Monday, January 13, 2014

One Song Per Week – Pros and Cons

I recently joined a song-per-week club where new original songs are posted online for review.  You write a song, you record it, you upload it, you review and comment on other’s posted songs, and read other’s reviews of songs you posted.  That’s all you do.  Simple enough.  Right now, it’s just myself and another songwriter who agreed to try this. 

The tool we decided to try for this is YouTube, believe it or not.  Using a webcam, we record ourselves on our computers, then upload the videos.  There’s a built-in comment feature we use to review the other guy’s songs.  You just type stuff and click a button.  We could’ve used SoundCloud or some other free online file sharing technology like DropBox or just Google Drive or something, but didn’t.  We could’ve used some type of online group forum service or even live video like Skype or Hangouts, but we didn’t want to have it be real-time.  YouTube is really easy to use.  We don’t need to see each other necessarily, so the video aspect doesn’t add anything really.  It’s all free, and the bonus is we set it up so that it’s automatically private.  That means only the two of us can listen to, or “view” in this case, each other’s songs.  To make it work, we had to use it with the integrated Google Plus social network, which enables more than one person to have sufficient manager rights to post to the same channel.

Since we’re geographically dispersed, a way to send each other songs online for free, instead of tapes or CDs by mail, was what we wanted, and we also wanted a way to provide critiques without having to type emails separately.  It’s easy to have the comment feature within the tool.  We also didn’t want the general public to be able to view our song videos, and this was easy to configure.  YouTube w/ associated Google + meets all of our requirements.  A bonus is the Like/Dislike (thumb’s up/thumb’s down) buttons, which we use as a simple rating system.  Analytics within the control panel let you see which are the “keepers” this way.  Additionally, you can add songs to playlists, which are basically folders you can name.  We’ve chosen to name ours by the due date.  You can check it out here:

Even though you can’t hear any of the privately-shared songs, you can read about the rules we set up for our group on the About tabs.  In the future, we might decide to invite others to join.  Also, in the future, we might decide to “make public” our favorites.  The guidelines should be universally useful to any similar online song critique group. 

This post, however, isn’t about the tools and rules.  Although the technology is fine, what I mean to examine and describe here is 1) the motivation behind the decision to start this group or club or whatever you want to call it, and 2) what I’ve gotten out of it so far.

The main reason we agreed to do this was that it would be like signing up for some recurring group thing, like a sport, or lessons, or a class of some kind – such things motivate you to “show up” once you’ve made the commitment.  So, establishing one song a week as the deliverable and a deadline (happens to be every Tuesday) would force us to be more prolific, and to write songs according to a schedule.  We thought this would produce more songs overall than our current production output, and indeed it has.  So, yes, having to deliver on a schedule does make you write more songs than you normally would.  For me, I sometimes will write three in one night, but other times go three months without writing anything.  So, theoretically, this would be better for me. 

We also thought a usual keeper ratio would apply, just as it has over long periods of time where we’ve each noticed that no matter how sporadic, once we each had a batch of new songs written, about ¼ of them were pretty good.  This hasn’t been the case with me so far, but it might prove to be over the long haul.  I’ll just have to wait and see.  It makes me realize moving to Nashville and writing to meet a deadline or a quota would be a challenge.  For some reason, it spoils the creativity.  I find myself writing something just to meet the requirement, rather than waiting to be inspired by the muse.  Waiting for the muse to show up can take a long time sometimes.  I am starting to think that taking breaks from writing can be a good thing, just like with relationships – an absence making the heart grow fonder type of thing.  On the other hand, maybe the increased frequency will help hone my skills, just as practice for anything usually helps you get better at it.

I’m waiting to see if this experiment will be a detriment to my enjoyment of the craft.  If I’m writing songs that are below my own standards just to meet a deadline, consistently, maybe I won’t be better off.  On the other hand, maybe practice will pay off eventually by improving my overall skill level, and even if the keeper ratio doesn’t improve, I’ll still feel like I have recyclable portions of songs for future use, and that alone may make it worthwhile.  So far, I’m six weeks into this, and out of my six songs so far, there’s only one where I like the lyrics, and portions of a couple others where I like the music.  Time will tell.  Visit again sometime and I will post an update.

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