Here's what happened.
Wednesday, April 1, 1:30 a.m.
Up way too late on a Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, I get e-mail from Robyn Landis. Robyn has a crazy proposition for me. She's in the final stages of recording her CD, and she wants to include this one piano song. The local pianist who was going to create the keyboard track broke her collarbone.
Do I have the capability, technology, and knowledge to produce a MIDI file from my keyboard, she asks. If so, am I interested in learning and recording it?
Can I do it by Friday?
I write back. Yes, I'm interested. No, I'm not set up to do home MIDI recordings. No, I can't do it by Friday.
I do, however, know someone who does studio work relatively cheap. What's the real drop-deadline for this project?
Wednesday, April 1, afternoon & evening
Having received word from Robyn that she could push the deadline out a couple days, I contact Hank Childers of VGB Studio. He still has affordable rates. He could fit me in on Sunday.
Friday, April 3
Robyn sends me a rough recording of the song and lyrics. The song is called "Shrink the Sky." It's lovely. I listen to it over and over again, trying to commit it to memory. Before I go to bed, I attempt playing to it. Results are mixed.
The song isn't all that complicated. As I see it, there are two big challenges. The first is technical. Robyn and Janni Littlepage recorded "Shrink the Sky" on a little handheld recorder. There's no way to isolate Robyn's vocals from Janni's piano, which means I can't accompany Robyn by myself. If I play to the recording, I'm playing over the existing piano part.
The other challenge is stylistic. Robyn wants this to sound as much like Janni's playing as possible. This is a reasonable request, as Janni cowrote the song and came up with something quite nice. It's just not the way I usually play.
This will take some work. Still, with work, I might be able to carry this off.
Saturday, April 4, afternoon
I strap on the iPod and get to it. The chord progressions keep tripping me up, going in places I don't expect. I'm not used to playing anyone's songs but my own. I get out a pen and chord up some of the lyrics, then play the song over and over again.
Saturday, April 4, late at night
While I was gigging, Robyn sent me e-mail containing a new file. She's recorded a scratch vocal track that I can play to when I record tomorrow. Hooray! This means I don't have to waste valuable studio time recording myself singing a song about an octave out of my range.
Sunday, April 5, morning & afternoon
Earlyish in the morning, I try playing to Robyn's vocal-only track. Uh oh. I'm messing up a lot of these chords now that I can't follow the original keyboard. I'm also speeding up everywhere. It's going to take all my concentration to play this without rushing. And now I've spent too much time on this -- I'm going to have to break serious speed limits to get to Hank's studio on time.
I arrive at the studio five minutes late. Due to budgetary constraints, we have two hours to get this down. Fortunately, Hank has saved us a lot of time by fashioning a click track to Robyn's new recording. Now I can keep the beat without my head exploding.
We do eight takes, with Hank fiddling with settings in between. I keep screwing up this one part over and over again, but nail it the sixth time around. The last three takes are solid.
I send the three good takes to Robyn. I'm satisfied with them technically, and I think I've made it emotionally nuanced. The question is whether I got the feel she wanted. She and her engineer send me e-mail a few hours later, very enthusiastic. "Shrink the Sky," with my keyboard track, is going on her album.
Yay! I did it!
Sunday, April 5, night
I put some water on the stove to boil, and I don't notice that the water isn't getting any hotter. Then I smell burning plastic and see smoke. I've turned on the wrong burner. I've also melted part of the plastic ladle that happened to be resting on said burner. Later, I open the refrigerator to find a totally empty snap box. Apparently I put it there after washing it instead of the dish drainer.
This, folks, is why I have got to make it as a musician. I'm clearly better at music than activities of daily living. If I become a world-renowned singer/songwriter/keyboardist, maybe everyone will think my complete inability to function is a sign of creative brilliance. That I'm too consumed with music and ideas for my next song to think about mundane crap like which burner to turn on.
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Robyn's upcoming CD is called Many Moons. She is currently praying to the Printing Gods that it will be ready by the Tucson Folk Festival.