When you're a band or a solo artist looking to record, there are several roads you can ramble from full-scale recording studios to smaller home studios, mobile workstations and computer programs.
Mehta thought his band's songs called for a lo-fi, hazy garage feel. "The idea was to get a very humble and honest sound for this recording," he says. To achieve their vision, Prabir & The Substitutes asked their friend, Robbie King, to bring his recording equipment over to their practice space on the South Side. There, they hammered out five songs over a couple of weeks in February and March.
"The upside is that the songs ended up sounding exactly how we wanted them to," Mehta says. "The downside was the room limitations. If we wanted to do more or go for a different sound, we would not have been able to."
Case in point: For their single "Slow," to be released on a 7-inch vinyl, Prabir & The Substitutes looked beyond the borders of the rehearsal space and sought guidance at Sound of Music, the elder statesman of Richmond's recording scene.
"The advantage [of recording at Sound of Music] was to get that high-end, glossy pop sound," Mehta says. "The disadvantage was the time. Since we had limited time, we had to stick to what we had planned and split."
Since it opened more than a decade ago, Sound of Music has become Richmond's largest full-scale recording studio. Rates start at $50 to $70 an hour, which, for musicians with limited funds, makes every minute count. But Miguel Urbiztondo, who co-owns and operates Sound of Music along with partners David Lowery and John Morand, says the studio tries to accommodate as many musicians as possible. "I like to think we can work with any realistic budget," he says.
Urbiztondo's introduction to Sound of Music was as a paying artist with the band Tweaker in 1994. "By the summer of '97, I was a partner," he recalls. "I'd come from a DIY music scene and was a huge fan of the stuff Sound of Music was recording. I quickly realized the staff had more to do with our success than the price or the equipment we used."
With three venerated musicians at its helm, Sound of Music has established itself in the national market, bringing in such artists as the Black Crowes, The Kills and The Cardigans' Nina Persson. Jason Molina, the prolific indie rocker behind the bands Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co., recently recorded some new tracks at Sound of Music for an upcoming release celebrating the 10th anniversary of his label, Secretly Canadian.
"I had just finished recording and writing the new Magnolia Electric Company LP here in Chicago at Electrical Audio," he says. "We were on very familiar ground working here in my hometown and with Steve Albini, who has recorded our last three full-lengths. David and Miguel approached me with a few dates they had open at Sound of Music and wanted to see if I'd like to come out to Richmond and work on some new songs.
I decided it would be worth the experiment."
Ask Urbiztondo to sum up his mission statement for Sound of Music in just a few words, and he'll tell you, "Capturing creativity in comfort."
Molina says he benefited from the studio's laid-back environment: "Sound of Music was a fantastic place to work since I was able to sleep there in the studio and get up as early as I wanted and work out ideas we could later cut with the band."
There's another place where you can capture creativity and some z's at all hours of the night: your house. Computer programs such as Pro Tools, Reason and GarageBand have allowed many musicians to record whenever and wherever they want, virtually cost-free. Eric Zirkle, who was a singer/guitarist in the erstwhile rock band Peru, has been using GarageBand for three years. "After the breakup of my band, I wanted to explore other sounds and styles outside of a rock band," he says. "Most of [my music] is fairly electronic or beat-heavy. I have a mini-keyboard that I can make and control sounds with, but I can also plug my guitar directly into the computer and record. So the style possibilities are endless."
Jason LaFerrera, who operates the Recorditorium in Mechanicsville, says that as analog tapes slowly move toward extinction, digital recording is becoming the de facto medium for both professionals and laymen alike.
"Nowadays, anyone can start recording for just a couple hundred dollars, but they have no idea what they're doing," he says. "They've never spent the time learning how to properly place microphones; they don't worry about phase; everything gets overcompressed. I think as long as music is being released professionally, there will need to be someone with the skill set to record it professionally."
LaFerrera, who got his start interning at Sound of Music, opened the Recorditorium in 2003, hoping to provide a cheaper option for musicians. "Digital recording had become pretty affordable and decent-sounding, so I decided to give it a shot," he says. Using a computer program called Nuendo, LaFerrera charges $20 an hour, or $200 a day. "We're doing everything straight to computer.
We can even make it portable take a laptop out and some preamps in a rack and go record that grand piano at your grandmother's house."
Computers haven't taken over the world just yet, though. When You Guys Are Girls, a four-piece pop/rock band fronted by sisters Erin and Megan Scolaro, recorded its debut, "Lonely at the Bottom," last summer, its members chose to use their drummer Kevin Willoughby's 24-track digital workstation over "the fancy computer programs a lot of people are using today," Erin Scolaro says. "Kevin feels it's more about the engineer's ability to capture sound than the computer program's abilities to compose."
Willoughby, who runs a mobile home studio called Treccatrak, was the obvious choice for the band. "We needed to work with someone we knew and trusted in a place we felt comfortable," Megan Scolaro says, "where we could be as creative as we wanted to be without feeling the pressure of being in a studio."
Not having to worry about cost or time, You Guys Are Girls were able to flesh out every new idea its members had. "Some sessions were only an hour, and others were 10 hours," Megan recalls. "The long ones were always really exhausting, but it was a good feeling to work together and get a lot accomplished in one day."
To unwind after a grueling day, band members recorded themselves cheering, screaming, even vigorously slamming their palms together to create smacking sounds.
That's right hand claps.
"After the first five hours," Megan Scolaro says, "you get a little punchy."
Indeed. Clap on. SBack to Natural Selection