S01x04 – this is the place

Finished this a little early but “finished” mostly = “abandoned” in this instance. As we mentioned previously I gave myself a head start on this song to focus on learning & experimenting with vocal stuff and ughhhhh it’s so hard. Recording vocals: hard. Editing vocals: hard. Mixing vocals?: hard. Also, singing?: HARD. My voice is all over the map on this one, sorry in advance to offend anyone’s ears. I’ve always sort of had an identity as a singer – I was in choir, I was in bands all through high school & college – but I guess after ~20 years of not really singing you don’t just pick up where you left off, turns out. It’s fine, who cares. With more practice I can get better at singing. But I am struggling to imagine today a world where continuing practice mixing vocals enables me to understand it any better. I watched a lottt of youtube videos, I did all kinds of different edits, all kinds of experimentation. And it’s like FINE but it’s not AMAZING.

I will say though, even if I’m still frustrated, I can tell my ear is improving. I can hear things in the mixes that I definitely wouldn’t/didn’t hear a year ago when I first started messing around with Garageband. Also focusing deeply on how Sound/Voice stuff works is helping me hear things I hadn’t noticed previously in music I listen to. Yesterday I listened to a Harry Styles song that I’ve listened to hundreds of times and noticed for the first time something happening with the vocals that I want to try to duplicate in the future.

What else. Overall this came out fine, there’s more I could fiddle with, but I want to move on to something else. Notes for the future if I decide to do more with this song: different key, different drums, something instead of hand claps during the chorus.

Also I’m noticing a lot of weird/annoying sonic artifacts that Garageband inserts into music, and I’m not sure if it’s something I’m doing wrong, or something about how Garageband works/sucks. Certain sounds, certain effects, certain settings have a tendency to stick around longer than you want them to in the mix, unless you’re very intentional about it. (Example: I had an echo effect on one line that I wanted to fade out very quickly. But even with the volume and the echo effect turned down to zero, you could still hear the echo quietly in the mix way longer than expected.) idk!

podcast changelog: New mixing on the intro. Also new order of operations on mixing the file that I think I like better than the previous way. Wow interesting, tell me more.

song errata: The intro was originally 8 measures longer and I was going to do something with guitar at the beginning but decided eh who cares and just shortened the song. I’ll mess around with guitar a different week.

Literally What Am I Doing

aka Literally What Is Happening Here

I have a tendency to start projects on a whim and plow ahead and then if there comes a time when other people want or need to take a look and see how it’s going, I look around at what I’ve done and realize it makes no earthly sense to anyone but me. And generally I feel fine about this, but in the interest of personal growth I’m trying something different, aka explaining what I’m doing.

So: I’m making a weekly podcast where I release a new weird little song every week, but neither the podcast nor the song is really the point. Essentially this is all just a giant mental health trick to keep my brain motivated & focused.

So the “main” “goals” are:

  • Learn more about music production (i.e. be able to understand why things sound certain ways; try to train my ear to discern why two similar sounds are different, etc)
  • Get better at music production tools & pipelines (esp Garageband & Audacity)
  • Make thing/s

But the overarching supergoals behind the goals would be:

  • Build a maintainable, repeatable framework for making things
  • Constrain my creativity in some way to ensure something measurable actually happens
  • Something something mental health
  • Over time have developed some corpus of work that can be used for something else (e.g. collect the most successful songs into an album)

So the core problems were a combination of wanting to get better at making music, being frustrated I didn’t understand the tools better, and also recognizing that like any creative project, without some kind of external constraint I’ll just keep tinkering away forever and never be done with anything. (See ~40 half finished ideas in Garageband as we speak, some of which have frankly been 99% done for months, but they just sit there because what if.)

And I was curious how podcasts worked, and about the differences between editing speaking vs singing, and I just wanted to get better at editing sound files generally, so it all sort of came together. Thus: I have one week to write a song, record it, mix & edit it, and turn it into a podcast. The podcast itself is just an artifact – this process does not result in a “good podcast”, but it does offer me things like accountability, a framework for tracking progress over time, a surprisingly easy way to listen back to mp3s on my phone, etc.

