Spacebomb: History of a process, part 1

By fostering a similar value system that held true for records in the first half of the twentieth century, Spacebomb Records is embarking on the road less traveled for record labels on this side of the millennium. This is part one of the history of that process.

The standard Spacebomb Records introduction begins like this:

Centered around a house band (think Stax or Motown), a distinct cast of contributing auxiliary musicians (think Phil Spector’s wrecking crew), division of labor (think Brill Building), and strong and unified musical and artistic statements (think Blue Note), SPACEBOMB is founded on old models, combining the creative structures and recording techniques of great record labels of the 20th century with the the DIY revolution of the last 40 years and the current digital music phenomenon.

Truth be told, even though that makes sense to me, and probably to a large amount of musicians and niche fans, I’m not quite sure that it does to everyone else. And though Spacebomb loves musicians and niche fans, it is thoroughly important to me that everyone understands what exactly we do. And ESPECIALLY what it is exactly that we do differently. Because we are not your average record label; we are, as we say, “combining the creative structures and recording techniques of great record labels of the 20th century with the the DIY revolution of the last 40 years”.

But what does that mean?

The first practical sound recording device was invented by Thomas Edison in 1877. By the early 1900s the “industry” was taking shape, selling the hottest songs and performing acts to a general public that was eager to indulge themselves in this newfound technology. And this new technology — as most new technology is — was very expensive. You had to have recording equipment and recording space and manufacturing equipment and manufacturing space and all these things were so BIG and made of very complicated moving parts. But, a few adventurous entrepreneurs saw for themselves a great opportunity. New technology was creating a new product that could be sold. So they went about fronting the significant overhead cost of making this product and tried their darndest to sell sell sell to the eager ears of the world.

Like I have said, making records was expensive! So, accordingly, the bosses wanted to make records in the fastest way they could, so as to not incur much cost. It turned out that the fastest way to make records was kinda like putting a car together on the assembly line. First, you find a song that you think everyone loves. To do this you hire a songwriter, or you use an old classic, or you think about using one of the songs from the latest Broadway hit. Second, you decide which lovely lady or handsome gentleman you would like to sing this song. Then you give the song to an arranger. The arranger writes all the parts that the musicians will play, thinking very long and hard about what parts would be best. Lastly, everyone arrives at the studio: all the musicians, the arranger, and the singer. They set up in one big room with a few mics wisely placed in the most important places. After a few rehearsals with all the players — who had certainly never played this music before — things are ready to go. Maybe it would take a few minutes or maybe a few hours, but at the end of the day the song was completely finished. And most days you would complete a handful of songs, maybe even an entire record!

This process required significant preparation. There was no time for the arrangement to be sloppy, or for the saxophone player to play his rhythms incorrectly, or for the singer to be out of tune. If ONE person messed up, the whole thing was a wash because everyone was playing at the same time. Your arranger had to be brilliant and your musicians top notch, your forethought wise and your mistakes minimal. More or less this was simulating a live performance which generally has the same criteria, except the critical difference that a live performance is heard once, and a recorded performance is heard forever. Extra precision was optimal.

In addition to helping the bottom line significantly (which never goes out of style), this period in the recording industry had many “industry standards” that have gone the way of the dodo. A high level of musicianship, a significant amount of arranging forethought, precise large ensemble play, recording within strict time limits and technological boundaries, and — maybe most importantly — fostering a musical community that was the backbone to the artistic output of their employers (the record labels).

All those things have historically been viewed as the way that Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, or Nat King Cole made their records. But, although that is true, none of those industry standards have anything to do with “style”, only “process”.

I, and the rest of the Spacebomb family, strongly believe that process is flexible, bendable, and malleable and can be bent and twisted and turned all on end to cover a variety of styles. We have history to teach us and — most importantly — a musical community amongst us that is incredibly talented, courageous, and imaginative. They are our backbone. By encouraging that and fostering (as best we can) a similar value system that held true for records in the first half of the century, we are embarking on the road less traveled for labels on this side of the millennium.

Although I don’t think that “process” is, in the end, a reason to listen to — or especially — buy records, I do think that it is sometimes just down-right interesting. Seeing both sides of the curtain can illuminate any sort of production: movies, theatre, visual art, etc. I sincerely hope that sharing some of our inspirations and models will be both down-right interesting and will illuminate our vision, making it both understandable and a compelling story to follow… at least until you hear some of our music and decide for yourself whether any of this makes a difference!

Part 2 to follow in the coming weeks.

Spacebomb presents Glows in the Dark and Ombak at Balliceaux on Wednesday, March 16, at 10pm. $5, 21+. Balliceaux is located at 203 N. Lombardy St. in Richmond, VA. Visit balliceauxrva.com for more info.

Visit Spacebomb online at spacebombrecords.com and follow @spcebmb on Twitter

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Matthew E. White

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