Monday, August 26th, 2019

Is this the way I’m supposed to be?

By Frank PerriApril 14, 2013


frank_perri_bioFrank Perri
Frank Perri is a keyboardist and arranger with a range of live performance, recording and arranging credits which reads like a who’s who of ‘been there and done it!’ If we mention that Frank has arranged for and led the Duke Ellington Orchestra, has guest conducted the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra, is musical director of ‘Break The Floor Productions’, one of the world’s preeminent dance entertainment companies, AND has appeared in the US TV show “Pan Am” on ABC Television, you can see we’re not exaggerating.

Frank’s father still asks, “When is he giving up this music garbage and getting a real job?”

          Well, here I am, back again after a short vacation.  Well, maybe vacation is trying to put too positive a spin on it but it sounds nice since I haven’t had a vacation in years.  The fact remains that I took some time off to find a way to re-invent myself.  Well, re-invent myself as much as I possibly can and still stay in my chosen field.  Of course it wasn’t by choice as for those of us who choose a career in the arts very little is ever by our choice, but it was needed none the less.

Like many, I do feel at times that my life or career too closely resembles sitting in traffic during rush hour.  You sit dutifully in your lane, watching cars seemingly rush by in the lane next to you while your lane is nothing but an eternal line of brake lights.  Finally you can’t take it anymore and see an upcoming gap in the speeding line of cars next to you and in a fury you turn on your blinker, hit the gas, and twist the wheel seemingly all at once.  No sooner do you cut into that lane that the cars come to a dead stop and the lane you were just in starts moving effortlessly.

It’s the sort of thing that, depending on your disposition, makes you think either the universe has a huge sense of humor or the universe it out to get you.  Personally I always chuckle at these things as I like to think that if there is a higher power, maybe they have a sense of humor and this is their way to tell me not to take things so gravely.  A person much wiser than me once said, “You can’t take life so seriously.  No one gets out alive”.

And so I find myself at this point where choices have to be made and decisions have to be believed in and adhered to.  At this moment let me take a small sidestep to ask you, very seriously, “So, how are those New Year’s resolutions working out for you?”  I know it sounds random but I’m asking because as I sit back to make decisions I realize that as always things happen at the best possible time when you let them.

Take a moment to consider where we are in the year, at the end of March and beginning of April.  No matter your beliefs, or lack thereof, this time is celebrated by many.  Easter crosses paths with Passover.  More esoteric religions like Wicca would be celebrating “Ostara” about now.  Pagans would be celebrating the vernal equinox.  Zoroastrian, another ancient religion dating back to mid 5th century BC and still practiced in modern day Iran would be celebrating “No Ruz”.  If you don’t follow a religion, you’re probably just celebrating the fact that for us in the Northern hemisphere the days are getting longer and the weather is getting nicer.  Studies have found references to celebrating this time of year as far back as 2400 BC in ancient Babylon.  The fact remains that this is a point in the year that is celebrated by many for a very long time.  You can’t help it – it’s almost in your DNA.

And so this ties in with asking you how your resolutions are going because from where I’m standing I can understand why so many have considered this time of year perfect for reflection and celebration.  We’re only about a third of the way into the New Year.  It’s been long enough to see if you’ve been following what you set for yourself and still early enough for you to change course if you haven’t.  There’s plenty of time to adjust your direction or maybe better, change courses completely.

You’ve heard all the clichés and sayings; “Today is the first day of the rest of your life” or “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.  Great fodder for fortune cookies but most of us tune it out and gloss over it in real life, having heard these a million times until they just become a string of words that people say when they don’t know what other advice to give.

Yet the fact remains that word for word, they’re still valid.  It’s kind of like how I used to tune out overplayed standards like “New York, New York” and “In the Mood” until one time when I was hired to do complete takedowns and re-arrangements of them for a big band and I was knee deep in them that I realized what great arrangements they actually were.  Filled with tasty lines and motifs in the various instruments I saw that they weaved a colorful tapestry that I had missed out on previously because I learned to ignore them after hearing them for the 500th time at someone’s grandmother’s birthday party.

