Week 47 - Better Days

Are better days coming?  I sure do hope so.  I’m worn out from all of this deadline-driven music making.  I know there is often no way around them but in my opinion, deadlines just go against the spirit of music making.  And speaking of deadlines, this is going to be a quick blog because I need to get this week’s song out.

Better Days started last Sunday with some strumming around at the acoustic.  If I remember correctly, the melodies came fairly quickly with the chords (this music ain’t too sophisticated folks) and the first words to pop up were from the chorus ‘Waving smiles as we set sail, turned to hours at the rail, our stomachs sick from the whipping wind and rain’.  The ‘waving smiles’ later became ‘cheers and smiles’ because I felt that ‘waving’ sounded like ‘waves and’ and some listeners might think I mean water waves not hand waving. 

Over the next day or two, I fleshed out the lyrics with their nautical theme and was feeling pretty good by midweek.  I was also thinking that this simple little love song might work with an equally simple voice and fingerpicked guitar approach.  Wednesday night, although early in the week for me, I thought I’d take a shot at recording.  I figured I might get lucky and finish this song up a few days before deadline.  I went with a tempo of 136 beats per minute which seemed to be about where I was playing it in my scratch recordings while writing it. 

Listening back the next morning, however, it just wasn’t feeling right.  It seemed too slow.  And for an optimistic song, it seemed too serious. Ugh! The disappointment.  I felt like I had wasted a precious night of recording heading down the wrong path.  So much for my hopes of finishing ahead of schedule.  I spent a few minutes just strumming and singing the song seeing if I could find a comfortable groove.  Once it was feeling right, I recorded a pass on the iPhone to see where the tempo was.  Using the tap function on my metronome, I clocked it at about 150 beats per minute.  Significantly faster than the tempo I had used the night before.

Thursday night, I set out to start over with the recording.  I decided the newer uptempo version would have more instrumentation, so I spent some time recording simple drum, bass and piano parts.  Before wrapping up for the night, I wanted to record a quick pass of the vocals.  I knew it wouldn’t be a finished take, but I could then put a copy of the rough song onto my phone and listen to it in the car on Friday.  However, when I went to record this rough vocal track, it was now feeling too rushed. Yikes!

So once again, I spent some time with my acoustic guitar to find a comfortable groove.  After some fiddling around and quick iPhone recording, I tapped the tempo into the metronome to see where it was.  And what was it?  Of course, 136 beats per mintute.  The tempo I had used Wednesday night.  Ugh again!

Frustrated and more than a little pissed (it was midnight and I had already recorded multiple guitar tracks at 150 bpm), I decided I’d just record at the slower tempo right then and there.  Thankfully, the drums, bass and piano parts were all MIDI based.  When I changed the tempo of my Pro Tools session back to 136, they all adjusted accordingly.  However, I did need to redo those pesky guitars.  I ended the night (at 1:30am) with the guitars and a new rough vocal in place, and thus did get my copy for the car on Friday.

Friday night brought various family commitments, including a birthday party for ‘six’, so I didn’t do anything.  I just wasn’t keen on starting work at 11pm after everyone had left.  I woke up early Saturday with a lot to do and spent most of the day doing it.

Aside from the tempo issues, there were some pitch challenges on this song.  The quick turnaround really is a tough for me.  I just don’t have enough time to get to know these songs before I’m trying to record vocals and such.  This one needed some trial and error in the chorus and I’m still not settled on it.  Crazy, isn’t it?

And that will do it.  Like I said, I need to get this one out.  I hope you enjoyed Better Days.  I did.  Or at least I enjoyed the sentiment of it.  I am truly looking forward to the end of this 52 in 52 project.  A big part of that is simply due to how worn out I am from the work.  However, another part of it is feeling like I’m ready for a next step.  I know I learn new things with each song, but given the quick turnaround, I’m just not able to do as much trial and error and experimenting as I’d like (which is where so much of the learning takes place).  I’ve been feeling these last few weeks like I’m simply falling back on what I’ve learned to date, rather than trying new things.  How I would love to spend time in a professional studio to see how they would approach some of the challenges I’ve dealt with over this year.  We will see.  In the meantime, I have five more songs to get out.  As always, thanks for following and have a great week!