Practice not giving a shit. Nothing is more important and nothing is more difficult to master then the art of not giving a shit. It’s not so much that you shouldn’t give a shit about anything, we are talking about a fairly complicated project with a strict deadline, it’s about knowing exactly what you should and shouldn’t give a shit about. For example: Be sure to give a shit about whether what you are doing is interesting and enjoyable for yourself, don’t ever give a shit about whether what you are doing is going to be enjoyed or appreciated by anyone who isn’t you.
Use this project as an excuse to figure out your recording gear. A microphone and a computer is enough to do pretty much anything you can think of, but I don’t care how basic your recording set up is; there are things you can still learn about the process. Stuck with nothing but a microphone and a piece of shit boombox? try placing the microphone in unusual places; try recording in different rooms, in different places outside, try singing with your head inside the washing machine, try playing the tape you recorded on a different stereo and singing along to it while you record the results with the microphone taped to the ceiling. The possibilities are endless.
Take an instrument and use it in every way that it wasn’t intended. Say you have a flute, and let’s say you even know how to play it in the regular way, for this project try to create a song using nothing but flute sounds created without blowing into the mouthpiece. Slap the end of it for the rhythm track, tap the keys to get a pitched percussion effect and loop it, take the tip of the flute and scratch it against a chalkboard at various speeds to make the melody. Now apply the same method to every other instrument you can think of, it may sound incredibly aggravating but there is no better way of learning the pure sonic capabilities of your instrument of choice then to not play it the way it’s supposed to be.
Take something that isn’t an instrument and figure out how to play it. I’ve always found that rubber balloons have an almost infinite variety sounds that can be coaxed from them with some practice or the right amount of boredom. Try making a melody with a touch tone phone, try striking wine glasses, try making rhythms with ripped newspaper or screaming windshield wiper blades. Try bicycle chains, slurpee straws, sizzling bacon grease, rattling heat exchangers, seagulls, puppy dogs, whatever you can think of.
Invite randomness into the process and use it as inspiration. If you need lyrics why not take your favorite bible verse, feed it into google translator then translate it from English to German to Japanese back to English and figure out how to sing the results? Or try interviewing your 4 year old brother on what happens in his favorite movie and figure out how to set what he comes up with into rhyming couplets. Need a beat? try recording a dripping faucet then pitchshift it and add distortion and reverb until it sounds like a snare drum. It may just result in a pile of unusable nonsense, but if you search through that nonsense the stuff that is interesting is usually truly out of this world.
Consistency is a fate worse than death. Any thoughts you have about creating a consistent mood or sound to the album should be tossed out of your mind like rocks at the elderly. If you’ve written an album of mostly acoustic ballads but you have this awesome 13 minute drone piece using kettle whistles, prepared piano and a pot of chicken curry; throw that thing on there! No truly great work of art can effect anyone without a certain level of cognitive dissonance and if your album doesn’t sucker punch the listener out their expectations every once in awhile your album has every right to be ignored and forgotten, like a John Mellencamp album.
Patrick is a longtime RPM Challenge enthusiast and participant. Hear some of his SUPERGOD! material at www.patrickcanning.ca