Mike Propst Blog

Creating music during the pandemic

I suppose I was fortunate, really. My band's drummer, who also wrote maybe 70% of the guitar riffs, finished his PhD and left the country to go work in Switzerland. Writing out that sentence makes me realize he was the really fortunate one. But what I mean is, a lot of my musician friends had to deal with the fact that they couldn't get together during the pandemic. For better or worse, I didn't have a band anymore to worry about. Fortunately, prior to 2020 I'd released about a dozen releases (between digital, CD and cassette) over the past 20 years that featured no other musicians but me. So I started to hit the shed.

I've been a process musician for most of that time. Each project, each release, is the result of a way of working. It comes from being in the experimental world for so long. Now, even when I make something that I find enjoyable to listen to, it's still gonna be made via a specific process. And when I make something with that process, I tend to move on. But that kind of indulgence is tough for someone with kids and a day job. Movement doesn't happen quickly enough, and output is minimal.

So I came up with the plan of forcing myself into the shed once a week, and I decided I wasn't going to come out of the shed until I had a finished song. Talking it out with a friend, I realized this accomplishes a few things:

  1. It opens the throttle on that speed of progress. If you just "play around" once a week for a couple hours, you're not going to get anywhere for a long time. Validating an idea once a week gets you through the ruts and the familiar patterns and into new ideas sooner.
  2. It keeps you from being precious about polish and "finish." The dumb truth of a piece of music or art is that it's finished when you say it is. Bee Thousand is just as "finished" as Dark Side of the Moon, and they're both classics of their space. One was made by a group of guys with infinite time and money, and the other was made by a drunk schoolteacher with kids.
  3. It makes you go with your gut. Maybe if I hadn't been doing this for close to 25 years, I wouldn't feel like the gut was a useful thing. But the gut has become experienced.

I'm currently using this process to create new Various Reasons tunes, always with the further constraint that someday they can be recreated live, but the first work I did with a "live band" style and put onto Bandcamp as Mezzo Cortex.