This time I aimed my blurry questions at Hayden Arp, a 17-year-old singer-songwriter from Alexandria, VA. Should someone think he’s too young to be taken seriously, just remember that Kate Bush started writing songs for her debut album at the age 13. Taking that fact into consideration, Hayden might be a bit overage already…
When did you start writing songs? What inspired you?
I started writing music when I was 12, though I only started writing lyrics at the age of 14. At the beginning, I wasn’t really inspired, more curious. I had a computer with GarageBand on it, and I really liked looping and layering different sounds. It was only later when I started dating a beautiful woman (of course), that I began to get really inspired, which is why I started writing lyrics.
As for my current inspiration, it’s really a range of many different things. Any prominent emotion will generally trigger music, whether it be anger (The Darker Pages), happiness (Don’t Let Go), sadness (Quicksand), or something else. Other times i’ll just make music for it’s own sake, and the music will inspire an emotion or story. For example, “Waking Up” started as a blatant attempt to copy James Blake, and it only latter evolved into the creepy story that it is. I also am very inspired by tea, thunderstorms, and other musicians.
What instruments do you play?
I play guitar, piano, upright bass, ukulele, drums, and I pretend I can sing.
Can you tell me some more about how you produce your music?
I record, write, and produce my music on my own, and because of this I’m not really held down to any schedules or proper order of recording. As I don’t have to do one thing before another, I often do them at the same time. The writing and production become intertwined in a very dynamic way, often building on each other during the song’s recording. For example, I may make the chords of a song I’m writing jazzier because I find a very smooth keyboard while recording, or will write in an extra melody when I find a synth I want to slip in. In this way I think the production flows along very naturally, and ends up making a lot of sense for the song; it has a snowball effect that i’m very drawn to.
In your latest blog post you write about “tiny download cards” that you left at public places in France to promote your music. How did this little guerrilla marketing project work out for you?
Ha. Well That didn’t go well per se, but that could be pretty easily attributed to the fact that the country was France and the cards were in English, but I’ve seen similar results on the big picture as well. People want a reason to listen to something, and my record doesn’t have that yet. It’s a little too short, has a couple technical issues, and while I really do think it’s good music, it’s not the most radio-friendly. It’s nichy stuff, and being a one-man marketing squad makes it hard to find that niche.
To be honest, I’d much rather be working on making more, and better music than spending all this time emailing blogs that don’t seem to want to respond. I think the issue is simply that I have a tiny studio in my bedroom with one mic and one preamp, and I’m trying to make music that requires high sound-quality. I have taught myself all that I know, so getting things to sound professional is still a pretty hefty challenge. I have had a couple people buy the record, and they gave me some pretty good feedback, which I always appreciate. I try to make sure everyone who hears it has my email (firstname.lastname@example.org) as outside opinions really help, as well as fascinate me.
What kind of music would you do if you had the money to hire the best engineer and rent/buy the best equipment?
One thing I’ve wanted to do for a while is record a full string orchestra, and write some instrumental orchestral pieces. I’m actually trying to get into college for composition. But going past that, my dreams really focus more on the location of the recording. Atmosphere in music really fascinates me, and I’d like to take my hand at recording music in some harder recording environments.
For example there are a number of churches and parking garages I’ve found that have ridiculously cool reverberations, and I’d love to head over there with say, a guitar, a cello, and some introspective lyrics and see what kind of sounds I could make. Maybe even head outside somewhere and try to capture that feeling without having wind be too much of a problem.
Other than that though, I still would want to make the same things I try to do now; I just think I might succeed a little more. So I’d still make another “The Darker Pages,” but the vocals wouldn’t be so obviously recorded in a bedroom. I’d make another “Willow” but the atmospheres would be much more precise and the build up would be a lot more mind-blowing. Also, drums. I can’t record real drums with my current set-up, so that’d be pretty cool.
Can you imagine yourself doing anything other than writing and performing music?
To be honest I can’t really. I can totally imagine doing other things, just not as a full-on profession; that’s music. When I was in about 8th grade I decided to stop saying to myself “wouldn’t it be cool if I became a musician” and started saying “I’m going to be a musician” as I didn’t think the people who made it had many hesitations. I’ve still got quite a way to go, but it’s what I’ve chosen to do, and I’m not going to stop any time soon. I’m still going to college. I’m not dropping out or anything, but that’s more because I still love learning other things and think they all relate. Studying english can lead to better lyrics, and studying physics can lead to better recordings.
I also think in the internet age, the music playing field has been leveled. It’s not about being lucky enough to get a record deal anymore. You can be a 17-year old making music out of your bedroom and still get it on the same marketplace with the same price as Justin Bieber; thus the entire question of “who’s going to make it” is boiled down to “who makes the best music” and “who can market themselves most effectively.” With that in mind I do think I can do it, and that’s the plan. Get better at writing music, get better at recording and mixing it, and get better at marketing it. We’ll see if it works, but I love music more than anything, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.