I have moved all content from this blog over to the “blog” page at www.aaronburdett.com. See you there!
The CD’s are printed, they’ve been mailed to radio stations and press, they’ve been mailed to the Kickstarter contributors (most of them, that is), the CD release shows are set and the publicity has been arranged…it’s time now to step back and let this thing do whatever it’s going to do. The CD release date is set for September 11, and we start a run of regional shows after that for a couple months to support it.
I’m really happy with the way this project has come out. It’s a little raw-er than the most recent project, but it’s dead on as far as accuracy. And most importantly, I can hand this to anyone, anywhere, with complete confidence and say “This is what we sound like as a band, this is what I sound like solo, and these are the kinds of songs I write.” We could have done a lot more, but we consciously chose not to. It’s an americana/folk rock/singer-songwriter sound I can get behind totally, and I hope you guys can too!
There’s also a brand new website up and running as of mid last week, and you guys should go and check it out at www.aaronburdett.com. For those of you who didn’t manage to get in on the Kickstarter or haven’t received your disc yet (probably because you haven’t sent me your address…) there are four songs there on the music page from the new project that you can stream right now. My buddy Reggie at Curve Theory (www.curvetheory.com) has put in a lot of hours and hard work and come through for me once again with a fantastic looking and really functional site.
It feels like the calm before the storm to me. It’s like I just have to wait to see how it goes and what happens over the next couple months. The CD isn’t technically released, but I’m getting a lot of good feedback from folks that have gotten their advance copies. You, the fans, have made this project happen, and in a couple weeks I’m going to ask you to help me out again to get it out there to your networks and friends and music industry connections. I’ll be updating this blog and sending out another newsletter at the release, so think about that for me for the next week or so and I’ll be back with some really easy ways for you to share the new music with anyone you choose to. I personally think that getting the music out there as far as possible is the most important thing in the modern music industry, so an artist can follow it up with the real product: the live shows and performances.
So until then, check out the new website, enjoy your labor day weekend, and keep in touch!
This week we put all the finishing touches on the 11 remaining tracks (down from the original 13 we were working on) and last night we finalized mixes to review over the weekend. We’ll all listen to the tracks in their (likely) final order and make sure everything sounds like it’s at the right level and tonally correct, make some final adjustments if necessary on Monday afternoon, then move on to the mastering stage on Wednesday. Mastering is the last audio step, and really sets the overall EQ and tone for the recording, as well as little details like the spaces between the songs and relative volume of each track. It’s a fairly mysterious process, really, but all I know is it always sounds a lot better after the mastering. It’s awfully easy to tell when someone has opted to skip that last step, too.
I was thrilled to have fiddle virtuoso Casey Driessen come in a record on a couple tunes on Thursday, and his parts add a whole new dimension to those songs. That dude is an amazing musician, and nice guy on top of that. I actually didn’t realize it until later that evening, but back in 2003 when Tim O’Brien’s Traveler CD came out, I must have listened to the song “Turn the Page Again” about a thousand times, and particularly the fiddle solos, thinking they were the most exquisite things I’d ever heard. And that was Casey! Crazy how things work out sometimes!
Will also came in on Friday and recorded some harmonies on a song that he had been singing in our live shows, and we sort of talked through song order and other final details. Will’s not not been in the studio for every part of the process, but I’ve been sending him versions as they progress for his feedback. He’s been a great collaborator for me. It’s nice to have someone who knows me and my music and potential who can push me and make suggestions now and then. Whether or not I act on those suggestions is another story, but I always appreciate the perspective!
I dropped review CD’s to both Will and Billy last night, and Chris has one he’s listening to over the weekend, as well. It’s turned out to be a really strong project, if I do say so myself. There’s some newgrass, there’s some electric blues/rock and some singer-songwriter stuff on there, and unless I’m mistaken that’s precisely what we play in our live shows.
The CD artwork is about finished, and we should be ready to send both the artwork and the audio files to the duplicator soon and get this thing finished up! Looks like a mid September release is more likely than late August, but that’s fine. We’re still setting up regional shows for that time frame, and we’ll just see what happens after that. Could be big!
