I am nearing the end of the creation of my 27th CD, Backstage At The Resurrection, so I’ve been mixing, remixing, rerecording, listening and doing it all over again for a couple of months now. My wife cannot believe that I can listen to a song for six hours, making subtle changes that probably only matter to me.
But I am the artist, I am the engineer, the musician, the composer and I own the studio, so I’m taking as much time as it takes to put this music exactly where I want it to be. And I am blessed with enough success to afford to take that time.
Everyone I know has some sort of computer recording set up, some amazingly sophisticated, some rudimentary, but more people than ever have access to recording their own music. Hence the glut of CD’s that are floating around out there. Many of them are remarkable; even more of them are mystifyingly banal. So let’s look at that. How do we make our songs and then our recordings remarkable enough to connect with people and truly reward them for that connection.
Starting with the songs, there is such an easy test you can apply to your own work. I’ve said this before but it is important to remember and to utilize. You have some favorite songs. You listen to them over and over again and always take some joy in doing so. Okay.
Put your song up against that song, because that’s what everyone who hears your song is going to do; compare it to what they love. Now that love is subjective, but the level of expertise is not. You can hear it when someone gets it right. Now back to your song against your favorite song.
How does it compare? If it’s as good a song in your estimation as your favorite song then your work as a songwriter on that song is done. If your song isn’t as good as that, then you are not finished writing your song. You still have work to do.
Okay, let’s move ahead. You’ve written and rewritten the song and it is exactly where you want it to be.
Recording time. What do you do?
You record every single idea that you can think of. Every guitar part, piano part, drum part, background part you can think of. You try it in different keys, you try it at different tempos. Some place it will begin to click. Follow that muse. Put down everything you can think of. As many ideas as you and your musical cohorts can come up with.
Coming up with the ideas is the fun part. What the real work is, is wading thru all the ideas and keeping what you think serves the song and the recording, and losing what doesn’t. Even if you love the part, the performance, or in the case of putting together an album, even the song itself, you have to do some thinning.
That’s what I’ve been doing with this recording, Backstage At The Resurrection. Thinning out the recording; removing anything that doesn’t quite groove, or distracts from what I want the listener to focus on to serve the recording.
I tend to like complicated music, complicated tracks, dense arrangements, even though I tour with one guitar and some minimal effects (a looping station and some standard effects which I use sparingly on stage). I now realize that while I like that, sometimes that wall of sound is too daunting to a listener. It’s okay to lead them to that, but you can’t just hit a fresh ear with that. It’s too overwhelming and can come across as cacophony upon first listen.
So what I’m doing this time, is trying to accommodate what I love with what I want to have happen. I want to make one of the great recordings of all time. I know that sounds like arrogance or boastful crap, but you have to shoot for the stars. Almost everyone falls short of their goals almost every time, so what set your sites on something mundane and then, fall short of that?
So I’m listening and I am comparing my recording to the recordings that I love, in exactly the same fashion I suggested that you compare your songs to your favorite songs. And I ask myself how it compares. As soon as it DOES compare favorably with my favorite recordings, I will know I’m done.