Wednesday, June 22, 2011

on establishing a permanent record

Because of the blessed nature of being in a really good band, I am and can fully conceive of myself as a musician. One of the things that musicians do (other than annoying their family, friends, passers-by; put on the facade of a monster ego to cover up mass insecurities; and make a lot of noise in loud venues populated by intoxicated people, some of whom would rather be either dancing or playing bar-top trivia games) is record. Hell, even if it wasn't part of the standard musician playbook, I'd want to establish a permanent record of my music if just for the "I must live on forever! MWAHAHAHA!" part of my personality alone.

So, how is the recording process? Surely, you are thinking, it must be fabulous getting the chance to finally document your material. How could it be anything other than interesting taking sounds in your heat, moving them from your fingers, into steel strings, through magnets, wire, effects, tubes, speakers...all in concert with other musicians who you love and trust? How could this not be utterly and completely fascinating? Enthralling? Transcendent?


I still want to eventually do good professional recordings one day, to have on tape (or some digital facsimile thereof) a version of one of my songs which approaches the version in my head. But, if my experiences are typical in any way whatsoever, I am not sure how bands can spend more than a few weeks in the studio and come out with their sanity. How, perchance, might someone be a member of Boston or Guns N' Roses? How could you survive multiple years in the studio working on the same damn collection of ten songs?

The above, though, was my current band's attempt to just do some raw, mic-in-the-room recordings, and there are occasional technical hiccups in any situation which have to be, for the record, we are not usually sitting around, reading, or passed out while someone twists knobs and hits things. We are, however, responsible for each other's feelings, attitudes, and opinions, so we have to give each other a lot of space...which means, rather than a "let's bust out our set in an hour" session, recording tends to be play once, wait while people listen and judge the take, and play again...albeit twenty minutes after the previous take. I understand the lack of flow, but it is still an issue for my level of playing and of interest.

Doing it on your own, though, is not really any quicker or less aggravating.

I have mentioned before that, after Analog Revolution goes away, I have another project in the works. In this new band-to-be, I will be shouldering a decent amount of the conceptual and songwriting load. Well, in the week before the progeny unit showed up, I decided to assemble some rough demos at the other band members would (1) be able to hear the riffs again (since, while I was in the final stages of urchin-readiness, we haven't been practicing) and (2) have a good idea of the structure and overall sound floating in my head.

Stage one was to find a drum machine I possess neither the massively expensive drum set nor the coordination required to play one. There are tons of good programs out there, and some came very highly recommended....but they all cost money, and I am, if nothing else, relatively broke. So I did some arduous searching (well...I googled it) and settled on a nice open-source program.

I then had to learn the program. Operating the software was not really the issues...the program I found is relatively intuitive. No, the difficulty is simply I don't know how to play drums. True, I have listened to drums all my life, and I have known many drummers. Apparently, though, I only gained a slight theoretical knowledge of their craft in the process of hanging out with them. Osmosis, I guess, only gets you so far. Ultimately, I learned the biggest thing to be gleaned by hanging out with drummers is an increased proficiency with profanities.

It took a few days of messing with the program, but eventually, I attained a certain proficiency programming drums. More than anything else, I was amazed by the innate mathematics involved in drumming. Fractions in particular. One song in particular tripped me up for a full day before I realized the drum part needed to be in triplets...which changed the mathematics considerably. This is all funny, because I never really saw any of my drummer friends as math savants...but I guess there's also some intuition at work.

After the drums were programmed, I then set out to record the guitars...which, as I have been playing guitar since 8th grade and had written all the songs in question...well, this should be no problem, huh? Should be "I'm gonna knock out ten guitar tracks, assemble a guitar army, be the envy of Brian May," right? Not the case. When we were doing the Analog Revolution recordings, I was chagrined to find we would only end up with three songs recorded in a three hour session. Why, I wondered, couldn't we speed up the whole process? Hell, Black Sabbath recorded their entire first album in twelve hours.

Wrong again, idiot self. When I recorded on my own, I still did about three songs in a three hour session. I'm not sure if the recording process makes me over-think everything, or if I'm really just that tremendously sloppy/imprecise of a guitar player...probably the latter, which is a tremendous blow to my ego. Even though I was in control of all aspects of these fledgling demos, it still took me forever to do a job that was simply...good enough. Sigh.

I'm now realizing that I need to get back to the live element. I'm much better when there's immediacy between myself and the band, between the band and the audience, when we can get locked into the energy, the emotion, the pure awesome sound, and just let the music take us where it needs to go.

That our audience is drinking and, as a result, has lowered expectations is just a bonus. Yeah...that's what it is.

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