Community / 5 May 2020

How a professional nine-member band makes music during lockdown

For a band, working from home isn’t as simple… Especially when you’re a nine-piece pro party band!

But it’s had to become the new norm for Jefferson Tuke, one of the leaders of Salt Lake City-based party and event band the Groove Merchants. His focus during this time is keeping his musical muscles moving and staying creative, which is crucial for a professional band in a time where no one knows when live performances will kick off again.

“We’re all artists here and if we stop moving, we die,” he explains, “ but BandLab has given us the ability to reclaim a little bit more of ourselves.”

So how does an eclectic band of nine use BandLab to stay connected and continue making music? Jefferson, who has been in the music industry for two decades, but recently became acquainted with BandLab, jumped into collaborative recording this month and hasn’t looked back.

We had the pleasure of speaking with him to find out how he and the Groove Merchants are staying safe, and still flexing their creative muscles during this unprecedented period.

So tell us, who are the Groove Merchants?

The Groove Merchants” is a party/event band that specialises in corporate entertainment, weddings, conventions and public celebrations. We regularly travel all over the globe, playing for some of the largest companies in the world, celebrity weddings and parties.

We’ve got a total of nine musicians. Up front, we have three singers: myself, my wife Mickelle and her sister Danja. The three of us have almost 20 years of experience singing together and obviously the two sisters have been performing together much longer.

We have two incredible guitarists to really fill out the sound, Nick Petty and Sarven Manguiat. Nick, who introduced us to BandLab, is an amazing young guitarist here in Salt Lake City who, when he is not on stage, teaches guitar at the Salt Lake School of Performing Arts. Sarven, who I met in 2007, impressed me so much as a player AND a person that I brought him into the fold the very second he was available.

In the rhythm section we have Matty Howitz on drums, and my business partner Michael Tobian is on bass. On sax and back-up vocals, we have Stephen Tobian (Mike’s broski), and finally our swiss army knife Marcus Anderson, who plays keys, trombone and trumpet. It’s funny, when Marcus joined us, I had NO IDEA he played keys (an instrument we obviously needed!) I only knew him as a horn player. He, also on occasion, steps up front to rap when we need the crowd to go EXTRA CRAZY!!

We all know it’s a tough time for musicians and creators right now. How are you guys dealing with the massive change?

“MASSIVE” is the right term! With our entire calendar and workload completely wiped out for the foreseeable future, we didn’t really know what to do with ourselves. So, with an abundance of free time on our hands, Mike (Michael Tobian) and I decided to team up to try and help our wide reaching community of musicians by purchasing and delivering “basic necessities” care packages to those who couldn’t leave the house, or really, anyone who needed them. This quickly snowballed and turned into our non-profit THE GROOVE MERCHANTS GIVE BACK, which carries out the same function, but on a much larger level.

As musicians, however, it’s been really tough. Our ability to perform anything live has been completely eliminated so it’s definitely been a challenge. Navigating this new environment with its safety requirements AND keeping our “musical muscles” warm was not an easy thing. Frankly, I wasn’t sure if we’d find a way to be productive. At least until the safety measures were lifted. That’s when Nick suggested BandLab. Within a day, all those problems evaporated. We also had a new, amazing tool to help us get tighter as a band and create some fantastic promotional material!

You mentioned it was guitarist Nick who introduced you to BandLab. How did you go about getting the whole band involved?

Nick is really involved with the teaching community here in Utah and has been active on BandLab for a while. He reached out to me and said “Hey man, I really want the band to create something virtually to keep our legs moving,” and he mentioned BandLab. Sarven, our other guitarist, knew about the app too.

So, I downloaded the app on my phone and gave it a look-see. I was blown away! I immediately got the band on a group thread. I knew I needed everyone in the band to be on this app, and thanks to my slightly overbearing personality, within the next 24 hours the whole band was on BandLab. We were all connected again, ready to make some music!

I knew I needed everyone in the band to be on this app, and thanks to my overbearing personality, within the next 24 hours the whole band was on BandLab. 

I was so amazed with the functionality of the app. One of the hallmarks of the Groove Merchants is our harmonies. I’ve always been really picky about getting our vocals to sound professional. I was able to record, mix and edit everything really quickly and precisely just using my phone. As soon as I got the vocals sounding smooth, I uploaded them so the band could see that this was a really fun, but also professional app. They jumped on it and it took off from there!

Can you take us through how the band uses BandLab?

Personally, I do everything on my phone. All the recording of my tracks and mixing, I do on the BandLab mobile app. So far, we have just been using our phone headset mics. We’ve got several really nice microphones at home but we wanted to see what we could get out of the app first without using any of that.

If we were producing an entire album, we’d use more complex hardware but the idea here is – look at what you can produce if you need to record say, in your car? Say you’re on a road trip, like many musicians are, and you need to lay something down. With this app, you can! AND you can produce to a professional level? That’s nuts!

