Playing live and recording…

…. are, from my perspective, very different situations that require somewhat different mindsets.

I’ve always been aware of this to some extent – however, while recording my upcoming release balance I seem to have gained a better grasp of this fact. Has it made this whole project go smoothly? The simple answer is no.


Mock-up of the CD cover

I had the opportunity to perform regularly during the Summer of 2015, heading up my two series Solo Guitar on a Saturday Morning and Solo Guitar on a Sunday Morning. While I believe, without a doubt, that I qualify as a seasoned performer, the settings of both series afforded me the chance to work at delivering a quality performance in what many would consider less-than-desirable situations. These were both open-air markets with a broad range of attendees, from infants to seniors, who weren’t all attending to see/hear me. I made it a point on each and every date to zero in and perform at the highest level, even if the crowd was less than enthusiastic in response. I have always maintained that when quality music is performed with technical finesse and sincerity it will communicate no matter what. And, based on my experience, that assumption is correct. With my very first note I would strive to interact with the music, go deeply into whatever I was playing and mine the possibilities without worrying that it would be ‘beyond’ any listener. I gained new listeners and a sparkling reputation as a result.

Live at Ambler Farmers' Market

Ambler Farmers’ Market, Spring 2015

However, when I am sitting in my living room (which I’ve temporarily modified for recording), in front of several microphones with no external connections to the outside world, pushing the music the same way as I did on those early mornings yielded less-than-satisfactory results on the recordings. It’s a change in my attitude and focus that makes the difference between tracks that sound as if I wrestled the guitar to squeeze out something approaching music instead of engaging in the imaginative exploration of musical possibilities.

StudioToGo Early studio set-up

Let me be clear – I’m not pulling back in my efforts to create something highly musical and immediately unique. I’m still pushing into the song form, exploring ideas spontaneously. (I am not attempting to water-down the music to suit a market.) Things seem to work better and the resulting performance quality is satisfying to me – it communicates as well if not, in many cases, even better than the powerhouse approach that works in the great outdoors.

I still have the penchant to second-guess the results, especially if I listen to the tracks within 24 to 48 hours after recording. I want to fix everything -squeaks, finger noise, a buzzed note. This was the pitfall for my first two CD releases – I remixed and re-edited and cut and pasted well beyond what should have been done. Time and money were easily disposed of during the post-production. Then, after all that, when Larry Coryell listened to the first album he commented “You didn’t use many first or second takes did you?” Of course, I was proud of the countless hours spent in the studio to achieve the final product and I proudly told him “No – I did a lot of production afterward”. Then Larry says “In the future you should trust your early takes more and rely less on fixing it later.”

Larry’s words were on my mind throughout the recording process for balance. Especially with a solo guitar recording, tweaking the daylights out of the finished product literally tweaks the soul and substance out of it. There are small rough edges here and there, buzzes, scrapes, imperfect notes – but I’ve finally managed to step back and listen to the music I’ve created rather than the details inside it.

I feel better and the music sounds great.


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