in which Shel randomly decides to try to invent backing tracks for poems on the fly…

I still have a few things on my to-do list to talk about, like the concert I went to on Saturday, but as always I’m short on time so I’m tackling thoughts not in the order that they happened, but in the order they’ll be quickest to write about.

SO, a bunch of stuff in poetry land has been bouncing around in the blender in my brain.

Firstly, that I’m still very unsatisfied with the quality of ‘Stone Throw’, and though I’ve decided it’s time to let that album be what it is (at least for now. I do not rule out a v2 once I’m a bit more experienced with getting albums together), I also don’t want to produce another album I’m this unsatisfied with, so in the interest of moving forward, I need to figure out the best next step to improve from where I am in the grand recording scheme of things.

Secondly, that I got this mic which, hopefully, with some lo-fi creativity, a bit of elbow grease, and some very good luck can create a better quality recording.

Thirdly, that a friend confirmed a concern of mine with the first poetry album – that with the vocals only, it is very difficult to create noticeable breaks without making those breaks overly long.

All that and other things have been batting around in my brain, mixing it up into a nice puree of thought which eventually congealed into ‘maybe I’m overthinking how complex background tracking actually is’ which turned into ‘maybe chord arpeggios or some random note plucking on my various instruments would be enough to add a bit of flavor to the poems and help balance it all out’. And about 3 seconds after that thought, ‘what the hell, let’s try it and see how it goes!’

So, I grabbed two poems off of ‘Stone Throw’, and my guitar, and my uke (I did not grab a bass because I would have had to plug in for any of them to be audible at all in recording, but I am not ruling out bass as being a potential part of this mix by any stretch, just ruled it out for the practice track for sake of expedience) and plunked my phone on my desk.

These are rough and pretty raw, especially the one I used the guitar on, but it gives you a gist.

So, any opinions, guys? Do the poems ‘do it for you’ with this kind of laid back approach to backing tracks? Like it? Hate it? I’ll take any cricket noises as you having literally no opinion whatsoever.



8 thoughts on “in which Shel randomly decides to try to invent backing tracks for poems on the fly…

  1. These are cool. I’ve never tried speaking and playing at the same time with my bass. I do have a thought or two about them, mostly because I’m thinking about arrangement and priority:

    1. Since the focus of these tracks is your poetry, it might be interesting to start each of these with the beginning verses of your poems and then have the guitar or uke enter after. Right now, its music first and then words after, but it could be interesting to do it the other way. I think it could unconsciously set the tone for the listener to focus on the words more than the supporting instruments.

    2. I know you use Audacity, like me. You could also record your spoken poetry, save it, and then record the guitar or uke (or at that point, your bass!) separately and save it. You can then just drag both of those tracks into Audacity and play with them. You can move them around that way, to see if you like the effect of vocals first or music first, and even nudge them around if you like either one starting at a specific place.

    I think there’s a lot of possibility available since you’re essentially using two “instruments” here – voice and guitar or uke. You could even conceivably do guitar, bass AND uke parts for any given poem, but I might be complicating things with that thought. 😉


    1. These are actually all thoughts I’ve had. I think the short answer to the lot is ‘it’ll depend on the piece’.

      Since it’s basically fill, there’s not even any rule saying the music has to be there the entire track – just enough to act in counterpoint, which is why one chord is enough for the entire track without getting monotonous.

      Of course, to balance it out I’m probably going to have to use multiple tracks in audacity, but I’m not there yet, still deciding the best way to go, but leaning toward a rough up like this as a baseline that will eventually be deleted after using it to create separate clean vocal and instumental tracks which I could manipulate individually. This would also spare me a multi-amp set-up in most cases.

      I started with instrumental on both of these for a pretty basic reason: to ensure I had a consistent flow. The music backing changes the original vocal patterns, alters the atmosphere, tweaks everything just enough that if I’m going to improv my way through like this, using the guitar or uke to create the baseline vibe is just plain easier than the other way around. That doesn’t mean that a final product of sorts would have to start with the instrumental, just that it’s easier to establish a consistent flow when letting the rhythm lead, so was a far more practical approach out of the gate.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That makes sense. I hadn’t thought of using the instrument to establish rhythm (which is a strike against me, since I’m learning bass). I was thinking more that these are poems set to music, so I was thinking about the words first, but I can totally see where you’re coming from with that.

        Your playing has definitely progressed, BTW. Its been a while since I’ve blogged or read through my regular ones, and I can hear a difference. You’re able to bring your spoken word and playing together more smoothly now. It looks like that Shelby-brain that you talk about has dug some new neural pathways. 😉


      2. I actually think this is going to do some double duty for me, since I struggle to play individual notes accurately. (I can do it when I have zero plan, as in these tracks and am not thinking about it at all. Lol, but if I’m aiming at a specific string on guitar, it’s a nightmare. Thinking brain is much slower than instinct brain.)

        It’s easy enough to bring the vocals forward by adjusting the audio tracks later, so I’m not hugely worried about that right now, when figuring out how to set up the mic for vocals instead of vocals and guitar is a bit more important at this stage. And, I still have done barely any pre-production on album #2, so these experiments are all part of that process. My goal is to improve quality while not quadrupling time required to release, so there’s definitely some ‘cost Vs reward’ sort of mental dancing going on, too. I do have at least 10 more of these to do, after all, so there is a certain time constraint involved where I just can’t waste half a year on just one of them. Lots to consider.


      3. I tend to do things a bit slowly, so I’d probably do something like 1 track per week and have the next album out in 2.5 months. Its not a huge time sink for me – I look more at the learning process and go with the hope that I get more efficient as I go. 😉

        You know, if you’re recording guitar and voice parts separately, and keep the guitar parts simple enough, you can practice them until you have them down well enough to make yourself happy and then record. It’d be different from having to play it live and do it all at the same time, but thinking with the goal of having the best vocal and instrumental tracks recorded, it might be a good way to go. You can position the mic or phone where you need for each and then combine tracks later.


      4. You think I plan to practice the guitar parts. That’s so cute and naive. Lol.

        Actually, I’m better when I improv. Since I only have about 2 hrs a week in which recording is possible, it will be a feat of the miraculous to produce at the level I want. One track/week of a 15+ track album automatically makes it 4 months. Add in pre- and post-production and that becomes 5 months. Now you expect me to plan and practice instrumental parts, that becomes over half a year. Nope. Too long.

        My goal is more like ‘barrel through 2-4 recordings per week. Wing it. Clean it up. Redo whatever needs it. Try to get a clean version out in about 3 months from the time I start working.’ I’d like to say 2 months, but that would be unrealistic, because something always goes wrong, so you have to assume you’ll only do half as much as you plan on in any given week and be pleasantly surprised when you make the progress you were hoping on.


      5. Also, there’s this funny anecdote for software design: There are 3 qualities to creating a piece of software. It can be done fast, it can be done well or it can be done cheap. Any given piece of software will only meet two of these qualities. I think about this a lot when working on projects.


      6. Well, obviously, I’m aiming at fast, cheap, and as well as possible within those other constraints. I mean, being realistic, I’m doing it all with a $30 mic and my cell phone: “well” isn’t in the equation.”Better than the last one” is.


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