Technical perfection vs. emotion

I’ve been in studio the past few days, (my home studio, not the real one), working on demos for this musical I’m writing. The whole project has happened very quickly. It seems like the universe delivered this project to me–as if it were fully formed and ready to be presented.

I am a pianist. I do  most of my composing at the piano. I do most of my “work out how the songs go…” at the piano. And I do my singing, by accompanying myself at the piano.

But, for a musical, which has…you know…actual music…you need…representations of that music.

So, with trepidation, considering my software issues and lack of recording engineer skills, I fire up my recording studio, roll up my (figurative) shirt sleeves and dive in.

First goal: Create demos that don’t make me cringe.

Now – that is a huge, HUGE dividing line. I’m not even talking about approaching any realm that could be named ‘good’. I’m talking about the realm of ‘barely adequate’.

The first demos I did were…maybe, barely adequate. And the musical has a whole bunch of songs, so this is a big project. So big–in fact, that it almost seems paralysing to think of trying to accomplish such a thing.

Not to mention..on this…there’s just me. When you divide yourself up between recording engineer and musician/singer…your abilities are halved. When you just engineer, you can focus all your efforts on the engineering. When you just play and sing, you can focus 100% of your being on the music.

But, when you record yourself, you are half engineer and half musician. It diminishes the quality and…unfortunately…it shows.

And, in my studio, with just me there, and with the (not top of the line) components I have, you record one thing at a time. One line. One instrument. One track. So…I worked, diligently, and assembled multiple tracks–just like putting puzzle pieces together.

(And that doesn’t just refer to building ONE song demo, but the puzzle analogy works on another level, since all of these demos and manuscript and actors and story and orchestration, etc…it all is a giant puzzle that (hopefully) comes together to create an entertaining musical.)

Hence, we arrive at the subject line for the blog post: Technical Perfection vs. emotion

When I wrote the musical…I was not at the piano (I started there, but ended up working ALL on the computer.) So I had written out lyrics and I had sung them into a cassette recorder. So, I needed to figure out each song and work them out and tweak. But, when that happened, for ALL of the songs of this project, it ‘did’ something to me. The emotional content of these songs, together, which build into an entire story…wow. I sang the musical, in its entirety, for four consecutive days.

Then I had the songs ‘down’ enough…to start recording. And you want, you need, you have this insane wish, for the demos to be good enough to let them go out into the world. The general public won’t ever hear them, but the musical producers, the artists, the actors…they will. They have to hear them, to know how the songs, go. Right?

So, I’m fighting these problems, and building things with the ‘technical’ side more to the top of the scale, and the ‘performance’ side, more to the bottom of the scale.

And yesterday, I’m about done for the day (recording, I mean). And I think “to hell with it”, and I just clicked record on the software and played the piano and sang the song–at the same time. This means, major bleed. You can’t mix. You have severely limited your post production options.

But, in this instance, I performed the song, as if I was sitting at my piano. Performed. Sang the living daylights out of it.

And on these last two tracks…I captured…something. The emotion was there. The technical stuff…(I’m shaking my head as I write this paragraph, because I just don’t…know…) The technical part of those two demos is soooo – what’s the word–lacking? Non-existent?

But…to capture the emotion. Not once, but twice. In the moment, performing those two songs, on ‘tape’, just as if I had performed them live…it captured something.

So…where do you draw the line? Are people going to listen to these and cringe at the (obvious) technical issues?  Or will people respond to the ’emotion’, and that’ll be the ‘hook’ that ensnares them into the project?

[If the latter is the case–then I’m really screwed…because these demos are at the END of the musical. If I had the emotion, or the ‘whatever’…to _hook_ them into the project–at the beginning (something to make them keep reading, keep listening…to want them coming back for more)…then that’d be ideal. But alas–the emotional content comes at the end…at least in terms of what I’ve recorded so far…]

The manuscript–the basis for the musical, is…done. I mean…it should be the most difficult thing, right? Pulling a book/story/screenplay/stageplay – out of  a human, that takes a huge toll. (By comparison–the last project we completed (me and a co-writer) took five years. FIVE YEARS. And it was just words. No music. And it was AGONIZING trying to get it accomplished and get it right.)

Back to the musical…

On this…it was just _there_. Now, I need to find a way to represent the music–so that people can hear it and learn how it goes. To put this in perspective:

My recorded, released catalog of tracks (both solo artist and band) is 17 singles. And that took the better part of a decade to compile.

This musical: 15 songs. There’s no way I can reserve all of these to go to the real recording studio and output in such a short amount of time. I can probably do a few there. But…

As composer you need to be able to communicate what’s in your head. Other people need to know how to represent and present a song that you, as composer, wrote. So, I need to find a way to get what’s inside my head…out to the world.

I have so many thoughts. Orchestrations; arrangements; harmonies. Ways to ‘perform’ these roles; ways to present the play. Staging. Blocking. Lighting.

You create this whole world, yet other people are going to be the ones to present it as entertainment. Does it work? Does it not? As playwright, you are working in a vacuum. You don’t know if a project will ‘hook and capture’ an audience, until it’s already set and locked and performed.

To use the phrase “flying blind” is an understatement.


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