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Bob Elliott
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Bob Elliott

12/14/2008 6:19:27 PM

The Hard Mirror of Recording
My buddy recorded my show awhile back. he just ran out of the mixing board, and it had much more of my voice than my guitar.

So that was painful to listen to. But it was a useful hard truth.

So I'm in front of the one mic trying to record all the songs I do at shows. I need a demo for getting shows anyway. But the real thing is to listen back and figure out the really best things I could do with these songs.

It's a cold hard mirror taping your performance like that.

But my show is truly evolving. Keys are changing, the guitar parts are becoming more involved and interesting. So much can get better when you're faced with this and you try to make a good recording of just the voice and guitar.

Some songs end up completely rearranged. But they're better, and it is upping my game.

I feel like I want to quit the work sometimes. Like I want to just write and dub out some songs, but I keep getting drawn back to this brutal process.

It occurred to me that maybe the only thing common I know to all the artists whose work I love, the only thing I know for sure about them is they spent a lot of time on it.

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Kevin White

12/14/2008 6:44:45 PM

Often, it's a distorted mirror you're hearing tracked ... particularly coming off the board. Most often, it's not professionally ... or even critically ... an attempt at quality ... ... add in room distortion w/ uncontrollable reverb ... loud and sometime out of tune instruments ... and you have a recipe for poor recording ... ... but not necessarily poor live show.

The ear forgives a LOT live ... and folks tend to take more the presentation, less the sound. I remember sitting outside a Billy Joel concert ... and I went ... holy fuck, he's not even close to pitch ... listening outside the room.

How many times have you listened to a band outside the door of a club, and you want to go in and grab the lead singer by the throat because they're SOOOO far off, it's annoying.

Bottom line: don't grade yourself on uncontrolled situations.


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Bob Elliott

12/14/2008 6:50:26 PM

All true, and he said the same. SHow went over well. And I know the recording is mostly voice.

But the thing I'm listening to now is not that. That tape just shocked me into doing what I had felt I needed to do for a long time: attempt to record my show in my studio, and thus improve it.

But wow, there is so much to do when you face that isolated recording of just you and the guitar.

Really have a new view on key for a lot of these songs.

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Kevin White

12/14/2008 6:59:04 PM

Don't fret.

No one is ever as good or bad as they think they are.



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Jeff Allen Myers

12/15/2008 12:09:55 AM ---- Updated 12/15/2008 12:14:21 AM

Thanks for sharing Bob, and I can relate. I was in a cover band, and one night someone recorded the set. The people in the Bar were having a great time..whistles claps, cheers, .... Great energy. When I listened to the set on tape later, I was appalled at what I heard... surely it can't be what the people actually heard was it? Maybe it was the 2.00 beer night ??? :)

I commend you on working with just Voice and guitar, it really strips the song down , and takes away all the props. If the song can communicate well, and it is effective "Unplugged" then you know you have something. I listened to "First Contact" and added it to my sation, great song and the acoustic sounds excellent. You really are a pro.

I don't play live at the moment, but I do want to track some songs. I don't have the time to record my songs they way I want to at the moment..full arrangements with Bass, Piano, Drums, electric guitar etc.... So I have decided to record a bunch of them with acoustic and voice. I have a backlog of tunes, but I can't record the way I would like. My Son, bless his heart, is at my hip from the minute I get home from work. It's a special time to be with a two year old, every word is a new adventure. I recorded "Mother Mary" this way, my first in awhile, so I plan to track a few more songs with just acoustic.. I think it might be interesting to have a group of songs recorded this way. No pretension, just the naked truth :)

When I read your post I thought, hey.... good idea.

I commend you for playing live, and working to improve your craft. If you can carry the room with just Voice and guitar you are light years ahead of the game. Don;t worry about the take your buddy got, it is not truly representative as Kev pointed out. Keep on doing what your doing! The time will be well worth it, and you will be rewarded well into the future.



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12/15/2008 3:30:06 AM

Good post Bob, honesty and sound advice for those who see your point.

Susan and I always do a rough recording of new songs for our live set before we ever perform them - it really really helps to be able to listen back to the arrangement, the dynamics, the pace, the overall effect, and to use that recorded reflection to improve the performance is where it's at.

Sure, it's a lot easier to take this approach for smaller acoustic acts - like you, we perform with just two acoustic guitars and vocals, so it is pretty simple to record it around one mic... but most of the better bands out there on the road will record rehearsals for exactly the reasons you mention! It's an integral part of improving one's art and act!

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Bob Elliott

12/16/2008 7:13:55 PM

Cool reading.

Well, the thing to know about this is I've probably spent 10 to 15 hours making little runs at a set of covers I've been doing well with at gigs in some cases for a few years now, and I haven't got one recording I'd put out on a cd.

