It’s All About the Songs: New Year, New Journey, pt. 3

It’s all about these songs . . .

Outside of being temporarily distracted by an 8-year career in retail sales management, my life’s entire focus has been on creating and performing original music.

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Someday, Mom . . .

Brief background: Natural inclinations drew me toward the drums before the age of 2.  In 5th grade I formed my first rock band, while also playing in every school band from elementary through high school which featured drums of any kind; orchestra, marching, jazz, musicals, etc.  My various bands over the years have been performing publicly since I was 13, and have recorded and released several full-length albums and EPs over the last 20 years, including many of my original songs.

In 2005, I built a makeshift recording studio in my basement in an attempt to record my original music.  I was able to record several demos of my songs, and subsequently discovered a passion for producing and audio engineering over the course of a few years.  I decided to leave my cushy and safe retail management job, move to Arizona and attend The Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences to truly learn the craft of audio engineering and music production.  After graduating from CRAS and returning home to Detroit, I set up my studio and began my career as a freelance producer/engineer.

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Welcome to Stu Stu Studio. Would you like a fresh pot of coffee??

In Fall 2011, when browsing in the Music section of a bookstore, I discovered a book called Zen and the Art of Mixing; the author — a major-label record producer and mixing engineer — uses the psuedonym “Mixerman.”  Upon reading the first few pages of the book, I felt as though it was written specifically for me.  Regarding music production and studio clientele, not only did it reinforce and validate several beliefs of mine which I had previously doubted, it answered my burning questions about the mixing process and how to achieve the best possible production.  I affectionately refer to the book for guidance and to refresh my mind when mixing for myself or my clients — I even answer some of my clients’ questions by going over to the shelf, grabbing the book and reading a passage!

The overall message of the book: it’s all about the songs.

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The book that changed my music — and my clients’ music — for the better.

Recently, Mixerman posted on his Facebook page, saying he had time to mix a project, and that someone should definitely contact him.  For the past 7 months I’ve been writing, recording, and making rough mixes of the songs that will comprise my first album as a solo artist.  (Click these links to read about the earlier parts of this journey: Part I, Part II.)  Since I happen to have an album to mix, I sent him a message, not knowing what to expect.  We began corresponding online and then via text the next day, resulting in his request for two rough mixes of my songs.  I sent him a medium-tempo softer indie/pop tune, and a flowing track which builds into driving rock.  Forty minutes later, while in a recording session with a client, I received a text from him:

“I love them.  The rocking track is fucking awesome.  Very cool.  Also, it’s obviously well recorded.  So, I’m certainly interested in talking to you about mixing the project.  Call me when you’re done tonight.”

Upon discussing the scope of the songs to be mixed — and my non-existing budget — Mixerman asked me to send him the roughs of every song to be included on the album.  I did so that night and woke up to receive an email from him which included the following:

“Dude. This album is fucking great. I mean, like I love it. You’re a talented motherfucker and on all fronts. I mean, your drum tones are killer. Well done on the recordings on the whole . . .

I was floored and freaked out; simultaneously elated.  Suddenly, I found myself blessed with an amazing opportunity: a major-label mixing engineer is willing to mix my project at an excellent rate — NOW — and assist me in seeing the project through the mastering process and ultimately onto the vinyl I plan to release!!  YIPPIE!!

I’m just — gulp —  thousands of dollars short of the budget.

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Gotta start somewhere!

Over the past few days, I’ve sought counsel from family and friends, clients and colleagues, asking their feelings on the subject and how I should proceed.  The response has been unanimous: have him mix my album, whatever it takes.  And, get a Kickstarter.com fund-raising campaign up and running ASAP because . . .

It’s all about the songs.

The lyrics and messages in the songs on this album are those anyone can relate to: dealing with people; loving (and leaving) the city you grew up in; liberation from a cheating lover; acceptance of loss; personal growth; new and rekindled loves; pursuing goals in spite of fear and ridicule; sexy bartenders; enlightenment.

