This afternoon I went to the local Sound Studio Noah to record vocals for two songs on my new album, tentatively titled néomarxisme II — De La Soul is Dead. My music is self-financed, created mostly in my bedroom on an iBook and a Mbox, and this would be a slightly interesting biographical detail if it weren’t for the fact that almost every single other contemporary musician records in his/her own studio — besides, of course, that growing army of hacky UK angular gloom acts inexplicably rewarded with a never-ending supply of major label contracts and NME banner headlines. Also, my debut mini-album Kyoshu Nostalgia pretty much sounded like it was recorded on a laptop with a ¥0 budget, so I don’t really deserve any points for my thrift. But for this new project, I’m making efforts to improve the sound quality without increasing expenditures, and instead of recording vocals in my extremely street-noise drenched, echo-y room on Setagaya-ku’s Ambulance Alley, I’m throwing down the ¥1000 an hour to get some peace and quiet at the rehearsal studio down the street.
Sound Studio Noah is a chain of rehearsal spaces littered across Tokyo (and beyond, perhaps) that caters to amateur and semi-professional bands. The geography and architecture of Japanese life forbid the kind of dank garage practice I experienced in my teenage years, so everyone has to rent these spaces to really rock it. For a relatively modest fee, you get a room with space-age double-lock noise-proof doors, anti-echo padding, guitar amps, bass amps, a mixer, mics, and a PA — all professional quality. The small vocal booth today was eerily quiet, a certain form of freeter musician luxury.
Walking down daily to the train station area, I am always passing Noah’s customers carrying their instruments in gig bags and their effects pedals in specially-sized black cases with silver lining. (Throwing everything into a backpack is a big Japanese Orthopraxy Rock no-no.) My worry about these high-quality, low-price studios and the amazing avalanche of gear at your local amateur Japanese rock club is that it seems to breed a minor moral hazard. With enough money, practicing and gigging are painless — a little too easy, if you ask me. There is zero sacrifice required for the art, and that means the whole field is open to a lot of people who treat music as if it were a sporting event — practice, practice, practice, invite friends to the big event, play your songs only to your friends, go get drunk afterwards. I think 90% of the bands I see are having way more fun that the audience.
Now this is the dilemma of our era: Making music is surely pleasant, and we are blessed that almost everyone has a chance to make music of the quality we hear in the mass media. But do we all have the right to clutter the market (and ultimately the culture at large) with our creations? I know my mom likes eating bread that she has made in her own breadmaking machine, but I’m not sure she is obsessed with finding a distributor for selling her bread to a wider market. Why can’t indie music exist at that level? Why does the ease of making music not push players into seeing their actions as a self-rewarding activity unrelated to “getting a record deal” or “becoming a star”? Who thinks that being on a weekend football team will lead to being the next Joe Namath?
And don’t think that I am not pondering the same questions in regards to my own musical output: If I enjoy the act of making music, why do I get so starved for outside validation? Why can’t I eat my own indie bread? If this album creation is so enjoyable and costs me so little, why in the world do I put a price sticker on it at the end of the day?