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Electronic music production, the hardware in conjunction with the software, is a basically unlimited field. There is no limit to the amount you can know. This makes it a great field for people with a thirst for knowledge. But don't get too caught up in the technical aspect of it to the point of neglecting the music. The music and the craft should always always always come first.
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Chapter 8. Operations: Practice Space and Human Resources
Rock and roll can be created in the sleaziest of sub-basements. It often fructates out of slimmering conditions that only a fungus could love. But there's nothing wrong with at least making sure that your equipment won't be harmed or stolen or rust. And you don't want to get electrocuted or have the cops close you down for noise.
Some of the people who make the greatest rock and roll have personalities that only a mother could love, and then only with great effort. But this needn't be the caseyou can find somewhat sane people to work with. After all, you're going to have to live with them; why get stuck with a psychopathic cretin?
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A Place to Play and Some Friends to Play With
You need a secure place to play music, where you won't bother other people and they won't bother you. There are several options available.
You also need good people to play with. We will explore both a place to play and people to play with in this chapter.
Lockout or Hourly?
The best-case scenario for a place to practice would be a huge air-conditioned room with a stage and lights and a P.A. system and even chairs for an audience. You would have 24- hour access, you would be the only band using the space, and you could leave your equipment set up and ready to go. There would be recording equipment and microphones set up permanently to record any great ideas you come up with, and there would be a fully stocked kitchen.
Bands that sell millions of records have this. You probably won't.
The other end of this spectrum is the hourly studio. These are available in most large cities. Basically, you bring your gear (or rent theirs) and buy blocks of time, usually in three-hour packages. This can add up, but it's usually reasonably priced, and it certainly does motivate you not to screw off and waste time.
Hourly studios are usually between $30 and $60 for a three-hour block, with a P.A. You'll pay probably 20 bucks more each for a drum kit, guitar amp, and bass amp.
Many bands practice quietly in a member's living room when they are writing new songs, or before they get a drummer , or between gigs, and just rent hourly when they need to play loud.
In between is what my band has: 24-hour lockout in a small, secure room that we share with another band. This is a good option if the other band is respectful of you and your stuff. It's a nightmare if they're not.
You can usually find a place to practice by asking other bands or by looking in the Yellow Pages under "musician services." You can also look in the local entertainment weekly. Every town seems to have one. (LA and New York have about 10.) They will have listings every month for hourly and lockout studios. You can also check the classifieds in these papers for bands looking for a place to share. The actual studio buildings usually have a bulletin board in the lobby or hall. You can get in and look at it or post your own ad looking for a space to share.
You might have to follow another band in. If it's a big place, you won't wait long. People go in and out all day. Just look like you're supposed to be there. Carrying a guitar or drum sticks might help. Or if it's a small place without a lot of foot traffic, wait outside and nicely ask someone going in if you can come in for a second and check the bulletin board. They might say no, as people in these places usually worry about suspicious people (you). In that case, just wait and ask the next person.
If you're sharing with one other band, you'll probably pay about $200 to $350 a month. Lockout studios are generally 400 to 700 bucks per month per room, depending on how big they are, how secure, and whether or not they come with a P.A. system. How dangerous a part of town they are in is also a factor. These places are often in industrial districts or other scary 'hoods where many businesses would be afraid to operate .
The place my band rehearses is called Downtown Rehearsal. It is one of two buildings in Los Angeles owned by the same company. (The company used to own a studio in San Francisco by the same name , but some dot com bought the building for eight million dollars, kicked all the bands out, and promptly went bankrupt. It's still empty.) Each of these buildings in Los Angeles is 100 rooms each, and about three bands use each room. There are several such places owned by different businesses in Los Angeles. Doing the math here gives you a realistic idea of the amount of competition for gigs in Los Angeles. And believe me, most of these bands look at it as competitionpeople don't move to LA to just play music; they move here to try to get famous.
Got a stuck window (or door)? Rub a dry bar of soap on the track where the parts are rubbing. Do this before summer if you can. (My editor will probably ask me to delete this, saying it has nothing to do with music, but my editor has probably never been stuck in a practice space with windows that won't open in August in Los Angeles.)
Both buildings owned by this company are in questionable 'hoods, at least as far as a place you want to keep tens of thousands of dollars worth of gear. Both are surrounded by homeless encampments. We always take precautions when loading out and in before and after a gig. One person stays with the gear at all points, at all times. And the homeless junkies always offer to help. I politely decline.
Unlike when you rent an apartment, there is no rent control for band spaces, and the landlord can kick you out or raise the rent any time she feels like it. Rent control covers only places where people live, not band practice places.