So that tells me there is another level this stuff could stand to get to if I put in the energy.

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Hugh Hamilton

1/19/2009 12:52:27 PM ---- Updated 1/19/2009 12:54:42 PM

Cool topic, Bob. Are you gigging much? I should look at your page to see if you post a schedule.

I went out and attended some open mics a few years back and it definitely inspired me to want to figure out "cool stuff" to do instead of just the standard "strum and sing" thing. Also saw a couple of live shows that I find inspirational. I ask myself questions like "How the heck did a guy like Bob Dylan do what he did?" It all starts with tiptop song WRITING. And then there's the ability (which I do not claim to have and which I view as a bit of a mystery) that some folks have to simply enter a room or stand up in front of a crowd and cause people to stare. Just by being them friggin' selves. I like doing some clever live looping, though too much becomes a schtick (in my opinion). Still - the mystery of a person playing and singing live and really commanding people's attention fascinates me and I've certainly not got that one going on. And to give an instrumental bed to sing over while going solo - and not being cliche and boring...wow, that's tough.

And I totally agree about the hard work aspect. One reason I don't gig much is that I can spend days preparing for a 45 minute performance.

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Conversation Suicide

1/19/2009 1:07:04 PM ---- Updated 1/19/2009 1:23:28 PM

I think you should record almost ALL your practices with other musicians; because it gives you a MUCH more REAL idea of where your sound is at. And avoids arguements about who was out of tune, or where the timing was off.

PLUS: That hard mirror can OFTEN catch gems, that you may not ever be able to reproduce, for various reasons, the LEAST of which is that musicians die, go to jail, move on, quit, or lose interest in a project ALL the time.

MANY a song I've written was off a LIVE jam, where we just went where the muse took us....

And yes, these are just a FEW of the reasons why I have so much LIVE material up on IAC, even though the vocals, or the instruments are not EXACTLY the way I'd dream of in a studio....

also __ It's REAL interesting to go back to multiple takes of a song LIVE, and then pull out PIECES that were a bit of genius, and implement those ideas in the "final" studio version of a tune... Like a LEAD that was just right, or a VOCAL harmony that went the direction that finally works for you. It's one way that MANY a song has been developed from a few simple notes, into a fairly complex, orchestrated opus.

PLAY LIVE often & RECORD LIVE as often as you can. DON'T forget that performing in your very own living room/garage/back yard or ESPECIALLY, somebody elsesplaying live to a couple HUNDRED people, or just 10 folks, is often MORE rewarding than what MOST would consider an actual GIG. I.E. a BAR/Club or other "promoter" approved venue....
One alternate LIVE GIG idea I wasn't fond of the performance Beth recorded of the X-mas cover tune she put on many an IAC page, but you have to admit, that woman is FEARLESS about busking/street corner LIVE play. That's an inspiration to me, and when I finally get a couple of other musicians to do THAT one with, I'll probably find a way to record a few STREET corner/busking "live shows", too.

SO please, oh-so talented folk like Bob Elliot, Hugh & other Amazing IAC artists I've had the pleasure to hearPlease, Play LIVE, both solo & with others OFTEN, & RECORD it! 'tis a critical side of gettin' your music out there, and growning continually as a musician that's what I think anyway.

GREAT post here Mr. Elliot, et. al.

- just addin' in my thoughts on this critical part of being an artist, pHLeGm

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Steve Ison

1/19/2009 3:11:47 PM

"How the heck did a guy like Bob Dylan do what he did?"

I was talking with My mate Harper Stephens about that very thing the other day Hugh...He was a totally mesmeric acoustic solo performer..
Harpers songs are every bit as good as Dylan imho but he's not a great solo performer at all-and people don't really get it..He's just too introverted and people in a live situation arn't too interested in great song-crafting n clever chord changes-'specially when hearing something for the 1st time....They just want to be entertained and a strong extrovert personality does that better in that situation-The music is less important..

Also-and importantly imo its hard to create 'space' in your music with just a guitar n vocals and exactly the same sound..
Something you can do with well placed effects,a few skilfull overdubs etc

There's some people i've seen who are great solo performers-but i wouldn't really want to listen to them on record....
Often really good solo performers have songs specifically created to sound good with just a guitar and their vocals live-but their songs have little natural 'space'- so become less appealing and don't have magic when listening to on your own..

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Conversation Suicide

1/19/2009 3:19:06 PM

Yup. Steve -- in a case like Bob Dylan, it's really about Charisma.....

Unfortunately, NO amount of LIVE performance and practice can build THAT ONE.

You've gotta pull from the fiery Soul within' you to bring out that hypnotizing charisma aspect to your performance.

