Thursday, September 2, 2010
A BAD VOICE DAY
My voice was acting awfully shaky during a session at BIAS studios yesterday. It was disturbing. I was singing songs that I adore--songs that I've sung before with no difficulty, but yesterday, I was struggling. Some notes were landing and others were elusive. Sometimes strong, and other times extremely weak. It was a mess and I knew it. My voice and brain were disconnected. Unfortunately there was no trap door to engage so I could disappear.
Sometimes you can compensate, depending on the song. Sometimes goofy things going on in your throat are actually kind of cool. These songs deserved excellence, and I wasn't delivering consistently. I wanted to quit, and suggest that someone else do the leads. I wanted to run to the parking lot to see if Dennis or Lisa were still there and drag them back in. It's true. I prefer the comfort of the background. The enemy of my life knows it too, perhaps, because I've said it out loud enough times. When opportunities come for me to be out front, a little insecurity tries to creep in. Sometimes I have been guilty of opening the door, letting it in, and offering it a seat. When you're out front, scrutiny finds out, and is on its way. It's hard to have the things you love to do picked apart. When time and money are involved, being picked apart is a part of the territory, even if it's done nicely.
The microphone doesn't lie. Being in a studio is like being a part of a very sensitive science project. There's more mathematics taking place than a right-brainer like me can handle. Every breath, hiccup, smack, click, flat or sharp note has no where to hide. Sure, technology has a way of masking and correcting problems, but the goal, my goal anyway, is to spare the engineer from having to fix too many things. There's no skating or faking in a recoding studio. Every sound you make is being documented visually and audibly. One day, you may have to sing it LIVE. How shocked would listeners be if what they heard on the recording is NOTHING like what you perform in concert?
Was I tired, nervous, anxious, thirsty, hungry? Am I just getting old? I did. I felt old. I was beating up on myself and realized I wasn't making things better. Yesterday, some of the sounds I was painting weren't so pretty.
It doesn't matter what you're SUPPOSED to be doing, how many times you've done it successfully in the past, or what you know HOW to do, if the mechanism by which you do it isn't cooperating AT ALL. My voice was shot. The length of time that you've been doing a thing is not exempt from an occasional bad day. In my head, I could hear what I wanted to do. In reality, it wasn't happening, and I was so discouraged and a little embarrassed. All I did was compound the problem.
Jim, Nolan, Joel, and Rob were so gracious. I saw their faces, though. Nolan came into the booth, hugged me and asked me if I was alright. It did sound like there was something physically wrong. I heard that eerie silence that indicates that people are thinking, but just can't or won't say what they're thinking. I was playing what I imagined their thoughts were in my head and wanted to run away. Even though they complimented the good parts, I was so convinced that there weren't any. I wanted to just sing it down, without there needing to be any cutting and pasting. Nothing they said made me feel better. It was pretty bad, and I knew it. It's one of the reasons I make a point not to laugh at singers no matter how horrible they sound. If you're a singer, your bad day is coming, and you'd like a little constructive criticism and understanding, and even a viable solution as opposed to hearing "I think my ears are bleeding. That totally sucked. YOU suck." A bad voice day is worse when it's scheduled on a day you're supposed to expose your voice to human beings.
Nolan had an idea. I had participated in the background vocals session that lasted a few hours. He suggested that I take a break, let Joel record his drum tracks, then try again. In all the years of recording, I had never, ever wanted or needed to take a break. I never wanted to stop--not even to eat. I wanted to just knock out the leads and give them as many takes as I could. I was tired, though. I had to admit it. It wasn't the air conditioning. I was just tired. A tired singer is a silent singer--or a lousy singer. I'd learned that lesson before. What made me forget it?
When Joel was done, I went back into the booth. I felt better after the short rest. I had the water I should have had earlier. I found a peppermint candy in my bag and let it slowly dissolve. I did several takes, until I could feel myself getting tired again. When I was done, no matter how many times Jim and Nolan said it was fine, and they had enough to use, I knew I could have done better. I backtracked. Yes. I'd stayed up very late the night before. Not a good idea. I'd slept with the air blowing down on me. I'd eaten too late and felt sluggish. I was winded. For years, I've had no set routine or rules to take care of my voice. Perhaps it's past time to start one.
There are things that you know, and when you know better, you're SUPPOSED to do better. Yesterday I had to re-learn a lesson. Fortunately it wasn't a matter of literal life or death, but when I can't sing, it does feel as if something in me is dying. It has been the way I connect to God. For a long time I thought it was just between Him and me. He had to teach me otherwise, and, no matter how inadequate I may feel, He keeps fashioning circumstances whereby I have to come out of my very comfortable comfort zone and share what He gave me with others.
Fortunately, yesterday, I was surrounded by people who wouldn't let me wallow in discouragement. Some people have more confidence in you than you have in yourself, and it encourages you to WANT to be, and do better. There are some people you just don't want to let down. There are people in my life like that. Encouragers. Everyone needs that. I think--even the most independent, self-motivated people could use a push, some affirmation, even a prayer on their behalf.
I got that yesterday.
Today, I'm glad I have a chance to rest. I'm glad I'll have a chance to try again tomorrow. I want to do what I know how, and love to do--and do it right.