Rehearsals start in three days and I’m in a frenzy, scouring through charts checking and rechecking that I have everything ready for the deadline looming before me. My office (the living room table) looks like it has been hit by a bomb and the only thing visible over the mountain of paper is the cloud of stress forming above my head.
I had spent the last few weeks carefully deciding on how each of the songs to be included on my new album “Forbidden Moments” were to sound. When will the drums come in? Do I want an electric or double bass on ‘Medicine Man’ and how will that affect the rest of the CD? I’m drowning in decisions. One thing I like about jazz is that you don’t have to worry about playing a song exactly as it’s written. You just make it up on the spot, play it one way then POOF!… it’s over and you get to try something else next time. Recording is different. It’s a carefully laid out ‘snap shot’ of just one interpretation of a song and once it’s done, that is how everyone else thinks the song should sound and so getting it ‘just right’ is crucial.
The internet, my trusty friend, helps me source other artist’s songs for production ideas and I decide it would have been much easier if I had secured a ‘real’ producer to help me out with the album. I grumbled inwardly about lack of budget as I read about American jazz singer Melody Gardot’s album’s producers winning some major award at the Grammys and feel cheated by the universe when I realize I can’t have the full orchestra I envisaged playing my songs.
I wrestle with my intros. There are just too many ways you can bring in a song. Benny (aka Ben Piano-King Clarke) makes up a new intro every time we play so how can I be expected to choose just one? It doesn’t seem fair. That evil little word ‘budget’ flashes before me again as I contemplate hiring an arranger.
The day of the rehearsals rolls around and armed with my charts, I feel confident about exactly what I want each musician to play. I had assembled a stellar line up of musicians; some who have performed with heavy hitting artists – I’m talking Shirley Bassey, Darryl Braithwaite, James Morrison, Marcia Hines, Jerry Lewis… the list goes on. They are all technically brilliant jazz musicians and even though I can hold my own – and hey, I wrote the songs after all, one can’t help but feel a little intimidated by the collective breadth of knowledge and skills held between the band members.
I’m running fifteen minutes late to my own rehearsal so I blame the fact that I had to pick Ben up and the new traffic lights along Cedric Street (courtesy of another less-than-brilliant idea from the city’s town planners) and the guys are ready to go when I arrive. Things are going well. Mike Perkins the drummer interprets my instruction to play “that swishy brush groove” with ease, Ben does his usual re-arranging of some of my chords despite my protests, and the coffee shop is open for that all important caffeine fix.
In fact, things went better than well and all my stressing was for nothing. Producing an album is really a whole other area of creativity and having only done a little bit before for my EP, attempting to tackle an entire album is a daunting task. Everyone pitched in, working together and using my grand vision for the album as a guide, to get the songs sounding fantastic. By the end of the rehearsal we were ready to hit the studio.
Recording lessons learned so far:
1. Never compare yourself to a big name artist. Their stuff is way more expensive than yours and they have professional producers (a whole team of them!) making their songs sound way better than they were to begin with.
2. Do the best with what resources you have at the time. Find brilliant musos like Ben and Mikey C who play multiple instruments. It gives you more choice and the album will have more ‘colour.’
3. Get a grant. You WILL NOT have enough cash.
4. It’s ok not to know everything. Everyone has their ‘bag’ and people are lovely and will help you if you let them.
5. Avoid Cedric Street.