Earlier this week I spent a couple days recording all my guitar solos, both acoustic and electric, and singing some harmony parts on a few of the songs. And although it’s frustrating at times, at least the duration of each take is only 30-40 seconds. I will admit I was surprised when Chris told me I had done 39 takes for one particular solo, though. It turned out well, but it took some doing, that’s for sure. I’m relatively new to electric guitar playing, and while I’m totally comfortable with my rhythm playing I still find the electric solo to be a daunting task at times. In a live setting you have the luxury of the energy in the room and the ability to fool around some, but in the studio it’s more like a 30 second composition that has to have body and flow and melody and direction. I’m not saying that acoustic solos don’t have to have that same recipe, but in my particular style you can just throw a lot of notes at it and usually come out on top. With the acoustic it’s generally a lot of staccato notes, too, whereas the electric has the added quality of sustain that can be used (or abused). At any rate, I put my best into it, and I think it came out fairly well. I have a long way to go, but I’m on the path. And the solos are recorded.
The vocal harmonies were no problem, really, except that some of the parts you think will be great sound like barbershop when you hear them recorded. And that’s not quite what I’m going for. Will is going to come in and record one of the harmonies he has been singing live on “The Simplest Things” in the next couple weeks. And we also have a guest artist coming in to play on 2 or 3 of the songs in a couple weeks. I’m not going to disclose any details, I assure you it will be worth the wait!
So unless something goes awry, all my parts are completely recorded for the new disc. Everything it’s going to have from me is down in the bits and the bytes. I did make the decision to stop working on one of the songs that was lagging behind a bit. I have certainly put out a few songs in the past that I wish I hadn’t. And in hindsight I had a funny feeling all along that I wasn’t comfortable with the tune or lyrics of each of those in one way or another, but left it in and forced the song onto the CD. So I decided to go ahead and honor that feeling this time and act on it. At least that way I get the opportunity to fix it and keep it for a later project and road test it live. There are also a couple more that I think will be cut just because there’s too much material and they might not fit in with the others well, but we’ll go ahead and mix and finish those and stash them away for some later use. The songs are sound, in those cases, but they just don’t seem at home on this album. As my friend Mr. Rosser says, “too many songs is a good problem to have”.
I got the first four final mixes yesterday, and Chris will be mixing the other 8 or 9 late next week. By next weekend I should be able to start putting it all together and thinking about song order and final cuts and all, in addition to the dozens of little tweaks to the sound we’ll be making before the final audio mastering is done. It’s like each song is a chapter in a book that you can’t put into perspective properly until it’s printed. I know that was the case with the last CD, and I’m sure it will be with this one, as well. As much time as you put into crafting something in minute detail, it’s true significance and nature is often only apparent when you can step back from it and look objectively, or as objectively as any artist can view their own work, and take in the bigger picture. And even though I am reaching that part where I can sort or turn a corner in my mind as far as the intense creative work is concerned, I’m still very much immersed in the details and unable to step back too far. But the glimpses I do get from time to time bode well for the final product. I think this will be the most representative recording I’ve made to date, and one I can proudly hand to anyone, anywhere and say “here’s what I do”.
That’s the real goal as far as I’m concerned, to put out a quality product that I can be proud of and stand behind. There are bajillions of details and tasks that need to be attended to in order to make a living of making music or any kind of art (and even to release this CD), but the biggest and first task is to create a quality product, with your whole heart in it. I am told that all the other stuff will line up behind that of its own accord and in just the right time. I’m looking into lots of those details now, leaning forward into the CD release time frame later this summer, but doing everything I can to stay here in the moment with the music I’m creating and producing. There’s a lot of work to be done yet, but it’s starting to come together, and take on its own life. My job, as always, is to do my part, do my homework, believe in my abilities, but also let things happen as they will and trust in the process and the outcome.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll check back in soon.
