Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Interview with Producer Dave Bechtel

I always enjoy learning how other creative people tick. This being said, I thought I’d start a series of interviews with some of my creative friends detailing their work and creative process.

One of my good friends, Dave Bechtel, is a music producer in Nashville, TN. He’s been working in Nashville for about ten years now and has produced nearly 150 albums. Dave and I grew up together in Columbus, OH and have known each other since kindergarten. He and his family have had a huge influence on me musically and otherwise. In particular, Dave’s dad, Bob Bechtel, was my middle school and high school band teacher. Bob reached out and encouraged me as a young musician. In addition, throughout the years, Dave and I have worked on several music projects together, and I owe much of my recording knowledge to him. I feel honored to have Dave as my first interviewee.

How did your interest in music begin?
“My interest in music began simply by being born into a family that had a great deal of involvement in music. My mother actually went into labor while playing the organ at the church Christmas Eve musical that my dad was directing. My father was the oldest of six children all of whom were school band or choir directors at some point. The whole music thing has just been an everyday part of my life as long as I can remember.”

Who has been the biggest inspiration to you musically?
“By far my biggest inspiration in music would be my dad. He had a collection of thousands of LPs and then later CDs. I was exposed to an extremely large variety of music on a daily basis in our home.”

Describe your work as a producer. What exactly do you do?
“What exactly do I do as a producer? That's the second most asked question I get asked from people when talking about work (the first being "What famous people have you worked with"?). It really varies from day to day. Some days are filled with nothing but phone calls, emails and text messages trying to juggle schedules and come up with a plan that accommodates all the various talent that is involved in making a record. Other days, I'll have my nose buried in a computer monitor preparing for a recording session or editing the recordings that we have made. Occasionally, I help an artist with their song writing. Everyday seems to present a different challenge that requires a broad skill set. The whole "jack of all trades, master of none" could certainly apply to me.”

What do you enjoy the most about producing artists?
“Probably the most rewarding aspect about working with an artist is to bring his/her vision and frankly, his/her dreams to life. There is nothing better in my work life than seeing an artist cry when playing back a recording in the control room.”

What inspires you musically?
“I really have very little appreciation for music that doesn't create an emotional impact when I'm listening to it. I absolutely cannot stand "background music." I would MUCH rather listen to the beautiful sound of silence than listen to a homogenized, uninspired noise that is designed and created to blend into the background. A song doesn't have to be "BIG" to create a meaningful emotional reaction...sometimes it's the simplicity that is the driving force behind the song.”

Describe your creative process. What are some of the key stages you go through while producing an album for an artist?
“Every project is different so there are different approaches for each project. Some projects require an extensive amount of planning and preparation to execute — songs to be selected, charts to write, orchestrations to be arranged, players to be scheduled, studios to be booked…the list goes on…and of course there are other projects where I have folks call up and say "I'm coming up to Nashville in three weeks. Get the crew together…we're going to cut six songs" and the first time I will hear the songs is when the artist shows up at the studio. Overall, I'd say that planning stage of making a record might seem like something that is very "un-creative" but, it's with the structure and parameters that are installed that make the creative process really flourish. Boundaries are actually are very good thing in the creative world as it allows an artist to focus their energies on a vision and task and then execute it. That's one of the main things that I try to help with.”

What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned working as a producer?
“I think the biggest lesson I've learned in working with artists is learning how to listen to them. It's critical that I work on achieving their vision for the project and not mine. If there are creative choices I'm making that don't fit into what the artist has in mind, I need to step back and be able to put my pride aside and work harder to capture the artist’s vision or gently explain why some of the choices I am making could perhaps be in the best interest of the artist and their project.”

What are some of the challenges you've faced as a producer?

In your opinion, what is the difference between a good album and a great album?
“I really think it comes down to the songs. A great song can overcome a poor recording or an uninspiring mix.”

What do you think makes an album over-produced?
“I don’t think there is such a thing as an "over-produced" project. However, I believe that an album can be poorly produced and sometimes, such a project can be mislabeled as an “over-produced” album. A song isn’t necessarily “over produced” if there are a lot of elements in the mix. However, a song is poorly produced if layers and layers of sounds are stacked on top of each other simply because a person cannot make a decision about which elements are critical to the song.”

What projects are you currently working on?
“By the time this interview is read, I'm sure I'll have a completely different set of projects I'll be working on but right now...I just finished up a Country pop EP, am mixing a Christian pop rock album and will be finishing the mixes on a traditional Irish folk album and I have lots of preparations to be made for a large scale Christmas project.”

How does your faith impact what you do as producer?
“My faith is or at least should be intertwined with everything that I do. There are times when I work with artists that have opposing world views and different moral standards and it's not really my place to tell them how I think they are wrong about any given hot topic issue but rather to be salt and light and let the love of Christ shine through. There can be a lot of shady folks in the music business and I'm grateful for parents and mentors that drilled into me the importance of living out my faith and standing by my convictions.”

To learn more about Dave Bechtel and his work, visit his web site at www.davebechtel.com

Monday, April 13, 2015

Lessons I’ve Learned as a Server

It’s always interesting to me how others respond when I tell them I work as a server. I am often met with a concerned look and the question, “Is that going ok for you?” Sometimes well-meaning people will begin mentioning other jobs I could be doing as if to assume I want to run away from serving as quick as possible. A couple times, new acquaintances have asked, “Oh, so you’re one of those starving artists?” In the eyes of some folks, serving jobs are mostly reserved for kids trying to get through college or for people who couldn’t make it or never had the motivation to make it in the career world.

