Taking Note

When I first started making music with my friend Ralph all those years ago, the recording process (8 track Fostex for those tuning in late) was onerous to the point that we didn't really take many notes. Our songs were scribbles describing sections on a single sheet of paper which as far as I know got lost just as quickly as they were scribbled. But then we were kids. Our ideas of rock and roll did not include taking notes.

Then when I started making electronic music I had a brief desire to take notes but I soon realized that pretty much everything is in the DAW session. And when I graduated from Garageband, I found that the "pro" DAWs had some kind of note taking facility. Which, frankly, I rarely used aside from noting some chord info since re-figuring out chords from MIDI piano rolls is tedious (but even that is gracefully handled by some DAWs).

Had I stayed electronic and entirely in the box the story would probably end there. When the guitar came, things changed. Sessions failed to capture chords, pickup switch settings, stompbox settings and so on. Then there was the issue of practice. I'm still not comfortable using guitar player and my name in the same sentence. It didn't take long before I wouldn't bother firing up a DAW for practice. Of course then I would tire of practicing and slip into exploring musical ideas and chord progressions. Ideas would get lost. Or they would morph from one day to the next because my mood would be different or I couldn't remember the exact rhythm I used the day before.

So I started keeping a notebook. And every now and then I would stop everything and scribble some notes. Of course, this can be hugely disruptive and you have to invent a language for yourself (it's one thing to write down Cm7 but quite another to write down a specific voicing and picking pattern and so I ended up leaving coded hints to myself).

Then I got a looper pedal. And my explorations would become multi-hour affairs where little to nothing got written down. Worse, I could not remember the first 4 or 5 layers of the loop I built. I was certainly enjoying myself but my recorded output went to near zero because there were no notes and because there was no time left (real life calling).

Many suggestions were offered but none seemed to really stick. My friend @sudara suggested video'ing my sessions. Put a camcorder on a tripod and give 'er. Mmm, good idea but I never did it for the usual host of reasons. Then one day, he tweeted about using Photobooth to record the video. Genius! For those that don't know, every Mac comes with a built in camera and an app called Photobooth which everybody uses for a little while to take some goofy funhouse style pictures of themselves until the novelty wears off. Well it can also record video too. Huh.

Today the RPM Challenge started and this evening I set out to work on what will be my third RPM album. I did not really have any ideas that I was working on and I was short on time so I figured I would just looper noodle. Before long, it was going and I suddenly realized that I should be at least taking video. So I fire up the Photobooth app, start recording and return to my noodling. After about 12 minutes I checked and the result was brilliant! Not only did I capture the sound (from my audio interface, so reasonably good quality) but I caught my playing visually too so that I'll be able to later see what I was doing even if I don't take written notes (which I did as well).

My process is still far from ideal (one improvement, filed under someday, will be to figure out how to add a mic to my setup) but this very simple hack will help me to take note of the notes. Very stoked.

Thanks @sudara!

The video above is a few minutes of the 12 or so I shot.  I missed the creation of the loop and I'll probably frame it better to focus on the hands more but hey, was my first time.


Doug Sparling said...

Awesome. Don't know if I'd be brave enough to do that :)

ahonoe said...

Interesting post. I'm totally there. Last week I picked up a notebook (for shortlisting presets) and this week I bought a HD video camera to try to capture the whole process.