We’ve been having a lot of storms in Nova Scotia this winter. One of the Twitter feeds that gets a lot of attention whenever weather gets rough is “Nova Scotia Emergency Management Organization” - or, shortened into a Twitter handle: @nsemo.
The name always makes me think of Emo, the whiny teen goth-but-louder music and culture. Every time they tweet about water main breaks and driving safety, I imagine them spoken by a glum teenager in white face makeup and heavy mascara accompanied by loud guitars.
So on a recent snow day, I decided to do an Emo song for NS Emo. I haven’t played guitar in months, and I’ve never really put a proper song together, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last few years it’s to not let a lack of experience or talent get in the way of doing something fun.
So I got some new strings for my guitar (thankfully Long & McQuade was open and only a short walk away), downloaded the latest version of GarageBand, and spent a few hours happily trying to make an emo song complete with fast drums, whiny vocals, and loud guitars.
One side to being out of the music-making loop for so long is that I can really see the improvements in technology. My last real music-making experiences were in the early 90s, when simply sequencing MIDI was pretty impressive, and most hobbyist music was done on 4-track tape recorders. The latest GarageBand is so far ahead of my expectations, and so amazingly well attuned to exactly the kind of thing I want to do with music, it’s like magic.
Growing up, the only effects I had for my guitar were two buttons on my amp for distortion and a dial for reverb. Now GarageBand simulates dozens of effects pedals and amplifiers, with hundreds of different presets. I’ve never been able to play drums, but the drums are such a huge part of a good song - and the latest GarageBand has a spectacular set of realistic-sounding drummers with personal styles, all adjustable.
I kept the song really simple, with three chords and two short verses/choruses. I put in multiple guitar tracks with different flavours of distortion, set up the drums, manually arranged the bass part note-by-note, and even recorded the vocals using the microphone on my iPhone earbuds. The end result is 40 seconds long, but it’s also catchy enough that I still find myself humming it randomly over a week later.
I almost published the first version of the track, but sat on it for a few days - until the next storm, in fact - and reworked it a bit. This time the result came out a lot better. Not perfect by any means, but I’m a big believer in getting things out there rather than perfecting them - especially in something I’m so new at that perfection could take months.
It’s easier to get away with sloppy imperfection if you’re doing a novelty song, since the point is the punch line. Also, skill-free enthusiasm is always more rock & roll than finessed perfection.
I exported the song to a high-quality AAC file (interestingly it seemed to lose a whole lot of presence and brightness compared to the GarageBand version - although it might have just been the volume) and stuck it on SoundCloud (somehow managing to make my third SoundCloud account.
The end result doesn’t actually sound all that emo, though. I had early-career My Chemical Romance in mind, but the result sounds more like mid-90s Matthew Sweet. It’s interesting how influences come through - trying to make one kind of music and ending up with something quite different.
When I posted the result to Facebook, a musician friend of mine commented "That's an opening credits song if I ever heard one." I might have to do a YouTube video next.
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