After hosting several private preview sessions in my studio over the past few months (in order to gain critical feedback), listeners have been hard-pressed to choose their least favorite song on my album.  One after another, these songs elicit an emotional response.  Texts and Facebook messages with remarks such as “I can’t get your songs out of my head,” “When can I hear those songs again?” and “Make sure you let me know when you start your Kickstarter campaign!” have been sent to me with regular consistency since the beginning of the year.

I am pleased to announce that my Kickstarter campaign is finally up and running!  Click here to check it out and watch the video!!

I’m incredibly excited for the opportunity to present these songs to everyone in the best possible production.  I believe that the messages contained in these songs are important in our current culture, and need to be heard right now.  With Mixerman’s help, these songs are going to be delivered at the highest possible quality.

Thank you for reading this.  I appreciate you.

:-J

Is Your ‘Producer’ Ruining Your Band’s Potential?

“The scene sucks.”

“We need to fix the scene.”

“What’s wrong with the scene?”

If you are involved in a local music community in some way, regardless of your particular city or area, you have probably heard the above phrases and other similar sentiments.  Spoken by your friends in bands, their fans, the people that work in bars and music venues — and perhaps yourself — people are very eager to express their concern and love for “the scene”.

Based on my experiences, the burning question that keeps the people who are truly passionate about their musical craft or their support for independent musicians up at night is: Why?  Why does “the scene suck”?  Why does it need fixing?  What is the cause of the problem?

[NOTE: I personally don’t think anyone’s scene “sucks”.  I’m sure that there are some “suck-y” scenes out there, but more often than not I find that “the scene” is just fine, and it’s actually the lack of true community that really sucks.]

Can anyone, myself included, confidently pinpoint exactly why “the scene sucks”?  Not likely.  Many will claim that they have the answer.  Personally, I think the truth about why “the scene sucks” is more complicated than a one-answer summation, and those who claim to have one are drinking Drano®.

I’m going to attempt to illustrate my belief that a major contributor to why “the scene” suffers — and new/young/up-and-coming bands ultimately fail — is the audio engineer’s decision to manipulate a mediocre or less-than-mediocre band’s recorded performance into a near-perfect production.  In this situation, the band is given a false representation of their actual abilities, and because of this, a distorted perception of the band is created both in the audience’s mind and in the minds of the band members themselves.  When the band is unable to reproduce the performance quality and sound of the final recorded production — sometimes, not even coming close — the audience, other bands and even venues disconnect from the band.

The argument: when a band is recorded and represented accurately, their strengths and weaknesses will be exposed, causing them to either work harder at practicing and do better next time when they go into the studio, or receive negative feedback and quit; either outcome helps “the scene”, because both outcomes tell the truth about that band, their abilities and their true passion for their craft.

With all of this being said, consider the following…

“Let’s make a record!”

Imagine your typical local rock band, consisting of a vocalist, two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer.  They’ve written six songs, and performed at a few shows in and around their home town, mostly for a handful of their friends and family, who support them almost unconditionally.  Based on the feedback from their audience, they decide they want to pay to record their six songs in a professional recording studio.  They go online and look in their city’s weekly magazines for advertisements for a local recording studio.  They call one of the studios listed, and are immediately able to schedule as many days as they think they’ll need with one of the in-house studio engineers.

The band shows up to the studio to record their songs.  While recording, a few realities become immediately apparent:

– The band’s equipment is at the consumer- or “pro-sumer” level.
– The drummer has never learned how to tune drums, and tunes them poorly.
– The drummer has difficulty playing in time and/or to a click track.
– The drummer hits inconsistently during their performance.
– The bassist and drummer do not perform as a proper rhythm section.
– The bassist and guitarists do not know how to properly tune and intonate their guitars.
– The bassist and guitarists have a poor sense of timing.
– The vocalist is unable to perform consistently in time and on pitch.

