Harlan Howard, one of the most prolific songwriters in Nashville’s history, once said that country music is ‘Three Chords and the Truth’. The same phrase was popularized by U2 who performed it in their version of Bob Dylan’s, All Along the Watchtower. The line goes: “All I got is a red guitar, three chords and the truth.” This statement seems to sum up U2’s nature perfectly – and that of a lot of other bands as well. Music is about more than slick production, a pretty face, and some publicity. If you throw enough money into advertising and good press, just about anything will sell. Music is about raw power, energy, excitement, and truth – not money. In fact, some of Rock’s most important albums were recorded on a shoestring budget.
Back in 1975, Tom Scholz began recording music in his basement studio. The result of those basement recordings became the foundation of one of the greatest classic rock albums of all time, Boston’s self titled debut album. The recordings were good enough that Epic studios signed the Scholz and his band mates to a record deal – and they insisted they re-record everything in a proper studio. Of course, Scholz would have none of that. He sent his band mates to the studios in LA to lay a few tracks, and he recorded everything else in his Boston area basement. The result was a low budget record that was both a commercial and critical success. The album has gone on to sell over 17 million copies in the US alone.
In December 1988 and January 1989, Nirvana held several recording sessions at Reciprocal Recording Studios in Seattle, WA. The result was their first full album, Bleach. This record was not a critical or commercial upon its release. In fact, it was not until after Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994 that it hit the top of the charts. However, the album was important to Nirvana’s growth as a band. Bleach gave Nirvana a full length album to tour behind. Their subsequent tours laid the foundation for the album Nevermind, which changed the face of Rock. Today, Bleach remains an important piece of Nirvana’s discography. The total cost of the recording sessions: $606.17… of borrowed money.
One of Rock’s highest selling debut albums of the 90’s was recorded in a home studio. Creed’s My Own Prison was recorded and produced in a friend’s Florida home studio for the cost of $6,000. The album received some local radio play before they band was signed to the major record label Wind-Up Records. My Own Prison went on to sell 6 million copies, and launched Creed into superstar status.
These three albums all share several common threads. They were the debut album for groups who had passion and talent, but not a lot of money. But they had talent and a dream. They begged, borrowed, and pooled their resources to follow their dream, and change their lives, and the face of Rock & Roll forever.
Patrick is the author of Cash Money Life, a blog about personal finance, career management, and self-improvement. He served in the United States Air Force, has traveled to over 35 countries, and is a fantasy baseball champion. He is an active lender at Prosper.