Just a quick update today. I've been working consistently in my new song, and I'm pretty sure I will make the deadline I set for myself of the day after tomorrow (unless the evil dr. Muda sends me some of its last minute fiends, one must always stay alert you know).
I'm (pretty) happy with the product and with the process so far. Above all, I'm training myself in a new way of working. For example, this song has a section with irregular, non-metronome guided pauses, and along the whole month, I've dreaded the moment where I would have to do the editing. In the songs of yore, this kind of track surgery would have given me the jeebie weebies; you have to select all the tracks you've been working on, cut them at selected locations, and then drag them around. So many things can go wrong...
However, this time has been easier than the previous, by far. And when a couple of mistakes did occur, I've faced them methodically as learning opportunities, and now they exist only as a new wealth in my process lists, a new contingency that is taken care of for the future. So I feel fortunate that they happened in such a low scale.
(Here's a little disordered and random account of my latest recording efforts, written while I listen, omg what a relief, to music made by others... The thing that I hate the most about producing is that you cannot listen to music while you do it :P )
As the month of the RPM challenge advances -and the February Album Month if it still exists, I can never figure their website out-, I, more modestly, make my way into the first song of my song-a-month-challenge.
Although on second though, I shouldn't think of it as a "challenge", as I intend to use it -the learning that it produces-, as the stepping stone to my next goal, and so on. Challenges are more like "OK, I'm finished with this, now I'll go back to my well earned rest and my routine". This one is rather a "production rate" (should I say takt time?) that I intend to establish for myself, as the new basis from which to jump to the next improvements.
So where am I now? Already with delays regarding the plan (according to my plan today should be last Thursday), screwing up a lot of stuff (but either putting the means on the spot to avoid the error in the future, or well recorded in a "hansei" file that I'll revise after the song is delivered). All in all, in spite of all the mistakes, the result of being so rigurous is paying off. The song already, in my view, at certain moments has "it", that invisible snake, that "tickle" that I always try to capture and is what motivates me to start in the first place...
Organization wise, lately I've discovered the Grammy's recording standards, and I'm trying to use them as the starting point for my projects for the first time. Of course you cannot take the analogy too far; those standards are intended, among other things, to help a lot of people from different places to work together and "find the frickin' file", while in my efforts I still have little collaboration, but the rigor created by money (recording used to be a millionary industry, remember?) gives a kind of seriousness to things that can be very useful when you are wearing so many hats simultaneously. There's a lot of useful stuff in there, perhaps in the future I'll write a new post about those documents and the changes I've made for myself.
The most notable thing in this process, by now, is the continuous decission fatigue. But I'm getting better at this. For example, doing the compings, although they will never be among my favorite activities, at some times they have acquired a comic similarity to an audition, with me sitting and listening to candidate after candidate for each part; "OK, thank you, don't call us, we'll call you"...
In one of my previous posts, I made the praise of the virtues of rehearsing a lot before recording, and the point cannot be overemphasized. My pitfall in this case was the bass, that I hardly rehearsed I guess under the unconscious (and dorky) belief that "knowing the guitar parts, the bass will pretty much fall into place by itself". Wrong, and one of those cases where it would have paid off a lot to "go slow to go fast". Even though the bass line, as it is well known, is often constituted by the basic note of each guitar chord, 1) there are gazillions of exceptions to that rule, and they require -again- creative and artistic decissions that it's better to take and practice as upstream as possible. And 2) even in those places where the bass happens to mimic the base note of the guitar, still, the muscle memory you have to build for a guitar chord and for the swift fingers of the bass, are different and require their different dose of time.
None of this struggle, I'm happy to say, will show in the final track; bass is an instrument I'm very fond of, and I'm satisfied with my performance, but it took waay too much time and effort to produce it. Lesson learned for next time.
I recently stumbled with great pleasure upon this documentary about the Minutemen, a band that I only knew sparsely, and that I've been getting into more since.
I love the band's mentality, their very articulated and yet down to earth philosophy; concerts should be made more available, something you can go to after work, on your way home. Bands should grow up everywhere like mushrooms.
Undoubtfully, if little venues with all kind of bands playing were as numerous are ATMs are now, we would be living in a different kind of world.
