Written for Storynory by Bertie (in 11 chapters)
Read by Natasha
Illustrated by Chiara Civati
Music by Gabriella Burnel.
When Gladys was ten years old, she had hung out in recording studios quite a bit. But hanging out was about the sum of it. She was on the boring side of the soundproof glass, in the part of the studio with all the knobs and dials. Quite often, her nose was in a book.
Her sisters were on the fun side of the of the glass, where the action is, standing behind the microphones with their headphones on, singing and jiving, and making hit songs.
In her heart, she knew that she was the one with the musical talent, not her sisters. They didn’t even work hard. They thought the world just owed them fame, and somehow, it gave it to them. It wasn’t fair, but Gladys learned early on that Fairness and Real Life are strangers to one another. The feeling that she was most familiar with was a big pang in the stomach, like an arrow, that said, “Hey Gladys, that should be you up there!”
Her sisters’ first hit song was called “Life is a Circus” - and Gladys had written it.
As she was the author, the music publisher sent her money – what are called Royalty Payments. Nice, but Gladys was just a kid. Money was not really what she wanted - What she wanted was recognition.
Her dad did need the money. Even Gladys could see that their house was in danger of falling down if they didn’t actually spend something on it. The main feature of the living room was a large crack in the wall above the French windows. The bath looked like it had been used as a sheep dip; the shower was broken, the kitchen belonged in a museum. Her sisters were richer than she was, but they were off touring the world; so she gave most of her money to her dad, and she didn’t miss it. Her mother kept on getting in touch and asking her for funds. She didn’t give her anything. After all, she had upped and left when Gladys was just three years old.
Now she had just £800 in her account. If you judged by the standards of sixteen-year-old schoolgirls, not pop divas, well, she was practically rich. She knew how she was going to spend every single penny of it, however. She was going to buy time in a recording studio - on the right side of the soundproof glass.
She found a music producer in Raynes Park, the place with the big undertakers that you can see out of the train window. Basically it was at the shabby end of Wimbledon. The door to the studio did not promise musical sophistication or technical wizardry. She eventually found it down an alley beside a Chinese herbal medicine shop. But that was okay, because music culture is meant to be a bit grungy.
Inside it was actually quite cosy, very much like a flat, with a kitchen, a bathroom, and a chill out area. The recording part was set up in what looked like a front room.
But the best part was this: the whole setup was at her disposal. Now at last it was Gladys' turn, if only because she was paying.
Tim the producer sat behind his mixing desk and flicked some switches, before he swivelled his chair round to face the keyboard of his electric piano. To be honest, he wasn’t quite the dude you might expect to find in the music business. In fact, he looked a bit like a male version of Gladys - sort of studious. His wife, who ran the business with him, was pretty, but nothing if not normal. In Gladys’ imagination, a girl who worked behind the scenes in the music business would probably dress a bit like a vampire, with dark mascara and blood red fingernails. Jennie wore a fluffy purple jumper. She brought them cups of tea. Her eyes were soft and sensitive.
“Do you play?” Gladys asked her.
“Yes; the oboe, the flute, the guitar and the ukulele. But mostly I do backing vocals.”
“Great!” Said Gladys. Perhaps, she thought, she had found a kindred spirit. Tim looked through her music and put his fingers to the piano.
"It might sound better here with eight bars instead of nine," he said. Gladys wasn’t sure at first. She was the one paying for this recording session, and that was how she had written it. But she soon saw that he was right. Eight or twelve bars is sort of the rule with pop music, unless you have a really good reason to do it otherwise.
“And this key change here is a bit sudden,” he said. He played it a slightly different way, and it sounded a little more conventional, but actually more like a pop song than a quirky creation by a naive wannabe. She had to admit to herself, that perhaps she did not know quite as much about song writing as she thought she did. “But I am a quick learner,” she assured herself, as she watched Tim the song-doctor carrying out emergency surgery on her music. She glanced at the clock. As money was short, so was time. They had to get this masterpiece down for posterity before the next customer arrived.
They tried out different beats and tempos on the computer, and changed a few notes here and there. She had been at “Jammy Dodge” studios for about twenty-five minutes and it was clear that she had found a producer who was not only a great musician, but also a great technician, and had a super-nice personality, and a super-talented wife. He was even quite good-looking. In fact, he was so nice it was almost annoying.
“But I am a bit like he is,” thought Gladys, “which is a good sign, surely? It shows that someone like me can belong in this weird world of music.” She asked Jennie how they had gotten started, and she replied,
“While we were still at university. Tim did Maths and Music. I did Music and Drama. We saved up for some basic equipment and opened a recording studio for student bands.”
For the first time in her life, Gladys felt a little inadequate on the academic front. It seemed that university might not be such a bad path into the music business after all, but she could not dwell on that for long. It was time for her to go into the vocal booth and put on her headphones. Whoever had been singing in there previously must have been a giant, because the microphone towered over her head. Jennie adjusted boom down to her height. Tim nodded on the other side of the glass and spoke through the talkback: “Ready?” Gladys gave him the thumbs up. She heard the beat of the electronic drums through her headphones and Tim's intro on the piano. She opened her mouth and sang:
“It brings us happiness
When we are sad
It helps me come alive
When things go bad
So tired of singing the same old songs
Wanting for something better to come along
All we wanna do is sing
All we wanna do is sing
All we wanna do is sing”
She could hear her own voice through the cans. It was kind of weird. Even though she was concentrating on her singing, she knew deep down that this was fantastic. The whole session was all about bringing her creation to life. She was the one doing the performing, not the one sitting on the sofa watching her sisters take all the glory.
After a few takes, Tim was satisfied with the lead vocal track. Jennie took her turn behind the microphone for some backing vocals. They put down layer upon layer, experimented with different harmonies, higher and lower, and soon it was sounding like a whole choir.
When the singing was all done, and she had left the studio, Gladys almost ran back to the station. Her legs were too excited to walk. She was bursting to hear the final mix, which Tim had promised to send her by the end of the week.
It was quite late on Friday evening when she received the email with the download link. She clicked the mp3 on her computer, and sat back and listened to the first professional recording of her own voice: