The Studios Post (pt 1)
I find myself coming back to this little blog more lately, as I have new things on my mind that I want to share with whoever might be reading. I know the blog entries might sometimes come across as travelogue (this entry was written in Iowa, Massachusetts, Jordan, and Alberta, for example), but they are a valuable tool for me to reflect on how and why I write and record and perform music.
So, funny thing. I’ve been doing a lot of lyric writing lately, but have not had the opportunity (and let’s face it: the discipline) to sit down and work out the music that goes with the most recent songs. And I’ve come to realize that in fact there are quite a few of them stacking up now.
Often, as I’m practicing or noodling on the guitar or bass, a riff or chord sequence will come to me, maybe even with a melody or a phrase of a lyric. When such inspiration strikes, I get out my phone or my camera and record a short video, just to keep from forgetting it. As with the lyrics, I now have quite the catalog of song ideas in those videos, ideas that I keep coming back to – not yet finished, but great foundations that I’m looking forward to hearing when they’re done.
The trick will be to see which – if any – of the lyrics and music match up. I think, looking over what I’ve got, there may already be another 4-5 songs ready to demo after the current collection (now titled Wayfinding) is done. And I really want to get them out soon. Perhaps if I were to spend significant money to book time for studio space, an engineer, and a producer, I would have more discipline to get things done. Financial pressure usually does produce a certain degree of focus!
On the artistic side of the equation, even though my little studio affords me a great deal of flexibility, I also long for the day when I can record live in a studio, with a full band, because…. well, that’s how terrific rock albums are made! By real people, playing together.
I have a strong affinity for the studios that produced classic albums. It’s the interaction of place and people that makes musical history. So I guess it’s no surprise that in my travels, I’ve tried to seek out the locations of old historic studios where some great rock albums were made.
Each of the four here were included either in the Sound City movie or in Dave Grohl’s Sonic Highways miniseries on HBO, but these photos are from my own visits:
Magic Shop – NYC. Tucked into a little side street in SOHO is this gem of a studio, hardly even identifiable as a studio from outside. Many of Woody Guthrie’s recordings were remastered here, in many cases straight from the family’s own master tapes. Bowie recorded here, as well as Lou Reed. The studio unfortunately closed in 2016 due to the high local rents.
Sound City – Van Nuys, CA. I have already written about this one in detail, and I cannot tell you how happy I am to say once again that the studio seems to be back in business, even if it is with a different mixing board than the legendary Neve console that helped mix records by Fleetwood Mac, Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, and Rick Springfield.
Austin City Limits (Old Studio) – Austin, TX. The famous PBS show – first broadcast in 1976 – was originally conceived of as part of a public television fund drive. In the more than 40 years since, the show has given the world incredible live performances by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Willie Nelson, and B.B. King. Studio 6A at The University of Texas at Austin was the home of the show for its first 32 years.
Preservation Hall – New Orleans, LA. While not a studio per se, Preservation Hall has been the home of small performance jazz for many decades. The performance space is still going strong right in the middle of the French Quarter in New Orleans.
Sadly, many other historic studios are no longer around. Like the Magic Shop, they have fallen prey to changing times, changing technology, increasing property costs, and the simple fact that bands don’t go into a studio to work out their albums as much as once was the case. Thankfully many smaller local studios remain in place, but I think maybe next time I’ll write about two studios that no longer exist and which I never got to visit, but are nonetheless very dear to my own musical history.