Who Would Have Thought
Serving is relatively new to me. I began working as a server for the first time at a New Mexican restaurant about a year and a half ago. It was amazing how I even found the job. At the time, I was working as a production assistant at a television station. I was waking up five days a week at 2:45 am and was making very little money for a whole lot of work. At one point, I mentioned on Facebook that I was looking for a better job. I didn’t think my post would yield any results, and in fact, I regretted that I expressed my job dissatisfaction so publicly (Facebook is for baby pictures and happy thoughts, right?). Surprisingly, a few days later, we were eating at Chick-Fil-A and ran into a friend’s wife who said her husband was hiring at his restaurant. To make a long story short, I left the television job about ten months later after multiple frustrations and roadblocks and began a new career as a server at my friend's restaurant.

My friend and new boss at the restaurant gave me a chance to do something I had no experience in. Anyone who has left the career world knows how difficult it is to get a job where you are over-qualified. It’s ironic that a college grad will probably find it next to impossible to get a job at McDonald’s.

Working at the restaurant has been a good thing for me. My boss and co-workers are great. In fact, on many levels, this is probably the best job I have ever had and unless God changes my course, I plan to stick with the job for a while and for a variety of reasons. For one, I need to build a steady employment record. Last year, Crystal and I applied for a mortgage loan and discovered that my income won’t count until I’ve worked as a server for two years. So, I’m locked in for that reason. In addition, I really don’t know what else I could do at this point in Columbus, OH. I am qualified to work as an audio technician in a production house, but full-time jobs in that field are about as rare as an albino squirrel. As a side note, I did once work as a worship pastor at a church, but discovered that a passion for music doesn’t always equate to a passion for church music ministry. Some folks are made for that sort of thing. I totally want to serve in a church, but the thought of leading a worship ministry actually drains my fuel tank.

Welcome to the Serving Industry
I’ve learned a lot working as a server. For one, serving is hard work. There are days when I am on my feet 10-12 hours straight. In fact, I’ve lost 10 lbs. or more since I started working at the restaurant. I had to buy new jeans because my old ones were falling off. No joke.

I’ve also been happy to learn that servers can make really good money. I’m actually making almost twice as much as I was making as a television production assistant and I am working the same number of hours. Most people are surprised when I tell them that some of the rookie reporters I was working with were literally on food stamps.

Working as a server has challenged me to keep my cool when I want to fly off the handle. Things can get pretty intense when you are working in a tiny space with 7-8 other servers who are all trying to make money just like you. Sometimes, you may get a smaller section (less tables) than another server. Sometimes, another server will get to go home earlier than you, and for some reason, you’re the one stuck deck brushing the floor at 11:30pm. Sometimes, you will hate sports because of what they do to the restaurant business. Sometimes, you will get a bad tip. Sometimes, you will have a night of bad tips…or a week.

Tips for Tippers
Wow, I could talk for a while about bad tippers. It’s easy to stereotype certain types of people, and for good reason. Even though I am a Christian, I cringe when I see a group of people praying before a meal or when I see someone wearing a cross around his/her neck. He/she may say kind things and speak Christianese, but in the back of my mind, I’m wondering what I’m going to find when I open that black server book buried underneath a pile of napkins, crayons, salsa bowls, and queso drizzle. Will I be tipped the outstanding 20%, the moderate 15%, the disappointing 10% or the insulting round-up-to-the-nearest-dollar-above-the-total or here’s-the-change-I-had-in-my-pocket tip?

Last week, I had a table of six foreign young adults who cumulatively tipped me about $1.50 on a $60 bill. They all shared 4-5 entries and then evenly split the bill between themselves. Each person ended up with a bill of about $9.86. One person rewarded me with $1.00. Another person didn’t give me anything. The other four gave me .14 each, and one girl actually added a smiley face next to her signature to let me know that they enjoyed my service.

I have to be honest — it’s tough to have a good attitude when people are that rude. I am a Christian. I’m supposed to serve people out of the goodness of my heart, right? I just have to keep remembering that I have a chance to be Christ to everyone I meet every day even when people don’t treat me fairly.

I’ve also discovered that stereotypes aren’t always true. One day, I served food to two middle-school boys who must have gone out for lunch with their parents’ credit card. I wasn’t even expecting a tip, but they actually tipped me 20%! I’ve stereotyped older people and certain nationalities…but I’ve been proved wrong again and again. It’s a good lesson to never say “always.” People aren’t always who you think they are. On the flip side, when people are insensitive, it’s good to remember that God loves them, and we should too.

Like my job at the restaurant, I’m thankful for opportunities that stretch me. I’m grateful that seemingly mundane things can be life altering, and I’m amazed how God can use the most ordinary experiences to bring us closer to Him. I’m not sure if I’ll work as a server for the rest of my life, but I pray that I’ll continue to learn what it means to be a servant as long as I have breath to serve.

Using the Salt in the Shaker
In conclusion, I would say be thoughtful of servers. Most servers make $4.00 an hour and your tip may be what is paying for their rent or their babies’ diapers. Especially, as Christians, we need to remember that we have a bad reputation when it comes to tipping. Saying thanks with your mouth and giving a 10% or 15% tip doesn’t look good to a server who is used to getting 20%. I’ve heard of Christian customers asking servers how they can be prayed for, praying for them, and then backing it up with a good tip. You never know how you may change someone’s day or life course.