Blandness Doesn’t Happen Here

Bill Watson, Owner & Producer of Play It Again Demos and Nashville Trax

Bill Watson, Owner & Producer of Play It Again Demos and Nashville Trax

There’s a reason why our services are in demand; why our recordings thrill our clients, why some folks view us as ‘the best” and why our demos get signed by song publishers so often. It’s a world view, a philosophy gap between what they’re doing and what we’re doing. It’s a belief system.

It’s an approach and thought process applied to every song at Play It Again and Nashville Trax that is world’s-apart different than what most producers use, the final recordings reflect that approach, and it’s systemic, injected at every step of the process.

First, I respect the fact that the client probably worked hard scraping together every penny of the cost in the hope she or he can hear their song on the radio someday. It’s not my job to make that happen. That’s beyond my control. That’s up to people further down the line. But it is exactly my job to provide them with the hope that it can. It’s my job that every time she listens to it the rest for her life she’ll be so very glad she took this step and proudly plays it for anyone who will listen.

Second, The Macarena made it to radio, sold 15 million copies and is ranked fifth on Billboard’s All Time Top 100. It’s also the #1 dance song of all time. How many producers would have heard a rough of that and proclaimed, “This piece of $&^^% is going nowhere,” as the session players nodded in agreement and they proceeded to methodically suck the life out of it with perfectly polished, colorless vapidity, guaranteeing it wouldn’t?

I smashed my crystal ball long ago. The darn thing wasn’t working.

Third, I believe in God. Not an impersonal, historical, ethereal being of some sort that floats in heavenly clouds somewhere, occasionally beating up on Amorites. But a God who’s alive and who cares about every person, listens to every prayer we toss up and sometimes responds with an answer that defies both the laws of physics and logic of man, i.e., a major or minor miracle. No big deal for the creator of this world and everything in it. No big deal for The Master Physicist, The Master Physician, The Master Musician, The Master Everything.

If He decides a client’s song should become a hit there is not a man, a woman, a radio programmer or an army that could stop it. And since, for some inexplicable reason, God doesn’t generally bother to consult with me first as to which songs will move on to a better place, I figure I better darn sure do my job so it sounds as good as it can when it gets there.

We all have religion.

Maybe you’ve always believed in God. It just seems right and you don’t question it. You stand on rock.

Or maybe you’re “smarter than average.” So smart maybe you don’t believe in God at all. You know He’s a no-longer-necessary myth, and instead, believe in whatever the atheistic wing of the scientific community feeds you. You buy into their agenda driven “there is no God” mantra and smirk at people who do believe in Him, that’s your religion.

Hey I’m cool with that, you can believe in anything you want to, but I wonder: When you face The Big Thing you can’t handle on your own, will your worship leaders, Maher, Hawking, Dawkins and the rest, be there for you when you need them? Is that a rock you can stand on?

If you’re extremely intelligent, way beyond simply smart, you question everything. You use the gray matter number you were blessed with to actually think for yourself. You’ve researched enough to comprehend how every discipline interfaces with both the Old and New Testaments, you understand how they support each other, and you can see how it all works so perfectly together it’s difficult to deny. You’ve already wasted time on the “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual” path. You can explain Vishishtadvaita in detail and at one point in your life Scientology seemed like a great idea.

You aced physics; watched Field of Dreams a bunch of times times; studied world history, couldn’t stop reading Infinite Jest and back in ’03, took temporary refuge in the triple gem. Initially you devoured Loftus, and later, Sobel, with great interest but ultimately rejected their arguments as unconvincing quasi-logic that circumvents the whole point. Sometimes, you really can’t get there from here.

In ’08 you had that weird encounter with the ex-meth head trying to feed you some crap about Jesus and how he’d been washed clean by The King of Kings or something. In ’11 you watched the kids getting stuffed into body bags and wondered where God was when the bullets started flying.

That same year you read that damn J.D. Salinger book again. You bought the Harley, got the tattoos and headed north on sabbatical road. You cried unexpectedly at Gettysburg, what happened there just overwhelmed you all of a sudden. At The Wall you met the vet who was missing both arms. He told you he was a devout Christian stamping his ticket to Heaven because he’d already been to Hill 881 and wasn’t ever going back.

The phrase “Man’s inhumanity toward man” kept playing on your mindscreen and the word “hope”… it was actually bugging you. You knew they sold it at the local church, but was there any such thing?

