“My point is, life is about balance. The good and the bad. The highs and the lows. The pina and the colada.”
― Ellen DeGeneres, Seriously... I'm Kidding
Recently Kurt and I had a photo shoot since we were running out of images to get us through the Year of the Groove. It's always kind of funny to me when, from the outside looking in, my life might seem a little extra glamorous for a day. I always feel like I need to make clear to people that it is only a mirage. And it's not even that people around me think my life is glamorous, because all they need to do is come to my house and see that my recycling is piling up, I only fold my laundry once a season, and nothing more than 12" back in my fridge is probably safe for human consumption. But online, it's so easy to filter what gets posted, and only allow the majority of acquaintances to get a glimpse of the highlights. [Don't we all do this? This is why we should never compare ourselves to others.]
The truth is, there is very little separation between the stuff that is excellent fodder for fabulous social media posts, and the mundane realities of being human in this exhausting mad world. Even just this past week, our moments of creative effort were perforated by unavoidable obligations that bust the flow of what we are trying to do. And if the requirements of being a functioning human don't interfere, then it's our own mistakes that derail things.
I was struck by this juxtaposition when we were rushing out the door to get to cub scouts when I had to ask Kurt to quickly sign a contract so I could snap a photo of it and email it back to a record label in Germany that wants to license 5 of our tracks for various compilations. I mean it sounds pretty glam to say "Oh you know, I'm just sending a signed contracted to Berlin because a record label wants to license our music, NBD..." But if you get the mental image of me sending said contract while sitting on a metal folding chair in a 70's era church rec hall during a cub scouts awards night… it takes on a different vibe.
And even just the other night, I was making updates on our website while watching my former student Rayvon Owen on American Idol, which made me late getting my child ready for bed. Meanwhile Kurt was setting up some rented preamps and a borrowed mic for us to do a "shoot out" [we take 3 preamps home from the rental place, try them each and decide which we want to use and take the other two back by noon the next day]. Kurt needed me to sing, but also needed time between me singing to reroute the signal to the next preamp, so I was stepping back and forth from getting my child ready for bed and then singing in the studio. While doing this, I found a tick on my son's shoulder. So of course we had to stop everything and manage the crisis. Once the damage control was done and my child wasn't freaking out anymore, I still had to keep singing through the different signal chains until we decided which preamp we liked the best. This all made my child's bed time over an hour later than normal.
Then the next day we recorded vocals on almost an entire song before we realized Kurt had never re-routed the signal through the pre-amp that had "won" our shoot out, so when it was time to take back the gear we weren't using at noon, we had to stick with the one we'd accidentally been using all morning and take back the one we liked best. Most people wouldn't notice, but we could tell the difference in sound. And it makes all the effort of having a shoot out totally wasted.
This is how it is ALL THE TIME. The songs of ours that you hear… they were all written, produced, recorded, etc in these muddled and imperfect circumstances. I'm not complaining, I'm just stating a fact. I wrote Supermodel Astronaut in my bathroom one morning before rushing off to campus. I drew lines in between the blue lines on notebook paper to make music staff paper and then jotted out my melody and lyric idea while I locked everyone out of the bathroom for just a few precious minutes.
Life is all mixed together.
Balance. Equilibrium. Contrast.
Which brings me back to the photo shoot. It may seem fun and glam, but it's actually kind of a stressor. The reality is, photo shoots are NOT CHEAP. We've spent thousands of dollars for photos to go on our website and to be the cover images for our releases. In today's music market place, this is not an expense we will recover. There is not much ROI on photos, other than bolstering our image. And this Year of the Groove isn't bringing in a regular stream of money at this point. Currently, this whole effort is actually costing us several hundred dollars a month by the time you count any musicians we might hire, the mastering, and the online registration, and any press release distribution or online promotions blah blah blah. [How we pay for this is another blog entry I plan to write some day, but essentially we have to work our butts off doing music for other clients.]
Because of this expense and how much we have to work to earn that money, and my tendency toward perfectionism and carrying anxiety in my body, the pressure was high and I was concerned that this go as well as possible. I've blown thousands of dollars on past photo shoots where I have to scroll through hundreds of images before I find one where I don't hate my face, and so there was quite a bit of trepidation about going through this whole process again.
One thing I knew was that I wanted to make sure our photos were very styled, so I asked around about a stylist and through a trail of conversations, we ended up working with Stephanie Thorpe. Stephanie's from L.A., which was good since we are not what people associate with the Nashville sound. Her attitude from the beginning was enthusiastic and positive, and I was immediately put at ease by her sweet spirit. I had already gotten some clothing, but when I sent photos, she determined that she'd like to order things online for me, and we planned to have a prep day a few days before the shoot. Unfortunately, there was a shipping issue and it was in the afternoon the day before the shoot, and the packages were still not delivered and I was starting to feel a knot in my gut. I was feeling the stress because I didn't even know what these clothes looked like and I was blindly trusting someone to style me.
Fortunately the packages DID arrive, and we finally got to do our prep the evening before the shoot. It's common for stylists to order things a size larger and then use clips to make things fit. The logic is that if it's too small, you've got nowhere to go, but if it's too big, you can always clip things in the back. The reality for me is that I have a pretty small frame at 5'2" and with my build, most of the the large sizes and cuts of the garments were just too dang big. I mean you can only do so much clipping, but if the shoulder seams are hanging off your shoulders and the sleeves are half way down your hands… it's not workable. Fortunately, Stephanie had some other items of her own, and with what I'd gotten and what she'd ordered and what she already had, we ended up putting together the looks that didn't make me feel like certain body parts were being thrown under the bus. Kind of important to feel good in what you're wearing.
