Flow Vs. Focus – or – directed flow vs. blocking

Aaron J. Trumm

I’ve been taking an online course about writing music for licensing – Cathy Heller’s “Six Figure Songwriting”. My intention is to find a rhythm writing and producing songs (my songs) that really hit the mark and are what music directors and licensing agents need. Honestly the class (which consists of a easily managed set of videos and then a year of interacting with a private Facebook group and doing Q&As and Webinars with the class leader and her business partner) has been amazing thus far, and completely confronting and difficult, as I work and struggle to find the way to make art that hits the points that music directors need hit, and still stay authentic to not only myself, but my ACT – and/or BRAND. I got into a conversation in the Facebook group, and just a few minutes ago, wrote at length in response to a comment, and I decided I wanted to share what I said on here.

Out of respect for my classmate’s privacy I won’t post their comments first, but they were insightful, and as I tried to communicate my thoughts, one guy was reading what I said as a clamping down on the creative flow, and/or a difficult balancing act – trying to compartmentalize the creative flow or have separate creative outputs, and such. Indeed, I could see where what I said sounded that way, and it struck me how easy it is to clamp down your creative output when you’re trying to learn to DIRECT it – even when you’re just TALKING about it. He apologized about the length of his quite insightful commentary, and that’s where we come in here – my commentary went like this (please note, this is NOT an argument – I genuinely learned from my classmates’ comments, and it led me to this stuff:

My Comments

No worries about length! Look at my long diatribes! I really appreciate the actual discussion here, because we can talk about technique til the cows come home, but eventually this is ART, which means we gotta go deep, because our egos are involved, so growing as artists is also about growing as people. So I really appreciate people engaging in a real conversation with me. 🙂

It’s funny because you read what I was saying as putting a block on the creative flow and I meant the exact OPPOSITE. You said it seemed like I was putting rules on, and actually I was but what I was trying to get at is – there doesn’t necessarily need to be that much rigidity in it. I can see where my long diatribe read that way though, ’cause I said “can’t” like three times – so my intent was turning over on itself as I tried to work out the logic!

The game is sort of both I guess, and I actually don’t mean trying to have a separate artistic output – I mean having a singular artistic flow – “act” if you will, wherein you’re hitting these points on some songs and not cutting yourself off from songs that maybe don’t hit all the points.

I think the best way to describe what I mean is with examples. Let’s say tomorrow I wake up and BAM this great love song springs to mind. It fits my singing style and I even already have tracks that would work beautifully. Maybe it’s upbeat and quirky, but this song is a LOVE song, it’s a pop song – it’s for fans and radio and it’s so specific that I wouldn’t even pitch it to a licensing agent. Do I stop that flow because it won’t be 100% licensable? No way man! Do I try to twist it into something less specific? Maybe…but maybe not. Maybe I let it be a love song and move on to a new song for licensing.

On the flip side, let’s say I have a great idea for a really licensable track – I’ve got some quirky rhythms in mind, I’ve got a screamin guitar loop, and these cool ass lyrics about – uhm – getting your color back *grin*. I sit down to map out production and I think “Ok it would work really nice to do this cutsey – ukelele, and a maybe female vocalist….” wait. at that point I realize I could also make this track equally cool and licensable using my voice, maybe (in my case) a piano – similar rhythms, but closer to my “act”. I could go either way, but it probably makes more sense to keep it within my “act”‘s wheelhouse. That way when I go to pitch this, there’s a whole bunch of history and other songs of that act. I probably have 5 others like it in the pitch, it’s a lot better pitch (pitch as in sales, not notes). Whereas if I just say “hey let me hire this woman off the street because it’d be cool to have a female lead” – what do I have there? I have ONE track in that vein. That’s not a great pitch – and from a more traditional music marketing standpoint, I can tell you from experience, that that lone track with no active act behind it is completely un-monetizable. In fact – even a whole entire record with no active act isn’t monetizable in that realm. Boy have I made that mistake more than once! lol

So the point that I was getting to is really that I was making a mistake in thinking that if I had a romantic love song in me, or maybe a political message, or whatever – that I had to somehow force that part of me into a “licensable” track. That’s not flow at all. Instead, I realized, let yourself do your stuff. Then, learn how to write for the licensing world, knowing what’s needed. It’s just basically letting yourself have a bigger range. The brainstorming process, for example, is a way to DIRECT that creative energy, which, ultimately IS about control – but it’s directed flow rather than boxing in.

Someone might think “I write dark brooding songs” and think they have no way to be licensable but there’s nothing that says that same artist can’t have a happy song. Or a song about pie. And each song holds its own place and has its own purpose. A given song doesn’t have to do everything, and having RANGE like that, while still maintaining a kind of focus of identity is really the hallmark of a professional.

An example – as a slam poet (I was a professional), I had a given style, and it wasn’t comedy, but there was still room for comedic work in my repertoire, and there were a range of different poems in my rep that served different functional purposes (love poem, political poem, spiritual poem, etc). In slam, EVERYTHING is written for the audience, so although there was no lack of ME in there, the entire creative flow was always directed. That gave me enough range to adjust during competition, or to create vibrant, varietous live sets, but none of it was completely off track from my basic core identity. It could all be packaged into my act.

I think in a purely creative sense, authenticity doesn’t have to be about fitting ANYTHING about what you’ve done in the past or might do in the future, or your act or ANYTHING. From that point of view, flow is just letting ANYTHING you think of come forth, and not blocking it (and of course, you cannot improv without that much freedom of flow).

But this is music BUSINESS, and from my point of view, that’s gonna change how the flow works, and that’s ok. It comes back to what [classmate name censored] said, which is you’re not writing for yourself as much as for the client. But I’m adding to that a wider view of your BRAND, and that as you look forward not only to how your pitch will look, but to the future of your brand, you starting looking how you can find the sweet spot where you’re writing for POTENTIAL clients and also for your BRAND, neither one of which is “you”, so it’s at this point, never about your own satisfaction, but then again, it will be, because we’re artists, and flow is always satisfying, and moving other people is always satisfying.

Ok – so – yeah. That may be my longest Facebook post ever too! 🙂 Thanks for reading, if you did! lol

And Some Other Thoughts

And that’s what I had to say there. Writing for a purpose is antithetical to the rebel heart of an artist, but it is directed flow that makes most great art, and I really have no problem with writing for the needs of clients or for what may cause money to made, because I can’t cause someone to spend money on my art without touching and moving them, and THAT’S ultimately the goal. And no, I really have never valued the process for the gratification it gives me. The process is sometimes really gratifying and fun, and sometimes an incredible ugly frustrating grind. My gratification comes when the art is received and makes some impact in another person’s world.

Oh and hey – put a comment, tell me what you think! 🙂  You can contact me too if you want.

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