Arts+Tech interview with Adam Greenberg: "Sometimes I write songs just so I can record them."

Oliver Norred, 25 February 2024

I’ve been wanting to blog about artists’ and designers’ relationship with unfamiliar technologies for a while, and I think this edited interview format is a good way to start. Hopefully you find it inspiring and interesting.

I can’t say Bellingham-based Adam Greenberg’s story is that of the musician who grit his teeth and learned to engineer, mix, and distribute a dense jazz-folk album from nothing. He originally went to college for computer science and later switched to music. But his debut, Household Murmurations, did not materialize linearly. I called him partly because I’d never done an interview for a blog post before and I trusted him to be patient with my ill-formed questions, and partly because I love his music and I know his background with technology and art to be interesting.

Household Murmurations took over two years from concept to release.

Adam Greenberg: I just made an album, like, whatever. And I’d never made an album before, I’d never mixed an album, I’d never recorded an album, and, like, released an album. So there was all sorts of stuff that was like, “I'll just figure that out,” you know? ‘It can't be too hard.’ It’s sort of a balance because it can be really frustrating sometimes when you do it that way. And it was sometimes like, god, I don't know what I'm doing. Like, why can't I just pay someone to do this?

Adam did very little of Murmurations’ recording in a studio. He mixed the album on his laptop. To a small, independent artist making his first album, putting money into a music project isn’t a risk, it's just a purchase.

AG: I know people that go to the studio and do stuff that, it’s like, you could have bought the equipment you needed to do that at home, for less money than you spent to go to the studio. And then you would have been able to keep the equipment and do it again whenever you wanted.

But, he admits, he is drawn to the technical side of making music—“Sometimes I write songs just so I can record them”—and the unknown in general—“I feel like most projects I do, that are exciting, are ones where I don't know how to do some of it. For example, you’re not going to learn how to record drums if you don’t mix the drums you just recorded, because you don’t know what would be best for your mix engineer. You need consequences from your mistakes.”

As DIY as he is, he reached out to some friends for the later stages of the project.

AG: I outsourced mastering, which I did try to do myself, but I was like, you know, I’m really tired of listening to this music. I also don’t know how to master very well. And our friend Cole Krueger did it and did an awesome job, so I was like, “this will be better.”

But he’ll take on more mastering in the future:

AG: I’ve been trying to learn more about what mastering is and it’s like, yeah, if you mix well enough, mastering is like, really easy. I just mastered a friend of mine’s song, so I’m getting into it. But I didn’t feel ready at that point [for Murmurations], and I just wanted to get it done.

I also outsourced a lot of the photography and design for the project, like I just got CD’s. But my friend Chloe is a design major here at Western, and so I was like, “you’d be better at putting together a CD cover,“ so we worked on that together. I don’t know how to use any of those Adobe things, and I have no taste in fonts. I know this stuff is important, so I just sourced it out.

Our conversation telescoped a little:

Me: What do you think the difference is between your going out of your way to learn mixing and mastering, versus having someone else do the visual stuff?

AG: I think maybe I just do a lot of music stuff all the time, and I work my ears out and try to listen to stuff. [In visual art and design,] I’ll look at something and be like, “oh the colors are nice here,” but that feels like a whole ‘nother world that I’m just in the kiddie pool for. But I’d trust my ear to learn how to do something.

I think part of it is those were all the late-stage things, and at that point I was kind of tired of working on this album. It’s hard to put energy into something alone cause it’s like, “Is this even worth it? I don’t even know if this is good!” So, it’s just helpful to have someone else be like, “Yeah this is good. It’s good if it’s this way.”

The album cover is almost like you need a mediator between yourself and the music you made and the people who are perceiving it on the internet or whatever. That’s how it felt for me. Like my roommate Corrin did all the photography and stuff. It felt collaborative, like we were working together on all this stuff. Like, I don’t know how to take a good photo!

Me: Yeah, with All of Our Cornbread I had my friend Hannah do our album cover.

AG: I love your album cover.

Me: Me too! I’m a fan of it—it’s kind of not even my own. I didn’t do it. It was my idea, I guess. I commissioned it.

AG: I think I’m not in on all the inside jokes of the photography or design community. Like there was this font that, when I was working with Chloe, I was like, “I like that font,” and I guess it was like the default font for Adobe or whatever—Illustrator. And I was like “Oh, that doesn’t look bad!” and she was like, “We’re not using this. I’m not going to let you use that one.” Cause I would have honestly probably gone with that or, like, Times New Roman.

We talked a bit about a video he’s planning for the last track on the album, “ideas sleep furiously” (my favorite, if anyone’s asking):

AG: I’ve been thinking this morning, and I think my craft for my Coworker Craft Night tonight is going to be, like, a house mask. It’s like a house I put on my head and my eyes are the windows and my mouth is in the door. And I can use it as a prop [in the video] and it’ll just at first be like a house on a green screen but by the end of the song I’m just going to be singing with a house on my head.

Me: Have you done a video before?

AG: No, I haven’t.

Me: Wow.

AG: I mean, I’ve made videos before. But I haven’t made a music video. When I was a kid, I made videos all the time and I’d be like, “The spies are solving a mystery!” and I’d make my sister be in it and we’d beat up stuffed animals. It was really fun.

I’m excited to see how it goes. That’s the hard thing about ambitious things is you don’t know what’s too ambitious and what’s a good amount. Cause right now it’s like, I don’t know what’s an idea I could actually pursue and what’s an idea I shouldn’t. And that was sort of the same problem with the album; I didn’t know what I was capable of, going into it. The second [album] is already way easier.

Between albums, Adam tells me he is drawing a little bit on his computer science background to tread into web development. I, of course, approve:

AG: I’m making a website, and I’m still wrapping my head around multiple things at the same time. I’m watching a lot of YouTube tutorials—I feel like that’s the only way to do some of this stuff—and in a lot of them, the guys are like, “Thank you for making your corner of the internet a little bit more intentional,” or something. And that’s a cool perspective. They just want people to be able to create things and have it be a part of the internet.

I hope I made my corner of the internet a little bit more intentional with this interview article. It was fun. Adam is awesome.

To my readers: Get in touch with me if you have things to say about art, technology, DIY arts, or arts accessibility/education. I want to interview you!

To everyone: Listen to Adam’s music! It’s super good.