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

3 thoughts on “Clearing Customs

  1. Fred, your project was m Thursday highlight..There were days at work when all I wanted to do was get home and hear what you cast into the creative space of life. Some songs reached down into me and shook me..while others were wonderfully pleasant. You know as well as anyone that music that doesn’t touch us one day will get to us another time. All of these songs are a gift to all of us.We just unwrap them on different schedules. I am very proud to have shared your vision on my FB timeline.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dale Jernberg says:

    I’ve been enjoying my first songwriting splurge in 20 years and I lay at least half of the blame at your feet. Yeah, some of it has to do with retirement and freeing my mind for other things but your project inspired me to get going and get things done. I guess I’m feeling the same way I did in the 90’s when you kept unveiling song after song and I was compelled to try and match your productivity. Thanks for so much good listening and double thanks for helping me to get motivated.


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