From the outside, Atlantic’s Paramount Studio isn’t quite what I imagined.
The nondescript storefront tucked inconspicuously between California Surplus Mart and an empty parking lot doesn’t exactly scream, “I’M A MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR RECORDING STUDIO.”
But everything changes when the door opens.
Stepping inside is like stepping into an Egyptian tomb. Cool, inset lights illuminate thick stone walls dripping with history. From the lobby reaches an expansive, dimly-lit hallway tattooed with platinum records.
It turns out each record is from a band that’s recorded here. And the list is the opposite of totally unimpressive:
Zeppelin. Hendrix. Ice Cube. 2Pac. Coolio.
Yeah. Coolio, bitches.
A sweet receptionist called Amanda guides me down the hall. I brush shoulders with the singer from the Goo Goo Dolls as he passes.
Ain’t no thing.
When I get to Studio D, Brian is waiting for me.
Brian Killa is a chill, lanky white kid from Portland. A college basketball injury kept him laid up in his dorm for a year – just long enough to get hooked on pro tools. 48 months and countless Apple/Spacebars later, Brian landed a gig as an Atlantic sound engineer.
Brian asks what I’ve got for him. I whip out the 6-string and run down a quick medley of tunes – he really likes one called “So Much Trouble” – a breakup song with a crisp hip-hop beat. He plugs me in, and we’re off to the races.
By “off to the races,” I mean we’ve got 8 hours including lunch to get shit done. Atlantic’s footing the bill, (huge thanks to Alex Barefoot, who followed through on his offer to get me some studio time), so I’m hardly complaining. But 8 hours means no time for warm-ups, pitch-correcting, or channeling your inner zen shokra. It means plug it in, and make it happen.
So we waste little time in getting down to bidness.
Step 1 is to play a scratch of the song to a metronome (click-click-click-click). Then we go back and rebuild the song piece by piece – Intro, Verse, Pre-Chorus, Chorus, Bridge, Outro.
It’s a lot like building a house. Foundation, pipes, electricity, pipes, stairs.
Actually, that’s probably not how you build a house unless you’re retarded. But you get the idea.
6 hours and 22 track layers later, we’ve built some decent music. But there’s still a wide open stretch of the song with no vocals.
“What goes there?” asks Brian.
I explain that’s where the rap interlude is supposed to be.
“And who’s doing that?”
We stare at each other for 10 full seconds before I realize Lil Wayne is not going to materialize out of thin air to do 16 bars.
That means I get to do it.
I’m on the clock, but I’m not too worried. Rap is fun to write – whenever you can’t think of a rhyme, it’s totally acceptable – even encouraged – to substitute a four-letter word.
So I do. Often.
In 20 minutes, I’ve got something passable. And with the clock ticking, passable will do nicely.
I step up to the mic, and Brian drops the beat.
When my mouth opens, I’m surprised at what comes out: a syllogistic hybrid of Mickey Avalon, G.Love, and that guy from Rehab.
More surprising is that it actually works… somehow. Brian is bobbing his head in the control room. He likes it.
We wrap the track with 6 minutes to spare. After a final listen, it seems like this could be a legitimate song.
I pack up and head back down the hallway towards the exit. A 2Pac plaque catches my eye.
2Pac has sold 72 million more albums than me.
I’ve actually known that for quite some time, but seeing a nicely framed plaque proclaiming this fact in 12-inch platinum letters really drives the point home.
Note to self: when I sell 72 albums, I’m getting a plaque.
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