It's a tradition for Minnesota bands to buckle down in the studio during the depressing months of our bipolar weather cycle. When the world outside offers nothing but sub-zero temperatures, black ice, and nearly constant darkness, you start to run out of excuses to cancel band practice.
Like perennials waiting to bloom under a pile of dead-leaf fertilizer, our scene uses brutality outside as fuel for the muse. Come spring, you've got an album, and a reason to live. Think of all the fun you've been missing -- until now.
Here's our step-by-step guide to transforming your winter from a snot-filled disappointment into a creative goldmine.
Find Your Muse
Look for the grand theme that will take you away from another day of long, freezing bus rides to your soul-deadening wait-assist job. Feel free to nurse this one for as long as it takes. This is the nucleus that you're going to have to build your entire project around, so make sure it's something you can live with long-term.
Have you recently survived a harrowing breakup? Heartbreak is universal, and always makes for rich pathos, which we'll need later. If you're going for romantic inspiration, make sure it's of the negative or unrequited quality. Nobody wants to listen to an album about how much you and your fiancée love hot cocoa and snowshoeing together. Your constant Instagram pictures are irritating enough. Christ.
Imagine that your inspiration is a small, loose thread on that awful Christmas sweater you thrifted on a lark a few years back. Your job is to pull on that little bastard until the sweater is reduced to a pile of so many multi-colored, Schlitz-stainted woolen strands. Congrats. You're about to weave that wool into cash.
Select Your Woodshed
Thoreau had his house on Walden, the Stones had their heroin-infested palace at Nellcôte, and even Bon Iver had a dumpy little cabin in the armpit of the Midwest. Your woodshed is going to be crucial to the development of your masterpiece. Note that an actual woodshed is not necessary, unless you're a lumbersexual.
This is going to be where the bulk of your songwriting gets done. Pick somewhere relatively cozy, because you'll be spending a lot of time there, but nothing too comfortable. Maybe your family has an abandoned but picturesque lake house somewhere? Trailer park property is always cheap! Spots in the city can work in a pinch, but make sure they're particularly masochistic. If your practice space is relatively well heated and ventilated, find somewhere more decrepit, with leaks in the walls for the wind to howl ominously through. You'll thank us later.
Your woodshed nets you street cred in a simple, linear formula. The more rustic and "off the grid" your shed becomes, the less likely your art will be compromised by the whorish touch of society. You lose points for distracting amenities like cell phone service and running water. Ideally, this location will add a little incidental adversity for you to face on a daily basis, something that we can use to color your narrative further down the road. It is possible to pull off the "bedroom as woodshed" gambit, but not advised for beginners.
Assemble Your Team
Depending on your previous decisions, this team may consist of a classic lineup of bandmates, a trusted friend with engineering talents, or a wise and esoteric guru. They're going to be your companions on your search for truth and beauty, and your tools to achieve your fevered dreams of perfection. This step is no small consideration. These people can make or break your project, so it's important to choose wisely.
Factors such as chemistry and musical talent are of only minor importance. After all, you're the genius here. These people mostly exist to do your bidding and help you actualize complex concepts. Instead, put significant consideration into factors like "physical attractiveness" and "media savvy." You're going to be posing for a lot of photos in later steps, and that means we're looking for more Zander/Petersson types, especially if you're a Nielsen or a Carlos. Search for partners with interesting back stories. Boring bandmates make for boring records, and besides, a little friction just might just light your fire, St. Anger-style.
Hot Tip: Feel like a big gamble? Find someone with whom you share a moderate-to-high level of sexual tension and invite them to be your partner. The constant will-they, won't-they dynamic will make for some seriously charged songwriting moments, and you might even get lucky. The worst thing that could happen is a toxic breakup situation. That just leaves us back at square one, but with even more songwriting ammo!
Stoke Your Seasonal Affective Disorder
This may be the most crucial step of all. Call it what you will -- the "winter blues," "cabin fever," "mercury retrograde," whatever. The important thing here is for you to sink into a deep, inconsolable depression for the remainder of the winter. Your status as a tortured genius is crucial to the overarching storyline of your album, as it makes you vulnerable and relatable for everyone north of the Mason-Dixon.
This shouldn't be too difficult if you're new to winters, or if you live in a particularly hellish climate like Minnesota. Nurture every shitty mood like a newborn child, and allow yourself to exist in a near-constant sulk. The best part is that you can't be held responsible for your misanthropy at a later point, since you're a special snowflake, haunted by a mental illness that half of the fucking planet manages to deal with every year.
