Organization and rediscovery
Before I dive into starting a new project by creating a session (in my case, using Pro Tools), I want to point out something that has become very important to a component of how I write.
First, organization is key. I have a hard drive named Projects and inside, folders for every year. I have folders dating back to 2006 and more unloaded onto backup media outside of my Mac Pro. In each folder, I name a particular project:
"mmddyy name of song"
Easy to find in chronological order. Even if I don't yet know the name of the song I'm about to create a project for, I'll grab some sort of characteristic of it or single word from the limited lyrics and name it that way for easy recall later.
I realize that the best way to name files chronologically is traditionally "yymmdd" so they always sort in order. I choose this different method because I don't want every single project I create to be chosen from one single directory. Too many to select from when I simply want to find something and move on. Instead I've opted for month folders, and within those, files named as I said above. That makes it easy for me to find projects fast without having to sift through EVERYTHING I've ever created. Which is a lot at this point. Just go to the year, and select from a smaller number.
Archiving my projects like this also affords me the ability to step into my little time machine and check out ideas from the past. Often, I do this to mine for old ideas that, though I may have liked where they were headed, either hit a stand still or got sidelined by the start of a new project.
One thing I've found is that, many times, an old idea might stop dead in its tracks and lose steam. For a number of reasons, I simply stop being inspired by an idea. Maybe I just kind of get tired of the idea, and can't muster up the excitement I once had for it. Maybe I've heard it one too many times during production that I simply can't think my way out of a corner. That might mean that I lose interest and move on to the next exciting idea.
But going back in time to some of those ideas later, and taking pieces from them to apply to new projects can be very refreshing. It's like a recycling bin for new material. Taking those pieces that still hold value and applying them to something new. Further, I sometimes go back to an old project and attempt to reinvigorate the idea entirely.
Take, for example: "Living Life", a track on the upcoming album. It takes it's main guitar part and programmed drums from a song I had started to scratch out more than 10 years ago, way before I ever produced music on computers. I had a Yamaha MT120S 4-track tape recorder and consequently I have close to 25 cassette tapes filled with hours of recorded material. One track from that large library of material always seemed to have a certain vibe that I really liked, though I never considered it a complete work. Here is a clip from the original 4-track tape and warning, it was only ever a rough idea. Never fully fleshed out, so its pretty raw:
Now flash forward to 2009 when I decided to try and take a stab at recording that idea and turning it into a better sounding, better produced version of that old song. Here's a clip:
No matter what I did, I just couldn't get the vibe quite right to what I had envisioned in my head. The guitars definitely worked, the drums were OK if not a bit boring, and the vocals just felt too drawn out and stale. It felt like I was trying too hard to make something work that just wasn't going to happen. There were things that I liked and things that I didn't. So I never completed the redux.
Flash forward to January 2013 when I was mining through old recordings and stumbled across that 2009 recording. I muted the vocals, and the guitars and drums immediately got my mind stirring. I had an idea for a revision to the drum part. But even better, I thought to scrap those old vocals entirely and start from scratch. This can be a bit of a challenge when a song has travelled with you for 10 years. It's very hard to hear something like that with different ears. You simply expect that its only life is THAT way.
But I hit record and started to freestyle vocal parts with nonsense lyrics. It all fell together and within five minutes, I had a brand new vocal approach. Within a half hour, the lyrics were written to accomodate. Just that change inspired a continuation of that song that I had practically written off entirely years before. It's almost like finally closing the chapter of a really long book. Here's a small unmastered clip from the track off the upcoming album:
Just that change in lyric and vocal approach completely kicked me back into gear on a project that's more than 10 years old. It's very rewarding.
No one idea is sacred. Stop. Rethink. Start again.