Back … Maybe?

I can’t believe it’s been almost two months since I last posted here. As I think I predicted at the start of the year, I had a flurry of writing for most of January and a little bit of February, and then it just kind of … died.

The good news is that this time, it isn’t because I was cripplingly depressed. (I mean, I’m always a little depressed, but that wasn’t the main driver behind my inactivity.) In fact, I’ve been remarkably productive in the past month or two – just not with writing.

Rather, I’ve been busy with my spare time (which I feel I have less and less of) writing music. Years ago (I literally mean in like 2005) I started work on a metal ‘symphony’, by which I mean it’s structured like a classical symphony in four movements. I wrote about two-thirds of it years ago, then abandoned it in favor of writing, and later, more traditional metal music.

But I always intended to revisit it, and in particular produce it with a more modern aesthetic. So over Christmas and into January, I set about re-producing the parts I’d written so far, and completing the parts I hadn’t. And if I do say so myself, it came out pretty damn good!

And that’s not all – fresh off the wave of satisfaction that comes with completing a project, I decided to embark on a second metal symphony – this one including full orchestral instrumentation. So far it’s about half written, and sounding good.

So as you can see, I have been busy – just not with blogging and writing. Which is unfortunate in a way, of course, because I always intended to keep up with things here as well. We’ll see if I’m able to continue updates, Thoughts of the Week, and all that good stuff, but I wanted to check in at the very least and say hi, because I felt bad that I’d left this for such a long time.

As far as other projects go, I should be getting the edits back for my second YA novel from the editor today, for which I’m exceptionally excited; I’ve been waiting a while, and she’s been delayed (understandably, with COVID and everything), but I can’t wait to see what she has to say – so far apparently it’s made her cry (!).

The Redemption of Erâth is also progressing, if slowly; every so often I’ll try to write a little bit more of it, but I’ve lost – not the enthusiasm for it, but the drive, perhaps? I still want to complete the story, but there’s a lot ahead of me, and other projects just seem to keep getting in the way.

Writing is a lonely profession, and feels thankless, often; I write to get readers, not for money, and reviews are one of the few ways in which I know people are reading my books. And whilst I’ve amassed a fair few reviews for my YA work on Goodreads and Amazon, The Redemption of Erâth remains a little less … accessible, perhaps. I realize it’s a slow story, and I think this puts people off sometimes; in the years since its publication, I’ve only had fourteen reviews for the first book on Amazon, seven for the second, and exactly one for the third.

Still, it isn’t a reason to stop – the story must be written – and I will continue, however long it takes me, until the story of Brandyé, Elven and their companions is complete.

And in the meantime, I will try my best to continue posting here, as well as on cmnorthauthor.com, with updates, thoughts, and random things, because blogging is another way to connect with readers, and I actually really enjoy it.

So thank you until next time – which hopefully won’t be another month and a half!

Writing Music – Where to Compose?

Following my post the other week about composing, songwriting and producing music, I started thinking the other day that I might want to take a shift in my music back toward more ‘classical’ music – that is to say, I’ve always wanted to write a symphony. I actually did write most of one back when I was, like, fourteen, but it was awful and I never finished it anyway.

For a long time, I’ve considered whether or not I should try to write something in a more contemporary classical vein. I don’t mean like Beethoven or Brahms – I’ve done enough pastiche in my time – but something that is genuinely original, true to my own musical influences and style, and that could stand in its own right at a concert amongst other contemporary music.

A symphony is an opportunity to explore the textures and dynamics of an entire orchestra, which is something you don’t usually get the chance for in rock and metal (outside of those instances where bands are backed by an orchestra). I’ve always loved the sounds possible from flutes and violins and trumpets and timpani, and with over twenty different instrument lines to work with (consider that, despite there often being over a hundred instruments in a full orchestra, many of them play the same thing, such as the string sections), there’s an enormous range of complexity available.

But this is where things get complicated when it comes to actually writing the music. Conceptually, I understand the idea of composing at a piano and arranging the composition for orchestra. But I find that when I move to try and arrange/compose in a music production application such as Logic Pro X, I lose track of the harmonies, the melody lines, and I don’t end up with music that is as interesting or detailed as I think it could be.

