The initial phase of writing my music is almost always done in solitude and in the case of “Hard to Bare”, in a blanket fort. But every song that I have completed (written, recorded, mixed, mastered and released) has been the result of collaboration. Often times working by myself I come up with an idea and am excited for a moment, but am unable to bring it to life and I begin to question if it is good or not. To keep me motivated and focused I try to find a collaborator. This can be a struggle, however, because I can’t just show a rough draft to anybody. There is so much missing from it. Most people are used to seeing polished work, so even if my idea is cool, many people have trouble seeing potential, they only see that it is incomplete. Fortunately I have been able to find a couple of people who can see the potential in these early phases.
About a year and a half ago I was in a writing lull. I was in a band and we were playing lots of live shows, which meant more time rehearsing and playing music and less time writing it. I had a bunch of incomplete songs that I wanted to finish, so I decided to send six of them to my producer friend Max. Max is a videographer and a music producer I had worked with in the past who I respect and am inspired by as an artist. He decided to work on “Hard to Bare.” Over the next couple of months, we worked mainly through emailing drafts of the song back and forth.
Out of the six songs, “Hard to Bare” was the oldest, lowest quality recording. The four-year old song was very mellow and minimal with just guitars, vocals and light percussion. I figured we would just use it as a reference or demo and re-record everything. Max had other ideas and said that he liked the DIY quality of the lo-fi recordings, so I emailed him the stems (raw project recordings) and he got to work on a new draft.
This is the original demo I sent to Max:
In the first iteration, Max layered in different rhythms and melodic lines, and the song immediately became a whole new creation. He was able to take my stripped-down ideas and fill out the sound in a way that I couldn’t have done on my own. He found a structure that moved nicely, added some heavy bass sounds, and a funky electric keyboard line, and the song went from a really raw indie-acoustic sound to a more R&B/pop feel. However, there was still something missing.
We both liked the mellow and intimate nature of the song but thought the chorus could pop and stand out more. Max suggested that I stretch my voice and do some belting. This led me to re-write the melody and some of the lyrics. I recorded a dozen different vocal takes and layered them in. With this new chorus in place I heard the need for ambient background elements and added them as well. The final step in the collaborative process was to re-record the vocals for the verses. We decided to do this together at his house and it was one of only two times we collaborated in person.
At the time of this project I had a full-time job and Max was working as a videographer. We initially set a sort of arbitrary two-month timeframe for ourselves to finish the song, however, because of the back-and-fourth nature of our process it wound up taking six months.
When I first sent “Hard to Bare” to Max, the song was an interesting idea, but it really felt like a rough sketch. Through collaboration, the song gained complexity and soul and came alive with color, dimension, and contrast. We both had high expectations of each other, which helped me keep my focus and attention to detail sharper than I do when recording on my own. Together, we were able to keep the excitement alive and come up with something really unique that we were both proud of. It is important for me to collaborate with people that I admire, who are dedicated, hard-working, and also bring their artistic angle to the project. Max makes really cool shit and he works hard so he fit the bill perfectly. It has been a year and a half since we finished the song and its finally coming out this Friday!