Monday, April 27, 2009

My Life's Story On Tape - or - The End Of One Career

The recording studio that I used to work for is going under. They are folding the hand, shutting the doors, calling it quits, moving to greener pastures, tossing in the chips, joining the great studio in the sky, kicking the bucket, going the way of all flesh, giving up the jig, buying the farm, shitting the bed, rolling over and dying, curling their toes, hopping in the coffin, digging their ditch, going to see the great egress, finding the cure for success, croaking, making a final curtain call, meeting their maker, biting the bullet, pulling the plug, sucking the big one, and calling out for their reward.

It is sad, yet not unexpected.

I started working in recording studios in 1996 as an assistant engineer for a children’s record label called ReBop Records. I lent my voice to one of their project as the part of a monkey. I attended an expensive college in upstate New York to study Chemistry. In 1998, I redesigned the control room at River Dog Studios in Vermont: installing a new mixing board, a TRS patch bay, a ton of analog gear, and streamlining the signal flow of the studio. That same year I switched my major to music. I worked one-on-one with Trey from Phish. He got me fired. I hate Phish. I hated Phish before Trey got me fired. I hated them more afterward. I got a BA degree in Recording Arts and Electronic Music in 2000. I promptly moved to Boston and interned at a recording studio owned by a husband a wife team, both of whom were *expletive deleted*. They hired me on as a full time engineer and producer within a few months. I bought a can of pickled beats because the first question any hip hop artist would ask me was, “You got beats?” I never showed the clients my can of beats, but I kept in on the corner of my desk as a little inside joke with myself as I Frankenstein edited rhythmically hopeless hip hop artist after rhythmically hopeless artist. I produced stacks of crappy hip hop albums and was given the nickname DJ Disney by one of my clients due to my ability to whip out 3-part, generic, ubiquitous, uninspired beats in minutes. There was one artist who had skills and we would stay all night long, off the clock, and lay down track after track. Those were good beats and good rhymes. I recorded songs about 9/11 in the weeks after 9/11, Remember 9-1-1 being the worst of them. I started getting Boston punk and hard-core bands to record albums with me seated behind the glass, at the board, on cans, in control, and loving every second of it. Something Against You was my first front-to-back full-length record. They taught me the best pick-up line ever, “Come ‘ere, stupid.” It sounds great with a thick Boston accent. I recorded multiple Collegiate Acapella Albums because they had Big 10 budgets and even bigger egos. My take on the matter was that someone was going to take their money and autotune the hell out of their voices, it might as well be me. I like their money. I was recognized by Cara (Contemporary Acapella Recording Awards) for the “best mixed arrangement of 2001”. I believe it was for an arrangement of Dido’s, Thank You. The *expletive deleted* liked me. I made them money. Thousands of dollars a week. They paid me $11.75 an hour. They tried to convert me every Tuesday night. I resisted their efforts every Tuesday night. They once pulled out an e-meter and offered to give me a personality text. I laughed and headed for the front door a little faster that night. Tuesday nights became a heavy drinking night for me. I quit working at that studio after four years; I went out with a bang as, with one fell swoop, I punched four knuckle shaped indentations into a steal door. With those four dents, I had quit. I blamed the years of being treated like dirt for my emotional explosion. The *expletive deleted* blamed toxins in the air for my mental breakdown. In 2004, I moved to Chicago on the 4th of July, only days before my birthday, with my bass, my mattress, my peace lily, and a small trunk of clothes in the back of my truck, and a little over a thousand dollars cash in my wallet. I celebrated that birthday alone, as I didn’t know anyone in the Windy City. I quickly landed a job, albeit a bad one. I sold life insurance to union workers, at their homes, practically door-to-door. I was living out of the back of my truck and selling overpriced whole life policies out of the front of it. I spent more money on gas than I made at that job. I got an apartment with an angry Yoga instructor and I eventually landed a job at a recording studio that opened around the corner from my house. I recorded my favorite album, Imelda De La Cruz’s Noise Noise Noise. We are still good friends. She is an amazing person and a phenomenal musician. I recorded more and more acapella albums to pay the bills, something that I swore I’d never do again after Boston. College kids were more than willing to shell out piles of money for hour after hour after hour of studio time in some ill-conceived effort to get the perfect acapella recording of a Dark Side of the Moon medley. I was beginning to be known for recording amazing vocal percussion parts. I hate vocal percussion. I hate hearing it and I hate recording it. In early spring of the next year, I started engineering live shows for a wedding band, filling the gaps in my weeks and in my wallet. For Halloween last year, Imelda was Kaonashi or No Face from the movie Spirited Away. She silently gave me Tootsie Rolls before I knew who she was. That same Halloween, her husband and I went biking through the streets of Chicago as part of Critical Mass. I was an In & Out Burger manager. He was the Nurse Joker from The Dark Knight. We passed a bottle of SoCo back and forth and I played the Jew Harp while peddling down Ashland Ave. in The Loop with thousands and thousands of other bikers. I continued to be promoted as a live sound engineer and have been booked as head engineer every weekend for the last four years. In 2006, I broke up with my girlfriend a few months before our six-year anniversary. She was going through medical school in Berlin. That’s where she lived, that’s where she was born, in Berlin, Germany. Over the course of the six years that we were together, we were only physically together for a handful of months. We went on a couple of vacations together, but for the most part, every time we saw each other there was a ten-hour flight and vacation time involved. We haven’t communicated for years now. I didn’t get over her until after my next girlfriend had dumped me years later. She lived in Vermont, five thousand miles closer than the German. Nine hundred and ninety miles too far away. We haven’t communicated in nearly a year. I quit smoking while gasping for breath half way back up the side of the Grand Canyon on Jan 2nd 2007 with my bother’s wife. I had spent the pervious week running sound for the Bellagio’s 2007 New Years Eve High Rollers Ball. The room, the food, the booze, and the cigarettes were all comped; I maxed out at three packs of reds a day and God knows how many bourbons. I left the recording industry behind in the beginning of 2008, but got roped into one last acapella album shortly after I started my next job, my current job, at the greenhouse. I took the money one last time and wanted to jam pencils into my eardrums. There is this amazing theater company in there that, for some reason, I’m not mentioning. I should mention it though, that theater company means a lot to me. I’ve worked with them for years and watched kids who, when they first walked through the doors didn’t stand a chance against the world, succeed and go onto some of the best colleges around. Middlebury, Smith, NYU, NorthWestern, University of Chicago, Columbia College. I run sound tech for this theater company. I also tutor Chemistry to some of the kids in the company that are failing out of high school. I wear a tie and drop F bombs. I’ve been doing it for three years. Since then, I’ve gotten my own place, I’ve bought a car, a ton of gear, and a ton of drinks. I love plants. I love making bread. I love playing upright. I love remembering my path up to this point, no mater how bitter I might sound. Last week, I learned that the studio I helped create when I moved here almost five years ago, is going out of business. Tonight, I can’t sleep, again. I will probably never work in a recording studio again, and I'm just fine knowing that. Right now, it is 2:59 am and I’ve got to be at work in a matter of hours. This seems like it turned out to be a sad story. I didn’t mean for that to be the case. Maybe I’ll write a punch line tomorrow. Probably not.

1 comment:

  1. Your life sounds like what I might have done had I not enjoyed eating as much.

    Thank you for the compliment on my song and contribution to the collab! It means a great deal.