Write Smarter, Not Harder: Bro. Andy Paens the Praise of Evernote


My fourteenth semester at Visible Music College has concluded, and I’d like to roll out the time to plan and plot. However, a two-year-old bio-terrorist in the twins’ class brought a lice outbreak to their classroom, and now I’m just trying to keep cheese on the cracker.

But. On to this week’s lesson and musings. I know you’re excited.


Today I’m going to show you how the organizational process I use to write and save songs.
It’s crucial to write down and record every song I write. I audition scores of scallawags for the college’s Songwriting Division who simply rely on their own memory devices to recall all the songs they’ve written. Let’s give our brains a break. Our minds feel relaxed and open to new sources of information and inspiration when they feel they don’t have to “hold” on to previous data. That’s basically the scuttlebutt on one of the primary ideas behind Morning Pages.

Up until about three years ago, I’d transcribe chord charts in Word/Pages/Finale and save them in a “Music” folder within Documents on my laptop’s hard drive. Inside that there would be different folders corresponding to a bevy of bands, projects, or years (if they were songs-without-a-home). This helped with organization as far as archival, but not helpful when it came to quickly finding something I was looking for, or juggling in-progress ideas. As I normally work on two or more songs at a time, this weakness was crucial to fix. Also, trying to access the songs anywhere besides my hard drive was a drag. I’d need to print off on paper or email a file to myself in order to open it on my phone (where I do most of my work on-the-go).

Next, I’d sing musical ideas into the VoiceNotes app in iOS, or just throw down a rough take in GarageBand. As far as  on-the-go lyrical ideas, I’d use an iOS note feature like MagicPad, since it had more text editing features than Notes, (although the Notes feature of syncing-with-iCloud is really attractive).

I needed ONE primary source to aggregate all my inspirations, works-in-progress, and finished ideas. Not countless computer folders that I can only access on my Mac, not three different was of recording. Not even two. ONE.


ENTER: EVERNOTE
I’ll forever sing the praises of Evernote. All my files live in the cloud, so I never lose information whenever my computer or phone crashes, AND I don’t need to worry about re-copying material across multiple devices. Basically, you create documents called “Notes” that you can put in formatted text, photos, audio, etc. It is not limited by page breaks or tight margins, so I feel like I’m writing on a giant whiteboard, not a typewriter sheet. For some reason, that stimulates the ol’ Newton noggin. In fact, I write all of these blog entries in Evernote, then once edited, I upload them to the WordPress interface.


WORKCHAT
Since Evernote’s WorkChat feature has been added, the possibility of collaborative songwriting efforts right in the program are realized. I’ve used it a couple of times in teaching songwriting lessons, but not yet in something that I’ve worked on with somebody. (If you want to collab on something, email me!) The only thing I feel WorkChat is missing is a markup history, ala  GoogleDocs, that way I could follow who made which changes. It definitely decreases the amount of steps needed to share a saved file between people, whether it is a song chart or a saved web article.

NOTEBOOKS
On the organization/archival front, Evernote lets you create “Notebooks” that contain notes on a certain subject. For the topic of “Songwriting”, I actually have three: Songwriting Tips, Songwriting Ideas, and plain ol’ Songwriting, where I have works-in-progress and completed songs. Evernote’s tagging feature helps me further organize the minutia.
Here’s a simple songwriting workflow.

Sample Songwriting Workflow


Full disclosure: when I’m in a pinch, (aka driving) I’ll still open up iOS voice notes and quickly throw an idea in there, but if I can focus long enough, I depend fully on Evernote.

I’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to the capabilities of the program, but I wanted to simply outline the way I use it for my songwriting workflow. I’ve chosen Evernote because hey, you can’t beat free, but ultimately I would encourage you to find some method that helps you 1. Record and archive every idea

Watching: Whiplash
Listening: The Delivery Man – Elvis Costello
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How Hoarding Can Help Your Songwriting/Writing

I tell people my twins are “thirty-three months old” because, duh, it’s hilarious to watch people’s faces while creating living satire. Maybe I’m getting older and suddenly I’ve devolved to that 8th grade history teacher that quotes Simpsons references just for their own amusement. Well my thirty-three-month-old/two-year-old daughter bojangles behind the whole fam when we take walks. She’ll find rocks, dandelions, forgotten lego pieces, and teeth from drifters she’s murdered and tries to bundle them all in her hands and pockets (with cumbersome success). My wife says this is a typical girl phenomenon called “collecting”.
I call it “hoarding”.
I walked into her room the other day and next to her My Little Pony collection there were five stacks of yellowed newspapers yay-high, a pile of old phone books, and 8 black trash bags full of McDonald’s-limited-edition Beanie Babies. Gotta get that toddler an intervention.


When it comes to songwriting/writing how can it be to our advantage to collect and hoard? The more you have, the more you have to draw from. Don’t sit there and try to brainstorm ex nihilo. We descend from the Information Age and with the world’s collected knowledge at our fingertips, our songs and prose should be savagely different than the last couple of centuries.

I’ve been accumulating ideas for years, My Evernote is Smaug’s horde, huffing around as a dragon amongst seas of gold doubloons. Where do these ideas come from? This list about sums it up. I read once that every quarter or so we should go through our backlog of ideas to see if our psyche can make the coveted connections that we call “inspiration”.
I did this very thing recently. So I I had an original (failed) song draft of that was more a noir crime story, but the plot wasn’t compelling enough. I re-wrote with aggression, digging into my steamer trunk of “good” and “inspired” ideas, dumping as much as I could into one song. I guess it was an event of spring cleaning. The song evolved into more of an impressionistic owl pellet of ideas. You ever have to dissect one of those in grade school? We did in 6th grade in northern-lower-peninsula Michigan. The owls eat mice, rats, and bowls, digest the usable proteins and cough up the unusable bones and hair in a compressed pellet. Yes, another dissection story. My mind seems to absorb inspiration and ideas over time and eventually combine them into an owl pellet of finished work.

Here is the result:

Superbowl Sunday
It was this Superbowl Sunday
I took a jawbone of an ass
I went in to the house of jackals
Took a deep breath of laughing gas
Walking through a thicket of antlers
I thought I smelled somebody telling truth
Then you flashed your Cold War glamour
And said “We’ve been expecting you”
I was fumblin’ thru the wreckage
Thought ’bout Jesus and his dad
It was last Super Bowl sunday
The best that I ever had
It was this Super Bowl sunday
“Dharma bummed” in your parlance
You were my burnside companion
A friend of friends of friends
A man born under hunches
I fought up into welterweight
Though I retired in the Winner’s Circle
But caught the Legionnaire’s Disease
Autopsy showed no foul play
But I know something had
On last Superbowl Sunday
With Jesus and his dad
I’ve continued cleaning out my personal inspiration horde/hook book because I feel like my mind has become stagnant. My boat is waist-high in grouper, why would I need to cast my nets overboard? I’ll put my mind in a place of need for more, and my subconscious should begin collecting the items I need for me to write down in Evernote. Why Evernote, you say? Well, that is a post for a different day…

Does anyone know of any studies done on the the fact-gathering/holding phenomenon that our brains have?


Listening: The Descendents – Everything Sucks
Reading: The Voice of the Heart, Chip Dodd
Watching: Netflix’s Bloodlines