Let’s say that the engineer continues to record the band, just as they were hired to do.  The engineer endures the poor tuning, lackluster performances, wrong notes, off-timing and pitch issues, and records everything the band needs to complete their six songs, just so long as the band understands they’re paying for it.  Once the band leaves, the engineer begins working on something we affectionately refer to in the audio industry as “polishing a turd”.

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“Fix it in the mix!”

Starting with drums, the engineer aligns the drummer’s performance to a grid, making it appear as though the drummer performed perfectly in time, almost like a machine.  Since the drummer’s kit sounded poor, the drums are replaced with pre-recorded drums from different studios around the world, making it appear as though the drummer has a professional, well-tuned drum set.

Moving onto bass and guitars, since they were poorly tuned and intonated — and poorly performed — the engineer uses his studio’s collection of guitars and amplifiers and personally re-records the parts for the band, generally without their advance permission and/or knowledge.  (Believe it or not, this absolutely happens, and occurs commonly.)

When it comes to the vocals, the engineer corrects the timing and pitch of the vocalist where necessary — and at many times, where unnecessary — making it appear as though the vocalist sang “in the pocket” and with near-perfect command of their pitch.

Once the above operations are completed and the mixes of the songs are to the engineer’s liking, the band is invited into the studio to hear their recordings mixed for the first time.

“It’s studio magic!”

Upon hearing playback of the first song, the band can’t believe their ears.

“Wow!  It sounds amazing!!” one of the band members says.  “My drums sound incredible!”  “Man, what did you do to get our guitars to sound so good?”

“Studio magic,” the engineer replies.

The band leaves with their CD in hand, incredibly excited.  They listen to the CD for the whole drive home, as loud as their car — perhaps their parents’ car — will allow before the speakers rupture.  They text their friends and family and tell them how awesome their CD is, and that they can’t wait for everyone to hear it.  They start talking about booking their CD release show, and how much merchandise they’re going to sell.  They talk about touring.

They believe they are going to realize their dreams.

When they get home, they invite their best friends over to listen to the CD, and they are blown away at how great the band sounds.  The band shows other friends and family the CD, and everyone exclaims at how good the CD sounds and what a great job the band did.  Everyone that hears the CD is extremely proud of the band, and champions their new recording to anyone that will listen.

“I can’t wait to play this stuff LIVE!”

The band books their CD release show on a Saturday night at a well-known local venue with other local bands, and engage in promoting the show aggressively.  They sell tickets.  They make events on their social media sites and get several people to click “Attending”.  Local radio stations play their music in the weeks prior to the show based on the strength of the recording.  The buzz for the show grows and grows, and the band is more excited than ever.

The day of the show arrives and the venue is packed.  It’s obvious that the band put in a lot of work to ensure the success of the show.  They bought a banner with their name on it to hang behind the drummer.  They spent money on new t-shirts to have for sale.  They ordered 1,000 CDs, which — unbeknownst to the audience — arrived the morning of the show, just in time.   This is obviously a very important night for them, and they worked as hard as they could to make it successful.

Out of the 200 people in attendance, 100 people showed up to see the band releasing their CD that night.  They heard the CD, and listened to it several times in anticipation of the live performance, even on the way to the show.  The band takes the stage to a roar from the crowd, and begins to perform all of the material from their brand new CD.

Halfway through the first song, it is immediately apparent that something isn’t right…but only to the audience.

– The drummer has difficulty performing in time, speeding up and slowing down.
– The drums themselves sound thin and/or dead.
– The bassist and guitarists have a hard time playing in sync with the drummer.
– The guitarists are out of tune with each other, and possibly their instrument itself.
– The vocalist has timing issues, and the singing sounds “out of key”.

“Dude, that was our best show yet!”


Meanwhile, the band on stage is having the time of their lives.  They were able to get free drinks from the venue before playing, since they had so many people show up to see them, and they’re feeling pretty good as they perform.  Their significant others and friends and family are in the front of the audience, singing every word that they know back to them at the top of their lungs.  The band itself has an amazing energy and excitement level that they’ve never displayed on stage before.  They sell almost 50 CDs.  They believe it is their best show yet.

