I have to become better at finishing. The muse I serve is cruel, the road is paved with the bodies of my predecessors. Suicided, OD'd... and all they thought they could handle it, and they all thought they knew better. As long as I don't put stuff out there and call it "finished", there is a terrible psychic tension within me. So the way I see it, the options I have are: either getting better at finishing, or calling the whole thing off, which in my case is not possible--being able to create music is such a blessing in my life, where would I be without it?
I feel dirty for the things I had to do yesterday to make the rhythm guitar sound decent. Still this shitty affair with the guitar emulation that sounds well while playing but harsh and horrible when listening to the recording later. Aaaarggg!!! Anyways, at least it's done.
Today, faced with the grim perspective of doing comping work (which is just another name for "office work"), I think I've found the "economy of work" I was looking for in the latest days. It is simple, with the simplicity you get when you've taken away all the unnecessary. Maybe I'm still under the natural high of the discovery, but I think there's something good here.
The quickest way to phrase it is "a child guards the entry". My music production from now on is going to be as follows: 1) I'll have fun. 2) Once a reasonable amount of fun is satisfied, then I'll move to all the other stuff, the one that only feels good "having done".
That's what I have done today and it's worked very well. Thinking of the "thingy" I want to publish this month, I found the playlist needed some more toughness in the mix. So I've gone through my files looking for something not too complicated to record. I've ended up with 3 candidates. One discarded for being more heavy-thrash than punk (putting it in such a short selection would make for a confusing whole, I think). The other was punk but had a tempo change; I think I could pull it off but it's risky (I always think I can pull it off). The third candidate was ideal, short and rude and stupid...
I've applied pretty much the same workflow I used in the previous song (see the hour-by-hour report of a few days ago), and recorded a "live" demo with voice+distorted guitar played at the same time. One of the best investments of my time ever was changing the dull beep beep of the metronome for drum sounds. It's like a little crappy Fisher Price's live concert.
I've had a ball recording this thing, then I've turned to the child and asked him "are you happy, have you had enough fun yet?" And the child has said yes, so then I've moved to the comping of "Empty roads" and done it keenly and with great proficiency.
I'm going to apply this same technique, and ask the same question, in any of my musical sessions. I'll take it from there. And in the days when there's only time for one thing, it's going to go to the child.
Today is the end of the new deadline I set for these logs. They obviously make me good, and I'm afraid to quit them, but now I'd like to experiment with writing them privately. I don't know how much of the benefit comes from turning the daily amorphous toils into a narrative, and how much is the unconscious notion of some kind of "audience" out there, making what I do "important". I would hate to turn this into a "soap opera", an end in itself instead of a means to an end.
So I'm going to move these logs to a private format for a few days at least and see how it goes. If there's actually someone who is not a robot out there reading this stuff (the site metrics are extremely modest, although I can say I already have more followers than Jesus did in life), firstly I apologize for all the crap that unavoidably intertwines whenever you try to break the silence; the thing with writing a diary is that you write every day, not only on the good days. I hope you've found something of interest among this mishmash of things, or at least had a laugh or two. If you haven't died of boredom yet, next week I'm going to be releasing a few music-related texts I accumulated last summer, so you can look forward to them...
Got the keyboards recorded, courtesy of Yoshimi. As usual with keyboards, most of the time went to finding a good instrument; I always feel as if I were auditioning people for a musical; "Saw+chimes" -- "Thank you, that's enough". "Space Ethereal #9" -- "Don't call us, we'll call you". Etc. Once I got the sound, and the choice for the chord inversions, the recording itself was trivial.
Got a hint of how my musical mind works in what has happened with the rhythm guitar; for more than 48 hours I've remained unaware of the fact that the track was still in a crude DI state, the recording that I used for the basic initial metronome demo. It's like, my mind knows the content is there so it doesn't care so much about the "dressing", it disengages. Although in this case it's understandable with so much stuff happening all of a sudden in the other tracks, with the new solos and all. Today I'll record it again with some nice Rakarrack setting that blends in well with the mix (currently that guitar goes Houdini the moment the final solo kicks in...)
I also advanced with the bass; performing with certain fidelity is still a challenge, but once recorded, a bit of processing has made the track much clearer and sweet. HPF, valve simulator, EQ, compression and limiter.
