Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Live performance, Studio focus and everything in between...


I've been performing live since I was about 4 or 5 years old. In one form or another. It was the music that called to me first. But suddenly the music goes through you and you're sharing it with others, performing.

Either I was jumping around the living room dancing and singing for my parents, or I was the featured performer in the 6th grade musical, or I was performing little dances at school functions with my friends, or I was playing trumpet or saxophone in the school band, or I was playing piano and singing for my parents' friends at a party, or I was on the microphone crashing my dad's jazz band rehearsal singing a cool jazz version of "Hush Little Baby." I got into performing at a very young age.

It morphed into straight acting for a while and I found myself doing lots of Shakespeare, Checkhov, and other classics as well as modern plays. So I've kept at it through the years. Performing in choirs, plays, bands, musicals, gigs, and shows of all kinds, so I'm continually working the craft of it. I have experience in it. I know how the shoes feel if you will. But I also get bored very easily and always seem to want to push the edge to learn something else, challenge myself, forge new ground. And that's what this journey was about. And boy did I get it.

So, yes, I'm fairly experienced at being a performer, but being a recording artist and producer in the studio? Holy smokes, I feel like a little babe in the woods. I recorded my first record while in college. I was the singer in an original jazz band, and we recorded 3 albums together in our reign. But I was mainly the singer. And although I contributed my input where I saw fit, I had very little to do on the deep production side of the albums. I've recorded a few more albums and demos since then on my own, but this one is definitely the biggest project I've taken on. My original songs, my hand picked band, my choice of studio, and my ideas and so on. I'm swimming in all of those elements cumulatively right now with my coproducer and partner. We're in the studio every free day we have building and creating the album. On days I don't have shows, I'm working on the album with my partner in his studio. And we're deep in.

We just keep digging deeper and deeper into this musical wonderland jungle and there are so many little paths to walk on. Vocals, background vocals, guitar, sax percussion, and then there's mixing! How it sounds, different sonic choices and volume levels for everything. And you're not always sure how far down to go on each path so you just trust your gut, your ears, your heart and your soul to lead the way. It's very challenging to not get overwhelmed. To keep that long bird's eye view of where you're headed to, so as to not get lost on your way. To remember how great it will feel to get the songs to their happy place and to finally share the songs with others.

It's very different from performing. In performing, you're looking out and connecting with your audience. You are taking your journey with them. Communicating. Noticing their reactions. Playing together, co-creating the moment together. But in the studio, it's just you and the musical notes, gadgets, gear, sounds and feelings. No one to look out to to share energy with. You're just swirling in a petri dish with the energy and sounds of your music. It's wonderful but it can seem very big, confusing and daunting sometimes.

And that's where I'm at. It's challenging, frightening, exhilarating, frustrating, educational, uplifting, and just basically life changing. As Kurt Vonnegut said "To practice any art no matter how well or badly is a way to make your soul grow. So do it!" Well, Kurt, you were certainly correct. And I'm doin it! And my soul is spreading it's wings for sure.
in appreciation...

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Mystery Magic in the Mix

First day of opening the songs at the home studio to start overdubs and mixing. There is an old school saying that 25% of recording is basic tracks, 25% is overdubs, and 50% is mixing. So we're only 25% across the river. But it's lookin' and sounding good so far. In the next weeks and months we'll be recording vocals and overdubs and mixing.

Mixing, the other art. Tweaking everything, mixing the stew until all of the ingredients are balanced perfectly. It's such an important part of any record and can make the difference of your tracks sounding alive or flat. I used to kind of despise it because it's such a specific, detailed and somewhat frustrating process. You can create what you think is the perfect mix one day, and then come in the next day and realize that the bass is too loud, percussion is too quite and the kick drum is sticking out. It's a constant act of tweaking over several days and several listenings. And listening on several different sound systems at several different volumes. Iphone, to car stereo to home studio to computer and so on. But I'm beginning to really make friends with the mixing process. Like an artist with a ball of clay, you just keep at it and find the joy in the process.