After the CD release show, they book a string of shows a few weeks apart in order to play out more and sell more CDs.  At the next show they play, they have close to 50 people there to see them.  They don’t mind the drop in attendance because “it’s not as big of an event as a CD release, and anyway, it’s twice as many people as we normally get to come out to a show.”

At the next show, around 30 people attend.  “But it was a weekday, not a Friday or Saturday, so lower attendance is to be expected,” the band believes.  Just under 25 people attend the next show, so the band decides they need another new t-shirt to entice fans to come back out to see them…and they deplete their band fund.  At the next show, on a Saturday night at a venue close to where they and their friends and family live, less than 15 people attend.  The band performs…angrily.

“This scene sucks, man!  It SUCKS!”

The band doesn’t understand what’s happening.  They don’t understand why people aren’t coming out to their shows.  They don’t understand why other bands they’ve played shows with don’t come out to see them or encourage others to check them out and support them.  When they text their friends and family asking if they’ll be at upcoming shows, many of the texts aren’t responded to.  People aren’t “liking” or commenting on their social media posts, and those that do are the ones that were doing so long before the band entered the studio.

The band decides to put a call out to their music community and tells them to “support the scene”.  They talk about venues and how people don’t go out to shows as much because they aren’t allowed to smoke indoors, or because the drinks are too expensive.  They talk about how shows that require bands to sell tickets are a scam, even though they’ve done a ticket show before.  They have band meetings and talk about potentially changing their band’s name, or their logo, and any other things they can think of.

They play some more shows to small audiences, mostly consisting of the same people that supported them before the recording process for their CD began. They still have over 900 CDs in their inventory.  They feel disheartened.  They feel like they wasted their time.  They blame “the scene” and everyone in it who doesn’t come to their shows, buy their merchandise or post about them online.

Ultimately, the band breaks up, and a couple of the members decide to continue on and form a new band.  They write six songs, and perform at a few shows locally, mostly for a handful of their friends and family, who support them almost unconditionally.  Based on the feedback from their audience, they decide they want to pay to record their six songs in a professional recording studio.  Since the last engineer they recorded with made them sound so amazing, they go back to work with them again…

The band shows up to the studio to record their songs.  While recording, a few realities become immediately apparent

Rinse…repeat.

“I can’t believe it!”

Most bands and musicians I have the pleasure to know and work with are incredibly passionate.  They sacrifice money, jobs, relationships, possessions, their credit rating and more in order to pursue a dream of a successful, lasting career in the music industry.  In my opinion — and the opinion of comedian, Eddie Izzard — the biggest thing that keeps a band or artist working and sacrificing in order to realize their dream of “making it” is…

Belief.

Belief is the fire inside the artist’s belly that keeps them focused on the prize, keeps them from giving up, keeps them from listening to the naysayers and forging on toward the greatness they know they will ultimately achieve.

Many musicians acquire their belief in their musical abilities from their parents.  Some get it from other family members or their friends.  Some gravitated toward music naturally on their own, and developed the belief in their abilities over time.  Some have been influenced by all of the above.

I truly feel that at the moment an audio engineer discovers the true nature of the band they will be recording, it is their duty to capture that band’s performance as accurately and professionally as possible, and showcase the band in the best possible light, based on the band’s current skill set; or encourage the band to rehearse more, and offer advice and tips to help them become better musicians and a tighter band.  Either way, the band wins, because they are being told the truth about themselves.

When the audio engineer decides to record a mediocre band knowing that later on everything will be replaced with professionally pre-recorded instruments, re-recorded or “fixed in the mix,” the engineer is doing the band — and the local music community — a huge disservice.

They are creating false beliefs for the band, the band’s audience and anyone else who hears the recording.

“Help!  I’ve been robbed!”

Most people learn how to get better at something from two sources: mistakes and mentors.  For the most part, when people make mistakes they become embarrassed, and they do their best to not repeat the same mistake again.  Mentors help us by pointing out our mistakes constructively — or telling us of the mistakes they have made — in an effort to get us to become better at whatever it is we’re doing.

