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.