Friday, January 12, 2007

"Take Your Wife To Work Day" at Jethro's Music Recording Emporium and Tractor Repair Shop

None of the photos today were taken by me. I got them all off the intermittent net. In general, recording studios either look sparkling clean and sparse like the bridge of the Enterprise, or nasty cluttered and junky like your teenage nephew's basement bedroom. The one Jethro does most of his work in is kind of in between. I am exhausted from sifting through crappy photos of studios. That kind of photography is very tricky. Enjoy! I didn't take the pictures of Johnny Depp either. Just so you know.

I pretty much have to book a recording session to get time with my man. Unfortunately I am not a musician, so I have to volunteer to go to the studio and scrub toilets instead.

What, you ask? No raging parties, no slick producers in shades on the phone at the back of the room? No supermodels? A common misconception of the music business is that it’s all clothes and parties and rock stars.

Ha. In Canada? Not that I’ve seen, although most of my time in studios, before I had the kids, I was in the lounge, watching these amazing short movies called “music videos”, which I hear you can’t see on “music video channels” anymore. Lounges fall into two categories: Boring or ratty.

There was that one time when Jethro was working at a very big studio, and Guns N Roses were in Toronto for a big gig, as they were recording their way along the tour, desperately trying to get that bloated Use Your Illusion mess finished. I, sadly, wasn’t there. I would have loved that fiasco. Apparently Duff McKagan was the only one capable of holding a conversation, Slash played pinball and spit on the carpet all night, and Axl stayed in the limo, alternately demanding to be driven around the block and threatening to come in and work IF he felt like it. Viv Savage and Mick Shrimpton were...oh wait...that’s a different band.

I’ve been on the fringes of the muzic biz for almost twenty years, and you know what? I have not been rewarded with enough rock stars. The first time I met a rock star I said something rather dumb. “Holy s**t you’r e tall.” Once I delivered a Pro Tools rig to a frontman who I used to LOVE irrationally, and even though he was a perfect gentleman, carried the heavy stuff out of the car and made my heart flutter, I came off like a total hillbilly with no social graces. Hey, I gotta be me.

The last bout of rock star rubbings up on, I said all kinds of unremembered stupid things and got my picture taken looking like I was bombed out of my mind, (which I wasn't, not really...) as the hoodied young fella fondled a beer bottle with one hand and my shoulder with the other.

The next day I snagged another one for a picture. He was holding a drink with a colourful umbrella. Apparently this guy takes the fan photo op very seriously. Look! A pink haired girl who's not me! Young George here is a very busy guy.

Then there was that time two years ago when I met a female musician who I admire very much for her voice, songwriting, lyrics, and incredibly funny writings, a beautiful curvy loud mouthed woman. I gushed at her about how beautiful and smart she is and then did the worst thing you can do to a stranger whom you know too much about and feel too familiar with: I put my hand on her shoulder then I touched her face. Oh my lord, so bad. Instant embarrassment. But she has the softest skin in the world. She looked at me with alarm and yelped, “Oh my god! She’s hitting on me!” Oh, and I was wearing a dress made of chainmail over my clothes. I might have scared her a little.

I split real fast and went looking for someone else to make an ass of myself to. (Jann Arden if you are reading this, I apologize, I love the stories about your mom, and you look great after losing the weight but I promise I won't ever touch you again. Promise!)

Rare moments though; generally it’s so unglamorous. I still like going to the studio though. I still think it’s fun in small doses. It’s a pretty big deal for me, because getting there requires a drive down to 400 series highways, and for the last couple of years, ever since my Little Breakdown, I’m not so good with highways. It’s a half hour drive, in good traffic, and at the end of it I need to sit down and shake for a minute or two. Or run across the parking lot to Good Eats and get some grub.

There were no rock stars of any description at the studio this week, and there rarely are. No fancy cars in the lot unless you count Jethro’s Jetta.

In the building, there were just four guys crouched in front of computers, tapping away at their little white keyboards, spinning the little trackball, watching the sappy tunes go by mapped out into jiggly lines.

