Song Sources: Part of Your Blindness

Sometimes it’s difficult to feel like you belong, and just as hard to explain to others why you feel that way.

This song was released primarily for a video, but it’s available on streaming services and Bandcamp.

Lyrics

I lost track of the story, what’s the last thing you said?
Did I fall asleep while you were talking, or just get lost in my head?
But cheap rooms and blacktop and the stars look the same
So I’ll call you next week from some other place

To everyone I knew sometimes leaving’s what you do
You were in my blind spot I’m part of your blindness, too
If you want to know your home from far away you can see
But if you really want to know the truth here’s what’s bothering me
Wherever I ever went, no matter how far I’d go
Where ever I’d stay I’d never called it home

There’s a faint smell to hope that fades as quick as the rain
It’s like ozone, or blood it’s like the memory of pain
When they’re closing the curtain I sense it slipping away
So I hope that I’ll find it on some other day

Someday when I’m sated, if I can hold out that long
I’ll lay down ambition and confess in a song

A performer, exhausted from another day of their a life on the road, talks to a family member (probably their mother or father) on the phone, barely staying awake, and the person on the other end of the line asks why they spend all their time away from home. The explanation is simply that it doesn’t feel like home — in fact, nowhere does, not even the road itself.

I wrote a draft of the song fairly quickly, based on a quote buried in some old song notes about needing to leave home to truly understand it. My friend Keith told me once, “You can’t be a prophet in your homeland,” but the quote I had in my notes actually came from a YouTube documentary about a Japanese carpenter. I’ve had that quote sitting in my song notes for a couple years, but until now, I never really thought about why I wrote it down.

Like many people (I think), I tend to compartmentalize my life, but sometimes go overboard with it:

I once showed up to a monthly gig only to find that my services were no longer needed. The band leader seemed mystified that I would do this — he said we hadn’t talked in a month, which to him was a long time. I had barely even noticed and to me seeing someone once a month was frequent. We’re still on good terms because I was just a fill-in slot (I played music with them in other situations later), and I just walked down the street and played with some friends at a different venue. While I was angry at them at the time for not telling me ahead of time, I should have taken it as a lesson about staying in touch better. I play folk music, which for most people is about community, for some people it’s almost like family, which is kinda home. I often have no idea what that community is, and who’s a part of it. Am I part of it? I have no idea. I know lots of people, and I play music with some of them. But am I part of the community?

Because I often don’t feel like I belong somewhere even when I buy a ticket or play on stage.

I made a conscious effort during the pandemic to reach out to friends I hadn’t talked to in years, by e-mail and by phone since I don’t have any way to get in touch with them. Some of those messages went unanswered. I don’t know what that means, but at the very least it probably means I didn’t keep up with them enough before.

Music and Production

The music is simple so it won’t get in the way of the lyrics; but I also needed to limit musical cleverness because from its inception I knew I wanted to record a “full band” video of me playing all the instruments and I didn’t want to have to do a lot of takes just because I mess up something small. The music and tune did go through several revisions, especially the “bridge,” which is almost but not quite the second half of a verse. Primarily I focused on adjusting the lyrics where needed and keeping the arrangement as clean as possible.

I settled on bass, drums, and acoustic guitar because of the limited space in my recording room. To prepare for making a video like this, I actually had to make some adjustments to the room itself: The drumset takes up a lot of space, but even more importantly, the microphone stands for the drumset take up room in the center of my floor. So I mounted some microphone boom stands to the ceiling:

The arm can be rotated a bit if I’m willing to not have it screwed in completely on the ceiling side. The arm length was important, so I cannibalized some arms from some cheap short telescoping mic stands made by Auray. The arms can get close enough if I have them near the cloud above the drums to do a coincident stereo pair more typical of recording drums, but I vastly prefer a spaced pair sound because it has the widest possible stereo image if I want it, and this particular placement is mathematically sound for getting good phase relationships in a wide stereo image.

My stud finder lied to me the first time I mounted the arm, hence the extra holes in the ceiling. Oh well, no one sees that but me!

The guitar solo is mostly composed, but it’s just an ornamented melody. The guitar mic is, somewhat unusually, a Beyerdynamic M201. While it’s a very popular mic for a guitar cabinet or a snare, and the M160 has been used on acoustic guitar on at least a couple famous songs, this was a pretty unusual choice for the acoustic guitar, especially for what might appear to be a single-microphone setup (it’s not, because the vocal mic picks up plenty of guitar and vise versa). Some people might even say it’s just a “wrong” choice. However, it did a pretty good job of picking up some midrange character from the guitar without duplicating what the vocal mic (a 251 clone) was doing in the treble and bass. I’m standing so there’s some danger of moving, but both microphones are equidistant (19″ or so) from where the soundhole meets the neck, and they keep their phase relationship reasonably well until I move about a foot away from the microphones.

For the last couple years, all the acoustic tracks I’ve been recording have been done with some Arthur Fisher ribbon mics I assembled (I’d barely call the process of making those “building” — the ribbon motor is already made), which can lead to some big low end that’s better when it’s just the guitar but a problem in a dense mix. For what it’s worth, my goal any time I mic an instrument is less “Is this the absolute best thing you can put in front of the instrument” and more “does this sound bad?” There are some microphones that sound bad on some instruments, but it’s actually rare. I’m fairly close to thinking that, for this setup with the vocal mic picking up a lot of the guitar, as long as the microphones are placed in a way that doesn’t hurt the sound, you can use anything and it will sound about as good as anything else. I don’t want to spend too much time thinking about this if I’m trying to finish a song in a weekend, it’s just better to spend more time on the music and lyrics.

One of the drum overheads was also turned on as a room microphone, though I didn’t use much of it in the final mix.

The drum part, such as it is, was worked out over several takes by working from the scratch track, then re-done after I recorded the guitar and vocal so I could get in some reaction to the main performance, then I recorded the bass. The bass is direct through a germanium preamp that I use for most tracks, and the drums are miced with Audix d2s on the toms and an i5 on the snare.

The overheads are some KM84-style mics I built from a kit group buy on GroupDIY. I’ve used them on acoustic guitar as well and kind of wish I’d built a third one so I didn’t have to pull them from the overheads every time I want to use one on something else, especially since I loaned out the ribbon mics that I was using as drum overheads in the past.

Video

This video stuff is hard! Maybe I should have joined the AV club in high school. (Although I don’t know if we had one.)

Full band videos with one or two people playing multiple instruments are reasonably popular on YouTube in general, usually done by filming the parts separately and then tiling the parts. I got the idea for having everyone in the same frame from Jacob Collier’s Tiny Desk Concert earlier this year. Maybe I could have jumped in with something simpler, but there were a lot of things about this song where I just wanted to do something and get it out there in the world. (It’s also my test balloon for the distribution service I picked.)

The audio and video was recorded separately and then synced later. One issue I ran into with the video is that I recorded the guitar and vocals on Saturday night, and the drums and vocals the day, which changed the lighting. I would probably have gone for an old-timey filter of some sort on the video regardless, but it required quite a bit more editing and color matching to get it right. I can’t control the sub, but I can control the blinds in my room and the ceiling lights, so: lesson learned for the future.

It’s not too hard to see the seam between the bass video and the guitar video, but if you look really closely, you might be able to spot that the actual framing of the guitar and vocal video doesn’t exactly match the bass and drums. This turned out to be that I didn’t have the camera secure enough, and the subtle vibration of walking across the floor ended up turning the camera very slightly. More than one lesson learned from that, one of which was for me to buy a little camera attachment for a mic stand instead of relying on the mounting system I was using. I don’t even want to say what it was, but I suppose the point of these blogs is to be confessional: Gaffer tape affixing it to the top of a speaker on the desk.

Yeah. We can do much better next time, folks. And in fact we did:

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