See What They See

December 15, 2002

Phil Gomes makes a good point on his blog, referring to bands who criticize their past releases when promoting a new album. Metallica and Creed are singled out, although his emphasis is on Scott Stapp, the lead singer of Creed:

He said that there were songs on the early records that he just could not listen to anymore and had to skip when listening to them on CD. As you might guess, there were no skip-worthy songs on the new record, as is always the case when musicians take this direction with their interviews.

Rightly so, Phil points out how much of a slap in the face those comments are to fans who love those songs. I understand and agree with his perspective... and yet I can also empathize with Stapp's comments, having felt the same way about my own music.

Now before you go claiming my head is swelled, I'm not claiming the same stature as Creed or Metallica or any professional musician for that matter. I'm not quite that stupid :) However, I have said many times that I feel embarrassed by my Rubicon album from 1997. Whenever you work on something intensely, it's easy to think afterwards "if only I'd developed this song more... if only I sang better.. if only I'd had access to the audio gear I have now". It feels irritating to hear all these imperfections that don't match the song in your head, the one you're trying to write and record. Even Bono was embarrassed by his vocals in the recordings for Joshua Tree. It's easy to feel ashamed, because you feel you haven't given a perfect performance. The world deserves nothing less than perfection.

But the fans of a song aren't tainted with the song creation process. They can accept the song for what it is and what it means to them, and generally they won't worry if the basskick isn't compressed enough. Even though a songwriter tends to feel their latest song is the best thing they've ever written while they're writing it, and that their older material is substantially flawed - listeners react on a different level. Moby's tracks on Play are good because they have tape hiss. Kurt Cobain sounds incredible on Territorial Pissings because he loses his voice at the end. The original recording of the Sweetest Thing is great because Bono's voice is genuine and heartfelt - the "flawed" peformance is what makes it.

Last week, I got some feedback from a friend I'd sent a new demo to. I feel embarrassed by one song in particular on that CD - I don't like the vocals, the synthesizers sound too amateurish, it all sounds stuck-up and offkey. Despite that, it was her favorite track, and the favorite of all those she played it to. I wasn't even going to finish writing that song, now I feel obligated! But I also feel reassured and inspired, and that's a good thing.

So, it pays to persevere, treat those who hear your music with respect, and listen to their feedback. Perhaps you can't hear what's good about your music right now, but if they can, that's all that matters.

If only I could force myself to remember that.