Saturday, August 20, 2011

What Else is New?

Interesting fact I discovered after writing and recording the last song: turns out "Transylmania" is the name of a 2009 horror spoof from National Lampoon. A definite contrast to the more peaceful theme I was going for in the song. Oops. Perhaps I need to learn to engage in some research when I write this stuff.

I still haven't picked/found a jumping off point yet for the next one, that seed with which to grow a song around. It's not that there aren't any available; in fact, there's a multitude of ways I could get myself started:
  • What I've been listening to lately. I've been trying to ingest a wide musical mix, so there's plenty of sounds to pick from (or mix together)
  • Song-crafting tools, like those found on the website for February Album Writing Month
  • Competitions like Song Fight!
  • Random, ridiculous thoughts ("Is a smiley face ever sad that it has no nose, never getting to experience the sense of smell?")
  • Deep, vivid emotions... I should get me some of those
So really it's not so much a blank slate, more of a large chalkboard filled with ideas, and it's just a matter of circling one and running with it.

But another part of the reason I haven't started yet is that I'm taking care of a couple other musically-related things. When I first started this project, I really thought songwriting and singing were going to be my big problems (and they were and still are). What I wasn't counting on was my guitar playing being as rusty as it has turned out to be. It's proved extremely difficult to even get through an 8-bar solo without flubbing notes I'm aiming for. So, I've started getting myself back into a practice regime, and I'm keeping track of my activities so I can monitor my progress and make sure I'm moving forward. I won't go into detail (unless anyone expresses interest) as everybody's goals are different, and exercises that aren't going to contribute to you sounding like the way you want to sound are a poor use of valuable time. But I will point out some things that I feel are universal and have been trying to keep in mind:
  • Practice to a beat.  Metronome, drum loop... doesn't matter. The important part is trying to match a steady rhythm. Having nimble fingers is useless if you're not going to be able to keep time with other musicians or backing tracks.
  • Start slow. I kicked off my first serious practice session at 60 beats per minute. Quarter notes. It might feel slow as hell, but starting slow and gradually increasing lets you focus very clearly on everything you're doing to make sure you aren't playing fast but with poor technique. It also forces you to concentrate on keeping time, not impatiently speeding up or slowing down out of monotony.
  • Get it right. If you can't do it many times in a row without messing up somewhere, you're not ready to take things up a notch; if anything, you might need to pull back a bit
The other thing I'm doing right now is building a guitar, or rather putting one together from parts. Why? Well, it's not because it's economical, as I could get something off the shelf for less. I could claim it's to build something that nobody offers, but it still might be cheaper and easier to grab an existing guitar and make a few modifications. When it comes down to it, I really have just always wanted to try piecing together a guitar for the fun of it. I've always let the practical side of myself talk myself out of it, but there comes a time when you remind yourself that the most memorable and enjoyable moments in life rarely have anything to do with practicality. I'm still waiting for one more key component to arrive, but I'll be sure to share more about it. I will say that patience is a must when building/assembling a guitar; it can make all the difference between a final product that ends up no better than a Walmart special or something comparable to a finely-crafted instrument from a reputable maker.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Alright, It's Finally Done

So here it is, the song I talked about so very, very long ago.

King of Transylmania

Creative Commons License

I wish I could say the few days past my initial month-end target of July resulted in perfection, but... well, I'm going to avoid talking about what I don't like about how it turned out (ugh) and focus on what I do like about it. I think I managed to strike a good balance between funny, sincere and sweet (though part of me wonders whether I spread myself then and achieved none of them), producing a lighthearted tone while remaining sensitive to the topic. I'm also pretty happy with the drums; it's probably the most complex arrangement I've done to date, and I think they added some liveliness to an otherwise simple 3-chord (technically 4) pop/alt rock song.

One approach I did try with this song was recording several full end-to-end takes of the vocals, ignoring any screw-ups and continuing on to the finish. Afterwards I pieced together the best phrases from each one. This seemed to give a much better result than trying to capture one verse/chorus at a time.

I also found out just how much the mic picks up in my non-soundproofed studio; though you'll never hear it once all the other instruments are piled on top of it, when I listened to the vocal tracks in isolation I discovered muted cries of one of our cats on the other side of the door.  I refuse to list him in the track personnel.

Where this song comes from musically I'm not quite sure. I feel like it probably draws on some of the music I used to hear way back in high school, bands like Barenaked Ladies, The Odds, and Crash Test Dummies, combined with some of my more recent discoveries like Jonathan Coulton, They Might Be Giants, and Elvis Costello. My apologies to these artists for associating their good names with this monstrosity. Despite it being a style I enjoy, it's not one that I've ever really explored in my playing, and I think it shows.

Well... back to the drawing board.