The Pros and Cons of Making Music Completely Alone

I mentioned in my previous post that I’d hoped to have the new album done either just before or just after Easter.  Well, the bunny has hopped in and bounced off and there’s still a fair bit to do before the new tracks see the light of day.  There are a number of reasons for that, which are too boring to go into on here.

While I’m pottering about patching things together, I often think about how much easier things could be if I had a couple of collaborators to give a bit of direction to a project or provide me with valuable advice.  I then have conflicting thoughts that suggest that maybe I’m actually better off on my own, left to explore, experiement and be free from anyone bossing me around.  To clear things up a bit, I’ve decided to make a little list of the pros and cons of writing, composing and producing music totally on my own.

PROS: 1: Complete musical autonomy: This is the first one that comes into my head.  I’ve played in bands over the years and I’ve often been frustrated about not being able to take things in the musical direction I would like.  I therefore really appreciate coming up with an idea and being able to at least try it without anybody there to tell me otherwise.

2: I can work at my own pace:  As music is not my profession, I’m not able to work on it all day every day.  I therefore dip in and out of it when I can, which obviously means that projects take longer than they should.  As I’m on my own, I don’t have anyone breathing down my neck and I’m not under pressure from other members to attend rehearsals or learn something in an unrealistically short space of time.

3: I don’t rely on others in order to progress:  Another frustrating thing I’ve experienced in bands is that there can be unreliable members holding the others back. Things like people not turning up for practices on time, if at all and not learning songs properly or forgetting their parts.  When you’re on your own, the only person who can let you down is you.  If you stop, everything stops.

4: Learning new skills:  Since deciding to go it alone I’ve had no choice but to learn many things that aren’t necessary when playing just one instrument in a band.  I’ve learnt how to use a DAW as well as dabbling with instruments I had no interest in learning previously.  I’ve had to force myself to learn how to mix and master tracks, which for me is the trickiest part.  It has so far been fascinating and has even changed the way I listen to music these days.  Not only do you notice the singing, playing and musical arrangements but also the sound engineering and production techniques, which I’ve found have more value than any other aspect of music making and truly make a song what it is.

5: Having my bed less than 2 metres from where I record: So after a session, I can immediately flop on to a nice comfortable bed instead of spending the best part of an hour dragging my gear around town on trams and trains, aaaaaaah!

CONS: 1: No feedback:  This is surely the biggest drawback to making music alone.  If I have an idea and lay it down, there’s nobody there to tell me that it needs tweaking or even binning.  Some of the best pop songs ever made started out as dodgy demos and only became the finished articles we know and love due to feedback from other members suggesting what to keep and what to disregard.

2: No company:  This is definitely something I miss about working with others.  The after session drink is meaningless when it’s just you.

3: No practical aspect: By that I mean there is no pysical playing of instruments with other people.  Some of the greatest songs in history have been the product of improvised jams, which seem to magically take a path of their own when everybody is in the zone.  With me on my own, it becomes more like putting tiny fragments together and turning them into a mosaic, which totally lacks that thrill of being in the moment with other musicians.

4: Live complications: I’ve sometimes thought about how my tracks could be performed live.  There are a few different options, but I can’t say I find any of them attractive.  The first, and most difficult would be to try to do a Jacob Collier style one man multi-instrumentalist performance.  This would require me to buy a ton of new gear (which I simply don’t have the space for) and spend months figuring out how the songs could be performed, not to mention having to improve my playing heavily.  Although the guy is truly amazing, super human one might say, I also think it’s a bit of a gimmick, a sort of means to an end in itself that focuses less on the actual songs and more on the virtuosity, which is fine if that’s your thing but it isn’t partucularly mine.  Another option would be to use my tunes already made as backing tracks minus the vocals and guitar parts and then sing and play over them, which I fear would appear cheap and resemble a sort of glorified karaoke.  The third option would be to get side musicians in to accompany me, but then that’s a whole new project in itself.  So it doesn’t look like my songs will be getting the live treatment any time soon unfortunately.

5: Trapped at home:  Being able to make music at home means that you stay at home and become a bit of a recluse, which can’t be healthy.

So, there they are, my 5 pros and my 5 cons about making music completely alone.  If you can think of any that I’ve missed out, let me know.  It’s been useful to organize my thoughts and make an article out of them.  I’ll carry on as I am for now, I’ve got 12 tracks that need sorting out first!

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