So then I wonder – should I be composing in notation software again? I used to use notation software – Finale, in particular – exclusively, and whilst I still have a copy of the program on my computer, I’ve really not used it in over ten years. It doesn’t have the same level of sound quality for playback, but it helps me ‘visualize’ the music better, so I’m wondering if I should return to Finale for the composition of my new symphony.

I could, of course, always re-produce it in Logic afterward, but that ends up being nearly twice the effort. I did that with some old metal songs originally wrote in Finale, and it took frigging forever. In the end, though, the idea of composing is to get the damn notes down, so perhaps Finale is the way to go; when it comes to making a living, breathing recording of the music, I might just have to bite the bullet.

For those of you with experience with music production and notation software, what’s your preferred go-to?

Composing, Songwriting and Producing – Pick Two

[As a side note, I’m nearly done with chapter five of the fourth Redemption of Erâth book – that’s a fifth of the way through!]

I’ve written extensively about music here before; whether the genius of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique symphony, or the ferocity of some new death metal album, or even the gothically tragic undertones of The Cure’s Disintegration, it should come as no surprise to anyone that music is an enormous part of my life.

What not everyone knows, however, is that my actual degree is in classical music composition. That’s right – my highest level of education revolves around scores, sheet music, appoggiaturas and cadenzas, and whilst I often slip out of the habit for extensive periods of time, it’s something I’ve never really forgotten, or let go of.

Way, way back in 2004 I started work on this project that I called a ‘heavy-metal symphony’. Not a symphony in terms of orchestration – there are no great brass swells or roaring timpanis – but a symphony in terms of structure: a four-movement album which each movement being a distinct movement within the whole. The opening movement in sonata form, the second movement a slow dirge, the third a scherzo and trio, and the fourth a twisted rondo … so on and so forth.

I actually ended up completing (to a fair amount of satisfaction) the third movement, which was a submitted as part of my dissertation. The second, slow movement followed to completion, but I never quite got around to finishing off the first movement, and never even started the last.

Then I ended up getting caught up in the day-to-day banality of life, and abandoned this project for over fifteen years. I moved countries, wrote a book, wrote another book, wrote a third book that was completely different from the first ones … life took over.

But in the back of my mind, I always wanted to return to this project. In particular, I wanted to remaster it in genuine production software, rather than through the terrible synth sounds built into my computer. I wanted to finish the first movement, write out the fourth, and have a full, complete album to show for myself.

The problem is that I don’t know how to produce music. I’m exceptionally good at putting notes one after the other, but production is a beast entirely unto itself. The best composition in the world will still sound terrible with poor production, and as pop music so often proves, good production can make an otherwise terrible song sound amazing.

It’s funny, too, because I’ve just come off the back of writing a complete album to accompany my alter-ego’s work-in-progress, The Broken, an upcoming novel about a band caught up in tragedy and despair. I wanted to know what their music sounded like, so I wrote eleven tracks which now form their ‘debut’ album. The thing here is that I didn’t strictly compose these songs; I never used notation software, didn’t write it out in score – i just recorded it into Logic Pro X as a songwriter.

Songwriting, you see, is yet another aspect of the musical creation process; as opposed to composing, where every note, every chord, every harmony and melody is meticulously thought and planned out, writing a song is a more fluid, organic process; you come up with an idea – a riff, a vocal line, a chord progression – and basically stitch these disparate pieces together into a coherent song. The lyrics are forefront, even if they don’t come first; the rest of the instruments are backing to the singing.

I think that my background in composition has helped (to an extent) with songwriting, but my ability to produce the music into something even remotely listenable has been stretched and taxed beyond my wildest imaginations. I’ve learned more about music production in the past six months than I knew in the previous rest of my life, and I’m only just beginning to grasp the audio engineering concepts required to get the kinds of sounds I’m looking for. Guitar amp and pedal effects mystify me in particular; I can hear in my head the exact sound I’m going for, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out how to get there!

Still, it’s been a fun ride, and I look forward to continuing to better my skills. Despite it all, it’s a lot of fun to write music (in any capacity), and the recording/engineering part is just another aspect to be learned. Still, I can’t help feeling like the old adage, cheap, fast, good – pick two – only for composing, songwriting and production. Maybe there’s a way to be good at all three, but boy is it a steep hill!