'Matter of Laugh or Death,' the award-winning humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF A RECORDING ARTIST
There once was a time when the term “recording artist” referred to professional musicians and singers. These talented people would go into recording studios, and after 10 hours of hard work plus three weeks of careful editing and mixing by the best sound engineers in the business, an acoustically perfect 4-minute song would result. These engineers were so good, they could make people who were tragically born with the larynx of a screech owl—people such as Rod Stewart and Bruce Springsteen—sound halfway decent. (Sadly, the engineers were unable to help Neil Young.)
After a year or so of working in the studio, a collection of these songs would be compiled into an album, and millions of us would spend our hard earned money buying these acoustically perfect recordings. Then, of course, the black vinyl records promptly would be scratched to death within a week when our younger brothers used them to play Frisbee out in the street, and the 8-track or cassette tapes would be chewed to ribbons by the cheap tape players we installed in our cars.
Nowadays, digital technology has changed everything. First, the acoustically perfect recordings cannot be scratched to death or chewed to ribbons anymore. The professional screech owls will sound exactly the same the 1,000th time the song is played as they did the very first time. Also, people can download the recordings illegally via the Internet for free, a situation which has prompted many struggling recording artists to hold press conferences in their $20 million mansions to complain about how unfair life is.
Most importantly, however, digital technology has turned every single one of us into “recording artists.” Because of the proliferation of telephone answering machines and voice mail systems, we all get to record our voices each and every day. Some among us also were tragically born with the larynx of a screech owl—the rest of us sound much worse.
The problem is we are not professionals. Most of us do not have any training or experience in recording our voices. Also, we do not have a team of expert sound engineers who can spend weeks editing and mixing our recordings to make us come across as mildly coherent.
When making a phone call, if the person we are trying to reach actually answers the phone (pretty rare these days), we engage in a normal conversation and everything is fine. But when we hear those dreaded words, “I’m not at my desk right now, please leave a message at the tone … BEEEEP!” the knowledge that our voices are about to be recorded produces instant stage fright. Our normal speech patterns are altered, and we become either “bumblers” or “babblers.”
Bumblers speak as if they are being paid $10 every time they say, “And umm…” For example: “Hi, this is Bill, and umm…I’m returning your call, and umm…I have those figures you wanted, and umm…give me a call back, and umm…we can discuss it.”
On the other hand, babblers channel all of their nervous energy into rambling, high-speed, stream-of-consciousness dissertations (kind of like a Robin Williams performance, only without the drugs or the humor). Babblers just keep talking, saying whatever pops into their heads, hoping that at some point they will remember what the really wanted to say. Babblers often fill up the entire capacity of the voice mail system with a single message.
At times in the past I’ve been both a bumbler and a babbler. Either way my recorded messages rarely made any sense. So from now on when I hear those dreaded words and then the loud BEEEEP, I no longer bumble or babble. Instead, I just brush-off. I hang up the phone and leave no message.
A week later when the other person calls complaining that I never returned his call, I can honestly say, “I did call, and I got your voice mail system. You know how it goes, you gotta be a professional engineer these days to figure out digital technology.”
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