Studio Magic: Ritual in the Temple of Music

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Music holds a special place in the human experience; along with language, every culture on Earth creates their own version of it (although all human groups almost universally and independently start by inventing a fipple flute and a frame drum, but that’s another story for another day). It calls memories back from the depths of dementia, compels bodies to move, and leaps across the boundaries of language and country.

Making music can feel like a sacred act. Whether Pagan, Christian, or atheist, many of us feel a deep, spiritual catharsis when creating music. Even writers who don’t ascribe to any particular faith have expressed a sense that they are channeling the songs they write from something outside themselves rather than creating them independently.

Music is a worship and a faith in and of itself - not necessarily of a particular deity but rather of this beautiful, essential piece of being human. And while a priest might work in a temple or church, the musician works on the stage and in the most sacred inner sanctum: the recording space.

Writing is low magic: it’s instinctual and earthy and raw; the spell is improvisatory and unpretentious. Recording is high magic: there is ritual and formality; the wiring and carefully labeled inputs are a magical array charging the space; the intention is firmly set and - although there is lots of room for adaptation - there is prewritten script that must be breathed to life.

This month I was back in the studio chasing that high magic. Having the days broken up across several weeks gives this the sense that it is some great working; I feel like some ancient druid, coming back every full moon to add power to a talisman or something. Which is to say, I feel like I’m making magic during sacred time in sacred space. This last set of days which have been just myself, the producer, and his assistant have felt particularly focused and worshipful.

Keenan-Keaton Payne and Aaron Shafer-Haiss creating an incredible rhythmic bed for the album.

Keenan-Keaton Payne and Aaron Shafer-Haiss creating an incredible rhythmic bed for the album.

Last month, the drummer and bass player laid down an incredible foundation for all the songs and this month, we started to put flesh on the bones. The laser focus required to chase down just the right sound and deliver just the right vocal performance feels very similar to the focused intent of meditation or prayer.

This is augmented by the studio space. Not only does having access to great, working gear help accurately capture and shape sounds, but the energy of the recording studio also has a strong impact on the experience. Studios often have few windows and soundproofing; the dark silence feels completely removed from the world, like a tiny pocket universe removed from this reality.

Perhaps the most important part of this ritual is the producer, the high priest of the studio. Nick brings amazing ideas and performances, but he’s also an expert in creating a relaxed environment where all of our attention can be devoted to the music. To my delight, he even burned some palo santo, really making the whole space feel holy.

But the core of why the sacred space of the studio is so important, is the headspace it allows you to enter and the music it let’s you make. With little daylight coming in, you don’t worry so much about the passage of time. Dim lights make it easier to unfocus your eyes and hone in on the sounds in the room, headphones, and speakers. Not everything I record will get to happen in a space like this - and you don’t need to go to a professional studio to create this vibe in whatever bedroom or basement you’re recording in - but it’s special and something I’m so grateful to have experienced.

You can worship anywhere, but there’s something special about attending a service in a beautiful cathedral or temple. You can make music anywhere, but there’s something magical about recording it in a great studio.