To Band or Not to Band
Listen to or free-download Richard Turgeon’s latest single, “Frostbites” here.
When I decided to seriously pursue music after graduating college, I had just learned to play guitar, hadn’t sung in a band since I was 13, and had never written original songs before. Back then Nirvana and Green Day were my heroes and models. At the time, there really was no internet, which meant that there really was no question of whether or not I needed to start a live band to help record and play out my songs.
I didn’t have a car or the money for a rehearsal space, so finding any band member with any of those was a plus. There was no Craigslist, so I had to recruit my bandmates the old-fashioned way: going to local shows and networking with other musicians, and posting a print ad in the local newsweekly. I eventually convinced a very good rhythm section to join my fledgling outfit, but through no fault of their own, my new bandmates had tastes I didn’t share, and sometimes took my songs and shaped my writing in a way that I realize in hindsight had little to do with what I was trying to accomplish. Most importantly, there was no way I could afford to record in a real studio. And forget CDs – we ended up pressing cassettes… without bandmates pitching in funds, and with me making some necessary compromises along the way. All this because at the time, I needed a live band.
How things have changed.
As I started to realize back around 1999, today’s musicians can record and mix on digital gear to hard drives for practically nothing from the comfort of their own home. We were all still learning, but during that glorious advent of the digital revolution, people were already sharing tracks and recording virtually with one another in different towns, states and even countries. Like food, music has always been flavored by its particular region of origin: Chicago was blues. New York was punk and New Wave. California was surf rock. The digital revolution ultimately facilitated file sharing and community like never before, bringing all of these different sounds and sensibilities together to blend into one big musical melting pot. This of course has resulted in some great music that wouldn’t have been created, or heard, at any other time.
As I got older and pragmatically relinquished my dreams of rock stardom, I realized that while I enjoyed certain aspects of being in a band, I was really a solo artist—something one of my very first bandmates had gracefully pointed out to me. The three biggest things that got me to self-teach myself production were 1. saving money on recording in analog studios, 2. greater control over the production and sound, and perhaps the sum of the two, 3. that ability to be a solo artist I’ve probably always been.
I hear a song in my head before it’s even written or recorded, and being a drummer, guitarist and bassist (and probably in that order in terms of proficiency), I want the parts played a certain way. I know there are always better players out there (…not too tall an order with me as the baseline), but I have definite ideas about production, the parts and arrangements. Recording, producing and multi-tracking my own material gives me more freedom and control, saves a ton of money, and lets my put my music out on my terms and on my schedule. I’ve learned to find “virtual bandmates” or session players I work well with and, more importantly, who play better than I can and can add a new musical slant or perspective to my songs. After my basic tracks are recorded and shared with the “band,” they record their parts, post the tracks online, and I mix them into a recording that I can mix on my own time, and to my tastes. The best part is that this process involves no rehearsals and related coordinating between three or four musicians; no expensive recording studio; no band-related power struggles or head games; and basically no BS.
Of course there are some things I miss about being in a band, some factors I’ve always believed can create some truly exceptional music. The first and foremost is of course chemistry. As I cover in my book, there’s just something to be said for the act of the right people collectively contributing to and working out a song in its formative stages, let alone writing them together (something that still really isn’t for me). The second is camaraderie. What musician reading this hasn’t joined a band to get away from the house for a while, drink some beer, and/or seek like-minded musicians with whom to talk about gear and records? The third is, of course, playing out live. Nothing really compares to being in a super-tight band and feeling that energy from the crowd.
Maybe I’m an old fart, but I’ve slowly realized that those last two factors have maybe never meant as much to me as the timeless, pristine artifact of the recording—fueled by my longstanding belief that the production process itself is one of the most powerful, interpretive and expressive instruments available. And with that said, I humbly offer a listen or free-download of my most recent recording, “Frostbites,”as an example of a recording featuring a little help from my own trusted, talented “virtual band”: Adam Wayne (chorus lead guitars and second solo) and Ron Guensche (bass) from San Francisco’s own The Gentlemen (Ron is also in another great band, Spidermeow, my Indie Rock 101 technical editor, and engineers my drums and vocals).
So, while we can’t hear your applause, I appreciate your reading my musical musings and listening to the track. It’s not quite as glamourous as rock stardom or even playing a well packed local show, but for now, at this point in my musical journey, it will do just fine.
San Franciso-based indie musician/producer Richard Turgeon is the author of Indie Rock 101: Running, Recording and Promoting Your Band, published by Focal Press. You can keep up with his latest projects at his website and blog at www.indierock101.com.