Gather Your Gear
The aim here is to amass a suite of equipment that gives legitimacy to your quest. Put together a list and take a trip to the music stores and thrift shops in your town. Don't worry about having much of a budget. What we're going for is equipment with personality, preferably stuff with a highly Instagram-able aesthetic. Never, ever, ever buy a microphone built later than the year 1989, and if you must, lie and say that it's vintage. A lo-fi, homespun setup will lend austerity to your masterpiece, and the freedom from the pressures of well-trained, helpful, and professional engineers will allow your genius room to truly breathe.
When you're setting up your gear, make sure to put things together in a haphazard, bohemian fashion with an eye for good lighting. Ideally, your cables should become one massive, intractable bird's nest, and you're going to want to stack half-functional guitars or keyboards in artful locations. This is especially true for those following the "Bedroom" path mentioned earlier. If your room looks even remotely comfortable to sleep in, you're not trying hard enough.
It is now time to announce your quest to the masses. Keep it tasteful, and tease your potential supporters with the barest details of your project and keep them salivating all winter. Try sharing a quaint photo of the "Welcome" sign to your new hamlet of 1,500 people, or a freshly packed suitcase, on your social networking pages. Dole out information at a glacial pace. The winter is long and we can't blow the surprise just yet.
The moment of truth has finally arrived. It's time for you to pack up your awful car, with bandmates in tow, and make the trek out to your woodshed. Bring plenty of warm but fashionable clothes, empty notebooks, booze, drugs, and great works of literature for "inspiration" (props for later photos). Oranges can help prevent scurvy, and if the seasonal-affective thing is for real, feel free to bring along some sort of Vitamin D supplement or an artificial-sun lamp.
Once you're onsite and fully set up, don't rush anything. You've got to let your immense talent warm up, like an engine after a cold start. Treat yourself to a week-long bender, or indulge in a fit of depressed wallowing. Whatever you decide, remember to drag your bandmates into your dark spiral as well. Fights are a win-win proposition for you as they add a crucial element of drama to your narrative, and further bend your partners to your maniacal will.
Document, Document, Document
It's a well known historical anecdote that, upon relating their storied expedition of the Northwest Territory to President Jefferson, pioneers Lewis and Clark were met with a nonplussed reaction from their commander in chief, who remarked tersely: "Pics or it didn't happen." The message here is simple: Don't be like Lewis and Clark, especially if you want to see a stack of Jeffersons at the end of all this.
Instead, endeavor to be more of a Columbus or Cortez-esque explorer of your surroundings during your hibernation period. Plunder the wilderness for every single Kodak moment it contains; you never know what will make for good Instagram or album cover fodder once the process is finished. Consider keeping a diary or journal of your daily thoughts. It's a great way to fill up excess notebook space when the songs aren't flowing, and your pensive musings may one day be dissected by a biographer.
In order for your masterpiece to sing with true authenticity, you will eventually need to break down the barriers between yourself and your new adoptive home/temporary prison. You will never achieve greatness without bearing witness to winter's heart of darkness. Conveniently, by this point in our journey, you and your bandmates are probably teetering on the edge of a psychotic break from a combination of boredom and substance abuse. Do not fear that break, embrace it.
You'll notice yourself drawn to erratic behavior, like wearing flannel from head to toe, or becoming convinced that you are, in fact, a French-Canadian beaver pelt trader named Jean-Baptiste. Your behavior may alienate your loved ones or partners, but this should be of little consequence to you at such a crucial juncture.
Think of yourself as Brando, and this portion of your songwriting and recording as method acting. In order to realize the furthest reaches of your craft, you must give yourself completely over to your art. This will test every ounce of your resolve, but stay the course. This critical. While lesser artists will be content to sit around the fireplace and strum pensively like a bunch of assholes, you will be making the final step on your crusade of staggering genius.
Congratulations! You've made it to the final stretch! It's time to return from your vision quest and bring your tablets of rock to the masses. It's been a couple of long, hard months, so don't be surprised if the transition back into normal society is a rocky one. You may find that your significant other or music-business backer doesn't fully comprehend the gift you have just given to the world. Give them time, they will eventually see things your way. You must hold on the utter conviction, and though you may be tempted to return to the comfort of your woodshed immediately, we have work to do.
Begin your press campaign in earnest. Tell anyone and everyone about your ordeal, and make sure to frame things with a flair for the dramatic. Feel free to embellish the truth ever-so-slightly with attention-grabbing anecdotes about bear attacks. Even if you're caught in your lie later on, great art saves even the blackest of souls, and nobody will hold it against you. Make sure to hammer home the main points we discussed earlier when it comes time to give interviews. Pause to get misty-eyed, and seem slightly shaken when you're pushed to recall the details of your harrowing excursion, and never give too much detail. Some things are best left to the imagination, and they wouldn't understand what we've been through together.