I spent the week of Sept. 17-26 awake. Sleepless.
On Friday, the 17th, we were waiting for final mixes of our upcoming CD from Rob, our engineer. Previously, we'd heard the first pass at final mixes, made a few suggestions and requests ("More bass on the drum in 'One Last Cold Kiss,'" "A little more flute on 'The Dancer,' "A little more punchy on 'Sixteen Jolly Ravers' and a tad less trumpet," etc.) Our engineer extraordinaire Rob had done it all that week, and was preparing new mixes for the next pass. That night, Rob texted me at 10:00 pm to say, "Come on by and pick up the new mixes."
I was on the way home from a rehearsal with my buddy Salil when he called, and just passing by the highway exit that would lead me to the horse farm/studio. So, I begged Salil to take a left, and off we went through the wilds of Middleboro to get the new trunk of myrrh and frankincense.
Of course we couldn't wait til I got home, so we popped it into the car player immediately and began to listen. My excitement quickly changed, the open happy brow became furrowed, the good posture curled to fetal. The bass was too big and muddy, the drums too prominent. I could barely hear Steve's voice on the first song. I frantically toyed with the bass and treble controls on the stereo. Not much changed. Neither Salil nor I said anything for awhile, then Salil turned it down and looked at me with concern, and in his best Happy Buddha voice, he said,
"Sue... as your friend... I ... I feel I have to tell you... those drums... I ... I don't know if they work for this piece..."
The world came crashing down. We were supposed to be done. And now it all sounded like crap. What do to? I'd ask Steve. I brought the CD home, gave Steve his copy. The next day, he drove to Boston with the CD playing and said that when he got there, his ears hurt. The drums and bass had come way up, and the delicacy of the CD was gone.
I spent the week panicking. Everything sounded terrible and in-your-face. How was I going to tell the engineer this? He'd been working with us for a year, and had been so meticulous all along to make everything just perfect, and now at the end... how could it have turned to crap? We'd have to ask him to look at every track again, start fresh in the mixing. It seemed too much to ask of someone who'd been so generous with his time and so consistently attentive to the most minute detail. I felt terrible questioning him on his judgment, as he's been an engineer for more than twenty years. He was going to get so frustrated, we thought, and this project was already taking too long. He had just bought another large professional audio business, and working around the clock and on weekends to finish up his studio projects so he could focus on the new business. He had already told us in July that he needed the whole thing done by August... and here it was, the end of September, and we're still asking for changes?
"Oh God. Will this be the end of a friendship?" I asked myself every night as I started into the 3 am darkness. For ten days. What are we going to do? I had anxiety. Who would think that something so small as an artistic creation could cause anxiety like this? Well, it does, for those who have nothing else to worry about, because the rest of life was going just fine. (Well, that is, if you aren't simultaneously looking for health insurance that will cost almost as much as the mortgage, and also making a decision about whether or not to go back to work full time. But those things are beside the point.)
So... Rob had said give it a week, and call me on Monday. The Saturday and Sunday leading up to it, Steve and I had long conversations about how we'd approach this sticky problem. How would we tell Rob that his new work was, well, not what we were looking for? I even got defensive in my kitchen play-acting. Over our morning tea, I'd say, "I mean, he made changes we didn't even ASK for. It's not OUR fault." Of course, I'd never be like that to him directly, and I wasn't even angry, but one's kitchen table does offer a certain safe haven for haughty fantasy conversations. Plus, we love Rob and I can't imagine being angry with him--though I'm very good at imagining everyone else being angry with me. (No, Ellen and the Great Rudini, I'm not Jewish. No, Brett, I'm not Catholic. I'm not even Irish!)
We finally got a plan together, and at 8 am on Monday, I went to the computer to set up a meeting with Rob. This was too delicate for a phone call, or for email. First checking my email, I immediately found a message from Rob with subject line, "OOOOOPS." I opened it and found this message:
"I had a chance to listen to the mixes last night, and I realized there was a small problem. A compressor I was using on my last session was somehow still inserted when I bounced the mixes... If things sounded didn't sound right, that is the reason... sorry. I'm going to the studio tonight, and will start bouncing the mixes, correctly this time! "
He had just finished a monster pop/hiphop style record that was destined for the hit circuit. You know, big, punchy drums, lots of bass, a vocal that's slightly buried under the more danceable parts. He had mistakenly used a compressor from that mix on our CD. Easy to remove.
The brow reopened. The round, hardened object that had once been my solar plexus began to slowly expand like a dry, hard sponge encountering water.
Imagine. There had been a mistake. Our genius friend Rob had make a mistake? That had never seemed a possibility.
And all that worrying for naught.
The lesson was momentous: All of it this could have been solved ten days earlier if I'd just picked up the phone and asked.
This is a lesson that I may never need to learn again: If it's bugging you that much, then pick up the phone and solve it.
Thank you, Misfortune, for your unexpected bounties.