The thing about hiring people to help make you look good is that if you haven't worked with them before, and then the day gets started and you begin to suspect that you are indeed NOT in good hands, you can't exactly back pedal and get someone else. You just have to pray for the best and be thankful for photoshop. If the first test shots don't look good, [ie: you hate your own face and feel like you only have one good angle], then the rest of the day will feel very tense and the pressure will mount. The whole thing won't be as good as if you like what you see in the test shots and can just relax.
I looked at the websites of the people I hired to confirm that their work made people look quite good. I was just hoping I was a good enough canvas to have those same results. Once I was in the hair and makeup chair under the care of Tarryn Feldman, also from L.A., I could tell I was in very good hands. I'd spoken with Tarryn on the phone a couple weeks before the shoot, and I immediately liked the fact that she seemed like she wanted to take good care of me. She had strong opinions about how things should go and has little tolerance for people not being made to look good when they're on camera. Bring it on, girl. Bring it on. Tarryn and I planned what my different hair and makeup looks would be that day, planning which look went with which outfit and what order we needed to go in. Start with the more bare eyes and bright lips, progress to the bright colored eyes with slightly fuller hair, and end with smoked out eyes and high volume loose waves.
Erick Anderson, the photographer, checked out the looks and planned the set up and lighting. It's amazing how essential it is to have good hair and makeup, but that won't do any good if the lighting is bad. This is what I learned about lighting…
Good lighting = beauty queen
Bad lighting = drag queen
When Kurt and I talked to Erick on the phone before the shoot, I kept stressing to him "we need to be told how to sit, we need you to help us look good, we need you to talk to us like we don't know anything." He assured us that he could do that. After I was camera ready on the day of the shoot, the moment of truth came. I stood in front of the camera for some test shots and then Erick showed me what I looked like on the little screen on his camera. "I look good!" I said in shock. It was amazing. Tarryn's makeup, Steph's styling, Erick's lighting… and then the three of them helping us to sit or stand in flattering positions, all the while fixing my hair and accessories… I felt like all I had to do was look at the camera and I'd look good. What a relief! That type of head space is sooooo helpful when you're spending thousands and you've got 5 hours of being on camera ahead of you.
So now it was time to work. You hear people say that modeling is hard work, and let me just say, I was regretting not doing pilates and yoga for a month leading up to the shoot. Not so that I'd look more fit, but so that I could hold the poses required to keep things flattering and not dumpy looking. In many poses all of my weight was mainly either on one arm, or I'd be squatting but holding myself up just a bit to keep my thighs from looking smashed or I'd be leaning back against nothing and elongating my torso and pondering my lack of core strength while trying to keep a relaxed expression. Thank goodness Steph is a model herself, so she was immensely helpful with finding ways for us to pose. Erick was always directing us on where to look and chin up or chin down, and Tarryn was always stepping in and fixing my hair.
Before the shoot, I had looked for some reference ideas, and there was this image of Amanda Seyfried I'd found where she's on a stool. I liked her pose because you got to see her shoes. So often in photos you don't get to see the fun shoes. So I had suggested that pose and it seemed like a good variation on two people standing in front of a wall just looking somewhere.
Then I changed out of the cute little sequin skirt into the fun sequin shorts and we changed locations. Kurt and Erick got things set up and when I got there, Erick told me to do that same pose, but this time I was on a table and Kurt was on the couch behind me. We took about a dozen shots like that and then Erick showed me what it looked like on his camera. My immediate gut reaction was "yikes…". I mean… the first time around on the stool, with Kurt standing next to me, it just seemed like a pose. But with me on the table and Kurt behind me and in BACK of me… well… I reminded Erick that I teach at a university and that I have college guys as students. So… we didn't spend a ton of time on that pose and moved onto something a little less… like that.
I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm actually happy with how I look and think people who say there's a certain age after which women can no longer wear short skirts can just cram it. And I do NOT want to look like a home school mom. Even though I am one. But... I've got to think of the image I'm projecting, and this doesn't feel like what I want to put out there. It's a great shot. It's just important to know who you are. And who you are not. I'll leave it at that.
There is one light Erick used for close ups I think called a "beauty light" maybe. It's literally a donut shape of lights that he shoots through the center of. At first it scared me because it felt so bright and I thought it would mercilessly show every single imperfection, but I think I figured out why it works. What is amazing about it is that there are no unflattering shadows. This following shot is something Erick took on his iPhone through the center of that light. He put the light affects on there in an app on his phone and texted it to me. This is without any touch ups or photoshopping. Isn't that amazing!? Because I do not look this good, for realsies. I'm tellin' ya… hair, makeup, lighting.
At the end of the shoot, Erick told us it was time for the final shot. It's something he does with everyone and so we were happy to oblige. He says he wants to make a coffee table book someday. I want a copy of that book. :-)
When it was all over, Kurt and I were both exhausted, relieved, and excited about how well things went and we give Erick, Tarryn, and Steph our highest recommendations. They are GREAT!!!!! Thanks to them, we've got some super glam images to put out for future releases and that makes everything so much easier. Whew!