Tag Archives: Recording

The Perils Of The One-Man Band.

Yes, it’s billed as Kris Halpin + Friends, but at the core this is still a one-man band most days. Lee contributes a lot when he’s around of course, but I have to keep the ship sailing between those sessions. Recorded output is still the weak link; an enormous source of frustration to me. In short, there’s just not enough of it. Reading back through this blog during a routine clean-up, I was saddened by all my frustrated attempts to get recordings finished. I feel like the process needs to be reinvigorated and reinvented to deliver a respectable amount of recording work each year.

Live, the one-man band thing has become the very reason to perform. Seeing one person do all that with the gloves, that’s the appeal, I know. I write something towards new material almost every day, and I’m not exactly short on material. So why is the thing I was once most excited about lagging so far behind?

One thing I’ve observed is a wide dearth of discussion about the one-person band process, despite the prevalence of successful solo multi-instrumentalist artists. That’s one reason why I want to open up about my working process. It would be easy to keep quiet, and not reveal the fragility of my inner working process, but that just isn’t helpful. This is such a common thing now; loads of people make music alone in their bedroom studios. I have way more time and resources than most musicians I know, so where’s the hold-up?

Some obvious stumbling blocks:

  • Arranging & Tracking. In a one-person band, the emphasis for me is on  ‘band’. I’ve always created complex, multilayered arrangements; I’d never want to hold back on that. Over the years many people have suggested I should ‘strip it back’, making simpler guitar and vocal performances, to [*groans*] ‘let the songs speak for themselves’. I don’t wanna knock anyone else, but the one-man-and-his-guitar thing is a non starter. The current trend for white middle class guys armed with acoustic guitars does nothing for me. The arrangements tell part of the story, these complex arrangements are as much a part of the song as the lyrics. That takes a long time to conceive and record. 
  • Production. Most of my favourite OPBs have a production partner to work with. I have that in Lee of course, but when I’m working on my own, I really am on my own. It’s another layer of stuff that needs to be done, to keep a handle on the engineering process, the DAW, the mixing. All my own choosing of course, but that stuff can take up a lot of the day. 
  • Disability. There’s been lots of talk about my hand mobility impairments and the effect they have on my musicianship. That’s not an emotive narrative point to gain column inches. This is really happening. I naturally expect to hear guitars in my music, I’ve played the instrument since I was a small child after all. It’s the most difficult instrument to play now, and the one that has the least freedom to correct in post. I don’t own a real piano, I rely on Native Instruments various pianos, controlled by a decent, fully weighted MIDI controller. That means the end result is MIDI; duff notes can be edited, timing can manipulated without affecting sound. Guitar parts are audio, and despite the claims made by DAW manufacturers, timing fixes don’t sound very convincing to my ears. I’m still exploring this issue, but recording guitar parts is hard, and there isn’t an obvious way to make that more accessible. I’ve of course given a lot of thought to working ‘guitarless’ but I haven’t fully explored that possibility yet. This is a can of worms that warrants it’s own blog post soon…
  • Procrastination. Of course. Who doesn’t? All the best musicians I know are experts at procrastinating, but that doesn’t help speed things up. The problem is, it’s very difficult to just dial in inspiration. Just because you have studio time, doesn’t mean you always have something meaningful to bring. 

I’m hopeful that opening up this discussion on here might help me develop some tools to help get over these hurdles and deliver on recorded output at a better rate. Rereading the points above, I feel I need to cut myself some slack first. It’s a really hard thing to do well, but that kinda doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how difficult it is; there’s either an end result, or there isn’t. If the records don’t exist, no amount of sympathy towards the difficulty of the task matters. You can’t start a song with a voiceover explaining where you ran out of time, why something doesn’t sound right. 

I’ve set my own bar incredibly high, but now I’m bored and frustrated with how rarely I get to clear it. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved so far, there just isn’t enough of it.

Do you make music on your own? How does it work for you? Does any of this ring true? I’d love to know.

Turning A Corner, Slowly…

After my thoughts on working smaller a couple of days ago, I’ve had a good couple of days recording. I’ve had some good fun playing something quite basic and edgy to the lyrics I posted yesterday.

One unhealthy pattern needs to stop though. A version of that song has been in my live set for a while. I’ve been trying to give it a makeover before I record it, but it’s still kinda an old song. The issue of having so many songs that I play live but have never recorded has been causing me so much stress. If you’ve seen me live, you’ll know things like That You’ll Never Know, Girls, You’re Not Safe In Here & Two Hours. These songs have never been recorded to final master standard. I really need them finished, but in trying to get them finished, I feel stagnant. I’m learning nothing new about myself going to the studio each day to wrestle old songs. It sucks because it makes my body of work feel really inconsistent to me. Some of the most important songs in my story haven’t been heard by even my biggest online supporters. As a human being, I need to put these songs away. I should be starting a fresh. Writing new songs. Singing from now.

I guess that outlook has to win out. Maybe I’ll feel better about tackling the older songs, maybe I should just forget them… Fuck, I’m boring myself with this. The red herring was Bless This House; that song was written in 2006 (I think), it was recorded last year, and it’s the most popular thing I’ve ever done. You can see how I’m obsessing that there is mileage in old songs. I was in an interesting place then, I feel like that era is when, in an alternate reality, I had my hit records. Instead, I was writing, bedridden in a spooky house, with just a crap PC and pirate software to try and get things done on. Nowadays I have everything I need to produce those big, ambitious songs, but my ambitions are smaller.

