Life doesn’t discriminate
Between the sinners and the saints
It takes and it takes and it takes.
And we keep living anyway
We rise and we fall and we break
We fall and we make our mistakes.
And if there’s a reason I’m still alive
When so many have died
Then I’m willin’ to- then I’m willin’ to-
Wait for it… Wait for it… Wait for it…

Lin Manuel Miranda (from Broadway play Hamilton)

Yes, wait for it… I discovered a Netflix show this week that has me beautifully intrigued and inspired.

I hope you won’t find this post too musically nerdy as a river of thoughts has me floating lazily through Songland this week.

The show is called SONG EXPLODER and explores pretty much what its title suggests.

Podcaster Hrishikesh Hirway interviews an accomplished songwriter (and oftimes performer) and “explodes” one song, digging deeply into the evolution and construction of something they’ve written.

So far, I’ve only watched the Alicia Keys and Lin Manuel Miranda segments. I’m hooked.

Although the documentary series dissects only the anatomy of songs, I’d love it if they extrapolated this format in future, taking the “explode” concept into other art forms like novel writing or painting.

Typically, as outside observers of art, we see only the end result and then interpret the story without guidance as to how the creation process was undertaken.

SONG EXPLODER shows us this creative insight.

In my own pursuit of songwriting, and perhaps in your pursuit of whatever your passion might be, to see and hear the thought behind the creation is helpful. We like to see and hear stories where we can see ourselves reflected; this show does that.

Comfortingly, my quest to write songs seems surprisingly similar to those of the rich and famous in this show (Larry, you’re not rich or famous!).

Here’s the twist: in this week’s post I thought I would “explode” the production of a short instrumental sample that I recorded and mixed here in my home studio/office.

The piece is unpretentiously called Love Songs, from James Taylor’s 1975 album Gorilla (I popped another of Taylor’s instrumentals in a post a few weeks back). It’s a simple cover that packs a huge emotional tug for me.

Now I can’t give you the anatomy of the origin of the song itself since I didn’t write it, but I can offer you some insight into how I put it together on the recording front.

Home recording has thankfully become a relatively simple process with the incredible technology of today.

Someone with an interest and a few hundred dollars can make a musical recording that isn’t a huge leap from what was produced in high-end recording studios of 25 years ago using super-expensive equipment.

Let’s get started with my version of the song: the piece is instrumentally sparse… no bass guitar, no drums, no layers upon layers of additional instruments…. just a single simple acoustic guitar (my Martin DX1AE) and clarinet.

It took me about 5 or 6 hours of work (thank you COVID isolation) over 2 days to make this one minute instrumental happen.

My first job… listen closely to the song, read the music, and… practice.

I need to practice lots because the simpler – in the end – the music sounds to you, the better I know I’ve prepared.

The song is played in the key of D# minor or E♭minor. Some think of E♭as one of the saddest keys, expressing the dark night of the soul. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, Simon and Garfunkle’s Sounds of Silence are all in E♭minor.

See if this piece gives you a sensation of bittersweet… maybe longing or melancholy. I know I’m drawn to music that conveys a sadness. (Hmmmm… Larry, you should really see a therapist…).

Once I had the guitar part largely nailed, I began recording on my 24 track digital recording studio, a Tascam DP24SD.

With all its buttons and sliders, the Tascam looks a bit scary and pretty complicated, but can be used reasonably well with a manual in hand and about 10-20 hours of time.

I set up two mics for recording the single guitar; two so that I can “pan” the sound of each, one slightly coming from your left, and one from your right, so it gives a stereo kind of sound as if you were in a concert hall.

It took about 15 “takes” of recording this very short piece into the Tascam because little buzzes and guitar goofs (Guitarist error!) creep in, especially so when you know in your mind that you’re recording. It’s a terrible head game.

OK, next. I transfer the guitar recording into my Mac computer with a USB connector cable. I then transfer the file into a software program that comes free with all Mac desktop computers called GARAGEBAND. The price is definitely right…

GARAGEBAND allows me to make all sorts of mystical musical manipulations.

I could take these guitar files and transform the piece into a screaming rock anthem fit for Queen if I chose to, but this boy ain’t much of a rocker so… not today!

I take each of the 2 guitar parts and give them a slightly different tone… one with a touch of echo, the other more plain and unadorned. I tilt one to the left speaker, the other to the right, and then add some reverb (vibration) and compression for a richer sound.

Now the real digital fun begins. GARAGEBAND provides me with an orchestra or band full of instruments that I can add in quite easily. I choose clarinet for this song because… well… that’s what James Taylor used, although his clarinet was made by human breath and talent.

Using the keys on my keyboard, I go through the song and “play” the clarinet part as if my keyboard was a piano, with each key a different note.

But… yikes, I make a few mistakes (OK… lots… OK… TONS!)… typos truly. Mercifully, the software is forgiving. It allows me to magically change the length and/or pitch of every note I’ve typed in, one by one.

An hour or so of patient notation manipulation and I have the clarinet part the way I’d like. Whew!

Now, the downside, and there is a downside sadly… the digital clarinet isn’t as tonally beautiful as a skilled clarinet’est… the vibrato and smooth contours I’d love to detect in the playing isn’t achievable, at least not with this free software package. Did I mention the price was right?

I now go through the whole piece as one and adjust the EQ (not the Emotional Quotient, it’s Equalization)… the basses, mid-ranges, and treble to a sound I like.

The final step is popping in a simple fade-out at the end so it finishes up smooth and warm like fine bourbon on your palate.

BAM! That’s how it’s made… EXPLODED!!

If you made it this far, congratulations and thanks for staying with me.

I hope you’re ready to listen. Here goes… LOVE SONGS