The issue of why I ‘do it all myself’Â has been a real concern to me for many years and for many reasons. I thought I’d comment on it partly because lots of people either ask me about it or, don’t ask me about it but wonder about it, and also because this is something that affects more and more musicians as technology moves ahead and the record business continues to break down.
When I studied music I loved learning new instruments. My primary mentor in college, Dr. Alvin King was a disciple of Paul Hindemith, the great German composer. Hindemith stressed to all his students the importance of learning to play as many instruments as possible. Hindemith himself played at least one instrument in each of the main orchestral families at pretty much a pro level. I loved that idea and I’ve worked very hard at the craft of playing a variety of instruments.
At this point? I can usually get what I want most directly by playing the instruments myself. Occasionally, I will take several weeks or months to learn a challenging part on an unfamiliar instrumentÂ simply for the joy of learning the part. An example is ‘For Angela’ on my album Balance. The bodhrÃ¡n part took quite a while to get right. I know a couple of guys who could’ve done this straight away. But I just wanted to do it.
Could I get someone to do it? Sure. They might, no doubt, add their ‘special sauce’ to the song. It’s always a judgment call: does having another person’s different talents and perspective enhance the performance. Sometimes, for sure. Sometimes, no. There are many times when I listen to various audio ‘loops’ and I have to grudgingly admit that the author came up with something very cool that I never would’ve thought of in a gagillion years.Â On the other hand, I recall guys like Stravinsky who couldn’t wait to record their own works because they had a very clear idea of how it should sound and didn’t want too much ‘character’ imparted by the ‘executantes’.
Now, back to the aforementionedÂ bodhrÃ¡n part. If I had reached a point where I was dissatisfied with the result no matter how hard I pounded at it? I woulda dropped it like a cold plate of Irish colcannon (sorry, I don’t know how it’s spelled in English; it’s that bland potato/cabbage/kale casserole known in England as “bubble n’ squeak”.) This happens to me all the time. You’ll forgive me if I don’t provide outtakes of my haplessness–just trust me on this; it ain’t pretty.
And that’s the difference between my DIY and amateur DIY–I ain’t gonna let my vanity get in the way of the final product. The guy who works out his Better Than Van Halen Tribute feels real pride that he played all the parts.Â And that sense of pride blinds one to quality.Â The composer in me just won’t tolerate a performance that isn’t up to what I’m trying to convey. The best compliment I can receive is that people have no idea who played what. The only ‘credit’ I want for playing is the credit I gave myself after I was done with the take. I never think about who played the part ex post facto. The only thing that matters to me is that the song comes through as I intended. The less ‘personality’Â that comes through, the better. And perhaps that’s why I rarely use outsiders… unless I want a different personality, I’d rather not add other voices to the mix if, to paraphrase Johnny Rotten, I know what I want and I know how to get it.