When I was young, the two things I wanted most were my own printing press and my own recording studio. I never could have guessed that one day, a machine I could hold on my lap would perform both functions, and many others besides. There's a lot to dislike about what technology has done to our world, but let's not overlook the good side! Computers are wonderful tools, and they've brought a lot of joy into my life.
I always wanted to record my own music, not because I thought I was a particularly good musician, but just because I wanted to see if I could do it, and whether it would be worth listening to. Some years ago I bought a DVD by Roger McGuinn, Guide to Home Recording on a Computer, demonstrating exactly how to get started, and what do you know!? It's amazing what you can do if you just get the right teacher.
Above: my "recording studio." These days I input audio with a Roland Duo-Capture EX, or a Line6 GX ToneDirect if I want to select from a variety of tones. I also use the Janglebox sometimes with the RM370/12. I connect to my desktop or laptop, running Adobe Audition, and it's time to grab an instrument!
If you're curious, here are a few sample songs I've written, recorded, and mastered:
THE LATEST: EminorEchoes.mp3
My keyboard had been looking a bit forlorn and neglected lately, because I had been concentrating mostly on my guitars. So I sat down at the keyboard and noodled around a bit on the "Grand Piano" setting, eventually coming up with a simple descending phrase that I liked. It sounded lonely by itself, however. I had recently tried "Nashville tuning" on my six-string acoustic, and a little experimenting produced a nice accompaniment, especially when I added a bit of echo. That gave me a whole 35 seconds of music that sounded good. I eventually came up with ideas to stretch it to almost three minutes. I'll let you decide if I should have left well enough alone and stopped after 35 seconds....
"FRED-RIC" -- SONGS WITH 12-STRING GUITARS, ESPECIALLY THE 12-STRING RICKENBACKER (BYRDS) SOUND:
I started working on this one in 2006, and got the first minute or so, but had no idea where to take it from there. I put it aside and tried to forget it; but every so often I found myself drawn back to it. Finally I decided I had to finish the song, if only so it would leave me alone. I took Roger McGuinn's lead break from "Bells of Rhymney," played it around with it a little, and that broke the logjam. I have no illusions I improved on what he'd already done to perfection; but at least I tried to add a few original touches -- a tribute, not a copy. The song finally came together, after almost six years. and I'm pleased with how it turned out. I hope you will be, too.
There's nothing too ambitious about this song. I just figured, I have an acoustic 12 and an electric Ric-12; why not come up with a little tune that uses both?
I have to start throwing away, unopened, catalogs I get in the mail from stores selling musical instruments. Recently, I got one and opened it up, intending only to check out the prices some guitars were going for. I spotted a great clearance-sale price for a 12-string Takamine acoustic-electric. I bought a 6-string Takamine acoustic-electric several years ago, and I absolutely love playing it; I just couldn't pass up such a good deal on its big brother. My Roger McGuinn 12-string electric Rickenbacker is a fabulous instrument, but there's something special, too, about the sound of an acoustic 12-string ... Well, once I'd bought the guitar, I had to come up with something to play. I thought it'd be interesting to hear a song with the acoustic 12-string (multi-tracked), a bass guitar, and a tambourine, nothing more. I kind of like the way it turned out.
A lot of my songs really amount to nothing more than an excuse to play my Ric 12-string (as if I really need an excuse). This song started when I just began playing a simple little chiming pattern, cycling over and over. The song grew from that, so I thought I'd call it "Ric Cycle." (And I'll give it a better name as soon as I can come up with one.)
I know that's kind of a squirrelly name, but I wanted the title to acknowledge three songs from which I drew inspiration: The Byrds' Tiffany Queen (off the Farther Along album), the Beatles' And Your Bird Can Sing, and J. S. Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. Anyone familiar with the Byrds recognizes the connections. The Beatles Anthology proves their song started out as an experiment, an attempt to take the Byrds' style and put their own stamp on it; and the excerpt from Bach's piece was put to good use by Roger McGuinn in Gene Clark's glorious She Don't Care About Time, and then reprised by McGuinn in the Kennedys' Life Is Large. I tried to take brief moments from those songs and put together something enjoyable. It's not in the same league as any of those three pieces of music, of course; but if you take it on its own terms, it's not half bad.
This is the second song I recorded, and of the 24 I've done so far, it is still my favorite; it's just simple and fun. At first I called it "Byrds Tribute," but I can't sing, let alone do harmonies; and without harmonies there's no "Byrds." It's mainly fun with my Roger McGuinn 370-12 Ric, and some very basic drum and bass tracks -- something the Byrds might have done as a warm-up, say, the day after they got together. Anyway, I thought McGuinn Tribute was a more appropriate name than Byrds Tribute. Of course, now I may hear from McGuinn, saying, "Uh, don't do me any favors. Name it after somebody else."
