Week 49 - If or When

So.  What a week.  Things were moving along swimmingly with the new song and I thought I’d get a leg up by starting to record Wednesday evening.  Fired up the old computer workstation, got as far as the log in screen and after typing in my info, received the following message: ‘The User Profile Service failed the logon’.   Strange.  Maybe reboot and try again.  Same result.  Again.  Same result.  Yikes!

I spent the next two hours combing the internet for what this particular Windows 7 error message might mean.  Thankfully, I came upon a few solutions - including several at Microsoft’s own website – that seemed challenging but not completely beyond my comfort level.  It seems my User Profile has become corrupted and I need to have Windows rebuild it.  The first step in doing that is starting the system in Windows Safe Mode, something I’ve done on a number of occasions over the years (though not with this system).  No problem, right? But that’s when the trouble really began.

I spent two hours trying to get the computer to boot in Windows Safe Mode (and alternatively off the Windows 7 installation DVD) with no success.  There are certain keys that you need to hit at certain times during start up and I couldn’t seem to get it right.  But I wasn’t even seeing the quick boot menu that normally pops up for a brief time on start up, so maybe the problem is worse than just a corrupted user profile.  (Double yikes!)

This was all very scary (and still is).  This system has all of my 52 in 52 work on it.  Thankfully it’s all backed up, plus the originals don’t reside on the system drive.  I didn’t feel like I had lost anything.  I just couldn’t access it or maybe more importantly, make music. 

With a lot of effort, I kept my calm and suppressed the impulse to punch the wall several times.  (I’ve got three songs to go.  I need my hands.)  I worked at that Windows Safe Mode thing for a while but after two very frustrating hours, decided I couldn’t spend any more time with it.  I had to assume it wouldn’t work and come up with a Plan B for recording and finishing the week’s song (or you all would be getting a simple iPhone recording).

That’s when I glanced over at my trusty laptop.  Now, my laptop doesn’t have anywhere near the horsepower of my primary system but it does have a copy of Pro Tools on it.  I haven’t used it for any of this year’s projects, but I had installed Pro Tools thinking it would be nice to have a laptop copy in case I ever feel like playing around or experimenting without having to start up the big behemoth. 

This was good news. The bad news was that I didn’t have any of my 52 in 52 projects on my laptop, nor did I have all of the plugins that I’ve come to depend on installed.  At that point - about 10pm - I decided I wouldn’t go to bed until I had a functioning setup on my laptop. 

The first thing I did was open a copy of last week’s Daylight project on the laptop.  I wanted to see what would play or not, what effects would be missing or not, etc.  Thankfully it opened up and there was only one family of plugins missing.  Thankfully (again), I was able to find the original purchase and authorization email, download new copies from the manufacturer’s website, install them and authorize them.  It took some time but I was successful. 

I could now open Daylight and have everything there.  That then meant I could use last week’s project as a template for this week’s song.  It might sound funny, but as I’ve made my way through the year, learning and such, I’ve set up certain workflows within my projects that I use most weeks.  The thought of trying to create all of that from scratch was frightening.

Next I needed I way to get audio in and out of the computer.  I couldn’t really use the built in laptop jacks.  Thankfully (again), I had purchased an inexpensive USB in and out device at the beginning of last year for exactly this occasion.  The question had crossed my mind of what I’d do if my main system failed.  (I feel like an airline pilot.) 

It took some monkeying around with settings but I managed to get it working and was able to do some test recording.  I reached my goal around midnight, heading to bed with the (much less powerful) laptop-based system working.

In the end, I have to say that - aside from the noise of the whirling fans - I’m very pleased with how the laptop performed.  Outside of the fan noise, the biggest challenge was the small screen.  I’m used to a two monitor setup.  In fact, it’s critical with a program like Pro Tools where you have many windows open at a time.  So it was a constant battle of moving and resizing screens as I worked.  I believe there’s a way to save various window configurations in Pro Tools that can then be called up by keyboard shortcuts. I just didn’t want to take the time to figure that out.  Now on to the song…

When I sat down to write last week, I intentionally started with the electric guitar.   I haven’t used it much in recent months and with only a few songs left, I wanted to work it in.  After some playing around, I had a sound and simple melody line that I liked.  You might now be saying to yourself that you don’t remember hearing an electric guitar.  And that’s because it became the piano melody you hear in the song.  (I’ll explain in a bit.)

Having this mournful little melody, I began playing around with the chord structure, seeing what might fit.  After a while, I had something in place and started to focus on the vocal melody.  In the end, I decided that it would mirror the guitar (piano) part.  One of the earliest phrases to pop out while playing around with this melody was ‘There you go again’ which became the opening.

Over the next two days, I spent most of my music time on the lyrics, trying to get something in place.  It’s the biggest challenge for me.  By the end of my early Wednesday morning session, I felt like I had something worth putting to tape.  I had developed a chorus and bridge to go along with that early verse idea.  And that’s when I decided I’d take some time Wednesday night to record a bit. 

As I’ve mentioned before, I like to have something to listen back and react to while driving.  The little iPhone scratch recordings are very helpful, but if I can get something more polished to listen to, I’m just that much better off.  So I sat down Wednesday night, fired up the old workstation and…  Oh yeah, we covered that part already.

After Wednesday night’s debacle, I had decided the song was the primary focus.  Fixing the workstation would have to wait.  Although I had gotten the laptop setup and functioning, I wasn’t sure it would work through the rigors of a project start to finish.  That meant that I had to start recording Thursday night because if there was going to be a problem, I couldn’t wait too long to find out.

Thursday night, I laid down the doubled acoustic guitar part, recorded a scratch vocal and began playing with the electric guitar.  However, as much as I had liked what I was playing with Sunday night, it just wasn’t working for me.  That’s when I tried out the piano and decided I’d go that route.  I think I could have gotten the electric to work, but I just wasn’t in the mood for experimenting any more than necessary.  I did end that night’s session with a file I was able to listen back to from my iPhone the next day.  And I have to say, I was pretty pleased with what I had done in a couple of hours on the laptop. 

Friday night brought several family commitments and when I finally had some free time around 10:30, it was just too tired to work.  I figured I was better off heading to bed and getting an early Saturday morning start which is what I did and what brings me up to this point here typing this blog entry. 

There are a couple of interesting things to mention.  The final vocal track is the one and only scratch track from Thursday night that I recorded without much fuss while sitting down hunched over the microphone.  I hadn’t put much effort into it thinking it was just reference for the purposes of listening back the next day.  But in the end, it felt right and though not technically perfect (including some fan noise), I decided not to spend time trying to recreate it. 

The other interesting thing for me is the ‘synthy’ pad sound that plays throughout the song in the background.  It’s just the two acoustic guitar parts (and occasional piano) running through a series of very long reverbs playing into and around each other.  I kind of stumbled upon it by accident and I’ll definitely be playing around with that sort of sound more in the future.

And that’s it.  In the end, something that started with a very simple electric guitar melody and no lyrics wound up with no electric guitar part and some personally meaningful lyrics.  I hope you enjoyed If or When.  Three more songs to go!  I really can’t belief we’ve hit this point.  It’s been a long tough year but it has also flown.  As always, thanks for following and have a great week!