Here's a picture of a control room with a thing called an ANALOG CONSOLE.
We don't have one of those. We have a digital control surface. There's no tape involved anymore. Here's a picture of a tape machine.
Jethro would have one like that just to look at it and think of the good ol days when he was twenty years old and editing with a razor blade. He'd park the old 24 track machine in the lounge right next to the tractor. That's when he finally builds his dream studio in the old tractor shed out in the sticks and calls it "Gitoffamaprawpitynah Studios".

Everybody was working on the kind of music that I like to call Teenager Repellant. You know what I mean. Sax solo in place of vocal. That kind of stuff. The client pays. The work gets done.

You could also call it Heidi Repellant but I sucked it up and endured.

I was in the building two minutes when Jethro bounded down the stairs with his phone pressed to his face, discussing, quite hotly, a mastering session. He’d spent a good chunk of time editing and mixing a beautiful acoustic album and wasn’t about to trust just anybody with the last phase of the project. Also, there’s not much money to throw around. He got off the phone and told one of the Computer Cowboys all about the injustice of almost every mastering facility on the planet.

In the kitchen, I found coffee grounds and limp shredded lettuce in the sink. I also discovered that the trash can was full. It’s always full. Always. (Why is the rum always gone???) It defies logic. It makes no sense how the trash can is always full. So I changed it and noticed two other full bags waiting to go out to the dumpster. Nobody goes behind the building after dark. It’s just like that. So the trash loiters longer than it should. I don’t even like going back there in broad daylight, therefore giving the trash permission to hang around even longer. It may have to start booking session time too.

I grabbed up the dish towels and the towels from both washrooms and threw them in the washing machine. The upstairs bathroom still hasn’t been repaired after that Little Fire awhile back. I think we’re just ignoring the big black hole where a ceiling tile used to be.

The kitchen in this place is bigger and nicer than the one in my house. My kitchen isn’t generally spotless either but I don’t get it: there’s a dishwasher there. If I had one of those in my house I really don’t think there would be that many crusty dishes sitting there. This particular studio is really nice, and even if it gets a little grungy it still gives a good impression on first glance. It’s not huge or opulent, but just very comfy. I want to make it a good place to be.

Did I mention that it’s mostly guys? Occasionally you get a female artist in, and I feel very sorry for those girls, what with all the dirt and all, but there still aren’t many female recording engineers.

In the control room downstairs, I gathered up the slimy mugs and glasses, the water bottles in various degrees of emptiness and the stacks of empty Tim Horton’s cups. If you live outside of Canada, you don’t know Tim. Tim apparently made the best coffee in the world after retiring from his hockey career and before he bought it on the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto. I wouldn’t know because I don’t get hockey and I don’t drink coffee. I personally think that the cups at Tim’s are lined with liquid nicotine or something because the addicts all get this crazed look when deprived. I believe the entire Canadian music industry would collapse without Tim Horton’s. Every control room in every studio in this country has Tim Horton's cups in it. You can tell this picture was not taken in Canada because of the absence of Timmy H.

Every control room needs a couch against the back wall. I understand that this is where the producer sits to take phone calls. After all this time I still am not sure what a producer does. Tells the engineer that he wants the kick drum to sound more orange? Man, I want to do that. Here's a picture of a producer's couch.
See, I could do that job.

They wouldn't let me near any of this stuff though.I have a strange chemical in my skin that makes electonic equipment just stop working. Cell phones fear me. Computers used to fear me but so far my Mac is proving resistant. But this. It cowers. Give me five minutes and I'd have the whole mess squawking for pity. I sweep around it, cautiously.

I sat upstairs for a few minutes, on the couch behind Jethro’s workstation, drooling with numbness as he sifted through takes of a syrupy rendition of “Do It To Me One More Time, Once Is Never Enough, With A Blah Blah Yooooooo” which once again reminded me of what this man goes through to keep his family fed and sheltered. I’m not worthy. I couldn’t do this for him. He must really love me.

I had a decision to make: toilets or Teenager Repellant. I chose the toilets.

Any idea what a bathroom looks like when it’s been used by dudes for close to two months without being cleaned? Yeah, I had rubber gloves on.

Right around this time I put the towels in the dryer. Once, last summer, I forgot that step. Some time in October one of the assistants went to do some laundry and found a mess of mold in the washer. Now I make sure I remember.

I’d been up and down the steps countless times, witnessed five more phone calls from Jethro to different mastering studios, and had washed my hands more than I cared to think about.

