I recorded myself singing a different song every day in 2015. There are a lot of different creative things I enjoy doing and singing/songwriting is among them. And yet, prior to 2015, I rarely wrote new material or even learned new covers. Despite being something I love to do, I put it off or would write a line or two here and there, but never actually finish the song. Or literally take years to do it. I can be a perfectionist and I think that’s part of the problem, for sure. And since it’s not my job, there were always other things I could prioritize ahead of making music. And yet it’s something that makes me really happy.
When it comes to my personal projects, I am a procrastinator who is constantly looking for new ways not to procrastinate. This Song-a-Day project mixes a couple of getting-things-done techniques, namely Don’t Break the Chain and Keep Your Goals to Yourself.
In late 2014, at age 39, I was thinking: when am I ever going to finish these songs or write new ones? Discipline is key, though motivation is definitely part of it too. I’ve had success with some Don’t Break the Chain projects, so I decided to apply that to music. I considered a weekly deadline—a song a week! But I envisioned that failing. There’d come a week that I’d put it off until the last day, then feel the need to make the song “worthy” of a whole week, and crumble. Or something unforeseen would come up that last day and kill it. So, oddly, a daily song seemed more doable to me. It takes a lot of pressure off. So what if my voice sucks and I’m tired and this is a crappy song—it’ll just be 1 out of 365!
I needed to define the parameters more Rules I could break or stretch if I had to, but ideally not. The rules were to make things doable and to provide structure
• The song could be a cover or an original
• No playing a song more than once all year
• Must do the song in one take, no editing
• Don’t worry about audio fidelity
• At least start uploading the song to YouTube before midnight PST
• No makeup songs, must upload a new song every day
• Recording songs ahead of time for use in case of emergency is permitted
• Any instrument (or no instrument) is fine, I have to sing in every song though
I didn’t write these rules out, but I had them firmly in mind. Keeping the actual format of the performances simple and not burdening myself with great expectations made this to be a daily, doable thing. I knew this wasn’t about me doing a proper mic setup recording in a soundproof room, it was about me playing more and being less precious about it, enjoying myself and hopefully writing some new songs or finishing old ones. And the image quality wasn’t crucial either, so phone, laptop, whatever camera at whatever location. Nor would I obsess about what I looked like (which is clear by the various states of undress and messed up hair in various vids). I knew I could’ve gotten trapped doing “makeup songs,” days later, which would’ve killed the whole thing. I could see myself on a Saturday trying to do a decent job on 5 songs from earlier in the week. No, one song-a-day and I had to stick to that. I could do songs ahead of time if I want to “stockpile” some in case of an emergency, but I only used that option once and in the first week. It felt best to do a new song, every day. Uploading the songs would keep me accountable. And I think it made me try a bit harder knowing that someone might see it rather than it just going to my hard drive. I didn’t want there to be any commentary in these songs. No intros or outros—just sing the song. I’m not particularly skilled at an instrument, but could imagine myself noodling on guitar or keyboard and calling that a song, which would’ve been too easy. No, I had to sing—a capella if need be. I didn’t make a song length rule, but I figured I could trust myself not to try to pass 3 seconds of blabber off as a song. In the end, these are all rules just for me, and I’m the only person who cares (or knows) to judge.
The first week was the toughest. I remember on Day 2 or 3 I was like “Oh man, again already!?” And I had a cold much of the first month, so I didn’t sound great either. And while this wasn’t about fidelity, I did want to do a good job on these songs. Of course! At least a decent job. So I pushed through, and kept at it. The first couple months were almost all covers. I had about a dozen songs of my own I could play at any given time, but didn’t feel like it, for the most part. I’d practice them, but they were all too precious and I felt getting them perfect was a must. In a pinch, I made up a random song early on that’s pretty dumb (the first of many), just to meet the deadline for the day. And, hey, that counted and kept me going!
The daily deadline kept resetting, kept me with a goal I could focus on and achieve. To use a baseball analogy, not every day was a home run or even a single. There were plenty of strikeouts actually. But there were some days where I did a pretty decent job (again, according to my own judgement—I was not seeking validation from others to keep me going). As weeks and then months passed, I started working in some of my originals. I eventually started to run out of cover songs that I knew, so I’d have to choose between learning a new one or doing an original. Then I started running out of originals, so I’d have to make up a new song or figure out a cover. And the days and weeks and months kept coming. As I said, I had maybe a dozen original songs backlogged at the start of this I felt I could reasonably play…
By the end of 365 days I had performed 191 original songs. And I’d learned to play more than 100 new covers. The total run time of all the songs adds up to over 15 hours.
