Studio Time

Nick adjusted the mic. “Testing,” he said. The leader gave him a brief thumbs up. Two other session singers flanked him in the tiny recording cubicle, and they all patted their white headphones. Nick’s felt too tight around his skull, but he didn’t make adjustments.
The leader said, “OK, scratch vocals for ‘Life of Death’” then held up a hand to count down visually.

Nick sang “Death chanced upon me in the hall.”

The women on either side of him echoed “ha-a-ll”.

Just outside the cubicle, the leader kept unnecessary time with the same hand he had used for the countdown, and Nick sang, “But I refused to fall.” The headphones pinched.

The women sang, “fall”.

Nick watched the leader’s hand pumping the song’s rhythm, like drumming in the air. In the space between one empty tap and the next, Nick broke out into a sweat. He sang, “I said don’t call on me,” call on me, “I’m living can’t you see” oh can’t you see, “And living my life tall” So ta-all.

Perspiration flooded down Nick’s face. He tried to draw breath, but it caught in his chest, and instead of belting out the next lyric, he clawed at his throat. He tore off the wretched headphones and slammed himself against the cubicle.

“Nick what’s wrong?”

The session leader’s face loomed large outside the glass, and then it changed. Death had not passed Nick in the hall. It had come for him right here in the studio. It stepped through the leader and extended a single bony finger.

Unencumbered by the flesh mortals take for granted, it passed through the glass and straddled Nick. He clutched his soul, wanting the right song to dispel it, to cast it aside so he could go on breathing. But there were no more songs left. No more words. Death had come to call, and it left Nick voiceless.


This week, the Trifecta editors assigned us the third definition of wretched. Typically, I let my writing stand on its own. If you have to ask me “huh?”, and I have to be all explanatory, then I haven’t done my job. Sometimes, I am deliberately unclear on certain points.

However. I think you can understand the story perfectly well from the words above, and a small primer will not hurt and may, indeed, enhance your reading.  If this becomes at any time a case of I-suffered-through-this-research-and-now-it’s-your-turn, then just stop reading.  As I say, if the piece doesn’t stand alone, I haven’t done my job.

In the recording industry (not so much with indie groups and labels), before a band lays down a track, the studio will often pay to have a scratch track made. This is sort of like pre-washing the dishes. It’s  a rough cut of the song, typically mostly vocals, to give the better known musicians something to listen to when they lay down the final parts. Scratch tracks are recorded by studio or session musicians, who are paid a flat union fee for their work. The session is guided by a session leader, typically someone who knows how to get the most out of three hours of studio time.

So. That’s who Nick and his colleagues are here. The research is actually something I did for my novel  Divorce: A Love Story, that came in handy here.

About jesterqueen:
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.


Studio Time — 29 Comments

  1. WOW!!! Awesome piece and so well written. This line in particular: "Unencumbered by the flesh mortals take for granted" … Bravo!

    • Thanks Dana! Have you checked out the student pieces that popped up on the Trifecta site this morning? It looks like a teacher has assigned her whole English class to respond to the prompt. There was another clock themed one in that set that made me think of you right away!

    • I feel like a dam has burst. It's simply wonderful. This is as much as I have written in years. Every day, I'm a little closer to writing for a living. Every. Day.

    • Awesome — I could read it with the fix! The idea of using these prompts to create a series of postcards, which themselves limit the writer in space is a really fun one!

  2. Not knowing the details of the session players didn't take away from the quality of the story.

    Re-reading it after the fill in at the bottom only enhanced the experience with the realization that this was a potentially low end musician as opposed to a breakout artist with a new record contract.

    • Yes – that's exactly what session musicians are. People tend to look at the glamour in the recording industry rather than the hundreds of people who will always be small time.

  3. WOW! This piece is so well written. Very descriptive and perfect choice of words to describe death. "It straddled". Nice job!

  4. I got chills when Death stepped through the wall.

    The backstory did make it more interesting, thanks for including that. I do that sometimes with photos I use to accompany my pieces.

    • That first song line "lodged in my head a few weeks ago for a different prompt (I can't remember what now). I tried for a week to write a sonnet with "Death chanced upon me waiting in the hall", and as my sonnet writing skills are below par by far, I gave up. But the line stayed with me.

  5. I don't think you needed the explanation 🙂

    Great story, I love the description of Death coming for Nick and the ending is so clever

  6. Very smooth writing! I love the story, the layers of irony (unknown studio singer, singing about death in the final moments when Death himself comes to claim him). Very well crafted.

    And the word choice and images are fabulous. "in the space between one empty tap and the next" oh, also his not adjusting the too tight headphones. He's wretched on every level.

    Really quality stuff here. Brava!

    • Thanks! I wanted the physical discomfort to show up ahead of the conclusion, so that the headphones weren't just thrown in there and his death wasn't a complete shock.

  7. Jester, thanks again for linking up. I love this. It's such a clever story. 'But there were no more songs left. No more words. Death had come to call, and it left Nick voiceless'. What a great last line. Super writing as always. See you at the weekend.

  8. jester~This is terrific, and no explanation was necessary for the story. It stood on its own–a job well done! I was thinking of Twilight Zone as I was reading this.

  9. Jess, this is amazing! I can "see" the singers and the leader in the studio. Very dark and sparse language, as is needed for the prompt and perfect for this piece.