Creation, creating, you know, creativity. It begins with an inclination, the proverbial spark. For some it’s a only a one-time proposition, a wish fulfilled. For others it’s the intellectual equivalent of breathing.
Many creatives don’t ponder the why, they just “do” because it’s what they do, what they must do. I enjoy various creative ventures, but on occasion, I also have to explore the “why”, so after witnessing one particular creative experience almost a year ago, I instantly felt compelled to reduce it to writing (almost a year after the fact).
The following details the creation of an original country pop song, beginning with disjointed scrawls in a notebook, progressing to a pair of iPhones and an acoustic guitar, and ending in a Nashville recording studio with world class musicians. If that doesn’t sound like your brand of creativity you might consider reading anyway, because it was a hell of a lot of fun.
Creating something takes a fair amount of courage and I think this speaks to my earlier point that creatives do what they do because they must.
I know a woman who happens to be an accomplished, versatile singer. She gets paid to sing on a fairly regular basis. I’ve seen her move people to tears singing solos in a church and I’ve seen her move a group of bikers to render colorful comments during a growling, rendition of blues phenom, Shemekia Copeland’s 2 A.M. The point is, she knows what she’s doing behind a microphone. And like most creatives I know, real life hasn’t afforded her the circumstances to do full-time, what she’s truly called to do.
Last year as a birthday gift, she received a session at the Beaird Music Group, Nashville recording studios.
After the initial surprise wore off, she realized that she actually had to write an original song. Cue the courageous act theme music…My wife is more singer than songwriter, but fortunately, she hails from a musically inclined family; her mother once opened for The Beach Boys and still conducts a choir and teaches music…her brother possesses savant-like musical ability to arrange entire songs in his head, is reported to have perfect pitch, has previously toured parts of Europe with his own band, and on occasion has still been known to make spot appearances playing in various San Diego venues. He willingly agreed to co-write the original song with her and thus it began. They literally began creating something out of nothing…out of thin air as the saying goes. Both with busy lives and less than a month to pull it off.
In the limited time available, they talked through ideas; theme, melody, arrangement, and lyrics. (For the record, I think songwriting might be the most organic form of creativity and worthy of its own thorough analysis, but I’d be way out of my depth there, so I’ll leave it for someone who could do it justice.) I believe their “rough sketching” took place over the course of two separate evening sessions, after full-time jobs, dinners, and putting kids to bed. I think there were even a few eureka moments sprinkled in during the evening commute and while sitting inside her car in the garage, as potential lyrics floated loosely around the melody that had already been planted.
The rough cut of the track that had to be emailed to the studio prior to recording came about during their second work session. With dueling iPhones recording from opposite sides of the room, she sang and her brother played guitar and sang the harmony. After a few takes, the two phone recordings were mixed down to one usable file that was sent to the studio.
Though I wasn’t present during the writing sessions, over the course of several conversations, I was made privy to the struggles of generating an idea, writing lyrics that made sense but weren’t too on-the-nose, and the oscillating self-doubt/need to forge ahead that I’ve come to believe is absolutely necessary to sustaining the creative process.
Fast forward to Beaird Music Studios, a small brick house in Nashville that’s been converted into a full-blown recording studio. From the moment we walked in, we were pleasantly greeted and engaged in conversation at the reception desk by owner Larry Beaird‘s wife, Paula. Unfortunately, Larry wasn’t available that day, but producing the session was left in excellent hands with his extremely qualified son, Eli.
The entire experience occurred in successive blocks of time, each one as fascinating as the last, beginning with the initial meeting with Eli. He accessed the iPhone version of the song on his computer and began making notes on a lined pad as the song played. After listening with only a few brief pauses,
he produced the numbered notation seen in the picture. (The Nashville Number system fascinated me, but it’s beyond the scope of this post. In the music business, time is literally money. If this isn’t second nature to a working Nashville session musician, they probably aren’t working much.)
After listening, Eli nonchalantly stated that “it was a nice little song” they’d put together, then he asked which current country artist she envisioned recording the song. Understand that while that’s the business he’s in, it was a bit surreal, sitting in an office with framed gold records and charts of demos produced in their studio that were eventually recorded by megastars such as Rascal Flatts, among others.
Definitely a long way from sitting in the car after work humming the melody and hoping to find the right lyrics.
After briefly discussing a few more creative choices we were on our own, off to lunch at the venerable Peg Leg Porker (worth the trip if you like BBQ and happen to be in Nashville).
Back from lunch we were ushered in to the recording studio as the musicians began filing in. My role was nothing more than observer, so I felt like a bit of an impostor sitting in their clubhouse. But this eclectic, unassuming group of professional musicians whom you’d never recognize on the street but who’ve probably played on many of the recordings you’ve heard on country radio, as well as having toured with some of the biggest names in music, welcomed us in as they exchanged banter about various artists and recent award nominations. Each of them received a copy of their numbered chart and the banter ceased as the iPhone recording played. They all followed along, a few toes tapping, some heads bobbing with the beat. When the track ended there were only a few questions as the sound engineer played back a requested portion. And just like that, they were ready to work.
“All right. Let’s do it.”
