The short version:
It took me almost 40 years to finish, but my first solo album has been released to the world.
(It’s not really an album, actually. At six songs, it’s really an EP. Just to be precise.)
No, seriously. I wrote and recorded a batch of songs and put ’em out online for anyone to download and listen to. Humor me, and sit through my manifesto, and I’ll tell you how and where.
The long version (pack a lunch):
Pop music blogging is all well and good.
But at its heart, it’s a reactive exercise. You’re discussing or debating something somebody else created. Whether you’re shredding it or singing hosannas to it, someone else is still doing the hard work, and you’re riding on their back.
Over time, that’s started to grind on me.
I think from time to time of Matt Resnicoff, a talented writer whose work used to appear regularly in the Guitar Player and Musician magazines I read as a teenager in the late 1980s and early ’90s.
(Resnicoff is most frequently remembered for a circa-1991 Musician cover story in which he depicted Eddie Van Halen as a drunken, irrelevant one-trick pony, scared to go outside his comfortable musical pocket. The ensuing 20 years have only confirmed the accuracy and prescience of Resnicoff’s vision.)
As it turned out, Resnicoff was also a skilled guitarist and producer, and he quit the writing scene to go into music. I don’t know the guy, but from what I understand, he seems to have decided that a life spent in musical creativity was preferable to a life spent sitting on expensive leather couches, talking to other people about their musical creativity.
I don’t think I’ll quit music blogging the way Resnicoff quit writing. As my friend Jim Bartlett, an excellent music blogger, likes to put it: “Gasbags gotta gas.”
But I liked the idea of sticking my neck out, and balancing the ledger a little bit, and getting some sort of semi-original creative work out there to counterbalance all the time I spend writing about other people’s efforts. Let everyone else have an opportunity to pick on me if they want.
Of course, I know that six scratched-together songs do not really even the score. Thirty years from now, people will not be discussing my lyrics or picking apart my choice of cover art online, the way music bloggers like me do to world-famous artists. I doubt two dozen people will listen, if that.
But, no one can accuse me of merely being a spectator who second-guesses others while producing nothing of my own.
Plus, making my own music has been a running joke/personal reference for years and years and years — going back to high school, the last time I was in a regularly practicing and performing band.
I’d come across a funny or unusual phrase — in a news story, say, or in conversation — and quip, “There’s the title of my first solo album” … thinking each time that, hey, wouldn’t a recording project be a new and interesting personal challenge?
So, years later, I finally bit down and did it.
# # # # #
On the other side of the ledger from Resnicoff is a local musician I once knew. (I’m not gonna say whether “local” was the Lehigh Valley or somewhere else, to spare the poor guy some embarrassment if he stumbles across this.)
This guy had recorded a solo album, and I ended up with a copy. And it was … well, it was dreadful.
The guy couldn’t sing, even in a Dylanesque bad-but-good way. He was playing a poorly tuned 12-string acoustic guitar. The fidelity of the recording suggested he was singing and playing at the top of a staircase, while recording himself with a battered old boom box at the bottom. (He also didn’t write all that engagingly, which didn’t help.)
That put me off trying to make my own recording, literally for years.
Remember (name redacted)’s album? I would ask myself. That was embarrassingly bad — and that guy played in bands for years, so you’d think he knows what he’s doing. It’s harder to write good songs and make a decent-quality recording than you think it is. Don’t risk embarrassing yourself. Just don’t do it.
It took a lot of things to overcome that. Downloading Audacity sound-editing software for my PC was a first step; I learned it was possible to layer a couple of sound tracks on top of each other in a listenable way. The gift of a secondhand MacBook from my brother helped too, after I discovered that Garage Band was probably even easier and more intuitive than Audacity.
Goofy as this sounds, some of the people I’ve met on Twitter over the past few years have influenced this project, too. I know a number of interesting, cool, likeable, creative people here in the Lehigh Valley who have publicly espoused a “just do it” philosophy.
Don’t wait for someone else to make something cool happen, they say, and by all means don’t sit around complaining that nothing cool is happening. Go out and do something. Shake it up. Stick your neck out. Be creative.
(Or, as my man Graham Parker sang: “Get started. Start a fire.”)
There are some things I did not have that I would have liked, and that I used as excuses not to get started. A drummer was chief among them. No, actually, a good singing voice was chief among them. I fully recognize that I do not sing very well, and for a long time, the idea of my voice droning off-key was a major deterrent to making my own music.
But finally I decided to use the tools I had on hand and do the best I could with them.
So I did.
# # # # #
I am led to believe it’s popular nowadays for solo singer-songwriters to perform under band names (viz. Owl City.) I thought about that for a while — maybe making some music and sneaking it out under a generic name as though a band had made it, so if it got universally mocked, I could still keep my distance.
In the end I couldn’t do that. Putting out the music under a name other than my own felt dishonest, and contrary to the spirit of the project. The whole idea is to stick my neck out and challenge myself.
Maybe that decision will bite me on the arse; maybe it won’t.
(By the way, if anyone remembers the post in January when I wrote, “If somebody does something that’s cool in concept but embarrassing in execution, which side wins?,” this is the project I was thinking of. The jury is still out as to which side won — but in a couple of paragraphs you’ll have the chance to cast a vote.)
# # # # #
The EP has been uploaded to Bandcamp as a name-your-own-price download. That means people can download it for free if they want — and I expect people will do that. It doesn’t bother me.
For one thing, home recordings by an amateur who can’t sing and only knows four chords aren’t really worth much.
For another, I only expect that family and a few friends will ever download this; and I didn’t undertake this project so I could beat my friends and family out of beer money. That’s not what this is about.
Gasbags gotta gas. But here, after almost 1,300 words, is the payoff:
I have finally crept out of my comfort zone and tackled a project I’ve wanted to do for years.
After decades of yakking, joking and wishful thinking, the first Kurt Blumenau solo album actually exists. It’s called Summer Games, and again, it’s available on Bandcamp. Click here to get to the page.
If you’ve read this far, consider downloading it (again, free’s fine). If you do, by all means let me know what you think. And if you find something to like about it, consider sharing it with others.