I’m a drummer. I joined a blues/country band eight months ago with Aaron, Rich and Robby the bass guitarist. By rehearsing once a week we’ve slowly built three sets and perfected our sound, which is astounding for reasons I’ll soon explain. At this point, we’re way beyond average, also surprising. So two months ago we started talking about recording a five-song YouTube demo. It didn’t have to be great, just adequate.
I didn’t agree with that just adequate plan, but since we’re not yet a play-for-pay band and we don’t have recording studio cash, our project would be self-produced. This was doable. We already had the means to lay down eight tracks at a time. Before I retired, I worked for the Hollywood studios, directing voice re-recording and then editing dialogue and sound effects for feature films. As part of the job, I had acquired the computers, interface hardware and Protools software to work at home. All this could be applied to recording and mixing music. And Aaron had the rest of the gear.
We set up our sound space in Aaron’s house. It was my idea to separate the three amplifiers into the office, bedroom and bathroom to eliminate what we call “bleed-through” and then later re-record the vocal tracks while listening to the rough instrumental mixes through headphones. Professional sessions are laid down this way and our home project approached that grade. With a bunch of bad starts and takes we eventually recorded the five tunes with enough clarity and low background noise to proceed to step two – the mix down into a stereo two-track master at my house.
Now to be frank, I do not fit in with this band. (I rarely fit in with any band I join. Or any club for that matter.) As is usually the case with my bands, I tend to be the only college-degree, management-type musician in the group. There are lots of garage bands where all the players are business pros but I’ve never been dealt that hand. So with this latest music incarnation, once again I’m consorting with men who would never be my friends had it not been for the music connection. It’s not about income or values. It’s about interests. They never ask me anything about my life, my opinions, my history, nada. We don’t talk about family, politics, world events, personal stuff or feelings. We (or they) talk about music, past, present and future. Nothing else. I’ve tried opening up some worldly topics. A comment or two comes back and then it’s over. And this is okay I guess. We’re a blues band, not a therapy session.
So I’m not complaining. Really. But as usual I feel like I’m in an intellectual and emotional vacuum, which is odd because the blues and county is all about feelings and getting hurt, which I am…or was. I wonder if you would feel the same way.
In my last post I talked about a plumber with the attitude: It’s good enough. I explained that’s not ME. I don’t have too much wiggle room when it comes to my disposition. Between my parent’s past demands for all A’s and perfect-son behavior, plus my natural nature, I got locked into It’s-never-good-enough by the forth grade.
It’s-good-enough and It’s-NEVER-good-enough people don’t mingle easily. I’m playing in a It’s-Good-Enough band.
If I had that attitude in my job, I would have lasted exactly one month. When it comes to movie directors, NOTHING is ever good enough. Twenty takes is not uncommon. With my band, recording anything more than three re-do’s was a heavy lift. When it came to re-recording the vocals, nothing went past two takes. With Robby, our bass player, one pass was it. I think he was so insecure about getting his only singing song laid down right, he didn’t want to take another change that may have turned out wrong. He didn’t want to make more mistakes even thought I explained that in record recording, there are no miss-takes, only variations, some better than others.
Nope, Robby’s first voice take for Trouble No More was good enough. I had no choice but to work with within narrow limits, as I had hundreds of times when I digitally fixed actor’s dialogue in films.
Glen is a close friend, and like me, he came of age in the sixties and seventies. Glen is also an A-List movie re-recording mixer with a ton of hit movie credits. Before he segued into the film business he had mixed records for The Stones, The Beatles, David Bowie, Janis Joplin, Hall & Oats, Bruce Springsteen, Little Stephen, The Disciples of Soul and Bob Dylan – lots of Bob Dylan. THIS is the guy who recently taught me how to mix my band’s songs! This is the man who arranged the final sweetening session in a professional studio. This is the maestro who, when listening to my mix of Trouble No More, laughed and said, “Brave choices!” And then he turned to me and said again, “Really good work. I’m hardly making any changes to your songs,” which I knew because I was watching this expert focus his attention on the tiniest of audio details.
Nothing is ever quite Good Enough for Glen but he always tries to get incredibly close. He said I did too. He made four minor tweaks to Trouble No More, a song I spent eight hour mixing for Robby because I knew how much it meant to him. I knew how insecure he felt about his playing and especially his singing. I knew he had yet to own a fully realized recording featuring his voice and Trouble No More was going to be IT. My goal was to take a simple, standard tune and turn it into an inventive, stylized, ethereal experience. I was proud of that approach and I knew Robby would be too.
At our rehearsal last night, in front of the band and an invited sit-in second guitarist, Robby said to me, “I know this is kinda sensitive, but can I have your mix session? I need to have Trouble done professionally.”
I cringed. What could he have possibly disliked so much that it wasn’t even good enough? I had sent him my two beta mixes, he made three suggestions about the reverb and delays on the choruses and I made those vocal changes in the final. Aaron and Rich told me they loved the mix, which was miles past the band’s expectations. How could Robby so coldly reject my gift?
And so we started playing. For the first three songs I drummed on remote, keeping the beats simple while I considered the face-to-face words I would say to Robby as we walked outside to our cars. He already knew I would only give him the unmixed start session without my work, which meant that whoever remixed the song would have to start from scratch. He had to realize I was offended. But did he understand WHY?
I don’t think so. He said it was a sensitive issue. Still, his social skills sucked. His timing sucked. His choice of words sucked. And as far as I’m concerned, his taste sucked. I can’t imagine why he didn’t like the dreamy quality I injected into Trouble No More…unless he felt the song drew more attention to itself than to his singing.
But that’s conjecture. It really didn’t matter why he rejected my mix. What mattered to me was how he told me that…and when…and where. And that’s what I was thinking about while playing the back beats to Guru Man, Folsom Prison and Stormy Monday. I was wondering if lecturing Robby about sensitive social demeanor would be a positive change in his life. And I came to the conclusion that Robby is a grown man and that I couldn’t reshape his character, nor should I try. In those time holes between two and four, two and four, two and four, I realized the change had to be in ME and my feelings about my disappointment. I was not going to let it make me unhappy.
What DOES make me happy? Playing music in a band. And Robby is part of that. So in the big picture, this was nothing. Sure, his dismissal was another nick at the heart, another let-down, another reminder that you can’t predict anything with any certainty. But more importantly, it brought me back to the bottom line:
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Writing this post got me back to Small Stuff appreciation. It helped me to reset my priorities and mature a little more. I hope reading it helped you too. As always, thanks for visiting.