The No-Excuses Guide to Home Recording

Stop kidding yourself if you think it takes much more than this to record a song and post it online:

My band, Pet Theories, took about three hours on the evening of Memorial Day to record a drum part, a keyboard part, a guitar part, a sung vocal, and a spoken word vocal onto a four-track recorder.

It then took Brian, our guitar player, maybe an additional hour to adjust the levels and convert the recording to an MP3. I then grabbed the file, cropped an image to go with it, and posted everything onto our band’s Soundcloud account.

Bam.

All this was done between the hours of 6 pm and 11 pm. Now you can enjoy the song wherever you are, as long as you have access to the Internet.

[UPDATE: We rerecorded the song for the release of our debut album, so I’ve updated the sound file here accordingly, but my sentiments about the process of recording the demo still stand!]

Of course there’s backstory.

In the lead-up to this year’s Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (CAKE), Brian decided to put together a new zine dedicated to the somewhat obscure DC Comics character Man-Bat. What began as little more than an inside joke among friends has quickly turned into one of the most delightful and inspiring collaborative art projects I’ve been part of in a long time.

As friends from around the country, and across generations, began submitting their writings and drawings for the printed zine, the band started joking about writing a theme song to accompany it . . . until it wasn’t really a joke anymore and turned into a creative necessity.

It all came together effortlessly—a couple riffs fell out of thin air, a song structure presented itself fairly quickly after that, and the missing piece was really the lyrics. I’d been improvising some goofy gibberish during rehearsals, roughly inspired by the plots of the two comic issues from 1975-76 that actually star Man-Bat, and then our drummer, Tony, helped me hammer out the rest of the verses about 10 minutes before I got in front of the mic to record my vocal. His spoken word section comes from the poem that he wrote for the zine.

I only bring all this up as a reminder that DIY culture remains strong in Chicago’s indie comics scene, and it’s a spirit that I wish lived a little more vibrantly among the city’s musicians as well.

It seems like every band I run into these days is pulling together exorbitant amounts of cash to book studio time at Gallery of Carpet or Electrical Audio. Aside from the fact that it seems awfully un-punk to me (not that I’m trying to police anyone’s punkness!), it also seems like an awfully expensive, precious, and time-consuming way to get one’s art out there.

I’m far from a devotee of Austin Kleon’s philosophies, yet I loved what he said in this interview on 99U:

I think people seriously underestimate what 15 minutes a day for 10 years will do versus 10 hours a day for a year. If you do little bits and pieces every day, after a while, you have this body of work.

Like, if you want to be a filmmaker, don’t think about being P.T. Anderson, think about making a 30-second YouTube clip. Make the best 30-second YouTube clip you can, and make a hundred of them. Just start making and editing, learn and release the work as you go, and see what resonates with people.

I’m a huge fan of P.T. Anderson’s work (especially The Master) and would argue that we actually do need to encourage more artists to aspire to his level of stature, talent, and vision, but Kleon’s point is well taken. I struggle with being overly precious in my writing and creative output myself, so this lesson, to do little bits of things more frequently in order to keep learning and growing as an artist, is one that I’m currently really taking to heart. It was completely exhilarating to realize that I could put together a song with my endlessly inspiring bandmates and then actually share it with the world.

So, with that, I’m delighted to bring you “The Theme from Man-Bat!” And, if you’re in Chicago, I hope to see you this weekend at CAKE. Brian will have copies of the zine available to trade (and after that, it will likely be available to buy for a few bucks at Quimby’s).

PS: Wanna read more from my perspective as an ultra small-time musician in Chicago? Click here to read my essay, “How to Buy a Guitar in Chicago,” over on the Public Street blog.

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