Hell, It Turns Out, IS a Bad Place to Be: Finding a Rehearsal Space

People who know me know that I am not particularly "precious" when it comes to cleanliness. I’ve been known to eat fried chicken that I drunkenly left sitting on a stack of LP’s in my living room overnight... three days later. My desk at work features such interesting detritus as pistachio shells, snapped guitar strings, and at any given moment, at least seven mostly empty Polar seltzer bottles. My car smells like your grandmother if she was wearing way too much old lady perfume and binging on Taco Bell chalupas. And thus, I assure you, dear readers, that I am not coming from a hygienically holier-than-thou place when I warn you of the horror that is the practice space.

Now that you’ve got your bandmates, it’s time to find somewhere that you can actually practice (i.e. get together to drink Natty Light while yelling at each other.) You have basically two standard options, each with their own pitfalls: practicing in someone’s basement or garage, or renting your own rehearsal studio.

The Basement/Garage route: the pro’s here are obvious. It’s free and convenient and, if you’re really lucky, involves the free scamming of Bagel Bites and grape drink. The con’s are less obvious, but are significant. First and foremost, other people who are not going to be super tolerant of your late-night buffoonery. This results in awesome scenarios involving your bassist’s dad in a charity golf tournament tee-shirt and briefs yelling about how the last time he checked, you weren’t "Dan Matthews" and that the noise stops now. Although this is guaranteed to lead to songs entitled "No Fair" and "Authority is a Lie," it’s not a great long-term situation for your band.

On top of that, it will always be the home of one of your band members and the practice space of the rest. Given musicians’ tendency towards self-aggrandizing behavior and bombastic antics, this is almost guaranteed, at some point, to result in assertions like "Oh yeah? Well if my bass playing is so ‘out-of-touch’ then why don’t you get the hell out of MY house! And don’t even think of grabbing any Bagel Bites on the way out!" Since no band needs more internal strife, I strongly recommend option 2, the rented rehearsal studio. If, however, that isn’t an option because you are too poor or because you live in one of those towns in the Midwest in which being Rhubarb Queen is actually a sign of status and where heavy metal is referred to as "The Devil’s Dance Party," then I suggest laying some ground rules early on:

  1. Set strict guidelines for the hours that you can practice in the basement or garage and stick to them. Go so far as posting the hours on your refrigerator so that parents, roommates, life partners, etc. will be hard-pressed to complain.
  2. Pay some meager rent or do something nice for the owners of your fancy digs, once a month or more. Also repeatedly assure them that when you are famous, they will be thanked in the liner notes. EVERYONE wants to be thanked in the liner notes.
  3. Sound-proof the area as much as possible. Old blankets, carpet scraps, and foam work well enough that your neighbors might actually buy your argument that the lyric you are screaming is "trucks do it with class." Alternately, you can go with...

The Rented Rehearsal Studio: let me weave you a yarn, a foul, repugnant yarn, of VAGIANT’s illustrious history with practice spaces. Our very first practice space had its own history, having been home to the Model Sons, Breaking Wheel, and at least a hundred other bands before us. It was a long, narrow room, with just enough room for our gear and us, if we were willing to practice standing on top of our amps. It was decent -- not pristine, but decent. Over time, however, we learned the truth about rehearsal spaces: They. Are. Gross. We moved in around November of 2005, and soon enough, we had a heavy snowstorm in Boston. Due to the flat-roof construction of our building and us being on the top floor, each time it would snow, when the snow melted, the ceiling would leak - not enough to actually damage our gear, which we kept away from the door, but enough so that every snowfall, the rugs in the room would get soaked. Our rugs, having endured the Model Sons, Breaking Wheel, and at least a hundred other bands before us, did not smell great anyway, but now they were mildewed. And thus, the beginning of The Smell was upon us.

Our shared bathroom was down the hall. Because so few women practiced in the building, the ladies’ room would be expected to be in significantly better shape than the mens’ room. Not so, given that the men in the building seemed to prefer the quiet solace of the ladies room for "doing serious business." Also musicians do weird things in the wee hours of the morning in their practice spaces. The bathroom was often used for fire extinguisher practice or other general debauchery. In addition, there was neither toilet paper, nor soap, nor hot water, so we generally tried to avoid having to use the facilities... ever. On those rare occasions where we couldn’t hold it, I would return from the bathroom saying things like, "Stall 1 is only submerged case of Miller Lite territory today, but Stall 2 seems to have been used to slaughter a buffalo." Sexy!

