You see, the problem with recording songs everyone knows is that.... everyone knows them. In other words, even the slightest miscue will be starkly on display, which is NOT acceptable in my book. If you record your own arrangements of less familiar material or better yet, original music, a little slip-up here and there will probably not be noticed. Not the case with Christmas songs that most of us have known since childhood. Also, factor in that they are supposed sound relaxed, reverential or jolly - all things that tend to slip out of my musical reach if I start making mistakes in the recording process!
My intention this year was to put together an EP of five or so familiar, traditional (read: in the public domain) songs to send out to family and friends along with a card as kind of a "musical Christmas card." Well, three songs into the project it was obvious that to do it right was going to take way more time and effort than I could afford.
Positive result: three songs recorded that will make a nice basis for the project when I start it again next year. Assuming I can get it together to begin in September! I did have a couple dozen requests for a Christmas guitar CD at my coffee shop gig so I know the project is worthwhile from a cash perspective. Oh well.
Musical trends in the last year, or at least ones I've observed:
1.) Acoustic guitar is more firmly entrenched in the music scene than its been since the days of the folk music and folk/rock movements of the 1960s and early 70s. Yes, teenage boys still have their "guitar heros" who play pyrotechnic licks on screaming electric guitars but with younger singer-songwriters like John Meyer, Jack Johnson and others doing the bulk of their recording and performing with acoustics, younger beginners are trending toward being "unplugged" now more than I've seen in decades. What a refreshing trend!
2.) Melding of styles is becoming more common. "Americana" is the new catch-all term for the musical melding of country, old-timey, rock, blues, a touch of jazz and even some latin influences, all played on primarily acoustic instruments or electric instruments with very little ornamentation. I was watching the great movie The Last Waltz the other night, for the hundredth time I think, and it occurred to me that The Band may have been the first "Americana" group, although they didn't call it that of course. I think it is very cool to mix styles and come up with something fresh and new. I hope this trend continues.
3.) The guitar market is starting to rebound. Whether or not reading about how bad off we were a year ago was a self-fulfilling prophecy is a whole separate discussion, but for whatever reason it seems that people are beginning to buy guitars again. One result has been the prices of good quality used instruments, especially ones by American and Canadian builders are again on the rise. I can't confirm this, but general observation leads me to conclude that good quality used and recent guitar costs about 10% - 20% more than it would have a year ago. Vintage collectables keep going up, no matter what. But if you're considering buying a good used guitar, I think you should do it sooner rather than later. And I'm not just saying that as one who buys and sells guitars - this rise is affecting my buying decisions too.
4.) Many younger guitarists are looking back to find a good repertoire of music to add to their knowledge base. Why is this? Much of the popular music a few decades ago was very much melody based, whereas that is often not the case today. As much as I respect Dave Matthews' musical abilities, can you actually sing a DM song acapella and have it be recognizable? Unlikely. I could cite many other examples. But a Beatles tune or a Crosby, Stills and Nash favorite, or a classic by Paul Simon stands by itself, musically speaking. The melodies are strong because in many cases the arrangements came later. I suspect that many songwriters today (country music being an exception) begin with a riff or a lick or a chord sequence and then try to insert a melody. That can work sometimes of course but I really don't think that way of writing leads to strong melodies. So many younger plays who are naturally drawn to what they'll be singing with their guitar playing find a wealth of strong melodies in the music of a previous generation. Or am I just sounding like my parents when they described rock music back in the 60s ?!?
5.) Technological advances have resulted in many, many new devices to make our playing easier and sound better - and there is no end in sight. When you consider that Sgt. Pepper was recorded with equipment that was less sophisticated and much harder to use than the average hand-held digital recorder of today that retails for less than a hundred dollars, it positively blows the mind. And that is were some of the biggest and most dramatic advances are taking place - in recording technology. For well less than a thousand dollars you can assemble a home studio that will produce recordings of astounding quality. One of the best aspects of the advances are dropping prices. I well remember when digital tuners hit the market. They were unreliable, fragile and expensive, often costing close to $100. Today you can buy an excellent tuner - accurate and durable - for less than $20.
There are many other things that are happening or came to the forefront of acoustic guitar playing in the last year. I can't wait to see what 2011 holds! (maybe a Christmas CD by Yours Truly?!)
Peace & good music,