The 3 Benefits of Exercise on Creativity

 

Exercise is great. It’s one of the most natural things the human body is built to do. But our work-lives in the 21st century don’t often encourage it or leave much time for it. It takes effort. It also (particularly if you live in the UK) can involve getting very wet and muddy. It’s something that is very easy to come up with an excuse not to do. But it’s always worth doing.

It can feel exclusive, like everyone else finds it really easy and is good at it naturally. If you’re not particularly comfortable with your appearance or a certain part of your body, it can feel potentially embarrassing. At school I despised cross-country; it felt pointless because there was no ball to chase, I got breathless really quickly and it was humiliating as the faster people started lapping me even though we were only running round the school fields 3 times. But now I really look forward to a run or a long walk as something that makes me feel great, the more I did it over the years, the easier it got.

Although some people do seem to be able to spring out of bed with their Nikes on already under their slippers, for me and many others it’s something that takes a lot of will-power and effort to do. But the more you exercise, the more you enjoy the gains it brings you and subsequently, life in general is better and easier then when you’re not exercising. Without jumping face first into a snake-pit of hungry clichés, in the immortal words of The New Radicals – YOU ONLY GET WHAT YOU GIVE.

Fitting it into a schedule can be really difficult as well. But it will become a highly-valued part of your daily/weekly routine once you manage it. The most important thing is finding what activities work for you. It needs to be something sustainable and enjoyable. It’s easy to dive head-first into a new fitness class or healthy routine, only to let it slip after 3 weeks because you’re not enjoying it or you can’t justify it time-wise. But it only takes a bit of effort and creative thinking to make it part of your routine and soon you won’t want to miss it.

Personally I find a mix of running and walking, a regular swim, and the occasional game of football or golf suits me pretty well. I don’t go to the gym anymore as it doesn’t suit what I want to achieve at the moment and it can be pretty expensive if you’re not making good use of it. The great thing about running is all you need is a pair of good shoes, some shorts and a t-shirt and you can do it pretty much anywhere, also it’s completely free!

But it doesn’t matter what you do, it could be anything from a fast walk/cycle back and forth from work, a game of netball in the evening, or Zumba or circuit training on a Sunday morning. As long as you do some form of intensive exercise at regular intervals, you will notice dramatic improvements in your mental and physical health.

It’s particularly relevant if your day-to-day routine doesn’t involve a lot of movement. A lot of creative freelancers (myself included) will mainly work from a desk (although mine involves instruments and mixing desks, I’m still sat down for the majority of the time) and projects with fast turnaround times can demand hours of un-broken concentration and focus, without ever really moving very far apart from for the occasional cup of tea, stroke of the cat and scan of the BBC football pages!

Anyone who spends a lot of their day sitting down, whether at a desk writing music or designing artwork, doing admin in an office or driving a taxi will know the various slumps and dips in energy and the various physical aches and pains that will hit you at different points in the day.

Not only can you feel tired, fidgety or tetchy but it can also be very hard to stay calm and focussed mentally. Inevitably, your efficiency is affected and it can be very difficult to be creative and enthusiastic when your lower back seems to be bearing you an unholy grudge and your brain feels like it’s already put on its Batman pyjamas and climbed into bed even though it’s only 3.13PM.

With communication and the world of business being as quick as it is in the 21st century it’s also very easy to fall into a mind-set of feeling like you always need to be working. It can be tempting to try and improve your work efficiency and success by always being “on” – Trying to develop new ideas in any down time and always being contactable for all of the 101,080 minutes that we get each week. (Thought that was more interesting than writing 24/7!)

But exercise can be a massive help to all those issues. Here’s the big three reasons why getting out there and getting a bit sweaty can make such a difference to the our creativity and productivity –

  • It gives you more energy and makes you feel better physically

It can be very tempting to give an excuse on why not to do some exercise. In my experience, most minor niggles and injuries actually disappear as soon as you start exercising and the body loosens up. People are generally more ill, lethargic and have more complaints of minor strains and pains the less exercise they do. So don’t let “feeling tired” be a reason to not start in the first place. Once you have finished exercise your body will feel great. You’ll feel stronger, leaner and looser and it should give you more confidence in your appearance. You’ll be able to sit at your desk and feel comfortable and relaxed all day rather than tense and fidgety, meaning you’ll get a load more work done and don’t need so many breaks for coffee, chocolate or other short-term pick me ups which actually can make you feel worse as soon as their superficial effects have worn off.

  • It gives you more energy and makes you feel calmer and more organised mentally

When your mind feels like each thought is having to fight through a mile of sludge just to be heard, a bit of physical activity can feel like giving those poor, over-worked synapses a thoroughly good spring clean and de-clutter. Turning that black treacle into sparkling clear mountain spring water!

A period of reasonably intense exercise which raises the heart-rate and subsequently brings more oxygen to the brain, can work wonders for achieving clarity and calmness of mind. It will give you a more positive outlook for the day and get rid of all that clutter that can fill our brains by trying to keep up with Emails, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, your Gran’s opinions on UKIP etc.

