Armed with a guitar and a computer, singer-songwriter Carter Davis set out to tour the country to pursue an ambitious project. He traveled to different Apple Stores, recorded a unique song at each one, and then uploaded the songs to SoundCloud for our listening pleasure. And as if an unsuspecting live audience and a one-take rule wasn’t enough to make things interesting, he also decided to film the performances and use the footage to make a documentary. Just to recap: Carter was playing live shows, recording his performances, and making a documentary all at the same time – so you know, no pressure.
From the moment I found out about this project, I loved it. It challenges the traditional definitions of both a proper recording environment and a live music venue. Big budget studio recordings and mega-produced live performances have their place in this world, but in reality, some of the most legendary shows and recordings were created using equipment that seems antiquated when compared to even a single-channel interface and a basic laptop.
So how have certain old-fangled recordings withstood the test of time? In my opinion, quality is key. If a song is written and performed well, it could be played through a raspy old telephone and still enchant the listener.
Although ambitious, Carter’s project has potential to be double-edged: His success will depend solely on the caliber of his one-take performances, which are fueled by a complex combination of passion, bravery, and vulnerability. His music will be captured in its purest form and, for better or worse, there’s no way to cover up his faults. No second takes, no post-production edits. No pressure, right?
Only time will tell if Carter’s creativity is a stroke of genius that helps launch his career. I encourage you to listen to a few of the tracks and decide for yourself. Because this project was so intriguing, I had to reach out to Carter to learn more about his experience. Check out his Q&A below.
How did the idea for your documentary come about, and what inspired you to start recording songs in Apple Stores?
I’m not sure what spurred it on, but the original idea was to walk into an Apple Store, plug in, and produce a song. Then maybe make a video and put it on YouTube or something. I happened to share this idea with my brother, Connor, while we were driving home from Pilot Point last Christmas. He loved it, and we had a little brainstorm session right there in the car. Once we got back home, we sat in the driveway and he encouraged me to pursue it all the way through. Right then, I started making plans. My brother-in-law, Josiah, happens to be an incredible documentary filmmaker, and once he got on board, the idea really grew and took off. It was almost weird how everything just worked out from the start.
There were several reasons I chose to record at Apple Stores, but the main idea (that I can share now) is that Apple has been a huge inspiration for my career, and everything I do with music involves using one or more of their products, such as sending out emails from my phone, grabbing song ideas in voice memos, taking pictures for my social media, recording demos, etc. It only made sense that using their products would be essential in getting this project done.
You seem to have covered a lot of miles with this project. How far have you traveled, and in what cities and stores have you recorded?
We traveled over 7,600 miles in two weeks! It was me, my brother-in-law, and my friend/photographer, Brandon Nalley. We made a loop around the entire United States and recorded in so many cool stores! Probably my favorite recording experience was in Chicago where we ended up recording with a street musician who was playing outside the store. As we were leaving, she asked me if I wanted to jam, and I was like, “hell yeah!” We pulled out the recording equipment and recorded a song right there on Michigan Avenue! It was a blast!
Were these songs written specifically for this recording project, or did you perform songs that had already been written?
All the songs were written before the trip was even planned. It just so happened that as I was planning the trip and the album, the songs and the cities fit perfectly together. Every song in some form or fashion has a direct correlation to the city in which it was recorded. I’m not sure how it worked out so well – it just worked!
How did you record your performances? Did you just use the computer microphone, or did you have any additional equipment?
I recorded the songs much like I would record an acoustic demo. I had my audio interface, my guitar, a microphone, and I plugged straight into the computer at the store. I kept it really simple and treated each recording as “live/one take”.
The Apple Stores are obviously not typical music venues. What reactions did you get from customers and employees as you were playing?
Ha! The stores were the furthest thing from a “typical” music venue. Honestly, I tried to stay out of the way as much as possible. I know it might seem like the point would be to cause a huge commotion and grab everybody’s attention, but I really didn’t want to distract anyone or put on a show. As everyone knows, retail stores can get really loud, so people couldn’t really hear unless they came over and listened. I wanted it that way. I didn’t want to tread on anyone’s experience. One thing that was unexpected was how much the employees were interested in what I was doing. At every store, several of the people working would come up and talk to us. That was a nice surprise.
What are some of the freedoms and limitations of recording in such a unique setting?
The hard part about recording live, and also being filmed, is trying to balance looking good and sounding good. I wanted to hit every note, but I had to be conscious of my performance – not to mention being slightly nervous because everyone around is looking over their shoulders. After a few stores, I kinda got used to the dynamics of everything and really got to enjoy the moment. It was special to be in a city, singing a song about that city, and connecting with the vibes in the store. Again, it was just cool, and I tried to enjoy it as much as possible.
What plans do you have for these recordings? Will they be kept as a cool concept album on SoundCloud, or will you release them in a different medium?
I’ll be jumping into the studio to make a full-length concept album from the songs. I’ll be using bits and pieces of the songs as well as audio from the footage for intros and outros. I’m going to have fun with it and be creative. Once the album is done I’ll release it with the documentary. How it will be released is TBA. As for the songs on SoundCloud, those will be up for just a short time, so listen to them while they are still available!