It’s hard to believe that nearly one year has passed since I undertook my 40 in 40 project. I’ve been meaning to write a reflections post since the day I finished, so the subsequent Ash Wednesday seems like as good a day as any to finally pull one together.
40 in 40 wasn’t actually a thing until I decided it would be a thing, which I guess was sometime after the third day (all symbolism aside). The first song just happened to come on the night of Ash Wednesday 2011; for some long-forgotten reason I was feeling sad, so I grabbed my guitar and made a recording. At the time it was just an excuse to test out a new piece of gear - I had no idea what I was getting myself into - however, there was no stopping me once I decided I would record 40 covers in 40 days and made a personal commitment to the project.
In those first few days I made up the rules as I went along and by the end of the first week they were set: one song per day, no band could be repeated, everything you heard had to be my performance (no loops/samples), and all work had to be completed by midnight. I ran the full gamut of emotions over the course of the next 40+ days: frustration, self-doubt, validation, disappointment, pride, self-confidence, anger, commitment, and, above all, exhaustion - both mental and physical. There were many nights when I questioned why I was even bothering to continue. Was anyone actually enjoying it? Who was even listening? Did anyone have any idea how much work was involved? Was I growing as a musician or as a person? Could I actually pull it off?
Some songs received more love from all of you than others while a few received more love than even I think they deserved. One of the things that hindsight has made clearest is that I was my biggest critic throughout the project; I imagine most artists realize that fact at some point in their lives. I didn’t really think about it at the time, but looking back it’s pretty obvious: I was recording some of my all-time favorite music - songs that I’d heard hundreds of times each - and judging myself against the originals*; I didn’t have the benefit of hearing each recording as a fresh new song.
However, a large part of my audience was hearing those songs for the first time ever. Sure, certain songs were true classics that I was putting a new spin on, but there were plenty more that were deep cuts from long forgotten artists. For example: my biggest disappointment of the project was #35: Splashdown’s The Archer. The original is truly gorgeous and it was probably a bit too ambitious for me to attempt and I think that definitely comes across in my cover, yet I guess it might not sound quite as bad to someone who’s never heard the original, as they don’t have that point of comparison.
My perceived failure on that track was just another reminder of something I learned early on: while it’s good to push my boundaries from time to time, it can also damaging to my self-confidence. The best way to regain my motivation and drive to continue is to return to my roots and stick to my strengths. That’s why I followed-up The Archer with CCR’s Susie Q, which turned out to be one of my favorites. That confidence booster was enough to propel me through the final week.
I’m not afraid to toot my own horn a little bit. I still don’t think most people grasp the amount of hard work and skill that was involved in the project. I’m not saying that I’m some sort of virtuoso - because I have ears and I hear what I did and some of it is pretty cringe-worthy - but I do think I have an above average musical ear and adaptability. I can hear a song and relatively quickly figure out how to play it. Without that skill I might not have been able to do the project.
While it’s true that I was quite familiar with a lot of the songs, that doesn’t mean I had actually ever attempted to play them. The vast majority of the songs were learned on the night of the recording, and that process increased in difficulty and complexity when I began making full-band tracks - including drums, bass, extra guitars, layered vocals, and auxiliary instruments. On most nights I’d get home from work shortly after 5pm and dive right into learning the song. More than half the nights I skipped dinner completely. 5 hours of sleep on any weeknight was truly a luxury. It was without a doubt one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.
Enough time has passed that I can now look back on the project and consider it a success. The fact is that I made a commitment to myself, followed through with it, never cheated, and ended up with 41 recordings that are all mostly listenable, including a few duds, but also including a few real gems. In the end, it was truly all of your support that kept me going and made the whole project possible, so thank you.
So, will I be doing it again? Not a chance. I’m happy with the past and can’t see myself improving on anything I did nor taking things to any higher level. My time and mental focus is better spent on other musical endeavors.
I still welcome all feedback on the project, both positive and negative. Tell me what you disliked, hated, liked, and loved. What was your favorite track? Your least favorite? Is there any song you wish I’d redo or give a different treatment?
*I’ve uploaded all of the original artist’s songs. Click here if you’re interested in downloading some or all of them.
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