Also as welcome bonus, it also means you can also enjoy a treat or a snack without feeling like you’re getting increasingly unhealthy and falling into a downward spiral of ever increasing lethargy and low-self-esteem that only that extra slice of cake can get you out of!

  • It can spark new creative ideas and strategies

If you find yourself metaphorically (or occasionally literally) banging your head against your keyboard trying to work out that final verse for the song or scene for that script, a burst of exercise can suddenly spark the little moment of inspiration that spending hours stuck at your desk would never have triggered. Physical activity releases a number of hormones, including endorphins, which not only make you feel great, but also give your thoughts a whole new energy and positivity, enabling you to look at creative situations from a new angle and with a fresh outlook. It can re-invigorate interest in an old idea which you’d never been able to finish or can give you that final push over the line on a project with an impending dead-line.

 

So you can feel better, be more productive, be more confident and find work enjoyable and invigorating rather than tiring and stress-full, all just be building a little bit of regular exercise in to your routine. Hope that’s helpful, and let me know your own stories of how exercise has helped your creativity!

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Writing music for games and apps

Recently I’ve been doing a lot more work for games and app developers creating in-game music, menu music and various sound FX. It’s been really enjoyable. Each game throws up a different challenge, as they vary so widely in where they are set and what the music needs to convey. Topics and settings so far have varied from Africa, tanks & monsters to running, fantasy and dragons. So each time you have to turn your hand to a different style and use different musical skills and sounds to adapt to the genres.

I’ve also been doing a lot of custom songwriting for people, writing and recording songs for them for a special event or to give to their partner to commemorate an anniversary or something similarly important to them. This has been great as it involves writing a lyrics very specific to that person and really nailing the style that they have asked for, while also making sure the song is catchy and enjoyable to listen to. It’s also been a good exercise to take melody and lyrics snippets that people have already sketched out and fully develop them and record them as a full song. Each brief is very different!

We’ve also just got an upright piano in the new house, so I’m playing a lot more for pleasure than when I just had my keyboard in the studio. I’ve been learning a lot of Elliot Smith and Beatles songs. Both masters of voice leading and structuring chord sequences and using inversions cleverly to imply melody within the harmony of a song. It’s interesting the difference between learning their songs on the guitar and piano. On the piano it’s clearer to see how the chords are related, because if you work out your inversions correctly, you only have to change on or two notes between each chord, whereas on the guitar the chord shapes move around the fretboard more, so it’s harder to relate the chords to one another.

Hopefully the skills that I’m picking up from studying their songs  will seep into my upcoming songwriting work. I’ve already picked up some techniques that Elliot Smith used to create more interesting chords,  he regularly puts the fifth as the root note of the chord which creates some lovely, unexpected movements in the bass which create space for the melody to sit over unexpected roots. He also used a lot of chromatic bass runs and built chords around those movements, which gives the melody a lot of movement as it’s shifting key as it descends/ascends before generally returning to the home key by the end of the progression.

I’ve also learnt how to play the “Cheers” theme on the piano, as tune I’ve always loved, such brilliant harmony in that!

In terms of plugins, I’ve been enjoying using Trillian by Spectrasonics to get some great upriht bass sounds recently, and I’ve also been discovering the U-He Diva, which has some lovely analogue synth sounds modelled from various classic synths from the 70s and 80s.

Been experimenting with the brilliant Valhalla reverb plugins. You can create such cool effects with it really quickly which can totally change a percussive sound and place it somewhere entirely different in the stereo field.  Highly recommended.

Finally I’ve learnt an intersting lesson on Twitter this week. I managed to lose a large amount of  followers with one tweet the other night. I basically said that’s it’s important to always embrace change in creative industries rather than moan about it, as change is inevitable and you should adapt your business model to embrace it, rather than hoping it doesn’t happen. Seems like some people didn’t like that, oh well.

Please get in touch to discuss any upcoming musical projects you would like me to work on, or if you want to discuss that point!

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Busy few months…

It’s been a really busy few months since I completed the Hollyoaks Laters score. It’s been brilliant to have so much work, it just means it’s taken a while to update the website with everything!

My showreels have now been updated as well with the HL music and other projects I’ve worked on over the last few months as well, have a look on the Video page.

Following on from the HL score, I worked on some tracks for EMI/Sony ATV production music which has been a really exciting opportunity. You can hear them now on the Audio page. It’s quite a long process going from idea/brief, through the composition and editing, to the final mixes being ready, but it’s been very enjoyable and I’m really happy with how they turned out. It was great getting the live drums recorded for “Friends” which really added an exciting energy and feel to the track. I’ve had that song idea for a while as a demo, so it’s always really satisfying to take a demo idea to completion as a full song.

