Our inaugural guest post is a special one. As he’ll explain, Daveit Ferris of Derry, Northern Ireland was inspired by a near-death experience to embark on a mission to write and record 365 songs during 2015. That is an insane goal! So far, he’s on pace, so I asked him to write about the project and some of the challenges he faced with constantly trying to churn out quality material.
As a bonus, he talks us through two of the songs, including one that is an alarming 15 minutes long. Check out his website and follow Daveit’s progress at 365sparks.com.
At 29, I’m nearly at a point where I can say I’ve been writing songs for half of my life. My latest creative project will see me release 365 original songs during the 2015 calendar. The project is called 365 Sparks.
365 Sparks was inspired by a near-death situation in October 2013 that left me with a sickening feeling that I could have shuffled off this mortal coil with many half-done projects still very much asleep on scattered hard drives.
I decided on my hospital bed during recovery that my next project would be grand in scale and that I’d actually complete it from start to finish before dabbling in any other projects.
I’ll admit this totally from the outset; prior to pressing the big red button on day one: I was incredibly nervous about the possibly of falling into a writers block. I didn’t approach the first week with the confidence and gusto that I wish I would have. Alongside the writing component of the project, I’m also the only musician and the producer – so I was wearing many hats and facing a learning curve with each of them on a daily basis. Essentially, I threw myself in at the deep end from the very start and faced two outcomes: sink or swim.
The first few weeks of the project were the most difficult as I struggled to get anything sounding as good as I knew it had to be – both in terms of writing and sonic execution. The positive thing about these testing few weeks was that I got closer and closer every day to better production and to formulating better compositions.
I found that I was a knife that just needed the rust sharpened off and I worked around the clock to tackle every edge. Having to work so hard so consistently brought it out.
My ritual would almost always start around 6am. I was so OCD about my process that I had a checklist pattern to follow every morning that became second nature after awhile. Depending on what type of song I’d write that day, I could be finished the track at 10am / noon or 10pm.
The fact that I almost never left the studio meant that I had to dig deep to find lyrical content. In fact, the lyrical aspect of this entire process was the most difficult by far – I didn’t want to keep writing from the same lyrical place time and time again as it would have severely crippled the music journey for the people following it on a daily basis. With the same token, the lyrical approach was a lot more “free” because I had such a sound universe to storyboard.
In terms of the idea spark, it differed quite a lot. My primary instrument is guitar, so I tend to write a lot on that and then translate to electric guitar if necessary. This is common.
However, once I was in the throes of my project, ideas for songs would come to me as I tried to sleep – something like “song that starts with bass and handclaps” would be all the catalyst I needed the next morning to at least kickstart the process.
I tend to sing to myself whilst going about my day, so I also came up with a lot of songs by merely stumbling into ad-lib gold and trying to mine it as quickly as possible before it vanished. I would estimate that 70% of my songs were intentionally written and the other 30% just seemed to happen all on their own.
Maintaining focus from initial song spark until completion was the mindset I had to work on the most. Up until this point, I’ve been largely a scattered person with a penchant for dropping tools and dancing into new areas at the first opportunity. 365 Sparks refined my focus abilities. Partly due to the love of creation and the work itself and partly due to the thrill of listening back to the completed work in the evening; I managed to declutter the distractions from my life and keep a sharp and healthy focus on this goal.
Having an audio deadline was crucial for the success of my project. Finite time meant that the moments of “messing around with presets” were few and far between and that my entire focus went on getting the skin and bones of a song down before even considering adding any glitter on top.
There’s nothing that will inspire increased productivity than looking at the clock and realising you need to nail a lead vocal and two backing vocals in 30 minutes. Trust me.
All in all, this songwriting challenge is the absolute pinnacle for any writer that wants to sharpen their knives, skill, patience and application. It has been an absolutely life-affirming project and something I’m over the moon to have done.
“Vital Sign” is a song that was written very quickly (after a few glasses of red wine) but took an absolute age to record. I wrote it on an acoustic guitar and the plan was for it to be a simple acoustic song, however, I just didn’t like what the speaker was throwing back as I listened to the final version. I kept the vocal tracks but deleted all the acoustic tracks and decided to start again on a musical level. My next idea was for the track to be electro-pop with lots of weird ambiences, layers and atmospherics. I spent a lot of time building these layers and wound up using perhaps 25/30 different sounds.
Once again, i just wasn’t impressed with the final version. I was being overly sensitive with this song because I knew it had the potential to be a great song and I didn’t want to ruin its chance to shine. I left the studio for a walk and to run a few errands as a way of getting some distance from the song. Upon my return I stumbled on the idea of mixing the acoustic version and the electro version together (and majorly toning down the layers) and thankfully, this was totally what I’d be shooting for all along. It honestly looked like I’d be heading to bed that night without my song complete and in the end it took maybe 8 hours of meddling with just the music in different forms to arrive at the very simple arrangement; but it was totally worth it.
I Sometimes Tapdance with Weather Balloons
A 15-minute song as part of a 365 project? Yes! I often challenge to come up with as many melodies as I can over a set series of chords (in this case; two) just so I can keep exercising my melody muscle. This was one of those occasions. The length was dictated by the amount of melodies I was able to come up with, I assure you it was not my plan to record a song with such a staggered duration. As I wrote a melody, I’d record it using gibberish words over the music and then move onto the next section. Once I had accrued all the melody components that made up the song, the real challenge was to write lyrics for each section.
Now, I’m usually incredibly quick writing my lyrics, but on this day I really struggled on every single section. This wouldn’t have bled too much time from me had this been a normal-length song, but I had 30 verses to cover here! It crossed my mind a few times that I’d given myself too difficult a task to complete until my stubbornness kicked in and coerced me to stay put and just keep putting the energy in. For a while I had convinced myself that I was done as soon as the last lyric was written until I remembered I now had to actually sing each section with these new lyrics! It was a very stressful day especially because I didn’t seem to be on lyrical form, but I truly like what I ended up with.
Follow Daveit’s progress at 365sparks.com.