Category Archives: creative process

Appearance on the Latest Noise Podcast

This week, I had a great time chatting with Mike Kuzan and Max Feinstein on the Latest Noise podcast. Check out the episode to hear our conversation about my upcoming show at the Hutton, music, photography, the creative process, creating effective email newsletters, and also a live performance of my song “A New Start.”

Hope you enjoy it!

Work in Progress

SaveAs

When is a piece of art – be it visual, music, writing, or something else – considered finished?

There is always something to add, change, or fix. Always something that could be different or better. And when you’re working digitally, it becomes more apparent. You can theoretically create unlimited versions of any piece.

When does it end? Or, does it ever end?

Is most art still a work in progress?

When Queen recorded Bohemian Rhapsody, they layered so many vocal harmonies and new tracks that they could actually see through the tape. It wasn’t until they were on the verge of physically breaking the technology, the tape, they considered it finished. The technology forced them into it!

Walt Whitman was never truly finished with Leaves of Grass. Each new printing was an opportunity to add, change, and evolve the work. In his third editionhe added 146 new poems. The eighth edition was the final time he altered it, 33 years after the first edition!

It’s been said that a work of art takes on a life of it’s own once it is received and interpreted by an audience. I find it interesting that a work of art also evolves at the hand of the artist. The art has an initial birth, but has the opportunity to evolve over time.

My single, Walking On, follows in this tradition.

It began as a contribution to a benefit compilation album. Banding Together is both a celebration of local music and a benefit for the Spondylitis Association of America. It’s a yearly event organized by Lazlo at blowupradio.com.

For the 2016 compilation, it didn’t feel right to take the same stripped-down approach I had taken in previous years. My live show had evolved. I was experimenting with live looping. Ty Tuschen had been joining me on electric guitar for shows. I wanted to incorporate these new elements into the recording.

So I evolved my recording process. I live-looped a guitar percussion part, played guitar and sang over the loop. Then, I invited Ty to play electric guitar. He added a killer guitar solo, a slide guitar, and some additional atmosphere. I added a bass to fill it out. It sounded great. I released it to Lazlo just within the deadline!

Walking On was officially birthed, but was it finished?

Like Queen, I began thinking of new parts that might make it better.

Like Walt Whitman, I began thinking about what else I might do with the track as part of it’s next release. Send it to all of the major distributors like Apple Music, Amazon, and Spotify. Make it an official single. At the same time, I knew the Banding Together version ought to be exclusive to the compilation.

I went into the recording session file and duplicated it. Just like that, the next evolution of the song was born. A work in progress.

The looped guitar percussion was unique, but didn’t hit you with enough impact. I doubled it with a kick drum (a live sample and an 808) and hand claps.

The lead vocal was recorded live in one take. I knew I could make it better. I learned some new vocal production tips to thicken the main vocal and make it shine.

What about backing vocals? Yes!

Then, I thought the bass should be more present. So I doubled it with a sine wave synth bass.

After (probably) a few too many days of mixing and tweaking, wondering if Walking On was actually finished, I did a final export.

This latest version of Walking On is the one I’m sticking with for now. I’m glad it did not take me 33 years to get there. I’m also glad I didn’t risk a technology breakdown to get there.

It’s available everywhere you can find digital music. Apple Music/iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, Bandcamp, and hundreds more.

I’m in the midst of the next work in progress. Like Queen, I’m pushing the technological limits. I’m working with 100+ audio tracks and my system is on the verge of breaking down. When it’s as good as it can be, I will release it as another single. Maybe when I have enough singles, I’ll have an EP. Or a full-length album.

Maybe when I get to that point, I’ll have another opportunity to further evolve these works in progress.

Recording It Live

My latest album – Banding Together 2015 – is a live album. Not live in the sense that it was recorded at a show or even in front of a live audience (other than my cats). It’s live in the sense that the performance is live. I played my guitar and sang each song from the beginning to the end. And that’s what you hear on the album.

But why do it live? Why not record to a click track and multi-track the guitar and vocal separately? Recording software makes it easy. Plus, it produces a nice “studio sound.”

In this particular case, live was a requirement. The Banding Together webathon had to be performed live because that was the nature of the event. But even if that requirement wasn’t there, would I have done it differently? Would I have multi-tracked?

I don’t think so. Not that I wouldn’t ever record that way, but there’s something special to me about being able to hear a singer/songwriter perform songs in the most intimate setting. I don’t believe you can truly capture that sound unless it’s recorded as a live performance.

When the performance is recorded live – even if it’s captured in a studio – it feels like you’re in the room with the musician. That’s what the early Bob Dylan records – like The Freewheeling Bob Dylan – make me feel. That’s what Damien Rice’s first record makes me feel. It’s the best part about stripped-down, live-performance recordings. They allow us to hear the music as written.

It’s the reason MTV’s Unplugged was so popular, right? We’re able to hear if the song stands on its own. We can focus on the melody, lyrics, chord changes, and intent of the songwriter. We’re not distracted by studio effects or instrumentation.

We want to feel the natural ebb and flow of the music as expressed through the dynamics of the performer. It’s not often we hear true dynamics in today’s recordings. The effect of dynamics is often achieved by adding or subtracting instruments, but rarely does the overall loudness change.

Yet if you’re listening to one person play in front of you live, the player’s dynamics come through so clearly. This is something I wanted to capture in Banding Together 2015. I want you to feel like I sat down on your couch and sang you my songs with all my heart.

I hope that feeling comes through when you listen to it.

Writing Is Rewriting

IMG_8677.JPG

Draft of new song, “Walking On”

I’m working on a new song.

As I do, I am keeping in mind the advice of writer Steven Pressfield. He says that your only job on the first draft is to cover the canvas. Get your ideas on the page, no matter how sloppy. Don’t lose momentum. Don’t second guess or rewrite when you’re in the idea-capturing phase.

I’m finding that it works quite well. It keeps my mind in “creation mode,” knowing it doesn’t have to switch over to “editing mode” until later. In the past, I would try to be in both modes at once. I would work on one verse until I was satisfied and then try to move on to the next one. Usually by the time I got to the next one, my mental energy was too low to make any further progress on the song.

I’m finding it refreshing to work this way, using the first draft to simply cover the canvas.

Here are a few takeaways from the experience:

  1. It’s much easier to react to words that are already on the page than it is to create them out of thin air. Getting the first draft done quickly is key.
  2. It’s extremely difficult to write a line that’s absolute crap and leave it on the page without editing it immediately.
  3. The act of reacting, revising, tweaking, and rewriting the words on the page actually uncovers new inspiration that wasn’t present when the initial idea for the song was had.

Writing is rewriting. Spending the time to work and rework leads to further inspiration.