Last week I had a couple days in the studio, and the highlight for me was my old friend Andy Pond stopping in to record a few banjo tracks. I have to admit that one of the tunes we threw at him was a “hail Mary”, the first song that was going to be on the chopping block. It is one that I really like, though, and we had spent a good bit of time on it and recorded a bunch of options, but none of them were working. So before I threw it out I thought I’d give Andy a shot at fixing the dang thing. We stripped it back to just my live performance and Will’s bass track, and started there. And within 45 minutes Andy had recorded a banjo track and a cajon hand percussion track that put the song squarely back in the list of the very best on the album! I will also admit that just hearing that particular way Andy plays with my rhythmic style took me back about 15 years to the time when we played together up in Boone as we were both just getting started. I won’t lie, I got a little misty thinking about it. It’s funny how time can change a lot of things but can also leave a lot of others untouched. There was a moment in time that the sound of me and Andy together was the best thing I’d heard and a part of the soundtrack of my days. There are some recordings of us made by our friend Jimmy Dulin back in the day that sound very much like this tune we just recorded, although not quite as good. Well, at least not quite as “mature”.
So good progress was made on the recording front, and so far no songs have been cut. I do have one or two in mind, but we’ll see how they play out over the next week. I don’t give up easily.
I’d be remiss in reporting my activities in operation “figure out how to make a living or at least really enjoy yourself a lot of the time playing music” without conveying the part about the actual business of getting gigs and making music. I had a meeting last week with an advisor on the music scene, and I would call it very productive, at least from my point of view. He helped me get refocused on the bigger picture and remember a lot of things I’d heard before but not internalized about how it’s done and how to keep on moving forward even when it feels like you can’t. And here’s what it looks like today: I have been working here on the computer for the past 3 hours sending out booking inquiries and making follow up calls to venues. That’s what I’ve done after my 9 hour work day on the day job. It really takes a lot of time, and there’s no way around that. Somebody has to do it, and every single time someone has offered to or said they’d do it in the past I’ve been let down, so I guess it’s time to start to learn how to do it myself. I’ll get it, it just takes time to work up relationships with venues and booking contacts. And here we come back full circle to the “do the next right thing” mantra and let the stuff after that come up later.
Then after the music business for the day it’s time to reach back out and keep in touch with all of you reading this, as none of it will work without you. I’ve been a little slow posting the past couple weeks. but it’s just because of having to concentrate on taking care of the day job and fitting in a couple days of recording as well. There are only so many hours in the day, in case you hadn’t heard.
I am back in the studio on Thursday and Friday, recording my (shredding) guitar solos and (non shredded) vocal harmonies. That’s not too bad a part of the process, but it can have a lot of the same mind games action as the initial recording. I’m not too worried about it, because I can just show up and do my best and that will be good enough.
There’s no doubt at all that this is the CD I’ll be most proud to hand out to anyone and say “Here’s a good example of my music”. It’s got some rough spots, but so do I. I can’t wait to get it to you all, and thanks again for your support. I already said it once, but I’ll say it again: I couldn’t do it without you.
In the wake of Doc’s passing, I thought I should share this story about the one and only time I met him personally.
It was the mid-late 90’s, and I had been living in Boone, NC for a year or so. I was probably about 21, and I had been singing tenor with the Springhouse Farm Choir, a small sort of avant garde/traditional choir based out of Valle Crucis, a few miles outside Boone. A couple of my parent’s old college friends lived there in a big old farmhouse, and also headed up the choir. Now, a lot of very interesting people came through the doors of that farmhouse over the years, and it was a sort of social hub for a wide range of individuals and groups, from local farmer types to older hippie types and everything in between. It was a great place to hang out, and you just never knew who would show up or what might happen.
Sometime before I had made the scene there, an Irishman named Ronnie had hooked up with the Farm, and he would come every summer with his traditional Irish band and they would go to the old time and bluegrass festivals and fiddler’s conventions, resting and lodging at the Farm between festivals. They were a lively crowd, and the late night music was great. I was playing at the time, although not professionally by any means, and we would play and sing and drink late into the night. It was all great fun, and they were fantastic musicians. Later I found out that they had been attempting to meet up with Doc for several years during their visits, and it had never worked out until this particular night.
