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February 2024
Vol. 23, No. 5

Zen of Recording

Failure as Strategy

by Sven-Erik SeaholmJuly 2015

I love cooking. Not fancy things, really. And not from recipes. It’s more the act of spontaneous creation that I dig. You know, you’re hungry. So you go to the refrigerator to see what you’ve got. In a short amount of time, an onion, a potato, two slightly ‘mature’ Roma tomatoes, a bowl of leftover rice, a carrot and some wilted basil can be miraculously transformed into a tasty Thai-themed nosh with the aid of a little garlic, coconut milk and curry powder. Provided of course, that you actually have these things. The fun part (and the art of it all) is in improvising your way to a satisfactory (if not downright delicious) result despite all of the shortcomings, obstacles, and limitations encountered along the way.

Most of the musicians and, particularly, music producers that I know are actually pretty good chefs in this particular way. They all have their unique specialties, spices, and utensils of course, but there also seems to be an inherent expectation that at least some part of this meal’s preparation will be accomplished through the act of flying by the seat of one’s pants.

Maybe that is the very nature of all artistic endeavors.

Almost every recording project carries with it the same enigmatic tendency to vacillate precariously between the poles of success and failure. Every “good” thing we capture and every “bad” thing we can’t erase become part of our creation’s fabric, its very being. For painters, a smudge becomes a cloud or a spill becomes a backdrop. Similarly, one spends a good amount of time reconciling chaos and order while producing a record and as I’ve suggested, this is a mostly a matter of choice.

Every one of the twists and detours we decide to roll with holds the potential to take us to new and unexpected places. We discover flavors we hadn’t yet savored. A whole new palette of colors, tones, and textures can open up myriad creative possibilities. It would seem that in art, as in life, the universe presents opportunities in plentitude to those who are open to discovering them. The death of one idea or line of thinking can often lead to the birth of another.

Musicians have traded in this currency for centuries. The advent of jazz made an art form of this sort of “situational exploration.” Saxophonist John Coltrane, for example, is one of those artists who stands the very concept on its head by starting with a written motif and seemingly reaching and striving for the furthest distance away from it, all while reacting to every musical nudge and nuance communicated by his fellow band mates. Even time-worn classics can fall down a modal rabbit hole — falling, tumbling, and eventually unfurling into beautiful, untamed vistas of truly sacred sound.

In many ways, I did not succeed in my Utah adventure. Although I played quite a few more paying gigs than I did in San Diego, occasions for networking and further developing personal relationships with other like-minded folk proved to be quite few and far between. Add to that the distances of both time and space that exist among potential friends or clients in a state with so much open space and it all adds up to some quality alone time.

Undaunted, I used that time to dial in the sound of my studio. I also finished a new album for myself (The Sexy) and started another for baby mama Brooke Mackintosh. I also finished one album (Fountain of Love) for Gospel artist David Brauner (soon to be reviewed in this publication) and am already underway with another for him, as well as another for tropic-soul pop artist, Kid Conch.

What was daunting was the look of my financial future, were I to continue struggling to find a foothold in a market I’d found so difficult to break into.

I absolutely love and adore my soon-to-be four-year-old son Miles and he is the main reason I pulled up my stakes in California and came to Utah in the first place. Resuming a long-distance relationship with him will be the most agonizing part of all of this, but I also realize that this won’t be forever. This just is what it is for now. Life will present, change or reinvent the parameters of all of these things as we go along in life. My greatest success in this venture will always be that I was able to invest and instill so much love into him, each and every single day.

I will stand upon the shoulders of all of these successes and failures, blessing them for the betterment I receive from experiencing them. I will reach higher, try harder and send my love further than ever before. I will do this for money. I will do it for art. I will do these things because quite simply, this is what I do.

And I will make something delicious out of whatever’s in the refrigerator, too.

Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer, singer, songwriter, and recording artist. He is celebrating the recent release of his new album at a homecoming concert, July 24th, at Java Joe’s ( 3536 Adams Avenue, San Diego, CA 92116. Admission: $10.

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