It feels so exciting to be diving in so deeply. I'm so looking forward to this February journey inside the tracks. Bringing out their individualities and personalities, textures and colors. Giving each track an identity of it's own. My little children :-)

More to come...
every moment grateful,
ak

Monday, February 3, 2014

Making Music, Dinner Parties, and Ginger Baker

A big misconception about my profession, is that because I'm "doing what I love" or "following my dreams" that I must just be in bliss every second I'm singing. Well, just like anything in life, that's just not the case. For me, singing isn't a "solo" exercise. My experience singing is very intertwined with and affected by who else I'm playing with. Who the musicians are, what the music is, what songs I'm singing, how the sound system sounds, if the band is locked in etc. I meld into the swirl of sound and find where my voice will sit within it. There are so many factors that have to come together for the ease and joy to flow in the singing. It's somewhat of a team sport.

I recently watched a great movie called "Beware of Mr Baker." It's a documentary about Ginger Baker. An incredible jazz and rock drummer most known for his work in the 60's and 70's. He was the drummer for Cream and later Blind Faith. He is an incredible drummer with natural time and a natural "swing' in everything he plays. That is partially what gave Cream that undeniable sound and infectious and original grooves. In the documentary he is asked "So do you just love playing the drums?" and he snapped back quite aggressively in his sharp british accent,  "Well, it depends on who you're playing with!!" I had never heard anyone just say it as blatantly as that, but it's the way I've always felt as a singer. I don't love every moment of singing on stage or off. It depends on who I'm playing with. And it's especially challenging if I don't love the ensemble I happen to be playing with at that moment. I never have my best performances in those situations. And I can walk away feeling deflated and frustrated.

Because I make a living as a singer, I sing all kinds of material from jazz to pop to rock. I sing in many different environments with many different people. Not like on my album where I wrote the songs, I hand picked the band, and created the vibe with them from the ground up. That is the dream. That is the best place to be. It feeds my soul and brings my singing to new inspired places. Don't get me wrong, I'm VERY grateful for all of my singing jobs. I'm grateful for the work, I am constantly working my craft, and I always learn something in those environments. But sometimes those shows and gigs don't feed my soul. Or don't feel like my real authentic place.

It occurred to me that some gigs are kind of like going to dinner parties. You can have great food, a beautiful house, great wine, a beautifully set table, but all of it can be a bit spoiled if you don't get along well with the other guests. If you can feel a tangible friction with the other people there. Or if someone is just annoying. But you're there, eating dinner and drinking the wine for the duration of the evening and you just have to be patient and find the best out of the situation. You're a bit trapped with them for an evening just like being on stage with the other musicians. You can't just walk off stage if the music isn't grooving. Or the drummer's time is inconsistent or, or the piano player's chords are hard to sink into. In those situations I look for the common ground amongst us and lean on the areas that make us shine. Like finding common ground topics at a dinner party to keep the evening light and pleasant.

All of these thoughts lead me back to marveling at what an organic and mysterious process making music is. It's human. It breathes. It hiccups. It's sensitive. It listens. It transforms in process and then transforms us who are playing and those who are listening. I love making music. And I love the complexities of it. It makes it all the more special when everything aligns and we are elevated, transfixed and lifted in it's presence.


Friday, January 31, 2014

Musician, Artist, and Snakes

I really think of myself as a "musician", not just a singer or singer/songwriter. It took me a while to get clear about that. I play piano, harmonica, percussion, I write write songs, I can write charts and read charts, I can lead a band and I like to get immersed inside the music when I sing. This is why I've never been comfortable with the word "diva" or "chick singer." "Diva" indicates self absorption, insensitiveness to others, and a disregard of the musicians you're playing with. The phrase "chick singer" is often used by male musicians in the local wedding band and corporate party band circuit when they refer to the female singer in the band. The phrase indicates the the woman isn't very intelligent about music, keys of songs, and other technicalities about the music. But the sensitive artist and "musician" in me has never been able to resonate to those phrases. I've always felt different than just a singer. I am a musician. My voice is just one of my instruments.