It seems silly to me now, but I didn’t know who Doc Watson was, really. I knew he was sort of a local legend, and I knew people seemed to love and respect him. I also knew that he had some connection to the folk revival in the 60’s but that was about it. These half dozen Irishmen knew more about him than I did, and I lived 4 or 5 miles down the road from his house. I also knew the normal crowd got pretty excited when word got around that he had accepted the invitation to one of the music parties out at the farmhouse. I still didn’t know what it meant, but it sounded like it was going to be a pretty good party out there no matter who came, so I was in!
So that evening, maybe 50 or 60 people were gathered in the living room of this farmhouse, a large wooden room with very high, probably 12 foot ceilings, where most of the musical performances were held there. Doc arrived, and sat in a chair in the back of the room by the fireplace while the Irish band was playing mostly traditional tunes. The first thing I remember noticing was that within the first few notes of each tune they would start, Doc would yell out “Old Joe”, or whatever the tune was, with a huge grin on his face, slapping his leg in time with the music. He was clearly enjoying himself, and seemed to know every song they played. I only later began to learn about the crossover between our traditional mountain music and the Scots-Irish musical heritage, but it was demostrated to me that night for the first time.
The Irishmen took a break, and I was asked to come play a song or two. Thank goodness I didn’t know enough to be scared, or I would have been petrified. So I marched up to the front there and played some ridiculous song I’d written with a friend about some late night drinking adventure we’d had. It was a rhythmic tune, though, and Doc was slapping his knee to that just like he had to the band. When I had finished he asked, “Who wrote that song, son?”, and when I said that I had written it, he said “Sounds like some of my adventures when I was a boy!” and laughed.
The Irishmen came back and played some more, and asked Doc to play with them, but he declined, preferring just to listen for the moment. But then a little later he agreed to play a few tunes by himself, and took a seat at the front of the room. As he started to play, it’s like the top just blew right off of my head. It was amazing. There had been half a dozen Irishmen playing their hearts out in that room just a few minutes before, with fiddle, flute, bodhran, mandolin, at least one guitar, and a concertina, shouting and stomping, but I swear to you that there was more music bouncing around in that wooden room from this one man than when they were all playing. I was just transfixed. I remember that he played “In the Jailhouse Now”, and a few other songs, but I can’t remember which ones. He sang beautifully, and yodeled for us, but what I remember the most was his guitar work.
There have been two times in my adult (and I use that term loosely) life that seeing someone play an acoustic guitar live has completely changed the way I approach the instrument. One was a few years later, and is another story entirely, but the first, and most important, was this night when I met Doc Watson and saw him play solo in a farmhouse in Valle Crucis. I was not familiar with cross picking, or even that familiar with flatpicking at all, but I can’t imagine a better introduction to the craft. It was incredible. The energy I felt from that man was overwhelming and unforgettable. I remember two things clearly from that night. The first was the realization that the amount of music and connection and energy that a performer wields and conveys has nothing to do with volume or how many members in the band. Doc singlehandedly blew a fantastically talented full Irish band out of the water right in front of me. And the second thing I remember is the realization that I have no idea how to play a guitar. I could strum and flap a little melody line out here and there, but I was suddenly back to square one. And it felt more like square zero.
The rest of the evening is a blur. Doc went home, and the party continued late into the night. I think everyone there was a bit awestruck, even the folks who had known what to expect. Only in hindsight, and really only now writing this, do I recognize what an amazing experience and gift that was. I will never forget it.
So did Doc Watson change my life that night? I don’t know how melodramatic I want to be about it at the moment, but there was a sharp pivot in my concept of traditional mountain music and guitar playing in particular that night. I turned a corner I didn’t know was there onto a street I didn’t know existed because of a blind man I’d barely heard of who lived right down the road from me. The spark that was lit by Doc that evening has led me to all kinds of guitar players and traditional music that I would not have sought out had it not been for that chance encounter. And I know for a fact that that is true for thousands if not millions of people around the world. While people all over the planet have been introduced to Appalachian music by Doc Watson, he introduced me to the music that had been all around me the whole time that I’d just never noticed.
