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3 Lessons From Finishing Morning Worship 1
It was more of an adventure than I expected...
The latest project around Morning Worship 1 is done! You’ve seen bits and pieces of it already, so this won’t feel like much of a surprise. There are some useful insights around this project that are worth sharing. But first, you can listen to the whole album start to finish on YouTube here:
Or, you can find the playlist of the individual songs here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLuauxztwld8_gWQuWzBuw6dtoLc_bpAyB
Okay, now onto the lessons!
Lesson One: It Was Worth Finishing
There is a point in every project where it feels like it is going to be difficult to finish. That moment where you want to give up and it doesn’t feel worth it. My first album was a bit like that at times.
Morning Worship 1 started out like 3 or 4 years ago. I got inspired to sit down every morning to play my guitar and worship God with my music. I didn’t mean to write songs. I had no audience.
It was me and my guitar worshiping God. That was enough.
Then a funny thing happened. These songs started showing up. So I wrote them down and nurtured little bits of inspiration along the way.
This was new to me. Up to that point I had written and finished one song. In the first year of doing morning worship, a new song would show up every week or two. It was wild!
I realized I needed to shepherd these songs responsibly and share them with other people. Not because I’m so great or I wanted to be a famous artist. Nope. The reason is I want other people to have the opportunity to worship God long after I’m gone. Maybe these songs are part of that. I don’t know, but it felt like a calling.
So I listened to that and got into recording the songs myself. I have no prior training as a recording engineer, so I figured it out as I went. I got real nerdy about it and found the software, plugins, and whatnot to make it happen.
At the same time I wanted a specific aesthetic for the album. You see, I don’t care for most modern Christian music because it feels too manufactured and polished to me. Modern music recording is “too perfect” and feels sterile. With music from 50-60 years ago they didn’t have software that could fix and edit every flaw. So they had to be able to play the songs in a single take and sometimes that means little imperfections. Imperfections are more honest than perfection.
The aesthetic I was going for was the most honest form of worship I could do - me and my guitar worshiping God. There is something I heard the band Jars of Clay say once in an interview. It was something like, “A good song is a good song. It can stand on its own without a lot of bells and whistles.” I always took it it for my own music that a great song can be stripped down to one guy and his guitar and still be great.
The songs that came to me during morning worship were like that. So I wanted the album to have that honest vibe. If you found me sitting alone with my guitar playing these songs, it’d sound about the same in real life.
That approach was both easier and harder than I thought it would be. The easy part is I knew I needed to record myself playing guitar and singing at the same time. The hard part is I had to be able to play the song well beginning to end in a single take and have it sound good. There is a real art to recording music and I’m still learning a lot about the process.
It took months of recording sessions in my office to get to the point where I was happy with some of my recordings. I’m talking about recording like 3-4 songs total, not the whole album.
I tried a few different approaches. I used a small multi-track recorder at one point. That was good for demos, but not for full production. Some of those demos were amazing, but not enough for me to go all in with the approach. Recording on my computer was a whole learning process too. I tried a lot of different plugins and recording approaches. I was never happy enough to go all in on the album.
Then last year a few things came together which changed all that.
First, I bought a new guitar for church - the Fender Acoustasonic Stratocaster. It’s an acoustic guitar designed to sound good going out to the PA system. It’s a great guitar for playing Sunday morning services with. And for some reason I’m more of a “Strat guy” when it comes to guitars, so it’s perfect for what I do.
Second, I found this neat software called Reaper. It’s a very good digital audio workstation. It changed my workflow in a dramatic way. I could setup templates for recording projects. That was huge for producing this album. I was able to get to some good default settings and reuse them across songs. Now songs could be cohesive and not sound wildly different. The whole album could have “a sound”.
Third, I found a useful mastering tool called CloudBounce. Sound mastering is a tricky subject. To boil it down… mastering takes a recording and adds that last 10%. Tweaking EQ, setting levels, and adding that last bit of “vibe”. With CloudBounce I could master my whole album and have it feel cohesive and high quality.
It all came together when I realized that my new Acoustasonic Strat was the perfect acoustic guitar for recording. I run a line from the guitar direct into my sound interface and can control the levels from the volume knob. It sounds great without much tweaking.
With all those things in place I could sit down at my computer, plug in my guitar, and record. In a few takes I’d have a song ready to go.
Once everything was in place it only took a few weeks of consistent effort to get the whole album recorded. I went from the whole thing being a struggle to it happening fast.
With the album complete, I registered the copyright on the album and released it to Bandcamp. At the time it felt good to do that much and burn a few CDs to share with my family (who still use CDs).
But it never felt 100% complete.
I wasn’t totally happy with the album art. I still wanted to put it out on the big music services with Distrokid. There was still work to be done, but I got distracted and moved on to other things.
I used the recent hyper-creativity adventure to finish releasing the album. I sat down with Canva and made new album art. I tried asking a friend to do it, but luckily he declined the project and I had to do it myself. With the album art done I was like, “time to put it on Distrokid!” And a week or so later it was on Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube, etc.
