Do you believe in smelly cat?

I was recently talking to my friend Shawn Conley about a musical phonomenon that happens on the bandstand. Many times when I am doing a sound check, whether it is a new venue or with new musicians, right off the bat, I will think that the sound of my bass and or the ensemble is just horrible.

After several tunes, it will start to sound better to me. Countless musicians that I know seem to have had a similar experince.

Here are some possible explinations that I have come up with to explain this.

  • The soundguy has adjusted
  • I have adjusted
  • The other musicans have adjusted
  • My ears have adjusted
  • "smelly cat"

Obviously you want to know what "smelly cat" is, but hold your horses. Let's go down the list.

I have a really hard time believing that it is the soundguy. I have experienced this in places that do not have a soundguy. This is totally true if you are in a place that has a good soundguy/gal but sense it is not mutually exclusive, I am ruling this one out for the experience that I am describing.

The next two are possibilities for sure. Good musicians are always adjusting dynamics and attack to create the sound that they hear in their heads. Every room and every situation requires a slightly different attack of the string to find the right space for your sound.

The last two are variations of the same idea. I think that your ears need to adjust a little to a new sound and environment. After you have been playing for a while you begin to be a little more comfortable with the sound. This is what I had attributed a lot of this experience to in my own rationalizations. But when I talked to Shawn Conley about "smelly cat", I had to reexamine my thoughts.

Shawn was a student of Francois Rabbath, and said that Rabbath had told him that your first impression of the sound was a truest. A truly great sound is undeniable right off the bat, but as our ears listen to a bad or mediocre sound for a while we begin to accept it. He compared this to walking into someones apartment with a smelly cat. At first the smell is awful, but the longer you stay in the apartment the more you don't notice it.

I don't know if I totally agree with this, but it has really made me reexamine some things. What do you think?