Jacob Ewald of Modern Baseball prefers a homier space for recording his band’s music, somewhere “you could leave something in the fridge,” he said.
The recent Drexel University graduate was used to practicing music in professional studios the school provided for students, but stumbled across something completely different: a studio that shares a wall with a metalworking facility.
The studio, called the Metal Shop, started out completely raw, but after the band’s renovations, turned into a laidback and comfortable recording studio.
The band found the space last May, and asked the landlord if they could get a month of free rent to use that time to renovate the space.
“It ended up being six months,” Ewald said. “But the Metal Shop has been in the landlord’s family for years and years, so as long as someone is using the space to make art, she doesn’t really care.”
The band redid the floors, painted the walls, added sound proofing and spent three-and-a-half hours getting a couch up the stairs. Unlike its student spaces at Drexel, the band didn’t have to pack everything up before it left the Metal Shop.
“It’s the little things that make it more homey, a more relaxed recording environment,” Ewald said.
These recording spaces can sometimes be inconvenient, like when they’re next to working facilities. But they can also create opportunities for young musicians like Ewald, who don’t have the money to record in a professional studio with professional equipment. Musicians across the city are turning toward recording studios in homes, basements and other small, more intimate places.
Before Ewald moved to the Metal Shop, the band recorded in Michael Jordan (House), a DIY space.
Michael Jordan (House) took the name of the Chicago Bulls star during its early days hosting basement shows, said tenant Nick Bairatchnyi, who records there for his band The Obsessives.
At the house’s first-ever basement show, the people who originally lived there “said you could get in for $5, or if you brought a framed picture of Michael Jordan,” Bairatchnyi said.
“When I look up at the front door, there’s seven pictures of Michael Jordan.”
The studio inside Michael Jordan (House) is as simple as it gets: a laptop plugged into a tiny box with cables criss-crossing all over the basement.
“We bought the cheapest thing we could get to record live instruments,” Bairatchnyi said. “We pirated software and just slowly figured out how to use it.”
The Obsessives go to professional studios when they record for official releases because the members feel it’s easier to just focus on the music rather than the engineering behind it. But Bairatchnyi feels a certain energy in Michael Jordan.
“Everything sounds [worse], but the recordings I’ve recorded in here are the most sentimental to me,” he said. “It’s exactly what we did, a perfect snapshot of whatever the moment was.”
“It seems very honest, because we don’t have the resources to make it sound special,” he added. “It seems very real.”
When Bairatchnyi recorded the upcoming track “Now She’s Smoking,” he knew exactly where to go to get the perfect sound and vibe.
“The best vibe is in this little bathroom because the light comes down so nicely through the window and makes the room glow,” Bairatchnyi said. “The recording just stands out, because you can hear the sound in the room in it.”
Evan Bernard, band member of the superweaks, records in a multifaceted communal warehouse called Big Mama’s, where he also finds his own vibe.
Bernard views Big Mama’s as a “musicians headquarters,” he said. “Whether it’s various types of fine art, or people focusing on their bands, it’s an in-house space to do whatever you need.”
Big Mama’s holds a fully functioning screen printing studio, a woodshop, a film lab with a dark room and a recording studio, which is run by Bernard and bandmate Chris Baglivo.
What differentiates Big Mama’s from regular recording studios is that it’s all in one room, with no separate control room. It has sort of “unique sound,” Bernard said.
When Bernard talked to Larissa Sapko of Loose Tooth about why she wanted to record in Big Mama’s, she said, “I don’t know, it’s kind of cluttered and unpredictable,” Bernard said.
“I know those terms sound bad or negative, but there’s a lot of bands going in and out of that space,” Bernard said. “It’s always abuzz with a certain energy, and I think that’s what she meant.”
“Along with the fact that there’s gear everywhere,” he added.
Ewald was used to recording in nicer studios in college, but strongly encourages all musicians to record anywhere “because even in places that aren’t professional, you can still learn so many things,” he said.
Ewald still remembers listening to the first album Modern Baseball made in the Metal Shop studio.
“We turned off the lights and sat on the couch and listened to it with the whole band sitting in the same place we spent a lot of time on this project in,” Ewald said. “It was a very mushy moment.”
Tsipora Hacker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.