[By: Kat Downs – Piano Destroyer]
A very common question we get asked a lot in interviews is “what is your most favorite and least favorite parts of being a professional musician”
My most favorite? Live shows. Love. Forever love.
My least favorite? Recording.
(Which sort of blows when you are, in fact, a Recording Artist.)
In interviews, I don’t really get the chance to elaborate, so that’s what I’m going to do here.
When I first write a song, it’s my most favorite thing in the world. I make a stupid little home-recording of it on voice memos or garage band and I listen to it 9,000 times. Sometimes it will even be the first thing I listen to when I wake up and last thing I listen to before I go to sleep for days. I also play it 9,000 times live to myself, and then all the times we play it in the rehearsal room once I bring it to Mike, and then all the times we play it on stage. I love it. I love every single thing about it. It’s pure magic to me.
Recording is another animal altogether. When you professionally record a song, you can hear every single inflection, intonation (tuning) issue, any rhythm that is a fraction of a second off – it makes me hyper-sensitive to all the micro-details and takes me out of the big picture. This is when the song starts to lose it’s magic for me. We get caught up in the technicality of it all – microphone style and positioning, judging if the phrasing exactly right, I’ll discover I’m singing that note just barely sharp, blahblahblah.
I try to keep it magical. I really do. I try to stay in my la-la land of “yay emotionally amazing song!” but I’m also a Virgo, so when we start talking details the other side of me says “YES! Details! Pick it apart! Shove it in a spreadsheet! KILL IT!” Sigh.
I absolutely under no circumstances can be present for mixing. No. No no. During mixing you are analyzing the entire song bit by bit and making micro-adjustments on eq, timbre, volume, and then if you have any effects added on like reverb. Maybe just the last part of that one word is a little lost so that needs to come up just a bit, and this one hit is just a fraction off, and this one snare hit sounded weird so we need to tweak the timbre on that – and I’m not even shitting you, an engineer can spend 2 hours on one 5 second portion of a song. Nope.
I tried being there for mixing when I first started recording and by the time we finished that record, I never wanted to hear any of those songs again I was so fucking sick of all of them. And the ultimate joke is after you finish the album full of songs you never want to hear again, now you’re supposed to tour to promote said record, and those are the only songs you’re supposed to play.
So I’ve found ways to work around my own limitations. I know when I need to walk away and let the engineer do the work and go for a walk. I’ve also learned that if I go in there uber-prepared so that I can do the song in three takes or less, I feel way less violent.
And I love all these amazing engineers and friends of ours that we’ve gotten to know over the years – and I LOVE that they find all that detail work just fascinating and they want to dig in there and get all knowledged-up about all of it. God bless every cell in their bodies because if it was up to me, all you would ever hear recorded of my work was something I did on my phone.
I want to clarify – even if recording really is my least favorite, in the land of all things it’s still not the worst thing ever. I mean, I’d much rather record than go to the dentist, or even clean out the litter boxes. There are parts of recording that are actually really fun. For instance, if you go into a studio not having a solid arrangement in mind, and you aren’t concerned with trying to ever re-create a piece of music in real life, then you have an amazing world of endless opportunities to work in. That’s amazingly fun. Collaborating with producers and other musicians is super fun. Having a darkly lit room all to yourself where you get to sing at the top of your lungs with no one watching you is super fun.
I don’t hate EVERYthing about it. 🙂