How to find your voice

When I came into Audio Valley Recording Studio for the first time this pat winter, I had a completely different sound

The voice I use has seen an evolution these last few months. That first day, I told my sound engineer Adam that I was looking for mentors. I still am. I want to be the best I can and any feedback I can get is appreciated. Adam was into it. He's helped to guide the development of the music that I make now.

I had a song prepared that first day.

I had been practising it a lot. I was pretty set on how I wanted it to go. My first take, I thought I killed it. I was surprised when Adam started coaching me in a different way to sing. It makes sense though. He's sitting there in the booth, with the music streaming at him. He's got the ear and the listener's perspective.

See, stuff sounds different when you are singing in your head, or alone to yourself.

The way the sound waves reverberate through your body and into your ears gives them a different quality then what is experienced by someone listening to you perform. I realized this after hearing my voice played back a number of times. It's the reason why people are always surprised when they hear their own voice on a recording. They'll say something like, "I don't sound like that, do I?"

Also, finding your voice is about more than just audible tone.

It's just as much about the message you convey. When I stand on the stage and perform, I want to feel like I'm being honest. I want the sounds and the meanings they carry upon them to reflect who I am and what I want to put out into the world. Now that Adam and I have been working together for a while, and he's got a sense of the kind of guy I am, he too is adamant that I should stay true to myself. "If you ever came in here and had a bunch of gangster shit prepared I'd tell you to get the fuck out," he said recently. 

I'm a guy who feels things deeply.

Sometimes my emotions can blare at such a pitch that I don't know how to cope. Historically when things get too much I have withdrawn inside myself, for days, and years at a time. I was at times accused of being non-reactive, but I didn't know how else to bear it. 

There are countries within yourself.

Some of them very far countries. You can recede farther and farther, until interacting with others goes from awkward, to difficult, to you being frightened at the very thought of it. Then you're almost stuck. It's pretty hard to get back from there. It takes something big, to call you out of yourself. There has to be some reason to make the journey home. Something you want. 

I used to wanna not feel anything.

I wished I could just numb out and not have to care about stuff, because it can be so hard. I was envious of people who seemed unfazed by the thoughts and feelings of those around them. I don't feel like that anymore.

I don't think it's a sign of weakness to feel deeply or be empathetic to other people.

I look at uncaring people as if they have something missing. Like there's a part of them that should be there, but isn't. Being inconsiderate and cold isn't strength, and it isn't anything to be proud of. 

The song I had prepared when I walked into Audio Valley for the first time this winter won't be on the album.

Because after that, I struck something that I knew I had to stick with. A tone of voice, and also of subject matter. I was so pumped that I wrote and recorded five songs in five weeks in my new style. Soft of spirit and of resonance. 

But I realized I had to mix it up too.

An album has to have texture. Tension and release. If every song is just soft and emotional, you end up with a bunch of mush. Like trying to eat nothing but sticky, sweet dates as a meal. You'd end up with a stomach full of goop. "Then you're making a Celine Dion record," my friend Jazz said. 

So I got myself a bunch of other beats.

Different vibes, rhythms, to give the album gradience. When you have a softer song followed by a harder one, both end up sounding better. It clears the palette. The emotional tracks are more moving, and the energetic ones more stimulating. The ebb and flow is fun. 

Also the quality of the voice changes when it's laid against the backdrop of varying styles of music.

Just like the effect would be different if you painted a yellow stripe on a black canvas than if you painted it on a white canvas, a pink canvas, a yellow canvas. And the effect of moving your attention from one to the other makes them glow. The artist Barnett Newman taught me this when he painted one of my favourite pieces in the National Gallery, Voice of Fire.

We just finished laying down the last of ten tracks.

That's a good number for an album I think. Ten fingers, ten toes, ten tracks. Now we're working on the mixing, which in itself is crazy. Getting to zoom in on each tiny little speck of music until it grows into a world. Like Horton Hears a Who. Hopefully we'll be done this summer. I can't wait.