Studio work is like film acting

Man, I really enjoy studio work. I’ve been in the studio these past couple of weekends doing various tracks for various projects that range from jazzy to hip-hop. It’s completely fun and frustrating at the same time because, well, digital bits don’t lie and they often reveal your weaknesses for all to plainly hear. This past Saturday when I shifted from recording a funk groove on one tune to recording a fusion-esque rock groove on another I had a real revalation – working in the studio is very much like film acting. Yes acting as in “quiet on the set,” “cut,” and “that’s a wrap!” I realized as I changed mental gears that I had to totally wipe my slate clean and dive into a new, unrelated feel and groove, and commit 100% to something entirely different from where I just was playing. Allow me to elaborate …

Movies are often shot out of order and in little chunks – one scene here another there, scenes that may or may not be chronologically related to each other in context or sentiment. Actors must learn to channel emotions and feelings that focus on the current scene and understand what comes before and after to give a believable performance. If they don’t, then there’s an inconsitency from scene to scene and there’s no overall flow to the film. But what’s most important is how actors must give themselves completely to the current moment. They realize that what they are fimling is being captured forever. Studio work is quite similar.

Often, young musicians go into the studio, play through their parts, and simply hope they don’t screw up. There are no chances taken and many times there’s a certain lack of energy due to the somewhat sterile studio environment. This is something that’s hard to put your finger upon when hearing it back, but it’s certainly noticeable when there’s a lack of energy. As musicians, when we get in the studio to record, we must learn to commit to the current track the same way that film actors commit to a scene. If you don’t dive headfirst into the moment, and record it like it’s the most important, most passionate thing you’ve ever laid down, then it will lack that IT factor – that certain something. Now that doesn’t mean bash your brains out and try to break every drum head and stick in sight, but play with the same passion and energy as you would if it were a live show or if it was your favorite tune or an audition or whatever. I try to take this to heart when I’m laying down tracks. I try to channel the emotion and energy of the current track as if it were the best thing I’ve ever had the opportunity to do – each and every time I record.

If I find myself getting apathetic about a tune, I just think of this … Robert Zemeckis gave this advice to Michael J. Fox during a stunt on the recording of Back to the Future, “pain is temporary, but film is forever.” Ok, I don’t go hurting yourself while playing, but the point is applicable here: commit to the moment that you’re in and you will have a recording your are most proud of and the end result will be more than worth it.

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