Dusty, cobweb-filled music halls and empty, silent streets are what remain after a year-long suspension of live music. Live performances are often a musician’s bread and butter, as they can be a source of income and inspiration, as well as a way of life. But in the last year, artists have had to search elsewhere for the creative capital that performing their music provided.
At the start of San Francisco’s lockdown in March and April 2020, USF student band 7-11 Jesus recorded their debut album, Tree Dream, in their garage. Living together in SF and recording in their garage was a necessity in the production of their album, as they could not get studio time during the pandemic.
Vocalist and guitarist of 7-11 Jesus, August Darula, who is finishing his masters in education, said, “Recording the album itself was somewhat difficult as we all had to learn how to do some more acute sound engineering stuff. After a lot of googling and YouTube-watching we were able to find out how to best utilize the equipment we were given. We all had some experience doing this but using eight mics on a drum set was initially beyond our collective skills.”
The band was able to obtain recording equipment from a record label based in Oakland, Slang Church, after posting about their need on social media. Darula said, “Even though there were some challenges to recording in the garage, it was overall a great learning experience.”
7-11 Jesus was able to obtain high quality recordings of their audio without paying a fortune by knowing the right people and reaching out to their community.
“For myself, it was clear that you could still get some fairly high-quality recordings without paying a ton of money to use a studio,” Darula said. “It was also really nice to not be rushing through the process because there weren’t any hourly studio rates to haunt us.”
Darula explained that, without the help of Slang Church, they would have had to produce a very lo-fi album, which was not in line with the band’s sound or what they had hoped for.
Beyond access to recording equipment, another obstacle the band faced was recreating the inspiration they usually gained from live performances.
Emma Jacobson ‘20, bassist for 7-11 Jesus, said she has been experimenting with new techniques in order to stay inspired during the pandemic.
“I have been trying to learn how to play new styles of bass and spending time learning bass lines for my favorite songs. It’s been fun trying to imitate sounds that are very different from how I typically play,” Jacobson said, and added that she has been listening to a lot of music in the car, especially the band Nothing.
While 7-11 Jesus had the advantage of living together, for others, the pandemic has made it a good time to finally go solo or work on a personal project.
Olivia “Liv” Castagna, a junior media studies major, was the guitarist for her band Spit Pit before they broke up at the start of 2020. Castagna said Spit Pit broke up simply because the members of the band no longer had time for it, and, since then, Castagna has been trying to get back into writing music, though she has had to battle some writer’s block brought on by the pandemic.
“COVID has changed everything I do when it comes to music. I was about to start a new project with some friends after my band Spit Pit ended right before the pandemic started,” she said. “I haven’t played music with those people ever since and pretty much everything I have done musically has been put on hold.”
Castagna has also been trying to redefine her music by working on solo pieces and experimenting with new sounds and types of music. She said she has been gravitating towards more folk-heavy sounds, as opposed to the punk and grunge music she has made in the past.
Michael Sun, a junior international business major and solo music producer, took the Spring 2021 semester off from school and moved to Los Angeles to find inspiration for his music and integrate himself into the professional world of music production. Since moving, Sun has released a remix of his single “Side Piece”.
Sun said, “I moved to LA to be around more like-minded people and find in-person work in the music industry.” Sun ended up securing an internship with a recording studio called Ice Cream Sound, and said he, “learned a lot more about sound engineering and what it takes to achieve the quality, radio-ready sound that I had desired to attain myself.”
Being in LA has not only given Sun an opportunity to work in the music industry, but has also pushed his sound in a new direction. Experimenting with steadier rhythms and more relaxed tones has opened up a whole new world of musical exploration to Sun. He said he has been much more satisfied and confident with the music he is now creating, simply from the change of pace moving to LA offered. Sun plans on returning to SF in July 2021, just in time for the potential reopening of USF and return to an on-campus music scene.