When I wrote my first songs and decided I'd record an album, I didn't really know what I was doing. I had some ideas about what I'd like to do, but I was extremely self conscious. All the reasons aren't very important. Mostly what you need to know, Reader, is this: I was one of those clients who needed some guidance and encouragement. We sat down to record rough tracks the first night and I walked away completely disillusioned, not because of anybody at the studio, but because of the sound of my own voice. I had no idea what I was doing with this style. I was completely uncomfortable with myself. But I was determined that I was going to get this work done . . . and I really would not have gotten it done with out the help of Brett Nolan.
Engineers have a lot to deal with when a client comes through the door. I hear plenty about the client/tech relationship from my husband, who works a great deal with live events. It's a balancing act - expectations being weighed constantly against the reality of a space, a cast, a crew, and whatever other variables might be at work.
Folks often have creative ideas that can only be accomplished with skills possessed by other people. In this scenario, I'm the one with creative ideas that can only come to life professionally if somebody like Brett Nolan brings a particular set of skills and gear to the table.
On top of requiring the skill set that comes with an engineer and the space provided by a properly equipped studio, I usually require a certain amount of artistic coaching. I walk in with the ability to sing, my charts/sheet music, and the ability to play a few (a very few) instruments. I might want 10 more instruments on any given track. So then I'm requiring the engineer to help me out with that - finding other folks to jump into the studio for a session . . . or, as we've done in the past, Brett might jump over to the keyboard and rock out some sort of insanely wonderful synth line for me. Brett has, in fact, played drums, a number of keyboard generated noises, and all kinds of sequenced shenanigans for my projects in the past.
Then, of course, somebody like me (ok, yes, me) can come in with charts, but not be convinced of her own arrangements yet . . . . and at that point I might ask the engineer if there's a better way. It helps a lot if an engineer and an artist have built up a certain amount of trust - that takes time and going back to work with a studio more than once. These days if I have a question about how my arrangement is coming across, I just ask Brett and he just tells me what his thoughts are. Some of my favorite artistic choices have been made this way over the past few years. But the sharing of ideas is a vulnerable thing and I can imagine scenarios in which a client could just blow up at an engineer for the sharing of an idea or an opinion. So, again - trust is a big deal and you have to build up trust just like you would with a friendship.
On top of everything I've mentioned above, a person like me might come in asking to play a piano. Not a keyboard. Keyboards are nice. But I am a pianist. If I'm going to record songs that rely on a piano accompaniment, then I'm going to want to record on a baby grand or a grand piano. Three times now Brett has gone into his list of contacts to find me unique, beautiful, tuned pianos to play. He has to figure out when to schedule the recording sessions so that noise won't be an issue, since these pianos are usually not located in perfect little soundproof booths (that's not really what we're going for here, anyway). So there's a whole other juggling act going on there with variables that have nothing to do with me, my songs, or the tech itself. Brett has to be able to trust that this separate venue will actually be a viable recording space. Then Brett has load all his recording gear up, get it into that new space, and make everything sound like a million bucks. I show up to play only after he's been there working on the tech side of things for an hour or more.
With all of these unknowns floating around, the art happens. And Brett takes care of every single practical aspect of the recording situation so that I can have the privilege of waltzing in, sitting down, and singing whatever I want to.
After the recording is done he takes all of that raw material from the board and works on the mixes and the mastering. He sends me recordings and asks for my feedback. He checks back often until everything is just so. During my first project I was so scatterbrained about what I wanted on each song, this process was a whole lot harder - plus I was a very new performer . . . sort of unpredictable. All by myself, I provided a myriad of complications. And by the way, nobody has told this to me. Nobody took me aside and said, "Sarah, you're making this complicated." I could see it. Reflective practice is very important in the teaching profession, so I'm used to looking back at my own work and adjusting because of past shortfalls. I had some big issues to be resolved after that first recording experience. I learned an awful lot. And it took me a while to process all of it. After I had, though, I knew for sure that I wanted to go back to Brett with my newer stuff.
My first EP was very simple. Brett found me a great piano in a quiet room. And I would not have trusted another soul on the planet Earth to record me singing this song. This song is the greatest gift of healing I've ever offered to myself. And because of time and trust, I could feel confident about asking Brett to take care of the art for me.
My second EP was a whole different story. I wanted to break out of my stylistic box a little bit. I had a lot of imaginary sounds floating around in my head . . . I was curious about what I could pull off. So I brought a bunch of crazy ideas and abstract descriptions to Brett at the studio. First, he found me an awesome piano at a great location. We recorded all of that in one night. Then we came back to the studio for a few more nights to work out all of the auxiliary stuff and the vocals. It was fantastic. And I really was asking a lot of Brett - at times, basically asking him to read my mind because I didn't have the vocabulary to talk about the sound I wanted. He did it. It was great. Once more, let me reiterate: trust is a big deal.
My career is centered in the world of music education. I record because writing and singing this stuff brings joy to my life. So I understand that this activity doesn't carry the same weight for me that it would if I were trying to make a living by doing it. But I am extremely serious about the integrity of what I create when I choose to be creative . . . so I wouldn't go to just anybody to get this work finished. Sometimes I hear folks talk about how they have to go to Nashville to have real recording done. I suppose Nashville seems like the right spot to be launching a career in songwriting. But I've always been interested in the relational aspect of singing and performing . . . so I feel more at home with the thought of writing music in Chattanooga, recording music in Chattanooga, performing music in Chattanooga, and having everything taken care of by a great professional studio in Chattanooga. I didn't write songs until I moved to Chattanooga. I owe a debt of gratitude to this marvelous little city tucked between the mountains. And it was a bunch of audacious, clever, spunky Chattanoogans who first offered me the encouragement and space I needed to let this skill grow.
So, Reader, why am I telling you all this?
First, I hope that if you also record music you'll go send a nice note to your recording studio and let them know you appreciate them. Or call them. Or brag about them to people. Send them some new business. Support them! They support you.
Second, I hope that you'll think about other folks who provide meaningful services for you in other parts of your life . . . and I hope that you'll attempt to take into account their humanity, the complications they face as they do their work, and the value of their kindness and professionalism. And then thank them for it!
Third, I hope you'll ponder the goodness of local business and home grown art. It's really a fascinating thing. I grew up in Knoxville and am always impressed when I read about a new Knoxville based theatrical, musical, or artistic endeavor. These are unique things being done in a specific place . . . and the place is related directly to the art . . . it's a beautiful thing. If you live here in Chattanooga, look around. There are amazing things going on all the time that you can't find anyplace else! What a great city.
I've done my recordings at The Soundry. It's a little spot in Soddy Daisy. The studio always has cool art on display. Brett Nolan runs things and he's a fabulous human being. Look them up! Here's their Facebook link: https://www.facebook.com/thesoundrystudio/
Until next time, Peace&Goodness,