Whether you’re an engineer or producer, 2018 should be the year you get back to recording your own music or playing live again. Isn’t it the reason you found yourself in this crazy industry in the first place?
Listen Here – Back on Track
By Andy Stewart.
By far the most common story I hear, when someone describes the way they got into our beloved music industry, is that they started out playing in a band. More common still is the story of how that’s no longer the case.
Before the word ‘career’ entered their vocabulary, or ego got the better of them and they started introducing themselves as a ‘producer’, most engineers and producers played an instrument and/or sang in a band. Their beginnings were humble yet ambitious, their expectations simple: I want everyone to love my music. Fair enough. It’s good to be ambitious.
But of course, for the vast majority of us – and by that I mean ninety-nine percent or more – the ambition for fame, riches and glory recedes (if it every was truly there in the first place), replaced by the need to earn a living, pay the rent and possibly feed a family.
And in many respects this is the more admirable, rewarding ambition in the end. Though I can’t speak for others on this, personally I’d rather continue working in the industry for a wage and gaze into the eyes of my children every night than reminisce about the days when I stared off stage at adoring fans.
I have no choice in the matter now of course: there are no adoring fans, but nor am I the slightest bit interested in having any. I’m content with where I’m at; I still play live regularly and perform on albums almost every week. Simply put, I just love playing.
But if I miss anything it’s recording my own music either individually or as part of a band.
TIME IS MUSIC
There’s a reason for that – or so many of us would assert. It’s exceedingly difficult to set aside time, devoting huge amounts of effort to your own production when you’ve worked on hundreds of albums for other people, several of which are ongoing. The same goes for getting a live band up to speed. Have you ever tried getting six adults over 40 together on a regular basis for band rehearsals? There’s always someone with an excuse – every week.
But even if you’re trying to get a personal solo recording project off the ground, for many of us it’s still virtually impossible to find the motivation to step back through the airlock after-hours to create more music when you’ve worked all week in the studio for others. As crass as it sounds, when no-one’s paying you it’s hard to drag yourself back to the console for more punishment.
But is it really like that?
Written down, this looks like the lamest excuse under the sun. You could just as easily argue the opposite scenario: that all the experience at your fingertips makes your own solo production easier to grapple with, not harder. Surely it’s simpler to satisfy yourself than accommodate the musical tastes and preferences of others? But then again, maybe deep down you’re not interested in making your own music any more. That’s perfectly understandable, many of us aren’t.
But for those who are – but still don’t – maybe the real story is that we fear our own mediocrity, though we won’t admit it.
This business we’re all in – of writing lyrics, melodies and music, and performing it all in the studio or on stage – is confronting and emotionally risky, to say the least. So it’s demoralising (not to mention potentially devastating) when you can’t get the best out of your own performances.
In the solitude of a late night recording session there’s no-one to turn to (or criticise) but yourself, and it’s only then you come to realise how hard it is to perform in front of you, Mr Producer guy.
But getting a taste of your own medicine like this has its advantages. Humbling yourself in front of the mic, with your penned lyrics in hand, teaches you to appreciate what your many clients go through almost ever day.
For an artist, the personal attachment to every aspect of the music making process is almost visceral, something that’s never easy to empathise with as a producer or engineer unless you’ve experienced it yourself first-hand. Stepping up to a mic is genuinely hard. If you’ve forgotten that feeling, try ad-libbing a backing vocal while 10 on-lookers stare in at you through the control room glass.
In many respects, being a producer is the easiest job in the world, by comparison – like falling off a slimy log.
I think it’s time the nonchalant excuses for why we still haven’t recorded that solo album – “I’m so busy,” or “I’ve made so many records for other people I haven’t got the energy for my own” – were cast aside, and we all got real in 2018.
No more bullshit; no more self-delusion mixed with hollow, self-aggrandising rhetoric. It’s time we played music again, and put the careerist aside, even if only for a little while.
It feels good to work on your own music. It’s not a luxury or an indulgence; it’s what you do (or at least did).
In my case, I started out buying audio equipment for a couple of music projects I was working on, with the intention of continuing on as a solo artist. That was 30 years ago. I have lots more gear now, but ironically no more albums. Actually, I’ve never cared too much about it until now.
These days producing is my day job and I wouldn’t swap it for anything, but I think this year is the first time I’ve felt the urge to get my next album over the line… finally.
For many others like me who haven’t fulfilled a similar promise to themselves, maybe this year is finally the year when you turn that wealth of skill and talent of yours into something you can finally call your own. It’s been left untapped for too long, and time’s a wastin’.
If you love music, and loved playing it in years past, get back into it as fast as you can. Not only will it reinvigorate you personally, it will refresh your career as a producer or engineer. Not that such a cynical reason as this should be what finally motivates you to do it. Your art is as important as anyone’s, and being an engineer or producer should never overshadow that.
And as we all know, there’s nothing worse than working with a stale old curmudgeon embittered by the loss of his or her musical career. Don’t become one of those people whatever you do.If a love of music drew you to the industry, whether by design or accident, let it be the thing that keeps you feeling good about it.
Andy Stewart owns and operates The Mill in the hills of Bass Coast in Victoria. He’s happy to respond to any pleas for recording or mixing help… contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article first appeared in the print edition of CX Magazine February 2018, pp.34-34. CX Magazine is Australia and New Zealand’s only publication dedicated to entertainment technology news and issues. Read all editions for free or search our archive www.cxnetwork.com.au
Published monthly since 1991, our famous AV industry magazine is free for download or pay for print. Subscribers also receive CX News, our free weekly email with the latest industry news and jobs.