The Demanding yet Rewarding Process of Home-Producing an Album

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For college students, summer is a glorious time filled with beach days, late nights, and reuniting with old friends who spent the previous few months several hours away from home. And for some young bands who spend their school years studying, it also allows for something just as valuable: time to get work done. My friends and I can vouch for this. This past summer, my band from home, In Theory, spent countless hours in basements pounding drums, strumming guitars, straining vocal cords, and editing tracks to record and produce what will soon be our first serious album. Earlier in the year, we decided we had an idea for the album, but realistically, there was nothing we could do about it at the time. We are all full-time students and our schools range from as far north as Connecticut to as south as West Virginia. But after discussing it for a while, we came to the conclusion that summer break would be our only real chance to get it done, so once May came around, we got down to business. And at the time, were there other things I would have rather been doing? Of course. But do I regret it? Not in the least. Let’s be real: everything about music is expensive. What student can afford to drop hundreds of dollars on a decent producer when a month at his job ringing up groceries barely pays for his books next semester? That’s why we, like many other bands, chose to self-produce our album. Fortunately for us, our singer is actually going to school for audio engineering and knows a lot about the fundamentals already. This helped us out immensely, especially since he already had mixing software and other necessary recording equipment. This saved us the cost of paying for someone to do it for us, but it left a lot more for us to worry about ourselves.

Once May arrived and we all finally reunited, we got together as soon as possible to plan for the long process. And most importantly, we started to learn the songs. Over the school year, we would write parts and share ideas through rough recordings we would send in the form of iPod voice memos. After a few long months, we eventually had the parts all arranged and the songs written the way we wanted to record them. But that doesn’t mean we knew how to play them yet. In fact, I wrote most of the guitar parts on my acoustic guitar and I do not even play guitar for the band—I’m the drummer. So, we were starting this step from scratch. This took us well into June—making the parts for each instrument fit together, changing anything that sounded off or didn’t work for whatever reason, and then actually REMEMBERING how to play everything. But that’s when things really started to get exciting. We started tracking parts immediately.

For anyone who has never experienced part of the recording process: it’s tedious, to say the least. It’s just take after take, and re-take after re-take for hours until you feel like if you never heard the songs again it wouldn’t bother you at all. But there is no better feeling than—after screwing up the same part ten times—getting it perfect on the eleventh try. It gets you stoked. Then all you want to do is keep going until the whole album is perfect. In early July, our whole band lived at our guitarist’s house for a week doing nothing but eating, sleeping, recording, and occasionally longboarding to relax when we couldn’t bear to stare at the computer screen any longer. It was an awesome week.

As exhausting as it is to make sure all your tracks are exactly how you want them, it doesn’t stop there—more complications always seem to get in the way. In our case, almost a month after we started working on the record, we got a somewhat unsettling text from our singer/recording artist. Apparently, one morning he had been working on mixing the tracks when the program crashed and his MacBook immediately shut off. Worse yet, it wouldn’t turn back on. That day he took it to an Apple employee and was told there was a chance that the problem might have erased his laptop’s files. That, unsurprisingly, was the last thing we wanted to hear. Days of hard work potentially down the drain. And on top of that, we probably would not have had time to finish recording in the summer if we had to do it all over again. That week we were all on edge until the laptop was finally returned, and when it did, we couldn’t have been more relieved. The problem was fixed and our tracks were all still there. Anyway, the incident taught us a very important lesson that every band and recording artist (and everyone everywhere) should take seriously: BACK UP YOUR WORK.

That wasn’t even the only thing getting in our way. Needless to say, this band is not a primary occupation for any of us, though most of us wish it could be. So on top of producing this album, one of us was taking a full semester’s worth of summer classes and the other three of us were working jobs. One of our members even worked four hours away in Long Island four days a week. Considering we live in South Jersey, It’s easy to see how inconvenient that was for us (but we don’t hold it against him—not too much, anyway). On a side note, early in the process, two of our members switched girlfriends, literally overnight. I bet you can imagine how awkward this made things for the band for a while. But, slowly yet steadily, we worked past these inconveniences and trudged on.

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It has now been several weeks since taking on our band’s biggest project yet, and we are all back at school and back to the books. Though the album is still in its final stages of mixing and mastering (of which I personally know nothing about), it’s finished for the most part and I’m getting more and more impatient each day to hear the result. The experience was definitely a sacrifice—it took up a lot of time, it was stressful, and I can’t remember ever arguing with my friends more about anything before. We basically kept a summer-long group message just spewing out feedback about what sounded cool, what sucked, and what probably should have never been considered for the album in the first place. None of us took it personally, though. In fact, I think we’re all the closest we’ve ever been because of the whole experience. The band is like our second family now. Going forward, we’ll always have something really cool that we’ve accomplished, something to be proud of, and, in my opinion, no amount of beach days or summer parties can compete with that. When it’s all said and done, even if no one but us listens to the record (though I hope at least one other person does), I’d still have no regrets about the whole thing. So I’m proud to say that, after quite possibly the best and most interesting summer I’ve ever had, In Theory’s Complacency will hit the scene sometime in the next few weeks. After all the blood, sweat and tears of the last four months, I don’t think anything has ever had me this excited before.

In Theory’s Complacency will be released sometime this fall as a name-your-own-price download.

Joe TullPunk