2011-06-19

Be Your Own Session Player

After two straight weeks of Ryan Ruins Requests, I am starting to feel a groove coming on. No pun intended. The more of this sort of thing I do (and I have done this sort of thing prior to the advent of Ryan Ruins Requests, in more private venues), the better at it I get. Case in point, I managed to record yesterday's ruined request in about five hours total. That consisted of about two hours' MIDI programming for the drums, bass, tars, and sitar, plus another three hours writing and recording the remaining guitar and vocal tracks.

In fact, I greatly simplified the multi-tracking for "Big Star" for the express purpose of finishing the song as quickly as possible. It is possible to achieve good results by putting oneself under the gun a little bit. (Har har har, yes, smart guy, yesterday's video is "good results" by current RRR standards.)

I shouldn't be surprised, but nonetheless I am please to discover that the more I do this, the easier it is. Much of what you hear on that track is the first available take. That fact is probably the happiest bit of news to report in all of this, because it means my technique is improving. I was relatively pleased by how easy the vocals were to perform. It's not a challenging song, but singing slowly is difficult for all but extremely good vocalists, and I was pleased by what I managed to pull off. (No, really -- If you listen to most vocalists singing very slow songs, you find that they often compensate for their vocal discomfort by throwing in vocal runs. This is so that they don't have to spend too much time on any one note. It's more difficult in terms of musicality* to sing one, long note -- especially a quieter or lower note -- than it is to sing a million faster notes.)

I have also started to discover a bit more about my particular musical niche. To be clear, covers in general are far outside my comfort zone. Nevertheless, I am obviously more at home doing a punk-rock-ish "Teenage Dream" than I am trying to cop Bollywood licks and feel during a slowed-down country song. That won't stop me from continuing to experiment with your requests. I'm on a quest to ruin them all, after all. But it's more than that -- if we don't push ourselves outside of our comfort zones, then we never acquire any new skills. We become one-trick ponies.

And frankly, that's the major reason I'm doing RRR in the first place. Well, that and to generate more blog traffic. I'm sure you'll forgive me for both motives, however.

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* "Musicality" refers to the emotive aspects of musical performance, as opposed to technicality, which refers to the strict mechanics of the thing. The easiest way to think about the difference is like this: It takes a high level of technique to play every note of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" on a guitar at 200bpm seven consecutive times. But it takes a high level of musicality to play "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" at any speed without sounding like a six-year-old.