Of course performing using an emulator adds an additional layer of difficulty (it's like trying to play accurately while standing on top of a rubber ball), so the performance is less than stellar... I'd rate the bass a 7, and the guitars an 8.5. That's the thing, there's always the temptation of stopping and improving the performance, but where do you draw the line? It's like riding a bicycle, very dangerous to stop, have to keep moving.
I've also checked the hardware latency of my system with the option provided by Ardour. About 11ms! Why, oh why? I thought the bottleneck could be in the USB, so I've run the test connecting the GTrack to the USB2 and USB3 ports in the computer, and I get the same results in both cases (the GTrack is a few years old, so I don't think it can run with USB3).
I thought the latency wars were over with this new computer, I have all the boxes checked, i7, 16Gb Ram, SSD... The computer is way more reliable than my previous laptop, and I can add plugin after plugin without fearing for my life, but this latency thing is a killjoy...
Anyway. Let's keep learning what we can, and pushing stuff out there in the meantime.
I keep surprising myself at how incapable I am to foresee how long will things take. For today's session, I intended to record the "reinforcement" guitar track, plus the keyboard -just a few ambient notes here and there, so no big deal-. And I felt a bit guilty for cutting myself too much slack doing only those two things.
Yeah right. It's turned out the guitar track has grown on its extremes two solos, which inhabit the gaps between words in the vocals, and logically they have taken some time to adjust.
The song already had a solo, and heaven knows I'm by design very sparse arrangement-wise in my songs -sometimes too much for my own good-. In this case it's like the solos have found me, rather than the other way round.
To compose them I've naturally turned to this technique I've used several times before of recording myself time after time, then listening and keeping the "hints": discoveries, unexpected vibes... A couple of mistakes have turned into intervals that I wouldn't have come up by myself, and I'm very happy with the way the solo flows. It reminds me a bit of the style of some Black Sabbath's ballads, Tony Martin era.
Despite having a comfortable process to record the solo, it has been tiring; about 3 hours of concentrated work, that you could not leave halfway through; besides, listening to the song so many times has also exhausted me emotionally. It's a very very sad song, that connects a lot with my personal situation; but in these arenas, sadness is also good, it's like crying at the movies, a harmless way of putting things out there, it liberates you...
With such a feat, today would be a happy day oh happy day, but some technical BS has started to creep in with the complexity. I resist to mention it here, I'll try to take it out of the way for good before the next log. Let's be careful, not overcook, we're almost there.
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.
Not much time available for rock and roll today. I'll try to take it where I left it yesterday; I'll listen to the session, polish a bit the things that stick out the most and try to get something printable that is convincing enough for effect in the Bandcamp placeholder. I'll move in that direction as much as I can (A snail just passed me from my left side at dizzying speed... but whatchagonnado...)
The deadline I set is gone. As these logs help my process so much I'll keep going for five days more, as a homage to Megadeth's "Five magics"...
My plan for today was to finish real quick the redux-to-normal montage of voice tracks, print the session, upload it to Bandcamp and listen to the album I have so far, kinda like the painter who takes a step backwards to watch the whole canvas. But I didn't get to Bandcamp because housekeeping has caught up with me; there was some serious tidying up needed after fighting the "guitar tone wars" of 2 weeks ago.
I didn't name consistently or usefully the guitar tracks then, so I've had to go through most of them to tell which one was which; for example, there was one called "g_vamp", as in "virtual amp". The reference was a good enough locator at that moment, with my brain more engaged in listening and experimenting, but, come to think of it, all my amps are virtual so, it hasn't been too eloquent later. Plus I still had laying around the guitar mockups of the demo stage, plus some of the tracks that were intended for experimentation turned out to be usable later, etc... Like the audio pros say, "It's all about preproduction, dude!".
What saddens me is that, although the song has turned out well, the process to get a good tone remains a bit vague, so the problems will reappear in next session: "record with different amp setups, layer them and hopefully you'll get it to sound good". If it were a chair I wouldn't sit on it.
And speaking of layering, I've found that, whenever I layer the different voice takes (a very common "reinforcing" trick) , the raspiness disappears and Paul Stanley makes a new visit. Strange, because this kind of layering has brought me good results in the past; I've also tried moving the tracks a bit to left or right, in case they were for some reason out of sync, but doesn't seem to be the case. I'll probably give it some more experimentation, but worse case scenario one vocal track will do.
