The Recording Diaries part 6: Rockin’ on

And a productive week it has been. Just as well, because my darling daughter T returned from SIngapore (school trip) and has promptly moved back into my recording studio (er??? her bedroom). it’s great to have her around again đŸ™‚ But it does limit my time to work. I’m back to setting up after she’s gone to school and packing it away at 3:45

Which is not so bad, as I have gotten so accustomed to what I’m doing (it’s been a bit like a job) that I know exactly where everything goes. In fact I have evolved it all into a neat little pod where i can sit on a stool (for playing acoustic guitar) or stand (for everything else) and have everything within reach and sight: computer, audio interface, mouse and keyboard, tuner, and a selection of guitars.
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I realised after I finished the last two songs that it was time for a change. I don’t want this album to be full of quiet, acoustic reflective songs. I think I started with them because it was a bit less daunting to contemplate solo recording those songs than more complex and energetic ones.
I’d also received my “thanks but no thanks” letter from the Darebin Songwriting Award, and was probably feeling like kicking some butt.
I started with a track called Like Me that I wrote early last year. It was a song that I would have brought to the band if we had been active at all at the time (or subsequently). i approached it similar to the others, except that after I had recorded the bass guitar I muted the acoustic guitar track and recorded the electric guitars just against the bass. This helped get it much tighter (as needed for such a track) and later I edited the acoustic guitar track to align it better with the strong rhythms.
like me rough.mp3
After recording Like Me, I went up to Kyneton for a day and a half to hang out with my girlfriend (who has been sorely neglected due to my focus on this project). Had a fantastic time, walking and cooking and op-shopping and the like. Felt like I was on holidays, and I guess I was, as I have been approaching the recording like a job. Then I was back and, with one day left before having to pick up T from the airport, I recorded all the parts for another song, Talk To You, that I had written earlier this year. It was only after picking up T and heading into the weekend that I found the time to edit and mix both the songs.
talk to you rough.mp3
There were a few challenges with these songs. One was the limitations of the room. I need to record at fairly high volume to get the right sound for the guitar and bass, but this made all sorts of things in the room vibrate. A recording studio is designed to be a neutral and clear space, but I have bookcases, desks with knick knacks, and all sorts of other things to contend with. I also have a drum kit and a few amps in the room, with big hollow spaces that love to ring out in harmony with particular notes I might play. in the end I had all these things covered with blankets,and had to angle the amps carefully to minimise setting up standing sound waves; but this still only reduced, not eliminated the problem.
The other challenge was one I’ve mentioned before, but which became more of an issue with these more upbeat and band-type songs: I’ve never really figured out what the different instruments should do. What beats should the bass emphasise? (they will need to fit with the drums later on). What should the rhythm guitar do? How to approach the instrumental? And how to vary the arrangement in the verses so it doesn???t all sound the same? All these things are much easier to figure out in a band ??? with a bunch of people all involved and able to try things out ??? than by yourself, when you have to record each instrument one at a time and you never really hear it all together until it’s all done. In particular, in Talk To You I completely redid the bass line after listening to the first rough mix because although it felt right to play it like that, it sounded all wrong. So the new bass line felt all wrong to play but sounded all right. Bizarre.
The lead guitar was also difficult. In the end I just recorded many takes, trying out different things, and then I mixed and matched them when editing to make something that worked. It feels like cheating, but it’s not a competition: it’s really akin to editing a novel after writing it ??? a distinct but integral part of the creative process.
In the case of Like Me, I decided that I would bring another instrument (maybe sax?) in for the instrumental, so I have left it empty (although on impulse I recorded some harmonica in the second part; I’m not sure if I’ll keep this, but if I do I’ll need to edit the first note cos it comes in a tiny bit late).
All in all, I’m really happy with these songs (especially Talk To You). They definitely need drums, but I am amazed how much they hold together rhythmically without them, and how much it sounds like a band. In fact, I am so happy with Talk To You that I’ve decided I need more than my own mediocre drumming, so I have asked the drummer from my band, John Watson (he’s also a talented photographer) to do the deed. I’m a little disappointed that it means I won???t have played all the main instruments; but I’m happier that it will have excellent drumming.
Now I only have a few days left before I’m back to work (though since my job is only guaranteed for another two weeks, it’s possible that I’ll soon have all the time in the world???), so I expect to record maybe two more songs, bringing the total to eight, before my time is not my own again. I could leave it at that, and do a short album; but I’m more inclined to keep working, recording on weekends and editing on weeknights, until I have twelve or thirteen. I believe in the songs, and I am so happy with the quality of the recordings I’m getting (I know they don’t sound like ‘real’ songs yet but once they’re been mixed and mastered properly by a real sound engineer, they will) that I want to see it right through.

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