Musicians and recording studios know the pattern well: write, record, tour; write, record, tour.
The coronavirus pandemic has completely interrupted that cycle this year, making it impossible to tour and, for a while at least, impossible to professionally record.
For several months, studios like Modern Day Music in Clifton Park and White Lake Music & Post in Colonie couldn’t have any artists in the studio. Some, like Starling Studios of Saratoga Springs and Blue Sky Music Studios in Delmar, have still not had artists back in the studio yet this year.
To get by, each has had to shift its focus.
“You’ve got three choices in a dire situation. Quit, come up with a strategy to survive and skate by, or see if there’s an opportunity to find any advantage in it and put your eggs in that basket,” said David Bourgeois, co-owner of White Lake Music & Post.
When the pandemic started impacting the Capital Region this spring, the recording studio and record label couldn’t bring any new projects on board and had to lay off two of its 16 employees.
“We took a big financial hit. We’re handling it, I think we’re going to be okay,” Bourgeois said.
They also had to delay the release of a Jocelyn & Chris album and tour, which was originally scheduled to be released in June. This marks the first summer in several years that Bourgeois isn’t on tour with the brother-sister duo, visiting radio stations across the country and performing at music festivals. While it’s a strange feeling, there is an upside.
“The advantage right now for musicians is they have an opportunity to reflect on their work and make their work incredible . . . You can look at that one song and say ‘You know, I don’t like the bridge in that song. Maybe we should rethink that.’ It’s kind of cool,” Bourgeois said.
White Lake started to welcome artists back into the studio earlier this summer, with new safety restrictions. Musicians have to answer a questionnaire before entering the studio and they must wear a mask while walking around. Each musician uses a new pop screen for their microphones and sanitary covers are placed on each pair of headphones.
“From a musicians standpoint, we’re back at it, working under clear state guidelines, which is very helpful to us and the musicians are so thrilled to be recording,” Bourgeois said.
In Clifton Park, Modern Day Music is experiencing a similar reaction from artists.
According to general manager Cailin Schneider, the sudden closure of the studio this spring was tough on a lot of local artists.
“We had people prepared for months in advance . . . and then they’d have to cancel. That’s tough because they have to keep that practice up to be able to get ready three months later.
We had to cancel all of our sessions for about three months,” Schneider said.
The studio and music school was able to reopen in July and it’s brought in local artists and has even shifted some of its student programs that would normally focus on performing, to focus on recording instead.
“What’s great about the studio is you can social distance in there since we do have space and most of our artists are just standalone singer-songwriter. We have our vocal booth and they’re separate from the engineer and they can just talk through the headphones and no one’s coming into contact with each other, which is awesome,” Schneider said.
Lately, there’s been an influx of artists scheduling recording sessions at the studio.
“With the quarantine, a lot of people have written music at home, spent that extra time making songs and preparing. [They’re] ready to record what they have been working on during quarantine,” Schneider said.
One such artist is Cassie Cenzano, a 16-year-old Scotia-Glenville High School senior.
“In the beginning of COVID, when there was nothing to do, I started writing a little bit more. It’s a great thing to do during these times,” Cenzano said.
She’s been a student at Modern Day Music for about nine years, taking vocal and guitar lessons and joining the school’s band program.
Last week, she headed to the studio to record a track from what will be her self-titled debut album. The song, called “Light,” is a tribute to her grandmother, who passed away, and was co-written with her vocal coach Katie Johnson.
“I’m excited. I’ve been going in the studio for a while now, doing demo tapes. The learning process is amazing,” Cenzano said.
Inspired by artists like Adele, Stevie Nicks and Kelly Clarkson, Cenzano says that she writes songs that people can relate to. She plans to graduate from high school a year early and move down to Nashville, Tennessee to attend college and pursue a career in music. The album, which she’s hoping to release later this year, is a step toward that goal.
It’s a step that some artists might be finding challenging during this time, according to Jason Brown, owner of Starling Studios, which works with bands like Candy Ambulance, Belle Skinner, and others.
“I think you’re going to find different responses from different people,” Brown said. “Some people have been writing a ton of material and other people have just gone into a rut and I think a lot of people are saying ‘Well, you’ve got all this free time now. Why aren’t you writing the best album you’ve ever written?’ Well, when the world is falling apart around you, it’s not that easy to write an album.”
At the start of this year, Brown, who also teaches a SUNY Schenectady, was scheduled to work with a few Africa-based production companies. He was working in Tanzania in January, though when news of COVID-19 started spreading, his work there was put on hold and he returned to Saratoga Springs.
In the ensuing months, he’s shifted focus. His studio is a home project studio, lacking the space of a larger commercial studio. Partly because it would be difficult to maintain social distancing and other safety measures with big bands, he’s turned to projects like audiobook and podcast editing, as well as mastering.
“I think it’s forced a lot of studios to look at things that they can do outside of music . . . It has opened up a lot of ways of thinking,” Brown said.
Scott Apicelli, the owner of Blue Sky Music Studios, has been focusing on post-production work in the last few months.
“People have dropped off stuff to be mastered, or there were projects I was working on that needed to be edited or mixed . . . We do a good amount of transfers, which people have been dropping off as well. It’s certainly not like it was,” Apicelli said.
However, he anticipates that more artists are going to be scheduling recording sessions later this year.
“As things ease up, I anticipate a boom because we have . . . a good portion of the public has been accumulating money with the unemployment. There probably is a bunch of hunkering down and writing songs, when things are officially open again, I anticipate people will have material and more money to do something,” Apicelli said.
That’s certainly what Bourgeois hopes will happen as well, though the possibility that some artists will give up still looms large.
“Artists are not making money. That’s the downside. [The] gig economy is tough. You’ve really got to hustle,” Bourgeois said.
“Musicians and artists do the things they do because they dream about it and they love it and they’re proud of it. So it is a tragedy if a musician gives up over this. It’s a tragedy because they’re not just losing income they’re losing a dream. It also robs us as a community of that art . . . and that’s awful.”
He added that people need to support local artists so that their potential isn’t stoppered entirely by these unprecedented times.