YouTube Channel 

I recently started trying to upload videos to YouTube regularly. There is probably a little bit of quality over quantity in this equation. That is to say, these are not all perfect. I may re-record some. I most likely will examine my recording process. I happen to love the sound of a song in a room, with no frills. However, I understand that "reality does not always make for great theatre." 

Anyway, an ever-growing selection of originals and covers can now be found here:

Steven Fletcher Music YouTube Channel

The Great Unmasking 

14 months. I played every gig from March 2020 to May 13, 2021 in a mask. As I wrote previously, it presented challenges. When the CDC finally gave the green light for fully-vaccinated adults to do things like sing without a mask, I was surprised by my reaction. I mean, I was happy, but I was far more subdued than I expected. I actually had a gig that night. So, I was happy to be able to sing without a mask, but also a little weirded out. I had gotten used to it, in a way, as much as I lamented it. Anyway, after about 30 seconds of being able to sing naturally and being able to actually hear consonants through my monitor, I was overcome with happiness. Here are some video bits from the very evening of the great unmasking, so to speak. I was winging it with a couple JGB-repertoire standards, for all you deadheads. :-)

Things I've Learned About Singing in a Mask 

It's the end of March 2021. The pandemic has been with us for over a year. Things are improving. People are getting vaccinated. I, like many, feel like I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. I have been extremely fortunate in that I have managed to continue playing music through the past year. While not maintaining the number of shows of the past few years, I have managed to keep playing.  

One necessity for doing this was playing in a mask. I know there is debate around masks, or should I say it has been a problematic issue. Whatever. It wasn't for me. I like simplicity. I like eliminating decisions. I also am an avid distance runner and a singer, so anything that has the potential to mess up my lungs seems like something I really want to avoid. So, while in public indoor places, I have worn a mask for over a year. Full stop. No exceptions. 

In the first few months of the shutdowns, I was wearing a 2-ply cotton mask (my wife makes them), but as things got seemingly more complex, I opted for a KN95. The cloth ones are much easier to sing in. The KN95 or N95 or any other mask that offers significant protection muffles your voice quite a bit. 

I can manage pretty well on solo shows. My vocals only have to compete with my guitar. I have noticed, seeing videos of the band, that the mask is way more problematic when trying to cut through electric guitar, bass, and drums.  

Anyway, here are a few things I've learned about singing in a mask. 

1. It is difficult. No way around it. It's harder to breathe (though you adjust). Your nose feels pinched and you sound more nasal. You can't move your mouth and face in the full range of motion that singing sometimes requires.  

2. Your monitoring becomes really important. I have never had really bad pitch problems. I mean, I'm by no means a great (or even very good) singer, but I can stay generally on pitch. However, not being able to hear my own voice through the band has really made it harder to sing in tune. It sounds obvious, but it is a factor. 

3. You need to turn up your vocals in the front of house. I am just now realizing how important this is. I know, I know, it took me a year. It's not an issue, as I said, playing solo. With the band, it is a big issue. 

4. If you want to cut through, over-emphasize sibilance and consonants. I just figured this one out after a particularly difficult 2-gig weekend with the band. It helped to hit the "S" sound harder and emphasize consonants to try to push lyrics through. It's kind of ridiculous when you are playing covers. I mean, everyone knows the songs. Nonetheless, it's something to think about. 

5. Not all KN95/N95 etc. masks are created equal. Size, thickness, strap length, and sound muffling all vary a LOT. Find the good ones for you and hoard them. Well, maybe in a few months it will be a non-issue, but it's something I learned. 

6. Finally, some people just don't get it. They disagree with my wearing a mask for political reasons. They say they can't hear my voice. Now, having seen a lot of video of the band through all of this, I know this to be untrue. At worst, my vocals were a little low in the mix. Personally, I think there is always a lot of "hearing with the eyes" in music. People think visually exciting bands sound better. People automatically assume that someone singing in a mask will be harder to hear, so their brains conspire to make them right about their assumptions. Some people get downright unpleasant about it. I ignore them.  

