When I was younger I thought in the studio I needed to control everything myself
not that drum sound,
yes that bass line,
not that vocal harmony,
yes flute in the bridge,
Thought my taste represented the smartest decisions possible and I always had at my disposal a full tank of certainly.
Hence affronted when a fellow music producer told me this joke
“How many producers does it take to screw in a light bulb?”
pause “I don’t know what do you think?”
Snickering he expected a comrade-like slap on the shoulder but I thought to myself, you don’t know what you want in the studio and you think everyone else feels just as insecure, that’s not my problem.
Then time passed and did what time does and something inside me opened up and a different picture came into focus. I noticed on some of my favourite works of art that behind the creation was more than one person at the wheel. I also noticed those pieces were stronger for it, stronger for that opportunity to mash up the ideas of other people and that it’s very unlikely those choices could have been predicted by just one person. To put it another way, what’s predictable is that one person left alone all the time will probably make the same tasting dish.
On my recent records or recent records produced for other artists I try to keep that close. To consider that ideas I could quickly dismiss, that they might be worth taking a little longer to decide upon especially if I sense more than one other person liked it. When I was younger I thought they just didn’t know what was right and wrong but I instantly did! Now consider a different idea over a little longer time is like a way to gain objectivity.
It’s like when you’re angry and you send that angry email and a day or two later you realize you might have played it differently if you lived with the facts al little longer.
When directors hire me to score a film I do some time travel and I’m face to face with my younger self. Maybe twice in 30 years a director asked me to just do what I do and didn’t upon hearing my work respond in terms of what is right and wrong, what works and what doesn’t work. I understand their response and they aren’t “wrong” but it’s rare that someone considers what I made and lives with it awhile if they don’t like it immediately.
I worked on a feature film earlier this year, the adaptation of the Michael Healey play The Drawer Boy. A strange experience because I attended the actual play at Theatre Passe Muraille in the 90s and loved it. Often when people deliver their films there are problems with the structure or wooden acting or confusing edits and it puts one in a position to try and rescue the thing through music if that’s even possible. When they sent me the rough edit I braced myself that it might not live up to my enthusiastic memories.
But to quote Ted, the 2cnd guitarist from the band UIC when he admired something – it totally slayed me. Now I had the best possible problem ever – how to add music and not get in the way of something that’s great without music.
The nicest surprise happened near the end. I tried to offer something unique to the soundscape, a lyrical song about the movie. Asked a songwriting student to sing it. After preparing myself psychologically for rejection it turned out they liked it. Got to have my cake and eat it too.
Dancer/ Choreographer Yvonne Ng Peck Wan approached me to compose music for a dance.
“What kind of music do you want?”
“I don’t know you’re the composer.”
If only that was true. So I made some music and I added some whacked out sections and played it to her then counted the seconds before she would freak out.
“No no no I didn’t mean like that. Could you do it more like ….”
But she didn’t do that. Did she really enjoy (or at least not mind) me using snippets from my answering machine along with sped up whale cries mixed with harpsichord through a bass amplifier?
I called dancer musician friend John Oswald and explained my confusion.
“The dance world is often run by women and it’s not competitive the way men communicate in business” he said, “you’re the composer she just expects you to make the music, whatever that is – you’re the composer, she means it.”
Unique having that sort of freedom from Yvonne. Only once in 30 years did I work with someone like that, Susan Cavan – the producer of Kids In The Hall, hired me to score a CBC sitcom because she liked one of my songs used in a film she saw by chance at the Bloor cinema.
CLICK TO VIEW EXCERPT of Yvonne’s PIECE