There is something powerful and romantic (no, not the floofy definition of romantic) about the notion of facing a creative endeavor by yourself. All choices, decisions, outcomes, mistakes, successes, and failures are all yours. It may seem like a lot of pressure to put on oneself, but therein lies the challenge…to be solely accountable for EVERYTHING!!! But then there comes the part of knowing your strengths and weaknesses…
I’m one of those singers who doesn’t like the sound of his voice. From what I understand, this is fairly atypical because how can you call yourself a singer and not like your voice? Well…I happen to be quite good at it, for better or worse. It’s the ‘worse’ part that can get in my way sometimes. Now, because I know this, I can address it head on. I can set my ego aside and ask for help, knowing it will only help my art turn out for the better.
So I humbly ask my spousal unit, Kelsey (who, if you don’t know, is a fantabulous singer) to be my vocal producer and part-time audio engineer. She graciously accepts, and today is the day I start singing the first of the four songs that I’ve recorded for this EP. After some preliminary levels are set, she casts me into the loneliest room in the studio…the vocal booth. I’m ready for a long day. I’m warmed up…and Kels pushes the record button.
Three hours and change later, the lead vocal along with all the backing vocals are recorded! This three hour vocal recording session is a personal best for me as it usually takes me quite a bit longer to get everything to ‘tape’…hehe. And I know telling my ego to take a lap and asking Kels to help was the right decision. I truly couldn’t have done it without her.
Let’s talk about deadlines…the self-imposed kind. I set a deadline (aka goal) to release an EP of original music this spring. Well…it is spring. And I’m not ready to release it yet. I’ve been grinding away in the studio, mixing songs as I go, and I’m in a good place. That is until I think of everything else that has to be done in order to meet my deadline.
Sure, I could go easy on myself but I think holding myself accountable is a better play. For me, whenever I have something I want to accomplish, I’m the first person to yell at me and tell me to get back to work. Self-discipline is an invaluable commodity that we all have at our disposal. We just have to be strong enough to face ourselves when lack of motivation sets in. And it does set in. “I’m tired, I don’t wanna work on music today!” Ok, that’s fine…take a break, take a nap, do whatever. But understand that you’d better work extra hard when you’re done. Being accountable to yourself builds strength and resolve…good character qualities.
Tomorrow will be a busy day in the studio. After all, today is May 12th…the first day of summer is June 21st. That means I have just a little over a month to get this thing done…no pressure, right? Yeah…right! 😳
Today was a full day of checking boxes off the ‘honeydo’ list (to be fair, my honeydo list is self created). That’s life. There are things that you have to do, despite the fact that you REALLY don’t want to do them. Despite the fact that you have other things that you would WAY rather do. That was today…and I was completely wiped out. Tired, sweaty, grumpy, and ready to chuck the lawn mower. I actually didn’t chuck the lawn mower…instead I put it away after using it like good little grown up.
We are in the middle of spring here in the US and my self-imposed deadline of releasing this EP by the end of spring is quickly approaching. So I give up…I throw in the towel. I’m too worn out.
Actually…no I don’t.
I take a shower, put on my big boy panties and get to work. In the studio today, I took care of some the less glamorous things that HAVE to be done when you’re recording music. Compressors and EQ’s were my best friends this afternoon. I swept EQ frequencies and pulled those ugly areas that make your ears scream OUCH! I then added in my favorite compressor plugins and leveled out the acoustic and electric guitars, bass, and piano…things are coming together and it’s sounding great.
So for all the Creatives out there, next time you’re too tired, sweaty, grumpy, and ready to chuck the lawn mower…DON’T!!! Show your dedication to your craft by gathering as much will power as you can possibly find…stop picking your nose…and get to work!!!
It’s time to break out the Red Binder, and just what IS the Red Binder? This is the binder that contains all the lyrics to the songs I’ve written and it typically stays tucked away until A) I’ve written a new song or B) it’s time to sing some of those songs I’ve written. Today’s answer on Tales From The Studio is B !
I’ve been working on this EP for a while now and the time has come to start laying down some vocals. Admittedly, this is THE most challenging part of the whole process for me and the part that scares me the most. I can play guitar in front of eleventy billion people and not bat an eye, but put me in front of a microphone in a studio and those little voices of self doubt, that are typically held at bay, start SCREAMING at the top of their lungs! My vocal chords, which for the most part are fairly open and free flowing, start to get tight and then the negative internal dialogue starts. It’s a real bitch dealing with this and takes a concerted effort for me to overcome it.
