We’re recording portions of our EP at Backyard Studios in Brighton, MA. (For those familiar with The Backyard — yeah, that place.) So far, it’s been a delightful experience. On Saturday, Dann and I were in the studio for 11 hours, together with our producer, George, and engineer, Pat, who were working their butts off to make the music sound as phenomenal as possible. And friends, I have to tell you, even in its rough form, it sounds legit. Even though I was wiped by the end of the day, I came home buzzing with an exhausted energy. I cannot wait to get back in there.
The views certainly help.
Studio work is always intimidating to me. It comes with a necessity of perfection, a pressure to achieve that I feel less when performing live. Perhaps it’s because a performance is a fleeting moment, but recording solidifies that moment in human history. People might forget your bad performances, but they can always find those bad recordings again.
I notice, too, that when I am in a room of male musicians, I feel that intimidation tenfold. The greatest issue isn’t impostor syndrome; it’s the idea I carry that I will have to prove I am worthy of being in that room. Oh, and add to that the fact that I’m recording keys instead of singing. We all know that boys play instruments better than girls, after all.
I’m not sure where I picked up that idea. I remember feeling it strongly when I was at Berklee. The makeup of the student population at the time was roughly 70-75% male. Most of the women at the school were voice majors, and singers tend to think of music differently than instrumentalists, more horizontally (melodically) than vertically (harmonically). Having started on piano, I think more like an instrumentalist. But I didn’t feel like I had the chops to hang with all the jazz pianists as I was just learning to speak that language, and there was a lot I was still learning about being a singer, so voice was my principle instrument. I walked into so many situations where I knew as much about the harmonic structure of the compositions being worked on as anyone else in the room, but was written off because, well, I was a singer, and a girl. It happened at auditions and in classes and in ensembles. And always, ALWAYS, when men were in charge of the space. But I wouldn’t be thrown out; worse still, I would be ignored.
It’s clear this conversation ain’t doing a thing
Cause these boys only listen to me when I sing
And I don’t feel like singing tonight
All the same songs
— Sara Bareilles, “City”
I wish I hadn’t let worries about what all those guys would think of me and my skill level keep me from working on my piano chops more, but it did. I know a lot more now, but maybe I would have learned it all sooner.
At any rate, here I was in this beautiful space that I knew I belonged in, working on a project of which I am immensely proud and that means a great deal to me, and all of this old, nonsensical, patriarchal stuff is coming up simply because I happen to be the only woman in the room. Every one of these guys — Pat, George, Dann — effortlessly asks my opinion, listens when I speak, and treats me as an equal, something which shouldn’t feel novel but does. And since I am older than I was in college and less interested in being nice all the time, I say what I think more, even when it feels slightly unsafe. Yet I can’t help but think of all the non-white non-males who weren’t in the room that day because, somewhere along the way, they were derailed by the same insidious thing that kept me from, say, taking more piano classes in college. Maybe they’re in a different room, taking up space like I am trying to, hopefully not feeling any bit of that awful feeling.
With all of the horrors of our society coming to the surface in very real and personal ways, I am beyond grateful for the good men in my life, men who own their privilege and use it to raise others up. I am perhaps even more grateful for the women and nonbinary folks who have come before me and carved out space to make it a little easier for me to belong. I hope I can do my part to make it easier for the next generation, so that someday, none of us will have any reason to worry or question the makeup of a room.
Someday, we’ll all hear each other, no matter what voice we’re using.