I like how pretty much the moment I fix my sleep I get back in the swing of things. My first day back in the land of the living, I recorded one of those 6:00 a.m. classical guitar songs from soup to nuts in the space of maybe an hour. I like that expression. Soup to nuts. You start off with a liquid meal and end with something the psychotic squirrel from the picture at the top of my last post would slap away if he happened to be a nut nazi.
Why does “nut nazi” sound so wrong?
Unintentionally inappropriate-sounding phrases aside, I always find it interesting how a song will evolve from writing to recording. In this case it all happened in a period of not much more than twenty-four hours. The song was written at 6:00 a.m. on Monday, and by 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday I had a mix of the finished thing on CD. It sounded quite a bit different from what I started out with.
I probably should have got the recording process on video, but I think if I ever want to capture just how the process works for me I need someone else to man (or woman) the camera. I can’t keep it running the whole time when I’m filming myself — I only have about an hour of recording time available on little Flip when it’s all clear — so some of the pivotal moments, discoveries, and tonal shifts end up happening when no person or lens is watching.
Someday I should ask someone to come over and be a fly on the wall and film me working on a song. If I did that I would probably clam up because I’m not used to anyone being here when I’m recording. Still. Something to think about, anyway. It’s too much trouble for me to keep repositioning the camera and making sure the framing isn’t off when my brain would rather be concentrating on making music. Better to leave it to someone else. It would look better, you’d get some camera movement in there, and Taylor Swift would rise from a birthday cake to sing a song of healing goodness.
Oh yeah…I was talking about a song. It started out as a simple guitar/voice thing. I was content to leave it that way, but as is usually the case it ended up shifting a bit at the recording stage.
First of all, I’m consistently blown away by the microphones Dave Pearlman makes. Anyone who’s got something resembling a home studio and is thinking about spending some money on high-end microphones should check him out. I think his mics are worth at least twice what he charges for them, if not more. You’d be hard pressed to find anything at that price point that sounds anywhere near as good.
He also really cares about what he’s doing, and he almost single-handedly restored my faith in the concept of customer service. I sound like an advertisement, but it’s true. I bought a TM-1 from him way back in 2006 during the big protracted “studio revamping” adventure, and while it’s been my go-to vocal mic ever since, I’ve yet to find anything it doesn’t sound good on. I’m sure I’ve said something like this before.
When I was recording this song I wrote on the cheap classical guitar and thinking about adding some electric guitar, I found out my Paul tube amp is probably fried. I guess the tubes should be going by now, since it’s been a decade since the amp’s last re-tubing and I’ve been pushing it quite a bit lately. It doesn’t sound too pretty right now.
Just for fun, I thought I would try recording the sound of those dying tubes rasping their last breaths through the TM-1 without bothering to move it from where it normally sits when I’m singing into it. The microphone is a good five or six feet away from the guitar amp, four or five feet off the ground, not even pointing in the direction of the amp. I took a pass at an electric part for the song’s bridge section, double-tracked it, and the result was a ragged ambient guitar sound that blew the whole thing wide open.
It’s not technically a great guitar sound, with the tubes weeping and all and the mic in a strange place. But it works.
I’ve also got this Pearlman TM-LE I’ve kind of been neglecting lately, so I thought I’d throw it in front of the classical guitar. It made a $149 guitar sound like it’s worth at least a thousand bucks. That’s pretty impressive if you ask me.
The arrangement I ended up with is not terribly layered (classical guitar, bass, drums, a bit of piano and Wurlitzer, electric guitar for only one brief section), but it’s more fleshed-out than its humble guitar/voice beginnings, and it feels off-kilter somehow. Maybe it’s a combination of the “heartbeat” rhythm I played on the drums with mallets, the improvised piano/Wurly tinkling being just slightly out of tune with the guitar (I did that on purpose), and the weird electric guitar sound. It’s hard to explain.
It’s also hard to explain why it feels so different from anything else I’ve written. It’s a simple song with nothing weird going on structurally, but it’s almost jarring how direct the words are. You don’t exactly expect to hear me singing something like, “No loving God would let an innocent child go hungry or a species cease to be.” I don’t even expect to hear myself singing something like that. And I’m me.
Further proof, if any was needed, that songs just happen, and I just stand there with a net waiting to catch them.
I have to pause from the usual randomness to thank Travis for recommending ULINE to me. You wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to find clear CD jewel cases and clear trays that don’t have annoying bumpy designs on them somewhere. You can’t find them anywhere around here. I always have to order them, only to be confronted with CD cases that aren’t clear everywhere. It’s a small thing, but when something that’s supposed to be devoid of any defining marks (aside from the little “compact disc” logo that’s always visible on the CD tray) has some very visible raised circular bumps all over the place, it makes me want to smash the CD cases with my fist and then write some lyrics using the blood as ink.
A pretty restrained reaction, I know. I should vent a little more.
Thanks to Travis, I can now order insane amounts of CD cases and trays that have no ugly circles on them, and they get here fast. And no more blood is spilled over plastic that is not-as-advertised. Huzzah, I say.
I haven’t forgotten about the Mackenzie Hall thing. I know I said I would have made a decision by now. I ran into a few snags with trying to find a sound guy, and having just about everyone I’ve talked to about my idea for a show telling me there’s no way in hell I can or should do what I’d like to do has introduced some uncertainty. I think I would rather just play in someone’s living room for an audience of eight people. But I guess there are more than eight people who would show up if I played somewhere. Maybe even fifteen of them.
So I’m still on the fence. But I’m close to jumping off. And I think I’m getting a cold or a sinus infection, which is always fun. I’ll keep you posted on which direction I head in when I fall off the fence, and whether or not I injure my left femur.