I never spoke to Doc again, although I saw him from time to time at festivals and events there in the High Country. He was the kind of famous person that people respected enough to not bother or accost even when you did see him out in public. He was just there, and we all knew it. I think one of the things that was so endearing about Doc was that he was the genuine article through and through. He was the real deal, and that is hard to come by these days. There is no doubt that we have lost a national treasure with Doc’s passing, but I believe he is gone because his work was done. And what a body of work that is! There is not an acoustic or americana or country or celtic or bluegrass picker out there today who has not been influenced by the great Doc Watson, and he’ll live on in every one of them one way or another.
And that night will live on in me forever. I’m no Doc Watson, and I never will be. But I’m a better guitar player, and hence a better musician, and hence a better human for having met him that night.
I can’t think of the words to thank someone for that kind of gift. But in its simplest possible form:
Thank you, Doc.
After 7 full days in the studio, today it has been time to get back to work on the day job. I’m not really too excited about it, but I’m not sure how much more of that studio time I could stand without a break either. It’s best taken in smallish bites for me.
Will and Billy finished all their parts on Monday, and although there’s a lot of work to be done on the tracks, some if it is already sounding way better than I had anticipated. That’s the good kind of surprise! Chris Rosser did a great job of directing and guiding us when we needed it, and staying out of it when we didn’t. He’ll be doing some editing and rough mixing later in the week, and then we can start working on the guest musicians and my guitar solos and harmonies and that sort of stuff. I am not sure if one or two of the tracks might get cut for various reasons yet, but we’ll see how they play out. No pun intended. One step at time.
But I can say already that this is going to be the best recording I’ve made so far. The songs are better, my performance is better, and the band sounds great. That’s what you always want, for things to improve steadily, but it’s reassuring to just do your thing like you do it without any judgement and then find that the results were not only as good as you anticipated, but a couple notches above that. I can’t wait to get it finished and share it with all of you.
My Uncle Bill is fond of saying that “it’s all about balance”, and I tend to agree with him on that. I continue to work on that balance, and finding what works for me. I think the main reason I started this blog was to work out my own feelings about work and creative endeavors and finding balance between them. I can definitively say that I’m not there yet, but I’m still trying. I have this dream of playing music for a comfortable living, but not only am I not sure how to get there from here, I’m not sure exactly what it will look like when I get there or whether I’ll like all that goes along with that, either. Time will tell, and I am sure about that. I don’t know why I feel like it’s already a done deal that I’m going to get the chance to see what that kind of success with my music will feel like, but I do, and I have for a while. I don’t know when that will be, but I will do my best to be ready when it is.
So like I always do when I get overwhelmed with how to forge ahead on an unseen path, I break it down to the simplicity of the “next right thing”. Do the thing that’s right in front of you, I say. It’s usually something very simple. Tonight my list included doing some bookwork for the business, emailing a couple prospective venues about booking me and the band, sitting down and writing a post to keep in touch with you folks, get some exercise, and rest up so I can work another long day tomorrow. I’m only about 80% done with that list, but I feel a lot better already.
As I sit here in my beautiful office this evening with Doc Watson on shuffle, I am reminded of how blessed I am. Not that long ago things were quite different, and I am truly grateful for the life I have today. I joke a lot about the “first world problems” meme, but it’s fairly accurate for the majority of my complaints (and the ones I hear around me). I have a roof over my head, a family to share my life with, good health, food in the fridge, a job that pays the bills, and the opportunity to play music for my friends from time to time. I think there are a lot of people who would love to have that list apply to them. And I’m one of them.
So let’s all have a grateful rest of the week, why don’t we?
