The Vanishing of The Magic Shop
So last year HBO ran a series called Sonic Highways which was a documentary of the Foo Fighters making an album of the same name. The premise was they traveled around the US to some pretty iconic studios and recorded a song at each. The last studio featured was a New York studio called The Magic Shop, I won’t get into rehashing the whole episode, but the gist was they didn’t think they could stay around much longer because of the costs involved, especially given New York real estate prices. Well the owner Steve Rosenthal was correct and despite Dave Grohl stepping up to try and back the studio by buying the building, the buildings co-op ownership turned down their offer and as a result The Magic Shop is closing.
OK, so what’s that got to do with us? Sonic Highways was for me the start of PSP, watching that series (I can’t recommend it highly enough) re-ignited my desire to play music with people. That last little “with people” part is the important part of that sentence, and I’ll get to that in a bit but, part of the reason places like The Magic Shop are closing down these days is because no one goes to them anymore because it’s way cheaper and easier to do it on your own. I/we are totally guilty of that, we’re getting ready to record one of our songs and start the process of getting a few more to that point, but as part of that process I’ve started assembling my own studio instead of going to a place like The Magic Shop, and seeing that article today made me more than a little sad, and thinking that we should go to a place like that instead.
Tnat leads me back the “with people” part. Years ago I had a friend that owned a studio named Musty Music, it wasn’t iconic, it wasn’t around for decades, it didn’t host the music elite like The Magic Shop did, but it was amazing place to visit and hang out at. Why? People. People would go there to record and practice, and interact with each other, which led to learning and becoming better, it was it’s own little community. Today we lock ourselves in our home studios, some of us write, play, record and produce completely by ourselves, with no one else to hear, listen and offer input on the process, and I can’t help but think to myself is the music worse off for it? Sure it makes it easier for anybody/everybody to make music, but do we lose something in that process?
In another Dave Grohl documentary Sound City (another must watch) made about the closing of a studio with that name, Josh Homme said something about music that really stuck with me, I’ll paraphrase a bit here, but what he was saying was there was a magic that happens when people create music together, it often goes unsaid, you hear a piece someone is playing and something in your mind finds a place for you to fit into there, a conversation begins, not with words but with notes and movements. It can really be magic, I’ve been part of that feeling, it’s a high better than any drug because you feel connected to the people you are creating with in a way that seems pure, honest and beautiful. Places like The Magic Shop were a part of that process, because they captured that moment through the ears of an engineer and a producer, and in their capturing and translating of that moment, they added that special something to the art which was created.
So today, I’m reflecting on the closing of The Magic Shop, a place I only visited through the eyes of Dave Grohl and his series, and to be honest it makes me a little sad because in my mind, today there’s one place less in this world for musicians to get together and create magic.