This February I had the opportunity to spend some time in an aspect of the music industry that I’ve never experienced. One of the bands that I’ve seen (and shot) a few times, Kingsblood, announced that they would be spending some time in a local recording studio, and I asked if it would be OK for me to hang out with them (full set of pictures).
I really had no idea what to expect, and fortunately the sound engineer, Rob, was very easy to get along with, telling me where I could go (pretty much anywhere) and when (not in the same room as microphones while they were recording). This seemed like a “duh” point to me, but he confirmed that many people just don’t seem to get that point.
I was darn near mesmerized by the sound board–the rows of buttons, knobs, and lights had me wishing I could just hang out with Rob to learn some small part of his craft. Alas, the only knob I learned (through observation, since I didn’t want to interrupt Rob’s work) was the monitor volume so that non-performers could hear what was going on.
The first session was dedicated to recording drums and bass. I spent a bit of time hanging out with the guys, mostly observing, trying to stay out of the way, and quickly learned that this was a very cool and important experience for them too. There was almost always someone taking pictures or video with their phone. The meta bug bit me hard.
As I sized up the studio, I had realized that I would have a very difficult situation on my hands, photographically. The drummer would be recording in a room that I couldn’t be in, separated by glass, that would drive me completely crazy if I tried to use flash through the glass. Instead, I set up a single light stand to one side of the room, out of view. With a wireless flash in the room, I could then capture images that would include both the drummer, and the rest of the crew.
I departed before the bass player did his recording (they evidently didn’t finish until 4AM) but I did spend some time watching him restring his bass.
Session two consisted of recording the guitar players, and at first I didn’t quite get the setup. The musician was sitting in the same room as everyone else, plugged into their pedals, then with something transmitting the signal to an isolation booth, where the amps pumped out the sound where mics were arrayed to pick it all up.
So that made for some great photos because I could be right with the musicians, and watch them hamming it up with everybody.
Of course, the meta moments continued.
This seemed like an ideal way to do the recording–performing among the rest of the band, a mini audience jamming to your performance. Not exactly like a real show, but definitely more inclusive feeling than drums or vocals.
Photographically, this was the easiest day of all. Despite being dark, I could set up a pair of light stands in one corner of the studio: I bounced one flash into a neutral color wall, and the other went directly into the room. That helped me get decent light on faces, as well as filling in the rest of the room with a gentle glow.
The third session was reserved for vocals.
Photographically, it was almost impossible to get decent shots–the isolation booth has a glass door, but the singer was standing behind a large shield, designed, I assume to prevent echos bouncing back to the microphone.
From my limited time with the band, this was the most stressful time of recording. I think they were all getting a little studio fatigue, and were still working out the kinks of new song lyrics. Alex, the lead vocalist, spent 40 minutes on the first line alone. There were many times that he heard something in a recording that he didn’t like, but I couldn’t, for the life of me, hear the issue. I also felt a bit of loneliness for Alex–all alone in the isolation booth, and he couldn’t even see the rest of the band. It was just him, his demons, and the microphone.
Which brings me to the largest lesson of my time with Kingsblood. They spent 12 hours in the studio to record two songs, and anticipated spending another 3-4 mixing and mastering them. It will cost them (or their label) over $500 in studio rental just to record two songs. And I’m pretty sure the sound engineer gave them his time. As did the photographer.
I knew that musicians put a lot of time into creating and honing their art. I had no idea the craft of capturing that art could be that time consuming in the day of digital. I figured they would set up in a studio just like performing in a bar. Play the song through two or three times, and call it done. OK, not really. But still…
So the next time a band asks for $5 for their EP, realize that they’ve made the mistake of asking way too little. Those five bucks might cover the production costs, if they sell enough. But it does nothing to compensate them for the art they’ve created, nor give them much incentive to create more. Give them ten bucks, and it will make their day. Give them twenty (you can afford it, right? You spent that much on beer and nachos…) and you’ll be their favorite fan ever. Besides, that money will help keep these guys off the streets.
And last, bands/musicians/performance artists: get yourself a device that will take credit cards. They’re easy and cheap, and will end the excuses that people would ‘love to buy a cd’ but they just don’t have the cash.