The “glamour” of being a recording musician

I’ll admit, when I decided that this was the week to make the transition from GarageBand to Apple Logic, I didn’t realize I’d be joining millions of others around the world. But with Apple’s highly-anticipated release of Logic 9.1.7 on Tuesday, that’s exactly what I’d done.

Initially, I’d suspected that the lengthy application download process, measured in days rather than hours, was somehow the result of a mistake or oversight on my part. (Wouldn’t be the first time, and certainly won’t be the last.) But once I started digging into the online forums of fellow musician/producer/Mac users, it began to dawn on me that I’d thrown myself into the equivalent of a worldwide historical (hysterical?) event.

Yet while the idea of helping to ‘make history’ (if joining hordes of fellow consumers in purchasing a downloaded product may be seen as making history) seems pretty sexy to me, the reality isn’t nearly as romantic.

And while the idea of being recording musician working on his 7th album may seem pretty sexy to the casual observer, the reality isn’t nearly as romantic.

I’ve been enamored of music and musicians since I was a toddler, moved by music from the beginning. I signed up to be suckered by my favorite rock stars as soon as I was old enough to hold a tennis racket. I shelled out my hard-earned teenage-wage cash as soon as I was tall enough to reach the record store counter. And for years (decades) I’d assumed that the images I’d seen on the covers of my favorite albums reflected the way my heroes actually looked in day-to-day life.

You know… Ace Frehley circa “Dynasty”, eating a bowl of cereal in the morning with silver cape flowing behind him, gently brushing up against the refrigerator. Steve Vai doing dishes. (Steve, honestly, do you ever have to do the dishes at your house?)

In the process of buying the whole ‘rock star’ shtick hook, line, and sinker, I was simultaneously accepting another unspoken un-truth: that if I am not larger than life like they are, then I’m less than. Which, in turn, lead to the whole mistake of believing that if I’m less than, then I must present myself to be greater than in order to fool others into thinking I’ve got my act together. The whole ‘public relations’ game, whereby good (that is, ‘sellable‘) albums are 75% cool packaging and 25% decent music. Until success ends up having nothing to do with music, and everything to do with promotion and sales.

Yuck.

A dear friend recently split my skies open the other day on the phone, when he related a story about John Lennon eating breakfast. Apparently some fan was outside his house, and a news crew was there, as well, just hanging out. So John and Yoko go outside, and John’s like, “Hey, what do you want?” And the fan is all, “Oh, your lyrics are amazing… and these lyrics meant this and those meant that,” and on and on. And John stopped the guy and said, “Don’t know what you’re talking about. I was having a snack and those words popped into my mind, so I wrote them down. It rhymed, so I used it. I’m just a guy. Are you hungry? Wanna join us for breakfast?”

Just a guy.

Though it goes against all the rules of “how to make it” as a musician in today’s hyper-saturated world of Logic-downloading freaks and geeks (currently slowing the internet down to a glacial pace), the truth is, he nailed it. I’m just another dude. Not supposed to admit that, I know. Supposed to have the kick-ass profile photo on every website that sells my music… so the kids will think I eat caviar in between takes. Because if being a musician is romantic, then the writing and recording process must be really glamorous.

Would that it were true.

I’m currently writing and recording my seventh album.” Translation: I’m currently going home after work and going into the spare bedroom where all my music gear is set up (“the studio”) and peeking at my laptop to see if Logic has finished downloading yet. I’m currently untangling my guitar cable and trying to move the bills and other paperwork off of my desk so I can open my guitar case and pull out my electric guitar. Better yet…

  • I’m currently turning on my guitar amplifier and wondering what those crackling sounds are and realizing with some trepidation that it might finally be time for me to actually learn how to change the tubes.
  • I’m currently erasing my 14th attempt to record a vocal track because, once again, it sounds like I’m trying too hard to sound like I’m not trying.
  • I’m currently searching for my phillips screwdriver so I can remove the backplate of my bass and replace the two (2) 9-volt batteries that power my active pickups… the same batteries that just died in the middle of a recording session.
  • I’m currently getting into my car to go to the grocery store to buy two (2) 9-volt batteries because I just realized the house is completely devoid of them.
  • I’m currently shopping online for an external hard drive that will easily store the 6 years worth of music on my computer so I can free up some space to continue recording.
  • I’m currently changing my guitar strings because I tried to fix my wife’s glasses and failed, and had to resort to cutting off part of my e-string to replace the teeny-tiny screw in her glasses until she can make it to the optometrist.

In the end, I think, not much of the creative process is nearly as sexy or glamorous as we (as observers) might initially believe. Most of the struggle for me seems to be in dealing with my own worst enemy: myself.

The swirling cloud of thoughts is often in the room, and no fun to deal with: Will I cave when my inner critic starts ranting about how these current efforts suck? Will I crumble when friends say they don’t care for a particular line? Will I be annihilated when no one buys my cd? Will I freeze when I try to play this song live?

What some may see as glamour is so much more often the dumping, quite literally, of old coffee grounds, the cursing of the grounds that miss the kitchen garbage can and land on the floor, and the search for the latest can of cat food as the cat cries with reckless abandon, eager to be fed after an insurmountable night between meals (“No night could be darker than this night, No cold so cold, As the blood snaps like a wire, And the heart’s sap stills, And the year seems defeated…”) as one tries in vain to satisfy those mundane, earthly requirements long enough to get back to the blank canvas.

If there’s a sexiness… if there’s ever been some sort of glamour, it lies in those tiny moments between ‘doings’, during playback, with headphones on, discovering that the vocal harmonies actually DID work, and sound like a choir. Or that the difficult passage that had to be “punched in” actually sounds very natural. Or that the previously ‘unplayable’ song is now quite withing one’s grasp for live performance.

Paradoxically, the only real glamour is that which is completely internal, having nothing to do with the perceptions and opinions of observers. Kinda funny, since the whole concept of glamour relies upon having an audience. No audience, no glamour. (If a woman gets out of a taxi and there’s no one there to see her diamonds and finery, is it still glamorous?) So maybe we’re talking ‘joy’ rather than ‘glamour’.

Either way, that spark of joy holds within it the fire to fuel a thousand galaxies. Or seven albums. Whichever comes first.

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2 Comments

Filed under Writing & recording original music

2 responses to “The “glamour” of being a recording musician

  1. surelay

    You have taken the path that I wish I had… Life is strange when you are a stranger in your own life. I play ( try ) guitar less than an hour per week cause I do something else for living ( and it is fun too). I envy your talent, your vision. But hey, make sure you put your bills in another room. I don’t believe that inspiration comes with money. I really think that the industry is killing the craft for too long and just like in book publishing, the Web will reasoned them. With all the e-platforms available now for marketing our stuff I think that Indie have a much greater audience than we think. Keep it True, reflect your roots and people will appreciate your work. ( me, I’ll stick to Garage band… Lol. Logic is way too Glamorious for me.) Have fun. And by the way, if a women gets out from a taxi with all her diamonds and finery, it is because she is not True. A True Glamour chick would get out from a limo. Think about it.

  2. Thanks so much for the support. I’ll take your advice and move the bills into a different room. And when I took my last album (A Place of My Own) in to a local studio to have it mastered, they asked what program I’d used… it was GarageBand. They told me they would never have guessed… so it’s definitely possible to get powerful results with GB. I say, stick with it and keep that ‘tape’ rolling. (And you’re right… it woulda been a limo!)

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