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.