Note by Note: How Pianist Chad Lawson Composes and Collaborates with Evernote

Tips & Stories

Note by Note: How Pianist Chad Lawson Composes and Collaborates with Evernote

Posted by Taylor Pipes on 25 Jun 2015

Posted by Taylor Pipes on 25 Jun 2015

“Evernote makes my life as an indie artist so much easier, I cannot begin to tell you.”

 Composing music is a lot like writing.

Note by note, measure by measure, musical scores tell a story. Instruments become characters, harmonies establish setting, and melodies define the tone and story arc from beginning to end.

Composers invoke many of the same techniques employed by writers. Through music, they build a melodic narrative designed to create everlasting impact.

Recording artist Chad Lawson tells us about his composition process, including the Evernote features he uses to collaboratively create his own musical narrative. He has toured with Julio Iglesias, released several full-length albums on iTunes, including the most recent “The Chopin Variations,” and had his music featured on AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”

We recently spoke with Chad about how he uses Evernote to make music, collaborate with musicians, travel the world, and promote his work.

Evernote: How long have you been using Evernote and how did you discover us?

Chad Lawson: I’ve been using Evernote for a little over two years. It was first introduced to me while I was writing the score for a short film. The producer said, “I’ll Evernote you the details.” I just nodded my head like I had heard that term every day of my career. As soon as I created my own account, I was like a kid in a candy store. I am borderline OCD when it comes to having every file, PDF, note, and idea in one place. For me, Evernote was a no-brainer.

I have a number of different uses with Evernote, all with varying purposes:

Travel

As a concert artist, I travel extensively. Keeping every detail with me at all times is a must. From my packing list to flight itineraries and setlists, everything is in a convenient place. What I love about Evernote is its ease of access regardless of platform. I can start the note on my Mac at home, text the link from my iPhone, and then update the note on my Kindle while in the air. It’s amazing how accessible it is. And that is key; access.

Setlist

No two venues are alike. Some spaces have different acoustics, others vary in size. Some songs work better, or perhaps not at all, depending on the room. I keep a number of set lists that I’m able to pull from. Having setlists at my fingertips is one less thing to worry about.

One-sheet (bio)

One thing I really love about Evernote is that I’m able to send a one-sheet easily. Most press no longer wish to receive emails with 15 attachments or links and Evernote has eliminated this concern. I generally send a link to this one-sheet where everything is itemized and easily displayed for their convenience. If I forget to add a review or news, I simply edit the note.

 

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Music for Film and TV

Evernote keeps everything in place including every PDF, email, and conversation. Usually when I’m working with a film director I keep things incredibly simple. I only ask for two things; a word to describe the feel of the piece and then images to paint with.

Lately, I have been doing more soundtrack work. It allows me to be creative while waking up in my own bed every morning. Traveling has its perks but few things are better than starting the day off over a cup of coffee with my wife and two small boys. I love working from home. Writing for film and television gives me that opportunity and introduces my music to an audience that may have never of heard my work before.

Q: Describe to us your workspace.

At the present moment, I’ve been working solely out of my home studio. While it has been great to work out of the house and be close to my wife and boys, I’m actually moving into a studio space away from the home in a matter of days. The amount of work makes it difficult to focus while having random drop-ins. I’ll still have the setup in my home studio for times I don’t feel like leaving the house. Which is why Evernote is great. I can access notes without remembering to put something on a thumb drive or email attachments to myself.

Q: When do you find that you do most of your work?

While I am a night owl, I actually find most of my work comes best early morning. It’s a wretched combination. But, first thing in the morning the mind is clear, the body has reset its clock and I’m able to start a project before daily events such as emails and meetings get in the way.

Q: Music requires inspiration — where do you find yours? How do you capture that with Evernote?

Honestly, that’s a really difficult question to answer. I view inspiration as two separate entities. The first being musical (obviously) and second being career. As an indie artist, I do everything. Networking, promotion, booking, management, shipping, and setting up interviews. The running joke is I’m doing everything armed with an old Mac mini and a strong cup of coffee.

I’m inspired by the impossible. What is the most absurd, impossible thing I can aim for? That becomes my target. I generally spend no less than four or five hours a day in front of the computer trying to connect the dots for that target. If I’m trying to get my foot in the door with a certain concert hall or a review from a magazine or radio program, it all has to start somewhere. And that’s where Evernote comes in to play. I keep an organized list detailing individuals I meet. All these things have to be completely organized as to when events happen. Creating multiple tables in a note makes this so easy to maintain. I set a reminder to follow up with them.

Musically, I’m inspired by anything. While I come from a heavy jazz and classical background, I tend to not listen to either genre frequently. I prefer to not be influenced by them. I draw inspiration from bands and artists I would have least expected. Artists such as Purity Ring, and Tycho. And recently I’ve been listening to a trio out of Canada called Braids. I saw them live the other night and they blew my mind. I was incredibly impressed. A lot of times I’ll just look for something different and go for “what’s new” on either Spotify or Pandora. If I’m at a Starbucks and hear something overhead that I like, I’ll use Shazam, find the artist, and then import the pic into an Evernote note so I can revisit the artist/song at a later time.

