S. S. Trudeau

Jamuary 2022 - Review

I did it! I recorded a song every day for the whole month! This post is to collect my thoughts on how the experience went. (Read my week 1 review here).

This was really hard. I think the minimum time I spent (from starting to posting the daily social media post) was about 2 hours, with some tracks taking as long as 6-7 hours. That's a lot of time, especially with no "off" days.

One of my major motivations was to break my habit of making partial songs (little melody sketches, lyric snippets, etc) and actually finish them, even if they're not great, and this format worked really well for that. None of the results were as stellar as they could be with more time, but getting through to the end forced me to spend more time on things that I just never get to (like thinking about complete arrangements, finish mixing, etc).

I'm still pretty bad at all of the things it takes to write, perform, record and produce a recorded song but I have a better understanding where my many areas for improvement are, so I can create more focused excercises to work on those things.

One thing I'd expected to do, especially on short-of-time days, was to do some hardware synth jamming. I did a few of these jams and they're my least favorite of the "songs." My hardware synth jam station is still not set up (I'm still working on a basement space). Getting all the hardware set up on the kitchen table, and not having a quality recording system to capture it, really made it hard to do well.

Using software synths (usually Arturia Pigments but sometimes Vital, Surge or Bitwig defaults) and virtual instruments (usually in Native Instruments Kontakt though there are some other random ones in the mix) to compose relatively simple instrumental tracks ended up being my default when I was low on inspiration and/or time. I have tons of little melody or chord progression ideas recorded (usually when trying out presets or sound design experiments), so I could always flip through those and stretch them out into a full song. Ada (8) really likes these and says she wants to do some illustrations inspired by them.

One of my big weaknesses is programming drums. Doing it well takes a lot of time. I'd often just grab a "groove" midi loop and tweak it or us the XLN Audio's XO plugin to find a groove and a random set of samples to lay down a beat, but almost all my tracks with a drum track would have benefited from more careful attention to percussion.

I liked finding ways to incorporate Ada into the mix. There were a few days where I was squeezed for time but I was able to excite her into helping me out. We did two "jams" (Shower Jam is the better of the two) where she helped me quickly find and record sounds into my phone to use as samples for some simple beats in Koala App. This is really fun to do and the app is surprisingly powerful. She also worked closely with me on one of my soft synth/virtual instrument instrumental tracks (singing melodies, choosing instrument sounds and effects, naming the song): Battle of the Century. She is especially fond of the crashes.

I actually wrote and performed a few proper songs with lyrics. Of these, my absolute favorites are I am the Cat and I'm Delighted. These were the most time consuming, in part because I am not a very good performer so I ended up doing a lot of takes and/or processing. It was really great to break the seal on sharing recordings of my guitar playing and my voice, though, which I have never done. I am definitely motivated to continue to get better at guitar, piano and singing to improve and speed up what I can do musically. I just have to figure out how to find enough time to practice to make meaningful progress. Also, writing lyrics is hard and takes a lot of time by itself! I'm also pretty proud of the verse I wrote for Union Maid in honor of my Grandma Sally.

A lot of these songs I used to try new things. E.g., Induced Demand Remix was my first attempt at a remix (which did not turn out great, but it was fun to do). Other tracks were the first time I've recorded myself singing. On most tracks with vocal harmonies I "cheated" with pitch shifting plugins but the last track I actually sang a three part harmony and double tracked some vocal recordings. (This also made me want to finish my project of turning a basement closet into a vocal booth).

For about half the month I had a Moog Grandmother on loan from the Library which was a lot of fun. One challenge I really enjoyed was the track I made solely with the Moog, including drum sounds and chord pads where every note in each chord had to be on a separate track. I am eager to finish setting up my synth jam space to replicate that intentionally limited workflow.

Will I do it again? #

I definitely want to, even though I'm relieved to have some of my free time back. I'm not sure how I will approach it next year. One option would be to do fewer songs (e.g., 1 a week) and spread the process out over time, to have more time for writing lyrics, programming drums, do sound design/selection and, importantly, give my ears a break before mixing down the track (this was really hard to do right after writing and recording everything!). Another option would be to set myself up with tighter constraints ahead of time (e.g., only a fixed palette of instruments) complete with templates to both speed up the process and force me to be creative within those constraints. Lastly, I could just do what I thought I'd do this year and just do random synth jams that devolve into cheesy techno or generative ambient music.

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