Q: How did the audio engineer in the story above mentor the band during the recording process?

A: They didn’t; they just took what the band gave them without counsel.

Q: What mistakes were left on the recordings for the band to hear over and over again, embarrassing them into practicing harder at their craft and rehearsing more as a band?

A: None; the mistakes were erased and replaced with the use of technology and the engineer’s knowhow.

Because of this, the band believes that what they recorded is what is on the record, and can’t believe that the reason they are floundering and unable to get people to come to their shows is because of their personal and collective musical and performance abilities, when in fact that is the case in many, many circumstances.

Studies have shown that in order to become a “master” at a particular craft it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice.  To break that down, if a musician practiced their instrument for an hour every single day without fail it would take them over 27 years to become a “master”.

When a mediocre recording is manipulated to near-perfection through the use of the readily available technology, the musicians in the band are being robbed of their 10,000 hours of practice, and consequently being robbed of their ability to become a “master”.

“The truth will set you free, but at first…it may piss you off.”

Audio engineers can do almost anything to perfect and enhance otherwise mediocre performances, thanks to the technological advancements in digital recording and their immediate availability in retail stores and online.  It is up to professional audio engineers with quality standards not to coddle or deceive their clients, but to expose them to the harsh truths about their abilities and their skill set.  Whether that toughens their skin or sends them scurrying away isn’t the engineer’s problem.

While we are able to understand and appreciate that many engineers have bills and expenses related to their studio and their career, and need to generate steady income, does the need for money excuse them from accepting the great responsibility they have to their clients and musical community?  Should a professional audio engineer with extensive knowledge in recording, songwriting, arrangement, mixing and production simply stay silent while recording a poor performance and manipulate it near to perfection while the band is away, ultimately giving them an inaccurate representation of their work, simply because the studio bills have to be paid?

My belief is when audio engineers decide to placate their clients instead of telling them the truth, they impede the  short- and long-term improvement of the skill set of the musicians, and the fallout from that impediment is something that really, truly hurts “the scene”.

I’m trying to assert that the recording engineer is the first/last line of defense in accurately representing a band to the public, and when they just take the band’s money and “polish the turd”, the band (and scene) ultimately suffers.

Thanks for reading.

:-J

John Kay is a professional musician, producer, mixer, and engineer currently operating in metro Detroit.  He plays guitar around the world with Koffin Kats, mixes at his personal recording studio — Stu Stu Studio — and is in the final stages of production on his first full-length solo album.

Email for recording and mixing booking inquiries: johnbof@gmail.com.
Follow John on Twitter: @TheRealJohnKay
Or, follow him on InstaGram: @TheRealJohnKay

Act Like An Ant: How to Get Big Projects Done

There is excitement in the air, and it has been following me for at least two weeks now…

I said I was going to be posting here demos of songs that I have been considering for placement on my debut solo record, and I had full intention of doing so.  However, that plan has changed.

A couple of weeks ago, a good friend of mine stopped by the recording studio to share some of his first batch of home-brewed beer and get my opinion and feedback on it.  (It was delicious!)  We spent the time chatting about his brewing process and life in general, and then cued up some of the songs I had planned on posting here.  I didn’t know the order in which to play them, so I sequenced them in the order I felt may work as a 10-song album.

For those who don’t know me, or have a preconceived notion as to how I perceive my own music, I’m my own worst critic.  I absolutely hate playing my music for other people to listen to while I’m in the same room.  I’d prefer to give them a CD or send them a file to listen to at their convenience and get back to me.  Personally, when an artist is playing their music for me, I feel a pressure — likely self-imposed — to not say anything negative about their work, regardless of its merit.  I mean, when you get down to it, music and all forms of art are generally very personal, and songs are a musician’s creative babies — only the cruel would tell someone they have an ugly baby.

