Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Song of the Day

The Song of the Day project is the most ambitious thing that we've done. We concepted the project in 2005, and really only began work on it in 2006, when we pulled in all of the musicians that we knew, and declared that we wanted to try to release a song for every day of 2007.

There's some confusion about how we've done Song of the Day because there's two ways to do projects like these. One is to wake up every morning knowing that you will write and record a song. The other way is to write and record a song for every day of the year. We did the latter. We might not write music every day, but some of the songs take months to complete, to get just the right vocals, or to add a violin part, or record the drums. Often, there are only a few people in the studio at a time, but each of us record on multiple songs when we are there. For a recent set of songs, for example, I think that two days in a row, I was in the studio recording saxophones, flute, clarinet, and bass clarinet, all in succession on four or five songs. Not all of the songs are so developed, of course. Some are just a guy with a guitar in one session, and then done.

We've worked with over 30 musicians on this project, and collaborate whenever we run into people that can contribute. This keeps the songs sounding different from each other. We make an effort to use different singers, different instrumentation, and different styles as often as we can. We'd get bored otherwise. As you can tell by the liner notes on each song, however, there's certainly a core of people that work on most of the songs. Just to clarify what we're doing with this: we aren't bringing other bands in to the project, we're really just pulling in collaborations in from time to time. Actually, many times, someone will come to the studio and lay down a guitar and vocal track, and we'll fill in the bass, drums, and whatever else the song calls for. And many times, they are amazed at what happens to the song afterwards.

The website for The Song of the Day was a major project itself. It uses MySQL, PERL, Apache, Flash, and ID3 tags, and it was started from a blank text file. The concept for the site's design came from a cross between webcomics (with elements from megatokyo.com, ozyandmillie.org, and sluggy.com), a tear-off quote calendar, and a podcast site. Matt Scholtka came up with the excellent visual design from that mishmash of ideas, and Dana Huyler who created the award-winning buttonmen.com website, did the backend work. I had the concept for the site, generally, and coordinated their efforts. The site is automatic. No one has to be awake at midnight central time to change the song over. And the RSS files for the daily podcasts are automatically created at midnight as well.

Mixing and engineering are mostly done by Jason and Tom, both of which have shouldered the vast unsung gruntwork of pulling the music for this this project together. Some of us are done when we finished our parts, but they are the ones who will then pull together the parts into the right places, mix the levels, add those little tweaks that make a song so much better, and then master it down to a MP3 file. Let's not forget tagging and naming the files right, too. All of that stuff takes a lot of time, believe us. And so they are definitely the workhorses of the project.

So that is the "what." We haven't discussed the "why?" And that's actually rather simple. We love songwriting, and it's a great creativity technique to do things based on quantity, rather than quality. You have to shut up that little critic in your head that insists that the new song you're working on is stupid. The only question becomes: "Is this a song?" And if the answer is yes, then you just press ahead. When you collaborate with talented people, even what seems to be a stupid idea can become something amazing. So, it's been an incredible process so far. We've been very pleased with how some of the songs have come out, and it's been a great experience for all of us.

One thing is for sure: We're never bored. Some people like going out drinking. Some like to watch movies. Some go fishing. We like writing and recording songs. And with so many songs yet to write, every time we get together we look at each other and say the same thing: "Let's write a song."