Songwriter Daveit Ferris has taken on the challenge of writing, performing, and recording a song a day for a year. He calls his project 365 Sparks. While he’s not the only brave or crazy artist to undertake the Everest of songwriting, he’s the best and most consistently good I’ve ever come across. Every song I’ve heard has its own quirky, emotional, fun, dark, sweet, thoughtful, or just-plain-catchy appeal.
I’ve had to write fast in my life – I once had a three-year gig that required me to write three to four songs a week for a TV series. But I got paid for it and I didn’t have to perform it and record it myself, so I feel like a loafer compared to this guy. In any case, I can’t help asking: How does anyone do this? WHY does anyone do this? And what happens after the first 100 or so days?
Instead of just wondering, I decided to ask. And he answered. How he found the time to answer, I don’t know. He’s got songs to write. In case you want to listen while you read, he posts his songs on 365sparks.com and Soundcloud.
1. What did you set out to do with your 365 Sparks project?
Daveit: My goal with 365 Sparks was to try and do something extraordinary that would truly test my skills as a songwriter, musician and producer; in that order. The project itself was inspired by a near-death experience that I went through in October 2013 that made me realise I could have left this earth with hard drives full of hundreds of half-finished projects (songs, poetry books, albums, novel ideas, scripts etc.). I decided on that hospital bed that my next project was going to be A) Grand and B) Completed.
2. Where do your song ideas come from?
Daveit: Songwriting is probably the only passion I have in this life and it’s been that way since I discovered the art when I was around 15/16. I only know how to play instruments because I realised this was essential in my pursuit of writing my own music.
I feel very fortunate that I seem to wake up with a song or an idea in my brain almost every day [or a few times a day]. I feel like I’ve worked incredibly hard to cultivate this productivity, though, and I’ve never agreed with the ‘if it’s not working after x amount of time … shelve it and move on’ sentiment, so I tend to stick around until I have my work finished.
I adore the challenge of turning a rough and mediocre/poor idea into something beautiful without scrapping the entire idea and starting from fresh. With 365 Sparks, I just had a lot to say. The sheer amount of songs required left me almost obligated to touch on a lot of different lyrical avenues and I feel I have written about a huge array of issues, feelings, plans, stories and memories.
3. Tell me a little about your songwriting process. You write some very interesting things on Facebook, for example, about composing “An Artist Must Starve, And Artist Must Feast.” Is every song different? Are some more challenging than others?
Daveit: For 365 Sparks, I definitely didn’t have a regimented process that was visible throughout. Some days I’d wake at 6am and have the song written and recorded by 9am and on other days (usually with the full band rock songs) I’d be working from 6am until 10pm non-stop – just to make it happen in time. The full band and the Rock songs were obviously a lot more difficult than the songs that were merely my voice and an acoustic guitar but there were exceptions.
One aspect of this project that was totally new for me was writing and recording music first and then coming up with vocal melodies later – that’s something I will carry forward for sure.
Generally, my goal was to go with my instincts on the day. Sometimes I’d wake up and check the newspapers in search for something to inspire the angle of that day’s song. Inspiration from external places really helped this project.
4. Some of these tracks have quite a bit of production, how are you able to do that? Are you playing all the parts? Drums? How do you even find time to do that when you’re also writing the songs? Is it all part of the same creative process?
Daveit: 365 Sparks is completely DIY and that was the goal from the start. I’ve written all these songs, performed every instrument and I produce, mix and master the song in my home studio – even down to the website and graphics as part of the song delivery.
I wanted make my own creative universe where I’m the captain of the ship – so it was always the plan to be the only guy involved.
I’m always trying to get better at production and I’ve built up a decent home studio, so I definitely wanted to approach the songs as if they were going onto an album. I know a lot of folks have listened and been shocked that I’d even used other instruments and worked on production – but for me this was pivotal to the whole project. It’s definitely all part of the creative process and after awhile, it just became second nature.
5. What do you feel you’ve learned from the project so far?
Daveit: I’ve learned my strengths and weaknesses as a songwriter and I’ve sought out ways to improve the parts of my writing that let me down. I’m very critical of myself as a person so this experiment was a great way of allowing my negative traits to float to the top of the think-tank and reveal themselves.
I’ve learned that it’s possible to get your music played on major BBC stations and featured on the cover CD of major magazines even though it was produced in a bedroom and sits alongside music recorded in million-dollar studios. I’ve learned it’s possible to dream big, dedicate and actually make something like this possible. Finally, I realised that I absolutely adore songwriting way more than I ever believed possible.
6. Do you think it has strengthened you as a songwriter?
Daveit: It has bettered me x100. A test of this is simply revisiting the songs I recorded before and wincing a little bit ….
I feel that working on my writing and production (an important part of writing these days) daily has brought issues to the fore and allowed me to appreciate other facets of my writing. For example, I now know I’m pretty adept at writing vocal melodies to absolutely any music and that I can imitate styles on a whim. I have also realised that I really struggle with guitar solos.
This endeavour, I believe, has made me at least 10 times the songwriter I was in terms of creativity, discipline and originality.
7. What would you like to say to other songwriters?
Daveit: Setting a regimen on my songwriting has been the single best human experience I’ve had – and I mean it. Most of you good folks reading this will likely only have a few hours free in any given week – I would encourage you to commit to writing and recording one song within that time bracket each week.
There’s nothing more satisfying that seeing your catalogue build and build with songs you really like and you’re almost guaranteed to be a much better writer at the end of it. Make a ‘project’ of it, too, as you’ll be more likely to stick to the regimen.
Finally, tell your friends and family about it before you begin so you’re less likely to fall off the song-wagon!
Daveit: Thanks again, Robin 🙂
Robin: No, Daveit. Thank YOU!
All my songwriting books are available at Amazon.com: Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting, Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV, Study the Hits, and The 30-Minute Songwriter. Find out more about my print and eBooks on my author page at Amazon. In each book you’ll find dozens of useful, real-world shortcuts that will show you how to craft songs that work for today’s music market, plus dozens of hands-on exercises to get your creative ideas flowing.