Recently I stumbled upon a track online that happens to be the first studio recording I ever made. It was a guest appearance on a folk-pop album titled Xylon I, by a local musician named Xylon Cozens, and I play soprano sax on a single track.
It’s odd: there’s basically nothing online about Xylon, or the album, even though it was recorded in 1995: I guess that says something about my own personal sense that the Internet caught on about that time: it did for me, but everyone was still on dialup, and it didn’t seem apparent that the Internet and music would necessarily intersect in a meaningful way anytime soon.
(Man, were we in for a shock!)
Anyway, I won’t make excuses: I didn’t do a great job. A second take would have been nice, but if my chops had been what they should’ve, playing it right the first time through would’ve been trivial (even with studio nerves), and I seem to recall Xylon having big ensembles he had to save as much studio time for as possible.
Well, I remember being nervous, but I don’t remember cacking on the end of the first run! (Still, the recording doesn’t lie: much as I wanted to return a favor Xylon had done me a few years previous, I should have told him my chops weren’t up to the task.) Here it is:
(I’ve also added it to the Music page on this site, here, including as much personnel information as I could scrounge out of my memories.)
It wouldn’t be my last guest appearance, either. I also was asked sit in on one track for an album put out by a local musician in Jeonju named Daekwi Hwang. Daekwi was a nice guy, and very active in the local music scene in Jeonju, so I was of course happy to do it. I thought I’d ripped that CD when we left Korea, but it doesn’t seem to be on any of my hard drives, so I suppose it’ll have to wait till I have my CDs on hand, as well. I don’t really remember what I played, but I have a sneaking suspicion it was also a soprano saxophone solo. But I can show you the album cover:
Daekwi’s in the United States now, and the last video of him I saw, he was playing jazz… I think he teaches jazz now, actually:
He was always a nice guy, and I’m glad he’s still playing… and it’s cool to see him migrating to turf more familiar to me, on top of it!
Anyway, in honor of that little trip down memory lane, here are some things I’ve learned from time spent recording sax parts in recording studios:
- If you’re out of practice, or your horn needs servicing, don’t take the gig. (Or get the horn serviced… and practice, you lazy git.)
- If the food available near the studio sucked during the lunch break on the first day, it’s going to suck everyday after… possibly worse, since the tech is likely to order from the best affordable place nearby on the first day. Pack a lunch or suck it up.
- If you care too much, your playing will suck because you’re overly nervous. If you don’t care at all, your playing will suck because it lacks conviction. You need to cultivate a certain balance of the two.
- Bring more extra reeds than you think you need. Also, a reed knife and sandpaper. And something to throw at the wall when all your reeds suck anyway.
- Don’t leave your horn on a sofa when there’s an animal around. (“Animal” includes a certain sort of drummer, and not just the Jim Henson kind!)
- If the guy working the audio board is a guitarist, there’s always going to be an issue with the sax levels in the final mix.
- The guy working the audio board is always a guitarist.
- The lower the budget, the worse the climate control will be in the studio… and nobody but you will understand that a cold horn is a flat horn.
- If you’re only given one take and your performance sucks and they shrug and say, “That’s a wrap!” you don’t need to worry. You’ll either get cut, or hidden in the mix, or the album is going to have enough other issues that your part won’t matter. The time to worry is when they ask you to play your part again… and again… and again… and again… and you’re not sure what was wrong on the fifteenth take, because it sounded perfect to you.
- Figuring out what was wrong with that last take is about ten thousand times harder across a language barrier. (Even if the barrier is your fault.)
- Unless the whole band has recorded their parts, you need a click track. Even if they have, a click track might be useful (in certain genres).
- If you need a click track, insist on a click track. They have a click track somewhere on that board, I promise you. They might have to rummage around to find it, though, so bring a book to the studio.
- That last minute change to the song? It’s like betting everything on red. It could pay off wonderfully… but it’s probably going to ruin the whole damned thing instead.
- Don’t take it took personally when someone cuts that perfect, beautiful backing line that took you hours to work out, because he decided he wanted more guitar instead. Guitarists are like that, and it’s all our fault for letting them on stage at all.
- There’s no law that says they can’t attribute the sax part to a pseudonym.