The last bit I wanted to do was to take the songs and put each of them out as nicer YouTube videos. I figure that way pretty much anyone can listen to them and sing/play along for free! So I spent the last week getting all the songs and lyrics into video form for that and posted them to YouTube.
As you can tell this was not a small project. It’s been a few years of off and on work to get to this current finish line. It feels like a pretty good stopping point.
From this vantage point I can say that it was worth the journey to get here and I’m glad I finished.
The reason I’m glad is not because it’s a big hit (it’s not). It was worth finishing because I held up my end of the bargain. I feel responsible for these songs. If God gave me these songs, I should do the right things with them. I’ve done my part to take care of them in the right way and shared them with the rest of the world.
I didn’t let inspiration “die on the vine”. And I didn’t keep it to myself when I knew there was more to do. After a lot of time and effort they found their way out to the world. No matter the outcome, I can always feel good about that.
Lesson Two: Do It Yourself
I know that I could have taken these songs into a local studio, paid a few thousand dollars and recorded the album. It would have been faster. It might have been cheaper (all things considered). The final quality would be higher (better equipment + more experienced recording engineers).
I’m glad I did this myself.
Recording my own music forced me to grow as a person, songwriter, and musician. If you’re still reading this you can see for yourself how many little lessons I learned along the way.
Paying someone else to do this would have cheated me out of the learning opportunity. So yeah, it was hard and painful at times. Most of what I was doing at various points in the process didn’t work super well. But each thing I did led me a little farther down the path and that is a blessing beyond measure.
Upon reflection I plan to stick to the DIY approach for that very reason. It’s not only about being able to run farther, faster down this path. It’s about who I am when I get there. Taking a bullet train to the end of the line is faster, but I won’t grow as much as if I walked.
I guess the DIY approach is the one I prefer. It’s slower, but I never regret what I learn along the way on projects like this. And for things like programming and business, it’s been the same thing.
I would much rather stumble and learn and experience it for myself along the way than hire someone to do it for me. (Ironically, I am 100% opposite in the areas I’m not interested in, so go figure!)
Lesson Three: Be Yourself, Trust Yourself
This lesson is the hardest for me. Or maybe it’s the one that I have to keep re-learning. I’m not always sure which it is.
Anyway, the last few years taught me a lot about life, business, and creative pursuits. One of the biggest lessons is to be yourself and trust yourself.
I’m an introvert. I will sit alone in a room and write or code all day long without issue. I don’t seek to be king of anything (I’d rather play the wizard most of the time). I don’t have a huge ego where I have to be out front all the time with a big audience telling me how great I am. I would rather do good work and help the people I care about.
In Meyers-Briggs terminology - I’m a INFJ.
The hard part of being that way is I don’t naturally put my ego out front. I listen too much to others advice, plans, etc. even if I know they are wrong or worse than my own intuition. And I would be more comfortable hiding behind the curtain of a brand/logo/company than putting myself out there as… myself.
That is why for years it was Code Career Genius instead of Brian Knapp. Putting myself out there as myself is scary. The real me doesn’t only care about code all the time. My faith, my family, my other creative adventures are all part of it. And it always felt easier to hide behind a brand than to put all these different parts of myself out there.
Putting out an album of worship music ruins all that. I had to put it out as myself. I knew that. And I can’t pretend that the music is separate from any other part of me.
You see, creating honest art boils down to chipping off a piece of your soul and giving it away for the whole world to see. Those songs are these little tiny reflections of part of me. I can’t hide from that. I don’t always know where they come from, but I can’t hide from what they are.
So putting out this music in as honest of a way as possible is terrifying. It feels so exposed like walking naked down the street. It’s not comfortable.
And then there is all the internal doubt like “What if nobody likes it? What if nobody cares? What if it actually sucks?” None of that is useful, but it happens so ya deal with it.
Now I find myself no longer building a brand or hiding the different parts of myself. There is no great agenda to any of this. I create and share as myself. If nobody cares or everybody cares or people love it or hate it is beside the point.
My role is to surrender to the process and be faithful to create and share as myself.
That requires me to be myself and trust myself.
For example, right now Scrivener is telling me I’m 2,330 words into this newsletter. Is that a bad thing? Is it too long? Does anyone care? I don’t know.
I keep writing. It’s me. Something is pulling me forward. I have to trust that.
I don’t believe I’m done learning this lesson of being myself and trusting myself. I know I have to keep learning and re-learning pretty much forever. It feels like an onion I have to keep peeling away the layers on. Who knows how close to the center of my being I am? I don’t.
I have to be myself and trust that is enough.
So, that’s three of the lessons I learned from finishing my first album and putting it out there. There is more music waiting to be recorded. Another album will likely happen at some point. I don’t know when.
That’s one of the fun bits of this. There are mysteries that even I have yet to uncover.
I hope you enjoy the music and got something useful out of these lessons.