Zen of Recording
Brushing Off the Dirt
The entire house shuddered to its 75-year-old foundations and my smartly framed black-and-white Henry Diltz photograph of (the now similarly aged) Paul McCartney hung upon its wall was shaking right along with it.
Whoom!! Boom, BAP!!
Hunnie, our year-old Havanese puppy/dog/sometimes–I’m-not-sure-what ran into the room with eyes like English tea saucers, bringing her normally Jack Elam-sized eyebrows into a somewhat more… proportionate realm.
Daddy! What do we do?!?”, she seemed to say.
I stroked her chocolate-spotted back reassuringly and spoke to her in dulcet tones. “It’s okay, sweetheart. You’re doing good.” I smiled and said.
he began to bark sharply, as if to say “But Daddy! The world is obviously ENDING right NOW! Seriously, what we DO?!?
I guess this was her first rodeo, after all. Had it actually been that long since I’d recorded drums at home?
Things have changed.
Not for the better or the worse, really. They’re just different.
My states of mind and avenues of expression are multiplying, as are the actual addresses of those avenues
I’m multi-locational. Multi-occupational. Multi-avocational.
One day, I’m using PreSonus Studio One to record and edit in my studio at home. The next, I’m at another studio mixing in Pro Tools. Or mastering with Peak at still another. I’m writing this column on my laptop or searching for other work on my desktop. Answering emails on my smart phone. Reading software manuals on my iPad. Transcribing songs with an acoustic guitar and subsequently delivering that information via Dropbox or the cloud. I visit with my son Miles via video, my son Sean via FaceBook, and my son Drew via text. I call my mom on the phone but am far more likely to communicate with my sweetheart Patricia via emoji or Words With Friends (and speaking of losing, she leads 393 games to my six as of this writing). You may be reading this via the printed page or online, via the San Diego Troubadour website.
I suppose that it is within this context that I sometimes find myself trying to reorient my own thoughts; not just to reinvent my working methods, but to recalibrate my very being.
In this series of columns over the last 13 years, I’ve tried to light the path toward better music and recordings with the sort of hard-won knowledge you can only get from losing occasionally. When you can’t find your tools because you’ve left them someplace else, or you haven’t mastered one program because your attentions are scattered amongst several, there are going to be situations where you don’t emerge the winner you expected or promised to be. This, in a word, sucks.
It is in no way the final word, of course. Results that were more easily attained can be harder fought for. Losses can be minimized and in the end, things are always, always made right. But just like most anything else in life, it’s the getting back up. Brushing off the dirt. Attending to the cuts and bruises and Getting. Right. Back. In. The. Game.
And the learning, of course. Lessons are for learning, after all. For making ourselves better. Better for us, better for others. Better partners in our lives, our work and our relationships, whether familial, commercial, social, or romantic.
Failure and frustration can feel even more traitorous when related to our music; the one place we often find solace from the repercussions of our shortcomings. A missed note here or a wrong chord there and suddenly our inner voices are berating us so loudly that we can’t even hear ourselves singing!
Ironically, our art can be where the cracks and fissures show the deepest damage to our fragile egos. It’s very common to suddenly discover that we’ve become removed from the artist-listener exchange by providing too much focus on how we feel personally, even though that’s essentially the job.
Whatever side of the microphone we are on for any given situation, the key to offering the best we have is preparation. Life will throw us curveballs, but the more equipped we are for them, the more likely we’ll be able to adjust to the moment and hit the runners home.
In my given scenario above, it’s probably a matter of focus.
Yes, there are a lot of means and distractions and, yes, we’re bound to make mistakes. Finding and striking that balance between letting too many of “the little things” go and being excessively hard on ourselves when we come up short is pretty much the trick, I think. To be at once kind and demanding with ourselves is how we get to excellence in relatively one piece.
For all of the initial distress that poor Hunnie went through, I miked that kick drum poorly and started the session late because I couldn’t find the right mic cables. These were definitely not hallmarks of the standard I wish to be known for. By the end of the day we had everything we needed and it all sounded good and next time will go much smoother.
And like her more seasoned sister Hollie, Hunnie has decided she likes studio life, too!
Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer, singer, songwriter, and animal lover. www.kaspro.com