My saving grace in all of this is to remind myself that art is subjective. Some people may love my voice and some people may hate it…and that’s ok! That’s just the way music, writing, painting, etc. is. Beauty is truly within the eye of the beholder, and just like I love some music and can’t stand others…so goes with my art. It’s this understanding that helps to throw cold water on those screaming voices of self doubt.
So…I’ve dug out the Red Binder, grabbed my acoustic guitar, and started singing the songs that I will soon present to the world for judgement. And love them or hate them, the world is a better place because another creation has been birthed.
There’s an old school country song by Kenny Rogers called The Gambler. The song has some famous lyrics that describes the actions of a card player based on the hand he’s dealt. Here’s part of chorus lyrics:
You got to know when to hold ’em,
Know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away,
And know when to run
Well, I had to fold on a song that was almost completely recorded. It wasn’t an easy decision. I’d done so much work on it already that I hated to let it go, but I did. It just wasn’t working for some reason. It didn’t feel right, and despite concerted effort to MAKE it feel right…it just didn’t. I’ve learned that when it comes to creativity, and life for that matter, you just can’t force things to happen. For me, the best outcomes have always happened when I’m open and willing to bend to the will of the moment.
So I pored over my book of songs that I’ve written, looking for something that will fill the void that was left in this EP line up. I found one. It’s an older song, but I’ve never recorded it and it takes me a little out of my vocal comfort zone. That’s a good thing! I often write songs that are easy for me to sing which is fine, but it doesn’t allow me the opportunity to spread my vocal wings. This one will, and these wings are ready.
It almost always starts with an acoustic guitar…my songwriting that is. I haven’t been playing much acoustic lately, as I’ve finished recording those parts for my upcoming EP, and have moved on to tracking other instruments. That said, I’ve been playing a LOT of electric guitar lately…writing parts, writing solos, and exploring music theory. Loving it!
Today, I upgraded the tuners in one of my Breedlove acoustic guitars, cleaned her up real nice, and changed the strings. I stretched said strings, tuned her up, grabbed a pick, and got to strumming. Wow, had I missed playing like this. There’s something cool about not needing an amplifier to play out loud, and as I played…music started flowing. And that’s great, right!? Not really! I’ve gotta stay focused on the music that I’m working on and try not to write new songs. I’m a good multitasker, except when it comes to music. My musical attention is drawn to the newest idea like a light crazed moth to a raging campfire…and before I know it, I wind up not finishing anything. Not good.
I couldn’t let those new ideas just float away into the ether, so I grabbed my trusty recorder (actually an app on my phone) and got my ideas down. Once I’ve finished with the EP, I can start sifting through all those ideas, grab an acoustic guitar, and get back to writing.
I’ve been working really hard on my current project…the 4 (maybe 5) song EP that will be released in just a few weeks now. And it feels good. It feels good creating. It feels good writing and recording parts. It feels good putting all these musical pieces and ideas together to make these simple songs, written on acoustic guitar, come to life. It’s hard work, but it’s good work.
I’m not really sure what triggered it, but I got really sad today. I was thinking about all the creative people out there, the musicians, the writers, and the artists who don’t get the opportunity to share their creations with the world. Or maybe they do, but they don’t get to realize how valuable and precious their expression is. Often times, art is taken without a moment’s pause or thought as to what kind of effort went into making something out of nothing. Only the few get the opportunity to make a living producing beautiful things for others to consume.
Right now, I am both grateful and melancholy. Grateful because I am able to make my music…my contribution to the beauty that is art. Melancholy because of those who aren’t able to bring forth the spark of their imagination for the rest of us to see. Tonight, my thoughts are with those who long to share a piece of their soul…to add to the infinite splendor that is creation.
Back to work in the studio today, but prior to recording I had to program a couple of guitar tones on my Line 6 Helix. I LOVE music tech, and sometimes I suffer from option paralysis which is the inability to decide on something because you have too many things to choose from. #firstworldproblems And with laser focus, cast all options to the side and used some tried and true techniques to get the sound I was looking for. Time to record…
I’ve had trepidation when thinking of musical parts for this song and it stayed with me today. I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, which is quite the opposite of what is normal for me. I feel very fortunate to be able to envision something resembling the ‘final’ version of a song I’m working on, but this one has been proving elusive. I shook off any of those funky thoughts that can cloud the creative process and got to work.
