Many years ago in a past life, my band was all prepped and set to record the all important second album.
(Disclaimer: This was the period of time before the advent of itunes, where live shows and CD sales attributed to a band's measure of success)
It was almost 2 years since the first album release and during that time we luckily achieved a fair amount of independent success through sales and national radio play. We could pretty much play up and down the East coast of Australia basically whenever we wanted to hit the road.
We again enlisted the help of the talented producer who recorded our first release. He saw our vision and became another member of the band, motivating us to make something that was proper world class. We went away to write our material, a few months passed and pretty soon all the logistics involved in the project were set to start recording.
I remember the hour long drive to the beautiful recording facility very well because I was on top of the moon. We'd just finished a run of awesome shows, and I truly believed I was ready. We worked hard on the songs and had grown as musicians. The other band members had put down most of the beds and now it was my turn.
All I could think about was that I was about to record vocals to music that would send us on our way to stardom. The booth was set, warmups were done and I was exploding with excitement to get it on.
In the coming few hours, I couldn't even get the first verse down.
"Not quite there yet Adam, let's do it again…" the Producer said through the headphones, and I'd try again with all my might. Singing only 8 lines for close to 5 hours, I was at breaking point when he asked me to come and sit with him in the control room.
He basically told me that I didn't know my own songs. I didn't know my instrument (my voice), my breathing or how to control my tones. He didn't believe that I believed my own lyrics nor did he feel moved by any of the story I was trying to convey.
How could this be?
Didn't we rock every show we played?
Didn't we completely destroy any band who played a show with us by blowing them off the stage with our musicianship?
Didn't we have punters screaming and dancing in a state of adoration during every show, with every sung note and every outpouring of emotion?
How could this be that I couldn't even sing my own first verse?
Instantly I felt like we had made a huge mistake investing time with this so-called Producer. Who was he to tell me that I didn't know my own instrument?! As I sat there listening to those terrible 8 lines of verse, I knew I wouldn't be recording anymore. He told me to go home and learn my own songs. To be honest I don't even remember the long drive home.
The fact of the matter was that he was completely right.
As a band we were told/perceived/believed we were successful, but in truth, I couldn't even perform the most basic of skills for my chosen craft. I was devastated, and the next few months we some of the hardest of my life. I questioned whether I actually could do the work required. I questioned whether I actually had any talent, and pretty much wiped the slate clean of what any person had said to me in my years of music career up until that point.
This situation highlighted that I truly did not understand or believe in my heart what I was doing.
I very nearly walked away from music entirely.
Needless to say, in time I worked hard and overcame this situation going on to record some of the best vocal performances I have ever performed. We never 'made it' as a band, but that doesn't matter.
Why am I telling you a back catalogue of my rock bottom moments?
I hadn't thought about that day in the studio for a long time until I was reminded of it recently when a question was asked via a local social media coffee group.
"What advanced subjects would you like to learn, and as a score out of 4, how would you rate your knowledge/skill as a coffee professional?"
I didn't write a response as I wanted to quietly peep what people would write as to where they thought they stood in their career. There was some colourful responses about of the very pointy end of education and some very high numbers regarding abilities. I have to admit that even though I'm many years now into coffee, with career jobs/competition results/industry peer group acknowledgement that I should be proud of, I would never write scores for myself that high.
Admittedly I don't know most of the people that responded and I'm not pointing the finger at these people for writing what they wrote. It must also be said I have absolutely no issue in wanting to further one's knowledge. It's an important step that absolutely must be taken. And more than ever now, employers are stocking up on all the latest and greatest equipment fuelling many oohs and ash from both workers and consumers alike.
That posted question instantly spurred my memory of that talk with the Producer many years ago.
Why are so many in our industry are solely focussed on that pointy end of the spectrum of knowledge when they don't focus on the basic skills right in front of them, meaning the things they do every day?
If your job in coffee is like most of us where your main role is to operate the tools and do your part to produce the coffee beverages for a business…
- Can you TRULY and HONESTLY say your technique is at the point that you need no further work on the basics?
- Do you TRULY and HONESTLY understand your machine, tools, coffee, milk, service motion, flow and customer service to say that it's operating to the point of perfection?
- Can you TRULY and HONESTLY say to yourself that you know everything there is to know about the grinder you use daily on the job or at home and the resulting extractions (as examples) that you can now bypass it and move forward on to the high end advanced sensory/green training?
If you are real with yourself, then the answer to even these 3 questions would be no.
The good news though is that much can achieved if you just focus on one thing, rather than many at a time.
There will be plenty of opportunities to take the next step with the high end knowledge. And it will be easier to understand when you can excel at the basics.
Be that person to tell yourself that good enough is never good enough. Or to be cleaner in your work area, to be more gentle with your equipment, or be aware of your work flow, surroundings and workmates. Do not compromise on the product you serve for any reason.
Be the person who will listen to criticism from others (listening the voice inside as well) and do what it takes to come out on top of the situation.
The rate in which you will grow and learn will be exponentially faster.
This is part two of a two part series from Adam Metelmann. To read part one click here: Adam Q&A