I don’t even try…

I’m not going to talk about the war. If I started, I’d probably not stop for about 1500 words. And I’m not in the mood to do that.

I did something today that was good for me.

I’m kind of a perfectionist, and it really gets on my nerves. This is especially true when it comes to writing/recording music: I’m just not satisfied with anything I play unless it’s perfect, and since I’m never good enough to play anything perfectly, I end up never recording anything. So right now I have about 10 songs in my head, none of which are finished because I’m not happy with any of them. The lyrics are bad, or the melodies are cheap, or I just can’t sing and play them well enough.

I guess the root of it all is the potential embarrassment of playing a song of mine that sucks to someone else. So I keep trying to make them better, but I don’t get anywhere because I’m not that good.

Today I was fooling around on guitar, and on the spur of the moment I decided to record an entire song. Not one I wrote — I’m not ready for that — but instead Beck’s wonderful, poignant “Golden Age”. This way the embarrassment would be only in the performance, not in the songwriting, and I figured that’s a big enough step for now :).

Furthermore, I knew that if I really tried to record it for some serious purpose, I’d take forever, fiddling with each track, making sure the performance was perfect — which would never happen — and I’d end up abandoning the project halfway through.

So I imposed a bunch of restrictions to keep my perfectionist tendencies from leaking through, and I also resolved to post whatever I ended up with, no matter how bad, on LJ.

1. I played the song from memory, without having listened to it for over a month. All I could remember were the basic chords and the lyrics, so I had to make everything else up.

2. Nearly all the tracks were single takes.

3. I sang the main vocal part and played the main guitar part together, and recorded the first take as the basis of the song. Otherwise I’m sure I would have had a field day trying to get the vocals just right. This way there was no question of fiddling: I had to use whatever came out on the first go. Also having to do both at the same time gave me an excuse for singing poorly :).

4. Every time I added a new track (harmony vocals, lead guitar), I saved the file so that I couldn’t go back and edit anything.

5. I recorded everything through my laptop’s crappy mono built-in mic… so I wouldn’t have to worry about fidelity: no matter what, it was going to sound bad. If you listen carefully, especially at the end of the song, you can heard the mic picking up my hard drive spinning as it recorded.

Listening to all the screwups in the main vocal track caused me the most agony, but I sucked it up and just finished the whole thing. Man, it’s not pretty, but at least it’s done. Maybe next time I’ll try to get a real mic :). It’s such a relief, though… I actually had fun making up the various parts, and knowing I didn’t have to subject each little bit to some strict evaluation of my own doing. I think this is what music-making is supposed to be about, heh. Now if only I could get the result to sound good.

Listen at your own risk… http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~aj/music/goldenage-aj.mp3. The original song is gorgeous, if you’re interested.

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