Thursday, September 08, 2005

79. the difference between goop and gold

The CD is out of my hands. It's in the good hands of FedEx, bound for New Jersey to the good hands of Disc Makers, to return to the good hands of our fans.

I feel like an elephant's been lifted off my shoulders. I suppose I should be happy...or happier than I am. I know my band-mates appreciate all the hard work and they're pleased as jelly beans with the sound of the CD, and on some level I am too...


It's a strange thing because I know (or at least I'm pretty sure) that it could have been better. Perhaps an analogy would work here.

Think about movie animation today. Digital animators talk about how technology allows them to create virtual characters that are indistinguishable from real life actors - at least in static images. But the human mind is a terribly perceptive instrument. These animators talk about how they actually have to dial back the realism so that the brain understands that it's looking at animation because if they go too far with the realism, people get confused.

Take the movie Final Fantasy. Now the biggest problem with that movie was the writing, but one of its other problems was the realism factor. There are some scenes where you just about forget that you're watching a world constructed of binary ones and zeros - it looks that real - but in most of the scenes, there's a kind of subconscious struggle going on where your brain can't quite decide if it's looking at real people or fabricated people.

Normally, this isn't a problem because animation looks like animation and real acting looks like real acting and your brain knows how much belief to suspend. But in Final Fantasy, the animated characters look so real that your brain is constantly short-circuiting between animated mode and real mode because it looks too good to be animated but not good enough to be real.

Of course your brain is also rebelling against the awful writing, and that just compounds the problem, but I'd be willing to bet that a great script might have let the audiences surrender themselves to the story thereby making the animation/reality conflict moot...or at least tolerable.

"Okay, so what's that got to do with the CD?"

Well to my ears, this CD teeters between sounding like a good self-produced band demo and a real record release. There are some songs that almost sound good enough to almost sound like a something a real record label would produce. And that's where I'm kind of uneasy about the thing. It's almost too good to be a band demo, but not good enough to sound like a major label release (or even a solid small label release).

And that's frustrating for me because it's like that Howard Jones song, "No One Is To Blame" which goes:

You can look at the menu but you just can't eat
you can feel the cushions but you can't have a seat
You can dip your foot in the pool but you can't have a swim
You can feel the punishment but you can't commit the sin

It's like it's almost there but not quite. It'd be one thing to fall short if you're two laps behind but to run out of gas three feet from the finish line? That burns.

I know I shouldn't be so hard on myself, but confronting one's limitations is a humbling thing. I wish I could blame the technology, but I'm past the point now where that holds water. Better recordings have been made with lesser tools. I'm the link in the chain that's not up to the task, not my gear. I can't use that excuse anymore. And that's a bummer for me.

Well, all that said, I'm glad it's out of my hands now. I have to accept that I did the best I could with the experience and knowledge I have, in the time I had to use them.

See, here's the thing. I used to pride myself in getting really crappy equipment to produce recordings that sounded better than they should have. It was fun then because it felt like I was bending the rules, trading three quarters in for a dollar. And if anyone had misgivings about the quality of the recording I always had the excuse, "well, it was recorded on crappy equipment." It made me feel smarter than the technology.

But I can't use that line anymore and the technology is far smarter than I. At this level, tiny decibels spell the difference between goop and gold. At this level, you need a surgeon's touch and tweezers. At this level, I'm mixing with my feet and I've got KISS shoes on - the kind that lace up to your knees.

But it's so close, and that's what kills me. I know a more experienced engineer could come in and tweak just a few tiny things, and this recording would cross that line between good and good enough.

Regardless, it's out of my hands now. All things considered, it's a pretty good sounding CD. Maybe I'm just too close to it right now. Maybe it's just a forest for the trees kind of deal right now. Maybe I just need to catch up on a bunch of sleep instead of writing a blog at 1:30 in the morning.

And on that note...

No comments: