Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Choosing the Studio and Producer

I'm sitting around Toronto- unemployed. There have been long patches of unemployment in the last 2 years of my life. But i like to call it active unemployment. I have spent my days taking vocal lessons for the first time in my life. Anyone (especially my girlfriend, from here on forever known as - Kait) who has been around me in the last couple of years knows i am obsessed to the point of boring everyone around me with the vocal mechanism. Going to a private school (or perhaps any school) as a kid (and those of you who have been there know this) that it is perceived as cool to succeed without trying. I like to call it the 'A-' syndrome. The letter being the result, the negative being the effort. Who wants to get an A plus when you get an A minus. Fuck that! Fuck that! Fuck that! God, i can't believe i spent my teenage years and my early twenties (i am now entering mid twenties) with that attitude. That attitude is for losers, and those who haven't grown up yet. I remember being banned from doing all musicals and plays at SHORE because of my 13 year old ego, once being described at 14 on an audition form as 'wasted clarinettist'- they should have locked the door to the music admin room. Not that any 13 or 14 yearold should be banished from participating in artistic endevour purely because of behavioral defects, but the teachers had a good point. I wrote a some lyrics to a song that other day on this topic...

'if i had listened long ago, i'd be much further down the road'

It is a good thing i have finally learned this. It's not just about you. Use your talent to do something bigger than you. You in the end will end up boring people (maybe not after one reality series or movie lead), but what you can create can inspire and engage people. Larry Moss said in New York about the new Jennifer Anniston moving flopping at the box office- she is just doing the same character shit over and over and over again, people are over it, they want something else, something more. But you need to develop your talent. Its not good enough to not try- you'll fail. So voice lessons changed my life, i love them, and i will continue to take them forever, whether i end up succeeding in the music and acting industries or not. Hopefully that hard work will come across on the new album.

So where was I, got to make sure i don't just get rambling all the time and stay to the topic of the blog. I never got tested for ADD, but i swear i have it.

Being unemployed in Toronto- new city (again), not where i saw my journey going, but hey, what the hell, its where i am, and its a great city. It's like Melbourne, in fact it pretty much is Melbourne, just a whole lot fucking colder. Indie coffee shops are taking off here all over town- if your looking for me, that's where you find me, in one of them. I don't drink really or do drugs (maybe my kids will go, daddy tried to become a 'soft-rock' star), but i love coffee. God i love it. So my unemployment finds me hanging out in coffee shops with other unemployed musicians and actors. So Kait told me to get off my dragging ass and start looking at doing an album project. I got a reference from her and my friend Jeff who are both musical theatre performers in town to a guy called Alan Poaps who recently recorded an album for a great fucking singer called Michael Hughes (a bit buble like with a slightly more musical theatre sound). Check his sound out http://www.mickehughes.com/. David Foster flew him out last year to Vancouver to do his huge arena show.

I met with Alan and discussed making a CD with him at Timothy's Coffee Shop (real specific) up at St Claire Station. I liked the guy immediately- he bought me a sandwich and a coffee- good first impression. We talked alot about Michael's CD and his recording process. Then we got to cost. It was going to cost about $2,000 a song, before mastering (the final mix process for those who are not aware, it's the final sound packaging if you like for a song that gives it that radio quality sound) and publicity. Alan stressed the importance of publicity. So it would cost $20,000 for a 10 track CD (including the development of the songs, arrangements and recordings). But as Alan pointed out, no point spending the cash if no one is going to hear it. I like Alan, and feel like he would be very truthful to where i am at at the moment with the lounge kind of style and my story songs. I however worried about the price. I am a business minded kind too, and marketing is too important. So by the time i got things mastered and publicized i honestly think i would be looking at $30,000- maybe one day i would make it back, but god that is a lot of money. That is 6 months back on Disney playing every night just to get close to break even.

I emailed musician friends i had met around the place and they felt that $2,000 a song was on the expensive side for a first crack at an album. I like Alan and i am not opposed to working with him in the future at all. He couldn't start recording me and working with me until Jan/Feb next year anyway as he is busy on current projects. He has given me some feedback on some songs i sent, so i appreciate him for that- he is the guy i would like to record a Jazz/ProgressiveMusical theatre type album with. The thing is- i wasn't sure what i wanted to record, what style and where i would have a competitive edge in the market out there. The thing is, i appreciate musicians and artists who want to starve for their art- i knew one at University who didn't want to sign a 4 record deal as he thought he was signing his life away, he has since not done anything in 5 years from what i can see- and the guy was/is amazing. There has to be a balance. If you are actor you have to do commercials to survive- even the big actors take a shitty blockbuster that stinks to make cash- look at DeNiro. People slag him off, but who gives a fuck- that shit movie still made $100 million a the box office and he pocked $15 mil in advance. I'd make a shit movie so i could give $5-10 million at least to charity or something. Why not? I don't want to a record a CD that no one will listen to. I don't want to be Britney Spears- but i want to create something that comes from me, that tells my story(s), that lots of people can tune into and engage with. I am not an artist who wants to make art just for myself- i am in this business because as fucked up as most people are- i still love them to bits and they fascinate me, so i want to be out there telling stories to, telling stories about those people. The more the merrier. Human experience is shared for the most part (unless you live with the animals and the wind somewhere), and i want to share in it, and share to it. So it is important to find a sound that will resonate with people out there and allow me to travel and share.

I stumble online across a production house called digitalunderdogproductions in Toronto. I start reading and listening to the stuff. I like the sound of the production, although it is far from the jazz lounge stuff i have been doing for the last few years, and i read about the producer. He is an aussie guy called Dave Thompson. Vagabond kind of, multi instrumentalist. I email him, the next day he has researched me up and we speak at 2am in the back alley in the freezing cold on the phone (so i didn't wake Kait up). We have a huge discussion about art, and acting and our journeys, and we really fucking clicked. He likes what i have to offer and thinks there is alot there that he feels he can get out of me. He wants to strip away that loungey 'disney' carisma (which certainly has its place in those gigs) and find the original artist in me. I like the sound of this guy. He is either the best fucking salesman i have ever encountered or a genuine fucking artistic producer. We say we want to meet for coffee.

I met him on Spadina and Queen West downtown, and funny enough we go to a Timothy's. I was looking for dark horse indie coffee, but went south instead of north on queen. We just talked about life and art again, and his vision for me. He tells me he thinks i have everything i need to really go to the next level (i am aware that every producer is going to say that.. i mean i am paying the guy), but i would rather have someone who says he believes in me than not. And i think he does. He is a commercial rock/pop producer. He wants the stuff we write and record to be on the radio and to be in arenas. He is not interested in me selling my CD's in jazz clubs and hotel lounges. I would be happier playing those places than working in a law firm for the rest of my life, but arenas sound better to me. Or at least the Enmore Theatre in Sydney or the Vogue in Vancouver- i would take that.

I enjoyed our first meeting, and like the idea of working with him. He goes to see 'Let Me In' (great film, go see it) then emails me the package cost. We will certainly not be using live musicians as much as the other option, but Dave played every instrument under the sun, so for commercial music, bass, guitars and drums go along way to the final product. I of course can play a bit or alot of piano (depending on how you view classical training as important) so we are alot of the way there in terms of instrumentation.

Kait is the best supported to have in your corner. Constructively critical, but always supportive at heart. I have spoken to Dave about my fears of recording with him. I went out before committing to the project and met him in his studio. Its in his house out near Sheppard and Yonge (about 50 mins from my place in the St Lawrence Market). He has made it very clear that he is not the jazz/musical theatre even Queen type producer- he believes his skill set lies in Brit Pop/Rock commercial music- coldplay, keane, kings of leon, u2 kind of sounds. When i first wrote music this is what i envisioned my sound to be. However the more jazz i have learned and sung and even being around the musical theatre world, the more i have swayed in that direction. Kait is concerned, and rightfully so that i may be heading in the wrong direction from what my true calling is- i have been a success in the lounges and maybe could go places in musical theatre (with alot more vocal work) and jazz. But Dave thinks my look and my true sensibilities may lie in being stripped back from that happy 'disney' type style, and give true honest renditions of my ideas in powerful ways. We did some work on a song i wrote last year called 'Beautiful Little Thing' as a tester of how the process would work. It sound amazing. Its amazing to see how two simple chords can become an anthem when the right minds come together. I always felt my loungey, piano ballads could become so much more if put in the right hands. This potential was certainly proven if that is the sound i want.

The truth is, i like Dave, i don't think he is a bullshitter. He is either the biggest bullshitter in the history of bullshitters, or one of the most genuine, honest, artistic guys i have ever met. I like his confidence, his professionalism, his reliability, his openness, and especially his blunt-ness (get to the point, i honestly believe life is too short not to get to the point, we fuck around so much to make people feel good, healthy criticism and discussion is necessary to create good things, i don't want to be working with a precious mother fucker who doesn't tell me if i do something shit or unbelievably- Dave tells me if he thinks i am delivering disingenuously he will call me on it, and i better have a good explanation for why i am doing it that way- i like that- when creating art, you need to be specific, or come from a specific place, it doesn't have to be technical it can be as simple as 'i love you', or 'i hate you', and if you really feel that do it and it might come across, or perhaps you need to go further and ask 'i love you because...', or perhaps even more complicated 'i love you because...but i hate you because'.. it all depends.. just be honest).

I am excited about getting started. Got a few things on this week so have postponed start date until 2pm Monday the 15th of November, 4 days before my 25th Birthday (god i am old). I like the idea of 'Alex started recording in his early 20's' better than 'Alex start recording in his mid-twenties'.

Of course i will continue my vocal lessons, hopefully still gig in lounges and bars, and hopefully i will continue getting TV and film auditions as well.

Who knows what is going to happen. But i will continue to update as we work on concepts, songs, and start putting things down.

Love to you all

Alex

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