So again, let’s take a look at our resolutions and even better, let’s revise or change them.  When coming up with resolutions most people just sleepwalk through the usual suspects.  So what was it this year?  Less smoking?  Less drinking?  The ever popular diet and workout routine?  So how’s it been working out for you?  Have you dropped that ten pounds and quit smoking?  Wait, you’re smoking two packs a day now instead of one?!  Well, it’s no big tragedy because we’re going to revise things and look a bit deeper this time.

All too often we focus on the physical and not enough on the metaphysical.  Sometimes the changes that benefit us most are the ones we have to spend a minute or so searching for rather than just plugging in the old standbys like a bad New Year’s version of mad libs.  Besides, you can always quit smoking at any point during the year – they make a patch for that now.  It’s kind of a cop-out to pick something as a resolution that you can fix with a trip to the drug store.  That’s like saying that your resolution is to fix your upset stomach.

I started the New Year repeating the same tired, old resolutions.  Here I am at the equinox and I realize I haven’t come close or even started what I wanted to achieve.  Take heart!  There’s still time to change things and redirect my life.  So I decided to overhaul my resolution and instead, while it’s still early in the year and I can still make a difference to myself, I’ve decided to trust myself.  Yup, that’s it.  I’m going to trust myself.

I know it doesn’t sound as exciting or proactive as quitting smoking or losing weight but think about it; just like in music that quite often a good musician can make a difficult passage seem easy to play when it’s quite the opposite.  How about I make a concentrated effort to trust myself and do it completely and without question.  Now things are getting interesting but it doesn’t work if you don’t commit to it.

I came upon this resolution when I was called to write and record an introduction for a pop song.  The producer who called me said he needed an intro and I was told that the song was a rock song and guitar based so they wanted to intro to be synth based to contrast the song.  Maybe thirty seconds or so in length and they needed it in about an hour and the half.  Maybe two but that would be pushing it.  They also needed to sound mixed and finished so they could just tack it on to the beginning of the song and by the way could I check my email because the song was in there so I could listen so I could have some similar elements in the intro.

In one simultaneous motion I opened my email, booted up my DAW, started turning on my keyboards and barely said, “OK” before I hung up.  This one was going to be close.  There was definitely no time for anything that couldn’t be done in each take for each track.  No time for analysis paralysis and endless A/Bing of everything from sounds to effects.  If there were to be any effects they would have to be serial, in line with the keyboards as there was no time to run tracks out and back in for effects.  Wet / dry levels had to be decided on the fly as I laid the tracks.  If I was to get this done in time it meant that I had to commit to everything and the only way to do that was to trust myself.

I decided to run my keyboards through a random compressor doing some conservative compression; maybe 1 – 3 dB at a 3:1 ratio.  I set a medium attack and release so it wouldn’t be too overpowering figuring that I didn’t have time to get creative so I’d settle for gently rounding off each track a tiny bit just so it’d all sit together a bit easier which just might cut some time off of mixing if I was lucky.  I also threw an EQ in line as well for basic adjustments.   No fancy frequency carving here – I merely wanted something with a high and low shelf which I set at some arbitrary frequency that I thought would be a good do-it-all frequency for each shelf and a high pass filter to get rid of any junk.  This way if I thought the sound was not bright enough or too boomy a quick knob twist would fix that.

Setting up the equipment and patching everything in gave the song time to play two or three times.  This was enough for me to grab a motif from the song to base my intro on.  I quickly would call up a patch I thought fit what I was looking for and I’d hit record and go.  No MIDI, no fixing things after the fact, no auditioning effects.  I just dialed in what I thought that track needed in a few seconds, hit play and laid a track.  Even my volume was handled at the source to help expedite the mixing.  If I thought my sound was too loud for what I wanted for that track I would just lower the volume on the keyboard.  It all sounds so simple and in actuality it was.  The chain was just one long line of synth into pre into compressor into EQ into effects.  Anything I didn’t need got bypassed.  Not physically removed or unpatched, just the unit would be put in bypass but the signal would still go through it.  I broke every law of good sound to get this done in time.

-Frank Perri, April 2013.

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