Tone Tips: Learning to Fly Solo
With his second solo effort soon to be released, our career gun-for-hire columnist waxes poetic on the creative benefits of going it alone.
In 2011, I put out my first album, Guitar Nerd. It was an all-instrumental rock-guitar affair, and it was a ton of work, since I wrote, produced, programmed, and mixed most of it. It was also an incredibly powerful and liberating experience to make and release that album. I'd always been a sideman, and suddenly, I was the artist. I made exactly the album I wanted to make. Trends and the industry never came into any decisions I made. After releasing it, I thought to myself, “I have to do one of these every year. In 10 years, I'll have 10 albums!" Well, you know how that goes. It's been seven years, and I'm finally almost ready to release solo album number two. This month, I'll share some of the things I was reminded of or learned on my second solo-album go-around.
Creativity is the most important thing. Writing, recording, and sharing new music is incredibly satisfying and important to me. It's what keeps me feeling youthful. When listening back to something I've created, I still get the same feeling I had when I started writing music as a teenager. It's like putting one foot in front of the other: It keeps me moving forward. I guess that's why it's sad to me when I see older bands relying solely on their hits of yesteryear. I adore Led Zeppelin and Jimmy Page, but I really don't think the world needs another Led Zeppelin box set or re-release. What if Page and John Paul Jones got together with, say, Ann Wilson and a few other talented musicians, and made a new band? Musicians used to collaborate like this in the '70s and '80s. (Think Asia or the Firm.) We all know Ann can sing Zep songs incredibly well. They could play Led Zeppelin songs to their heart's content live, Heart songs as well, and most importantly, new music. Oh well, one can dream, but I do feel the most vital thing is to keep moving forward creatively.
You really can do it on your own. With the way the business has changed these days, it's become more and more important to be a jack-of-all-trades. It seems it's not enough to just play anymore. Just about every musician I know has at least a basic yet decent recording setup and we've all become our own recording engineers and producers, to varying degrees. There are excellent resources online that teach engineering and mixing, and I'd recommend absorbing and utilizing as much of this info as possible.
For example, puremix.net features video mixing courses with engineers such as Mark Needham and Andrew Scheps. They essentially walk you through their process step-by-step while they mix hit songs by artists like Imagine Dragons and Green Day. Resources like this weren't available just 10 years ago! And with the advent of super-powerful computers and great-sounding plug-ins and recording interfaces, you have the power and information at your fingertips to produce terrific-sounding music all on your own.
Collaboration is awesome. My friends who record music all tell a similar tale. We all love our studio setups, but we have become more isolated as we have become more independent. And it tends to get tedious and lonely doing everything by yourself. There's still nothing like getting talented people in a room together and seeing what comes out. Chemistry between creative folks is simply magic, so do not forget to collaborate.
Half of the drums on Guitar Nerd were programmed and half were real, live drums. For the new album, I made an effort to feature live drums on almost every track, for two reasons. The first is that live drums are awesome and exciting, and no matter how well you program, there's still nothing like that raw, live-drummer energy. The second is that it's a blast to get together and jam with my drummer pals! Many drummers in L.A. have invested in their own recording setups, so it's not hard to find someone willing and able to track at a moment's notice. Just last week at my studio, I tracked live drums on the last two songs recorded for the album. I have a rather big live room and had never tried doing drums there, so I was excited to give it a shot. I also have a brand-new Universal Audio Apollo 8p recording interface with eight mic pres. So, I set it up with my laptop running Logic Pro, and a simple seven-mic setup on my pal Curt Bisquera's four-piece kit. By using our combined knowledge of recording, we had a killer drum sound within an hour-and-a-half of his arrival. And, of course, we got to jam together and have a great hang!
I can't speak for everyone, but for me, there's just nothing like writing and playing my own songs. I get deep satisfaction from doing it and it's never about money, fame, or anything other than just being totally jazzed about music. Ironically, if you do it for the love, others will tend to respond favorably and want to come along for the ride. Until next month, I wish you good tone!