A few months later in the space, we had an interview with Northeast Performer, a magazine that I considered "swank" because they had color pages. Yowzas! I decided that it would be a funny idea to insist that the reporter drink a shot for every question asked of us, and that when he could no longer continue drinking, the interview would be over. When the reporter arrived, a delicate young indie boy wearing a knit cap who probably had a girlfriend named Sandrine or Zoe, we thrust our plan upon him. Unfortunately he had to drive home afterwards, so I amended the plan: I would drink a shot for every question he asked us. By the sixth question or so, questions like "Who are your influences?"were met with uniquely crafted answers from me, such as "Beyoncé. And your mom." When the interview was over, I’m told I threatened the reporter repeatedly and then promptly passed out on the floor. I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening puking into the unlined trash can. We never really managed to get that smell out of the space... The Smell was growing.

Bathroom stall drummer - Fish McGill

The Smell...

When summer rolled around, we learned that the air conditioning we had been guaranteed only worked in the hallways. Combined with Boston humidity, body odor, and carpet stank, the heat made walking into our space feel like walking into one’s own body. We frequently ended up practicing in our bras and underwear, which may sound like a scene from a late night no-no movie, but which, trust me, wasn’t. The Smell became epic.

Sooner or later, we decided that we were too broke to continue paying the rent on our space by ourselves. I’d tell you what we paid, but given that it’s probably more than the annual cost of your college tuition, I’ll spare you the details. We managed to convince some other local bands to split the cost of the rent with us and alternate nights. This went relatively well until The Great Futon War of 2007.

At some point, my drummer LoWreck came into possession of a free double-decker futon. Given the space constraints, she felt that it was the ideal addition to our space: we would finally have somewhere to sit down (having long-ago gotten rid of the twin mattress that we sat on, due to the incredible likelihood that it was flea and/or bedbug-infested) and we could stack gear and LoWreck’s spare drum kit on the top bunk. Hooray, good news all around. Unfortunately the futon was not well received by our space-mates, largely due to the fact that we stupidly did not ask them about it in advance, and partially due to the fact that their drummer was a total jerk. The rest of the band was awesome and we remain good friends with them, but the drummer really had a severe case of butt weasels. His passive aggressive response to the intrusion of the futon was to attempt to enrage LoWreck, a woman already prone to fits of adorable violence and whose face starts to look like a scary red Jack-o-Lantern if said drummer is even mentioned.

We would walk into the space to find her kick pedal hidden in the ceiling tiles, "helpful notes" scrawled on the whiteboard, and once, his damp chonies sitting atop her snare. Eventually we gained another permanent resident: a rat that our space mates named "Spider Mouse"due to his nightmarish abilities to climb the soundproofing and thus scuttle up next to you during a bitchin’ solo. Although none of the members of VAGIANT ever saw Spider Mouse, I spent the majority of our practices shouting "Oh my God, what was that?" and trying to keep my eyes on the walls as much as possible. It’s not that I’m afraid of rats, per se; I’m just afraid of anything which shares my dwelling space that I don’t anticipate being there. If my apartment were suddenly infested with baby chicks, I would be terrified of them. After one weekend during which Spider Mouse was particularly "prolific" and our amps were quite thoroughly covered in droppings, we decided it was time to move out. I’m told that the first thing our space mates did upon our departure was to gleefully smash the futon to bits in the street.

We now rent a space in the "nice studios" up the street, which are essentially the same although there is toilet paper in the bathrooms. We split a room with our friends Rock City Crimewave and an unnamed older guitar player with expensive gear who we refer to only as "Guitah Dood" who rocks the hell out once a week. Aside from the creepy maintenance guy who often knocks on our door and asks if we want to come to the basement to see his kittens (and whom Smokey calls "Stranger Danger") it’s a pretty ideal set-up. Thus, here’s a list of guidelines to help keep your space tolerable enough that you can actually get work done in there:

  1. If you’re sharing a space, make sure that you really trust the band you’re sharing with. Don’t ever hook up with any of them, because they have access to your most precious equipment and a scorned musician knows how to hit you where it hurts.
  2. Get renter’s insurance. It’s really cheap in most states, probably under $20 a month, and can help protect you against theft or damage from ceiling leaks, fires, or crazy musicians you’ve hooked up with.
  3. Make strict rules about what gear can be shared and what gear is off limits. It helps to actually stick a post-it note on off-limits gear warning that you are too psychotic to handle any knobs being fiddled with. If your space mates’ gear is off limits, don’t use it, even if your amp is acting flaky or theirs has cooler Tolex than yours.
  4. Don’t get a futon.
  5. Get a working fridge and keep it stocked. If you drink your space mates’ libations, restock them.
  6. Stranger danger.

Rehearsal dumps - Fish McGill

Neutral territory, albeit gross.

Your rehearsal space is unlikely to ever be pristine, and that’s okay. The important thing is that your rehearsal space is a neutral territory where you can meet and make music, and which reflects your style as a band. And if that’s true of our history with rehearsal spaces, then my band is really, really, really disgusting. Until next time, dear readers, may your smells be limited and your feuds few.