Three Things I Learned & Wish I Knew Before Recording My Album "A House of Many Rooms"
As I finished writing my lecture that I'm giving at Cal Poly Pomona later this week, "The Art of Living and Producing the Dream," I thought of the setbacks and lessons I learned while recording my debut album, "A House of Many Rooms: New Concert Music by Fred Hersch." For my lecture, I'm discussing how to bring ideas for Dream Projects to life. The last component is having patience and understanding that things almost never go exactly as planned. My CD is a great example of that.
PHOTO: Top- going over notes with composer Fred Hersch.
Bottom- Recording at Oktaven Audio in Mount Vernon, NY.
1. This will take longer than you think. Trust.
I remember casually saying to my friend Zadie Lawler, "Oh, I think I'll be ready to release in about a year or something." (There was laughter in my head as I wrote that). Zadie tactfully responded, "Well, I remember the art work and making sure all the program titles and dates were correct took over a month." Yes, what I thought would take about a year took three years instead.
Learning and getting the music ready alone took over a year. Then, there were logistical matters like scheduling. And there were also so many small to big details to consider and spend time on, such as creating the album artwork and choosing which record label to go on. There are so many decisions to make, and everything really does take longer than you think. What I didn't expect was all the waiting around that happens when you do something like a recording project. After you finish recording, there can be a lengthy editing process and other things that you have to depend on other people for.
2. Before you get in the studio, record yourself and then LISTEN.
For as long as I can remember, all my teachers have recommended that I record myself and listen. When I'd do it, it was always so helpful, and yet, I seldom did it. Boy , I wish I had! I guess I had what they call "studio shock." The first time I heard a playback of myself, I was horrified. My timing was all over the place. My playing was so one-dimensional! Of course, I'm not the best judge of my own playing but it really did come as quite a shock.
I grew a lot during the recording process and listening to myself. I remember Fred telling me that my playing is going to change a lot as I keep listening to myself in general and also as I listen to myself on the finished album. Even if I know in the back of my head that engineering magic happened to make me sound as good as I do, it's a psychological mindset shift thing that happens when you can hear yourself playing at your highest level. Your fingers and playing level will rise to match what your ears want and believe they can do.
3. Acceptance & Letting Go.
If I had unlimited time, money, and resources, perhaps I could make the absolutely perfect album that I'm 100% happy with. Too bad I don't. What I wish I knew and accepted ahead of time was that it would be impossible for me to be 100% happy with this recording. I wasted a lot of time not giving final approval and submitting the album to Albany Records for post-production and distribution when I knew that I didn't have the option of going through another round of edits or more studio time.
As mentioned above, we are not the best judges of our own playing. For now, I'm fairly happy with the final result and I accept what Fred said to me while recording and also mentions in his fantastic new memoir, "Good Things Happen Slowly"- "I recognize now that there is never a perfect time to make your first album- you have to jump into the water and let your experience guide you. You must believe that you will make many more and that this album is just one musical snapshot of where you are at that time, on those two days in the studio."
PHOTO: Hurrah! With Fred Hersch after wrapping up recording.
Recording was a thrilling process, and I feel like a totally different artist on the other side. I feel incredibly lucky and grateful to have had this opportunity to work with an artist like Fred Hersch, someone I greatly admire and respect, and get to be the person to record some of his compositions for the first time, including one that he wrote for me. It's crazy! When I unboxed the package and held my physical album in my hands for the first time, I felt all that hard work melt away (watch silly video HERE).