The musicians moved to their respective places inside the studio while my wife and I were each given a set of headphones. Somebody counted off to begin the song and in a brilliant flash, This Is What She’s Fighting For came to life. It was as if they’d been presented a musical slab of clay, someone snapped their fingers, and the slab instantly presented itself as a finished sculpture.
My wife was singing what’s referred to as a “scratch” vocal, which is used as a placeholder for the band to reference during the initial recording–she recorded the final vocals after working directly with the band–and when the first notes of the intro sounded, we were both so surprised, it almost threw her timing off. She turned to me and I’m pretty sure we both had the same slack-jawed look of amazement on our faces. Out of thin air, these guys breathed life into the raw material and turned it into something I don’t know if either of us could have imagined. I sat there, instantly in awe and envious of the skills we’d been immersed in, but she still had to manage to sing.
When the recording ended, the engineer polled the musicians and the producer to find out if anyone wanted to hear anything again. There were a few requests for specific sections of the song, followed by some cosmic keyboard sounds that at the time sounded completely out of context, but were later revealed during final mixing as the slightly haunting vibe heard during the song’s intro. The only thing I can liken the experience to was welcoming a new family member. The instant they arrive, it’s nearly impossible to remember life as it existed before their arrival. A full, fleshed out version of their original song, wasn’t…and then it just was. Things were exactly as they were supposed to be.
Part of me wishes I would’ve taken a video of the session, but I don’t know if that would’ve been as good as the souvenir I do have…Every time I hear the polished recording that was born inside the minds of two fantastic musicians, it feels like looking at an old photo of your child in a given moment–you were there, you know, it’s that simple–and with the song, I’m instantly transported back inside the studio; watching the bass player and drummer through the glass wall, all business, but full of passion, hearing the keyboard stylings, almost jumping out of my seat at the first forlorn ring of the steel guitar (rivaled only by good piano in its capacity to bring a tear to my eye), listening to an 8 measure guitar solo that didn’t exist until it was born in that studio, and seeing the sheer joy and excitement of someone who loves to sing, as she was moved by the ingenuity of skilled musicians the same way I’ve seen her move others with her own voice.
“This Is What She’s Fighting For”
Amazingly, all of this occurred in less than twenty five minutes. Time is money. But it wasn’t rushed or choppy, it was professional and polished. I don’t have studio experience, but I simply can’t imagine having enjoyed this particular experience anywhere other than the Beaird Music Studios. From the moment we arrived until we walked out later that evening, they were kind, professional, and treated us the same way I imagine they’d treat any named country artist. If you can write a song and you’re heading to Nashville to cut a demo, this is a must-stop destination.
So, What’s The Point?
Why do we create, especially when there’s no immediate tangible benefit?
Again, I’m forced to conclude that creatives create simply because they must–Cooking, singing, crafting, arranging music, playing an instrument, writing, acting, woodworking, photography, tattooing, metal fabrication, [insert your creative bent here]–it’s in them and it’s got to come out (to paraphrase the late John Lee Hooker).
Does everyone have ability to create? I think so, but I don’t think everyone believes that they do. I believe that some level of ability exists whether it’s tapped into or not, and I know that while not everyone can be Michelangelo or one of my personal favorites, Bob Ross, I also know that a blank sheet of paper, a box of crayons, and the slightest bit of imagination can put a priceless smile on a child’s face. Now, for those who make a living with their creativity, it certainly is about the quality, but for the majority of us it’s simply about the act; about sharing your efforts and having an outlet after you’ve paid your bills.
Is an expression of creativity the highest form of caring for our fellow human?
Isn’t it possible that the guy or girl standing alone on a stage in a coffee shop in front of an audience of six, pouring out their soul in song, working a new standup comedy routine, or channeling their inner beatnik at an open mic night, could unwittingly be moving at least one of those audience members to create something of their own, to repair something broken, to reach out to someone, to take a chance?
If so, shouldn’t this possibility be incentive enough to at least make us good stewards of our own creative ability? To never stifle it out of a fear of rejection or ridicule…
I like to counter-argue myself, so during an internal sidebar, I pondered whether my own appreciation of creativity is a bit skewed. What about those who create tech devices, weapons, potato chip makers, and other utilitarian items? Do they rate the same level of appreciation?
You can decide for yourself, but the distinguishing ideal for me was that genuine creation doesn’t serve impulses of malice, greed, and especially not of convenience. It’s organic, pure, and requires emotional equity. While we certainly live in an era of impressive gadgetry and enjoy many created conveniences, these to me are still just manipulation of existing conventions; inorganic at best. Apologies, Siri, no offense intended, and though I’ll always have a weakness for potato chips, they just don’t move me the way the bass line from The Trammps, Disco Inferno, does.
Eventually, I suppose someone will attempt to generate an “experience” that could rival this feeling, but the joke will be on them: There is no rival, maybe a cheap replication, but no true rival. Ask yourself, what’s worth more? The autographed item that you waited and hoped for and obtained by yourself, or that same autographed item purchased from Ebay?
Go get the autograph for yourself.
Create something out of thin air.
Struggle with the process – it leaves an indelible imprint.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I would’ve inserted an emoji here, but I still prefer to let actual words invoke (or not) the intended emojion **smile**