Lifeline, or How Not To Record a Performance Video

Writing and performing an original song is hard enough without shooting yourself in the foot when trying to record a video of it.

Yet there I was at Robin’s Roast Coffee Shop in December 2017, trying to record a live version of a new song I had just written called “Lifeline.” In retrospect, I should have used a lifeline to phone a friend to record it for me.

The whole thing started off easily enough. I had what I thought was a catchy guitar riff, added a variation of that chord structure to act as the verse, then sat down to write the lyrics. I’d done this a number of times already, and figured this would be a piece of cake. The lyrics came pretty easily, and within a few hours I thought I had a pretty good song.

Speaking of catchy guitar riffs…another song I’d written around the same time, “So Alive,” featured another interesting chord progression. They say that there’s nothing new under the sun, but I thought I’d really hit on something special with this one. So much so that I recorded a number of different versions of it, and made it the title song of my first album:

Then, a few months later, I had occasion to learn the song “One Headlight” by The Wallflowers – I wanted to play it during one of my gigs at the coffee shop. Imagine my surprise, then, that as I’m learning this tune, I come to find that the chorus of that song was nearly identical to my song, just sped up a little bit and in a different key. I had unconsciously plagiarized the son of one of the greatest singer-songwriters of the last fifty years.

Anyway, back to December 2017 – the setup I used at the coffee shop was your basic mic-stand-with-iPad configuration – you can see it exactly as it was in the picture at the top of this post. There was very little space to spread out and move around, so I had to be very compact.

One of the things I loved so much about playing at Robin’s Roast was that the acoustics were very good – I could play at one volume at the front of the shop and there was very little degradation of volume or clarity as you moved to the back of the store.

Another nice thing was that most of the clientele were there to drink coffee and work on homework (at least on the nights I played), so there was very little pressure to “put on a show” – I just played three hours of background music, basically. It really allowed me to experiment with new songs, arrangements, and sounds.

I also thought that it would be the perfect opportunity to record a video of me performing my new song in a live setting. The table right in front of where I set up happened to be empty, so by leaning my phone on the napkin holder and hitting “record,” I was able to record my performance.

Ordinarily I don’t take breaks during a gig, so if it’s a three hour show, I play for three hours, straight through. On this night, however, after about an hour of playing I stopped, set up my phone on the empty table in front of me, announced to the handful of patrons that I was going to play a new song I had just written, and launched into “Lifeline.” When I finished, I retrieved my phone, put it in my pocket, and proceeded with my regularly scheduled show.

The reception after the song was very heartwarming – everyone seemed to enjoy it, and I even received a nice compliment (and a $10 tip) from a couple that left shortly afterwards, saying they really enjoyed that song in particular.

After the show, I packed up all my stuff, finished my coffee while making small talk with the manager, Caleb, then loaded out to my car. Once I had the engine running and the car had heated up sufficiently (it was early December, remember), I pulled out my phone to watch my performance of “Lifeline.”

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here you go:

That is correct – I didn’t bother to check the alignment of where everything was in relation to the angle I was shooting from. For all intents and purposes, it is a four minute video of me singing my song from behind my iPad.

To say I was disappointed in myself and feeling pretty stupid is an understatement. I couldn’t believe I’d made such a rookie mistake. I’d recorded dozens of performance videos in my living room and at the bar where I’d been doing open mic. How could I be so dumb? It boggles the mind.

I resolved right then and there to do it again next week, but didn’t follow through. Then the gig ended when the shop changed owners, and the opportunity had passed.

Fortunately, I have a good friend who, aside from being a good sport, is a damn fine musician, and he learned the song so we could add it to our repertoire. So without further ado, here is our version of Lifeline:

Lifeline recorded Dec 10, 2017 by Hardwick & Caldwell

The song had finally made it to video, though not in the way I’d originally intended. However, the fact that I got to release it to the world with a good friend more than made up for my earlier screw up, and made the whole experience that much more meaningful for me. I wouldn’t change a single moment of the whole experience. It ended exactly the way it should have.

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