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  • Ani McManus

Empty Roads ~ Beginner Notes:

Updated: Jan 19

https://www.youtube.com/@scjam: Empty Roads video


As it turns out, my idea of learning to play guitar through songwriting* isn’t that effective. I get so focused on lyrics and melody, recording, and video-making, that practicing goes by the wayside— too much carting around, and no horseplay.

Inspiration for Empty Roads: The noise and density of city life is turning me into a cranky old(er) lady. I want to be able to step out my front door and be bombarded by silence.

Songwriting: To my dismay, this song was a gift that kept on giving. I was well into recording, when new ideas for the lyrics started flowing in. I eventually had to force myself to stick with the original version, and take comfort in the fact that the great Leonard Cohen wrote 150 verses to Hallelujah. If he couldn’t reign himself in, how are we mere mortal, beginner songwriters supposed to? Hallelujah to that!

Recording: By the time I remembered that the key of G is not my vocal-friend, I was too far into recording. The idea of starting over, with capo, made me want to pull out my hair. On top of that, the melody kept evolving. I could either ignore the inspiration, or layer it on, and blend. I chose the latter, with fingers crossed.

Every time I’m about to record a new song, my brother, an accomplished musician, asks if I am going to use a metronome. I finally took the hint this time, and tried the click track, which I quickly kicked it to the curb. It kept tripping me up. Coincidently, learning guitar made me want to be in a band (again, cart before the horse), so I tried a drum track for the first time. Eureka! It doubled as a metronome, and has a name—Logan! My first band mate.

Overall, this project, was exponentially more challenging than the previous ones. There were many times the little voice inside my head asked, “What’s the point?” Eventually, I took the advice William Stafford gave to his struggling poetry students: “Lower your expectations.”

Biggest Wins: The mysterious fog of EQ is ever so slightly beginning to lift. I also “mastered” for the first time (none of the songs I’ve recorded before have been mastered). I chose the pop pre-set.

Video: This one was relatively easy to make. In an act of self-anarchy and fatigue, I basically tossed everything into the air, and kept what landed. I don’t know if lack of visual cohesiveness works, but I give myself an A for throwing caution to the wind.

Conclusion: I think I’m beginning to let go of trying to make things other people will like. Pleasing myself is exhausting enough.


*See: A Beginner Begins https://www.youtube.com/@scjam


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