The road was rutted and filled with potholes, shaking our car as we drove ever deeper into the woods.
"I'm pretty sure we're being lured to our deaths," my father joked grimly.
Thomas laughed, but I didn't crack a smile as I looked out the window to see the gray sky through the bare trees. My hopes were high and the idea that this promising chance could be a false lead weighed heavily on my mind. I was trying to be optimistic, but my natural suspicion grew as the landscape around us became more and more rural.
We finally pulled up to a house that was nicer than the others, a modern home with a red sports car in the driveway.
We walked up onto the porch and the front door swung open before we could knock.
Label Owner and Marketer invited us inside and bade us sit down on a leather couch in the living room. Thomas and I waited in awkward silence while my father and Label Owner discussed their shared love for Harley Davidson motorcycles (they both have one and both ride actively).
"Well, we seem to be getting off topic," Label Owner said after a few minutes, to which my father laughed. "Let's talk about BB."
The man turned to me and starting asking me about myself--my musical influences, my level of experience, why I liked singing, and things like that.
My father interjected with questions about the business aspect of the industry, which I was happy to let him do; I wouldn't have been sure what to ask, and with him present I felt secure that I wouldn't be taken advantage of.
Once this banter had gone on for a while, Label Owner suggested we take a tour of the facilities. The first thing we saw, which in my ignorance I initially took to be the studio, was the control room, a den of buttoned panels centered on a large computer monitor from which tracks were observed and manipulated.
Label Owner showed us how he managed the music he recorded and then suggested we see the studio.
"It's in the basement," he said, leading us towards the stairs.
"Great," I thought, mentally sighing. I had an image in my head of an old computer with a cheap microphone attached to it, a vision not helped when we started down the staircase into a lower level that was obviously unfinished.
I was just contemplating the acoustical horrors of attempting to record a decent track in that atmosphere when Label Owner took us around a corner and everything changed.
Nestled in the back of the basement, isolated from the rest of the home in a soundproof room, was by far the most sophisticated recording studio I had ever seen.
The wood-paneled surfaces were covered in strategically-placed foam pieces, which Label Owner said had been positioned by an analyst who determined the best sound configuration for the chamber.
"Now, I don't know if you've ever seen a microphone like this before, but you have to sing at a certain distance," he instructed, gesturing at a piece of equipment I'd only ever encountered through television. Rather than a single receiver there were three, each, Label Owner said, designed to pick up specific types of sounds. Fronting these was a circular black mask, the purpose of which I took was to filter the singer's voice and ensured it reached all three microphones appropriately.
"You want to stand really close," Label Owner demonstrated, positioning himself several inches from the mic. "And you'll be wearing these."
He handed me a pair of bulky headphones and asked me to put them on, at which point I heard my own voice with more clarity than I ever had in my life.
"Whoa," I said, breaking into a smile.
"It's something, huh?" he laughed.
"The quality is amazing," I replied.
"We're going to head up into the control room," Label Owner said. "We'll be able to hear you and talk to you from there."
"We'll go with you," my father wisely decided. "I know we'll make him nervous standing here."
About a minute later, Label Owner's voice was in my ear, asking me to say some things about myself for the record.
I laughed nervously, unable to think of anything interesting, and informed him that I was a twenty-one-year-old singer/songwriter who was going to school for journalism and lived at home with my parents and siblings.
"I like to sing," I added, as if that weren't already completely obvious by my very presence there.
By some miracle of forgetfulness I neglected to mention my own name, and because in the interview none of Label Owner's questions were recorded, only my responses to them, I could actually put the track here if there was the will for it. It's fifteen minutes of me answering queries from a mute inquisitor and singing a capella, but if there's enough interest I'd consider posting it.
I sang four of my songs, "So Long" (which my blog readers have already heard), "Don't Call Me Anymore," "You Made Me Like This," and "Out of My Mind."
The headphones made a huge difference, enabling me to sing with ease where I might normally strain for tone or resonance. It felt wonderful.
I got feedback while still in the studio (a favorite seemed to be "Don't Call Me Anymore," which Marketer said gave her chills) and then ran up to the control room to discuss things in more detail.
Being the perfectionist I am, I immediately picked up on what I saw as the session's flaws, which, in what perhaps was not the most intelligent strategy ever, I proceeded to point out to Label Owner and Marketer as we reviewed the track.
