February Madness

Today marks the beginning of another Song-A-Day challenge. This will be my fourth year participating, and it has been a rewarding and educational experience in so many ways:

  • My studio chops have gotten much better and faster.
  • Songs and mixes aren’t as precious as they once were.
  • “Failures” bother me far less (and aren’t always failures).
  • I’ve learned how to pivot, sometimes radically, when an idea isn’t working.
  • Other people’s processes have influenced mine, but also made me more confident that my process is my process, and it’s not wrong.
  • My self-confidence has grown.
  • Fear of sharing my music is largely gone.

Those are the things foremost in my mind. As with physical exercise, there are many other secondary benefits beyond the immediate and obvious.

Ray Toler - Song-A-Day 2016
Smiling because he doesn’t know what’s coming.

In 2016, I didn’t know what I’d be capable of, and was quite nervous about sharing my music with the group – there are a lot of artists whose work I hold in extremely high regard. It was also a time of personal stress and unhappiness. Still, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had more to say than I thought. The entire process is at least partially responsible for me resigning from my job, as I did more targeted introspection over the course of the month. I also learned not only to be silly, but to risk sharing that silliness with others.

Ray Toler - Song-A-Day 2017
The Good Land

It was clear that things had changed in 2017. I had begun my professional sabbatical and felt even more free to experiment. When I listen to that year’s output, I can hear myself relaxing more and more. Sadly, my grandmother passed away near the end of the month, bringing things to a somber close, but I’m still quite happy with many of the tracks from that year. During the wrap-up gathering, I was challenged by Derek Greenberg, one of the other participants to try different styles and genres in 2018, especially if it was something I was uncomfortable or unfamiliar with. 

Over the course of 2017, I would release my first album, conceptualize a second, space-themed album comprised almost entirely of tracks composed during Song-A-Day, and begin working on a video game soundtrack. 

Ray Toler - Song-A-Day 2018
Three Amigos!

Tragically, I also lost my youngest brother, Bryan, to cancer at the end of 2017. That loss would incorporate itself into much of what I wrote for Song-A-Day 2018, but not as overtly, or as often as I had expected. Maybe things were too new and raw. I was thankful, however, for the outlet.

In addition to adhering to Derek’s challenge, I gave myself additional rules that I would never write in the same style twice, I would increase my use of guitar and vocals, and that I would avoid my normal and comfortable compositional habits. For the most part, it was a successful experiment, and it was the first month where I made it all the way to 28 recordings.

Ray Toler - Song-A-Day 2019
Shapes from other shapes.

So here we are in 2019. I’m a bit nervous because I have zero idea what’s going to happen. In previous years, there were at least some ideas running around in my brain that I could rely on if inspiration didn’t come. Last year, I exhausted them on the first two days: one song for my brother, the other for my jerk neighbor who did a hit and run on my garage a week or two prior.

This year, I’m starting with absolutely nothing. And I haven’t decided if there will be any self-imposed constraints or rules. It will truly be a seat-of-the-pants month.

Come along for the ride! I’ll be posting an accompanying article on this blog for each song. I tend to write in the evenings, and I’m still working on the video game soundtrack, so they may show up a day or two late. Now, off to the studio…

First up: February 1 – Run, Run, Run

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