Words by Jim Testa
When I wanted to start my own fanzine back in 1982, I had paper, a manual typewriter, scissors, press-on lettering, and rubber cement to work with; “stone knives and bearskins,” as Mr. Spock might say, but I published my zine for years before I had access to a personal computer. Yet even the most hardscrabble DIY punk band back in those days needed to go into a professional studio to make even the most rudimentary recording.
A lot has changed since then, obviously, and today, bands can produce professional-sounding recordings on a laptop, with a few inexpensive peripherals and widely available software. Dustin Umberger, who you might know as the prolific Ramonescore rocker Grim Deeds, was not only grinding out his own laptop recordings but saw a lot of his friends were doing the same thing, especially during the COVID pandemic when live gigs disappeared and even going into a studio violated social-distancing guidelines. Dustin started Laptop Punk Records, a simple way to release homemade songs on Bandcamp and hopefully reach the public. And now I’ve joined the party.
“(It’s Gonna Be A) COVID Christmas” came to me as songs often do, just an idea that floated into my head that might be a song. If there’s one thing we all need these days, it’s a good laugh, so I tried to take some traditional Christmas song tropes and reinterpret them in the context of the pandemic. I scribbled down some ideas, fleshed them out into a song, then turned to my talented friend Chadbourne Oliver to put them to music. Once I had learned the chords, I recorded a demo (using Garageband on my ancient iMac) in a matter of hours, got some feedback from friends, and then – after about a dozen or more takes – had a guitar and a vocal track that worked, along with a few royalty-free samples to add sleighbells and sirens. I sent it to Dustin, who mixed and mastered it. And now, my first Laptop Punk Records release is available on Bandcamp.
During the corona virus lockdown, I’ve been buying songs for a dollar or two apiece on Bandcamp every day. It’s an easy and inexpensive way to support musicians who can’t play shows or tour, and probably won’t be back on the road until well into 2021, if then. And as we know, musicians often work the kind of day jobs – food services, music lessons, retail – that have been impacted hardest by this virus.
So this holiday season, stream all you want, but every once in a while, buy a song or even an album from your favorite artists. It will mean a lot to them, and might make the difference in having live music again when we emerge from this pandemic.