The creative process...

    The creative process has always been a sort of nebulous entity throughout time... I don't think anyone truly knows how it works for anyone other than themselves, and in many cases the person may not know as well. For me, I think that it really is a gateway into the subconscience. I must point out that this applies to professional musicians as well as amateur, I just think there is a distinct difference between the two modes of operation. For example, the consummate professional is expected to perform admirably under just about any circumstance, and without any prior notification... A session musician, or a popular producer might be examples of this. The difference in process here is that it's more of a technical, analytical approach to music, ie, you have a formula, or routine that you can perform in order to get a consistent level of performance. On the other hand, you have the amateur, who probably can't consistently perform well, but oscillates between exceptional and poor.
    I think I probably fit in more with the later category than the former, although I am more of a balance of the two... I have very good technical skills, but I don't feel that I achieve a level of consistent performance. Of course, there's nothing particularly wrong with this, I feel it works for me, so that's all that really matters, and it's all pretty subjective to begin with. I enjoy reflecting on the differences because I would like to be better than I am, but the only way to improve is to understand your limitations, as they currently exist, and then surpass them.
    It really struck me about two years ago, when I was converting over my archive of older songs from DAT to CD, what my music meant to me. When I listen to my own music, I tend to be more analytical, imagining what I might have done differently, or marveling at some interplay between sounds that I hadn't anticipated, but I rarely really try to feel the music. It's a tad difficult to explain, but what I mean is trying to get back into the mindset that I was in when I wrote the song, and completely out of the analytical listening mode. Anyway, while I was converting the songs over, I inadvertently discovered a bigger picture view of my songs... I was listening to them in chronological order, which is rare for me since I'll listen to a new track over and over again, and jump back to pretty random tracks from the past, but normally not in any type of order. What emerged from this type of listening was startling to me; I was able to hear parts of my life in the songs... Nothing specific, of course, but more like the way I was feeling at the time, or how I felt things were progressing. It's especially interesting since everyone hears something different when they listen to music, so while this experience ellicited this response from me, it could draw out a completely different one in someone else.
    I should step back for a second and clarify how I write most of my songs... I don't usually hear a song and go "I liked that song, I want to write one like that!"; as a matter of fact, usually it's a specific sound or instrument used in a song that really stands out for me. Usually, when I start out on a song, I lay down a 4/4 constant hihat, and start moving through sounds on my gear until something catches my attention. If it doesn't sound quite right, then I'll modify the sound somewhat, but usually I just use the sound as is. When I have found a sound, it also means I've found a particular bassline or lead or something that really draws me to it; the two go hand in hand, I almost never think up a bassline independently, and then find the sound. I then really just repeat this process over and over again until it feels like I have enough variation to make a song... This is not always the case though, sometimes I feel compelled to mix a song that isn't quite as varied as I would like, but I really love a particular part, and know that I probably never mix it down.
    When I write songs, they actually go through at least two steps before it's completed... It initially starts out as what I refer to as a 'work', which is aptly named 'work-212.wrk' or some other equally descript title. I literally have more than a thousand works (they roll over at 1000 and are archived), with about ten percent or so actually making it to phase two, mixdown. A work normally contains the fragment ideas of a song; the bassline, some rhythm, a lead, and whatever else I thought of. Now, I might have several open works going at the same time, for example: I might be working on work-212, and I come across a new lead that I really like, but doesn't fit well with this track; behold, work-213 is born. As a general rule I never have more than ten or so songs active at any given time, primarily because I just forget about them, or some part of my studio changes thus rendering it impossible to do any more (like a keyboard dies or something). Now, once a work becomes sufficiently developed, it then moves onto my step two, which is what I refer to as a 'song'.
    When a work moves into life as a song, the previous work file is never modified again, but a new file is created in its own directory (named whatever the name of the song is), and the work is then saved as 'original.wrk'. All of the parts that were originally written are expanded to their shared lowest common multiple, and I begin mixing. I usually do this by muting and unmuting tracks, and then copying the unmuted portions into a new track, representing some portion of the song, like the intro, or chorus, or whatever. Then, I modify the muting to correspond with whatever I feel the next portion should sound like, and repeat the process. Probably one of the most interesting aspects of the way I mix songs is that I never usually listen to the entire track until the mix is completed; I just mix from start to end, and then I'm done. I very rarely go back and change the way things sound, or the ordering, and I don't think I've ever gone back and deleted an instrument or something similar, since that should have happened at the work stage.
    The third, and final step is an optional step, which is remixing. As I mentioned above, the first mix of the song is stored as 'original.wrk', and then any subsequent mix is stored as the name of said mix. When I start off with a mix, I begin by deleting the mixdown of the newest version of the song, still leaving the individual parts intact, and then I decide on what particular part is going to be the driving theme of the mix. The most common time I do a remix is when I have a part that I'm particularly fond of, but didn't end up putting in the previous mix for some reason. When I do select the remix, I also will sometimes change the instruments that are used, the tempo, or any number of other small modification, but usually nothing to key pieces of the track, so that the chorus remains identifiable throughout all the remixes.
    I also have a couple rules when I'm writing songs as well, that are pretty simple, and help to keep thinks on the right track. If I run into a technical problem (keyboard not working, routing screwed up, whatever), then I stop working on music, fix the problem, and go do something else. If things just aren't in the groove, then I stop working, and go do something else. And most importantly, I only work on music when I want to, when I feel motivated; now that's not to say that there aren't times that I don't just go in my studio and jam, but I like to keep the separation. The main reason I do things like this is to help keep the creative energies going, and nothing drains them faster, and with less results, than to try to force them to work.
    So am I a slave to my muse? To some extent, yes, but that's not to say that I need to be, or even really should be. I think that being a slave to your muse is really just a cop-out, and that you're just being lazy. You see, it's much easier to only do things when you want to, and not when you have to, but unfortunately the world doesn't seem to work in that fashion, you know? Music is one of the few professions that they will actually pander to people who act like this, not because they want to, but because they have to. Does this mean that they should change, and not be driven by their muse? I can't really speak for anyone other than myself, but I personally would like to have a little more insight into how I do what I do, and why; but if you just go with the flow, you never really learn anything. Thus, I reflect, I write (things like this), I talk, and try to push the limits of what I feel comfortable doing. This may be something as simple as working on a style of music I normally don't, to even breaking my own rules and trying to force my way through creative blocks; but not for the obvious end result, but for the insight that is gained by obtaining the end result, do you see the difference?
    I really haven't found the answer yet, but that doesn't mean I will quit looking, quit trying something new, it just means simply that - I haven't found the answer - YET; but I will. It really strikes me how strange the whole creative process is (for me at least), when I sit down and listen to something I just wrote, and I think to myself, "How did I do this?" I didn't go in with some sort of plan, or some sort of agenda, I just was there, in the moment, and this was the result. It's also interesting that when I listen to a new song, it really doesn't shed any light on how I'm feeling at the moment, it's only in hindsight that I see that bigger picture. I find it funny when someone tells me that I was thinking about something in particular when I was writing a song, when the truth of the matter is that I usually am not thinking anything, really any more than when you stare out at the ocean, or the stars, that you necessarily need to be thinking anything - you're just being or doing. Anyway, this is getting way to existential for me, but hopefully you'll take something away from my attempt to verbalize my muse, and it will help you with your muse as well.