Before Oct. 20, The Stairwells’ Spotify page featured three albums to listen to. One of their songs, “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” has over 6 million streams, and they have almost 100,000 monthly listeners. Visit it now, though, and you can see that The Stairwells have released their fourth album, entitled “Push It Further,” for people around the world to hear.
Before The Stairwells, one of the College of William and Mary’s many a capella groups, could even start thinking about the recording process, they had to come up with a track list. “Push It Further” features covers of other artists’ songs, but the group likes to make them unique. Some arrangements on the album combine songs to create new mashups and put a twist on well-known melodies, while others change the key or give the song a new sound.
Alex Hubbard ’20 emphasized the group effort that went into choosing the songs the group wanted to sing on the album.
“Any of our members are encouraged to write arrangements of literally whatever song you want,” Hubbard said. “It just depends on what people want to arrange. Once people have arrangements finished, we turn them in to the group, and when we’re ready to learn a new song we take all of the arrangements that we have available to learn at that time, and then we’ll listen to them and vote on which one we want.”
But how is an album recorded? Stairwells member Quentin Andersen ’21 described what the group had to do before even stepping foot in the recording studio.
“Before we actually recorded the album, we all went to Swem for three or four Tuesdays in a row to record our scratch track, as a group, and when we have that we put that into the computer that he’s [Clayton Perry, the man who runs the recording studio they used] recording with, and that channels to your headphones while you’re in the recording studio, so you can sing into the mic but also hear the other people singing and hear the actual starting note and the melody,” Anderson said.
Without the scratch track, it would be extremely difficult for those singing to know where they were in the song.
Once they completed recording their scratch track, it was time to actually go to the recording studio. In this case, the recording studio The Stairwells used is called Guest Room Recordings and is run out of Williamsburg by a former Stairwell, Clayton Perry ‘12.
“He runs it out of his house,” Anderson said. “He has a studio in his house, and he hosts us. He does a really good job, and he knows our sound and what we want, so he can mix it all properly to make it sound the way we want. We started recording in early February of last semester, and we didn’t finish until about April. We were going every Tuesday, and we would record on Sundays as well.”
When they recorded in the studio, the whole group wouldn’t sing at the same time. Instead, out of the four or five different parts included in a song, the two or three people who sang each part would record them separately. According to Hubbard, the quality of each recording would change frequently.
“Probably in total we’d record the same part like 10 to 15 times,” Hubbard said. “Sometimes, if there was one take that was really good, we’d do a couple more just to make sure, but it just depends on how on our game we were that day.”
In the past, The Stairwells have paid about $500 or $600 dollars to record, but for this album they were able to pay more because they had made enough money off of their previous album. The extra money meant better equipment and a way to show their gratitude to Guest Room Recordings.
Once they finished recording each part, the parts were combined and mixed by Perry to create each song on the album. When they had the finished product, the next step was to publish it.
“There’s a service that we use where basically we send the album in to them, and you can set a release date for the album to go up,” Hubbard said. “We pay them a certain amount of money, and then they publish the album on Spotify for you.”
Now that the album is on Spotify, each time a song is played The Stairwells earn about .007 cents. This may seem like a miniscule number, but it adds up. Another benefit of the album being released on Spotify is that Spotify will include The Stairwells’ music in its algorithms for personalized playlists, meaning anyone could get introduced to the group’s music.
President Ben Fox ’19 was studying abroad while the album was being recorded but still managed to make an impact.
“I got elected president of The Stairwells from afar and then helped facilitate this album being put up on various digital distribution services,” Fox said. “I also made the album artwork, which is really fun.”
Overall, the process and eventual product is something the members of The Stairwells really loved and are proud of.
“The entire recording process has a fond place in my memory,” Hubbard said. “Even while I was there, and it was stressful during school to have to take six hours out of a Sunday to record, it was a lot of fun.”
The Stairwells newest album, as well as their previous ones, is available on Spotify, Apple Music and Youtube.