Wednesday, 3 June 2009

"the whole"

Yesterday, I had the privilege of being back in a recording studio playing some drum tracks for a new project.  Inspired by a conversation with David Stewart on Facebook, here's the story...

Clive Parnell,  who was also part of IndigoEcho, managed to get some funding together (through his employer UCCF) to get some worship songs recorded - with a view to giving over 1000 CDs away to students.  I've heard the songs over the past few months as he has worked the melodies out, thought a little about structure and pace and all that good stuff.  Despite my best intentions, I've not been able to contribute much to this process - time & energy being considerable factors in that.

So, last week I had the chance to jam through the songs with Clive, Gary Francis (also of IE *fame*) and Thomas Dean (not of IE, and in fact far younger than I like to consider at this time.  We played through some ideas and I came out pretty confident that I had some good ideas.

In the past when I have recorded, it's been songs that have been played for a year (at least) so the parts were pretty much sorted out live and we were just replicating that for the recording.  Even when I helped on the Mystery Tent recording two years ago, while I'd not been playing the songs, we had a clear idea of how things were to work.

Clive had recorded the guide parts for the tracks in Monday.  When I turned up at Foundry Music Lab yesterday, got set up and ready to go, I wasn't quite prepared for what happened next.  We basically re-wrote most of what I was playing on the spot.

I had a few choices to make - either spit the dummy, get all precious about *my parts* and go in a huff or just respect the perspective of the producers and get on with it.  I went with the latter (part of me thinks 10 years ago I would have gone with the former, but that's what 10 years will do for you).

Why did I *submit* to these guys who I don't really know?  Three reasons - they do this for a living, I don't and they had a wider perspective than I had at that moment.  They were seeing (okay, hearing) things that I wasn't.

I recognised that we also had a common purpose.  To make the best recording that we could.  We all have a stake in adding to the whole rather than trying to be the whole.  I think you learn this the hard way. Or at least I am!

My experience on the day was great - we got some tremendous sounds (once I figured out what I was supposed to be doing).  I'm eager to hear the other parts (I won't get that until the mix is complete this is a simple session gig for me).

My thought on production - live or recorded
Musicians (as with many artists) can be a fickle lot.  But for anyone involved in doing collaboration as part of a team (musical or otherwise). Spending a day watching and listening to an experienced producer at work can open our eyes to what is possible when it's a team blending their sounds together.

There's a great many cliche's about teamwork, about seeing the landscape as others see it, so let's avoid them, but basically, having a sense of the strategic view can really help people contribute to "the whole".

Or being humble enough to listen (and respond to) the request of an arranger/producer. 

That said, the producer/arranger has a huge responsibility to foster trust with the people they are working with. Trust is not a right, it must be earned. You can have all the experience or musical ability in the world - but if you can't interact with people and understand their map of the world then you run a huge risk of people disengaging from the process and then it's just conflict - which left unresolved doesn't help anyone.

While there's really not a formula to make successful music, there are principles here about honesty, trust and (ahem) harmony that can be practiced - that can be worked at to improve them.  If you want to get better at team *stuff* then you can do something about it.  First, get your house in order (ie get over your pride!) and then share your views by listening (!).  Hear what people have to say, try it out.  If it doesn't work, talk about it and have some real reasons why.  Get beyond *just 'cos* as a reason because, frankly, that wasn't any good after Primary 7!

If someone is better than you - find out why.  What's the difference?  Do you need to be as good as they are or are you able to be excellent at what you do so that you can make a unique contribution to "the whole".

At risk of sounding like a marketing slogan - be all you can be!


What about you - what's your view on contributing to "the whole"?  Have you done this in a musical sense or otherwise?  Have you learned when to shut and let other things happen?

1 comment:

David Stewart said...

Interesting subject this... Collaboration can achieve results not possible working solo but there's a certain distillation to the solo artist's creative process which isn't there with group work. (thinking Mike Oldfield) I guess both are good.

I wouldn't like to confine myself to one or the other. I think some people don't function on their own and need the team. I like the creative freedom of solo work and really enjoy the process - I'm glad to have that facility - but I enjoy the team too especially when the right "chemistry" is there. I suppose the closest you get to the best of both worlds is to be the arranger or artistic director..."