Here is our latest track: download mp3
Words and music by Tom and Alan Sanderson
I’m getting better
I’m getting better all the time
There was a time when life had got me low
So much to learn, but learning was much too slow
All of my worries didn’t help me grow
And I beat myself up for the things that I did not know
I tried to fit in a place I don’t belong
And it seemed like everything I did was wrong
Those days were hard, and the nights were long
When I felt down, then I sang this song
I can feel that pressure rising
Don’t know how much more of this I can take
But I’m getting better
Every day I’m making progress
I’m gonna stand up and face this
And I’m gonna come out on top!
In time a change began in me
So slow that I could barely see
All of that pressure, constantly
Made a metamorphosis of me
Alan Sanderson: vocals, bass, guitars, strings, drums, mixing, mastering
Tom Sanderson: backing vocals, horns, electric piano, clavinet
Johann: synth, strings
Sanderson Family: choir, crowd
About the Song
This song came out of one of the hardest times of my life, when I worked as a resident in a teaching hospital. I was physically and mentally exhausted, battling the effects of acute and chronic sleep deprivation, and my emotional reserves were low. One morning as I was getting ready for another long work day, I had self-critical thoughts intrude into my mind, and I felt my anxiety well up. In that moment I just wanted to give up trying.
But I said to myself, “I’m learning. I’m getting better. I’m getting better all the time.” Focusing on the progress I was making made me feel better, and my anxiety levels went down a notch or two so that I could face the day.
This little self-actualization became a mantra which I chanted to drive out those negative thoughts, and I still repeat it sometimes. Eventually it became the melody you hear on this recording, but it was not a confident, triumphant song; it was a sorrowful, mournful tune. I sang this not because I always believed it, but because I wanted to hold onto something — anything — that was positive.
Fortunately I made it through those years, and today my life is so much better than it was back then. When I look back and remember what I went through, I can appreciate how much I learned, improved, and grew in a relatively short time. It was hard, but it was worth it. This little piece of self-directed music therapy really helped me get through the hardest times.
Read my medical education memoir at the Medicine and Faith blog. Part 5 tells the story of my residency.
Some time ago I asked Tom for his help to write the rest of the song. He came up with the idea for the verses, which we worked on together. It was our first attempt to share the early composition stage of a song, and I am pleased with the result. Working with Tom makes my songs better than I could do them by myself.
Well, now that I feel like I have conquered my old demon, I wanted to dance on his grave a little bit.
I was born during the height of the disco era, but my first memories of it are from the 80’s when disco was radioactive, and the only way you touched it was to make fun of it. But my opinion of the genre has evolved over the years, and even though I still abhor the clothing, hairstyles, dancing, and Barry Gibb’s falsetto, I’ve come to appreciate the carefully arranged and versatile music, which drew from and fused together many different genres.
With this recording I also wanted to pay homage to M.C. Hammer, who was one of my first big music interests when I was a kid, because he cited disoc as one of his primary musical influences. The first cassette tape I ever bought was his 1990 hit album “Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em.” Can you hear the Hammer in this song?
I thought you might find it interesting to have a little glimpse into our production process. Here are some excerpts from our email exchange, which includes some discussion of disco song arrangement:
ALAN: Here is the sketch. I don’t have any specific musical ideas for the rest of the song, so I was going to ask you to come with something for the verses.
TOM: I need to play it a back a few times but I believe the 5th would be a good next spot. I can picture some call-and-repeat backing vocals sort of like a disco take on the Pips’ midnight train to Georgia but obviously a female register (I know a guy…)
ALAN: Over the weekend I listened to some disco albums – Sesame Street Fever, Saturday Night Fever – and recently I also listened to some Village People and Andy Gibb. I was struck by how spare the sound was – only a few instruments going at once usually. Disco arrangers didn’t layer deep – instead they made quick changes to instrumentation, as quick and unpredictable as their key changes and chords sometimes. Really an interesting approach, and I think I have learned some things that I will take with me. I was steeped deeply in a different style of arranging pop music, where the layers are so deep you can’t even appreciate them all.
TOM: That’s insightful – I guess I didn’t realize that disco often sheds its layers like that. I too would like to try that. I think it’s my natural inclination to layer and layer only, without being selective.
ALAN: Another release candidate mixdown is uploaded. I think this one is really close, maybe done.
TOM: I had an idea for your speech – why not paste in small-group cheering? Very seventies. I was looking for a sample but I didn’t have a suitable one on hand.
ALAN: Ooo, good idea! I happen to have a small crowd at my house. I’ll try to record them, if I can get them all to cooperate.
ALAN: Today’s mix has a few more significant changes in it. I changed the panning on the guitar, EP, and clavinet, and made the guitar and EP fully trade off between verse and chorus until the last 2 choruses to make the sound a bit more spare.
TOM: I like it! Nice crowd effect and EP / EG trade off. Disco is a tough genre to cover and you have done a splendid job. Much toil was put into this track.
ALAN: Here’s a draft of the song artwork. The background is an afghan made by Great Grandma Scerinda, inherited by way of Uncle Stewart. The disco ball is a Christmas ornament I found at my parents’ house last week. 🙂
About the Recording
This project had a lot of firsts for me:
- First disco track
- First song with lyrics co-written by Tom
- First time using a sample track (sfizz with strings from Virtual Playing Orchestra)
- First time using several plugins (FatFrog virtual guitar amp, Guitarix wah-wah, Calf Vinyl)
- First time recording a small crowd cheering
This track was produced on Linux Mint 19.3 using Ardour 5.12. Tom played the horns, clavinet, and electric piano on his Roland FA-06 and recorded the backing vocals on his Tascam 24SD. I played my Ibanez AM-53, Fender Telecaster, and Austin Bazaar bass. The drums were the Black Pearl kit from AVL Drumkits, and the breakdown synth was Yoshimi, with the sound programmed de novo by Johann. Other software plugins I used were Dragonfly Reverb, Guitarix amplifier, Calf Studio Gear 5-Band EQ and Vintage Delay, Linux Studio Plugins compressors and limiters. Many thanks to the good folks at LinuxMusicians and to all of the developers!