Interview: Play More Music with Alex Wand's Song a Day for a Month

Amongst performances, recordings, and practice sessions, musicians rarely have the opportunity to showcase artistic thoughts that lack polish. In order to escape the pressures tied to creating "good" songs, brothers and musicians Alex and Paul Wand created Song a Day for a Month as a space for songwriters to turn even the smallest fragments of creative ideas into recorded pieces. The sheer number of recordings released in the first month proved successful. In a single month, the Wands and 26 other musicians produced over 400 songs.

The brothers are beginning their second month of the project today, so we decided to talk to Alex about what inspired the project.

Describe you and your brothers' background in music. What are your musical interests?

From left: brothers Paul and Alex Wand.

From left: brothers Paul and Alex Wand.

 

I'm a composer/songwriter who studied music at University of Michigan and CalArts. I sing and play guitar, sitar and other various stringed instruments and perform in Three Thirds and The Partch Ensemble. I'm also a music arranger for Chromatik. As a songwriter, I often write songs that incorporate storytelling with elements of non-Western music and different tuning systems.

My brother, Paul, is a programmer and musician who plays guitar and piano. He's interested in developing music-making apps for the iPhone and has developed a few such as RGB.  He's also a songwriter with a penchant for transcendental lyrics: i.e. "every single moment is magic, everything is possible and nothing is tragic." He loves funk music. 

What inspired you to create Song a Day for a Month with your brother? 

The idea came after hearing about the story of Woody Guthrie's Columbia River Ballads where, in the 1940's, the US government hired Guthrie to write songs about the hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River. During his visit to the Pacific Northwest, he wrote 26 songs in one month. This got me inspired to challenge my songwriting in a radical way, by writing one song every day for one month. Paul and I developed the website with the intention of creating a community out of people crazy enough to join in the challenge. 

In your first month the project collectively wrote over 400 songs. How did you go about finding collaborators for Song a Day for a Month? 

I invite everyone who I think would be interested. The song a day collaborators are mostly musician friends of mine. Anyone up for the challenge can be a collaborator though. For the first song a day, there were a few people I had never met who heard about the project by word of mouth. 

There seems to be good feedback on each user's profile and people seem interested in other artists' output on the site. How do you feel that Song a Day for a Month successfully bolsters an online community for musicians? And what do you think are the benefits of creating such an environment?

Song a day is an intense experience that all the songwriters share at the same time. This is why there develops such a strong kinship among the collaborators where everyone supports each other by listening and commenting on each other's songs. The fact that there's people listening and responding to your songs is a powerful motivator. I think the community support was an important reason why for the first Song a Day, the quality of the music was a lot higher that anyone had expected.

The type of content on the site is very free-form and doesn't adhere to any strict requirements on song composition. How do you feel having such an eclectic variety of production is important for Song a Day as an online musician community?

The Song a Day concept of 'song' is really loose so that artists can submit anything from field recordings to instrumental pieces to more traditional songs. The free-form of the content is important because it allows not only songwriters, but also sound artists and composers to be a part of the project. During our first run in January, the variety of the collaborators resulted in a really cool cross-pollination of ideas where, for example, the singer/songwriters influenced the experimental composers and vice versa. Many of artists went out of their comfort zones and explored different genres and compositional approaches i.e. a jazz bassist making spoken-word piece, a pop singer writing a hellacious metal tune, an experimental composer writing a novelty cowboy song.

 A significant part of Song a Day's mission is to challenge an artist's productivity, citing inspiration from Woodie Guthrie and Bob Marley's prolific attitudes towards songwriting. Why do you think such a regimented schedule is useful for musicians and songwriters? 

Song a Day is a way for people to be able to share raw, unfiltered musical ideas without having to worry about them being 'good' or 'bad.' Due to the project's demands, most of what is submitted is created in a matter of hours or even minutes. Hence, no one has the expectation that your song is going to be a masterpiece. This makes people less self-conscious about their songs and less attached to their ideas. A daily schedule of writing material without being attached to it encourages ideas that you might never otherwise have developed. Even if not all of them are great ideas, it is likely that some of them will be. To me, that's what makes this regimented approach to songwriting a really valuable practice. 

Today starts the second round of Song a Day. What do you hope to see from the community in its second iteration?

It would be cool to see more songwriting collaborations this time around. A few song-a-day people have told me that they are going to try out a some collaboration ideas. One if them is to send a basic track, say a rhythm guitar part, to a collaborator for them to overdub something to. I did this for one of the songs last January where I had people record to my arrangement of Happy Birthday for Day 24, my brother's birthday. 

The second round of Song a Day begins today and lasts throughout the month of July. Head over to their site and share your own musical ideas and then keep on practicing with Chromatik!