Being diligent about wearing a mask has allowed me to continue to do what I love to do without too much interruption for the past year. All of the cons to wearing one are outweighed by the fact that I believe doing so has protected me and others. 

I could go on and on, and I think I have. However, we are closing in on some kind of return to normalcy in the near future. In the grand scheme of things, having to cover my nose and mouth when I'm in an indoor public space for 12-15 months or so is just not that bad. 

That's all for now.

Step-by-step Release Schedule 

File this under "things I wish I knew way before I was in my 50s." This is, apparently, the schedule for releasing a song.

1. Get inspired, write a song. Love the song. Hate the song. Re-write the song. Forget all about the song. Find the song months later. Re-write the song a few more times. Decide that there is "something there."

2. Start recording the song. Spend days on drum programming. Have a few computer crashes, just 'cause...why not? Track guitars, bass, use midi to approximate what a keyboard or piano player might do.

3. Record lead vocals. Record lead vocals. Record lead vocals. Finally get some vocals you like. Decide you hate the lyric. Re-write the lyric. Repeat the process. Then, double-track the lead vocals and add layers of harmonies.

4. Edit the parts. Move them around. Imagine you are Mutt Lange. It helps you justify the time spent editing background vocals so they sound almost acceptable.

5. Realize that the guitars are fighting with the drums. Wonder why the hell you didn't realize this back WHEN THERE WERE ONLY GUITARS AND DRUMS ON THE TRACK. Try to move the guitars around. Fail. Re-record guitars.

6. Start mixing the song. Keep mixing the song. Hear the song so many times that it consumes your waking and sleeping life. Love the song. Hate the song. Get "close" on several mixes, but just not quite there.

7. Realize that you suck at mixing. 

8. Abandon the song. Walk away. Do other things. Focus on your work. Write other songs. Paint your house. 

9. Forget all about the song, for the most part.

10. Let months pass.

11. Achieve detachment.

12. Re-visit song.

13. Realize it isn't that bad. It's not going to change the world or anything, but it's not complete crap.

14. Finish the mix.

15. Let go and release the song.

I'm told Bob Dylan never listens to his own material. I've heard Hugh Grant never sees his own movies. I used to wonder how on earth this was possible. I mean, I wrote music that I wish existed but didn't. Wasn't that the whole reason for doing it?

However, I've come to see the value of detachment in many ways. It doesn't mean not doing your best in the moment, at least ideally it does not. What it can mean is that you do the best you can and then let go of that moment. It means living in the present. Learn and go forward.

I just wish the process were a little faster.

Narrative Resonance 

Wow. How had I never heard this term until today? Narrative resonance basically refers to people responding to or feeling a connection to a story.

I think that the physics definition of resonance is applicable here. Resonance, that is, defined as "The reinforcement or prolongation of sound by reflection from a surface or by the synchronous vibration of a neighboring object." In this sense, something within a story (or painting, or film, or even a song) strikes a chord within the audience. That chord, having been struck, proceeds to resonate further. Perhaps the moment of resonance extends into days, weeks, months, or even, in some cases, years.

Some friends and I were discussing various Rush albums and how well they have aged. Recalling some of those lyrics that were so precious and formative to me as a teenager indeed caused them to resonate once again, albeit at a different frequency. The person in their 50s may not feel a lyric with the intensity of their younger self, but they may be able to notice subtleties that they couldn't all those years ago. Nonetheless, the work still resonates.

I don't need a song to sound like I could have written it to strike a resonant tone in my heart. It can be something far removed from my own experience. There are even songs in other languages that resonate strongly for me. Some songs by my favorite Japanese pop band, Spitz, have a sense of melancholy and youthful longing that brings me to tears, even when I have little to no idea what the song is really about. Maybe that is due to the confluence of words, melody, and harmony that makes up a pop song. Maybe I'm just misinterpreting everything. Both scenarios are equally plausible.

