These days songs tend to come together pretty fast at the recording stage. I guess they always did, because I’ve never been much of a producer. But I seem to have things back on track when it comes to working at as brisk a pace as I did a few years ago, before the dark days of crackheads and indifference.
As a rule, it goes something like this: I record some stuff. If I like it, I keep it. If I don’t, I record some other stuff. I do this until a song feels finished and I’m happy with it. Then I mix it so I can hear what it sounds like on a CD. I call this a “rough mix” but almost always end up keeping it and making it the “final mix”.
There are exceptions, like when I made about four different mixes of “Someday Our Children Will Give Us Names” a week or so ago and couldn’t figure out which mix I liked best. But most of the time it becomes clear when a song has all it needs, and I move on to the next thing, whatever that may be.
Every once in a great while a song decides it wants to be a pain in the ass. One such song is called “Revenge Is Sweet”. I’ve been wanting to record this one for quite a while, but I held off on tackling it until I had a real piano.
Hello, real piano. Welcome to the recording stage, somewhat uptempo piano song I’ve been itching to record for a while.
It should have been easy enough. I had a pretty clear idea in my head of how I wanted it to sound. But after I recorded the piano and a rough guide vocal and started messing around with drums and bass, I started to rethink things.
This is a track that cries out for a brass section. There’s a little recurring instrumental hook in the first chunk of the song that would really benefit from some sax hits or trumpet harmonies or something. Thing is, I can’t play either one of those instruments, and I don’t have the patience to take lessons and play nothing but sax or trumpet for a few years in order to figure it out and become a decent horn player. I did give some thought to buying a cheap Taiwanese-made tenor sax or something, but it probably would have been a waste when I made the inevitable discovery that I wasn’t capable of getting any pleasing sounds out of the instrument.
I messed around with a lot of different things in place of where the horns would be, including — shudder — a brief flirtation with synth horns. This led to a near-death experience during which I was threatened with eternal damnation if I continued, so I ditched that idea in a hurry. I think just about the only song synthesized brass has ever really worked in (that I’ve heard, at least) is “Sat in Your Lap” by Kate Bush. Most of the time it just sounds cheesy and fake. Which is great if that’s what you’re going for. But it wouldn’t do much for this particular song of mine.
So…I added some things. I got rid of a lot of those things when they didn’t seem right. I tried some more things. In the end the treatment became something pretty different from what I originally intended, but I think it worked out. I threw in just about everything but the bathroom sink, and then threw out half of that and started again. This has to be the most I’ve ever had going on in a single song, though it doesn’t sound much more produced or layered than usual because it isn’t all happening at once. There’s piano, sloppy triple-tracked vocals, drums, bugle (you better believe I found a use for that thing already), organ, suitcase glockenspiel, a bit of fake vibraphone, melodica, and African drums.
I tried adding some guitar and analog synth, among other things, but ultimately none of it fit. I think this is the first song I’ve played organ on in, what, three years? It’s been a while. Having the organ and glockenspiel take on the melodic role of the hypothetical horns seems to work well enough. The organ almost gives it a bit of a vague soul feeling, which is a switch for me.
I still don’t seem to want to play the drums with sticks. Ever. I don’t know what it is. I just always seem to get better ideas and a better sound with brushes these days. Maybe I’ve found my drumming style, assuming I have one, and all it took was playing almost exclusively with brushes for a while. I guess you could call it “improvised semi-spastic brushed rhythm propulsion”. Or something. I also can’t be moved to do anything else with the drums aside from throwing the R88 in front of the kit and banging away. The sound seems to work well pretty much all the time, at least for the songs I’m recording right now. It’s been nice to focus on playing instead of mic placement.
I’m tempted to put this new song up here, but then it wouldn’t be a surprise. And like “Blue Cheese Necklace” before it, I think it’s going to be the opening track on the next album. For now there are two songs up on Spyspace that haven’t been there before, neither or which are currently available on an album. Hooray for Huggies.
I kind of wish I had a camera crew to capture the making of some of this stuff so you could see how it happens and how songs will sometimes change shape several times before figuring out what they want to be. But if I had people hanging around with cameras while I was recording I would probably get self-conscious and not get that much accomplished, and if I tried filming myself I don’t think the static single-camera approach would make for very interesting viewing. Plus I’d have to always keep the camera in mind and try to stay in the frame, which would take my mind away from what I should be concentrating on.
Oh well. Maybe once I become a household name after collaborating with Kanye West on a rap concept album called Uh, Yeah, Uh, Yeah someone will make a documentary about me doing my thing, and everyone’s lives will be richer for having seen it…because there will be musical nudity! But not from Kanye.