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Music Life: 06 - MUSICAL PRODUCTIVITY! - Part 1 - Organize Musical Ideas
By Brian Donovan - 10/20/2008 - 05:54 AM EDT

I have musical ideas.  THOUSANDS of them.  Daily.  And lately, that creativity has expanded to movie scripts, new inventions, scientific theories, story plots, book outlines, multimedia projects, podcast episodes, etc.  Oh yeah, and songwriting!  Basically my brain is always in a creative state.  ALWAYS.

You are probably screaming at me as you read this: "JERK!  How can you afford to do that without living in a box on the side of the road!?"  Because, let's face it, as I've said many times, real life can prevent us from being creative.  Paying bills, doing chores, making money, going to that all-important day-job that we all despise as musicians.  All of these things interfere with our desire to sit in a creative state all day, everyday.

But here's the rub: staying in a creative state of mind is not only completely inefficient, it's not practical.

See, we all need time to rejuvenate our creative cells.  So staying in a creative state isn't the right way to go about being more productive with our music.  What we need to do is adopt an effortless system of capturing our creativity when it naturally occurs, and use those bits of captured information when we have the time to sit down with our music.  THAT'S the reality that is our life as a musician.  The best musicians can reach their creativity at any time.  And that's a skill that needs to be practiced just like playing scales or studying rhythm.  However, handling the inspired moments you've captured when they happen, well, THAT'S the key to get ahead in your quest to make more of your music.

So, over the next few installments of MUSIC LIFE, I'll cover how to not only feel invigorated by these ideas, but to open your creative well so wide that you will always feel like you have a new and exciting project to submerse yourself in AND you won't feel overwhelmed by any of it.

Last time, I covered how to use technology to capture your moments of inspiration, and this time, I'll show you how to organize it all for future use.  Alright, so . . . how do I deal with the massive amount of ideas I've collected without getting overwhelmed by the sheer amount of unfinished ideas that can weigh on my creative brain?

There are fours steps to creating a finished song: (or anything thing creative for that matter)
1. capture & organize your random ideas
2. write (and re-write) scratch-versions to assemble these ideas into a complete statement that stands on it's own
3. arrange (and re-arrange) these scratch-versions into fully-produced demos
4. record (and re-record) individual parts to create final versions of these arrangements and call the project done

Let's look at the second half of the first item - organize your random creative ideas:

Here's how I lay out my ideas so that I don't feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of unfinished music I have inadvertently created over the years: I first organize the creation process into a few different categories.  (In this case, my goal is to write and record as many finished, fully-produced, "record-quality" songs I can in my life.)  So, for me, I orgnize them by records.  I think in a very project-oriented way.  So if I have 10-12 ideas, even if they are 15 seconds a piece, they are usually very similar and usually fit together nicely with each other.  So, they get stored as the start of a potential record.  And the next 10-12 ideas, and the next, etc, etc.

I'll file the sound files into folders, give it a temporary "album" name, and after that, I forget them.  I am always working on a new record, so I'm constantly focused on whatever project is current.  If my muse appears and gives me a new idea, I never work it out until it's time to.  That takes the pressure off of new material to "BE" something right away.  It also prevents me from judging whether it's good or not.  Until later.  (It also prevents me from EVER having writer's block . . .
E V E R !  Why?  Because I always have song ideas waiting around for ME to get to THEM!)

When deciding to do a "new" project, I merely have to look at my folders of unfinished "record" ideas, pick one, and start playing with those moments of inspiration until the project is completed.  How do you play with those random ideas so they become complete statements in, and of, themselves?  Ahhh, that's the next step...and so, we'll cover that next time.

In the meantime, try putting these ideas into practice for your own musical efforts and hopefully after you set aside time to organize your "moments", you'll find it easier to keep your creative mind at ease to do what it's meant to do: BE inspired.  When the time comes, you'll be prepped to make more music, so you can make more money, so you can hire people to do your everyday chores, so you can spend all day in your creative space.  ooops.....  ;)

Until then, appreciate the horizon...

Brian Donovan is a songwriter in Los Angeles, CA, graduate of Berklee College of Music and has been working in the music industry for over 12 years.  Check out Brian's newest CD: "Mugu Point" at his website:

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