My two guitarists are using BandLab via web as well. They can record parts into another DAW and seamlessly upload them as wav files to BandLab.

What do your collaborative sessions on BandLab look like?

So, we start with a reference track of the song we want to cut. In this case, Hansen’s “MMMbop”. Next, we nail down the right BPM and key and put down a 100 BPM rhythm guitar track. Next the vocals. The three of us lay down our individual tracks one at a time, mixing on our phones as we go.

Once those are finished, we layer each instrument one at a time, again, mixing as we go. It was really fun to hear new Revisions and listen to what these guys put down. One of the things I really like is that we are able to communicate and give notes directly within BandLab. It made it really easy to talk as a group while we produced this cut. We’re starting a new project today and I expect our workflow will just get faster and faster.

Another thing that’s exciting is the studio level sound manipulation the app allows us. We all got to throw on our producer hats and play around with the mix. It’s stimulated a TON of creativity!

Do you treat BandLab like a rehearsal space? What else has BandLab been able to do for you and the band?

We haven’t used BandLab so much as a rehearsal space as we have a virtual/remote recording studio but I’m sure we will soon!

…BandLab has bridged a gap that I didn’t know how to cross. It’s allowed us to do what we love to do during a time where we have literally been told we can’t.

In terms of recording, I’ve been a professional recording artist and performer for over twenty years and I’ve recorded in some of the biggest studios in the country. What we have been able to get from BandLab has really amazed me. As I spent time playing on the app, I started to realise that I could record, mix and produce with just as much ease and control on BandLab as I could in any major recording studio.

The product I can produce with BandLab is significantly better than what I could get out of studios ten years ago. Granted, it depends on the production team’s level of ability but with just a little time is spent to familiarise, BandLab has the capability to do anything and everything I need in a recording studio. It’s my candy store!

If I can find a silver lining to the pandemic we’re going through, it would be that the introduction to BandLab has bridged a gap that I didn’t know how to cross. It’s allowed us to do what we love to do during a time where we have literally been told we can’t. I am CONSTANTLY on the app!! It’s the only thing I need on my phone…..AND PICTURES OF MY SON!!! But I’m quarantined with him so he’s always there!

What are some of the tools that you’ve found especially useful on BandLab?

I’ve been describing BandLab as a musician’s version of an extremely professional photo editor app. It has all kinds of presets for sound filtering that sound amazing! You can also micro adjust the sound too if you want to put your own flavour on it. It’s like a compressed version of Pro Tools that fits on your phone.

For example, If I don’t like the sound of my voice recorded in my bedroom, I’m able to scroll through all these different effects and filters that can turn a very raw product into something very polished. Also, BandLab is so user-friendly that a complete novice could easily experiment and quickly get comfortable with it.

Lastly, I would say the ability to collaborate with bandmates inside the cloud is about as perfect an idea as I can think of. That has filled a big need for us.

For musicians out there who cannot meet up with their bandmates in person, what is one piece of advice you’d give them during this trying time?

I would tell anybody who has a musical bone in their body to download BandLab immediately. Even if It cost a hundred dollars. But it doesn’t. IT’S FREE!!

We’re all in lockdown right now and anyone who’s in a band has a love for music. A band is special. It’s a culmination of different individuals and sounds coming together to make one. We can’t play live just yet but BandLab can help musicians do the next best thing from their own home. Also, BandLab is SOOOO easy to use! I think it would be simple for people without a lot of musical experience to find their own love of creating by just playing around on the app.

I would tell anybody who has a musical bone in their body to download BandLab immediately.

It’s my belief that music is one of the most important things in this crazy world and BandLab has opened up so much opportunity for people who can’t get to a recording studio or purchase thousands of dollar’s worth of equipment. Turn off the Netflix! Create something sexy while you’re stuck at home! In our case, we’re doing our own version of covers. It’s a lot of fun!

What’s next for yourself and the Groove Merchants?

Well, we’d love to start doing shows again!! Corporate shows might be slow to bounce back due to their large crowd requirements, but we anticipate the wedding space being more active and are looking forward to celebrating with some crazy Newly-weds again!!

Until things get back to normal, I would love nothing more than to have THE GROOVE MERCHANTS GIVE BACK gain enough steam and receive enough requests for help that we can employ our “out of work” musicians in Utah as well as musicians all over the country through the foundations efforts during this difficult time where gigs are few and far between.

Whatever the world looks like, and I’m sure there’s going to be some major shifts, the Groove Merchants are looking forward to being out there and making music!


You can check out the Groove Merchants by heading over to their BandLab page here. If you’re keen to help out THE GROOVE MERCHANTS GIVE BACK cause, you can send a donation to them at their GoFundMe page.

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