A precocious child, I decided at the age of 17 that I was going to be famous one day and that I needed to start selling CD recordings of my singing. (Coincidentally, I started writing my memoirs that same year, a document I still have on my computer to open and giggle at from time to time…)
That year I decided to take my savings and hire our high school choral accompanist to record the piano parts for 5 songs I had been working on with my voice teacher. I had to explain to her that I didn’t want to record myself singing with her, but I just wanted the piano track so that I could do multiple takes of my voice in the freedom of my parents’ computer room. (Already there was a recording engineer in the making.) Armed with a portable cassette recorder, (yes, kids, we used recorders with actual tapes back then!) I turned over my entire month’s wages from my part time job to record each piece a few times. Then, I took home those cassette tapes, figured out how to convert them into digital files using my parents’ rudimentary audio mixing software, and created a second track using a video chat microphone. I had to use the tools at hand and that was the only digital microphone we had. I then spent hours experimenting with the mixing program trying to find the best balance and mixture, but really, how much clarity can you expect from an external microphone used for video calls and a piano track recorded to cassette? Apparently a lot, because I would not stop editing until I was sure that this was the best representation of what I could do at the time. I then decided to learn photoshop and create a CD insert. I was determined to make the CD look as professional as possible and represent the vision I had in mind. While the recording fell short of the critical acclaim I had dreamed of, I gave copies to all of my family members and I even sold a few copies to kind-hearted family friends. Even better, my grandmother would pull the CD out and listen to it regularly until the day she passed away. We found the CD in her player queued up and ready to go when we were cleaning up her things.
This first CD, created by a 17 year old who had no idea what she was doing, sparked a yearly tradition where, around Christmas, I created CD complications from recordings made throughout the previous year and gave them away as gifts. The CD’s included recordings from choral concerts I was a part of in college, audition pieces, recital recordings, even songs performed in studio class. These past few years I even created holiday-themed CD’s which I marketed and actually sold to community members. I turned a profit from my little hobby. Each year, I designed a CD cover with new photos, became more creative with the design, and did the best I could in the editing process.
Many of the recordings were made with digital field recorders which seemed really fancy at the time, but still never created that studio sound. Most of the time I sounded like I was in the back of an overly-echoey hall. I never really liked the way I sounded because I thought my voice was muddy and unclear. The funny thing about singing is that you never really know what your voice truly sounds like. You can’t trust your own ears so you are at the mercy of recording equipment and a trusted teacher. I thought my singing voice sounded muffled and breathy because that’s what I always heard on my recordings. Until this past year….
I finally broke down and bought a whole new, professional recording system. It has been an eye-opening experience to hear myself clearly for the first time. After singing just a few notes into the mic and playing it back, tears welled up in my eyes… I guess I’m a better singer than I thought. I am so grateful to have this new tool to record my progress and to learn and grow from, but I would never have made it to this moment if it weren’t for that little 17 year old girl with a dream to share her music with the world. That spunky entrepreneur started the ball rolling and she’d be proud of the fact that my family, friends, and long-time fans have a collection of 13 CDs compilations marking my vocal progress from the beginning, with new recordings being added each year. I may not be making platinum sales, but I have achieved that sense of acomplishment that I so deserpately craved those 13 years ago. The other day I pulled out that first CD and listened to one of my favorite pieces of the time “Home” from Beauty and the Beast. Listening to the 17 year old version of myself inspired me to rerecord this piece and sing with that bright-eyed, bushy-tailed musician who just wanted to get her music out into the world. If I ever lose my purpose, all I have to do is put in that first CD and remember that dire craving to create. This is what I am meant to do–imperfections, clicks, and all.
I dedicate this mash-up of the old and the new me to those dreamy children inside each of us. Don’t forget the lessons they are trying to teach you. They are wiser than you realize.
Click here to listen to Home as sung with my 17 year old self