Studio Diary #26: Rehearse, Rehearse, REHEARSE!

This year, I’m aiming to record four pieces of original music that I wrote in the early 1990s. They’ll be performed on acoustic guitar, and I’ll be doing the engineering, production and mixing myself.

Four songs on an acoustic guitar doesn’t sound like much, does it? After all, your average guitar YouTuber probably has to bang out at least one piece a week, every week. And this awesome chap is on track to record and upload 100 songs.

So why am I only aiming for just the four songs? And how is it going? The clue’s in the title.

Why Only The Four Songs?

For better or for worse, I’ve been writing original music since the early 1990s. All of this writing has been in distinct phases, clearly separated by not only when it was written but musical style, feel, and the kind of sound I was aiming for at the time.

The whole point of this project is to revisit each of these phases of writing, and create a definitive recording of them using the skills (and limitations!), equipment and knowledge that I have today.

I’m starting with Phase 1, and Phase 1 only has the four pieces of original music in it.

That begs the obvious question: why not get both Phase 1 and another phase done this year?

Why Only The Four Songs This Year?

I’m not the same guitar player that I was 30+ years ago. This is probably a good thing!

These early songs were written for the playing technique that I had at the time. In this case, finger-picking using only the thumb and one finger. (I did mention limitations earlier, right?) I haven’t come all that far in the last 30 years … just far enough for that to feel really alien and unnatural today.

So, I’m basically having to relearn how to play these songs, using my current playing technique. That’s my first excuse.

The second? I’m aiming to be a one-take-Charlie (of sorts).

I’ve never been happy with the results of “punching in” to overdub a section of a recording to fix a performance mistake. I always have trouble afterwards making it sound like a single seamless performance.

At heart? I’m just not a consistent enough guitar player. I’m not skilled enough, or disciplined enough, to play the same piece the same way on demand. Throw in that I’m performing these on acoustic guitar (using real mics), and each performance varies just too much for me to comp them all together.

I just find it a hell of a lot easier to record a piece if I can capture each part in a single take, no edits.

Fortunately, the solution to both of these is the same: practice!

It Helps If You Can Actually Play The Songs

I have a (probably incorrect) memory of a story about legendary music producer Rick Rubin. He was working with an artist on a new album, and once the artist had finished writing the songs, Rick Rubin told him to go and play 200 gigs before heading into the studio to record the songs.

Now, I probably have all the details of this story wrong, but the moral of the story is compelling: to capture the best recording of your songs, first you have to put in the time to hone your performance.

Or, tl;dr: rehearse, rehearse, REHEARSE.

And, oh boy, do I need to follow that advice!

I may have been playing 30+ years, but don’t mistake mileage for talent. Or, for that matter, the passing of time as meaningful mileage in the first place. I have always been a home hobbyist amateur, and I don’t have a musical bone in my body. The last time I tried having guitar lessons, the instructor made up an excuse to stop me booking any more lessons with him.

So this year, I’m limiting myself to just these four songs, because it’s a realistic goal to aim for.

Final Thoughts

I’m itching to get back to working on the engineering aspect of the project, and in particular really getting to know the Neumann KM-184s that I bought at the start of the year.

I wonder if I can combine the two: get into the habit of recording some of my rehearsals, so that I’m also practicing the sound engineering too?

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