I press play on my computer and the parts I have recorded…drums, bass, synth pads, and acoustic guitar…come to life. I close my eyes and listen. I can hear it…the guitar parts that are waiting to make their way into this song. I play them a couple of times and press record…BOOM! This was pretty easy…why was it so easy? I listen back to the newly recorded part and it works…it sounds great and compliments the song but it feels like something is missing. The pieces that I want are there, but it feels empty. I hadn’t envisioned a piano part in this song, but why not give it a try. I pull up EZ Keys by Toontrack and start programming a piano line. I really can’t play piano very well, but thanks to that music tech I love so much I’ve got something I can work with. I play and listen to the song with the piano part and there it is!
What was missing in this song was a piano part. I hadn’t considered piano playing a role in this song, but when I put it in there it made sense and sounded great. All that trepidation and uncertainty that I’d experienced faded away and I was left with the realization that sometimes you have to be patient and realize that things will work themselves out in due time.
I’m one of those guitar players that doesn’t really go for the ‘reliced’ look (that’s when a guitar looks like it’s been beat to hell but it’s just for show). I like for my instruments to look as pristine as the day I bought them. Well…today, while writing a guitar solo for a song from my upcoming EP, my new PRS bumped into my Strat Elite and gave have her a nice little ding in the finish. I cursed… loudly… very loudly! I wouldn’t have been surprised if the neighbors even heard my anguish through my soundproofed walls. Alas, no police were called so I ass-u-me all is good 🙂
So why write a blog post about a ding in a guitar? As I stared at it, I started thinking about just what that ding would mean for my guitar… and what it would mean to me (kinda deep, right?). I thought about the dings in my armor and how those blemishes affect me as a person and as an artist. I touched the guitar, feeling the damage to the finish and wondered if this change to its appearance would change the way it works somehow…it didn’t. I wondered if my blemished armor would change the way I worked… it DID!
This realization, while good, hurt because I realized that I’ve let words, looks, and lack of acknowledgment of various aspects of my life, damage my armor to such an extent that I wasn’t being protected as well as I should be. Then I thought that there would be people who wouldn’t even notice the new ding on my guitar. Perhaps that was the same with my own dings… maybe people didn’t notice that they were there and those words, looks, and lack of acknowledgement only mattered because I let them matter. I was the one responsible for placing weight and importance on those things. As such, I am the one responsible taking that power away and if those things don’t have power… they can’t hurt me.
So where does that leave the ding in my guitar? I have chosen to not let it hurt/anger me… instead, I’ve embraced it and accepted that it’s just something that makes it more unique… beautiful even… just like my own armor.
And so it came to pass that as of this day, the EP that I have been toiling over is officially the worst pile of crap ever conceived!!! Pretty dramatic, huh? Well about that…
There are several stages that one must pass through in order to give birth to a piece of art. These levels may vary from person to person, yet some of them are all too familiar to us. I landed face first in the cesspool of self-doubt today…and this pool was not shallow! You work hard and things are rolling along quite nicely…you’re proud, you’re feeling good about what you’re creating, and suddenly out of nowhere you say…wait, is that song really as good as you think it is? Uh oh, maybe it’s not…maybe I should’ve picked a different song to record. Maybe I shouldn’t record at all…I mean…who would even care!?
These thoughts, obviously, are completely horrible and do NOTHING to help move the creative process forward…not to mention the beating it gives your heart and spirit. A good way to approach this stage of the creative process is to immediately recognize it, face it head on, and do everything in your power move past it. Maybe affirmations work for you…maybe or conversations in a mirror help…maybe distracting yourself altogether makes it better. Regardless of the modality used, moving past those doubts is paramount. Remember why you are creating in the first place. Think of how many artistic people never finish their projects because they succumb to their own negative inner dialogue. Don’t let that happen to you, and I sure won’t happen to me.
I managed to work through this stage today and not lose too much time beating myself up. One thing that didn’t make it through the day was the guitar parts that I recorded. At first I was pretty bummed, because the parts I wrote that I thought would work…didn’t. That’s actually ok, because after hearing the guitar line in context of the song it was easy to hear why it didn’t work and I was able to write new parts make the song better…win, win!