By Trent Rentsch
Out of the mouths of teens oft times comes complaining about homework, but last week a gem so profound came out of the whining that it’s left me questioning whether I have any talent at all.
Even after a year and a half, my role as a Stepfather seems new and strange to me. While it’s somewhat like being a parent to my own kids, at times I feel like a ballerina learning to break dance. Still, I think we’re doing okay, possibly due to the fact that I never have grown up. I share a love of computer games and Lord of the Rings/Harry Potter style entertainment with my younger stepson, and the elder stepson and I have found common ground in audio and music. Our tastes may differ slightly… my favorite punk songs from The Clash would probably seem too “mainstream pop” to him, while his idea of a great singer leads me to wonder why we were disgusted when Roseanne croaked out The National Anthem. Still, we’re both audio gear heads, and some of our best bonding moments have come during trips to Mars Music, or in long (my wife might say, boring) conversations about his latest projects in audio class. As far as he’s concerned, audio class is his reason for being in school. As far as I’m concerned, I want to quit my job and go to his high school, if just for that class. From Pro Tools on down, the teacher has seen to it that they have great tools to play with… I mean, learn on. Plus “homework” might mean recording and mixing down a CD for one’s band, how cool is that?
Not everything in life is as cool as it seems. It turns out that some homework for that class actually requires reading, and worse yet, WRITING about what you’ve read. A Burt Bacharach concert couldn’t have disgusted Ryan more, as he “explained” when I came home from work.
“This is stupid!” He grumbled, handing me the article he was being “forced” to read. The column explained alternative recording tips and techniques, and quite frankly some of them were pretty far out. I mean, when was the last time the engineer carefully aligned the speakers in the studio to avoid feedback simply because you hate to wear headphones? “If you think that’s stupid, look at number five!” I did. Number five explained, step by step, how to record a guitar solo one or two measures at a time, then assemble the entire solo as one seamless piece in the computer. So, what was the problem? “Why would you do something stupid like that?” he ranted on, “the guy can’t play, get one who can! That’s just FAKING TALENT!”
The rubber band in my mind suddenly stretched back to earlier that day...much earlier. Producing the morning show means that I get to the station around 4:30, 4:45. Because I now produce the afternoon show too, it also means that I don’t do many commercials these days, so I was surprised to find an order in my box that morning. Just a quick :30, starting that morning, Production Director probably got it last minute, happy to help. It was when I started running through the copy and heard my early morning voice stumbling over far too many words that I knew this might be trouble. The chances of blowing through this one in a single read before the caffeine kicked in were not good, and Lord knows I’d be a half hour into the show before that happened. So, I voiced it line by line and quickly edited it together…
THHHHHAAAAAAAAAPPPPPPPPP!!! Mental snapback to my stepson’s words, “That’s just FAKING TALENT!”
I realize that my stepson was being a bit harsh. Recording a song is like creating art with sound, you want all the pieces to be perfect, over-dubbing is just part of the creative process. Moreover I know that voicing a quick :30 that’s going to run twice is something less than an art form, and that I’m obsessing over rusty voice-over skills that don’t mean squat to anyone but me. That said, with all the amazing audio gymnastics we can do with our computers these days, when does one cross the line between enhancing talent and simply faking it?
An answer to that question came from a friend’s description of a robbery. The crime was both despicable and impossible to prosecute. A co-worker at the station asked my friend to help him assemble a demo tape. He was one of THOSE co-workers… loud, nasty, back stabbing, ugh. My friend was all too happy to help, especially if it meant that the goof might move on. “The red flag should have gone up when he kept insisting that the production part needed to be really good,” my friend remembered. “I mean, he did the midday show and usually fled before I could corner him to do a voice-over. He never did production! But again, I was just sick of the guy, and if this was going to get him out of the building, I was going to put a killer tape together!” He did, and it worked. Mr. Nasty announced the following week that he was leaving the station for a gig in a top 25 market. It wasn’t until later that my friend found out that the gig was Production Director, and they hired him on the strength of “his” tape! Luckily, it didn’t take the new station long to realize that they had hired a fake… he was looking for another job in less than two weeks. But look at the waste of time and resources he caused, not only for my friend but also for both stations, just because he wanted to take the shortcut of being something he wasn’t.
Despite what my idealistic stepson believes, using technology to improve or enhance raw talent is no crime. But stealing someone else’s gifts and pawning them off as your own is truly criminal. The charge: faking talent. What should the penalty be? How about 48 hours strapped in front of speakers blaring what my stepson calls music.