The Cost of Loving: Recording in New York City
I’ve been living in New York City for 10 years since I moved here from London. I left behind a wonderful country and roots music scene that flourishes unabated. It’s funny, there’s a lot of English folk rock around now Mumford & Sons and the like – I always thought I’d be better suited to the USA because that’s where my favorite music came from. But right now it looks like the bandwagon is parked in London and Scotland, ask anyone touring over there about the reception they receive.
I put out a record recently (love how we hang on to the old terms “record” rather than CD or “I put up a download recently”!) And I thought it might useful to show you how I did it and what it cost.
I recorded it in 5 days over a few months in two day blocks – this way I got a great deal from the studio. I went into the studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn and worked with an Matthew Stein who engineered and mixed the songs. I used my band Thee Shambels who I’d been gigging with for about two years and I paid them what I could.
This is a breakdown of the financial outlay:
3 days recording $1275
2 days mixing $850
Digital release $40 (CD Baby)
Publishing company set up $150 (BMI)
1000 CD’s digipack $1000
Reheasal time for the record about $200
Transportation and food for everyone $300
The art and photography I did myself – I taught myself how to use Adobe Illustrator (I was already familiar with Photoshop) and I leaned on old friends in London for advice before I shipped it to the printer. We’ve got a great set of songs we’ve been gigging for about a year and man, that live work get’s the songs in shape pretty fast. I wouldn’t have been able to make this record in the time I had, if I hadn’t dragged these songs through every little shit box in New York. There’s money to be made on the road I hear, but not in New York. Promoters are after you to make money for the clubs and the hell with getting paid for your art.
My band’s really tight, so we set up live and recorded bass, drums guitar and lead guitar and my guide vocal without a click track. We played 4 songs and took the best of each of 3 takes. It was a small space so I set up a mirror to see Scotty through the glass and booths – check the photo. Then I re-recorded my guitar and came back another day to do my vocals and percussion overdubs. I had Serena, Melissa, Shane (who co-produced the E.P. with me) and Alex come in on one day to record (respectively) backing vocals, accordion, ukelele and banjo.
On the mixing days we picked the best take, cut and pasted a few errors from the other takes and mixed it until it felt good. Jessica Thompson mastered it and I printed it and released it through CD Baby.
Now this was expensive for me – I sold some cameras to foot the bill. The only way I could finish was by relying on the generosity of musicians and friends alike. People who think New York City is a cold and unforgiving place should check out the roots and country scene here – It is warm, loving and generous. If I had paid the going rate It would have cost twice that much, some of the cats who worked on this disc ( ha! there I go again! – some of the cats who worked on this download…meh) didn’t take payment – as much as I pushed them.
The other thing I had to do was hustle. Right now, studios now are desperate for work – They’ll cut you a deal, and I bartered for many or part of these services – the website, some live photography all sorts of things. My opening gambit was “how much?” then “how about some photography for part payment.”Sometimes I just said “I’ll owe you one”.
Why did I do it? Because I can’t stop writing music – it’s the most personal expression of anything I do. It’s a passion and I started to realize as my set list built up I couldn’t remember all my songs or play them all at shows..I was losing them. I needed to record them to be able to move on with new music.
This is Serena Jean Southam who’s got her own record out
now which I’ll be reviewing soon.
Now all I’ve got to do is sell the bastard.
Listen to Thee Shambels new waxing: ‘Jenny’s Waltz E.P.’