What I did yesterday, after considering several options, was starting a new song from scratch.
I live by my intuition and along the years I've learned to listen to it and follow it, sometimes very blindly. But I've found that it is very powerful and it serves me well (it's a miracle that a peculiar creature like me has hit his forties relatively intact).
Intuition is immediate, boom, while logic, on the other hand, lives within time. Sometimes logic has taken years to catch up with why it was a good idea to do X.
(Also, in other occasions, I've mistaken the signs; in the musical realm you have aesthetic clues that tell you if you hit the target; in real life not always, so sometimes intuition is easy to be mistaken with that other tiny voice of plain desire...)
Deep water navigation to try to explain what I did yesterday. Here's a more superficial explanation; I've found that it is a great practice to document things; together with that, I've found that sometimes it is great to forget about the whole documentation and just do things from scratch. That way, you avoid the risk that the documentation has turned into "bureaucracy"; you turn your eyes back to the prize.
I apply this kind of "clean eyes technique" in all my documentation, and music production is not an exception. It usually happens when I have a "back to roots" feeling; "it cannot be so hard to record a song, let's just do one, solving all the problems as we go".
So yesterday I opened a new project folder and dived headlong into the power ballad, entitled "Empty roads". I also decided to log the process as I went along, to find what are the main time wasters; here is the log:
Find song tempo
Change metronome sound
Setup audio interface
Find song's previous documentation
Install word processor (required for the lyrics file)
Prepare tracks for demo (voice+guitar: 2 mono tracks)
Recording demo tracks (with metronome)
Bass (emulated) - Set levels
Setting levels in the chain (emulator sound, headphone levels...)
Setting guitar tone (Guitarix)
Generate drum track (Drumgizmo)
End of session
A simple look at this tells a lot about my workflow, the opportunities for improvement, and the time hogs. Bass emulation was a royal PIA, and the final solution I got was only meh, a compromise. I don't know if I'm doing something wrong with this new computer; in the past I've recorded like 40 or 50 songs with bass emulated via Rakarrack, and it was OK, but I don't seem to get a good sound now. This is the nasty thing with so many moving parts... Maybe I'll check some MIDI based solution in the future.
What I discovered in this marathon session? Well, firstly, I couldn't have gone through it if I didn't enjoy the process a lot. The stage where you record stuff and see the song grow and grow fills me with joy, a joy that links directly to my childhood, recording silly stuff in cassettes and replaying it to myself time after time.
This song was well rehearsed because I was in the habit of playing it now and then. In the recorded result right now I see both how rough everything is, and also the composition and performance quality.
I'm starting to see the recording process as an arrow shot; you can either hit or miss the target, but it doesn't make much sense to try to redirect the arrow once it's in the air. Something like that. The more you tinker, the more you risk breaking something.
And I need the joyful part. I need to express myself. Some people don't seem to, but I do. The fact that music no longer has market value should not stop me from launching stuff out there. And if it's going to sound rough, then so be it. I'm going to be extremely sparse about "audio production" (the boring part), and do only the audio stuff that I learn along the way while I'm singing, playing...
In the end I've mentioned it before, I enjoy that kind of roughly produced music. When you like the song, at one point the song is just the way it is. So chances are some other people will lend it an ear or two too. Not everything is lost.
These ideas are scattered because I'm still elaborating them. I think I'm giving myself permission to be sloppier and happier. I have to maximize the joy I get out of music, otherwise I won't do it, and I will get depressed and frustrated. I have to stop having bursts of productivity, or rather have them everyday and make them somehow sustainable.
Today I've recorded the actual voice track; I've searched my notes on how to set the session like a thirsty man seeks water. That's the test that shows that the process is good, when you go back to it spontaneously.
I'll try to keep keeping it simple and maintain momentum. While listening, this song has grown an additional guitar part and a keyboards section, that I will have to "manifest" tomorrow. Still great fun, still dying to do it. Let's keep things this way.
Got to listen the whole Bandcamp thing. After giving it some consideration, I think I'm going to scrap "Zombie barf". I believe in the song, it doesn't deserve the poor audio treatment I've given it; plus I don't want to ship junk. When I was in my 20s, it was enough for me to get the song good enough so that others "saw what I meant", the vibe I was aiming to, and the execution was only in second place. Now I find that approach too lacking; I can do better than that and I know it.
I try to see it as a "failing forward"; I've created a new category for songs like this, unpublishable, but good as elaborated demos, to show to one's band when or if I ever get to have one again.
After this listening I've made a lot of reflection. "Zombie barf" took like 20 hours of "production" (the term including everything besides composition and rehearsal). AB tests in different speakers, all the different plugins... the works. "You're repulsive", on its side, took hardly 2 hours; the guitar is not layered. The drums are a simple loop. The voice is not layered either (hell, I didn't even use a pop filter!) And it sounds way way better. There's something fishy going on here. The technical disease perhaps?
I need more standardization and additional creative constraints. I'm still deciding how to go about it. A good beginning could be what I wrote about a couple of days ago; arranging things so that I can play or sing something every day. A computer screen is like a rectangular spotlight focused on your face and it doesn't have much to do with music making per se - as process I mean; of course it is a sensational tool, etc...
Perhaps I also have to admit that the genre of music that I do doesn't take too well the me-myself-and-i approach (although it is still possible; I'm listening to one of the proofs right now, in fact it has become one of my go-to albums...)
An idea that has been in my mind lately is adding a new filter to the song choice process: technical feasibility. It's something that I've never taken into consideration before; I just thought of the songs I wanted in the album, how well they would match with each other... With my humble resources maybe I should pay attention also to things like "this one is straightforward, but that one has 3 tempo changes", "this one has a crowd chant that is going to be hard to pull off..."
As a "bucket resolution", as a container while I figure out the rest, I've decided that in the final week of November I'll release what I've got. Like a game of "musical chair"; if it is an EP, good. If it is a maxisingle, so be it. If it is a single, it's ok too. If I don't even have the single I'll record a podcast explaining what happened... Something, I don't know.
I feel a bit "bruised" today, as sometimes facing the truth leaves you, but I don't feel sad for having gone through the whole process of the song only to discard it later; closing the cycle has its value too. The accumulated experience is useful and what I have to do now is try different working patterns. Today I'll simply play for a while at random, explore, wait for some spark to happen.
I have a guitar and I'm gonna use it