Our place is actually a pretty good deal, the room is $480 a month, we share it with two other bands who are rarely in there, and our share is $160 a month.
You will usually have to put down some kind of security deposit.
I would recommend changing the locks when you move in if the building manager will let you. Most likely he will if you pay for the locksmith and give him a copy of the keys. I would do this because you have no idea how many previous tenants still have keys. Put in a deadbolt (or two). Also, be wary of other ways people could get in. The only time I ever had a studio ripped off was a place in San Francisco where the thieves went through the wall. All it took was a knife or a box cutter to go through the three layers of plaster board that comprised the walls.
You usually aren't allowed to live in your studio, but some bands actually sneak around and live in them in these tough economic times. It's tough and you have to find somewhere else to shower. If you do, a YMCA or other gym membership is a good investment.
A lot of these studios have mirrors on one or more walls, so if you're vain, you can rock out to yourself and work on your sassy dance moves.
You had better be a good judge of character if you're going to share a space with another band. The average rock band has between $5,000 and $20,000 worth of gear, and you'll be handing key copies over to someone else. Obviously, if you can afford it, don't share with another band. But if you have to, here are some tips:
Be respectful. Don't use their stuff. Again, don't use their stuff. Have the cell phone numbers of all people who share the studio posted on the wall, and if you must use something of theirs (for instance, if you're recording and you break a snare drum head and don't have a spare head and need to borrow theirs), call first.
If you do use their stuff, for whatever reason, and you break something, you are responsible for replacing it. I don't care if it's a very old amp with tubes that were about to blow. If they blow while you're playing through it, you have to pay. None of this, "I'll only pay half because they were going to blow anyway." You owe it all , dude. And if something you used needs repairing, you not only have to pay for it, you need to take it to the repair shop, and pick it up, and bring it back. But never just take something out of the studio without telling the person first. If you find you must, leave a note. And offer to get them a replacement until their stuff is fixed, even if you have to rent it.
If you blow the other guy's amp, 'fess up. Don't lie and pretend the mice did it.
If you do use their amp with permission, write down the settings for all the knobs before you change anything, and return it to their pet settings when you're done.
Does it seem like the other band is using your gear without permission over and over and then denying it? There are ways to bust them. Write down your settings, and see if they change. (Though they could be one step ahead of you, writing down and returning it to your settings when finished.) You can always take the tubes or your fuse with you, but then they might fry it by bypassing the fuse with foil or a wire, or it might be one of those amps that will be damaged by turning it on without the tubes in.
You can spy on them. Start dropping in unexpectedly, or set up a little spy camera, or cheaper yet, a tape recorder. Some Dictaphones have a voice-activated mode, where you can leave them and they will only start recording when someone starts talking. (You'll want to cover the little red light with a piece of duct tape.) I busted someone using my gear this way once. (You can also catch your lover cheating on you and lots of other stuff this way.) Note: Check local laws. Spying on people, even with good reason, might not be legal, moral, or ethical in your jurisdiction. And I would never recommend that you do anything illegal, immoral, or unethical.
Also, get good at recognizing drug habits. If someone in your band or the other band starts to develop one, it might be a good time to change the locks again.
Make Your Own Studio
Another option is to make your own space in your garage or basement . This can be an excellent , cheap, secure solution, but you'll have to soundproof a bit if you have neighbors. I find that the usual egg cartons lining the wall that most cheap recording studios use to deaden the echo won't really keep much of the sound in , and your neighbors will hate you. Concrete is good, as are sandbags or poured sand. Layers help too: Sand, then air, then wood, then sand, then concrete will deaden almost any sound, but it's gonna cost a little money and take some time to do it right.
Figure 8.1. Ground termination pipe outside my studio. This pipe goes 10 feet into the earth.
Make sure your building and outlets are grounded, and make the place comfortable. An old couch is nice. And most bands hang up some posters and art to inspire them. (Most young males hang up pornography, but that's an absolute clich at this point.) Don't put a TV in your studio; it will kill your creativity.
A lot of studios are rather damp, especially if they're in basements. Moisture in the air will eventually kill guitars and keyboards and make drums and guitars go out of tune quicker in the meantime.
You can buy a dehumidifier from Sears or a hardware store for under a hundred bucks. It will pull water out of the air and into a square bucket. Make sure you empty the bucket regularly. They're kind of noisy , so turn it off before you record.
Clean your practice space regularly. A lot of great music has come from filth, but I find that there's nothing wrong and everything right with a clean environment in which to rock. At least make sure there's no food or soda or beer bottles lying around, because this will attract ants and roaches.
Get a place to play, a place where you'll feel comfortable and where your equipment will be safe.
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