When in doubt, do less

I have been fighting with the same song for a few months now. It’s been kicking my butt.

I’ve been working with a talented singer named Amy Alvarado here in Miami and she’s helped write a terrific song. My job is to make the instrumentation come alive, and this one’s been fighting me. For a while. Usually I can move more quickly than this. I’ve been through a hundred permutations and none of them feel right.

Amy finally brought another producer over and we had a great working session for three hours. And it STILL wasn’t working. I want it sound like Dr. Luke, and instead it just sounds like it’s in desperate need of a doctor.

(BTW: I’m always happy to work with other people, especially when things aren’t going smoothly. I think Amy was worried I might be offended but I’m always excited to bring another chef into the kitchen. Because they think differently than I do and that’s how I learn. It’s fun to see how someone else tackles a problem.)

Part of the problem I’m having is that there’s this really cool guitar line that I want to keep, but the track is mostly electronic. I’m having trouble making the guitar work with the synths. I turned to Miley Cyrus (or more precisely Dr. Luke) for inspiration in Party in the USA, but they actually keep the guitar completely separate from the synths. Check it. The guitar is in the verse and the synths are in the chorus, so no help there.

And that’s when I came across “Style” — a Max Martin / Shellback number with a guitar line over a synth bass. And that vibe is kind of working for me.

My guitar line is in the chorus, but I feel weird if there’s no guitar in the verse. It feels to me like the guitar just comes out of nowhere if it’s not in the verse (even though it’s the “reverse Miley” so it’s clearly OK). But any guitar part I put in the verse was way too complicated and was drowning out the synth melody.

And then I got into the car and James Brown came on the radio. Listen to the verse guitar part for “I Feel Good” — it’s just a single hit on the and-of-three. So the guitar’s there but it’s tucked out of the way during the verse. And then it can show up more forcefully in the chorus without sounding like it’s coming out of nowhere.

So here I am supatheefing someone else’s music again!

And the solution is to do less. Which I’m finding is the best solution most of the time.

Some of the best advice I ever got as a guitar player was to treat every note in a solo as if it cost me a dollar to play. When I think like that I end up playing less notes. Which is better.

Do less.


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