I really enjoyed doing this one. A lot of Rickenbacker over a bass rumble and a lively rhythm track -- what's not to like?
ATTEMPTS AT BLUEGRASS/COUNTRY
One of the problems with modern life is, we don't mosey enough. There's something satisfying about just kind of moseyin' along. I thought I'd do my bit by coming up with a little music to mosey by.
This is a simple little bluegrass breakdown, with acoustic guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, piano, and bass taking turns. I have a lot of nerve trying to do this, since guitar's the only one of those instruments I play decently. But I tried not to get in over my head, and I think it worked out.
This features the same instruments as Try A Little Blue Grass, except the melody is prettier -- which means I probably heard it somewhere else and forget where.
And, as a change of pace, a sort of light classical piece. If I ever became wealthy, I'd hire some real musicians to do this properly.
This is the first song I recorded. I hadn't yet figured out how to record drum tracks properly, so I wasn't ready to try anything with a beat. I had this wistful little melody in my head, so I sat down at my Casio keyboard and started playing. Weeks of trial and error later, I had something I kind of liked -- a little sad, but not terribly so.
FEATURING ACOUSTIC GUITAR
This is too primitive to be called a "song" -- it's a combination of two little items I've used as a warm-up as far back as high school. But I have to admit, I kind of like it. Sometimes I overproduce these songs, and simpler can be better. This one is just me on my Takamine acoustic/electric, with a little processing from my Line 6 GearBox and some overtracking. I tried doing it "honestly," just me in one take; but it really sounded better when I cheated and combined several separate tracks. I call it DropDed because I used the tuning known as Drop-D, not because I don't know how to spell "dead."
This is DropDed backwards. Definitely not to everyone's taste, but I've always enjoyed music played backwards, in small doses. I wonder if you can guess what my favorite song was on the Beatles' White Album. That's right, "Number nine ... Turn me on, dead man."
The title pretty much says it all -- it's just a dreamy noodling around on the piano and guitar.
I wanted to do a fairly straightforward piece featuring acoustic guitar, and this is what came out. The title is sort of my approach to life: I start slow because I usually mess things up at first; but as I get the hang of what I'm doing, I pick up speed.
"Adani" is the name of a rhythm track on my Casio, the one that starts the song. I'm not sure what it's supposed to mean, and a Google search didn't turn up anything that seemed relevant. All the other titles of rhythm tracks on the Casio are generic names of musical styles, so maybe that's what this is supposed to be. In any case, that rhythm track was what got me started working on this song, and I couldn't think of a better name, so I used it as the title.
MISCELLANY - I DON'T KNOW HOW TO CATEGORIZE THESE!
I know the best songs come from good melodies, but sometimes a rhythm really catches my attention. The drum track that opens this song was one I came across on my Zoom drum machine, and I just had to do something with it. I picked up my bass and came up with a bass line, and went from there. The whole thing felt like a strut, and it's no big deal, so I called it "A Minor Strut." (Also, it's in the key of A minor).
In my head this sounded like a kind of 60s beach song with no words, heard in delirium -- or maybe the surfer song from hell. It's all over the place, including a quotation from the "Hawaii 5-0" theme song. But it's different, and different is good; I'd like to avoid doing the same old thing over and over. As for the title, if you were around in the 60s you remember a brief phase when everything was "fab" and "gear."
While I'm not a huge fan of metal, every once in a while I crave just a little of it. You'll understand if you have been in a mood where you want to hear anger and testosterone, snarling guitars, and gloriously tasteless lyrics. I'm a little amused, however, by the typical metal gloom and doom posing, and especially the whole "I'm so f***ing evil" bit. One day, when I hadn't been taking my meds, a mental image of Girl Scouts eating poisoned S'mores popped into my mind, and this song started taking shape. It's schizo, sort of half-celebrating metal and half-making fun of it. It's not good enough to use for anything, so I called it "Scrap Metal" -- and you can probably remove the S- for a more appropriate title. The lyrics may be hard to understand, so click here if you want help with them. Don't waste time griping at me, though, if you find them offensive; my answer will be, "Well, duh!"
I had this fish I liked to take for walks, and ... No, wait, that's not right. Actually, every so often my Fender bass calls to me, saying "Pick me up, take me for a stroll." I'm always glad to do it, because I never had a bass guitar until recently, and I never knew how much fun they are to play. But they sound kind of lonely by themselves; they need other instruments to accompany them. So sometimes I'll be messing around, and I come up with a little bass part that begs to be developed into a song. That's the case here: the song, such as it is, really amounts to an excuse to fool around with a bass....
This is the only one I dared sing on -- and that only with the use of some "studio magic" to make it clear my ghastly singing is meant to be humorous. This was for my granddaughters, Michaela and Veronica, who were not overly impressed but did want to know how I made myself sound like an elf ... In case the words are too hard to understand, they are: