Small Blue Thing
May 30, 2017
Today I am a small blue thing…
This is the lyric to the song playing at the Purple Sage Cafe as I sit here thinking about what to write. It’s perfect… from Suzanne Vega’s debut album, which I bought with my birthday money the year it came out, having never heard a note of it. Small Blue Thing is about vulnerability and insecurity, something I often feel in the recording studio.
As a college freshman, studying music and struggling to understand the first thing about the recording studio, this is the song I chose to record for my grade…actually, it was the second choice. I can’t remember my first choice. Though I had nearly finished it before switching to this song, the experience was so stressful, I must have blocked it out.
In my school career, there are very few things that messed with my A average. They are: trying to learn the flute in 7th grade when everyone else started in 5th, sewing a basic book cover, and dealing with PE in any grade past age 10. And Studio Production.
Straight-A Student and Choir Nerd–that’s me!
I really wanted to quit Studio Production. I had no natural gifting or patience for it. The constant listening and attention to detail required was not my idea of fun. Nevertheless, Studio Production was a required for music majors at Colorado Christian College. And I wanted to be a musician.
In those days, we shared a reel tape with a classmate and after barreling my way through to the near-finish line of my project, amidst tears and frustration, my tape partner decided to leave for the weekend with our tape…the only weekend I had to finish the project! Betrayal! There was nothing to do but start over.
After the world had ended a couple times, I took a few deep breaths, and my friends Mike and Jon came into the studio and talked me off the ledge. We chose “Small Blue Thing” to record as it sounded good, I could sing it easily, and it had sparse instrumentation, so it could be recorded quickly. I was still a hack in the studio. To be honest, they probably did most of the work and called it heavy coaching. (Do you want to maybe turn that button up to 7 Beki? Good choice!) I think I got a B-. My tape partner returned sheepishly from the weekend away with an awesome new nose ring and everybody lived to tell.
A few years later in Chicago, I was hired as a studio vocalist for a label. I did a lot of backup vocals and learned to make friends with the “other side of the board” in the studio. It’s a lot easier when someone else is in charge and they hand you a check afterwards. 🙂
As Randy and I record this new cd, the experience is somewhere in between. I still struggle to spend long hours laboring over the minute details of a recording. I want to get it done and hit the road!!
It is fascinating to me that Randy likes the studio. He spends hours in there making sure things are just right. He listens patiently for the best of what we do. I freak out a little toward the end of making a cd. It’s the part of the job I struggle with most. I kick and scream a bit toward the finish line–“kind of like labor pains,” I say, as if it justifies my bad behavior. Truly, though, it’s hard to get through a day in our house right now, without hearing my own voice on playback from sun up to sundown (and the sun stays up until about 10pm in Ireland in June).
We have had a few setbacks and surprises along the way. Setting up a new home studio in a new country. Juggling recording and cancer treatment. Our last minute scheduling means our first choice producer is no longer available, so we need a studio/producer here in Dublin and we don’t know anyone! We press on.
None of this stuff is unique. Making music is full of crises and solutions for everyone who does it. I still don’t like studio production (though I definitely have opinions!) but I still want to be a musician and that means it is still required. Everyone’s job has their least favorite part. I am lucky in that my least favorite part is one of Randy’s favorite parts, and usually has some of my favorite results–a record of our hard work, and songs that mean something to us captured, hopefully at their very best.
I take great joy in knowing that I am not being graded in the same way I once was, and I can enlist the help of so many amazingly talented friends. And, by the way, now that I hear it again, I can honestly say I still really like this first Suzanne Vega album, just as ultimately, I really like what we are making now. I hope you will too.
Next week, we finish tracking and mixing at Camden Studios in Dublin with Conor Brady, who has worked with the Corrs, Sinead O’Connor, and many more.
Beki finishes her radiation treatment on June 29.
We are on tour in the USA from July 7-September 1.
The new CD (title still being decided) will be available exclusively at concerts in the USA this summer, with digital release in September.