Friday, June 14, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day 116 Smoke and Mirrors

Don't worry - I haven't changed careers from musician to magician. Although sometimes this music road can have a lot of illusions.

I'm in Nashville, TN working on recording the lead vocal parts for the Christmas CD. It has been such a grand experience......for the most part.

My girlfriend, who often travels with me, and I have a joke between us about Nashville fiascos. This trip wasn't much different, but I'm afraid the fiasco was partly my own doing this time.

By trying to save myself some money, I booked a hotel using I must have missed the part where you mention what kind of room you want because I ended up with a smoking room. I was so focused on getting a room with microwave and fridge so I could do my own cooking that I missed everything else I guess. It took me a while to realize it. I kept thinking the room had a strange odor, but dismissed it until I saw the ash tray sitting on the kitchen table. My heart sank.

I called the front desk and they said they were completely booked full and had no open nonsmoking rooms. Then there was the "breakfast" they offered. I didn't see anywhere for them to host a breakfast? "Right there", she pointed. I looked behind me and there was a small black counter. I knew this was going to be less than continental.

Next morning, they were out of the packets of oatmeal when I went in to get what little they offered. I ate my fruit smoothie that I brought with me. It would have to do. No pool, no fitness center. Glad I brought my jump rope. At least I could keep up my exercise routine.

The first night was rough. I was concerned that I would go into the studio of a wonderful award-winning producer smelling like smoke and I guess it kept me awake. Then there was the dream where we recorded in a little store front with just a computer and cheap mic. I had a really bad cold. Fortunately it was just a dream.

I arrived Wednesday morning at 10:00 to start the 3 day adventure of recording. I was graciously greeted by Phil who came out of the house to walk me in and show me where he works on all his music. We meandered our way through the house up to the second floor to a little room complete with computer, speakers and sound room for recording. It's amazing what you can do with gear these days. Don't need a lot of space! I couldn't help but giggle with delight inside when I saw his Dove awards neatly placed on the little window sill. The only window in the studio.

We talked through the songs a little bit and how he typically works and then I stepped into the room. When I opened my mouth to start singing, the intensity of the microphone was so amazing it took me a couple times through the first song to get oriented. It was so meticulous that I felt like it was picking up my most hidden thoughts. When I expressed that to Phil, he told me that he's waited a lifetime to have a mic like this. I felt as if I barely needed to even open my mouth.

When we finished one song, he would send me away and I would find things to do in between songs so he could come up with the finished lead vocal. When I would return, he would play the finished piece back for me. It's like a painter who gets to choose the colors that you offer and when you return, you see the finished picture that he chose. It's truly an incredible form of art.

I'm about ready to head into my 3rd day of recording and we have only one song left to do. He pays very close attention to what I'm doing each take and makes notes. We then go back and do the song a few more times after he's made some suggestions. It's been great to work with him. When we would take a break between takes so I could rest my voice and he could kick the air back on for coolness (it's been really hot and humid here) we would talk about life, music, motorcycling and the 'wheel of death' that makes every computer operator shiver. (The little colorful pinwheel on the MAC computers).

Since there is one song that we don't have the music for yet, I will have to come back to do that song. At that same time, I'll add background vocals too. I say "have" to come back as if it's an obligation, but believe me, I'll welcome another chance to work with him.

I come back next week for the photo shoot, so I spent the evenings after we recorded finishing up my shopping for that. Of course, I also picked up a candle to burn while I'm in the hotel. The smoke alarm went off yesterday morning and I panicked thinking perhaps my candle burning did it.

I have kept my suitcase in the car so my clothes don't smell of smoke. I wasn't planning on living out of my suitcase in such vivid terms! I did try to switch hotels, but after stopping at 2 different ones and realizing how expensive they were, I decided a candle was cheaper.

So I've covered the 'smoke' part - now for the 'mirrors'.

Even though this is my 7th project, I am still surprised by how revealing this type of work is. A microphone is an audible mirror. You might think you know yourself real well until you step in front of the mirror and then you see yourself for what you really are. I can dream about how this will sound but the mic picks up who you are. No illusions here! Perhaps like a dancer who sees herself on video or an actor who sees themselves on the big screen.

I continually have to come to rest with who I am as a singer. You can certainly grow as a singer and learn new techniques and ways to approach vowels and consonants, but in the end, I will still always sound like me. Now for those who like 'me' that's a great thing - but when it's 'me' that's doing the singing, there is so much going on internally. That's why it can be helpful to have a producer. They listen with ears that are not attached to your heart. So they might love what I might be paranoid about in my voice and so I gain a little bit more confidence.

I certainly am much more confident today than I was when I started doing this over a decade ago, but I realize each time I do this that I have more growing to do internally.

Recording vocals is a final stamp on the song. You have to come to rest with the final print. I have been able to work with someone who has been such a cheerleader and advisor this time around and I can't wait to hear the results. Well.....maybe I can wait. It's like looking in the mirror and there won't be any smoke when it's all finished. It will be what it will be. Please understand that I am being painfully honest here with you. Others who never read this will probably never know, I'm just letting you into my heart and psyche.

Working with a producer can be like going to the doctor though too. On one hand, you want a doctor to help you with your health. On the other hand, it means complete vulnerability with someone and that can be uncomfortable. It's the same with singing. You want the producer to help you do your best - but that might mean he hears you try things that sound terrible at first. He hears everything you do. To find someone you trust and feel ok with is a very important part of this journey.

I'm thankful for Eric Copeland - Executive Producer of this project who has connected me with Phil Naish, the vocal producer of this project. It's been a rich experience!

Gotta go finish getting day for the last song today - "One Small Box."