"See, I screwed up there," I noted evenly, picking out one of the four notes that I felt could have been significantly improved.
"Don't worry about that," Label Owner said. "It's very rare that a singer would go through a track only one time and not have to re-record anything."
I waited anxiously for his assessment as he stared at the monitor, watching the rising and falling lines that represented my voice, listening to the different melodies I belted out.
I had good reason to be apprehensive: I had been guaranteed nothing upon receiving the invitation to go there. Both Label Owner and Marketer were quite frank in stating that they liked my song and wanted to hear how I sounded in person, after which they would decide how to proceed.
Label Owner was quick about getting to the chase.
"Your voice records well," he said. "The microphone likes you. You have some really solid vocals, and I very much like your power and pitch control."
He hit a random button on his keyboard, and then twenty different versions of me were shouting out the rousing chorus to "So Long."
I beamed, because the tune sounded as cathartic and freeing as I'd always imagined it would.
He turned the effect off and continued.
"You have a really good tone, too," he said. "Your voice is good enough naturally that we don't have to do that much with it."
"And you're really good looking, too," Marketer, clearly relieved by this turn of events, gushed. "So that will translate well for the YouTube campaign."
"YouTube campaign?" I asked.
"Well, eventually," she noted, slowing herself down. I could see a promotion effort already unfolding behind her eyes. "The Internet is really where it's at now. We want to do YouTube, MySpace, a Facebook fan page, iTunes, and then eventually do photos and place a short biography on the Internet. We have some radio stations that we know will play us. One part of the campaign we're very excited about is working with Starbucks."
I must have looked confused, because she explained.
"Have you ever been in Starbucks and seen their pick of the week?" she asked.
I shook my head.
"Well, they basically have a card with an artist's profile on it, and it allows one free iTunes download. Then, if you like the person, you can buy their album."
I looked over at Thomas.
"This is so cool," I said.
Marketer went into more detail.
"This summer, a lot of the artists we're working with are doing local fairs and things like that," she said. "We're trying to be pretty aggressive about booking them."
"That would be so awesome," I effused.
"I don't think you'll have enough original material to perform on your own by this summer," Label Owner said. "But we'd like to feature you as a guest artist, maybe have you open for some other people."
"So," my father interjected, bringing up the question that was central to everything. "How much does a demo cost?"
This was the money-breaker. If we were being had, any request for money would probably come right about now.
"We do offer that service for $25.00 an hour," Label Owner answered. "But for artists we're working with we don't charge, so he won't have to pay anything. We'll bill the recording costs to the label and recoup that with the 10% fee on earnings."
Recording a demo can often be prohibitively expensive, but I just learned that I get to do it for free.
"It will be a while before all of this comes together," Label Owner cautioned. "Between getting four or five really solid tracks down and rolling out the promotional push, we're looking at a year to a year and a half before everything is ready."
"I'm fine with that," I answered.
"The one thing we need to work on," he said, eyeing me with reservation for the first time. "Is your confidence. You need to have the attitude that you're not famous yet, but you're going to be. You need to exude that. I'd be worried about your nervousness in front of audiences. I think that will fade, but it's something we need to address."
"It will go away," I assured him. I could already feel it retreating. "It's just that this was my first time dealing with a record label or actually being in a real recording studio."
Marketer nodded and smiled.
"And let me tell you something," I said, my voice firm. "I was a little nervous coming in here today, but there is no doubt in my mind that with the right marketing, the right image control combined with good songs, we can do this. I absolutely believe we can do this and make money."
Marketer flashed a glowing smile.
"Exactly," she said.
"Well, I'm going to send this off to one of our musicians," Label Owner said. "And I'll e-mail you a copy, too. Now that it's been recorded you're officially protected by copyright."
He surveyed me once more.
"We can definitely do something with you," he mused, and I wondered what he might be thinking of. My father's words from the previous night came back to me.
"BB, don't go into this thinking they care about you as a person," he'd warned. "They want to see if they can make money off of you."
That is apparently the conclusion they've arrived at.
The track, a copy of which came to me earlier this week, has apparently been sent to a bassist not much older than I am, and I've heard nothing yet as to what kind of instrumental parts have or have not been composed.
We haven't signed and nothing is definite, but it certainly looks good and I'm optimistic about the future. I'm going to do the best I'm able, and make of this opportunity what I can.