What can I tell you about This Road? Well, this song gave me some grief. Just sit back and I’ll tell the tale…
I started on it last Saturday morning, again the usual strumming around on the guitar looking for some ideas. The opening melody came along and the words that go with it – “This road that leads me to your door is the same that leads away…” I played around with it for a while and it was feeling forced. To be honest, it was probably an idea that I would have set aside. But this being 52 in 52, I needed a song and didn’t feel like I had the luxury of giving up on it.
I kept at it over the rest of the weekend and had the bones (melody and lyrics) in place by end of day Sunday. At that point I was thinking it would be easy to finish. A simple melody accompanied by a finger picked guitar, maybe add some strings. (I know, strings can get cheesy, especially when generated on computer by someone who’s learning all this stuff for the first time. But in the spirit of what I’m doing this year, I’m sticking to the philosophy of learning by doing. I’ll try not to shy away from trying things throughout the year.)
Monday evening, I set out to do my simple recording and it just wasn’t working for me. It felt sparse. I decided to try some vocal harmony. (Disclaimer here: I’ve never sung in a choir or really learned how to sing harmony. When I do it, it’s trial and error. I get the song playing back through the headphones and I try singing along using a melody that’s not the melody. It’s trial and error that sometimes works.) I ended up with what sounded to me like a very bad Simon and Garfunkel imitation. No good. I can do Art’s hair, but that’s about as close to them as I dare get. Four hours and an evening wasted. Well, I’m learning things as I go, so the time’s not wasted. (This is what you tell yourself over and over again.)
Tuesday night, I set out planning to take a more upbeat approach. I record some strummed guitars to go along with it. The problem is that I keep the song at Monday night’s tempo. It’s just not working. I try changing the tempo within the project and that just makes matters worse. (I’m learning this software as I go.) At the end of the night, it was another four hours with nothing to show. I go to bed feeling a little nervous, thinking I might have to scrap the song. Just get up early the next day and start on something new.
Up not-so-early Wednesday but with enough time to say, “Let’s just give it a run through using the standard Gary method.” This means sloppily banging away on the guitar while I sing. It’s not the most professional performance method but it’s cathartic. I give it one run through recording with the trusty iPhone Voice Memo app and it’s off to work for the day. I listen back in the car and think maybe there’s something to salvage. I decide I’ll try another approach. Interestingly, my off-the-cuff tempo is about 10 bpm faster than what I’d been using.
Wednesday night, I set out to get drum and bass tracks programmed. (Many a wise musical soul has stressed to me the importance of getting those two elements in place first as the foundation for everything else.) Of course, I had started the week thinking this song wouldn’t have any drums. After getting them roughed in place, I strum along to see how it feels and it seems OK. Drums and bass.
Thursday night I set out to record acoustic guitars. I do my usual wall-of-sound thing, recording a half dozen different takes with the capo at different spots on the neck. It’s a challenge keeping it in tune (some could argue that I don’t), but I enjoy having the many options to play with when I start mixing. And about all I know how to do instrument-wise is strum an acoustic guitar.
As a last step on Thursday night, I record a few takes of the vocal. I play it back and it does seem to be holding together, sounding very ‘country’ to my ears and a long way from the Simon and Garfunkel rendition. The challenge with the vocal was that I kept editing the words with each take. In fact, if I had another week with the song, I might change a good twenty percent of what’s in this version. Off to bed with a rough mix burned to CD.
Friday morning, listen to the CD on the home stereo and the drive to and from work. Start thinking about tweaks, maybe adding harmonies. Friday night, make the tweaks, add some harmonies (never pretty – see note above) and mix.
And that dear listener is the story of This Road. I hope you enjoyed it and I hope you got a first listen before reading any of this. Sorry for my rambling but this one had a story to tell. I’ll try to avoid naval gazing but I do want to give the back story for each song. So, there will plenty more rambling to come...
Thanks for following along. It’s on to number 3. Have a great week!