Half the songs on Present Tense started out some time ago and half were newer. None had ever been properly recorded.
I made the decision that I was going to record the whole album myself, to retain complete control of what went on the final album. This meant compromising, often quite a lot, because I’m really not the world’s greatest musician. My guitar playing is limited, my keyboard skills quite poor and as for percussion and bass, well let’s just say I’m a complete novice.
But one of the benefits of modern recording software is that you can quite literally put songs together note by note, beat by beat. As I’ve previously said Cubase is the recording software I use and it really is hugely comprehensive, which is very good. What’s not so good is that I had to learn how to use it.
This is where the internet really came into it’s own. I watched YouTube video after video gradually building up a base level of knowledge and starting to transfer that knowledge into practice as I started recording.
My Guardian Angel was complete but I sat down with Jermaine and explained that it was one thing recording something to be played as a tribute at a funeral, in my opinion it was a whole different thing releasing something as a track on an album, so we agreed to re-work it. It was the catalyst that got me going.
Throughout 2020 I put the album together. It’s a slow, slow process. First I had to write the song, about half of them were already written but to sequence the album I needed songs that fitted into the overall album. An example of that was Hold On Tight. I’d already decided that a previously written song Let’s Go Out Dancing Tonight would start the album and that The Whole Day Through would be a good third track but nothing I had already written fitted between them. As soon as Hold On Tight started to come together it just seemed to me to be the ideal song to come between the two previously written songs.
Another song that was written during the album production was the final song on the album Dance With The Angels. I nicked the finger picking idea from YouTube star Paul Davids (check him out here) and quickly put the song together once I had the title.
More than even My Guardian Angel it was my personal song to Christine and to me it evokes such strong memories of her final hours. The idea for the birdsong which starts and ends the track came to me from remembering a recording I’d made of myself on a cassette tape in London many, many years before. It was summer and the window was open and birdsong was captured on the recording. I don’t know what reminded me of that but the idea just seemed to fit the ‘feel’ of the song.
I learnt a tremendous amount recording the album and also forget a lot of what I’d learnt. I would search the Cubase libraries for hours for the right sounds or the sounds I heard in my head and often ditch those very sounds later. Time and again I would think I was going down the wrong path with a particular song only for it to suddenly come together. It taught me to have a bit more faith in my abilities and to trust myself.
Gradually, the completed songs started to outnumber the uncompleted songs and I started to hand them over to Jermaine to mix and produce starting with the 2021 January release of My Guardian Angel. We’d agreed that we’d release three more songs and then release the album.
Let’s Go Out Dancing was the next single and was also going to be the lead track on the album. At the time I still thought in terms of selective single releases and then an album release as was done back in the days when physical sales not digital sales were the norm. I clearly had a lot to learn.
Only For You and then Gravity Wins were released as singles and then on May 7th 2021 my first commercially available album was released.
Literally a lifetime playing music had finally produced something tangible. I had my songs on the internet and a CD in my hands. Little did I realise that the hard work was only just starting and what I thought I knew was only scratching the surface.
What I learnt in recording and releasing Present Tense is both something I carried forward into my future recording but also something I’ll share in future articles in the Tech section of this website. Obviously I don’t have all the answers to the many secrets of recording and releasing music but I’m happy to share what I’ve learnt in the hope that it will help others, not least if they don’t replicate the many mistakes I’ve made.