Every time I go there for a couple of hours, I wonder what the heck I think I’m doing. I’m not famous for cleaning. My house is not filthy, and smells pretty okay, but it’s not perfectly neat and it’s not sparkling clean.

But cleaning the studio in many ways is easier. There is no homework in progress that can’t be moved, or precious piles of stuff. It’s pretty junky but I just ignore it, since it’s somebody else’s stuff. There are no toys or hair tumbleweeds. Just garbage, filth, and stacks of CDRs which I don’t touch.

There’s also the knowledge that if I don’t do it, NOBODY ELSE WILL.

As my time to head home got closer, I swept up a few dust monsters, watered the plants, and flicked off lights in the live room, since they were done in there for the day...and nobody else turned off the lights. It was after 2:30 and I had to blast up the highway and home on time to meet the kids. They gave me a great excuse to avoid the inevitable rush hour traffic.

The trash can was nearly full again when I tipped the dust pan into it.

No rock stars, no fun, no live musicians that day. Just a full trash can, lots of hard drives, a couple of I Locks, several boxes full of recordable CDs, four Computer Cowboys and lots of awful sappy muzak, and two clean toilets.

There’s a job for everybody.


Is it Friday???

Doesn't Johnny look gnarly?

It's from the Johnny Cash video.
I wonder if he'd like to hang around at a little studio in the armpit of Toronto surrounded by transmission shops. Nah. Too glamorous.


coffeypot said...

Hang’in a recording studio! How cool! Did you ever get to meet the big stars like Slim Whitman or Burl Ives? Or the dude who played the funny looking goat horn flute? Ah! The hours of pleasure they brought to me. You are so lucky, Heidi. You cleaned the studio, but I would shovel shit with my bare hands to be there.

Is Jethro the same Jethro who blogged about mom and pop hardware stores (see my list)? If so, tell him to get back or I am coming back on his prawparty.

Timmy said...

I wanna be a rock star!

Heidi the Hick said...

Yep, same Jethro. He'll probably only be able to post something once a month or so...when waiting for files to back up...when there aren't any mastering studios to harrass.

yeah it's pretty cool. Not as cool as it should be but it's very different from most people's jobs, and that's what I like about it!!

Never met Slim Whitman. Met a few country artists though, who sadly you probably haven't heard of down there in Georgia, where you have lots of your own country stars!

Heidi the Hick said...

timmy, you ARE a rock star!

(We can be rock stars in our minds, ok?)

The Adult in Question said...

I LOVE going to the Studio. For some reason I find it fun. Remember when I met Joee at the Studio?!?! I remember that. He kissed me on the check and I was over the moon, but then again I was like 11, 12? Good. Stuff, still jealous of the Jacob Hoggard thing.
And the Jann Arden thing is one of my favourite stories. Poor, Jann.

Heidi the Hick said...

KC I have got to take you to the place he's at now. It's funky.

Joee. yeah. Every time I met him I got a kiss on the cheek. Swoon. And I'm older than 12, so he has far reacing appeal! You were so cute- you forgot how to talk for about half an hour!!

Jacob. He makes me feel like a dirty old woman. Next time I'm carrying a piece of paper and a pen with me so he can write a note to KC his biggest fan. Unless he runs away from me, which he might.

I hope that someday Jann and I can laugh about it over a beer. But I kind of doubt it. She might run away too.

Life, or Something Like It said...

You lead such a glamourous life. I am so envious. I have NEVER cleaned a toilet that a rockstar may/maynot heve peed in.

cara winsor hehir said...

hey, have you met fred eaglesmith?
i once smoked a doobie in a dirty bar pub with ron hynes. that's my claim to fame.
oh yeah and i walk down the street behind elvis costello and diana krall. but she bores me.

cara winsor hehir said...

*i was trying to say a dirty pub bathroom*

Heidi the Hick said...

Biddie, you know, it's a strange honour to clean a toilet that a rock star may/may not have peed in. (Wanna join me some time??? There's two; we could each take one.)

cara- I think Jethro's met him! I can't keep track though!

I haven't smoked a doob with anybody. Only cleaned toilets and begged for photos!!

Oral said...

Great post.

I wanna be a talented musician.

LeRoy Dissing said...

