I urge you to make the same pledge.
HAVE THINGS PPL CAN BUY
With the inability to go outside to gig, perform, and teach now is a great time to remind people of things you have for sale. You should have your online store ready and open for business. Again, this is an area I need to improve on. Having things for sale is great because this can be a way to ask for money without just asking. You could simply put up a post talking about how things are hard and you would greatly appreciate it if people would buy your music to show their support. Also be sure to have non music things for sale. Personally I love merch like T-shirts way more than music. I don’t own a record player, haven’t listened to a CD in a year, and I’d rather just stream on Spotify. Does that make me a horrible musician? Maybe, but it’s also inline with the rest of society. People don’t buy music. Whenever I do it’s usually because I just really like the person and want to support them. I’ve bought over a dozen albums on bandcamp and have never listened to one front to back on the platform. So give people something they want. I love a T-shirt because I get to support the artist and get a product I could use that looks cool. I’ll wear that shirt all year long while music I’ll probably stream elsewhere. Also get creative with alternative ways to make money. Offer private lessons, in-house concerts, sheet music, a personal song. Give people different options so you have something for everyone.
LEARN ONLINE STREAMING
I’ve been very frustrated seeing how few musicians were utilizing online streaming before this pandemic. Many of my peers work in orchestras, teach at university, or play constant high paying gigs. Now all of that is gone and many now have had their income dramatically reduced or dropped to zero. So now I’m seeing a lot of my musician friends trying to do online streaming for the first time on Facebook, Instagram, Twitch, etc. Why did it take so long! I’ve been talking about the benefits of online streaming for years now and tried to show people how useful of a tool it was. I’m so upset that my friends have rested on their laurels for so long and now are suddenly scrambling to set up their streams, create a schedule, and build a fan base all in a state of emergency. So please, learn online streaming. Figure out how all the platforms work, which ones you like, which ones your fans are on, and a schedule you can commit to. THIS IS SOMETHING YOU SHOULD BE DOING AT ALL TIMES REGARDLESS.
Gigs come and go, but having an online streaming presence as a musician is invaluable. Believe it or not I’d take 50 people watching me consistently on twitch over a $300 Saturday night gig. The 50 people on Twitch aren’t going anywhere and it can grow to so much more and while the Saturday gig has benefits that are immediate and financial, Twitch is the long term better option. Again, you shouldn’t be picking one over the other. You should be doing both. For too long musicians have been picking the money. This is a time to learn online streaming and adapt to our changing world.
HAVING A PATERON
Having long term funding is a good thing. Patreon allows for that to happen. Using Patreon can be a way for you to fund the time you need for making YouTube videos or to steam regularly on Twitch. The beauty of this is you can keep it going forever and have all your hardcore fans on one key platform. Having something like Patreon is great particularly in times of financial duress because again you can encourage people to support you on Patreon and have tiers that are low enough for anyone to be a part of.
WEBSITE/SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS UP TO DATE
Again, the internet is vital to your career. Make sure you are active on all the social media platforms you like. The key ones are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tiktok, LinkedIn and Snapchat. Honestly you should be on every platform but if that seems too daunting try them all out and pick a few to be consistent on. Website is even more important. The website you own. Social media will come and go so make sure you have a good website. Either learn how to make a website using WordPress and Wix templates or hire someone to help you. Look at other musicians websites and see what you like and what you don’t like. So many musicians have terrible websites that look like they were made in the 90s. They are clunky, cluttered, and hard to navigate. Even good musicians can have bad websites. Don’t be one of them.
This is a tough time for all of us. So I hope these takeaways can be useful for you to improve your career now and in the future. I know this can be a lot to digest so feel free to come back to this later if you don’t feel up to it at this time. But do come back to it. I firmly believe these are must do tasks for every musician. So take them seriously and address them as needed. And, as always, leave any questions, comments, or feedback below.