When my daughter was five, she was given a Barbie Karaoke boom box as a gift. Despite the music, that little karaoke player was a valuable tool for Caroline. With it, she honed her ability to carry a tune, learned vocal dynamics, and started to write her own songs. She began refining these skills in the third grade when she joined the Berkshire Children’s Chorus. In more recent years, she has been studying piano and voice and has been discovering her own voice as a result.
For nearly her entire life Caroline and I have been singing and playing music together. I’ve talked at great length with fellow musicians about the joy of making music with your children. It is one of life’s most treasured gifts. A colleague summed it up perfectly when he called it the “greatest gig in the world”. This winter I had the rare opportunity to take that gig to the next level when I produced my daughter’s debut CD. Truth be told, it was with more than a little trepidation that I offered to do it.
Working in the studio can be a bit of a mind bender. It’s like putting your music under a microscope and leaving it there for an agonizingly long time. You hear everything…over and over and over again. You hear things you never heard before and things you wished you never heard. Your mind becomes hyper-analytical and you start to question your abilities and your art. I wondered how Caroline was going to fare. This was no Barbie Karaoke. This was the real deal with engineers and session players and lots of very intimating looking equipment. That’s enough to play on the nerves of seasoned musicians, let alone those of a 13 year old in her first real studio experience. And while Caroline and I share a lot of common ground in our musical tastes, we share a lot of differences too. As producer and primary decision maker for many of the artistic decisions, I was feeling the pressure. I feared that what could and should be an amazing father-daughter experience would completely implode, leaving behind a literal trail of tears weighing heavy on our otherwise harmonious relationship.
The day before she was scheduled to come into the studio to lay her piano tracks, I played Caroline some rough mixes of the basic tracks we’d laid down. To my relief, the first two were a hit. But when I spun the title track, the song I was most excited about from a production and arrangement viewpoint, I could sense the disappointment in my daughter’s voice. “It’s so rock sounding”, she said. She wasn’t judgmental. It just wasn’t how she envisioned it sounding. It was a hard pill to swallow, but I took it in stride and promised her we’d come up with an arrangement we could both be excited about.
The next day was met with technical challenges and after an hour of troubleshooting we were ready for Caroline to start laying her piano tracks. I was on edge. She was still fairly new to piano and she had never played to tracks in headphones before, which can be very unnatural feeling. After the first take, the knots in my stomach tightened. It wasn’t horrible, but it was far from stellar. Her timing was off. I spent the next few minutes talking her through it, doing everything I could to ease her nerves even though she didn’t seem particularly nervous. Then, with youthful naïveté, she asked, “Umm, dad, am I supposed to be hearing anything in the headphones?” We burst out laughing. Considering she had just laid down the part without hearing the piano or the track she was playing to, she had actually done pretty well. It’d be akin to painting in the dark. We fixed her headphones and Caroline got down to business. She nailed nearly all her parts on early takes, foreshadowing for how the rest of the sessions would proceed. It was my proudest moment.
On Friday May 27th at Dewey Hall in Sheffield, MA, I will be blessed yet again with another opportunity to make music with my daughter. This time it will have a whole new meaning as we gleefully celebrate the release of her new CD, “Because of You”, as well as the release of my CD, “The Thirteenth Step”, with a combined CD Release Concert in which we will share a band and the stage. I’ve played a lot of gigs in my day, but this will easily be the greatest gig in the world.
Todd Mack is a writer, musician, and producer, and owner of the Off the Beat-n-Track recording studio in Sheffield, MA. He is also the founder and executive director of Music in Common, a non-profit organization whose mission is to strengthen, empower, and educate communities through the universal language of music. Email him at email@example.com.