Looking back upon the seven and a half years that I have written for the Troubadour, I have at once a flood of images and yet, a near total absence of amusing anecdotes. I have enjoyed the honor of hanging out with legendary rock photographer Henry Diltz, who regaled me with stories of getting high with the Monkees (and the answer to the often asked question is “No.” We didn’t smoke any grass, but we sure talked a lot about it!); I remember the joy of reconnecting with my old pal John Katchur when I interviewed him for a Troubadour cover story. And I was introduced to the wonderful music of The Cat Mary, whom I was called upon twice to review. I think those were the only reviews I ever did, actually. The rest has been an endless blur of suggestions, opinions, adjectives, and information, all lovingly (if often all too earnestly) offered for the betterment of music and the world around us. Proof that mission statement stays in full effect here is the essay below, my first installment of The Zen of Recording in February, 2004. Peace, — Sven
I was watching a DVD the other night called A Decade Under the Influence. It’s a documentary about filmmaking in the ’70s, detailing the zenith and subsequent commercial fall of independent American cinema in the span of just 10 years.
The film shows us an America doubled over from the growing pains of social activism. Freshly arrived from the front lines of the civil rights movement and encouraged by the “Summer of Love” and its emphasis on free thinking, our country’s people had begun to ask questions of its leaders. These questions covered everything from our involvement in Vietnam to women’s rights, and of course there was a whole sexual revolution to deal with.
This dialogue manifested itself in the works of maverick directors and producers of that era. This was the first time we were hearing names like Cassevetes, Scorsese, Ashby, Altman, and Coppola. The passage of time makes it easy to forget that “classics” like Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy, The French Connection, Deliverance, Taxi Driver, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and Being There were once considered the groundbreaking, taboo-busting work of artistic rebels.
As people began to get their fill of all these “reality”-based themes, escapism once again reared its empty head, and things subsequently began to take a nasty turn in the latter part of the decade with the mega-success of Spielberg’s Jaws and Lucas’ Star Wars. The staggering amounts of moneys generated from these sorts of film “franchises” and their accompanying merchandising revenues brought a much larger corporate involvement to bear. Suddenly, the smallest courtesies once extended by producers and studio heads were now the domain of corporate boardrooms and accounting firms, and final cuts were left to the mercy of test audience opinions. Hello, financial success … bye bye artistic freedom.
Sound familiar? Maybe if you substitute your favorite musical artists and producer’s names for those of the directors listed above and your favorite albums instead of movies. How about now? Here are some more questions: Why do you make music? Is it artistic expression and contribution toward the furthering of your chosen craft, or is it your main objective to “get signed”?
Oh yes, there it is: the “s” word. Look, don’t get me wrong. I want to be able to deliver my work to the largest audience possible, and I’d like to be paid big piles of money for doing what I love. But at what cost?
Let’s say you’re a diehard blues artist and the Record Company offers you all these things with the caveat that you’ll be making your music their way. Let’s further suppose that their way is in the form of some sort of techno-dance music, and that you will have very little input as to how the end product will sound. Don’t forget that solid two years of touring where you get to recreate that unintended vision night after grueling night, just so you can make enough money to pay back the production and promotional expenses of music you don’t care about anymore.
Sound like a cynical over-exaggeration? Could be, I suppose. There are certainly a few artists that can be pointed to as being in command of their own artistic destiny, but for each one of them, there are undoubtedly hundreds of thousands of equally talented, but as yet undiscovered artists toiling away in seedy dives and apartment studios everywhere. The real difference is in the cost of these pursuits, and the ability to nurture and explore them far from the calculated eye of The Man. Movies are prohibitively expensive ventures compared to music and it seems like each day, more tools of our trade are made available to us even more inexpensively. What this means is that we now have more control over our art than those who have come before us, and that our decisions regarding our work can come from a place of love and unique expression.
Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer. In addition to recording, mixing, and mastering services, he also offers home studio consulting and lessons on location: 619-287-1955/www.kaspro.com