Despite all the complaints about the fizzling music industry, it's still possible to make a multi-thousand-dollar album without official label support or a trust fund.
Ask local world-folk-punk band Evarusnik (composed of Miranda Scott on vocals and Andrew Tumason on piano/vocals/guitar), who recently raised more than $17,000 to record in a storied San Francisco studio. But the actual recording was just one step in a long sequence of work-intensive events, starting with musical conception and ending (soon) with the release of the record itself.
"We are always recording and having little sessions," Tumason tells SFR, explaining that these recorded odds and ends proved to be the first step leading to the new album, In a Poker Slash Refrain.
Their initial goal for the album was to patch together a cohesive sound and mood out of many diverse influences (Tumason's list includes hard rock, metal, shoegaze, punk, world and classical), so they began going through a composition backlog that dated back 10 years, revising old material and writing new.
"We were rough-drafting the record a bunch," Tumason says of the initial creative phase. "We wouldn't answer the phone; we wouldn't hang out with people."
Months later, with new demos in hand (and fewer friends), the band took the next step. They approached a producer to workshop and arrange their songs and help define the general sonic signature of the album. For Tumason, the choice was natural—longtime friend Mark Engles, the guitarist of San Francisco band Dredg, who is known for his "wall of sound" technique and ability to capture unique guitar tones.
Tumason says, "When we asked Mark if he wanted to help us produce the record, he was like, 'We gotta do it at Tiny Telephone.'" The recording studio, founded and owned by John Vanderslice, has hosted Death Cab for Cutie and Magnetic Fields, among others.
Such credentials come with a price. So last summer, Tumason and Scott launched an ambitious Kickstarter campaign.
"It's a lot of work, no matter what," Tumason says of crowdsourcing. The work comes not only from running the campaign, but also from creating incentives to lure donations. In Evarusnik's case, these included everything from original artwork to private shows and home-cooked meals.
And while the $17,000 raised by the band might sound like a lot of money, when it came to the budget for the album, Tumason says, "We went way over. We emptied our savings accounts as well."
The majority of the funds went toward studio expenses, as well as hiring session musicians to fill out the rhythm section. For Evarusnik, part of the appeal of Tiny Telephone was its emphasis on analog recording techniques. The band did their takes on two-inch tape, which resulted not only in increased fidelity to their actual sound (because, compared to digital recording, punching in and cutting and pasting parts is a much more difficult and limited process) but also in a higher price tag.
"Analog takes twice as long. You don't just boot up the computer. It takes an hour and a half to get your first sound sculpted and on tape," Tumason explains. Each second puts a dent in the savings.
After weeks of recording and mixing, it was time to turn the sounds into a tangible product. Once again, Evarusnik found themselves undertaking another labor-intensive task on their own.
Tumason says they still "had to do the vinyl artwork, front cover, inserts and all the CD artwork." But that was just for the album design. He goes on to list the remaining tasks that faced an already weary band: writing PR statements, contacting media outlets, revising the band website, planning music videos and merchandise, distribution, booking album release dates, scheduling a tour...
"It makes it way harder if you don't have label help," he says, "but you don't have someone telling you what to play."
And in Evarusnik's case, self-expression is what makes all that work worthwhile. "We are artists," Tumason says. "We are playing from the way we're feeling."
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On that note, my own not-so-long and winding road at SFR has come to an end. Thanks, readers. It's been fun!