Lost Track and “Just Push Play” Mentality

It seems I’ve been playing the role of historian and librarian more than music maker in the past few months. I won’t say it hasn’t taken it’s toll but the best part is going through old recordings and finding out you like something a little more than you initially remember liking something.

Halloween Mix-004

The invisible wall every bedroom producer must face.

The struggles of taking a bunch of baked-in tracks and performing them with Traktor and somehow calling that a live show, are real. Seriously, it’s really hard to take a bunch of tracks that I’ve literally agonized for months over; trying to find layers to add, layers to remove, tweaking the mix, deciding what is too busy, and then reopen all those old wounds just for the sake of changing it up every time I play out, without the benefit of an entire band to share the responsibilities of overthinking the details of each part of a track or procurring, familiarizing their selves with, loading in/out, and otherwise owning the entire responsibility for just an individual part of a track.

“They’re just pushing play!” he said, as he continued to push play.

I followed the Deadmau5 “Don’t just push play” discussion closely. Honestly, until now, it is probably the singular reason, if not the biggest reason I’ve avoided playing out. Not because I put Deadmau5 on any kind of pedestal, but because I think it’s a real dissonance between respecting musicianship, the unspoken contract to put on a good show for your audience, and at the same time respecting that it takes a completely different set of skills and tools that most people unfamiliar with the process can’t even conceptualize to produce electronic music within the scope of infinite possibilities between hardware and software sound sources and instruments. Anyone can buy a set of Volcas and make some pretty kick ass beats, but after about 30 minutes, you’ll realize that those Volcas alone can either define you or can just be one swatch on a quilt of other sounds.

If you listen to my tracks, that’ll be the end of it, but if you say that’s not real music, I’ll find you, and I’ll make you listen to me play Wonderwall on my mandolin at least 3-4 times or until I can’t fight the urge to play Battle of Evermore any longer. Don’t make me post my mando cover of Right Where It Belongs as proof. In fact, that’s what I’m going to do right now, hang on…

I went that second route, not that there’s anything at all wrong with the first. Choosing to master a single instrument and suck out every ounce of uniqueness and show it to people who think there’s nothing new you can do with that instrument are probably the most important contrarians in all of music, but I prefer to chase a collection of “sweet spot” instruments that have a familiar range of sounds I can start to build a vocabulary for and where it might be forcing a Volca to do something it really can’t do, the Analog 4 or Tempest might do that sound with ease.

Even if I had an infinite budget for complete duplication of all my gear, roadies, etc. I would still be beholden to a very limited attention span and range of focus. Musicians are at their best when they’re focusing only on ONE sound. This is why there are monitor mixes at live shows, because most creative things happen in very confined contexts. The bass player might be trying to serve the context of the song, but he’s not concerned with that decay envelope not killing off the stabs on the keyboard part fast enough. In addition to tonality, there are a number of other cues, on top of trying to match the dynamics of the rest of the band, etc. This is stuff that’s easy for one person to be aware of for one sound. As soon as you start adding spinning plates into the mix, something is going to suffer or be compromised.

I’m sure there’s a better way, but I’m not gonna find it today.

I do not WANT to just push play, but ultimately, and in my opinion more importantly, I also do not want to let the live show have any affect at all on what I decide to do in the vacuum of my recording/arranging process because that is a much safer place for both myself and my audience to enjoy my risk taking. For now, this is the only way people are going to at least hear the music I’ve picked for playing out in a context I thought it would be well suited for. My lack of confidence is not in the music I’ve produced, it’s in the levelness of expectations between what someone does with dozens of instruments at various points in time, in different mindsets, bringing that all together in a way that sounds as organic as possible, even if it is baked in. The burden of paying for those baked in tracks not giving me the range of improvisation I would like is not a debt need to pay down in one lump sum on show number 2. So pushing play it is… for now.

I say for now, because even for this upcoming show, I’m still trying to find other angles to create a more visual appeal or at least the sense that I’m not bored while playing back music I’m very excited for people to be hearing. I’m still trying to find the right instrument or set of samples that I feel I can properly jam out on while my tracks play in the background. I’m trying to meet the old fashioned expectations of what a live show is, with the reality of how the sausage gets made. While just pushing play seems counter-intuitive, expecting something new to adhere to the conventions of something old is the kind of thinking that demonized sampling and synthesizers in the first place, but rest assured this is squarely where MY personal frustrations with the lack of improv opportunities as a musician, reside.

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