Life, Music, Work

Versus The Click Track.

Most of you are probably aware that I’m a musician. I battle performance anxiety on the regular and more often than not it wins. It’s not a battle I intend to give up anytime soon, and occasionally my stage fright subsides long enough for me to hit the stages and share my tunes with the good people of Toronto.

Well, you may not be aware that in 2008 I recorded a six-song EP in a home studio in Markham. That little slice of musical pie is the only recorded album I have to my name, for the tidy sum of $600 and two days of work. It was in that air-conditioned house that I first encountered the dreaded metronome.

I have a habit of letting my songs unfold organically. That is to say, I don’t really plan them according to how they will be recorded. I’ve always done acoustic live shows and have never really needed to worry about it. In fact, the thought never even crossed my mind until I was sitting at the mic with that little track clicking away in the headphones. According to Scott (the guy at the controls), I have a tendency to speed up toward the middle and end of my songs.

The metronome proved him right.

At least half of each session was devoted to me trying to keep time and not speed up my strumming. Singing along was easy but guitar doesn’t exactly come naturally. I can’t tell if I’m speeding up without the click track.

I hate the click track for that reason.

When it comes to music, I am the farthest thing from trained. I can’t read music, I can only feel it out and go with my instincts. That might be fantastic during a live show, where if you fuck up, everyone laughs along with you and you’re free to improvise and tweak your songs. When laying down tracks, you need structure or the whole thing dissolves into chaos.

I haven’t encountered the click track since those fateful mid-summer days. I haven’t recorded anything since, except a couple of rough acoustic demos with the microphone I got for Christmas from my sis and her bf.

It’s easy for indie musicians to just give up. I hadn’t written a song in months, hadn’t performed a live show since May. I was caught up in the day-to-day reality of paying bills and making lattes. I didn’t feel like there was any point to trying to make music since there are about a million other musicians out there in the city, all after the same thing.

Then I saw this video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6Vpl8JoIiY

I remembered why I started writing music in the first place. I remembered the joy I found in creating something from nothing, the simple pleasure of sitting with my guitar and stringing chords together, releasing the stresses of life through lyrics. I remembered being happy.

And I resolved to take up my neglected guitar and not only write again, but record the best out of the 70-odd songs I’ve written. Make a new independent album, something updated to release into the world. Make my own small mark with my voice. But it isn’t easy. I don’t know anything about recording other than showing up and singing my heart out. The actual process of it is much more complicated.

I sat down on Wednesday and laid down the guitar and vocals for the first song, something I wrote a few years ago called “From Skin”. I figured out how many beats per minute I needed the click track to be, and then proceeded to fuck up the song about fifty times before finally getting the guitar and my voice to coincide with the track.

I’m not kidding myself — I still have a lot of work to do. I don’t know anything about drum programming and I can barely play the piano, but I intend to use both to fill out the song. I still have to work out backing vocals and record everything. But for the first time in my life, I’m excited by the amount of work ahead of me rather than intimidated and terrified. I want to put my effort into this. I can learn as I go, learn to love the dreaded click track and in the end, I’ll have a finished product I know I poured my heart and soul into.

Isn’t that what music is supposed to be?

cd-cover
My debut EP, circa 2008.

4 thoughts on “Versus The Click Track.”

  1. Great post! It seems that music shares many things with flying.

    When I started learning to fly I was taken by the thought of playing in the empyrean, with carefree abandon. The thought of having to handle an aeroplane with precision and discipline (beyond that to safely operate the thing) was anathema. Having attained the freedom of the skies, why would I want to accept shackles?

    For some pretty good reasons, as it turns out. The aeroplane is obeying certain laws of physics, as carefree as we want to imagine we are, and to take full advantage of the potential afforded requires the ability to go to the limits of those laws. Through discipline comes freedom.

    1. Yes, it does sound like music is much like flying! Great point. I imagine having the freedom to fly must be amazing, but of course you have to be responsible and make sure you’re doing so safely.

      Without the bones of structure, I think nearly everything dissolves into chaos.

      I love that line, “through discipline comes freedom”.

      Thank you for the eloquent comment! 🙂

  2. The click track is the great necessary evil of home recording. It tends to kill your natural changes in momentum but it also enables you to go back and pick up a song that’s been sitting on your computer for a year and add more to it. I look forward to hearing what you come up with.

    Also, I might know somebody who can help you with accompanying instruments if you’re interested…

    1. HECK YES I am interested. I want to bring my songs to life the same way I hear them in my head (or pretty close) and there’s nothing quite like a fresh set of ears and collaborating with people. I love that!

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