Christ; why am I even debating this? I’m having some time off from the studio next week; time to write some new songs…

Working Smaller.

One of the things that made making records such a slow process is the sheer complexity of my productions. It’s a sign of my age. Making tracks like You Needed Answers, I was competing with my favourites of the old way. Love Is Hell, OK Computer, Adore… huge production jobs made with six figure budgets and all the hours in the day spent on them. Ryan Adams wasn’t also running a business when he made that record.

Of course, we all know that technology has made music production cheaper, and potentially (though not always) quicker. I shudder to think how much the EXCUSES?EXCUSES EP would have cost to make in 1998. The budget for my entire studio probably wouldn’t stretch to a week at Real World or AIR or one of those places. Things are even cheaper now. Pro level DAW software is *just* about within reach of iPad users. With an iPad Mini, Garageband and a device such as Focusrite’s excellent iTrack Solo and you have probably more tech than I had when I made my first few records.

It’s easy to get distracted by ideas that my situation is less creative. I want to lock myself in a studio for eight hours a day, for the next six months, and return holding my masterpiece. That’s the old way. That’s back when artists as complex and indulgent as myself were bankrolled by major labels. Those days are long gone. It’s not such a bad thing, either. The trouble is, I’ve been stuck there for ages. Trying to make records that hold up to that. It’s my era, I can’t help that. The issue is that it doesn’t really mean anything. I’m not five highly skilled musicians (jury’s out on whether I’m even one…) – making records to sound like an imaginary band is a weird kind of art. I wanted to sound big, like the records that influenced me. I still do, but all that one man band endless overdubbing just seems a bit Route One.

All this leads me to one inescapable conclusion. It’s all a bit too much. It takes way too long. As a writer, my back catalogue is HUGE; as a recording artist I’ve barely made a dent. To say it’s time to speed things up is an understatement. I want a process that allows me to stream-of-conciousness recordings; to get stuff flowing seriously fast. It needs to minimal, of course; those no time for pouring over comping takes, and double tracking lines. Ugh. I shudder at the thought of how much time I used to put into things. In trying to be creative, I made it a wholly clonal process.

The tech needs to be accessible too. My guitar playing is more laboured nowadays, as hemi CP slowly chips away at my motor functions with age. In recent times I’ve sat and worked takes for hours, even days, to ‘capture’ some elusive idea of a ‘perfect’ take. I could have just made the best of my abilities now, and looped and edited around my struggling performance. Instead, I punished myself for not being able to play things in one go. This has literally zero to do with how the end result sounds; most of what you hear is edited in some way. It’s just that I hold myself up to abled artists who don’t, then I’m disappointed that I need to use technology more. End result, no records to show. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

I’m just thinking out loud, right now. Posts like this are as much to serve my memory as to offer some insight into the process. I’m not even sure how I’ll speed things up yet, but it’s long overdue, much like all those records…

Juggling The Day Job.

Very brief bit of downtime available today; used it to dip back into one of the in-progress tracks. Apparently Trent Reznor made the first NIN record in downtime while working in a studio. That’s how I’m working right now, dipping in and out of sessions.

That may sound a little lacking in creative vibe, but it’s my only option. I used to hate it; end result was I had nothing to show. I’m embracing it now, it distills the work. If I’ve only got an hour, I really make sure it counts. Does that sound spoilt?

It’s a weird problem to have. My studio business has taken over my schedule. I don’t want to sound ungrateful, it affords me many opportunities. I can live, and I pay my bills with music.

Bare with me – I’m thinking out loud here. For the first time ever, the fact that my work isn’t particularly intellectually stimulating is getting to me. I’m no academic, but I’m craving more stimulation. It’s not particularly challenging; I feel like I’m resting on my laurels a little. I work with some great musicians; I don’t wish to seem ungrateful. It’s just that for the first time in a long time, I’m a little antsy.

What to do about it? I don’t know. Maybe it’s just cabin fever. I’m very ready for a new challenge, let’s say that.

Anyway, the track. It’s sounding pretty good. It’s been a tough one to wrestle, but it’s coming together. It’s called Hold Your Kiss. It’s one of my oldest an bestest songs. I love it dearly. One of the many casualties of my crappy home recordings. The awkward irony isn’t lost on me. I had all the time back then, and fuck all resources. Now I’ve got a big fancy studio, and no time to use it…

[Studio Day / 2014-3]

It was a brief session today between other music gigs. I’m working on rebooting some old songs for an EP, which *will* be out soon.

My bass is back from repairs, so having fun laying down some riffs on it. It’s a Precision with PJ p’up config; sounds sweet as without sounding like a regular P-Bass. I’m working on a song that would ideally have an 8-String part on it. I don’t have one (yet), so I’ve been playing round with getting that sound from my bass. It’s not enough to distort the bass; you have to push for a more guitar like tone, but I think it’s working. The song isn’t that heavy by the way, despite the low riffs. Think sweeter Deftones moments. For the uninitiated, enjoy…


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