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June 2024
Vol. 23, No. 9

Zen of Recording

Stay in School (Part 3 of 3)

by Sven-Erik SeaholmApril 2021

Old dogs, new tricks…and vice versa.
I mean, I’ve been writing about recording tools, tips, and techniques for almost 21 years now, based upon nearly 40 years of experience. Even before that, I was filling boxes and boxes with cassette mix tapes in endless iterations, searching to find the song orders that flowed effortlessly into musical journeys, with just the right amount of space between songs, perfectly timed to use up every available ferric oxide particle on both sides of every tape. I even purchased a tiny splicing kit to repair or experiment even further. Eventually, I worked with four-track and eight reel-to-reel recorders, then an eight-track digital recorder and, eventually, the unlimited digital track counts of digital audio workstations.
I’m regularly asked which I consider my primary focus—producing and recording or writing and performing music. I always stop to think about it, but my answer is always the same. I’ve been doing both hand in hand for so long that it all stems naturally from the same place and feels like the same thing. Obviously, there are nerdy left-brained tasks on the engineering side and less constrained artistic expressions emanating from the right hemisphere, but over time they have all become one sustained interactive dialogue for me. It probably seems pretty weird for some clients to be looking for just the right lyrical phrasing at a point in their vocal performance, only to have me quietly obsessing over the compressor’s attack time simultaneously, but sometimes one interactively affects the other.
Lest I overstate my own personal “Zen of Recording,” there is another circumstance that has plagued almost every recording project I’ve been involved in. At some point during the arc of the venture, I get lost. I lose the thread that ties it all together or lack the proper musical perspective or come up against a seemingly insurmountable technical problem. The feeling is much like the one where you’re all prepared to leave your home for an important appointment or task but you suddenly can’t find your keys. The clock’s ticking, people are waiting and you always put your keys right there
Just as (almost?) everyone eventually finds their keys and gets on with their life, so too have I persevered, although it didn’t always seem to me like this was going to be the case.
My point in all of this is to illustrate that you’re never too smart to learn more, never so experienced that you will not come to some sort of impasse that requires ingenuity and good, old-fashioned hard work to overcome. Part of this is due to the ever-changing tastes and demands of popular music, and a portion comes from the constantly evolving set of tools with which to create, polish, and distribute one’s musical wares.
This is why after 20+ years of being a music journalist, 40+ years as a music professional and not far off from 60 years of my existence as a music fan, I’m still digging through crates, dumpsters, magazines, and YouTube videos to learn more, hear more…do more.
The great producer Phil Ramone once said, “If recording music is an art form, then there are no secrets.”
Well said, sir.
Sven-Erik Seaholm is as described above. Questions or booking inquiries are welcomed:

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