Q: Your work is influenced a lot by Chopin. How do you channel his work and help fuel your inspiration in today’s modern times?

At the end of the day, I favor nothing more than a beautiful melody. With Chopin, I wanted to show how his music could still be spellbinding even in the most simple of landscapes. The image of Chopin at 2:30 in the morning, hovering over the keys of his piano with only the light from a single candle, crafting simple melodies that would become the soundtrack of every pianist. Would these deceivingly simple works have meaning with our 140-character Twitter mentality, demanding attention greater than our patience can allow? The more I worked on the structure of the pieces, the phrasing of each melody, how he would form a phrase and embellish with such subtle grace as the piece grew, it became obvious these pieces would find relevance today just as much as when they were written in the 1830s.

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What is inspiring about this is, even with all of the noise and the multitude of apps, tools, gadgets, and effects, simplicity will always dominate. What can you do with the most basic tool? My father is a highly respected furniture designer. We’ve had numerous conversations concerning the influx of technology and how ease-of-use can sometimes be detrimental. While computer programs can  effortlessly create something for you, what happens when someone gives you just a pencil?  Could you draw a straight line? How can we as artists (musicians, painters, poets, and photographers) elicit goosebumps with just a single element? Remove all of the distractions. Become completely vulnerable and create. The fewer notes I add in my own compositions, the more intimate the piece becomes. Space is a beautiful thing. It’s my favorite note. And yet, we seldom embrace the idea that less is more.

I find Evernote to be just that; beautifully simple. Nothing can wreck an inspiration like a distraction.

I’ve woken up in the middle of the night, grabbed my Kindle, opened Evernote and scribbled a phrase or thought with the handwriting tool, and have gone back to sleep. Then, in the morning I open the tablet to read the morning news and there it is; that idea or dream I had. It’s all right there.

Q: Do you use Evernote to write or arrange your music?

If I’m at the piano and become inspired with an idea or melody, I will record it with my iPhone using the voice memo. I’ll then export that out and place it into the notebook I keep for sketches. What I like about this is, I can then write notes in the file such as the key of the song, annotating chord changes or if the section could be the main melody or perhaps a bridge within a song. Then, at a later point I can pull the note up regardless of location and continue working on it.

Q: Do you collaborate with other musicians, and if so, how do you use Evernote to do that?

When arranging the pieces for “The Chopin Variations,” I made photocopies of the original sheet music. I then went through with a pencil and wrote the chords of each measure while circling the parts of the melody I would keep and marking out the parts I wanted left out. After going through the numerous pieces and then finalizing which songs to use, I scanned the sheet music into PDFs and brought them into a notebook inside Evernote. Again, everything in one place. I can’t stress that enough. After I recorded the piano parts of the album, I attached an MP3 of that piece in the note containing the scanned sheet music. Emailing attachments can sometimes be impossible if the file size is too large or if changes need to be made in descriptions or comments. This allowed me to share the link without the trouble of uploading/downloading the files, while giving me the ability to update on the fly if necessary.

Once the strings were recorded, I then transcribed their parts and placed THOSE into a separate note as well. The violinist, Judy Kang, is in constant travels, whether it was touring with Lady Gaga or Ryuichi Sakamoto, while cellist, Rubin Kodheli is a first call session musician (Norah Jones, Kanye West, numerous film scores). When they are not able to do a performance because of other commitments, I have two more groups that I call on to fill in. When this is the case, I like having a notebook with each piece containing the transcribed string parts with an attached audio file of not only the piece in its entirety but the string parts without the recorded piano parts just in case the musicians would like to hear the string parts as they were originally played. My role as a leader is to provide every possible facet to make every performance as effortless and stress-free as possible. This is such a great example how Evernote allows me to do just that. Here’s an example of this type of note.

Q: You mentioned that you’ve created “one sheets” that you can update and share. What kinds of information do you share and how does sharing them via public links help your workflow?

This is by far the greatest tool in my day in/out. I have numerous one-sheets crafted specifically for certain recipients. I’m writing this from seat 19C of an airplane. As soon as I land, I have two separate in-studio interviews at the local radio stations in the city I’m performing tomorrow night. When details were confirmed for the interviews, I sent the producers my one-sheet I’ve created for radio & television media. The note contains highlighted quotes from reviews, links to other interviews I have done in case they wish to listen and ask something that maybe hasn’t been asked before, Soundcloud links that work really well with radio and web browsers if they wish to post on their site and then finally, press photos within the note they can also use if needed.

Evernote makes my life as an indie artist so much easier I cannot begin to tell you. With a click of a button I can send the public note and move on to the next item in my to-do list.

Q: And finally, what are some of your favorite Evernote features, tips, or tricks?

I am a shortcut junkie! A colleague and I try to outdo each other in our shortcut abilities. When I’m trying to do something fast, shortcuts make everything so much easier.

The reminder is a wonderful tool being with everything going on in life (especially doing everything myself).

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