This week, I was presented with an interesting new creative challenge. Essentially, the task was ‘make me something like this’. But what does that mean?
The charity, Make a Move, with which Dance Notes has a close partnership, had been asked to produce some guided-meditation recordings for a client. Michelle, who heads the charity and is a key contributor to Dance Notes, asked if I could record her as she talked through the meditation. And this led to a new creative challenge
We convened in my studio and Michelle asked if she could have a track she liked playing in the background. To make things as authentic as possible, she also had a volunteer to guide through the meditation as we recorded her speaking. I explained that, in order to keep the voice recording clean, I would send the music to Michelle’s headphones. I would then mix the voice and music for the final recording.
But there was a catch. Michelle did not have permission to use this music commercially. So, I offered to make something from scratch. And this was where the creative challenge came in. Whereas I have produced many soundscapes in the past, this was specifically to aid relaxation and sleep.
Do Your Homework
So, how do you set about achieving something like this for the first time? Firstly, you do your homework. I listened to the tracks that Michelle had been using and noted their key characteristics. I then set about creating something new and distinct. Importantly, though, the music needed to share the qualities that enabled them to serve their function.
This reminded me of a time, a few years ago, when I was regularly creating music to order for commercials. I had a very good agent, who understood what information I would need in order to fulfill a creative brief. It is astonishing how few people have this skill, though it’s actually not too difficult once you appreciate what is needed.
A Bit Like This…
Many people, when commissioning a piece of music, will say ‘oh, a bit like x’ or ‘something atmospheric’ or ‘energetic’. The problem is that one person’s idea of ‘energetic’ or atmospheric’ will be quite different from another’s. Similarly, to simply say ‘like’ something is open to interpretation.
If you are asking someone to create a piece of music for you (or a painting, a sculpture, a dance, a film, etc.), what you really need to do is tell them what qualities it should have. It is undoubtedly useful to have some reference material. However, without knowing what it is about that piece of work that really matters, there is scope for a lot of misinterpretation and wasted effort.
The One Element
In the case of music, the composer will want to know whether it is the style, the beat, the sound-pallet, instrumentation, genre, dynamics or whatever that appeal from the guide track. I could create something that, to my ears, sounds a lot like a chosen track but miss the one element that actually makes it work for the person who chose it.
Fortunately, in this instance, I was able to have that conversation with Michelle. She explained that she liked the electronic sounds, the lack of meter, the constant dynamic and the harmonic qualities of the guide tracks. So, right from the start, I had a set of parameters within which to work. I was therefore able to quickly deliver what was required.
Finding Qualities Within
Similarly, when working with children in dance, it is good to avoid saying ‘move like x’. Rather, it is better to ask ‘how does x move – what are its qualities?’. Then your pupils can try to find those qualities within themselves, rather than simply mimicking something they think you want to see. It’s a subtle difference but an important one.
The creativity comes from internalising ideas and owning them. One could argue that children already spend too much time trying to produce, on demand, what is expected of them. In creative work, they have licence to do the unexpected and feel good about their individuality.
I May Just Cry
And if you are ever in a position to commission some music from me, please don’t ask ‘can you make something like x’. I may just cry.