No Players? No Equipment? No Excuse. All You Need Is YOU.
I remember my first recording session in New York City. Actually, to call it a session and not call myself out feels blasphemous. It was made in a 10ft x 10ft bedroom with an acoustic guitar using the built-in microphone of an iMac. I’d just moved in with my best friend and had nothing with me: no guitar, no computer, no nothing. But I had 2 songs. Granted, I felt very strongly about them, which, by the way, is the key in carrying through with any kind of production. I’d written them on my friend’s Palmer acoustic guitar, which had this metallic rusted sound that seemed to resonate very loudly. I loved its unusual tone and the fact that it was missing the high E string making the frequency of the guitar a little darker. All very inspiring! (Another key when producing something.) So I thought to myself I have to record this! And even though I felt bold in asking him, my friend allowed me to use his computer to record while he was at work that night.
I had no one but myself to record these songs, but I knew what I wanted. Big! Harmonies! Backing parts! A big production of Phil Spectre proportions. Not so much his wall of sound thing, but something a lot bigger than just an acoustic and a singer. I started with one track, singing and playing, as the master/guide track and then layered all the parts until it felt like a real production. Now, I’d already accepted the fact that this was just a built-in mic on a Mac desktop in Garageband, but didn’t allow that to hinder my ideas. I actually found myself playing and singing to the sound I was getting from the limited capabilities of the microphone and honestly, I think it’s that cheap tinny sound that gives those songs some of their charm and character. Would I make that statement to defend making an official release out of them? Likely not. But I do think they sound pretty decent as far as demos go. I’ve since made demos for band mates and fellow musicians using great gear through a high-end interface and those sound way better sound quality wise, but that’s besides the point.
The point is, I didn’t allow what I didn’t have to get in the way of making a recording to get me started. In fact, I remember hearing “One For Bodhi” back for the first time and thinking to myself, man — this could really use some drums, so I browsed through the loops and they were just…to put it nicely, they weren’t helping the song. I’d even go as far to say they would have HURT the song if I’d have used them. So, accepting I didn’t have access to a drum set, I thought of the next best percussive option I had. I ran the built-in mic and started tapping out a rhythm with my fingers on my buddy’s desk, which wasn’t actually a desk. It was a plastic cabinet for clothes he had propped the computer on, which ended up making a nice low sounding thud that fit nicely under the music. It’s okay to try things that you wouldn’t think to do first or that maybe don’t seem right. There is no wrong or right, only the limits of what YOU are willing to try.
If you feel you have a great song and have the urge to record it but think to yourself, “I don’t have the means to” or “it’s not gonna sound the way I want it to”, I’d like to inform you that I had the same feeling about these two songs before I recorded them too. And though they didn’t come out exactly as I heard them in my head, the essence of them made it on the tracks. The spirit of a song lives in the song as long as you’re connected to it. A fellow musician I know, Jay Nugent of The Slackers, once said to me “A good song is a good song is a good song. No matter how you play it. If the song is good, it will stand on its own.” I think that’s true. I’d originally intended this song to have kind of a Slackers style to it. And though it turned into some kind of as a friend put it “The Beach Boys singing The Postal Service” , the song’s intention is still there. If you’re unsure about whether or not you have a great song, then my advice would be to make a decision based on how passionate you are about it. Sometimes a simple generic song can captivate audiences with its performance. Whether it’s your song or how you feel about it, YOU are the one who can make it something more than just an idea you play along with while you sing. Don’t let “impossibilities” get in your way.
This is an example of what is possible with just an acoustic guitar and a stock music making program on a computer with its built-in microphone. It only cost time and artistic choices to make. You can do it too.