The Gift

Sixteen and a half years ago I walked into a guitar shop in a small city in southern Virginia with $500 in cash in my pocket.  I’d been around a couple of guys who were serious about their music, and both of those guys had something I envied.  Well, besides talent.

They both had a Fostex four-track cassette recorder.

See, kids, back in our day that’s what you used when you were recording demos.  You recorded each instrument onto a track, and combined tracks if you needed more than four (put two rhythm guitars on one track to free up another one for a lead, etc).  They look like dinosaurs, but back in the early 90s they ran anywhere from $400-700 or so.

I was still in the basest fledgling state of my musicianship, having just bought my first “real” guitar and amp the summer before.  The other guys I’d hung around were inspiring me to pick up my game.  But I was having a hard time getting a regular jam partner (partially because I needed to pick up said game) and a band was really nowhere on my horizons, realistically at least.  Here, at least, was an opportunity for me to challenge myself – to put my ideas down, come back to them, improve them, and bootstrap myself into a new musical knowledge via an ability to accompany myself (okay, fine, “play with myself”).  I was utterly convinced that having that ability to record myself was a key to open the next door – to unlock my own ability and creativity, to light the fire of my imagination beneath my ridiculous unwillingness to do the practicing I needed to get where I wanted to be.

I walked into that guitar shop…and there, leaning in a guitar stand with a price of $489, was a Gibson Les Paul.

I knew I should have bought the 4-track – but 4-tracks would always be there, I thought.  This particular Les Paul was only going to be there once.

I walked out with the Les Paul.

Ten years later, the 4-track was a dinosaur.  The Les Paul turns 31 tomorrow, and it plays as well as it ever has – probably better.

But a few weeks ago I took advantage of Dys’s absence – and therefore my oodles of free time at home with nothing much constructive to do – to explore GarageBand a bit.  I bought a $15 cord to allow me to connect my preamp/processor to the microphone inputs (and a $15 plug to allow me to plug the guitars straight in) and kicked the tires for a little bit.

And I learned that I was right.  Now things are running into my head at a rate geometrically faster than I can have time to put them down.  And far, far beyond my physical ability to translate them into sound.  I’m frustrated with my fumble-fingeredness and my longstanding rotten timing…but I know how to fix those things.  Practice, practice, practice.  But where I never had a real reason to practice – no bandmates kicking my butt for dragging them down, not even a reason t0 hunt for bandmates who might – now I do.  The producer sitting behind the mixing desk (who looks a lot like me) is yelling at the bass player (who looks a lot like me) and the guitarist (who looks a lot like me) is all prima-donna-y about things not sounding right.

All I needed was a tool to help me push myself.  And now I have it.  Indirectly, I gave myself the gift of my own creativity, and it feels as wonderful as anything I’ve felt in a long time.

Now excuse me.  I’ve gotta go practice.


2 Responses

  1. This is where cool things happen.

    Doors, even if they were closed only in our own minds, are now open and you can have some fun. Each of us is creative in our own way…this has been a big year for me creatively…I think 2010 is set up for you to do the same.

    Have FUN!!!!!

  2. Ah, track bouncing. A lost art. When digital recording first started with MIDI I’d tell every new studio rat to spend time with analog to get a feel for tone and balance. They’d get all pissy but the ones who spent time on the analog equipment ended up the best engineers and producers.

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