Sometimes it’s even hard for me to listen to the music that I produce myself!  Knowing exactly how it was performed, recorded and captured; how it was edited and mixed; where all of the “mistakes” are, all of these things are in my mind as I listen to a song I’ve created, and I can’t listen past them and appreciate the song.  I always know where I could have done better.  So, I’ll put on a song with the intent to listen to it and discover what needs to be done, get about 30-45 seconds into the tune and turn it off because I feel as though there are so many things that need to be done, and I’ve done so much already.  (“Maybe I should just start over…”)

OR, I’ll be listening to a song and doubt my skills on instruments that aren’t necessarily my forte such as bass, guitar or vocals.  I’ll question my arrangements.  I’ll question my performances, and the way they were captured.  (“Should I re-record this or that part..??”)  I’ll question the advice and wisdom of my musical colleagues.  I’ll question everything, because…there is no excuse to not make whatever you are passionate about as great as it can possibly become.

In light of this, I told my friend “Now, I need you to be perfectly frank about these songs, please.  If you think a song sucks, or something is out of whack, I need you to let me know so I can make it better.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” he replied, “We’re friends.  I know I can tell you the truth, no matter how painful.”

I pressed play, and held my breath.

45 minutes later, my buddy and I sat in silence and looked at each other.  He was just sitting there smiling at me.  I asked what he thought, and he said, “Other than the one thing I mentioned in the last song, and the ones you said still need to be mixed, I wouldn’t change anything!  It’s got a good flow, and I love how your songs just get bigger and bigger!

“The first side starts out chill and relaxed, and still has good, positive energy.  Then the album gets a little darker, but at that point in the album you’re ready for it.  Then you start side two with a cool love song, then that one big, epic track — I love that song!  Then you bring it back down a little bit before the big climax at the end of the album, which is awesome, by the way!  I think the whole thing is great, man!”

Out of some sort of sense of shame, I hadn’t listened to any of the songs the whole way through since I first gave them each a rough mix weeks or even months ago.

I knew the tunes I’d roughed out on my own needed work, and was fearful that upon listening to them that I would want to scrap and rework most of them.  I was lost in sea of songs and lyrics and melodies and choruses and arrangements and ideas.  I had everything there in front of me, and no clue which way to go next.

I needed someone else to sit in the room with me and listen to what I thought would work in order to see if my intuitions were correct.  Best-selling author and management expert Ken Blanchard has famously said, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”  Without honest, constructive feedback, you don’t know where your growth opportunities are, and if you’re not growing, you’re dying.  Based on the feedback I’ve received so far, following my intuition seems to be working positively.

But I don’t just go on the word of one person before I move forward with my endeavors.

I have a sort of guideline I follow regarding when to believe the opinion or conjecture of others: if one person says it, they may be full of shit; if two persons who don’t know each other say it, it may be hearsay; if three or more persons say it, it’s the Bible, and I run with it until it’s challenged later, if at all.

So, I had a client and singer-songwriter buddy of mine come over and have the same listening experience as my brewmeister friend, whose guitars we used to record my client’s previous album with his band.  Other than that, these two dudes do not know each other, and have varying musical tastes.

To my surprise, I received the near exact same feedback from each of them!

My fear was that the songs would sound disjointed from one another, due to having different genres represented throughout the catalog of tunes I’ve written in the past 6 months.  Once I was forced to sit through a listen of these 10 songs without stopping, without adjusting something in the mix in the middle of a song and starting again, without “fixing” the “mistakes” and hearing an objective first impression from two people whom I consider qualified to criticize music, I found what I had hoped would happen from the outset.

I have found that my album has essentially finished itself.  Yes, even before it’s mixed.

Think of an ant farm: when you first buy an ant farm, you essentially have a transparent box of sand.  Then, you add the ants, and they immediately get to work.  Each ant grabs a single grain of sand and marches it from one area of the farm to another.  One by one, grain by grain, the ants slowly build the foundation of their new home.  A few weeks later, after paying little attention to the progress of the ants, you look up to find an entire network of tunnels and caves; the ants have built a city in just a few short weeks, grain by grain, little by little, one day at a time.

alex-wild-leaf-cutting-ant-carrying-a-sand-grain-atta-saltensis

Can you see how this principle can be applied to your life??  If you have a goal or task in your personal or professional life that seems daunting or otherwise impossible, start working on it just a little bit…today!

