First there was the middle-aged mother who came in to record some original children's songs, the most memorable of which was "Boo-Boo With the Licorice Nose."
A Navy man marched in with some buddies to record four songs, not military tunes, but genuine bluegrass.
And then there were the Punk Rockers.
"They were so bad," says Starting Point Recording Studio owner and engineer Eric Hock, "that I couldn't even stand to hear them. There were three of them--guys about 26 or 27 years old--working at computers during the day and wanting to record straight-out Punk Rock at night. I was the engineer for their first session, and they were so loud that when they wanted to listen to the playback of their tape, I stayed in the control room and turned the speakers off.
"For their next session, I sat upstairs and let another engineer handle it. Two and a half hours into the session, the engineer came crawling, literally crawling, up the stairs. 'That guy's guitar should be treated as a deadly weapon' was all he could manage to say."
Perhaps you are among those who sing naturally. Or maybe you fall in with the less talented, though more determined, group that is as flat as last night's beer--and knows it--but persists in singing anyway.
Aretha Franklin I'm not, but I had wanted to make a 45 record for a long time. When Fate failed to plant THE CHANCE at my doorstep--nothing more compelling than 7-Eleven hot-chocolate coupons were showing up--I decided to take matters into my own hands.
Since I'm neither a songwriter nor working with a band, I had to choose both a song to record and find studio musicians to play it. The fact that I could afford only basic guitar, drums and keyboard arrangement limited my song choice. For starters, it meant goodbye to my R 'n' B selection (I would need a horn section), to pop arrangements (I would need violins) and to my Motown choice (I would need back-up singers).
I finally reached an uneasy compromise between what my heart desired and my pocketbook dictated and settled on "Fire," a simple three-minute rock and roll song written a few years back by rock-star Bruce Springsteen.
It was a no-miss selection: no fancy phrasing, no yelps or hoots, no tricky dives up and down the scale. What's more, a song like "Fire" wouldn't require complex studio equipment.
Recording studios generally are defined according to how many "tracks" they have, or the number of separate instruments that can be recorded at the same time. In my case, an eight-track studio seemed reasonable: I had less than eight instruments to record, including the vocals. After a few days of comparing prices and equipment, I located an eight-track studio in Northern Virginia that had both studio musicians and reasonable prices. For $25 an hour--the range for eight-track studios is about $22 to $50 an hour--plus another $30 or so per musician, I had myself a deal.
The appointed day arrived and off I went, sheet music in one hand, bottle of cheap wine in the other. The backing track of "Fire" was recorded by the end of our first hour. And then came my long-awaited debut at the microphone.
Eric, the studio owner, lined me up in front of the mike and handed me a set of headphones, instructing me to use them over one ear only. By doing so, I could hear the backing track in one ear (the covered one) and hear myself singing in the other (uncovered one). Since I had no questions, Eric said we might as well begin . . .
The big moment, and my frail sense of studio bravado began failing fast. My mouth was dry. My knees shook. I wanted to call my mother.
Eric was so familiar with his control board that he hardly needed to glance at it. Instead, he watched me from inside the control booth. For a fleeting second, I considered canceling the whole thing. But there was no time: Eric had just given me the "go-ahead" signal. One last swig of Lambrusco and I was off.
Off key. If truth be known, I thought I had sung beautifully until I finished the final note and peered into the control room for a reaction.
"I've heard better," said Eric, choosing his words with great care, "and I've heard a few worse."
We both agreed that I was hitting some notes right on the head, and missing others entirely. Not yet discouraged, I gave "Fire" a few more tries, and a few more. I sang that song perhaps a dozen more times. My tuneful parts stayed tuneful, flat notes flat.
With nothing else to lose, I decided to shout it. My later attempts not only sounded louder, but the more aggressive tone helped cover up shortcomings in the pitch department. It also gave the song a new twist, an almost-goes-punk "Fire." And that's what wound up--four hours later--on the master tape.
A production company agreed to make 200 records of the tape for $224. (It would have been $40 more with a different number on the flip side.) The price included 200 plain white sleeves; it's up to you to take care of the printing.Production and delivery time take four to five weeks.
Total cost: $410, including delivery charges to my doorstep.
Since I had recorded nothing for the B side of the record, I had at first planned to leave it blank. "People will talk," said my friend Ralph. "Nobody EVER leaves the B side blank."
I decided to put "Fire" on both sides. Bob, my contact at the production company, pointed out that no matter which side of the record a radio DJ goes to play, he can't miss.