They’ve all been specifically designed to work for TV/Film and visual media, an area I feel really comfortable with. It helps knowing how to structure the tracks, making sure the rises/falls and edit points are in the right places and getting a balance between the type of sounds and frequencies that work well on-screen.

I’ve also been working with a few independent app and game developers, creating SFX and music for their releases. It’s been loads of fun adapting my skills and experience from other forms of media to work on these. I was lucky in that the people I’ve been working with have been quite clear in the type of sounds they wanted, and it’s been great digging deep into the sound-design features of Ableton to really manipulate the audio in an original way.

It mainly involves experimenting with stretching/resampling/distorting/reversing/chopping and layering waveforms and sounds and then using lots of automated filters, envelopes, bitcrushers and saturation to colour the grouped audio, whilst making sure the SFX and music carry a clear melodic/harmonic theme which makes sense across the different parts of the app.  You can hear some examples of the main musical themes I’ve been doing for the apps on the Audio page as well.

I’ve also been enjoying doing some mixing and mastering for other artists and bands, which is refreshing because it involves collaboration (a valuable change when you spend a lot of time composing on your own on short deadlines!) and tests your skills in terms of adapting your knowledge of plugins and production processes to other people’s recordings.

Talking of plugins, recently I’ve been really impressed with Izotope Trash. The saturation is really warm and easy to customise, and works well on synths/drums/vocals or even as a slight binding distortion on the master bus. I’ve also been using Izotope RX3 to get rid of some pops on some synth tracks that I’ve been having problems with for ages, and have been really impressed with the speed with which you can put together string parts using Cinematic Strings 2.0 as well. It’s incredible the sounds that modern media composers have at their disposal, if you imagine a sound, you can normally make it with a bit of effort!

I’ve been listening to a lot new music as well recently, been particularly enjoying Mogwai – Rave Tapes, Olafur Arnalds – Broadchurch and the new albums by Bombay Bicycle Club, Chvrches,Warpaint and Daughter.

I’ve got loads of exciting work coming up in the next few months,and I’m really looking forward to the rest of 2014, please get in touch if you want to discuss any music/sound design that you need for an upcoming project!

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Scored Music For Hollyoaks Laters 2013

Over the last couple of months I’ve been lucky enough to have worked on writing music for an entire story-line for the upcoming Hollyoaks Laters which broadcast on E4 every night from 22:00 till 23:00 next week (7th-11th October.)

I’ll put some clips of the work up on my videos page and show-reel once it’s transmitted.

The story I wrote for involves some of the teen characters getting into all sorts of trouble in an isolated house in the woods.

The producer and directors wanted a tense, scary score with lots of atmosphere that developed and grew as the story became darker.

When I first got the scripts through I started putting together a palette of sounds and effects that I thought might might be effective in starting to build the main body of the pieces.

I started manipulating a lot of samples of sheet metal and industrial sounds with some distortions (particularly running them through Guitar Rig and Camel Phat)  and chopping them up and automating their pitch in Ableton, until I got some sounds with a strong attack but which had a eerie, resonating harmony to them.

I also created some high-pitched note bending noises with lots of feedback using an ebow and my guitar.

Once I had initial pictures, I spent a while at the keyboard, trying different chord sequences and melodies using a piano that I ran through some heavy distortion and amp sims to give it some nice crunch and resonance. Once I had found a central theme, I started putting it to picture, mainly deciding where you should here the full melody and chords and where I should just drop hint.

After that I worked on finding some drum sounds for a rhythm track and again, after running through some light distortion I managed to place it neatly under the piano.

I played around a lot with automating tempo shifts within scenes, so that as the action kicked in the tempo of the score shifts surprisingly and raises the tension for the viewer.

As I started to recieve picture changes and notes towards the end of the process, I added some modulation to some of the more drone-like sounds I was using to create some movement at crucial moments and also created some risers and hits from industrial samples and white noise that shift around the stereo field before landing in the middle for the hit.

For the final edit there are about 23 cues that have being used I think, some in episode 3, but mainly in 4 and 5 (Thursday’s and Friday’s episodes) when the action really steps up.

I really enjoyed working to picture and with so much great material, I hope you enjoy it and let me know if you have any thoughts or opinions once you’ve watched it.

Don’t get too scared!

 

 

 

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Website launched and upcoming work

Welcome to the website showcasing all my work for media so far. It’s being a lot of fun designing it with Graham at Army Of Cats, who I’d highly recommend for any branding/web design work and I’m really pleased with how it looks with Nick Bishop’s wonderful photography as well. We got lucky with the weather for the shoot, but he’s made the studio look amazing.  I’ll keep this updated as much as possible with new audio, video and photos as well as news of upcoming projects.

I’ve got a few exciting things coming up, including more composition work for a TV programme that should be going out in October.  I’ll update when I have more info. Check out my new twitter account as well and please share with any friends who may be interested in my work!

Hopefully I’ll keep this page updated with some info on new techniques I’m using to create sounds and music as well, so keep checking back.

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