Wednesday nights at the Railyard are interesting. The average age in the room is probably about 28, shockingly low compared to Santa Fe’s norm. The folks scattered at the few far-flung tables around me are mostly service industry workers with the night off and young artists and musicians I am acquainted with, to whom weekends don’t mean quite so much.
Like many in this generation, my companion’s job is one of those that, while more demanding than most 9-5s, doesn’t care what day of the week it is. James Lutz is the technical manager for Warehouse 21, Santa Fe’s (only?) haven for young creative types looking for direction. The nonprofit continually hosts after-school programs, workshops and extracurricular clubs ranging from recording and screen-printing workshops to breakdancing groups, open mic nights and more. Lutz’ job is to make sure all of that runs smoothly and all of the generously donated gear continues to function properly for as long as possible. “It’s kind of like trying to organize a logistical nightmare, every day, all day,” he jokes.
His “pet” duty is managing the Eli Farmer Recording Studio, arguably the best place for young local musicians to cut a few demos and realize exactly how much practice they have ahead of them. Our dialogue invariably turns to our shared love of recorded sound and the endlessly intricate web of possibilities and flavor judgments that is the mixing process.
“I’ve actually been seriously considering going back to school and studying recording,” he says at one point. “Not so much because I think they’re going to teach me anything I can’t learn on my own, but it’s just a great way of networking. If I knew a better place to meet a bunch of talented creative people trying to work in the industry, I’d go there.”
We laugh for a while, as we quaff our beers, about the ominous uncertainty facing creative people of our generation when it comes to making decisions about how we will support ourselves and how to best invest our increasingly limited time and money to reach those goals.
The recording industry is (like many other creative ones) in a great state of flux. Most of the people our age who will go on to make a career for themselves do so by building their own do-it-yourself setups and learning by doing. As a result, recording’s becoming a ground-up, small-business industry for which not one field of study will fully prepare one. For most creative people, college is increasingly becoming an expensive gamble, and the ready availability of recording equipment has oversaturated the market to the point that one really has to be quite good or quite lucky to “make it.”
But then, how do you define “making it”?
We head back over to the studio, where Lutz puts on a recording he made the night before during a rainstorm. “There’s a guy who’s been coming by to play the public piano outside at midnight,” he says. As he hits play, virtuosic cascades of music pour from the speakers, and I’m suddenly moved into a truly personal music experience.
This man plays there when he does because he knows nobody will be there to listen. He plays for himself and for his soul, and every ounce of that emotion rings in every sustained keystroke.
“Dude’s never had a lesson and never owned an actual piano,” Lutz tells me. I gawk at him. He just nods, staring at the waveforms on the screen.
“They’re all original compositions, too.”
“Holy shit. What’s he studying?”
Miljen Aljinovic grew up in the shadow of these hills and now makes things from words and sound. Reach him at email@example.com