It was late 2011 when that osteologist said, “No doubt about it, you’re Native American Indian,” confirming the speculation. Then came that crazy dream where the Comanche war chief wearing a full headdress peered down at you from the clouds and said, “The logic is strong in you my son, but it’s emotion that will save you.” What in the hell did that mean?

You understand Higgs boson and E= mc2. You get String Theory, Romans 8:28 and The Big Bang. You’ve done the math for yourself, revealed the flaws, stared the beauty of it all right in the face and you’ve reached the inescapable conclusion that God had a hand in creating everything, and has a hand in everything you experience.

And one day your epiphany: the day everything you’d ever learned and everything you’d ever done morphed into a big, red, flashing arrow pointing straight at Acts 4:12. You got on your knees, accepted Christ, and got up knowing nothing would ever be quite the same moving forward.

You started attending the local church and confirmed you were right about what they sell there but pleasantly surprised to find it wouldn’t cost you anything, only everything. And man, what a cool little band they have, with drums and guitars and backup singers even. Maybe you can be The Catcher In The Rye someday after all, stand with arms stretched wide on the edge of the cliff… perhaps save a few of His children from the evils of adulthood. Maybe just by playing your bass guitar.

That phrase you used so often, “I think I’m on the right path now,” faded away, because you know you are.

Welcome to the rock.

You also trembled a bit because you realized when God walked this earth in the flesh he didn’t seem to like the people who had it all together much. He didn’t seem to gravitate toward the rich, the famous, the powerful or the “smart people” very often. No, He owned those categories yet He had a propensity for hanging with the uncool people and with the not so bright people and you hope He compares your intelligence to His so yours is so absolutely dwarfed by His that the difference between a “mentally challenged” man’s 60 and your 160 is insignificant. You hope He notices just how stupid you really are and you hope and plead He wants to hang out with you, too.

Caught up in your own little selfish schemes and dreams you thought you were a success, or “on your way to becoming a success” but you now know you’ve achieved absolutely nothing, to date it all adds up to a big fat zerol. You realize: It doesn’t matter how much education you have, how much art you create, how many millions of your billions you give to charity, how many books you write or how high your IQ is.

Unless you accept Him and make Him the center of your life you’re a failure. There are no other success options, His Way is the one way. Walk any false path you choose but you’ll wear out eighty pairs of shoes without getting near the real prize of truly having it all for eternity.

You understand now, you can’t impress God with looks, power, celebrity, money or anything of that nature. The last shall be first and the first last. He’d surely rather hang with that ex-meth head than your miserable self.

God can’t co-exist with impurity. You need to wash clean and return to the truth, the faith, the love, the purity and the innocence you had as a child, that’s what God digs. That’s why Jesus loves the little children.

You need to hide all that stuff you did and the only way is to erase it through the blood shed for you on the cross. Justice must be served, one way or another.

If you can’t get back there, to that childlike innocence, faith, love and purity, you’ll end this earthly journey having only consumed a lot of mind candy on the wrong path in pursuit of false promises from your false gods, named or unnamed. A total waste of time.

At some point in the timeline we perceive, (that Einstein proved is not only malleable, but doesn’t really exist at all, no surprise, Old Testament authors revealed that fact thousands of years ago: God is everlasting, without beginning or end) all you’ve worked for will be nothing but your bones buried in the ground. That ain’t much.

Einstein proved that “all time is now”. Come on, you’re smart, you know all about attoseconds, right? And you can bridge that into the Planck Scale that deals in trillionths of attoseconds where the space and time relationship begins to come apart at the seams.

Just beyond Planck is where time stops. And God starts. You know it, damn it, and they just won’t admit it. Man, do you need to find that childlike purity now.

Man, do you need to find the hope that DFW’s university degrees, high IQ and fame couldn’t impart. For all his wealth, philosophizing and alleged brilliance, David Foster Wallace was unable to find enough hope to prevent taking his own life. He knew where to look for it but casual church attendance doesn’t grant immunity from hopelessness. “Being a Christian” doesn’t grant immunity from hopelessness. Making Jesus the absolute center of your life does.

Crack open The Holy Bible and read quotes from His mouth. Immerse yourself in His wisdom. Follow His example. Let Him lead you. There you’ll discover hope in abundance. Hope is a beautiful thing.