Every day I hate perfectionism more and I want to move on from this song. I have to plan how to move faster from one song to the next. I would also like to balance my load so there is always something fun (singing, playing) compensating the boring bits (click, click...)
Done with the vocals. And I don't want to be overenthusiastic, but I'm certainly enthusiastic. To me artistic creation is about at some point being able to say "yeah, that's me". It's like your face is buried and sometimes, after a lot of effort, you get to unbury it and recognize your features. I feel like I AM in this song, and that's such a rare occurrence, it's a moment of growth for this little life living here.
This can sound so pompous, of course... So I do my best to stay grounded too. I remember a quote by Rilke -I quote by heart-, that went something like "we know how fragile we are by looking at how small our victories are". At the end of all the struggle, all the change you get in the world is a new song out there, yet another computer file out there, with 3-5 minutes of sound who someone hopefully will enjoy, without noticing it too much... It's easy for anyone to say "big deal", even for the same person who makes the music sometimes... but there is also another side to the story, of course...
The vocal tracking session has gone so smooth that I have even convinced myself afterwards to go through the drudgery of moving the drums from QTractor to Ardour and configure all the buses... With that out of the way, all that remains is slicing and dicing the vocal tracks from the "redux" mode to normal, some minor comping, and I can start mixing. It's incredible, at the end if you persevere you eat the fucking elephant...
New voice tracking session. All undesired vibes of Paul, Gene and company have been removed.
I have recorded 5 takes, plus a few more of a stubborn section where I think I could do something more. And I'm not hardly as beaten up as I was in the previous session.
It was expected, after all; the other session was a bit of a stubbornness case; after all the effort of setting the process, the sensible voice advised to just dismantle the whole thing, but it was just impossible to resist giving it a try.
This time, with the extra mental resources liberated, the process has matured a bit more; it has grown a separate section about getting the right headphone mix, something that up until now I've been doing winging it time after time, as with so many other things.
Regarding the singing, I entered the session with a stance of "I've done the due diligence, so now I'm going to forget all about it and just sing". My previous singing was perhaps too "academic", after learning about the raspy voice, more focused on not making mistakes than in getting a good performance. This time I think I've developed more my own style (although raspiness is not something habitual in my songs).
One of the things I was doing wrong was that the mic was placed higher than my head, and, having an unconscious live-like stance, I tried to point my voice to it directly, which implied tilting my head back, leaving the neck "in the open". To sing this song the way I wanted, I discovered, it is very important to stick my chin to my chest. The next discovery was that my chest was too "buried"; I had to pump it a little to give the sound more power and a bit more of "cockiness".
From there, listening to my body and its effects on the sound, the image that I've found is "the standing rock". The way Lemmy or Joey Ramone sang, as if they were standing in the middle of a meteor storm, firm, holding tight and yet keeping their cool, managing to have their say (how useful can be these poetic images? Well, they are useful to me. We humans can have "mechanic parts", but we're not machines; some of us have a heart too).
I'll relisten to the recording tomorrow; hopefully I have everything I need for the main vocals (I need a new session for a few unisons in certain sections).
Another good news is that yesterday I found how to turn Qtractor's Midi drumming into independent audio tracks; exporting it as a midi file and then importing it to Ardour, where I cannot edit it but I do know how to send each piece to the corresponding track. Laborious, but this situation will improve in the future, I hope, when I move from Ardour 4 to 5 (and then something else will break somewhere; ah, the joys of software...)
Yesterday's works went to adding a couple of needed guitar blings (saturated amp screaming in the intro; swarm-like background sound a la Morbid Angel during one of the slow parts). Measuring the results in terms of my own previous production, I think this thing kills; but regarding the vocals I found a surprise.
My raspy efforts of the day before yesterday seem to have been in vain; with the vocal tracks aligned and with reverb, the raspiness does not come through. What sticks out the most is my high pitched voice, in a very melodic way that, surprise surprise, made me think immediately of Kiss; to be preciser, of the song "Love Gun".
At that moment, the following inner dialogue took place in my brain:
--Ehm... Kiss is a great band...
--Don't give me crappy excuses you lazy bastard! You know you have to redo the vocals...
So well, I'll have to experiment and record more. Should be easier now that I have a well defined process...
Today I cannot record anything, so maybe I'll give it a rest until tomorrow.