Many TECHNICALLY great musicians, fail to get recognition due to lack of personality & charm/showmanship, that is embodied in their live persona & performance, in my opinion.

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Steve Ison

1/19/2009 3:51:09 PM

"You've gotta pull from the fiery Soul within' you to bring out that hypnotizing charisma aspect to your performance"

Agreed Phlegm...Its about not being self-conscious and allowing yourself to be totally free and present with your delivery..People pick up on that kinda power for sure.
Tho from my experience its easier said than done!

"Many TECHNICALLY great musicians, fail to get recognition due to lack of personality & charm/showmanship, that is embodied in their live persona & performance, in my opinion"

Technical excellence seems to be such a celebrated and revered thing with so many musicians here(U.S mainly?)..I just don't get it..

I mean its obviously good to be proficient on your instrument-but if its ego-driven and dry of imagination it means nothing to me

Creative freedom isn't discussed or revered generally at all (maybe 'cos its harder to quantify and pin down)

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1/20/2009 1:30:41 AM

inspirational thoughts here Bob and all!!

mate, we all have tracks where we cringe when we listen back ---!---even the perfectionists

I think you are onto it with finding the key that best suits---capos are good for that !!

you can never practice too much!

Steve and phlegm ----Im nodding to these words!!!

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Bob Elliott

1/20/2009 8:10:23 PM

Well, I've been at this now for almost a month. I never had grabbed anything I want to keep yet, but I sure have been changing, and when I happened to write a new song, I nailed the recording the first time I ever played it, and I think that was entirely because sitting in front of one mic singing and playing the acoustic all I've done in music for this month, and a lot of it.

So what I learned is even when this practice takes me from creation, it made the creation stronger. I mean it took me just one night. One take on the vocal and acoustic at the same time, so I think it's working out, and I'll have more patience.

I don't even have any gigs planned until about May. Ha! SHould be a new guy by then.

And I got that one recording anyway of the new song: "When Louis Armstrong Speaks."

(Which is on my site)

Hugh talks about practicing for hours to do 45 minutes. Well, that seems to be where it's at, and that's why I would want to see your 45 minutes.

You know, it's not just practice as in notes here or there. It's like development of all of it. Of depth. I end up liking it all better, but it really puts you out on the edge.

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John Pippus

1/20/2009 8:48:19 PM

interesting thread... some good tips for improving your live performance too. one thing. watch those early dylan performances and his guitar playing is very precise, with lots of fills, no muffed notes, it's not all strumming by any means. besides his charisma and words, the man could play a decent guitar.

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Bob Elliott

1/20/2009 8:50:48 PM

Yeah, John. My impression of why his first albums could be carried with just one voice one guitar was that he was a world class vocalist, and he played guitar like someone who played hours upon hours.

Oh...and those songs...

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The Man With No Band

1/20/2009 11:27:15 PM

I find I'm a completely different person playing live as to when I'm recording ... I'm at home around people and I just love to play and sing ... Even though I'm not very good, I've yet to be booed ... and I've even gotten some very fine compliments ... I did very well back when I was young and doings spots in a few cover bands ... I only started playing solo around 5 years ago and even now it's very sporadic ... I'd really like to have a really good musician or two up there with me ... so I could concentrate more on my vox than my guitar ...

I've written a mountain of songs and only recorded a few of them ... I find recording to be a tedious task at best and I think it shows up in my recordings ... for one thing I don't have the proper equipment, for another I'm just not very good at it ... for the last three years or so I have poured myself into it, trying to get better ... because I'd like for my songs to be heard ... but progress has been very slow and I've about come to the conclusion that I'm going to give it up and try and find an accomplice that enjoys it ... I just wanna write and play ... my song writing has suffered somewhat from all the attention I've been trying to give to recording ... so I wanna get back to doing what I do best ... and maybe let a tape recorder capture what comes out ...

As far as Dylan goes ... he was/is a good guitar player ... but I never cared a hoot about that ... It was the man, the emotion and the lyrics ... He could have played a Kazoo and I still would have loved his tunes ...

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Hugh Hamilton

1/21/2009 8:25:17 AM

May I say how GREAT it is to see this thread devloping this way! SO REFRESHING...ahhhhhhhhh...Steve, Bob, et.al., wish we could get together in person and have a chat like this and each be holding an instrument to demonstrate our points. Yeah!

Bob, you and I are on the same wavelength - I think we agree on the "develop" thang - I would not call it "practice" but rather "development".

One of the reasons I get hung up on writing new songs is that the possibilities for each song are so multitudinous and sometimes I get to thinking that the songs I've recorded haven't had "the" arrangement or recording they deserve or need. I know that's really a different topic...back to the point, working up a tune for a solo live performance (to me) takes a huge effort and a lot of brainpower. Ouch. Hehe.


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