Oakland Local and Oaktown Indie Mayhem present The Studio Series. One Oakland band, recorded in a local studio, highlighting the thriving local music community in our city. 

 

Over the past decade there has been a quick evolution in the music industry. The big businesses have found it tougher to make money, and there has been a shift to independent labels. The same can be said of the recording industry. The big recording studios are few and far between. Long gone are the days when studios were built with reception and kitchens.

“Almost every place in the Bay Area is really small, except maybe JingleTown. It [opened] right at the end of the old-school studios, so it was built out like a real, old-time studio,” said Ian Pellicci, who along with his brother Jay Pellicci and John Finkbeiner make up the owners and engineers at Oakland’s New, Improved Recording.

“I think the change in the industry has hurt the old-school institutions — the big building that had reception and a full-time maintenance crew and studio managers,” said Ian. “From what I’ve seen, there’s varying degrees, but this [downsizing] seems to be the evolution of the studio.”

New, Improved Recording started in 2002 when Finkbeiner and his former partner, Eli Crews, found the space, a former studio with a landlord who’s a musician and very understanding of the needs of the studio. The Pelliccis joined last October after parting ways with Tiny Telephone. Bands the three of them have recorded include Deerhoof, Thao and The Get Down Stay Down, Sleater-Kinney and Fred Frith.

For the Studio Series, Ian Pellicci recorded Oakland-based experimental indie band Makeunder. The band is a mix of synths, electric guitar, drums and horns. The song they recorded for the series, “Inevitable Conclusion,” was written by Hamilton Ulmer after his father passed away and a very intense long-distance relationship ended. Ulmer got into the relationship three weeks before his father’s death, and after his father passed away his girlfriend couldn’t fathom why he didn’t want to move to London to be with her. The problematic relationship continued for years before they broke up.

“I had always felt that if I could get over the tragedy, I’d move in a heartbeat,” said Ulmer. “The irony is, the moment I felt ready to do it, she rejected me. A friend of mine thought originally that the ‘Inevitable Conclusion’ was meant to be death, which is quite the interpretation.”

Asked about the process of writing the song, Ulmer said this song was particularly difficult.

“This was easily the worst song for me to write on our upcoming EP, Great Headless Blank (due out in July), and it took me quite a while to get it right. Sometimes, you write a song practically straight through, as if it were obvious how it will turn out before you even began. This song was not obvious. I rewrote it probably a good ten times before anyone had ever heard it.”

The session at New, Improved was recorded digitally, which meant that editing and adding a few overdubs was relatively simple. When asked about using digital versus analog and which the engineers at New, Improved prefer, Finkbeiner said, “It really depends on the band. I do more digital than tape, but it has more to do with the kinds of groups.”

In part, it depends on the financial feasibility of recording on tape.

“Sometimes it’s purely logistical and time constraints,” said Ian. “If there’s a lot of material, and sometimes at the end of the session it’s going to be going out the door and they’re going to do overdubs then, well, we can record with tape, but we’ll have to end hours before we would if we were staying in digital because we’ll have to transfer it.”

The revival in analog recording has paralleled the resurgence of vinyl and cassette tapes, the latter of which has befuddled some.

“It makes a lot of sense to me though,” said Jay, who thinks even those who purchase vinyl are often listening to digital download. “So if you have a cassette, it’s cheaper for the artist and then you get to walk home with this thing.”

Moreover, you get physical art and, as Finkbeiner points out, a lot of bands sound really good on cassettes, and many digital plugins for recording are there to emulate vintage gear and sounds. Lastly, he added, “Whether it makes sense or not is moot, because it probably doesn’t make sense to be a musician.”

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