Martin Byrne Writes a Song a Day

The blogging musician looks back on 325 days of creativity, including a collaboration with Duke Special

For the past 325 days, Belfast’s Martin Byrne has been taking on the gargantuan task of writing and recording an original song every day. Now reaching the end of his Song A Day For A Year project, he talks about his achievements thusfar, and what he is going to do when it is all over.

How did you come up with Song A Day For A Year, and to your knowledge has a project like this ever been carried out before?

In 2009 I took part in something called Sober For A Year, which obviously involves cutting out alcohol for 365 days. I discussed it in a blog throughout - it was really interesting and surprisingly fun, and I raised a bit of money for charity. After that year was up, I wanted to try another similar project but one that would be more creative, so I came up with the idea of writing and recording a song every day for a year.

When I decided to do it I didn’t really look into whether anybody else had attempted it, but once I got started I had a look around and found a few other people trying similar things. Strangely there is a girl in London who started doing it right at the same time as me.

Many people would be happy if they even wrote one song in their whole life – do you find it difficult to keep up the momentum? Where do you take your inspiration from?

It just seems to happen somehow! I listen to all sorts of music, which helps as I’m not constricted to just one genre or anything. If I ever come up against a brick wall, I just think about what I’ve done the day before and say, ‘well, okay, let’s go for the complete opposite of that!’

Do you have a set range of instruments you use, and are some tracks more ambitious than others?

There is a lot of keyboard involved, as it is so versatile and quick to record. This includes synths, and piano. Also there is a lot of guitar, bass and drums, as well as samples. There are sometimes vocals, or sometimes the songs are instrumental. I also use field recordings, which can bring a whole new edge.

If I’m collaborating with someone else, they often bring their own interesting instruments. I was working with a guy called Barry Cullen recently, who brought along these really cool home-made synth boxes. He makes his own effects and toys, as well as running workshops on them.

A lot of big names seem very keen to collaborate with you…

The biggest one was Duke Special a few months ago, which I really enjoyed, as well as Tony Wright of ex-ASIWWYFA fame. I also spent a week in London, so before I went over there I emailed a few people whose music I had heard online, so I worked with them when I was there. Another favourite was this guy in Glasgow who makes cheesy retro synth stuff!

How long does it usually take you to write each song? Is writer’s block ever an issue?

It can be anything from a couple of hours onwards. The longest I’ve ever spent on a track was 10 hours. I don’t tend to get too badly stuck. I think the thing about writer’s block is that you just have to start. Even if you’re not feeling it, you just have to force yourself to start trying something. It is almost as if the physical movements of starting gets your brain into alignment, and puts you into the right psychological frame of mind. I find myself writing about all sorts of things – recently I had fun coming up with a song about tea!

What have you learned most from this experience?

I’ve definitely learned a lot about the technical side of things. It has been really good for my production skills, engineering tracks. People often think that my playing would improve a lot, and it has a little bit, but I’d only really tend to play a few riffs in each song. However, I’ve used a program called Ableton Live for every single track, and now I know it inside and out, which is brilliant.

Yesterday you premiered a track on Radio Ulster – did you enjoy performing it live, and did you find your writing procedure differing?

It was really cool knowing that I was writing a song specifically to be premiered on the radio, rather than the blog. So I was trying to write something that anybody driving home from work in the car could kind of relate to. It was really great fun, but it was a weird experience going in and out so quickly! I was really glad to get such a prime time slot though.

Writing and recording daily must seem natural now. Will it seem strange stopping once you finish the year?

I think the plan is to do a song a week for a year once I finish this! I just want to keep going, but if I do a song a week instead at least I’ll be able to have a few days off. I think it’s a really good thing when you’re working on a track to be able to leave it alone for a while and come back to it with a fresh perspective later – it can make such a huge difference. So one a week should allow me to do that, and hopefully I’ll get more people involved in a collaborative aspect.

Where would you ideally like to see Song A Day For A Year take you?

My hero is Mike Patton. I grew up with Faith No More, and I’m kind of obsessed! My dream is to work with him. I even emailed his record company on the off-chance he’d be interested, but for now there’s been no response. Maybe in the future though!

Go to Martin Byrne's Song a Day For a Year blog to find out more about the project and listen to some of the songs.