Not all of those songs are winners of course, a lot of them are shit. Like really pretty awful. But I like a lot of them, far more than I would’ve ever expected. And even if I only liked a dozen of my new songs out of 191, that would still mean that I doubled my personal catalog in 1 year compared to 30+ years for all the rest! And I like far more than a dozen. Sure, they need refining, tweaking, and polishing. Fuller/better instrumentation and solid recording, but the point is: I now have new material to work with! Song-a-Day wasn’t about recording a “definitive version” of any of these songs.
One of the things I hope to do with this project is to record some of these songs them and put them out on an album. In March, my friend Joe Hornacek and I wrote a song called “Me & You & Mountain Dew.” And while the impetus for me was doing another song-of-the-day, Joe and I followed through and properly recorded the song with added vocals and instrumentation that night. This is kind of the template of what I hope to do: take these song sketches then later fully realize them. Here’s the live version (only 53 seconds):
And here’s the version we recorded that night (46 seconds):
This whole year-long project has been a huge confidence boost and I feel it’s improved my songwriting ability immensely. And, again, this is all based on what I think about the quality, not someone else. I’ve written new songs that I really like and I had a lot of fun too. I also had to get over myself. Stop being precious. That’s a constant battle. I discovered early on, that I seem to have lost about 3 notes off the top of my range since just a few years ago. This was a huge bummer. There were songs I used to be able to sing that I couldn’t get through any more. I had to get over that and either stop doing those songs or find a new way to do them, whether in a new key or in a new style.
As the year progressed, I’d sometimes record songs with friends. We’d do covers or make up a new song together. I wouldn’t go into the details of this being part of a larger project and they wouldn’t press. Over time people caught on that I seemed to be doing a song every day, but I never sought outside praise or support to continue, I knew this had to be on me.
Having a finite daily project has, if nothing else, increase my output. And, I believe over time, it’s improved the quality of my output as well. And I like that it’s applicable to all kinds of other endeavors. As for what’s next? Well, I’d rather not talk about that. I’d rather get it done first then share it.
And now for some playlists! A few curated selections from the year.
2015 Song-a-Day: 20 Covers
Here are 20 out of the 174 covers I did this year. I covered Ween more than anyone, though only selected one of their songs here. Also did a ton of Beck & T. Rex covers, both of which are probably over-represented among these 20, but oh well.
2015 Song-a-Day: 20 Originals
Some of these were made up literally on the spot, like “I Know a Lot of Girls Like That” and “Savage Beauty.” Other songs were written over a couple hours that day, like “I Kinda Like Her This Way” and “Night Owl.” Still others were written over a number of days or were from lyrics I’d written bits of years ago, like “Kiss Me Before You Shit” and “Thanks Dude.” Overall though, unless it was a song I’d written years ago, most songs were created the day of.
2015 Song-a-Day: 20 Collaborations
I love playing music with friends and family (and strangers too when the opportunity arises!), so I really relished the extra incentive to perform with other people. If not for my song-a-day goal, most of these would not have happened. Thanks to everyone who was a part of this!!
2015 Song-a-Day: All 365
If you’ve read this far, maybe you’re curious (or have too much time on your hands) and want to see the full playlist. I won’t embed them all here, but here’s the YouTube link: Click Me or the Image Below
I think there are a lot more weird, funny, random, and solid gems throughout the whole 365. Plenty to discard, but plenty to mine from and polish. And if I never get around to polishing some or many of them? Well then, at least I did this much. Which was far more than I’d done musically any other year so far. What’s crazy though is that I still feel like I’ve just scratched the surface. I have so many more lyric snippets and melodies dating back to the ’90s, recorded onto VHS and audio cassette, written in old notebooks, then into the 2000s recorded on various phones all the way up to now. I was able to rescue a few of those in 2015 so that’s something.
In fact, it’s better than nothing and that’s good enough.