By James Pew

I’ll never forget one of the tensest moments of my career. It was about 3 1/2 years ago. I was sound engineering, and hosting the sessions at my then new studio Euphonic Sound, for Producer Freddy Gabrsek on a debut record for acclaimed Canadian  performer Jeff Madden. This is of course the same Freddy Gabrsek who has mentored me through to this day on my entire career as a music producer. Freddy is a brilliant technical engineer, he is far to vast to describe here, so go here to get the Freddy Factor.

Jeff played Frankie Vallie in the Dancap Productions critically acclaimed smash hit musical Jersey Boys that recently wrapped at Toronto’s Centre for the Performing Arts. Jeff received the DORA award in 2009 for his live performance portrayal of Frankie Vallie. Before that Jeff was a leading singer/actor at the Shaw Festival for many years. Jeff has always done nothing short of excellent work. He sings. He dances. He acts. He’s got it all!

The record Freddy was producing for Jeff is called “Taking the Wheel.” Jeff makes no attempts to sound like a pop artist. He stays true to himself. He is a theater performer. Not only does he know it…he celebrates it with “Taking the Wheel.”

The production of “Taking the Wheel” was fairly complex. And this was at a time when the studio had only been operating for less than a year and was largely untested for the types of sessions that Freddy & Jeff were bringing to Euphonic Sound. I was very tense about working with Freddy and Jeff – two guys I greatly admire and respect – and was very anxious that the sessions run smoothly without technical failures or interruptions. Everything did run smoothly and the entire experience of working with them was instructive and awesome. Everyone was happy with the project.

But there was a moment when, with a studio full of anxious musicians, musical directors, conductors and others involved in the process , where I made an error that caused an interruption of what was sounding like a great take by all the string players and supporting musicians. It was a critical and  challenging passage of music (A post modern string arrangement being conducted and performed in the Euphonic Sound live room) – in the end we did end up capturing something amazing, but thanks to my error it took a little longer than it should have.

Here is what happened:

Freddy was standing behind me to my left…Jeff to my right. I was sitting down at the controls operating the session. My job was to do exactly what Jeff or Freddy directed me to as quickly as possible. The need for speed in these situations is because the artist is paying an hourly rate to about 14 different people. The hourly rate of one string player is greater than the hourly rate that Euphonic Sound charges. In other words these sessions were costing Jeff a lot.

Freddy and Jeff communicated to all of the musicians through our control room talk back system. We worked fast and we worked efficiently. Everyone on site was pro. Practically all of the musicians, arrangers and musical directors were also lending their talents to the Shaw Festival at the time, so the studio was packed with talent.

Freddy gave the direction “roll tape,” which I did. The conductor and musicians where given their que to begin and the music started. My eyes were glued to the input meters of the entire single chain looking for any sign of an input overload that would cause the track to distort. My ears, Freddy’s and Jeff’s were totally focused on the sound. Our three heads all crouched down sharing the middle sections between the two speakers we were tracking through. The piece was intricate and challenging and the goal was to get it in one live take…as opposed to punching in or editing multiple takes.  So about half way through the first take I experienced something that never happened before or since…my hand spontaneously twitched a little bit! And since it was positioned about 2 inches from the keyboard of the audio system, my thumb lightly tapped the space bar causing the audio to stop. The quick key for “Stop” at Euphonic Sound (and most studios for that matter) is the space bar!  The musicians had to stop and start again.

When it happen we got a sharp look back from the conductor and all his musicians through the glass panels that separates the control room and live room. He snapped at us “WHAT HAPPENED!” Feeling like a a complete idiot, I quickly told Freddy and Jeff that my hand just jerked forward unexpectedly!

Freddy just smiled at Jeff. Jeff turned on the talk back mic and said something like “oh nothing just a technical glitch.” He put his hand on my shoulder and told me not to worry about it. They down played it and brushed it off. No one outside of Freddy, Jeff and myself knew that the error was not a technical glitch, but a James glitch. I will always remember their response as one that was very generous, considering how high the stakes were – and how annoying this particular James glitch was at a time of such urgency.

The point of this post is, by all means hold the people you work with to high standards but be generous when they err…they’ll remember you for it.

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