On Songwriting Part 7: Getting Back To Bare Bones

(This is the seventh of a series of posts about writing songs. Read the first postsecond post,  third postfourth post, fifth post, and sixth post, if interested)

In my previous post in this series designed to reflect and pull back the curtain on my process of writing and recording of a brand new song — Million Miles Away (From Finding Me) — I shared a somewhat slick, produced final track that featured a wide range of instruments and loop, layers upon layers.

But I could not escape the sense, as I listened, that the song in that particular version had come to seem a bit cold and over-produced to my ears, even though I had a lot of fun with the creative energy and the hours that went into making the song sound like that. Mixing and making loops, and recording real instruments to add on top, and playing with sounds — I love all that stuff and get lost in it.

When I finished the production and shared that version of the song out, though, I wondered aloud if I needed to get back to just guitar and voice.

I did. So I did.

Million Miles studio pic

And I know I can hear the difference with this stripped down version — it’s the version I hear in my head when I was writing the song. (Which makes me think to that old VH1 Unplugged series in which famous musicians showed up with only acoustic instruments to play their most popular tracks and how some of those performances were magical because they exposed nuances in songs that weren’t always evident in the electric versions — see Nirvana, as example).

Take a listen to my acoustic version of Million Miles Away:

I do think that all the work I did in polishing up the song in the production version in my, ahen, “studio” (ie, corner of my room) was worth it — it forced me to listen to the song closely, day after day, and to tweak the lyrics and timing of the voice, and all that planning and thinking and tinkering informed even this acoustic version, even though it very basic in nature.

What is most different here, though, is that the lyrics surface, allowing the song to take a breath in the space between the guitar and the voice. In the earlier version, every gap felt crammed with sound. The song got crowded. The words suffocated beneath the tracks of instruments and the steady drum track that allows no detour. Here, with this recording with no metronome and only one guitar as I sing, I think, the song and lyrics have found some freedom to linger in the air a bit longer.

Thanks for reading and listening along with me. It’s been fun. Now, it’s on to other songs and poems …

Peace (singing it),

PS — if you want to see a video of me recording the acoustic version I have shared here in this post, this link will give you a look at me, my guitar and my basic set-up.

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