In fact there are a variety of (interesting!) reasons why this process specifically results in a very bad podcast, but that will be a whole other post.

And the songs themselves, I mean I find them interesting but they are definitely demos more than radio-ready singles. The point of them is to be able to learn from what I hear, uncover what I don’t know, and be able to track my progress over time. (Examples: Week 1 was a huge learning curve about the podcast rss ecosystem. I didn’t understand how little I knew about loudness balancing until, like, Week 3.)

So that’s like that. There are my songs, this is my podcast, but most important this is my process.

Literally Calling an Audible

Decided to slightly change things up for next week. Stylistically I like the idea of starting and finishing a whole song from scratch each week (which definitely happened weeks 1 & 2; week 3 was 8 measures of a half-baked idea I had kicking around that hadn’t been fleshed out yet) but for week 4 I’m using a song that was mostly written, so that I can focus more effort on the singing and mixing vocals part of the process. So I have to write the lyrics, record them, and then mix then, and then do a bunch of usual last minute touches/edits to finish the song. But in the instance of transparency, the music is already ~80% done from the jump this week.

I have a backlog of about ~40 songs in various states of disrepair, and of those about 5 I would consider unfinished but solidified concepts as songs, and this will be one of those.

Just noting it for the record.

S01x03 – Thumbs Maybe

Making progress, sorta, in places. Feel like I deserve a medal for having to listen to my own singing voice over and over for the past few days, but whatever.

Vocal mixing & editing is still a frustrating experience. Can’t tell what percentage is Me Being an Idiot and what percentage is Garageband Just Does it That Way. I made some progress this week, definitely, compared to last week. My singing definitely has its limits, which doesn’t help. In any case, progress not perfection.

A lot of the mixing issues that bug me are starting to be tiny little artifacts of Garageband, I guess? Or maybe I’m just starting to train my ear better. But for the most part the song is essentially how I envisioned it.

I had planned a 2nd verse/longer version at some point, but decided to skip that – the point is to learn, so the point is to find the critical path through the song, not to create a song with all the “perfect” “parts.” I also discarded an idea for a B section, for slightly different reasons. Building on the repetitive, one section stuff I tried/failed to do last week, it was interesting to try to create a song where things shift slightly but there’s really just one chord change happening over and over again. A song with two chords. Personally I like it.

A lot to learn about mixing harmonies as well, but whatever. I finished the song on time, moving onward.


I forgot to mention that I am aware my plosives are bad on this track, but didn’t feel like rerecording all the vocals. I also don’t feel like buying a better mic so I’ll just try to be more mindful of how I hit certain phonemes in the future.

Also this episode has an updated mix of the intro. Still need to mess with it more but it’s better.

S01x02 – Twin Suns

This one has been one nightmare after another. OK nightmare is an exaggeration but still.

I knew early on this song was going nowhere but just pushed through to keep up with the schedule/theme/process/etc. It was also clear early on this song wouldn’t work with lyrics, but I am mainly interested in learning more about recording & mixing vocals, so I had to go through with it even though I hated every second of it.

Plus: all kinds of technical problems, with garageband continually telling me I didn’t have enough memory to play the song. This has been a problem a few times and I’m not really sure what to do about it – I’ve deleted things, restarted, zapped the pram even, etc. It might just be an artifact of my computer being fairly old and rickety but there’s not much to do about that in the short term.

As a fix I was going to export the music from garageband and then record the vocals in audacity but that didn’t work for some reason I didn’t have time to figure out this week. So I finally was able to record some rough vocals in gb, they’re not good but the let me do the things I needed to do, aka Learn and Finish the Song.

I have more stuff to say about my The First Thing philosophy but that can save for another post.

Anyways I’m excited to not be working on this song anymore. Sorry if it’s your favorite thing that you ever heard.