Let Me Be Honest, Here…

I need to say this loud and clear:  I am not really a musician; I am a songwriter who also plays music.  I’d like to be a real musician.  I’d like to actually play with ease and courage and panache.  I am actually best on the harmonica.  Second best on guitar.  Third best on keyboard.  Worst best on bass, mandolin, lap steel.  I am also too poor to pay real musicians to back me up on my demos, so I am stuck with doing them myself.

I just keep on hoping and dreaming that somewhere I will be heard by someone who doesn’t need all the bells and whistles to recognize a song they can use.  If that happened, then I might be able to afford to hire actual studio musicians.  This may sound like a big complain/whine session, but it isn’t.  I’m just stating the facts.

I can lay in my tracks with each instrument–over and over until I get them right.  With the bass, it takes maybe a day or more to get something in there that I like.  Harmonica and rhythm guitar usually are one take each.  The rest just take redoing over and over and over.  Actually, it’s kind of fun.  I am learning as I go, and I really like learning.  I would never stand up on stage and try to fake it with a bass or steel or mandolin or keyboard, but I am getting by in the studio.

I have discovered that I like my bass playing best.  Every bass player I have worked who is pro or semi pro, is just too busy for my needs.  They seem to be embarrassed with being heard playing as simple as I need them to play.  Simple is the operative word in my studio. My ear likes what I hear from my recordings, so for me, I suppose I am doing OK–so far.  I haven’t released any of my new material that I am on, but I will.

I have just recorded fifteen songs with just me, guitar, and harp.  I will polish them up until they shine and then release it.  This is a truly homespun sound I am going after.  I just released a CD titled, “Preachin’ To The Choir” on CD Baby, http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/hilarymarcdkx, that is as rough sounding as the material on it.  The one I am working on now has a working title of, “On My Mind,” and is down home, country, mashed potatoes and gravy, sentimental, and very simple.  I am starting to get happy with what I am doing on it.  My harmonica is sounding just right for it, my guitar  is simple, and my voice, never my best resource, sounds better than adequate.

I am buying books and studying up on the progressions and forms of chords for various instruments I am using.  And, yes, it is hard work, and at times tedious, but It is good work, and it is satisfying.

So, I began this little essay by stating that I was not a musician, and in closing I need to qualify that statement.  I have a personal vision of what a musician is:  A musician can play just about anything in terms of style and beat and genre that comes to them; a musician also can play lead; a musician can also sit in cold and jam his or her heart out; and a musician is also expert with their instrument.  I have none of these qualifications.

Before you, my reader or fan, comes to my rescue and tells me, as so many have done in the past that if I can write songs and then get up and accompany myself in public and hold an audience, then I must be a musician, let me say that while I can do this, all that means is that I am a good performer.  I am a good performer and a good songwriter.  I can hold an audience and get them all fired up, but I do this with my attitude, stage presence, and personality, not with my expert hot licks on my instruments.

I am not apologizing for what I do.  What I do I do well–really well.  I just am not an expert with my instruments.  That’s all.  I wish I were, but I am not.  I am, however, learning to be, an expert, when I do that, then I’ll stand up when someone asks if there is a musician in the house.

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2 thoughts on “Let Me Be Honest, Here…

  1. I could have written this article myself, because it describes what I do, to a T. I am either EVERY line you wrote here, or at least can agree with it in my own personal way. Just re-read what you wrote, and pretend I said it and it is true for me also. Oh, people comment like crazy that I am an awesome musician and a great guitarist and so on, but the truth is, I have everyone fooled. I suppose there is a talent in being able to do that.

    I have the songs in my head, I see an image that describes the mood as though it were a scene in a movie, so I set out to convert those ideas into reality of song. I play no instrument well. I can strum a guitar and peck out simple things on a keyboard, with my main synth talent being in creating custom sounds from the raw waveforms. I’m not a great lyricist, but manage to come up with clever lines that grabs attention sometimes. I’m not a good vocalist, especially on the stuff I do, because I write most of it out of my optimum range. I can sing some operatic tenor(?) stuff pretty well (you know like, “What Child Is This” kind of stuff and would like to do one piece like that one day), but I don’t write that kind of music (so far).

    A little side thing to the above paragraph here; There have been times, when I would hear song by somebody, and try to play it. well since I can’t play well, I would invaribly, play something so totaly different, that I would realize I had created a new song, and so a song would be born.

    I do things in my little micro home studio the same way you are doing them, all by my lonesome self, with the same proceedures, starting out simple and adding to it, until I have pieced together pretty much what I want, and it pleases my ears.

    If it were not for modern software, I could not be doing the things I do. I have become a virtual musician. A lot of what you hear from me is drawn, note for note in MIDI, with the proper virtual instrument assigned, and then articulations for that instrument also drawn. I almost never use a pre-built pattern for anything, unless I build the pattern in the first place. That means my performing days are over, because I couldn’t play much of any of my music live. I’m not that good and I’d have to hire a stage full of musicians and fake playing something myself.

    It may be noted however that my 30-something son, is a natural born musician, who can play anything on most any instrument and does all kinds of music, most particularly, complex orchestrations, (think film trailers and Star Wars type stuff) and he has an extensive home studio in which he does projects for others, so I have an advantage. I occasionaly get some technical assistance and advice. I still do stuff in my own unique way, even if it is not the way the mainstream does it. That is my signature, because I don’t want to sound like everybody else.

    So, I suppose I’m talented as a songwriter, who can flesh out ideas, a manipulator of MIDI, a sound mixer, and a con artist who has been able to con everyone into thinking I’m a musician.

    People keep telling me, I’m good, so, I must be doing something right. Makes me wonder, what could be, if I had the money to promote myself in the right places. Unitl then, I’ll just have to hope that, somehow, I can nail down enough placements to generate that money someday.

    David J

  2. First off David, thank you so much for responding on this blog, and not back on the site where you saw it. This helps my stats for the blog, but most importantly, allows other readers to get more out of their reading.

    We are, indeed, brothers in con! I don’t think this is a bad thing at all. All we really want to have is enthusiastic listeners who become fans and like our music enough to purchase it. No musician needs to read music or understand its theory. It really helps to do so, but music happened long before there was theory. Also songwriting happened long before there were songwriting seminars and books on how to do it.

    Music is about emotions not technique. There is so much technically great but bloodless music out that I wonder. Your music is anything but bloodless. It vibrates through one’s soul at a level that engages heart, mind, and body. You do not need to be better than you are. However, with that said, we would not be artists if we were ever satisfied with where we were at any given point.

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