15 June, 2008

Why am I recording other people's songs?

Location: my private studio...
Mood: okay

For some reason I have decided that it is a worthwhile endeavor to start a recording project. But instead of doing what most real musicians would do, and write songs, I am instead just recording songs that I like that are written by other people. This feels like somewhat of a copout and it is easy to convince myself that it is about as much an exercise in mental masturbation as any other empty pursuit I could do (e.g. playing World of Warcraft). I am not producing anything new. So why am I doing it? I don't know. I had this idea awhile back that I wanted to record an entire CD of me playing my favorite songs by female artists. I don't know where it is going. And given that this was my plan, I failed at that, having first recorded a Beatles song.

The upside to doing this is to get tighter as a musician, to work on my recording techniques, and to learn how to use my recording software. But it would probably be a lot more fruitful if I were actually working on songs written by me. The problem is, there really are not very many songs written by me that are available for said project. All told, I think I have only completed 4 or 5 songs in my lifetime, and 2 of those had lyrical help.

There was the one song, which was recorded by my first band. That was good.

There was "Numb", also in the process of being recorded by my first band, but I have gradually moved towards dismissing this song, because I got sick of it, and decided that it was rather trite. Everyone else seemed to like it okay, but to me it just felt like a big piece of poop.

There was "Successful Failure", recorded, but never released because the band disintegrated (or more accurately, I quit, and then the band dissolved later). That was a good song, and I guess I wish I had the original tracks, but the chances of me getting the rights to them are virtually zero.

There was "The Other Side", which was also recorded, and never released. That song had lyrical help from Tony. It probably never would have been finished if not for his help, and it turned out pretty good, even though he completely hijacked the entire topic from me. The song was supposed to be mocking organized religion, and it ended up being a song about a romance. What can you do?

There was "The Girl With Synthetic Hair", which was not titled by me. That one was also a song that never got recorded. I had music, and a melody, and nothing else. Tony wrote all the words, and it turned out pretty well, but I am not sure what to do in my catalog with a song about a transvestite.

There was "Seduction", the first real song I ever completed (barring cheesy tunes written in high school and college, whose names I will not even tell you). Actually this one was pretty cheesy too, but it got recorded with my friends' band as a demo back in Boston in the mid 90's. They were trying to help me get a demo for looking for a band. It was kind of a stupid song, and the lyrics were incredibly sophomoric. Do you detect any sort of self-deprecation here? I can't help it. that's why I don't bother trying to write very often.

Besides that tiny handful of songs, I have had lots of half-baked ideas. I cannot even remember some of them. I think there were 2 or 3 that didn't ever get done. And more recently I have written little fragments.

I have a pretty good ability to write music, if I am able to set the inner critic aside, which is rarely. But the one-two punch that keeps me from being productive is (1) inner critic, and (2) lack of patience to finish anything.

So that puts me where I am right now. Recording other people's songs. I am somewhat hoping that going through this process will eventually make me snap out of it and just write some things, perhaps using recording as an avenue to create. But that might be a very unrealistic expectation. It might just be self-deception. It is kind of depressing because I have worked with a lot of musicians in my life, and there have only been a few that I couldn't at least keep pace with in terms of the playing. But when it comes to writing, I just don't have it. Seems like a shame.

I am hoping that if I berate myself enough here, perhaps I will start recording something original to prove myself wrong! Ha!

So, last week, I recorded the Beatles song, and it came out quite nice. A lot of layered vocals, multi-track lead vocal, some acoustic guitars. Learning the ins and outs of recording with my new microphone (which, funny enough, is actually 2 years old, but I am only just now starting to use it, since I took a huge break from recording). One challenge that I face here besides my own demons is the fact that sitting on the final approach path of Sea-Tac's flight route means that my condenser microphone is constantly picking up jet engines. I guess it will usually be buried in the recording, and if it ever is actually loud enough to be noticed, maybe it will come at an opportune part of the recording, and I can use it to my advantage.

Anyway. Many moons ago, I started recording the first of the "Bob Sings the Girl Songs" project, which was "Shitloads of Money" by Liz Phair. I figured there would be some of Liz, and some Aimee Mann, of course, and then a bunch of other things that I am as of yet not sure (though I had an idea to do a Kelly Clarkson song, until I found out that some dude named Ted Leo already did it... I still might do it). After doing a midi drum track, and a crappy take of the bass guitar, I abandoned it for several months. And I decided that today would be the day that I finish it. So I set about "fixing" the bass guitar, which is actually quite a cool feat. Those of you who are recording gurus will know that this is simple, but those of you who are not will probably be impressed with what can be done. I had a lot of notes that fell "out of time" a little bit. Either just ahead or just behind the beat. And using the recording software, it is possible to slide individual notes around in the audio recording so that it sounds like it was played correctly! Pretty sweet. It probably took more time than just replaying the part, but that's why computers are for, right? To do something "automatically" that would take half the time to do "manually".

Then I recorded an electric guitar. Then vocals. Then spent a long time dicking around redoing many parts of the vocals, and in the end, kept on feeling that I could have sung it better than I did, and might go back and redo eventually, but for now am sick of the melody. Liz's voice is low, but still a little high for me, and I think to get it perfect would take a lot of tries. Then I did an acoustic guitar solo, followed by an acoustic guitar rhythm track, followed by a distorted electric guitar overdub, and finally a harmony vocal on some of the choruses.

Fun fun fun.

Mixed it down, and made an mp3 of it.

I am not really particularly proud of how this one came out (more proud of the Beatles song) but if you want to listen to them, I made myself a music MySpace page, which you can view here.

Eventually I will put some real design on there, but for now it's just a holding pen for songs.


  1. Hey, you might be interested in a live event on June 23rd, in the same vein as your project, Exile in Girlville.

  2. Are you taking requests? If you ever do another Beatles song, I'd like to put my request for "Rocky Raccoon" in right now.

  3. Inman Wheelright17 June, 2008 09:20

    There is an annual competition somewhere in my neighborhood (New England) where they try to get bands to record an album every year. Maybe that would help motivate you.

    As far as the covering female songs go, I'm sure a therapist could have a field day with that bit of information. I suggest starting by telling them that you think you might be a lesbian trapped in a woman's body. That is sure to make the pencil scribble in double time. Of course, maybe you don't want to set off that entire cascade of event that that disclosure would surely precipitate...