strumzilla

​A blog/journal about my life and the stuff I like. Popular subjects include music, guitars, gear, books, movies, video games, technology, humor.

Failures - the greatest teacher

A collaboration with another guitarist fell through recently. I think that ultimately the issue was one of communication. The other guitarist had suggested we work on a song together. Having not really collaborated with anyone, I was eager for a chance to see what it could bring. I suggested a cover song by a band that featured two guitarists in dual lead type roles so that we would both have a sort of chance to shine. Now, full disclosure, this other guitarist is advanced beyond my current abilities. He’s posted covers of Van Halen, Eric Johnson, Yngwie and many other great guitarists. I had no illusions going in that I was going to need to raise my game.

I suggested something by Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Thin Lizzy or some equivalent band, assuming the hard rock or metal genres would be more to his liking. He suggested “Bloodstone” by Judas Priest, I’m sure in large part because there are multi tracks available and we could use the original vocals and other parts as needed. So, we’ve been working on this project for a couple of months now. I’ve done all of the heavy lifting when it comes to the mix, and the video editing as well.

He had waited until I recorded drums before starting on his parts, since drums are typically always going to be the foundation. I finally recorded drums about a month ago and we’ve been slowly adding bass, rhythm and he had finished all his parts to include the entire solo. His parts sound great, he clearly has honed his cover game.

I had been a bit lazy in listening to the original track, as I've never really cared about getting a cover exactly note for note. Some may say that’s a cop out, and they may be partially right, but I know for certain that I just don’t care about trying to mimic someone else’s song to the nth degree. That being said, I do see the value in learning the most difficult parts, just to raise your playing to a level you apparently aspire if you like a song well enough to cover it.

So, as I started to record my parts, he quickly noted some problems. I was playing a rhythm part differently than him, and he wanted our parts to match up. I think he’s ultimately correct in this case, it probably does sound better for the rhythm parts to lock step. So, I fixed that in fairly short order as it was a simple oversight. But, it does start to illustrate where small fractures were forming.

Without ever discussing it specifically, I gather he assumed we were going for a faithful rendition of the original. Now, as I said before, that’s really not my thing. I honestly don’t get it, you’re never going to sound as good as the original and what would be the point? I get it as an academic sort of exercise, because you can learn a lot about the player, the recording and songwriting process in general. But, when I’m recording a cover I try to stay close, but I don’t sweat small variations.

I had been making regular comments and suggestions about how I would record my parts and I had stated early on that I wanted to divide the solos up, so that we both would have our chance to wail a bit. This song is like many Judas Priest songs in that both Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing have solos. The Glenn Tipton is the initial solo and it’s a pretty laid back and easy part. It’s followed by K.K. Downing, and his solo is “The Solo” of the song. It was my intention all along that we would divide both sections so we both would have part of the Tipton and K.K. bits.

The K.K. solo wails from the onset, and there are two fairly distinct parts to it. The first part is a single position sort of classic rock riffy bendy part and then there’s slight pause and a fast descending triplet bit. I’ve been working on the whole thing, but I knew I was going to take longer for the second half. I had said a few times that I thought I would divide it up that way, with him getting the bulk of K.K.’s solo including the descending bit and some other bits after before there’s this pedal ascending section we could play in unison.

Like always, I have to divide my time among many disciplines - guitar, keys, drums, bass, vocals, video editing, visual effects, cinematography, model building, etc. I don’t choose to spread my focus in so many directions, it’s just about following my muse. So, it had taken me awhile to finally get where I thought I had a passable version of the solo.

Another note is that I had been using tablature that although perhaps wasn’t note for note accurate, it was pretty close to the original. The original track is very noisy, and there are definitely parts in there where it’s a true challenge to hear what K.K. is playing. All that to say I wasn’t sweating getting it exactly “right”. I don’t see the point.

Well, I recorded my solos yesterday and frankly I thought my part of K.K.’s solo was my best playing on the song so far. I don’t mean it was the best playing on the song in general, I just know myself and I was happy with my take. I was a bit surprised when I very quickly got negative feedback from the other guitarist. I didn’t save the conversation but it was essentially “I don’t like it.” Now, in fairness that may be just be unbridled truth. I gather he wants to get it note for note and in that metric, it’s definitely going to fall short.

What I didn’t hear was what specifically he didn’t like about it. Tone, bends/intonation, rhythm, clarity, vibe, all of the above? He suggested I take the Tipton bits, he play the KK bits, and then we play the last pedal bit in unison. If we were in a JP cover band and we played other songs where I would get “The Solo”, the scenario would be different.

I think the fundamental problem here is that we both see ourselves as lead guitarists. I’m not trying to argue I’m of his caliber, at least not yet. My idea with dividing the tracks up was so that we both would get a moment to share the lead but I was still deferring more than half to him, and it’s the more challenging/impressive part of the solo.

Without saying it, I’m getting the feeling he’s always seen his role as the main lead guitarist and I was the rhythm guitarist who might chip in with a simple line or two. There’s nothing sinister about him feeling that way, it’s just not how I see myself. If he had suggested I work on the part some more and made specific mention of what he felt was falling short on my part I would have likely listened and made an attempt to get closer to his expectation. I still don’t see the point, but I was trying to be a team player.

All that to say, I felt the tone of our whole collaboration went demonstrably south when he criticized my part, suggested he play the whole thing without giving me an out to fix whatever the problem was. I didn’t ask for that, and maybe he would have been receptive if I had, but I feel like I’m right in assuming he wants the lead and has all along.

Which is totally cool. I get it. I’m cut from the same cloth. So, after all this very considerable rambling, I realize this project was probably doomed to failure from the start and I’m just as complicit. I’ve known that I likely would never want to be in a band with another lead guitarist. I know there are many great bands who have successfully achieved this relationship, but a big part of my assumed band role is going to be as a songwriter and I’m not likely to want to turn over guitar roles to another player. I have no problem with another instrument doing their own thing, but I want my own space dictated by me, not someone else.

I thought we could find a happy medium where we would both get a chance to shine, but I feel like he wants to be the Lead Guitarist in any scenario. I’ve learned that I will not likely function well in collaboration with other guitarists, at least if they see themselves as lead guitarists with an equal editorial say.

The only negative thing to come out of this is I think it’s probably put a strain on our friendship and that’s too bad. The blame is probably on me. If I feel like someone is being disingenuous (note, feel, not know) about something I just lose trust and it puts up a wall. Ultimately this is just a cover video, it’s not important in the grand scheme of things. But, I start to wonder at all the positive comments made in the past and how genuine they were and how genuine any in the future would be. I felt like I finally got the real opinions about my playing, and unfortunately they were distinctly different from all others before.

As always, failures are the greatest teacher. I have learned that I really need to work more on my playing, both for playing entire takes at a level adequate for recording audio and/or video and that I’m not at a level as a soloist that I want to be. I’ve also learned that before going into a project with anyone I need to ensure that roles are strictly spelled out. I doubt I’ll do a similar project anytime in the future. If I want someone to play on a track, I’ll likely finish all the other parts first and then let them know exactly what I need. I’m not saying I’ll never collaborate with another lead guitarist, but I’ll make sure I go in with eyes wide open next time.