This experience in the studio producing my solo album is amazing and is certainly letting the "musician" in me flourish and shine. Writing the charts, working with the musicians in the studio, rehearsing the band, and discussing the intricacies inside the music are all at play. I feel at home. It is my home, where I belong.

Laying down basic tracks in this last week( drums, bass and keyboards), we all put our heads, hearts and souls into every song to find where the song would live. The bass player, an incredibly gifted musician, has one of the most uncannily accurate instincts about music that I've ever worked with. When a song wasn't grooving or not locked in, he always had a suggestion that helped solve the problem and opened the song up or let it settle into where it's home lives. He said "every song has it's heartbeat and you have to find it." I love that! That phrase will stay with me.

This is just one of the lovely lessons that this marvelous process has taught me. I'm sure I'll be writing about many of the lessons in days and weeks to come. There's nothing like leaning into the edges of something that really challenges you to help you grow. It's glorious. A book that has a great impact on me is "The Untethered Soul" by Michael Singer. In it he talks about "leaning into your edges." He says "Life creates situations that push you to your edges, all with the effect of removing what is blocked inside of you." That "when you approach the edges, you feel insecurity, jealousy, fear, or self-consciousness." 

I had to pull out all of my courage and warrior stances to take on the edges I pushed up against. To face the demons that wanted to creep up and sabotage me, that wanted me to believe "I wasn't good enough" "my songs aren't good enough" or "the album will be awful." I woke up every day at 3am with paralyzingly electric snakes swirling in my stomach. These weren't just butterflies, these were snakes. And my head was buzzing with anxieties, fears and worries about tempos, grooves, choices, and time. I was "catastrophizing." Which to me means, certain that the worst case scenario will happen. My irrational fears about the future become absolute undeniable, inevitable truth in my mind. This experience was bringing up all of these old thought patterns and insecurities, and it felt like they were being exorcized out of me. But they didn't go quietly, they had to put up a fight. I was being thrust up against hard edges

Singer says, "This is how great beings live. When you are trained, like a great athlete, to immediately relax through your edges when they get hit, then it's all over. You realize that you will always be fine. Nothing can every bother you except your edges, and now you know what to do with them. You end up loving your edges because they point your way to freedom. All you have to do is constantly relax and lean into them."

So rather than cowering and giving in to the fear and demons that the edges were bring up, I looked them in the eye, refused to give them the power, and just kept moving forward. We learn what we need to learn by going where we need to go.

We got basic tracks to 8 songs in 3 days. We used every moment in the studio to it's fullest. I am filled with appreciation for the ability to do such a project, and create art with such wonderful people. And we were all in the control room with big smiles on our faces grooving to the sounds that were playing back from our sessions. What an exhilarating experience. And a big nod to the loving and luminous spirit that was a silent but very powerful presence that was always by our side.

Now in the weeks to come, we'll be building the record. The adventure continues...

every moment grateful,
ak





Sunday, January 26, 2014

What Life Expects...



I often immerse myself in inspirational books and articles. They help me keep my head about me,  keep my heart in the right space, and keep my soul anchored as I bring songs into the world. A particularly powerful book just had a fierce impact on my life. It's Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning." An incredibly powerful book for teaching how not to be run by your circumstances but to choose your reaction to all of life's twists, turns, tragedies, and struggles. One quote that really struck a soul cord in me and a resonate chord as well was the following quote:

"We had to learn ourselves and teach others that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us." 

I am about to embark on my first self produced solo album. We're set to record 10 of my original songs. These are all songs that I wrote myself on piano. I couldn't be more thrilled, excited, energized, fired up, inspired and terrified all at the same time. I've got my dream band, a fantastic studio, and all of the rehearsals seem to indicate that the songs will all flourish under the red light.

But one can never be sure or certain and that's what makes the creative process so constantly edgy. You never know you just have to go! Ready, set ...GO!

But every time I feel like running and hiding, I remember that quote and it helps me keep on going. It helps me remember that to contribute something of meaning to the world, with your heart and soul leading the way, is to be aligned with your purpose as a human being.

Music humbles me and honors my soul and I'm so thankful to be on this journey.

every moment grateful,
ak