It started a few months back, while recording one of my old compositions for my Acid42 project. I began looking through old notebooks filled with songs I’d written some 10, 20, even 30 years ago. And I was thinking: this would be great to record!
Which prompted me to ask: why haven’t I ever recorded these songs before? Made decent versions, even for myself?
I’ve had recording equipment for a while now. I’ve invested time in learning how to actually record and mix a song. So why haven’t I touched this gold mine of material from my past?
I sat down and thought about it. Because I never had before.
The Excuses That Will Keep You From Your Art
Apparently I was giving myself the same old excuses over the years – excuses which any artist will find familiar. I list them below in the hopes that you, dear reader, may find some inspiration to get past them in case you’re ever faced with them.
1.I don’t have the right equipment to do it.
Well that’s a lie. I have a computer. I have a guitar. I have an abundance of digital tools to make it happen. I have everything I need. I don’t need any super expensive pro set up to do it. I already record and produce electronic music as Acid42. I already record responsorial psalms for church. Why can’t I do so for my own older material?
2.My lyrics (in these older songs) are too juvenile.
Well, that one’s true. My older songs are indeed a little more naive in lyrical content. Not as clever or even as subtle as more recent ones I’ve written. But why should that stop me?
The older I get, the more I realize this naivete has its charm. Plus, perhaps it’s forgivable if presented in the proper context (for example: not as songs written by a middle-aged father, but as the compositons of an emotional high schooler).
3.I’ll be making myself too vulnerable.
And there it is. The old doozy. How much is too much? When are you taking things too far and exposing too much of your heart and soul for the world to hear?
These older songs are a lot more naked in sentiment. Instead of poetic attempts at saying “I love you,” some of these songs literally have “I love you” in there. Ugh. My middle-aged dad brain cringes at the thought. But here’s the thing that convinced me to go for it: Alanis Morissette singing her heart out in Jagged Little Pill. If she could do it fearlessly at 19, why can’t I?
I just listened to Jagged Little Pill in the car the other day as I drove home from work after not hearing it for over 15 years. And it struck me how utterly vulnerable she laid herself out in her lyrics and music. Sheer emotion in every line: anger, frustration, hope, bitterness, and more. No holds barred. It must have been cathartic for her, because it definitely was for many of her listeners. And did I think any less of her because of it? Not really. In fact, I salute her for wearing her 19-year-old heart on her sleeve when she recorded this angry, emotional album. Maybe someone somewhere may find this same catharsis with my music? I’ll never know if the songs sit in a notebook at the bottom of a transparent 25-liter storage box.
4.This older music is uncool.
I’d like to say “And when has that ever been an issue for me?” But that, in itself, is a dishonesty.
One of the things that drew me to make electronic music was its cool factor. It was new (in 1997)! It was hip! It didn’t need any other bandmates or a rehearsal space! It was a safer genre than rock. Plus, it had a cool nerdy tech factor going for it.
Not so with this older music I wrote. Most of it is pop in its various forms. Romantic ballads. A little bit of rock or British new wave. A smattering of folk. But mostly unadulterated shiny happy pop.
Ah but, who cares if it’s uncool when it can lighten the soul of the listener?
But yes, public perception is an issue. Which leads me to…
5.I’m a middle-aged dad now. My public persona will be decimated by this amateurish music.
And… here we go. First off, what public persona? When I Google my own name, a cornucopia of links appears. Most of them are to the blog posts I write as a content marketer. Some of them go to my various social media handles. Some to my Catholic music. Some to my electronic music. So… WHAT PERCEPTION AM I AFRAID TO DESTROY, EXACTLY?
Secondly, why should a collection of pop music from my past be so destructive as to ruin my adult reputation? Because it’s got some “I love yous” and some plaintive melodies? Because it’s brutally honest about stuff? None of my songs tackle taboos. I could never write about raunchy stuff. I was always careful to stray on the side of the platonic.
Maybe then this hesitancy is because it’s more honest than anything I’ve ever done musically?
O-ho, wait a minute.
This is probably why.
It’s a Question of Honesty… and Fear
This collection of old tunes I’ve been working on finally bringing to life ARE more honest than much of my past work. But that’s because they weren’t written for public consumption. (Although to be perfectly honest, every songwriter has delusions of singing his songs at a massive arena, so there was always a glimmer of hope there.)
They were written for specific someones. Or for specific situations. Or for personal sanity.
I’ve resisted making them public out of fear. The excuses I listed above amount to one thing: fear.
And that’s precisely why I need to do them. Even if it scares me.
That fear tells me that it’s important to do this. Your psyche doesn’t resist doing the easy, useless things. It resists the worthwhile projects, the endeavors that it knows will cost dearly in terms of sweat and sanity and sleep.
I need to record them and release them because they captured a truth in time. And because of that they have value. And despite my excuses, some of them are good. They deserve to live outside of the notebooks they’ve been trapped in for the last three decades.
I need to do this because I’m not getting any younger. It’s a race against time. (And a poor, unhealthy diet.)
Even if it ends up sounding like a big boring album of pop ditties. Even if it sounds like it belongs back in high school. Even if it brings up painful memories. Even if friends end up ignoring it. Even if my wife hates all the time I spend on it. Even if no one likes it or understands it.
I need to do it for me.
You need to do your art; I need to do mine.
Good luck to all of us.