Thursday, February 10, 2022

Music recording addiction

This is a topic you won't find much information about online. Most articles about music recording are written from the perspective of encouragement to budding artists. Or advice on technical approaches. There's a whole industry built on selling new products to prospective audio engineers.

But what about the dark side of being a musician? What happened to the excesses of rock and roll?

Music recording addiction is usually just brushed under the rug as "part of the gig." It's also something that transcends any specific genre. It applies to any artist, whether a hip hop artist, or a classical musician. 

It can happen to anyone, and there needs to be some sort of recognition that you have a problem. When does recording music go beyond a hobby and turn into an unhealthy obsession? I've had to ask myself this question more than once over the years.

I think the part where it gets tricky is in terms of how much time you're spending out the day doing it. Personally, I have maintained a 40-hour a week job whilst also recording music, but not everyone has this privilege and mandatory buffer to their at-home habits. Even with time away from microphones each day, music-recording addiction can still rear it's head.

If I spend every last second of my free-time recording music, that's where I realize I have a problem. What about the other aspects of life? Going out to the shopping mall, taking a walk in the park, reading, interacting with the community, watching a movie, taking the moment to just relax for a while? 

If you're recording music (or doing any one specific task) all the time, you leave yourself no time to engage with life more fully. To me, that's where a hobby transforms into an addiction and a problem.

It's easy to hear a song on an album or the radio. Take, "Here Comes The Sun" by George Harrison for instance. Any musician might hear the song and say, "Wow, that's pretty good... but I bet if I spend enough time I can not only write, I can record something equally as cool, all by myself." Seems innocent enough. Except it doesn't just end with "Here Comes The Sun," goes on and on, endlessly.

The same way the film industry glorifies certain behaviors, the record industry glorifies recorded output. The recorded song and the album are put on a pedestal above all else. They are trophies to be won by musicians, as symbols of their artistry and dedication to their craft above all else.

Not only is there more to life, there's more to music.

Yet the streaming services want more, all the time. So what if you've put out one album? Another, more critically acclaimed artist has put out five albums. When is it enough? If you ask the industry the answer is simply, "Never."

One of the most impactful musicians I've met was a guitarist who I saw perform one night years ago. I was blown away by his ability on guitar and as a vocalist.

Afterwards I struck up a conversation with this guy, and would see him around pretty often. He gave me a couple of impromptu guitar lessons and other advice relating to being a guitarist and musician. His advice wasn't limited to music theory, but he gave insight into how to conduct yourself as a guitar player and how to maintain a healthy relationship to music. And all this advice from a complete stranger, who happened to be a brilliant musician. Who would've thought?

Obviously, when I saw him perform that night I thought, "Wow, if only this was on a album for everyone to hear. It would be incredible." 

A week or so later, I asked him if he felt a need to record his music. He said, "Me? I'm good." This definitely had an impact on me. To this guy, music alone was enough.

When I saw him on the corner now and again I'd ask, "What's going on?" He was always transcribing music onto the guitar to improve his ability. One day he told me, "I'm working on Rhapsody in Blue," and showed me the melody parts on a Squier guitar he used to carry around with him.

Anyhow, the seismic shift towards affordable, consumer-grade recording equipment has changed the average musician's relationship to recordings in general. The practice of music recording has always been instant-gratification, I guess. You hit record, and listen to the playback. It gives you a high. "Wow, so that's what I sound like..."

Still, it's never been so easy to record near-studio-grade material at your own home, at the click of a button. But as the saying goes, with great power, comes great responsibility.

I can only speak for myself, but if you or someone you know is out there and can't stop recording themselves or recording music, it may be time to ask some questions. What else does life have to offer? As a final note, it's pretty interesting to realize that many musical heroes have a relatively small output of recorded material. Once something is on wax, that might be enough to last many years to come. It may even last a lifetime. - Mike

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