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.
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!
I certainly don’t shoo The Muse when she shows up, and sometimes she comes around when I’ve got stuff to do…like this EP I’m working on!
I woke up the other day with something that I thought would be a pretty cool idea…another avenue to explore musically. I’m charged up…I’m excited…ready to jump in with both feet and wrap myself up in this new path of sonic exploration. And then it hits me…dude, you’re in the middle of a project and you HAVE to finish it or it will never be finished. And it’s true. Sure the new path is shiny and beautiful and is so enticing, but so many times in the past I’ve followed these new inspirations and have let the work I’m currently involved in fall by the wayside.
The good thing is that I recognized it and headed my thinking off at the pass. Promises to yourself should be kept and I’ve baked in a bit of leniency for myself in case life gets weird. Losing focus and letting the temptation of a new idea win over my attention will only lead to another project I’ve let go of. I just can’t do that to myself. So Miss Muse (I assume she’s not married)…thank you for the new idea, but you’ll have to chill for a while I finish up the OTHER idea you gave me. Off to do some mixing…
Recently I did some upgrading to the studio…extra RAM, another audio interface that works in tandem with my existing interface, new software, etc. I’ve been pretty stoked to get everything up and running since my upgrades are supposed to make my recording workflow easier and more efficient…supposed to.
Getting my audio interfaces to talk to each other has been a real pain in me arse. It still isn’t working the way I want it to and sadly, its getting in the way of my productivity. Couple that with some unexpected life events, and I’ve lost a good chunk of studio time as of late. I’m still on track with what I have planned, but I am starting to feel a bit of self-imposed pressure…not good. During the upgrading process, one of my song files became corrupted and I had to rebuild everything from scratch. I lost some acoustic guitar parts that I had recorded, but luckily I was able to recreate the progress without ‘too’ much effort.
It’s weird how a bunch of little things tend to pile up and turn into a big thing…that’s kinda where I’m at mentally. I KNOW that these are little things and that a simple change in perspective will fix what’s going on in my head. And that’s what I’ll do…take a deep breath, know that everything is as it should be, and make some damn music!!! 🙂
You ever get excited because you got a new thing that would make this other thing better and then you spend all afternoon setting up the new thing only to find that something ain’t quite right with the new thing and the old thing together? Yeah…that. That was my day…blech. Maybe I could explain that a little better.
I bought some new equipment for the studio which will make my workflow easier and more efficient. After everything was installed and configured, I was raring to go…I’m recording some 12 string guitar parts for this song I’m working on and am excited to see how the parts I wrote will fit together. I open the song, set levels, and start playing. Freeze!!! My DAW (digital audio workstation) freezes and I’m only mildly annoyed. It’s no big…nothing that a quick reboot won’t fix. Reboot complete! Let’s do this! Freeze…again. OK…a little more annoyed at this point. Reboot. Reconfigure new equipment…Freeze!
At this point I’m getting pretty irritated, but I go through the proper troubleshooting steps in an effort to figure out WHAT is causing the error. Long story short, I’d hooked everything up properly, configured everything properly, and in the last place I thought to look…BAM! Turns out the song file itself became corrupted somehow. Yay, because I found the problem…Boo, because I’ll have to start this song over. It’s ok…my plan for today took a slight detour, but I will bend like a reed in the wind (Dune reference) and check my inconvenience at the door. Tomorrow is another day.