Clearing Customs


I am leaving a country I inhabited for a year. As I depart I have a few things to declare. I am probably forgetting a few things.

Deadlines Work. Having a Thursday afternoon deadline worked for me. I have always responded well to deadlines, but this self-imposed weekly deadline at first worried me if I did not have the recording and mixing completed by Tuesday. Within a few months I realized I could push the process to within an hour or two of the release time. This gave me confidence that even if I was sick or if I had to complete two recordings in a week because I would be traveling the following week, I would not falter.

Focus Improves with Repetition. As the weeks rolled along, I became more efficient in how I played, sang, recorded, and mixed. For example, the number of vocal takes for each song steadily declined during the year. I learned how to focus my attention on the immediate task at hand, rather than thinking about the things that lay ahead of me.

A Small Set of Tools Works Best. Over the years I have acquired numerous instruments, microphones, recording equipment, and software tools. I wasted a lot of time trying different recording chains and effects. The first six or seven recordings followed this pattern until I resolved to use one microphone for my vocals, guitars, and mandolin. (The tube condenser microphone pictured above.) Then I chose to use one preamplifier for the microphone. Finally, I selected a set of software effects (five or six at most on the recordings) that I used on every song the remainder of the year. By narrowing my palette I learned how to use these tools to shape the sound on a consistent basis. Each week I pulled up the same tool set, knowing I could dial in the sounds quickly.

You Never Can Tell. I am a great list maker. Early on I wrote down which songs I would record over six or eight weeks. I quickly discovered that my mind rebelled at such an orderly process. I found that I would instinctively “know” which song I needed to record that week. By mid-year I prepared a list of over 50 songs I might want to record. On Friday or Saturday I would wake up and choose a tune.

Time Flies. Looking back, this project reshaped my life and redirected my energy to one task. For the first time in 40 years I did not write a song. I made a conscious decision not to do so, knowing that writing would throw me off track. I would occasionally scribble a line or two but nothing more than that.

Whose Project Was it Anyway? I did this for me. Not just to document 52 of my songs but to prove to myself that I could pull it off. There were weeks, when I got very few listens or responses, which made me question whether I should go on. When I got to feeling sorry for myself, Theresa would tell me to get back to work. And I did.

Expectations are Fool’s Gold. From week to week, I was rarely correct on what to expect from listeners. I received wonderful responses to songs I thought might be too weird or too dark, while “sure thing” tunes got the ho-hum treatment. This has taught me not to prejudge a song or a listener’s response.

Heading for the Exit. For you that have listened, liked, shared, and commented on the songs, I thank you. I treasure so many of the things you have written about how a song moved you. Those types of connections mean the world to a writer.

Clearing Customs