A part that cracks me is how excruciatingly self taught they were; this is particularly impressive considering the great technical level they achieved. In their formation years in the 70s, there wasn't Internet or other information sources available, so they spent several years playing unaware of the fact that the instruments needed to be tuned; they thought it was just a estetic peference, as in "I like my strings tight", "oh, I prefer them looser".
I cannot help picturing the moment of the discovery, D. Boon or Mike Watt rushing into the rehearsal space all pumped up and breaking the news to the others: "Guys, I have great news! You're not gonna believe this..."
"Dance the orange!", said the poet Rilke. More modestly, I've been recently learning to, or rather rediscovering, how to dance the microphone.
I'm in the rehearsals for the song I want to release to the atmosphere this month. Rehearsals, I've realized, are not only the moment where the bulk of value is created (the more you rehearse, the more you dig in on where the song intends to go, and also the more you liberate yourself. It is once you've automated the finger positions that the actual expression starts); not only that, but they also liberate you from undergoing later all the horrible "technical disease" of having several takes that are almost well so you have to adjust, match... all that sick but sometimes necessary microsurgery when you don't "get it right at the source".
Today's rehearsal was the voice track, and the engineering works previous to the tracking were a beautiful example of how the magic of steady processes can help you. A convoluted, complex series of steps designed to allow the simplest outcome: press play and start recording. When you're done, press play and start listening what you just recorded.
It took almost one hour getting to recording mode (should be faster in the upcoming days; this one was slower for being the first time, in a new location...). And it wasn't free from little moments of doubt, indecission, and even wondering frustration ("I thought I was advanced when I wrote these instructions, how could I still make this rookie mistake?"). But the process, with bumps and all, worked nevertheless like rail, taking me from A to B.
And the final station was that that I could get goofy, and start to understand what the song asks me to do. After a few initial stiff takes, I started to try silly stuff -I started to PLAY-; intonations; proximity effect? Rather not? Wishpering? how would the singer from Life Sex & Death would sing it? How about Butthole Surfers?
I got it right when I started to swing my arms while I sang. Soon I was dancing (it's a very comic song). It wasn't until I discovered the right coreography for the song that I got the voice nuisances that I needed.
This was one of those reminders that you can always refresh from time to time; you're not just a corpse holding on top a wind-shaping mechanism, you're an alive being so you sing with your whole body, and the good singing has something of the craft of the actor; you create a character, you live emotions for each song. It is the space that the process liberated what has allowed me to recover this wonderful, always endangered degree of freedom.
I had set the purpose for myself of releasing one sonic product every week till February. Mission accomplished.
With that purpose, what I intended was to get myself back in the habit of releasing stuff, get the deadline adrenaline pumping, and iterating through my processes through doing, which most of the time is the only way you can obtain actual improvements on them.
What next? The upcoming stake on the ground, one new song per month until the end of the year, was decided beforehand, and going through this experience hasn't shown the need to redefine it, so I'll stick to it --at least this one first month, and let's see how it goes. However, I've been doing some reflection about the way to deploy it.
The delivery schedule for this blog will remain as usual: one weekly post, or rather "one post within every week". However, I'm not going to continue with the weekly sonic deliveries. Too much things are flowing, and the monthly song is going to take all my organizing power --I don't discard however, uploading some occasional stuff at some point if something quick comes; inspiration, well you know how it goes...--.
Things are too moving and changing at this point to commit to the weekly stuff with security. I would like to compensate that reduction of sonic content by posting more than once a week, but again I cannot make a solid commitment in all honesty. When I first had to revise my delivery standards a few months ago, I said I believed in speeding down in order to survive. Another way to put it is that I believe in consistency; the only advance that is sustainable is the one you can maintain steadily; the "big burst" of abundance that you get one day and then leaves you the next 15 days k.o. is no good (there are plenty of examples of how ill and dysfunctional is that kind of two times cycle, for example the way our economic system operates).
I'm happy with my advances in systematizing music making. I'm definitely a slow learner, exploring a territory that, in addition, seems pretty uncharted to me. But I love when I feel that peculiar "perfume" when a mature process you've been developing, starts to accumulate and makes a certain task of your life definitely easier, and ready for more improvement. That sensation is definitely arriving to my music making, and I don't know how long will it take or how far will I get, but it feels great.