SOUND ADVICE 11 October 2019
SOUND ADVICE with Erica Freas!
What is the biggest threat to the current DIY/Punk community/'scene'?
We’re no longer in the streets! We’ve made progress (unfinished!) toward inclusivity of diverse gender / sexuality within punk and now we’re in an eddy. We’re overwhelmed by the state of the world. We’ve gravitated towards “people like us” and feel safer in our pockets of like-mindedness. All of this leads to apathy. Is that punk?! As a community, punk / DIY has the capacity and energy to confront and join more outward facing societal movements like class war, the impacts of globalism, smashing capitalism. That’s where we sharpen our teeth, write more interesting songs and learn how to work together across our differences. That’s the good stuff.
I think my band is really good but no-one seems to care. We don't have time to tour lots. What can we do?
Don’t underestimate the power of doing shows on the weekend or a cheeky two week tour once or twice a year. That still leaves you 50 weeks a year of not touring. Nothing beats the in-person connection that can happen through playing gigs. It’s that experience that builds into caring about a band; it’s contagious and if you’re not out there putting on a rad show, making friends, getting sweaty and weird, then people aren’t going to catch what you’ve got. Think of how much love you feel for your friends’ bands - you’re totally biased and it’s awesome. Within punk / DIY the bands that we cherish most are the ones that we connect with somehow, that may be through an unforgettable live show or a meaningful conversation with someone in the band as much or more than the album in our headphones. How are people connecting with your music?
I’m getting more confident in my playing and believing that my music isn’t shit, but I feel imposter syndrome when listening to mixes. I find it hard to have an opinion and unable to distinguish what changes would benefit the song so I let other band mates take the lead. I wanna know what the heck I’m supposed to be hearing when going over mixes to lead to the final KAPOW of the song!
Hear ye, hear ye! I relate to this. Ah! The feeling of listening with owl-like intensity and still feeling like a poseur in the mixing room. Most people who do audio engineering (well) have spent an obsessive amount of time learning how to hear musical nuances and how to work with them to make a balanced mix. (It’s like learning a language and there are loads of resources online for honing your ears, etc.) Any time you spend engaged in a recording / mixing environment is accumulating toward your comfort and understanding of how to use that space to make and record the sounds you want. The key here is “engaged”, it’s easy to feel shut down and like you can’t take up space amongst people who know what they’re doing. Be patient with yourself, take up that space, ask questions and share your instincts so that you can take full advantage of that learning opportunity. You’ll get better at hearing, I’m sure of it!
I moved house 6 months ago and started a new job. I used to write a song pretty much every week, but lately I just haven’t been able to finish one. Do you have any advice for a fellow songwriter? I’m finding it disheartening playing the same old songs whenever I want to pick up my guitar.
You’re already ahead of the game by the fact that you’re writing at all, even if your songs are unfinished. In my experience the best way to blast past writer’s block is to just keep writing. If a song isn’t taking shape and concluding, move on, write another one, and come back to the original one in the future (or not at all!). Your songs don’t have to be good, keeper material and you don’t have to show anyone, but knocking some of the dust off by writing and finishing a few bad songs can really grease the gears and remind you (or show you for the first time) that you can write and finish a song. If you’re in practice, the good ones will come back. Here are some other songwriting tricks:
Write from someone else’s perspective • Take a chord progression from a song you’ve written that you like and change the key / tempo / chord order. • Take chords from a song someone else wrote and see how they change under your hands, with your lyrics. • Take words from somewhere, anywhere (your old journal, the book you’re reading, something you overheard on the bus) and sing them as lyrics. • 10 Minute Free Write: Pick three random words (Silver, Table, Songbird) and write for ten minutes without stopping, use a timer. Use all three words, they’ll serve as prompts to weave your thoughts around. If you get stuck, write, “I have writer’s block, this is so annoying, I’ve had it for weeks. What if it never goes away?...” until you’re able to pick the random free-flow back up. The end will be garble (probably) but read it over, preferably out-loud, and see if you can find a sentence or a paragraph or a theme from the midst of that flow. Repeat if desired. (When I’m disciplined, I do this daily) • Learn new cover songs just to add juice to your routine. • Give yourself a timeframe (1 week, 1 month) and write a song every single day. • Write boringly direct lyrics to get the feelings / experiences out then go back and change them to be poetic or obscure when the song feels more solid. • Your lyrics don’t have to rhyme. • Keep a recording going while you’re writing / playing so that if you stumble across some inspiration you don’t have to stop your process to capture it.
These are all tricks that work (or have worked) for me. I’d love to hear your methods and anybody else’s!