In retrospect it was no surprise that Christine liked my songs, that she played them over and again on her car stereo because Christine supported me in just about anything I wanted to do. To be fair it was mutual, we just fitted together.
A couple or so years after we met and started living together I broached the subject of getting a dedicated music computer and starting to do something ‘more’ with my songs. There was no negotiation, Christine just said go for it and so with some trepidation I arrived at the door of Dawsons Music in Warrington where I stepped blindly into the world of digital audio workstations (DAWs) or computers to make and record music on.
I’d read quite a bit about DAWs in magazines like Sound On Sound and I was reasonably OK with using computers in work so how hard could this be? The answer is actually quite hard. Incredibly hard. Remember these were the days before the internet really took off, before YouTube showed you what to do with everything and before forums replaced instruction manuals.
Apparently I needed a computer, monitor, some bespoke music making software, a microphone, a keyboard, speakers, headphones and a load of cables to join everything together. To be fair to the bloke I spent a lot of time with from Dawsons he was really good considering he was dealing with a complete novice. I didn’t know what questions to ask I was gently led into spending a great deal of money to fulfil my long held dream of recording something of what I heard in my head when I wrote my songs.
He introduced me to the recording and production software from Steinberg called Cubase which I’ve used ever since that fateful first day. I think it was version 5 but I’m not 100% sure about that. We’re on version 12 now for some reference.
The day arrived when I went to Warrington to pick all the gear up. They showed me how to assemble it, took it all apart and handed me a car boot full of boxes.
I can still vividly remember putting all the components together, trying to replicate what I’d been shown in the shop. It took me an age before finally I fired up the computer only to find that actually, even back then, Cubase was a huge program and I was about to embark on a colossal learning curve.
If you’ve never used quality music software then think of it like learning a language or learning a huge computer program, something like Microsoft Office. Cubase is really that big. All I had was an hour or so in a shop and a manual that in the end I printed out that ran to several hundred pages. To put it mildly I had a lot to learn.
I also had to get my head around MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) which was a rabbit hole of epic proportions that I fell into and didn’t really emerge from for years. My piano keyboard skills were, and still are, very limited and I simply couldn’t understand how MIDI could be used to make music when the instrument itself didn’t actually make a sound.
I didn’t even understand how to use a tempo track, let alone anything more complex. And as I said there was precious little help available on the internet or local to me. I did call into Dawsons a couple of times and ask what I felt sure were rudimentary questions that would have them rolling about laughing at after I left. The fact was that I was left on my own to work out how to use all this equipment and produce something tangible.
Slowly, very slowly, I started to make progress and the dream of recording myself started to become a reality. I started to record tracks and build songs with multiple instruments and multiple voices which had been a dream for as long as I’d played the guitar.
Once I’d started recording I could loose myself for hours at a time in a world that existed only in my headphones. As frustrating as my lack of skill with the DAW was it was magical in equal part. I was fairly used to hearing myself thanks to my previous efforts with multi tracking cassette tapes but now I was hearing myself crystal clear no matter how many tracks I layered.
Despite the massive learning curve and the realisation that there were huge tracts of Cubase I didn’t understand or didn’t dare go near recording my music was both intriguing and deeply satisfying.
Throughout 2003 I toiled away slowly building up a number of my songs into something I was reasonably pleased with. The question was what to do with my labours?