I’m disappointed. I’m sitting here cradling a mug of hot chocolate (spiked with candy cane vodka* – a Christmas relic) feeling sorry for myself. Today is that last day I’ve allocated to working on the first of my four songs, and, like with any deadline I’ve ever had, I postponed a number of things to the last day… and then in the evening, decided that it’s doomed, so why bother?
No, I haven’t given up; I’m just frustrated. I had a busy day yesterday – gym, PhD application stuff (i.e. spend lots of time anxiously thinking about the emails I need to write), work, then straight over to Glasgow for a gig – and, anticipating this, I accepted the fact that I would be left to record all of the guitars and vocals today. What I didn’t anticipate was that I would drink all the beer, sleep on my friend’s couch and have to trudge back to Edinburgh this afternoon!
If I was more experienced, that wasted time wouldn’t matter too much. The guitar parts are really simple; it’s just a matter of finding the right sound and recording a few takes to make sure everything’s perfect. Likewise with the vocals. Oh my god, I’m not even going to talk about vocals. Song #2 will be, for sure, instrumental!
It’s the lack of experience that’s got me down. Sounding rubbish is disheartening.
I never really got comfortable with guitar amps or effects pedals. When I was really into playing the guitar as a teenager, it was a classical guitar I played 70% of the time**, and when I got my electric guitar out I mostly played it unplugged. That way, you can make sure you’re playing everything perfectly: there’s no distortion to mask your mistakes, so there’s no room for sloppiness. This is why I can’t jam with other guitarists: I’ve got this assumption that they’ve spent lots of time playing around with effects and stuff, and, even if I have the skill, I could never sound great. It’s a confidence thing, I remind myself. Stupid Insecurity #389.
Turning a negative into a positive, I recognise that I just need to take a bit more care with how the guitars sound in the next few songs. I’m going to spend lots of time experimenting with effects and such. Distortion is where all of my guitar tone problems are. No matter what I use – pedals, amps, computer software – I’ve never been happy with the result. I need more practice!
I should explain how I recorded the guitars. The basic set-up was very simple: I plugged my shiny red electric guitar (a lefty Epiphone Dot that my boyfriend and I share, and lovingly call El Meano) into a shiny red box called an external audio interface (a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2), which I plugged into my laptop (also shiny, but not red). So, no microphones or amps. To record a guitar with more than just a basic, clean tone, I suppose there are a couple of options. One way is to use computery software to modify the sound after you’ve recorded it. Instead of this, what I did was put a couple of effects pedals (distortion and chorus) between the guitar and the Scarlett 2i2. The chorus effect is a subtle, shimmery sound. I was curious to see what would happen if I crossed it with a slight bit of distortion. I quite liked the result: it adds a sort of wholeness, or richness, to the sound – but it quickly becomes muddy and dull if you increase the distortion.
I just wasn’t happy with the sound, though. That awkward moment when you admit to yourself that you prefer the sound of the MIDI guitars rather than your actual real-life guitar parts… argh, I’m so done with Track 1.
** I recently rediscovered a few classical guitar pieces I recorded for my parents when I first moved away to Edinburgh. They missed hearing me practice every night after dinner. Past-Mairi was actually pretty good, right?!