Sunday, June 23, 2013

From Studio to Stage

We've made a new album, and we're proud of it, and people are starting to buy it.

But it doesn't just happen unless we also make an effort to play the songs when we get the chance.

That means learning the songs. Which is not as easy as it sounds.

But before launching in with a reflection on the nature of musical performance, I'd like to offer a more fun part of the blog: the photos from yesterday's Puppet Festival. Proceed to the end of the blog, enjoy yourself, and then return here if you have the time and feel so inclined.

Okay. Here we are. 

We like the songs. We wrote the songs. We produced them. We labored over them, spending hours deciding and recording the parts that would best enhance them, from guitars and bass and drums, through vocal harmonies, and going so far as to add horns, percussion, strings, and extra singers. 

We love the songs, as we should, since they only exist because of our efforts. But playing them live is a very different challenge. 

And that points out the complexity of being a band - how the simple joy of playing music together becomes a business, made both more powerful and more daunting through technology - which, in turn, gives us access to thousands of people while simultaneously removing us from the simple foundation of playing songs together. 

And although we are in a very different situation from the Beatles, there's a strong connection here to their experience: the fact that they stopped performing as a live band and continued their music making by concentrating on studio recording. Their later songs, like "Eleanor Rigby," "I Am The Walrus," "She's Leaving Home," were never intended to be performed on stage. 

They were assembled as ideas, created, arranged and produced as a band with their producer and engineers, then released as records, which - because of their momentum as the most popular band in the world - continued to sell. 

Their popularity was the problem that made live performing impossible, or at least too difficult for them to continue. But it was also the factor that made their retreat to the studio a viable business model. 

For us, the massive popularity is not a problem. We perform, and we enjoy it, and our audiences enjoy it.  We also enjoy writing and producing our own songs. But the technology that allows us to build the songs by adding layers of sound also allows us to make an album of songs that we've never actually played as a band. 

With the exception of  "Oh Betty!" and one earlier version of "This Song's For You," we've never actually played these new songs as a band, all together in one room (or on stage). 

The difference is major. One might even think that by making an album of original songs we haven't played as a band we've deluded ourselves, and our audiences. No, we're making songs the way people have been making songs for over 40 years, using multi-track technology to add musical layers that sound good. But, as we've learned from exploring the later Beatles songs they never performed live, like "Magical Mystery Tour," it takes a lot of thinking to figure out how four guys can make all those sounds on stage. 

We can't do it all. But we do what we can. We can sing at least four parts, and we can play a bunch of instruments, sometimes more than one at a time. 

Case in point: "In '63." 

Among the more elaborate parts of the song are the strings, which Nathan arranged. He's capable of playing those parts on his keyboard, while also playing the bass part, and at least some of the piano part, (the song was originally written on piano, so that's an important part) and singing a harmony part. Dennis sings lead, and plays guitar, although his guitar also has a MIDI sound generator, so he may play some strings too. I play guitar, and sing harmony. David plays drums and sings harmony - although there may be some extra percussion or sounds or keyboard parts coming from the gear he keeps set up around him during our shows. 

It was Nathan who suggested that we learn the song in time for our Crockett Park show, in order to play it as a way to let people know we had a new album out, which would be available to buy at the concert. 

The problem for us was getting together to rehearse. The week before the Crockett Park concert, I was in Georgia visiting family, so I was unavailable. But again, technology was there to solve our problem. Skype - a way for me to be 200 miles away and connected via a computer screen to the other three guys rehearsing the song. 

I discovered that in the mountains of north Georgia, there was no internet service, and no cell phone coverage. However, I did have access to a land line telephone - one of those plastic things with a cord connected to the wall - which meant I could talk to Dennis and David and Nathan while they were rehearsing the song, and I could hear the parts I would be singing. 

Here it is, the day of the concert, and we still haven't played the song together as a band. We hope we'll have extra time at the sound check today to go over it, so that we can at least launch into its maiden voyage with a bit more confidence than fear. There's no substitute for practice. And practicing as an individual, although necessary, is not the same thing as practicing as a group. 

We're considering a high wire act here. 

We hope you appreciate the risk we take. Once we learn the song and learn how to play it well, we know you'll like it. At this point, we are depending on your good will - trying to imagine how good it would sound if we knew how to play it. That's asking a lot, and we know it. Don't think we don't appreciate it. 

Meanwhile, we had a great show yesterday downtown at the International Puppet Festival. We got to meet Snowbird and Ozzie, the Nashville Sounds mascot back in the dressing room, in the LIbrary. 

We had lots of kids on stage with us, dancing and blowing bubbles. We played "Oh Betty!" and sold some CDs. The adventure continues.

Here are some photos:
              The Good Yoko, who took most of these photos, 
             with colorful flags before set up - 7:30 am
                    Dennis, fooling around with a balloon puppet 
                     who has his own balloon puppets.
         Graham, five and a half, who knew the words to every song, got onstage with us, and brandished  a bumper sticker.
                                        Conferring onstage before the show

Snowbird shares industry shop talk with David 
in the dressing room
                       A view of the dragon, the fountain, 
                          and the Library Saturday morning

                     Front row: Dennis & Nathan   
            Back row: David, Ozzie, Snowbird & Bryan

We had fun! Hope it shows.

Bloggin' Bryan 23June13

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