Well, it’s definitely not an important large-scale creative endeavor if there’s not one major oh shit moment!
After tracking vocals all morning and into the early afternoon on Sunday, my band Pet Theories and our audio engineer Kevin headed out for a late lunch, giddy and high from the accomplishment of a lot of really awesome work. Back at the studio about an hour later, we settled in for guitar overdubs and other miscellaneous finesse parts that would be folded into and around the basic guitar, keyboard, drums, and vocal tracks.
I grabbed a chair in the recording booth, eager to hear the waves of feedback and elegant countermelody lines I was waiting for Brian to unleash on the guitar. As playback began on the first song, something felt . . . off. Less than off, even; just . . . untasteful. I thought maybe I was just hearing things more soberly with a belly full of rice noodles and broccoli. Maybe the vocals had been rougher than I’d realized in the first flush of accomplishment.
But no—about 30 seconds later, Brian frantically waved his hands on the other side of the control room glass.
“Can you stop the playback in my headphones? Something’s out of synch.”
A tense few minutes passed as our engineer discovered that the vocals on every track we’d recorded that day were coming in a fraction of a beat too quickly. He tried to bump it back in ProTools several times to no avail. On every hopeful replay, the vocals were still rushing in, making us sound like inelegant, or possibly drunk, karaoke singers.
The fraction of time was so slight, it was impossible to even count. It wasn’t like we were coming in on beat 1 when we were supposed to come in on beat 2. It was more like coming in on beat 1.996 instead of beat 2. In other words, hard to point to with precision, but impossible not to feel.
My stomach began doing flip-flops and my throat dried up.
Were we going to have to start the vocals from scratch? Was any of it repairable? Would attempts to manipulate a timing glitch that subtle in ProTools just make everything sound alien and sterile?
Though my initial instinct was to freak out and panic, I recalled an anecdote from Hawaiian shaman Serge Kahili King’s book Changing Reality that I love. When he and his wife were once attempting a major trip overseas, they’d arrived at the airport to discover that their itinerary was completely missing from the airline’s computer records:
We both stayed perfectly calm and vocally thanked and complimented the ticket agent for every small positive thing she did, at the same time ignoring everything that did not seem to work out. Inwardly, we passively, but consistently, blessed with images and silent words all the personnel involved, all the computers and electrical connections, all the planes that might be part of our trip, and everything good we could think of. The agent went more and more out of her way to help us, and so did the people she was dealing with. In about an hour we had a better itinerary than our original one—with first-class seats thrown in as a bonus.
Inspired by this story, I started mentally praising the soundboard for all its beautiful, hard work for us that day, and energetically beamed appreciation and encouragement at Kevin for all his technical smarts and creative aptitude.
Before too long, he discovered that two internal clocks in the hardware had somehow gotten out of phase with each other—one was set to 48 and one was set to 44, forever dooming half the tracks to chase the other half at an infinitesimally slight delay. A total system reboot, while time consuming, was basically all it took to get everything set right again.
This was a perfect lesson for me, in so many ways, since I so often struggle with impatience. I saw that speeding through things does not usually give me the results that I want when I’m insistent upon something I desire happening now-now-now. When shifts occur before they’re supposed to, they’ll likely feel forced or rushed or just in subtly indefinable bad taste.
It also felt like a metaphor for everything we’re trying to accomplish as a band, and with this recording. The sounds that we make might not sound like much to someone who’s not paying attention. But we hope that the people who will appreciate the infinitesimally subtle shifts that we’re bringing to the creation of our own unique sound will hear what we’re doing and be moved to respond.
Thank you so much for joining us on this stage of our journey! We can’t wait to share the final tracks with you. You can keep up with the band and our whereabouts on Facebook and Soundcloud. You can find more information about our most excellent engineer, Kevin Tabisz, and his stellar studio, Uphill Recording, on Facebook and Soundcloud as well.