Monday, November 16, 2009

Mixing, Recording, and Filming - A Weekend In The Life

It was a creative and productive weekend for me. On Saturday, Brian returned to the studio and we made some changes to the new Sitting Next To Brian mixes. We recorded a few new parts and mixed down the rest of the songs. My ancient computer was huffing and wheezing and refused to play one or two of the songs all the way through without stopping. Still we managed to get everything down on a CD and, barring a few changes that Brian has noted, it's pretty much all done and ready for mastering!

After Brian left, I decided that I would try to record some of my songs, too. I didn't feel like going through the whole process of setting up click tracks and what-not. I really just felt like I wanted to record some songs.

Let me explain. A click track is just a modern way of eluding to the use of a metronome. When I create my own tracks without the aid of the band, I usually first make a click track so that I have a constant tempo to play along with. That way, when I inevitably start to add other parts, the songs is consistent throughout.

On this night I didn't have the patience for setting that all up. Also, I've been toying with the idea of making a solo album that is really pared down, almost entirely just guitar and voice. That is very difficult for me because my favorite thing to do is add parts and create arrangements for songs. But, I thought it might be interesting to try to be as simple as possible and really let the songs shine through on their own. A few of my favorite albums are like that. Robyn Hitchcock's "Eye" and "You and Oblivion", Nick Drake's "Pink Moon", and Dennis Crommett's "I Count None But The Sunny Hours" all are almost entirely voice and guitar with just a few hints here and there of other decorative instruments. Also, I would love to hear records like that from some of my favorite writers, like Paul Simon or Suzanne Vega - unfortunately they seem to add more and more instrumentation as they age.

I thought it might be an interesting challenge for myself. I don't know if it'll be a thing that I release or if I am just doing it for my own archives. I'm trying not to decide. I just want to make recordings without thinking about what they are for or where they will end up or who will hear them. That's what I used to do when I started this whole recording music thing. I would just write a song then go down into the basement, hit record on the 4-track, and make a little recording of it. I didn't think about why I was doing it, or if I would release it or anything. I just did it because I like doing it.

So, I took a few of my portable carpeted walls and made a little triangle with them. Then I put a Styrofoam insulation board on top and set up a chair and a microphone. Basically, I built myself a fort on Saturday night. I blocked off as much sound leakage as I could and sat down with the guitar and played and sang about fifteen songs. Some of them are old, some of them are new, some of them will be School for the Dead songs, some will be solo songs. I just played whichever ones came to mind.

I played and sang and played and sang until I realized it was far past my dinner time. That always happens to me when I get caught in the current of the recording process. I lose track of time. I forced myself to stop. I went outside, got in the car, and drove through the rain to find a chicken Parmesan sub.

After eating and reading in a small Amherst sandwich shop (The Sub), I returned home, went back into the studio, and started playing and singing more. I finally stopped when my finger tips hurt too much for me to make it through one of my more difficult songs to play (Dreams I'll Never Have). finger tips haven't hurt like that in over fifteen years. Over time, I have built up pretty thick calluses but I guess they still aren't good enough.

I think the recordings came out pretty nice. Again, I'm not sure what I'll do with them. I've already added a little electric guitar to a couple of them, but I'm really really going to try to not add much at all. I will definitely limit myself to four tracks total. Maybe I'll put on a harmony here and a guitar lick there, just the things that I initially heard in my head when first writing the songs.

It was a nice creative evening of recording and I felt like I was back in high school with my 4-track recorder.

The next day, after breakfast, Max came over and we filmed two music videos. One is for Disgruntled Lover and one is for Rock and Roll Camper. I think they are going to be pretty funny. Max took the raw footage with him to do the tiny bit of editing needed. I'm going to badger him daily to force him to finish them and put them up on-line so you can see them (and so I can see them). It shouldn't be too difficult. One of them has no edits at all and the other needs only one.

It was a beautiful unseasonable warm Sunday and I felt like I was back in junior high school making stop-motion animated films again. Good times.

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