I have had certain friends for quite a decent amount of time. With every group of friends I have had, there was always some “You know we should get together and…” type of plans made. Not just plans to hang out at some place. Not necessarily a plan to go anywhere crazy. These type of plans are plans of starting on something small and then having it grow from there. Creative, business, entrepreneur… these types of things. In my case as a musician and with musician friends, there was a creative plan.
My high school friend J.C. moved out to San Francisco years back. His family still lives out in our hometown area and I’ll see him when he occasionally visits, but it’s not often enough that even that happens. A mutual friend of ours, A.B., talked about going out there and discussing starting a music project that has plenty of opportunity to get out to masses. Here’s the thing: all three of us discussed doing this a while back when we all lived in the same area still. The planning was lax on that initially. It also didn’t help that J.C. at that time was moving to Redding to go to Bethel, a school for Christian ministry pursuits. He left and it was just that more difficult to pursue that plan.
So now here we are and we finally asked ourselves, “Why haven’t we done this now?!”. Good question. The answer? Wednesday, March 29, 2017. A.B. picked me up and we went to the City by the Bay. It was a nice day to be out there. Warm with a cool breeze. The Bay Bridge toll plaza was not crazy which I rarely experience. Fun Fact: I realized they switched the Treasure Island off-ramp to the other side of the bridge. Trivia. I like to notice those kinds of things. We continued through the city towards Golden Gate Park. We actually ended up just north of the park. Of course parking sucks in the daytime. It was a residential area but everybody seemed to be home… but with patience, and a lot of traveling up and down the street no further than 2 blocks because walking that far is apparently overrated, we nabbed a parking spot right out front of J.C.’s church that we didn’t have to pay for. Thank God(?)
J.C. met me and A.B. out front and we greeted each other like there wasn’t as long as time as there really was between now and the last meeting. We brought in the equipment and got into our studio tech mindsets. J.C. was figuring out the logistics of the power and cabling. A.B. started his guitar tuning and then I brought up my preferred recording software of choice, loaded Amplitube 3 (virtual amp software) and we were just about ready. We went over the piece of music that we were going to record some guitar elements over. I was hearing that it was in the key of C… but just in case, I just went over to the upright piano and quickly heard out the chord progression. Sure enough, C (all white keys). Went over the song with some riff ideas figured out how much more could fit in the spaces without making it muddy. We all have had the producer mindset for a while – myself since I was in high school. There was this familiar feeling coming over me every time I was pressing “record” and telling A.B. what I heard and him telling me what he heard and J.C. telling us what he heard. I’ll get back to that feeling later…
It was the 4 o’clock hour and there was a sort of time limit due to the church-scheduled worship time at 6-8 P.M. J.C kept reminding us of this every so often but it was sort of a running joke after a while. We made progress and got the tracks recorded well before 6 o’clock. There was nobody else there. There were instruments that we all could play. Impromptu jam session!
I got on the upright piano, J.C. got on the Roland FA-08 keyboard, and A.B. abandoned his Fender Stratocaster for his first love, the drums. J.C. picked a key, I picked some chords, A.B. picked a drum pattern… and we were off to the races! Jammin’! We weren’t talking a whole lot while playing. Just some glances and we saw what we were all trying to communicate to each other – as musicians who have played together a lot do! Once again, a very familiar feeling came over me.
So… uh… it was past 6 o’clock and nobody for the worship has shown up yet. I pointed that out and J.C. was like “If nobody shows up for worship, I’m going to be mad. We could have been recording!”. Hah. Priorities for the win! Well, it wasn’t too long after that exchange that the worship leader, Danielle, showed up as we were still playing. J.C. introduced her to me and A.B. “Nice to meet you!” we exchanged. Another worship participant showed up. Her name was Amber. I would learn later that she has a more defined title involved with the church. Unfortunately, I forgot what that title was and what she did.
A.B. and I jumped off of the stage and packed up what was left of our equipment. The plan was to actually just have A.B. and myself move to the room on the first floor to continue our discussion with J.C. about the project, though J.C. would have to possibly come up to the main room occasionally to do some technical work. That was the plan.
So A.B. and I had our equipment packed and ready but we were waiting for the worship to officially start so we could know J.C. was clear to start with us.
Danielle sat behind that same upright piano I was playing earlier. J.C. actually thought to stick a wireless Shure SM-58 mic in the cover of the piano to have it mic’d so people could hear it. It’s something we have done before with other instrument recording setups. “Ghetto” but it works. “Could you go to the mixer, unmute the channels and get a quick sound check?” he asked me. It was a mixer I was familiar with and that added that very obvious familiar feeling to the other familiar feelings. I went back there and began the process.
Soundcheck is always just a starting point due to the nature of dynamics as different songs progress. I knew this and felt that J.C. was probably going to have to adjust while A.B. and I were downstairs… if we got there.
An unexpected change of plans happened as the worship started – I decided… to work.
I stayed posted in front of that mixer and was adjusting as Danielle went through her worship songs leading the people who showed up. Danielle has a great voice! She was clear, powerful projection with no signs of fatigue ever showing up. The chord progressions she was playing I was very familiar with being used in worship songs. She was a very dynamic piano player as she transitioned from one song to the next. As she transitioned, I transitioned from one equalizer shape to the next and I also adjusted the faders accordingly to the dynamic change. This happened for the next 2 hours.
A.B. and J.C. realized what was happening and decided to use the worship time as they normally would. They’re deeply Christian and I am a music and sound technology nerd who loses himself in working the mixer for live music performances. It was a match made in Heaven(?)
Occasionally, A.B. or J.C. would approach me and ask questions about what I’m doing or note something about the current unfolding of events, maybe a little joke, but they would end up continuing to sing along and worshipping in their own ways…
…and there I was completely enveloped in the work I have always done, not getting paid, not even asked to do it, but just doing it anyways.
As the worship concluded, the normal pulling down of the faders and putting away the equipment happened. As it was happening, I just kept thinking “Wow – I really did that!”.
We had a quick conversation with Danielle and Amber, there was a notable point I noticed about it but I will get to that later. It was a small conversation of each others’ backstories and then we said our goodbyes and then they left.
J.C. closed up shop with the church. Unplugging things, powering down things, putting everything back, and then turning off the lights.
J.C., A.B. and I went out to KoJa Kitchen for dinner. It was Korean-Japanese fusion and it was delicious! I got my vegetarian “koja” and loved it!
That day/night brought back that familiar feeling at those certain moments. The familiar feeling of us in our young 20s, in some studio setting, staying past midnight, just jamming and recording whatever we were feeling. The familiar feeling of our verbal exchanges during the recording process, refining a sound and producing a track. The familiar feeling of being behind a mixer, shaping the sound so that the audience is not distracted by the way it sounds but rather so focused on the presentation of the content of the song because it sounded so clear for its dynamic.
The familiar feeling of me doing what I have learned and always loved to do in helping make the music a creation that felt good to make and better to present, especially if it isn’t my own creation and I was trusted to know what I was doing… or at least working it before they asked and they just realize I know what I’m doing.
It’s hard to prove your worth without presentation of the fact. In that quick conversation I mentioned earlier, the thing I noticed was how J.C. presented A.B. and myself to Danielle and Amber with our musical histories. It was the last familiar feeling of the night reminding me of my work. It was the familiar feeling of how many people I have experienced pulling my name up, saying m name, and bringing up how talented I am with either engineering or playing music. It takes a decent amount of thought for me not to be so humble and refine statements like that about me in a diminishing fashion and instead just say ‘Thank you.” and go with it. I was mainly a listener in this moment. I guess I’m still not used to being so vocal about my talents in these kinds of moments.
I’m realizing these familiar feelings are reminding me of who I am and what I do. They are telling me what I should be doing and keep doing. They are showing me what should be my focus because of how much I apparently love it. They are reminding me of where I’ve been with these skills and how many people know my name for these things. They are reminding me what network I already have established and how I shouldn’t feel ashamed of taking advantage of those connections to progress myself to new places.
I’m 30 years old and have been around the block of music business from the local level up to national and even reaching some minor international points of noted music achievement. There’s not much I really haven’t seen of the business from working with local cover bands, to interviews on regional radio stations, to hearing my remix being played on WILD 94.9 as I’m parking ready to go into recording arts class, to being in a Hollywood studio with international music stars.
The only thing I haven’t really experienced is my own MAJOR breakout performance with a wide fandom and all the fame and problems that comes with it. I don’t need to experience all of that. I’m just saying that’s pretty much the rest of what I have yet to experience as far as the musician and music tech industry goes for me.
So I have all these possibilities and people to contact to get things done. The familiar feeling reminds me this is a domain I know and pretty much live in worry-free. I have projects planned again. I have people reaching out for collaborative efforts again.
This day/night was something I needed. I needed to be reminded I am this music/sound nerd.
I guess I didn’t need to be reminded of that but I did need my productivity and creative inspiration revived.
It helps to have friends who know you and appreciate your musical and technical knowledge and know how to remind you when you’ve lost yourself a bit.