So Heidi, did any of your children inherit any musical interests or talents and do you play anything or purely a spectator?

Heidi the Hick said...

My kids have lots of natural talent, which we really should be nurturing with lessons but instead for the last year have just been encouraging crazy jam sessions in the playroom. (Less expense, less nagging!)

I can play six chords on the guitar, very slowly. I like to sing but I don't think the kids like my singing so much!

I am, however, an awesome spectator.

LeRoy Dissing said...

You, Heidi, are like me. Whatever my kids got musically, it was from the other side. I can't carry a tune in my pocket. However, my son is addicted to his guitars which he self-taught. His Christmas present was an egyptian oud. Something I had never seen before but he loves. I don't know what is next but knowing him, I know there will be more!

her indoors said...

i just love your blog you do so much you have so many interesting posts x

Jethro said...

Well, for the record it was actually Axl that was horking, and it was in the vocal booth while singing (which we had to clean up in the morning). The only thing we ever heard out of Slash was "Heeeey Maaaan, you gaaaht any quaaarters dude?" (his American quarters wouldn't work in the KISS pinball machine... Those guys really did leave a trail of destruction everywhere they went ( and a lot of pissed off promoters, studio owners, drivers, techs, well the list is endless, really...myself included). If Axl had a flat tire on a deserted road in the Arizona desert, and I came along, I'd have to really fight down the urge to slow down and hork a great big Mennonite Farmer Loogie at the guy, and insted, silently help him out.

The truth is that the fleeting moments of 'Glam' are so diluted by days and days of editing, tuning, and tweaking. Out of the 50 or 60 records I'll work on this year, I reckon there's only about 3 or 4 that I'm actually proud of. If you know anyone who's ever been on a film set, there's hours upon hours of hurry up and wait while the lighting guys get it togehter. Making records is a little like that. The only real exciting part of the process is the basic tracking session where there's actually more than one person playing an instrument, and maybe a horn session. Everthing else is kind of like touching up a portrait in PhotoShop. It's immensely satisfying to the person doing the work in some strange way, but not exactly a spectator sport...

As long as the Wal-Mart masses keep buying packaged sentiments in the form of music, I'll be busy.

Nah Git, I said!

Heidi the Hick said...


(I just fell in love with my husband just a little bit more.)

Brooklyn Frank said...


dilling said...

I was at the Rolling Stones concert in L.A. when Axyl had his weirdest breakdown onstage, blamed the rest of the band for a bad show when he was effing HIGH he could hardly walk onstage just beofre he walked off in a two year olds hissyfit... and I thougt then what a cretin he was and I had never really listened to them before to have such a meltdown while opening for the Rolling Stones who have been able to work together since the dawn of time... on the plus side, I didn't have to listen to them and Living Color was the opening band to the opening band, and they rocked. And, to Cara, Elvis and Diana live just up the road. I know their favorite restaurant and where they buy their licquor...


WOW! So uhhmmm can I send you my demo tape??!!! :)

Heidi the Hick said...

Hey, Brooklyn Frank says Heidi the Hick has coolness!!

Dilling, so what you're saying basically, is that you might not slow down and help Axl change the flat tire in the Arizona desert??? I'm sure Living Color were great. I loved that album. And I'm still unable to get my head around the Elvis and Diana thing. Does that make any sense?

Becky, demo tape? No Myspace page? hee hee!

Holly Kennedy said...

(Chuckle... I posted this TWICE on your site. First, two posts down, and now here. Sorry! Don't know how that happened...

Thanks for stopping by my blog. Of course you can link to me. I'd be honored, like ORION is.

P.S. Don't give up writing. It'll happen. And those rejections? I have dozens; be proud of every one. They prove you're willing to take the risks necessary to succeed in this business.

I'm published in multiple countries and I still face rejections every day -- now, though, it's not agents or publishers. It's reviewer or readers. You can never make everyone happy....

Heidi the Hick said...

Just so you know, Jethro does have a handful of very good mastering engineers that he trusts with his mixes.

It's Sunday night, he's on his way home from the mastering session, and sounds happy.


Redneck Nerdboy! said...

It's like relivin' the younger years, huh? :D

Tod said...

I always thought Axl was an arse. HaHa! Great post Heidi!