About 15 years ago I had the privilege of recording an album of my songs with Jeffrey Lesser, a renowned record producer from New Jersey. At the time I didn’t know if the songs were truly worthy; I was simply too close to them. I needed someone who could objectively examine the tunes and who was deep into the industry – beyond the local scene.
As we began the production of the CD “Hour Glass” I quickly developed trust in Jeffrey’s decisions and we became friends. It can often be difficult for an artist to let go of the children and see them mature under another’s care, but my confidence in Jeffrey’s skills developed quickly as he tweaked arrangements and performances. By the time of the actual recording of the band, my level of trust was high.
Jeffrey and I worked during the day at my place and then each evening would meet with the band to rehearse the changes we had made to the material. However, initially, the band did not have the same working relationship I had with Jeffrey in that they had not experienced the day-long preproduction work. A couple of them had decades of studio experience as musicians and, as a result, had preconceived notions as to how the sessions should run. Further, they had played these songs with me in concerts and clubs over the preceding year. Needless to say, the first band preproduction session was on shaky ground as we approached the first song. To gain their faith in his abilities, Jeffrey adopted an “I’ll show you, not tell you” approach.
He began by listening to the band play the first song. He then turned to one player and set about adjusting her part. As he did so, he commented to each of the other players in turn picking out minor changes to their parts that further cemented the arrangement while simultaneously showing them that he had heard every subtle detail. As opposed to forcing his will, Jeffrey gently suggested meaningful changes in each part. He elegantly wooed everyone into his way of working the sessions. And my seasoned band immediately recognised the significance of his proposed changes. Simply put, the songs had become more musical.
The whole band fell into line as they realized that Jeffrey was indeed a capable and skilful leader for our CD recording session. A couple even himbly apologised for any inconvenience or delay they might have caused to the session. The operative word here is humility – a necessary component of a credible performance. It allows us to be malleable and to continue to learn. Once the ego takes over, we cease to listen and therefore cease to learn.
In retrospect, all of the participants embraced their own sese of humilty and let the songs rule the session under the guiance of a compentent producer. I was able to surrender my songs, while the band colaborated fully with Jeffrey. The engineer caressed each song to tape (we used two-inch open reel analog tape. Speaking of tape, at one point, Jeffrey really scored points by doing an extremely difficult edit – an edit that would have been a challenge on ProTools – with a razor, slicing the tape at the precise spot and eliminating a couple of the thenty four tracks without causing so much as a blip on playback. His technical skills, including a method for recording guitar amps with two mics, placing one out of phase, were highly developed.
Ultimately, Jeffrey’s respect for the song was undying and the humility and work ethic of the participants enabled the recording to be the best it could be. You could say that we strapped on our best ears and had nothing but fun.
Addendum: Other willing participants of the Hour Glass project included Ken Friesen, engineer; Bruce Wittet, drums; Dave Binder, guitar; Tom McMahon, bass and stick; Adele Rouselle-Farough, accordian; Dario Domingues, percussion and flutes; and The Heralds of Hope gospel choir.