Act like an ant, and work at your task just a little bit every day, and before you know it, you’ll accomplish what you set out to do!

SO!  The final overdub sessions will be completed within the next couple of weeks; a photo shoot will take place on May 4, followed by a meeting with a music video producer to discuss locations and treatments for the video for the first single; a Kickstarter or IndieGogo campaign will be launched to raise the funds necessary for having the album mastered professionally and reproduced on vinyl, and rehearsals will begin for the debut show with a full band.

Over the next month or so, the wheels will begin churning…

There is excitement in the air!!

Thanks so much for reading.

:-J

Today is Important

Today is important, and not just in the existential or spiritual sense…

…which it is.

When a potential client approaches me to record or produce their music, the first thing we do is schedule a face-to-face meeting to discuss the scope of the project and its particulars.  The conversation allows me to clearly understand the client’s vision for their work and define the expectations of both parties, plus just hang out and talk about random stuff.  The meeting usually ends within an hour or so, completed by the scheduling of a pre-production rehearsal.  I’m attending one of those rehearsals this evening.

The purpose of tonight’s rehearsal is to ensure that the band is fully prepared to record their songs, and if not, suggest techniques and offer advice on how to perform the parts as best as possible.  I have no idea what to expect, only that it’s a four-piece band with a drummer, bassist, guitarist and vocalist with 4 songs they want to record.  This will be my first time hearing these songs — it will also be my first time meeting the drummer and the bassist of the band.  Upon hearing them, I am tasked to immediately analyze and criticize what they believe is their best work, and tell them unequivocally how to make it even better.  Moreover, I haven’t even been hired yet, so there’s no guarantee that I work with the group, even if I really want to.  No pressure, right??

As a freelance producer and mixing engineer, my credo is “I want to help you make your music better…for you.”  Therefore, I only work with clients whom I believe will truly benefit from working with me, not just record anyone with some money.  When I agree to work with a client, I essentially become a midwife to their creative “babies”.  In order for any important relationship to exist there has to be a solid foundation of trust.  That trust can be established — or damaged! — on day one.

That’s why, for me, today is very important.

It’s important that I communicate to the band that I have their best interests in mind and at heart.  I appreciate the responsibility I have in my “midwife” role, and they need to know that the integrity of their art is of crucial importance to me.  It’s also important that the band members themselves are open to constructive criticism and guidance, and have a teachable mindset.  I can’t help make others’ music better if they won’t allow it.

But really, the most important thing tonight is that everyone is present in the moment and being honest.  Come to think of it, that’s what I ask of my clients with whom I work and most everyone else without saying it directly…

Be present.  Focus!…on your personal performance, what you are thinking, doing and feeling, and modify your actions and behaviors in order to achieve the best results possible.  Clear out the clutter and the worry and the external pressures, and concentrate fully on what you’re doing at the present moment.  Delve into the details and do your due diligence like our ancestors did.  The more knowledge in your arsenal, the more you’ll grow as a professional, as a person and as a human being.

Be honest.  In his 2001 book Good To Great, Jim Collins shares a couple of musings from one of his favorite professors who once said, “The best students are those who never quite believe their professors.”  True enough.  But he also said, “One ought not to reject the data merely because one does not like what the data implies.”  It’s important in the early development of emerging artists to give them the feedback necessary for them to improve, even if it’s contrary to their perception.  Sometimes hearing constructive criticism can be uncomfortable, but it isn’t what happens to us or what we hear that hurts us, it’s how we choose to respond to it that affects us most.  Thankfully, I can say that my clients all choose to get better.

So, today is pretty important to me.  I want to help these guys make their music better…for them.

Thanks for reading.

:-J

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