The choice is clear. Jump on the Jesus train, ride it like everlasting life depended on it because it does and go to your God, the lamb slaughtered to satisfy justice for you, washed clean by His blood. Clothed in innocence fully able to withstand and dwell with your brothers and sisters in Christ in His glorious light and love. Forever free, forever happy, forever positive, forever rid of every negative emotion.

Or you can consume your speck of time, this thing called life, what native Americans call “The breath of the buffalo in wintertime” on some other path. In laugh worship with the atheist high priestess Griffin; devouring the Barker scriptures; spending your days loving things while using others instead of using things and loving others; bowing with genuine reverence to the money, fame and celebrity gods.

Doing your own thing.

If that’s your path do enjoy the party while you can. The impurities none of those activities can wash away will drive you far away from His glorious light described in 1 John 1:5, where the real party goes on 24/7 without end.

Welcome to hell. Just you. Your thoughts. Alone. In darkness. Forever.

How’s “This is all about me,” working out for ya?

Hey, tell yourself that Bill Maher joke again, the one about the difference between God and the tooth fairy. Still hilarious as ever … isn’t it?

Maybe that being washed clean stuff isn’t a bunch of crap after all. But no one can get back to that childlike purity without Christ. No amount of self-discovery, meditation, absorption in Secular Buddhism or anything else can get you there. John 14:6.

Through Him, Jesus Christ, the creator of this world and everything in it, you’ll rediscover your innocence. You’ll be infused with talent, knowledge and wisdom from The Master Of All Things. Through Him and His Word you will find ultimate truths, you’ll achieve humility and discover whatever else you sought looking for love in all the wrong places. You’ll stand on rock.

And with all that comes the knowledge that perfection is an interesting sidebar, something we all fall a bit short of no matter how hard we try. Except Jesus. He was the unblemished Passover lamb of all Passover lambs. The one without sin, slaughtered for you, buddy. Oh, do you get it now.

You can bet Jesus plays perfect notes. He’s the Master Musician, The Master Everything.
But I don’t even want to ask what His session rate is or how far ahead He’s booked. I’m thinking those numbers would be kind of scary.

But that’s okay. If I’ve learned one thing over the years it’s that producing great tracks has little to do with playing notes perfectly anyway, mere mortal musicians will do. The attempt to play perfect notes can be part of creating exceptional tracks but that’s a given and, except in the case of keeping a singer on pitch or something, for the most part that’s not my job.

I hire world-class musicians, if I write good charts, they’ll deliver the right notes. My job during tracking, in my view, has almost everything to do with understanding what the client’s goals are, catching the proper emotion wave and making sure we all ride it together to the mix at Payoff Beach. My job is to ensure that the finished recording will move people.

Listen to the great tunes of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s before pitch correction and editing out every drop of spontaneity was possible. Perfection? Not exactly. You can hear a little tape distortion here, an out of tune guitar there, a little tempo variation. Listen close and maybe you’ll hear that noise where the drummer accidentally hit a rim and made an unwanted click.

But guess what? Some of those recordings are definitive versions that could be covered by a thousand artists and would never be equaled, let alone topped! Obviously the producer didn’t say, “Let’s run that again guys, it isn’t perfect yet.” Instead he recognized, “Man THIS IS IT! This excites me, it’s perfect even with imperfections!” Kind of like Jesus thinks about His children as they stumble toward His light and He pulls them on in, I guess.

Before charting even a low-budget demo. I listen. A lot. It’s partly to determine what the songwriter is trying to say with the lyric, but ultimately it’s mostly about discerning what shade of emotion they are trying to evoke from people who hear it. Then I start writing charts and thinking in terms of arrangements that move everything toward that one goal.

At times we hit the mark here so well that musicians who aren’t even playing on a song are high fiving and the musicians playing on it are obviously excited.

On one session, a player who I’m pretty sure hasn’t been out of a session chair in years, became so fired up as the arrangement built, he actually stood up to finish playing his part. A small thing but huge for the song because the other musicians knew what it meant and it made them play with even more intensity, “Holy moley, if he’s playing standing up, this is historic! I better beat the living pillows out of this drum!” My philosophy is: When pillows start coming out of drums you know you’re doing something right : )

If you want “bored-before-the-chorus-hits” mediocrity disguised as perfection, you’d best go to one of those other places.

Blandness doesn’t happen here- b.e. watson