Thursday, June 16, 2011

Creating, Hiding, and A Plea for Error

Beginning in January, my band - the Warm Fuzzies - began releasing a song a month. We appropriately called this process "The Fuzz of the Month." 

I've thoroughly enjoyed it. Throughout, we've been recording essentially in real time (meaning that we're always dashing to finish the next month's track before its release date), and we're doing all the tracking in our practice space here in Athens with some mix magic afterwards from Mark Tulk and Joel Hatstat.

Nothing about our recording process is perfect - time, equipment, environment, and experience are not on our side - and there are certainly some moments here and there on these recordings that I wish I could do over. But for the most part, it's been a liberating creative experience simply because our deadline of releasing a new song on the second Tuesday of each month leaves precious little time to sit around and obsess over things too much. By necessity, our attitude is this:  If I didn't get it, well, we didn't get it. There's always next month.

Take last month's track, All Summer Long, for example. While trying to finish up the track in April, I was on deadline for three weeks with various work projects, sick for five days, and traveling around for the the Easter holiday. As such, we hit the first week of May with no vocals done and only one window on the calendar to make it happen. Naturally, that would be the same day that the doom metal band down the hall in a separate practice space would hold a marathon practice. At one point, Laura stood waiting at the mic while I sat perched at the board so that when we heard them stop, I'd hit record and Laura would try to get a take done before they turned up the doom once more. It was not ideal. I wish I could have that one back; we could do it better.

So do it better next time, I tell myself. And I think we did with this month's track

But more to the larger point, I've got to learn to embrace my errors, to let them exist out in the open for all to see. To quit pretending I'm not human. I think this is better than the alternative, which would be to sit at my computer and endlessly polish the tracks until all the errors have been eliminated and the surface becomes as smooth as a mirror. But what would this mirrored surface reflect? Certainly not myself, for I will have waxed all the humanity right off of it.  

Now, maybe I'm wrong (I feel that way any time I write down my opinions). Maybe I'm trying to justify to myself that my lesser-fi recordings are supposed to be this way. But then again, I'm not trying to make mistakes; I'm just attempting to document some sort of authenticity in an increasingly processed reality (setting aside any discussions of what terms like "authenticity" and "reality" mean). I'm also not against using the tools we have. In fact, I've tuned my own vocals here and there during this project, so I'm participating even as I'm railing against the practice. 

The kicker for me, though, is that my attempts to clean up my vocal tracks aren't really that much different to me than the ways we polish our lives online (whether we're talking about Facebook or Second Life or Worlds of Warcraft or whatever), and as creative people, we have to guard against this desire to do this with our art (at least if we want to make great art). 

Culturally, we have become self-aware to a point where we allow our creative process to be affected by our own perception of how our works-in-progress will be received by others at some point in the future. We're making bets on what we think people want from us, and we're trying our best to craft whatever we think that is. We're hedging, but with question marks on both sides. This is fine if you're reducing your work (and by some extension, yourself) to a product or commodity, but less so if your desire is really to make good art. The two aren't mutually exclusive, but nowadays it's easy to be both the artist and the Big Bad A&R man who comes to the studio and tells you to write more hits.

You are your worst critic and your worst enemy. You are trying to stop you from making something great.

And the battle for me is in the minutiae I mentioned earlier. It's the "busyness" problem he have these days where we feel that if we're busy, we must be doing something important. Therefore we must be important. If I never finish my record, then, I'll always have something to feel busy over, something to talk about. I can seem like a really great artist because I seem to care so much, and I never have to actually put something out and risk losing that status. But I am sabotaging myself, and it's really stupid.

Let me say that again. It's really stupid. And why do I do this? So that no one will know the truth that I'm fallible? That sometimes (okay, most times) miss the correct pitch of a note? That I'm capable of sucking every now and then? Good grief.

So don't be stupid. Go make things, especially mistakes.

 Be human, dang it. 

(This was actually supposed to be a simple post about the Fuzz of the Month. I can't do it, people; I just can't do it.)

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