It’s Written In The News, How You Paid Your Dues

I’ve been up since 4 AM, even though I was pretty tired last night and barely managed to crack the 11 o’clock bedtime threshold. I haven’t started doing any real work yet; mostly just review of a few songs I was working on for other people. Sadly, my (unpolished) collaboration ideas with a couple of those tunes have to be abandoned, because my input isn’t what my friend and erstwhile band mate is looking for. That’s a difficult one for me, but mostly because I really felt like I’d offered some great input, and it’s difficult for me to gauge where I when wrong. This whole ‘ideas not welcome’ thing doesn’t sit well with me. I’m a songwriter first, not a hired gun. My stock in trade is ideas, not performances. It makes me feel like my best assets are valueless, and the skills I’m least confident of are somehow going to be the thing that eventually shows me for the hopeless lightweight impostor I really am.

At least the Lasaril collaboration sounds pretty good so far, no thanks to my efforts. Lasaril’s track was so gorgeous to begin with, I just can’t do anything seriously wrong with it, at least so long as I stick to guitar and vocals, the only two things missing from his song. He’s a better keyboardist and bassist than I am; I freely admit it. And he’s also a great lyricist and singer, and he has guitar tracks on some of his work that sound better than my best as well. The guy is all around streets ahead of me, which makes me wonder why I ever thought I could contribute anything of value to his work. It probably messes with his head, but he’s got hundreds of loyal and chatty fans (quite unlike me), so I won’t sing his praises, for fear it might upset him to read. But he’s good. Damn good.

I’m also deeply, deeply unhappy with my abilities as an engineer. When I listen to some of my tracks, I’m pretty happy with the sound, even if the performances or arrangement are less than perfect, but most of them sound like crap. When I get a great song with a great arrangement and satisfactory performances, I want to be able to complement that with great production values, and sadly, even with all my tools and the hundreds of hours I’ve put in so far trying to come to grips with the tools, some of these tracks just come out sounding hopelessly over-tweaked or dense and muddy. My first thought is that the arrangements are too complex, but I’ve heard classic bands get away with much the same in places, so it should be possible. I just can’t simplify the arrangements enough to please everyone else, and I can’t complicate them enough to satisfy my inner ear.

I know I need to mix more through open speakers, but even then, the sound through headphones is all wrong, and I know I’ve failed because great production and engineering sounds good both ways. I’ve reached the level of my incompetence and I can’t seem to learn how to get around it by trial and error, and I simply can’t afford to hire a pro to set me straight or do it for me.

I’ll tell you this for nothing, though: I’ll never work directly from cassette sources again. I’m tired of getting the hiss cleaned up only to discover that there are flaws and artefacts in the basic recording that no amount of EQ or reverb can effectively mask.

I also don’t think I want to work from ‘mixdown’ tracks any more. I can’t seem to learn how to get the balance right or extract or amplify various things using EQ without the overall sound going in the toilet when I pull that trick, unless I’m working from individual tracks I recorded myself. Stands to reason I can accomplish similar magic with other people’s individual instrument tracks, but I can’t get those to work with on any of the tracks I’ve been working on lately, so it’s a no go.

I thought I had a lot of this licked, until I started realising that my mastering was seriously flawed, because the warmth and depth and width of the tracks being produced by some of my peers just floors me, and when I listen to my brutal walls of sound, by comparison, I start to realize why my music isn’t selling; it just doesn’t sound nice, and very little I do can fix that.

I’m expecting a visit from my friend Gary some time today. His finger is injured, so he’s not going to be much use to me musically, even though I’m sure he wants to do some practising or some such. I don’t. I want to record stuff. I’m feeling the urge to put another album together, but I haven’t decided which songs to work on, which is probably why I’m doing all of this collaboration stuff instead. I had a song list around here somewhere, but I suspect I’m just not convinced yet. One of the projects I really wanted to be working on by now was the next Etcetera album, which is meant to be a progressive rock concept album. With no input from my band mates (including Gary), I’ve been kind of wibbling in a vacuum. I should just pick a story and go for it, and get them to play their parts after I’ve demoed it to within an inch of its life. Problem is, I’ve given them two albums to learn so far, and there hasn’t been much progress there, despite Derrick having a perfectly serviceable electronic drum kit these days to practice with. Gary constantly injuring himself at work isn’t helping, but at least he tries. Derrick refuses to play unless the perfect conditions come into being magically, and won’t budge until then.

And me? Well, I guess I’m just tired of doing everything myself. I’d hoped by now to be playing with people who spurred me on. It almost happened with these collaborations, but now I’m starting to think I should just shut down the music sites and forget about music altogether. No one’s ever going to buy another album after the sound quality of the last two.

Okay, I’ve whined enough. Time to drink some coffee and pretend to care enough to get some work done. Thank you for reading, stay cool, and have a good day.


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