Last week, some friends and I recorded 8 songs for an album to be released sometime in the next four months or so. We spent 30 hours recording, tweaking, mixing, and editing the songs. On Sunday, Jamin, who played bass, piano, trumpet, accordion, and Rhodes Mark 1 on the recordings, sent me a text message asking me if there was one song on the album that wasn’t as good as the others, one song that was just ‘okay’, which one would it be? He related to me that he is reading Re:Work, and there is a chapter about releasing a (pardon the language mom) ‘kick-ass half’ vs. a ‘half-ass whole’. In context, this means that sometimes its better to leave something behind and only release the best of the best, even if it means releasing fewer songs.
I knew immediately that the second song on the album is the one that is just ‘okay’. However, for Jamin, this was not the song he thought was just okay. He thought the third song was just ‘okay’.
Now I have to wrestle with two things: One, I can actually admit that there is a song that I don’t like as much as the others. This is strange for me, because I wrote all of these songs. I’m remarkably able to ignore the small mistakes when listening to my recordings. It’s like looking at your kids and believing that they are the most beautiful children on the planet, even if they aren’t (thankfully, mine are). But, strangely, this one song just stuck out to me as not as good as the others.
Two, Jamin thought a different song was not as good as the others. Which means, he is criticizing my beautiful child. It also means that I had to go back and listen to the album as a whole and decide if he was on to something. Maybe we just release six of eight songs?
Worse still, yesterday evening, prior to opening the restaurant, I was giving the whole album a listen in the restaurant when the cooks came out to sit at the bar. Before I could brag about my beautiful child, telling them that these are the songs I recorded last week, Steve, a musician, said “This is depressing.” Marcus, a non-musician, responded, “What, the music?” as if to say he finds the music depressing. Steve said, “Yeah, this band is depressing. Their one-five harmonies and the slightly out of tune guitar.”
My face tightened and I grew warm, the kind of embarrassment a parent must feel when they realize that their kid really does have a super huge head or ugly teeth or something. It was a window into reality – what I find beautiful isn’t beautiful to everyone. I went out of the room, came back in, and changed the music. Steve said, “Is it depressing you too?” I said, “Yes, actually”. Not for the same reasons, Steve. You have no idea.
Today, I sat down again with the songs. I listened for the out of tune guitar. It was there. That’s depressing, and unprofessional, and embarrassing. I then played the songs through without the three ‘okay’ ones, and I felt like the album was not missing anything. Then I remembered: A kick-ass half is better than a half-ass whole.
So, I may be making some cuts, and instead of releasing an 8 song quasi-full-length album, releasing a five song EP. I have to get my wife’s approval first, since she sang on the album and gets to put her two cents in. But she, like me, is going to have to fight to look objectively at the songs, instead of seeing them as beautiful children that she birthed. That’s a hard thing to do, but it might be the best thing.