Regardless of narrative resonance being simple or complex, direct or vague, intentional or magical, it is one of the powerful aspects of connection between people. We tend to overlook the beauty of creative pursuits, all too often at our own peril. Maybe it is good to be reminded that, at their core, many creative undertakings are an attempt to connect with others. We are driven by a need to reach out and hear others' stories. We are driven by a need to share our stories. In some moments of grace, those stories resonate.

Why is Music Free? 

People way smarter than me have theorized about why music has become a free commodity in the post-web era. I don't pretend to have the answers. I think about it a fair amount, though.

Is it because music was easy to digitize and compress into downloadable (and then stream-able) form? Yes, partly. Did the music industry catch on too late? Yes, or so I have read. Are musicians used to giving their work away too readily? At this point, definitely.

One thing that I wonder about is the lack of a tangible object involved in modern music. For example, my wife makes accessories that she sells via the web and at craft fairs. It would be pretty weird for her to just tell everyone who visits her booth, "Hey, just take whatever you want." It would be even weirder if she set prices on her website at $0.00 and then essentially paid to ship products to people.

However, at this point, this is what musicians are often doing. Thank God for live gigs.

The "Good Enough" Conversation Never Ends 

To revisit a bit of what I touched on in the previous post, I think that anyone in a creative pursuit (or most pursuits, it seems to me) is faced with the question of "what is good enough?"

I know there are other questions, e.g., "How do you work this thing? How do I get from A to B?" and so forth. However, many of the questions that people face centered around "What am I doing? Is this worth my time? Do I have value? Does what I created have value? Should I just quit?" are really just different ways of asking "Is this good enough?"

I understand that we live in a world that is likely in need of some editing. The post-YouTube universe is awash with content. Is all of it great? Hardly. However, it is representative of a cross-section of people's interests, thoughts, and activities. As such, it is just a big mirror for all of us.

Once upon a time, artists and non-artists alike didn't have the ability to instantly create and share. Film took time to develop. Everyone didn't have a recording studio on their laptop. People couldn't shoot a movie on a rotary phone. 

Now that the gatekeepers are gone, the fundamental question of "Is it good enough?" falls to the individual with control of their own destiny. The universe (and self-promotion) will decide the rest.

I'm a firm believer in things being good. I believe in doing your best, given the parameters you have. I am also a believer in doing things, instead of thinking about them. That is the balance. That is why I love playing live. I don't have time to agonize over the mistake I just made, I have to keep playing and move on. It is a state of "infinite now." Additionally, the only way to do it is to do it. I can't intellectualize about a show. I just have to go play it, then the next, then the next.

With recorded music, good enough is a tougher decision. However, at some point, it becomes counterproductive to agonize over it. An imperfect line of vocal phrasing that drives me up the wall for years will suddenly be what gives a song character when I revisit it. A note bent flat or sharp on a guitar solo suddenly has charm when I hear it years later. A song that I thought was not good enough suddenly sounds like a little piece of magic when enough time has passed for me to be somewhat objective.

Someone once said that comparing yourself to others or an ideal in your head is a ticket to unhappiness. Comparing yourself to an earlier version of yourself is more useful. Maybe they are on to something. Aiming to do your best may not mean never being satisfied. I wish I had thought of it that way years ago.

In Praise of Completion 

There are some recent songs up on the website that I would say are not exactly finished. However, I reached a point where I had to essentially abandon them to move on. I'm not saying that this is some unique epiphany. I'm just saying that sometimes you take something as far as it needs to go.

If I had all the years back that I spent being paralyzed by some desire for perceived perfection, well...I'd be a much younger man. Sure, maybe I wouldn't be quite as wise (or jaded), but I would have produced a hell of a lot more content.

So, here's to taking something you've worked on and casting it to the four winds...or chucking it out the window...and moving on.

Can't wait for what's next.