About ten years earlier, while I was living at any number of beaches in Southern California, I had been actively writing songs. It actually started much earlier during my junior year in high school. As many kids of my generation had discovered, I had found that by doubling up on recording equipment, audio or video, I could edit pieces of things together. This included hopping from one VHS tape for video to another, and also worked with using two audio tape decks. The editing was a bit clumsy and there would remain artifacts of all sorts; rainbow streaks on video taped edits, and unsmooth transitions of audio cuts. Oh, where was Apple’s GarageBand at the time?
|My Casio Keyboard|
A couple of years later, a friend of mine bought himself a TEAC Tascam 244, 4-Track Cassette Mixer/Recorder Portastudio. This was about a two foot wide by one and one half foot high recorder with four rows of mixing pans, pots, and faders. You would put a plain audio-cassette into, and it would record input at about two times the speed of a regular audio cassette player, thereby improving the quality of the recording. He also had two synthesizers, an electric bass, and a drum machine. The first thing my friend did was to lay down keyboards, bass and drums for one of his favorite oldies, “Barbara Ann,” by the Beach Boys (and probably the Wrecking Crew), and then we put our harmonized vocals onto separate tracks. His ability to record was at such an improved level to my ears as compared to my double cassette player transferring that buying one of these contraptions became an instant goal of mine.
|My TEAC Tascam 246|
So I got to work experimenting with the recording process on my new mixer, which proved to be heavenly as compared to my prior technique. And while I still only had a little battery operated Casio keyboard, I was able to lay down better sounding tracks. This version I did of, “If I Only Had The Nerve” was one that I did with just three tracks; one vocal track, one keyboard track for main chords, and one for keyboard track for embellishments. I should explain too that I went for an effeminate voice and sped up the vocal track in the end for effect on this little experiment.
|My Roland D-20|
|My Fender Jazz Bass|
|My Warwick Buzzard|
During the time I was living at the beach, I was also able to get private song writing instruction from a very patient women named Robin Randall who was a teacher at an adult music school, and who had written myriads of songs, including some recorded by Jefferson Starship. She and I would meet in her mother’s Hollywood home, a dark quasi-mansion of sorts at the top of Beachwood Canyon, and we would regularly work out some of my songs on her piano. I always had a strong sense of melody and chord structure, as well as a natural understanding of how and where to use key changes. However, my lyric writing when I began was not focused enough for songs to be sold as “popular songs.” Though I essentially knew what my songs were about, their lyrics would meander with a style that was on the verge of free-verse and ultimately were not clear enough.
Robin was able to help me narrow my focus to the story or idea that I was trying to tell about in my songs. She also helped me to find ways of shortening interludes that I naturally put into songs. I had a tendency to put several instrumental breaks into my songs, a kind of, “place musical solo here,” peppered throughout my songs. But, like the treatment of a screenplay, a song has to be concise enough to be able to sell it to a performing artist in one or two playings. Then, at that point, they can do whatever they want with it. Robin greatly improved my ability to express ideas in the musical medium in this way.
By about 2002, I was working in an area of The Walt Disney Company that was called, Special Projects. My work ebbed and flowed a bit more than it had during the full on feature productions I had been working on up until then. So I had more time for myself here and there and decided that I had enough time and money to pull four or five songs that I had written in the past fifteen years and demo them at a higher quality level.
I found a music producer, Dave Waterbury, who had formerly been a touring guitarist for the band, Berlin, and who had a nice studio. He played several instruments such as keyboards, a wicked guitar, bass, and he also had great recording equipment. So I notated out my music sheets for each of the songs and hunted around for singers, some of whom I pulled from the Musician’s Institute in Hollywood. Concurrently, I was producing a short film called, “Jack’s Gift,” and we thought we might be able to use a song for the credits, so I wrote an additional, new song and included it in the batch of music I was producing.
I met with Dave at his studio once he had laid down some of the tracks, and they sounded great. We pulled in the singers that I found and recorded. It was an easy process because I had planned it all out pretty well; both the notation and the laying down of vocals and harmonies.
|Ross Tompkins and me.|
I remember delivering my finished tracks to a CD replicating company in Burbank and being very excited about being close to finishing the whole process. And when the boxes CD’s that I had ordered were ready, I brought them to my car, broke a box open, unwrapped the CD packaging, and loaded it into my Mustang’s CD player. And here it was. My project was finished. I remember feeling a glee that I’ve never felt before. This album was something I had totally created and had brought to fruition of my own doing in small, creative steps. I thought to myself, “Pete Townshend has lived nearly his entire life doing this, and yet, this is my first time.” It was very satisfying.
In order to compare one of the songs I created on my TEAC Tascam PortaStudio with a finished demo, listen to “Something’s Come Alive,” and then compare it to the final demo of, “Come On Come On.” By the time I put the polished demo onto my CD, I had rewritten many of the verses and retitled it. But at heart, it’s the same song about the same subject; two people who meet and risk the fear of failure for one more chance at love.
All of the tracks are available on iTunes under the artist, “Fred Herrman.” The five-song album is called, “Watercolers Over The Sea.” The title is a remembrance of my time writing songs in the Sea Castle apartment and watching winter storms roll in over the ocean.
And now, I think it’s time to write some more. All of that old equipment that I had is long since gone. So I just need a piano, a synthesizer, a guitar and an electric bass again…but then, I should really start with a pen and paper.
I love the rainy days and stormy nights
The watercolors over the sea
The wind sweeping through the pane
Has made it possible for you and me