Category Archives: creative process

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

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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.