Time to catch you all up on the progress in the studio the past couple of days. On Wednesday and Thursday I finished up all of my guitar and vocal tracks. Some of them went great, and some were a lot more work, but we got them all done. We actually have a good bit more material than we need for the CD, so if there’s something that isn’t working out or just doesn’t fit then we can cut a song or two. But hopefully we can keep them all. We certainly have a lot of takes (versions) of all of the tunes. The record for me was 13 takes of one particular song, and even though it was only about 3 minutes long, it felt like singing the same thing about a thousand times! And I don’t care who you are, do that and you’re bound to go through a whole gamut of emotions, from loving it to hating it, from confidence to doubt. And that is the essence of my experience in the recording studio every time. The trick is to stay focused and believe in your work and songs and talent and just keep going forward. What’s left at the end usually surprises me.
So as I type here from the love seat on the side of the studio (Friday PM), Billy and Will are recording their parts on the song “3 or 4 Minutes”, which is about the mystery and magic I love so much about live music in general. A fitting song for the moment. It is really loud in here, but it sounds good! I have been able to listen back to my parts and see that they have a particular energy, but this is the phase when I can feel things start to come together in a way that is much greater than the sum of the parts. I’m glad to have such good musicians and all round nice guys to work with.
I think I’m the designated lunch fetcher for today, so I’d better start taking orders. Thanks for checking in, and I’ll talk to you again soon!
I’m sitting in the studio watching my engineer Chris Rosser going through the 30 or so takes we did of 4 different songs today. They sound pretty good, and could probably stand on their own without the band behind them for the most part. That’s been the goal for me on this recording, and I think we’re on the right track. But I have to say it’s exhausting to sing and play that much, especially with the intense focus necessary for recording. On any given show night I might play 2 or 3 hours, but there’s lots of space filled in by the band and a lot of variation, but for the past two days I’ve been playing probably better than 4 hours solid each day, with a lot of focus and intensity, on the same songs over and over. But it’s good. It’s nice to push myself into the mental spaces that this process necessitates. It’s like a psychological game I have to play with myself, and stay balanced between the critic and the creator. Not to mention the “let’s do one more take and I bet we’ve got it” part. Ok. One more take. No problem.
But you know what has been the coolest part of this for me? I have continually gotten encouraging and positive messages from friends, family and fans via FB, emails, texts, and posts for the past two days, and it’s been awesome. Two specific times I’ve been having a really tough time with a song, taken a moment and turned my phone on and there in front of me was a message that said exactly what I needed to hear, and was able to turn right around and make the tune happen on the next take (or three…). This is the first CD I’ve recorded when there have been so many people supporting me and interested in the product. I can feel it, and I am delighted to have all of you here in the studio with me in spirit. But not in person. Seriously, you guys stay out of here.
I say the toughest part for me is about halfway through, although in the past two minutes it became apparent that I might have to re-record one of the songs we thought we nailed earlier today. Whatever, it’s part of the process. And thanks to all of you reading this, I’m here and able to do this.
Many thanks for everything, and I’ll keep you all in the loop!
Last week I met with the band, Chris Rosser my recording engineer and co-producer, and took care of everything I could in the world of my day job so as to have next week as free of distractions as possible. I spent the better part of yesterday and all of today up until now fine tuning songs and the ever elusive bridge configurations, and although I have a few non checked checkboxes on the list, it’s well within reason to have everything done and cleaned up in time to record. I figure I’ll record a few songs a day, or more if it’s going well, but I don’t want to have to rush. Then Will and Billy will come in towards the end of the week and lay down their parts over the course of a few days. And who knows, there may be a guest musician or two scheduled in there somewhere.
So like every other aspect of my life, there’s the nuts and bolts and homework/legwork portion of the task, and then there’s the intangible, spontaneous, creative part that can’t be forced or planned. I’ve pretty much done the homework and preparations, and now it’s time to step out of the way and let the real energy flow that makes the difference a prepared performance, and an inspired one. I’m not going to lie to you, sitting in the recording booth holding a guitar and staring at the microphone is a fairly intimidating position to be in at times. Particularly when what you’re offering up is an original song, and you’re not sure yet if it’s going to fly or not.
But I’m on it. It’s going to happen, and I’m not even worried about it. I am confident that this is going to be the best and most representative recording I’ve made yet, and I can’t wait to share it with you all.
I’ll keep you posted as the week progresses, and thanks so much for being there and making this recording happen.