During 2023, I posted a video of myself singing a different song every week throughout the year. Each one went up on YouTube on Sunday at noon, time and weekday chosen arbitrarily. Yesterday, the last video posted: “Carol for New Year’s Day.”
Short version: man, this feels good to have done. It was a lot of fun along the way, too. I sure know a lot of songs, and sharing them with people via this method fulfills a need in my soul. I want to do more live performing in the coming months and years, but sharing songs on the internet is its own delight and I want to go on doing it, to some extent, no matter what the rest of my performing life looks like. Also: man, this was tough. No single part of the process felt tough while I was doing it, but the continued act of going on recording and preparing it as far in advance as I needed to – that part was tough and it relied on some of my least reliable qualities (scheduling, objectivity about what to leave in and what to take out,
This has made me notice how difficult it is to do a project where you prepare multiple steps days in advance – even if the preparation is fun, and even if the end result is something you enjoy. Planning my preparation, with time to spare, was difficult. That realization has brought me some ease of mind and self-acceptance. I should explain that, in the past, I’ve tried to prepare other projects that would be shared with the world on regular dates over time, and I’ve done one or two installments and then fallen off the wagon and been embarrassed enough that I never went back to my task and quietly pretended it hadn’t happened. I thought I was failing at something very easy, and gave myself hell about it in private. Well, it turns out that it really is difficult to do. I wasn’t failing at a very simple thing, I was failing at a reasonably difficult thing.
And now I’ve attempted a timed task and succeeded. I feel pride and relief at having reached the end of the year. To some extent, I’m saying “Whew! Thank goodness I finished that!” But I also want a new task to take the place of the old one. It was difficult, and at the same time (not but, and) it was a lot of fun. It has been helping me make time to practice songs and learn new ones. Reserving an afternoon to record (sometimes over and over) has been an oasis in my life. A vital factor in my sticking with the task: my partner, Dan, took a lot of interest in my decision, and we had some deep conversations that helped me make up my mind how I wanted the year of recordings to go. Then, during the process, there were multiple times when I would have faded out, except that Dan encouraged me to keep going and made me notice that it was real and worthwhile, and it existed even outside my own head. And now it’s all outside my own head, and I’m pleased and proud.
One other important thing that I knew already deep in my heart: it’s really hard to share stuff I’ve made. Even when it’s good. Even when I believe in it. Even when I’m speaking right to an audience of friends, and friendly strangers, who I have every reason to believe wish me all the best. For example, I was going to make this update halfway through the year, to describe the experience so far, but I kept putting it off and then eight months had passed and I gave up on that idea, and here we are at the end of my process. Something in me that I don’t fully understand shies away from publicity of any kind. I don’t need to understand it. I just need to notice it and counteract it, because the whole point of this is to share my work with people, even when it’s imperfect and casually produced in my home. If I don’t make myself start sharing work, I’ll over-think it into impossible goals of perfection and never let anyone see it. That is self-sabotage writ large. During 2023, a little bit at a time, I started to get past that. I want to go on getting past it. Of course it will go on being difficult – I have a line I say a lot, “of course publicity is hard for us to do, if it came easy, we’d all have gone into advertising or something instead of creative projects.” But, beyond actually doing creative work, sharing that work is what I need to strive towards most right now.
The editing process was tricky, but it’s fun – now that I’m past the teething stages – and the song videos are short and need little editing, so it’s increasingly easy. But recording them in the first place, in a way that conveys what I sound and look like, and won’t be distracting or have obvious problems, is tricky. It’s also something that’s easy to optimize by doing repeatedly. My first few videos were relatively poorly framed and I hadn’t made up my mind what background to use and how to make myself stand out. There have been a lot of choices where I said “That’s a keeper” about something that improved the look or sound in a small but crucial way. I normally don’t wear makeup, for example, but I wanted my mouth to be super-visible and started wearing lipstick, and it worked out well. As to sound, I’m still in the early stages of knowing how to make myself sound good, but fortunately I have tools that do a lot of the work for me (a Yeti USB mic, in my case) and I started the year with a practical understanding of Audacity. (I only use recording/editing programs that are free. That may change someday, but for now the free downloads serve me well.) By far the biggest time commitment otherwise was writing the notes on each YouTube video. Some of them have the bare minimum on where I learned a song and who else sings it, but some of them have crucial information about my personal experience with a song or background you can’t get anywhere else, and I love talking about lyrics and song sources.
This has really made me notice where and how I learn my songs. By and large, I didn’t learn new songs for this project – the point was to record and share ones I already knew, at least a little. (“Beneath The Old Oak Tree” and “Rum She-iddity” were exceptions, as I also answered the call to learn and record songs from the Cleveland Collection this year) And I’ve been lucky enough to learn songs from all over, but a handful of performers have taught me a lot of songs. (I’ve already typed the word “song” so much it doesn’t look like a word anymore. Bear with me.) I have learned a lot from Margaret MacArthur, singer and folksong collector of honored memory. Just at a glance, “Reynardine,” “The Vermont Farmer’s Song,” “Maple Sweet,” “The Streets of Derry,” are all from her repertoire. I’ve also learned a lot of songs from John Roberts and Tony Barrand’s stellar recordings, solo, as a duo, or as two quarters of Nowell Sing We Clear. I’ve also noticed that I learned a lot of my repertoire in young adulthood, and ever since my late twenties (I’m 42 as of late 2023) I’ve absorbed songs at a trickle rather than my earlier rush. This happened because my life got a lot more complex right then, and ever since, I haven’t had the vast amount of free time that I used to spend learning songs without really noticing I was learning them. A lot of practice of fun things takes place without your noticing that it’s practice. Still, I don’t wish that I now had that amount of free time to wander into learning a tremendous number of songs. What I want now is to intentionally learn a small number of songs, using the time I have to spare, and keep doing that for the rest of my life. I’m already doing that to some extent, and my plans for 2024 creative work could increase that amount.
So, what’s next? Two projects, both involving sharing a creative project on a set schedule. I hope to make a separate announcement about this shortly, but to sum up, I want to post one song a month and one short story a month during 2024.
Songs: since 2023 has been a year of sharing songs I already know, 2024 should serve my need to learn new material. Each month, I’m going to learn one new song and post a video of myself performing it, ideally on the last day of the month. It has to be a piece I’ve never performed or fully known before; otherwise, the sky is the limit as to presentation (unaccompanied or not, solo or with other singers). That said, I’ll likely be keeping the presentation simple.
Stories: I write fiction, mostly fantasy/science fiction/speculative fiction/ghost stories/weird tales in general. I’ve had a small fraction of it published over the years, but it’s dawned on me slowly that I don’t care about being paid for my writing anymore, I just want to share my work and have people read it. I also struggle to finish short stories and keep them short instead of ballooning to novella length. To that end, I’m going to post a short story every month in 2024 (posting schedule to be determined later). Ideally these will be twelve very short stories that I write at a rate of one a month; however, if I really get stuck on this, I reserve the right to post older material that I wrote in prior years and never shared publicly.
I’ll do a monthly round-up announcement about the work I’ve shared, and invite (nay, thrive on) your reactions. Onward to sharing the bounty of our imaginations and experiences, in 2024!