Rethinking the Studio

The Dusters just got to work on our fifth album (three already released, live record in the can, new studio effort due out next spring). In many ways this one is a lot like the others–the latest songs, the latest sounds, all with the added experience of another year and a half of touring under our belt. But it’s also very different. Over the past few years, the connection between the recording studio and the financial bottom line has been completely obscured, as ‘record sales’ become an increasingly mysterious and irrelevant part of life. So we are starting to reconsider what the studio is all about. How often should we record/release music? How do we get all the energy/work that goes into the live show to translate to an album? How will any of this make sense if we are not on a record label?

We don’t have all the answers, but we are finding that a new approach is helping us learn a lot about our band. Instead of going into the studio once every 18 months for 10 days, we are going to make recording music a much more regular/fluid part of what we do. Our synergy as people is our greatest asset, and all of our shared experiences inform our group sound. But the vast majority of that experience is on stage, and there’s no deadline for our live show–it just evolves over time like the music itself. You don’t sit down once every year and a half to write 12 songs. Music is life. They follow the same trail of inspiration/emotion and it rarely stops, if at all.

The recording studio is a venue that takes practice. It can teach you so much about your own music once you get immersed in the creative process, blurring the lines between writing, rehearsing and recording. But deadlines always seem to influence creativity when we are trying to complete the enormous task of producing an album in one concentrated effort. Now that the old 18 month CD cycle is becoming ever more obsolete, we don’t need to take that approach anymore, which is great because it dosen’t make sense for us. We spend all this time on tour, living, playing and learning together, and now we can bring that flow to the recording process. We keep costs down with short sessions that only get more efficient as we get more experience, from setup to performance. And it’s more than just learning to play in the studio, it’s learning how use the studio as a tool (experimenting with new sonic qualities, layering, parts, etc) that will feed creativity and develop the Stringduster sound.

Music fans today want content, and that’s great news for us because content is what we do. It’s recordings, from the stage, the studio, b-sides, unique collaborations, maybe specific to a big tour, videos, outtakes, etc. And if you want to sit down once every 18 months and collect songs for an ‘album,’ then you can do that too. The hype you get around a new record is hard to beat, but if you are touring all the time you need that hype more than once every 2 years to grow a band. The show is still the main thing that we sell, but now the recording process can be much more integrated into our operation as a whole, building the buzz, growing our business and creating options down the road.

A lot of mainstream acts still roll with the old school formula–new album every other year, release singles to radio, sell a bunch of copies at Walmart, keep the old machine alive, etc. But this system is on the way out (it’s basically gone for an act our size). The hip hop world has been prolific in the studio for years, because that is the main forum for expression. In the time that we released 3 studio albums and 1 live record, hip hop mogul Lil Wayne will have released 4 studio albums, 2 EP’s, 2 full length collaborations, 5 mixtapes, a handful of non-album singles, 22 videos, and 77 guest appearances on other artists’ projects, not to mention serving roughly a year in jail at Rikers Island–all amounting to constant hype. I’m not sure how our publicist would feel about the state pen, but imagine if we had a prolific stream of content AND a solid touring operation. That could be big.

Our new producer, Billy Hume, is right at home with this idea of the studio as part of the process. He has big name hip hop mixing credits like Nelly, Nas, Ludacris, David Banner and Young Jeezy to name just a few. It was Billy’s idea to break this new album into chunks, and it’s already leading us in some great directions, teaching us about our music and ourselves–another amazing new team member, another new take on the band. Now the studio isn’t the end of the creative process (the ‘record’), it is the creative process. We’re excited to see where it leads.

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