A funny thing happened last night when I was trying to impress you.
If you haven’t gotten the memo yet, I started hosting a “Confessions of a Serial Songwriter” radio show. I’ve only done 2 so far. Although I was a little uneasy about being out of my comfort zone, (I've never hosted a radio show before), I was also very excited about being out of my comfort zone. I’ve become a firm believer in diving into uncharted waters especially in the later part of one’s mid life.
Here’s how the show goes: every week, I will have a creative guest. There’s no big structure. We’ll gab. Talk about all-things-songwriting, the changing music business and the unique experiences of my guest. Then I’ll read an excerpt from my forthcoming book (also titled “Confession of a Serial Songwriter”—imagine that).
Recently, at Rita Wilson's Liner Notes, I had the pleasure of hearing Billy Steinberg perform an under-stated rendition of “Like A Virgin.” It brought a whole new level of intimacy to his song. Similarly, I thought it might be interesting for my songwriter-centric listeners to hear me sing an original song made famous by an iconic star (or just as engaging to hear an original song that was never recorded at all). So, before we sign off, I fight the fear and play an original song while accompanying myself on guitar or piano. (Before I perform, I stress how important it is for a songwriter to own their own material. It doesn’t have to be pitch perfect.)
Thing is, this is scary. Not only am I not pitch perfect, I’m not a fluent musician either and very often I can’t even get through a song without a humungous clam (that’s music speak for a colossal mistake). So, truth be told, I present my performance as “LIVE,” (as in real time), however, for the sake of listener experience, and perhaps a bit of personal vanity, I actually come to the studio early and play my song in advance—I think this is called pre-recorded :). A little sharp here, a little flat there...it's all good. No vocal comping…I just want to get from the beginning to the end in one piece. "LIVE": a little white lie.
Last week Suzan Koc was my guest. She talked about her work…critiqued a song…and then I read an excerpt from my book. And then I played “A Day Without Music.” Cool.
Tonight was my second show. I arrived at 3pm (a full hour before go-time), but by the time my guest (Michelle Lewis), and I got a coffee…and used the ladies room…and applied lip color (for what, I don’t know…the show isn’t video taped) I had 5 minutes to “pre-record” my song before the actual show went live. This didn’t leave much time for young engineer (17 yr. old), Gavyn to get an uninterrupted take and then bounce it over to the computer where he’d be running the sound. Miraculously, I got through it quickly. My guitar fretting intonation was a bit wonky but that’s par for my course. And it speaks to my point that songwriters don’t have to be accomplished performers.
Stay with me. Lovely conversation was had with Michelle Lewis. She talked about writing songs for the Disney Hit TV show, Doc McStuffins, the balancing of career and motherhood, and the antiquated laws governing digital streaming rates. She sang a capella snippets from “Wings” a song she wrote for Little Mix. And then I read from my book. And then…I gave my weekly speech about playing your own stuff…fighting your fear and not having to be pitch perfect. I mocked picking up my guitar to play my song, the Jesse J semi-hit, “Who You Are.” Gavyn pressed play and the pre-recorded version commenced. The three of us laid our headphones on the desk. At ease with mics turned off we chatted amongst ourselves. When all of a sudden...
I couldn’t help but detect a strange warbling tone emanating from the idle headphones. I thought, oh no…what’s that? For a second I slipped into the comfort of denial but that ended abruptly because I saw Michelle's and Gavyn’s eyes widen too. Simultaneously my phone lit up with a text from my hubby who was listening to the show at home:
What? We didn't use Auto-Tune! I held a pair of headphones to my ear. The entire track was slathered with it. I looked at Gavyn and did the slice-my-hand-across-my-neck thing. Cut it Cut it! “The show is live,” he mouthed to me. “I don’t care.” I mouthed back. Stop the pre-record!!
Apparently, Auto-Tune was turned up to 11 when Gavyn bounced the track. And we never listened back to it before the bounce because WE DIDN’T HAVE TIME! Because I was LATE! PUTTING ON LIPSTICK! We assumed it was fine.
Assume makes an ass of u and me.
There was no turning back. The blunder could not be undone. After my speech about being brave and just going for it, I sound like THAT? Listeners must have thought I'm insane. Or that I have a skewed idea of just how perfectly imperfect I sing.
The train wreck continued. As I tried to explain away to my audience what just happened: Auto-Tune must have been on as I sang “live” and nobody heard it in the monitors, I got another text from my husband saying Glenn Frey passed away. That turned my panic into grief. On one hand, I’m glad my cell was with me so that I’d know to pull the plug on the pre-record. On the other hand, to be distracted by such heartbreaking news was not so good. I segued from my clumsy explanation into the news of Glenn Frey. How could I ignore it? I asked for a moment to collect my thoughts. And then, on came the song that was queued for the end of the show: Little Mix's uptempo, fun-loving, female empowerment anthem “Wings.” (Right after the news about Glenn). And that was show #2.
Gavyn felt horrible about the bounce. But it wasn’t his fault. And it served me right. I honestly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. But why cry? What would that solve? And it was pretty damn funny. Here’s a snippet of the take:
Things I’ve learned when diving into uncharted waters:
1- Don't be late. Make sure there's enough time to pre-record (and check the pre-record) before the bounce.
2- Tell your audience the truth...when you lie, even if it's a white one, God often says Ha!
3- Leave your phone in the other room.
Rest peacefully Glenn Frey. Thank you for your Music. I can’t even start.
Click here to listen to my conversation with Michelle Lewis, and the original pitch imperfect pre-recorded version of "Who You Are" which Gavyn was able to upload for the play back. Thank you, young Gavyn.