Now that you’re here…

This is the first post on this blog, which will tell the stories behind each of my songs and compositions. Allow me to introduce myself:

My artist’s name, Cōdae, sounds mysterious and the kind of hipster-ish, right? And the look of this site, as well as my page on SoundCloud, is mod and slick, right? But what you’re looking at is the music blog of someone who is well past middle age. You could call this entire thing a Bucket List Project because why else would someone my age start doing digital music composition and production? Well, the answer is that at this stage in every person’s life, they start looking at the future and wondering, what else is there? Is this it? Is this all I am capable of?

So did I, though the whole thing was hastened by the COVID pandemic lockdowns. You can spend a lot of time sitting by yourself and doing navel-gazing. Unfortunately, just sitting and thinking does not bring any real answers. I needed a kick up the butt.

“Cōdae” drawn in the style of Jamie Hewlett

Reality strikes again

I woke up one day and looked in the mirror and realized that I looked old, I certainly felt old. I had been working as a dependent contractor doing pretty god-damned awful work under very stressful conditions, but it paid. It did not pay well. But it paid. Lots and lots and lots of hours of grinding away at pointless, forgettable, meaningless projects that brought in lots of hourly dollars. So there was that. But I did not know whether I was so grateful for the money that I could keep trying to get more of the same work. Something in me said: enough already.

It really was soul-destroying, if there are things like souls.

I realized that, being what I am, the only things that make me happy and make me feel like I have worth (to quote the orc in one of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels) is to do something creative. I have had a book blog for more than ten years, where I publish my reviews of books and meanderings about literature. I have written quite a lot of poems and continue to write more every so often. I am quite good at painting, so I’m told. But even so, none of those things keep my mind busy. They are not hard to do anymore.

An existential crisis

I asked myself, what else is there?

Is there nothing to look forward to, to discover, to learn?

Is there nothing beautiful or interesting I can make?

When I drop dead, what will I leave behind me?

These questions gave me sleepless nights.

The solution: a DAW

The answer came thanks to the Digital Music Workstation (DAW), GarageBand, that had been on my iMacs for years, but that I’d never used. And some interesting Google Doodles. Long story short, one day in late 2020, bored out of my tree, I opened up GarageBand and pasted in a 7-note MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) of machine-generated J.S. Bach-type sounds, to see what would happen.

That was the Kick-Up-The-Butt Moment.

And that one thing thing led to another, and here we are!

After 18 months: 23 compositions, 25 mastered tracks, 4 completed albums, 1 more in the works for mixing and mastering, another one in the making, about two-and-a-half hours worth of listening. A process. A portfolio. Things that are nice to listen to – even beautiful in parts (I think).

Starting from zero

When I started this I did not know a thing about music other than that I liked it and could remember a lifetime worth of songs and compositions in every genre. I am not exaggerating. Or as they say, humble-bragging. I really didn’t know the first thing about music theory. As a child, my father and grandmother both tried to teach me to play the piano and learn to read music and they failed because I was stubborn and lazy. I learned to play a little bit by ear – only in G, mostly the right hand. I think I can keep a tune. I love singing along but I do not have a good voice. But that’s about it in terms of skills.

But I knew nothing. Nada. Zilch. I had no words.

Suddenly the software was full of terms I had no idea about – I had to learn music theory. I first had to figure out that there was a thing called music theory! I enrolled in the Open University and took the same Music Theory 101 course three times, because music is a lot about numbers and I’m practically dyslexic when it comes to numbers. I learned from scratch – what are the keys on the piano, notes, a bar, a beat, a scale, what is middle C, major, minor, chords, pitch, tempo, etc. And all the terms in GarageBand, which I eventually dropped in favour of its big brother, Logic Pro.

Apart from the software, hardware and music theory, there was my complete lack of knowledge about the industry but worse than that, my complete lack of a sense of aesthetics, of taste, of suitable expression. If I managed to make something in Logic, I would think it is marvellous, just because it existed, but in fact it sucked. Badly. It was ugly. I was incompetent.

I realized that. I have lied to myself very often in my life. I am a fine example of someone who is often in denial. This time I just had to be honest and face facts: My. Skills. Sucked. Big. Time.

It was hard to learn. My husband basically let me get on with it, while probably thinking I had lost my marbles, but, bless him, he only ever shows me encouragement and optimism. Basically, he is keeping me housed and fed (and loved and needed) because I have no money coming in now and have never actually had a much of it. I would be the embodiment of a Starving Artist if it were not for him.

It is just him and me in this absurd situation. I am a loner, an introvert. I am “The Cat that Walks by Herself”, to misquote Rudyard Kipling. I do not like people, except for my husband and a handful of individuals, and I prefer to have nothing to do with the rest of humanity. People freak me out and dealing with them is very bad for my nerves. I had to figure things out for myself. So why this page? Why publish the music? Why go public?

I got some help

One day, I was so frustrated by not knowing what I was doing wrong, or even whether I was doing something wrong, that I sought out a sound engineer on the Internet to do some diagnosing and doctoring. I found someone, took a deep breath and emailed him. His name is Luke Garfield, he’s Australian, and his studio is Banana Llama Studios. He did more than doctoring. He sent me back a mixed and mastered file that was my mangled, messed-up, aesthetically doubtful song (I call them songs but they have no lyrics or vocals) – but now it sounded like an actual thing you could hear on Youtube or Soundcloud.

He made it real. He found something good in it and amped that up. He fixed the horrible mistakes. He understood what I meant! I admit that the first time I heard a mixed song from him, I was floored. It was a wonder. I suddenly realized that perhaps in me there was one final thing I could do and make – music. The last part of my life suddenly did not seem to be so pointless.

From then on, every day, it was another adventure into music: trying out an idea, expressing a memory or a feeling, testing a sound, practicing an approach, investigating a genre. Learning, learning, learning, learning. Start with a blank project – create one note, then another, and another, etc. One track, two tracks, three tracks. One instrument, then another, then another. Rinse and repeat. All day, every day. (Only stopping to cook and clean and run errands.) It takes a lot of time when you screw up just about every project numerous times, and have to trash the entire thing and try again.

I enrolled in the Masterclass courses online and sat there like an idiot trying to understand experts like Deadmau5, Armin van Buuren, Carlos Santana, Christina Aguilera and St. Vincent. I don’t know if other attendees do this but I read every word in their course manuals and actually got something useful out of every one, even if it was only to learn that I’m not crazy and other people have the same problems that I have.

Every time I learned something new, realized something or finally put two and two together, I made another song.

It’s been very, very messy

Every thing I’ve produced has a long story behind it. It’s no use pretending that it all came out perfectly with no complications. They sound professional in the end thanks to people like Luke. But in every case it was a long and messy process. Ultimately, a joyful, satisfying process, but by no means clean or efficient. Lordy no. I can see this when I look at the saved projects on my Mac – ten, twenty, more versions, over months, of the same thing. Some so corrupted they were unsalvageable. But voilá! Here we are!

One by one, more or less at a rate of one per week, I’ll be telling the stories of the songs I’ve made on this site.

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