A few hits of a snare drum snap as two guitars whiz through interconnecting slides of high notes. Above the reckless timbre, a soft female voice begins to sing out. All the sounds are brought together bringing into one explosively energetic song, officially beginning band practice for East Lansing-based band Audio Monarch.
Audio Monarch is comprised of four Michigan State University students. The band typically practices in the basement of a Charles Street duplex, where of two members live.
Percussionist Mark Kanitz said the band encourages a free-form type of practice.
“It’s a free flowing jam fest most of the time,” said Kanitz, a food industry management senior. “It is unrestricted creative expression channeled into our basement.”
This expression was brought together years ago when Kanitz and guitarist Austin Spencer met.
“Austin and I have known each other since the fourth grade,” Kanitz said. “I started playing guitar in seventh grade and he picked it up right after.”
While Kanitz found hobbies elsewhere in sports, Spencer continued to perfect his guitar skills. It was not until they were juniors in high school when the two friends decided to try and make their own acoustic songs in Spencer’s basement.
“We didn’t play publicly until the senior year talent show,” Kanitz said. That was our coming out of our cocoon.”
Five years later, Audio Monarch is still running, but now includes singer Hannah Pilarski and guitarist Alex Rushlow with Spencer and Kanitz.
Kanitz said the East Lansing music scene initially intimidated him.
“At first, the college scene was daunting and exciting at the same time,” he sad. “No one knows you, so you can be your very own real self all the time. You are what you make yourself to be.”
Kanitz said the challenging task of making it in the premier local band scene is not uncommon, but continues to be a struggle for Audio Monarch.
“It’s challenging gaining an audience from a huge campus, but that also means there are 40,000 plus students alone who have never heard you before,” Kanitz said. “On the other hand, it has been difficult to prioritize classes and music. We are all good students and we want to do well in school, but music is the passion fire.”
Aside from the stresses from school, local bands face problems staying together after departing post graduation.
“What comes next does make me nervous,” Kanitz said. “Balancing starting a career in the business world and chasing the dream of professional music will not be an easy task.”
However, Kanitz said he has a plan.
“I think beating the stigma of being a broke and starving artist is possible,” he said. “But we may have to do some things very few artists have done and that is have a salary career and pursue music until we’re ready to make the jump to music full time.”
“The plan is to eventually pay the bills with music,” Spencer said. “I’ll be moving to Chicago after graduation where there will be tons of opportunities to continue playing.”
Sonya Major, a MSU graduate, joined the local band The Blue Effect just a year before departing from the university and hasn’t looked back since.
Major said being in a band is something she’ll never forget.
“It has completely changed my approach to music,” she said. “I have been exposed to a much wider variety of music than I was before, and I feel like a much more well rounded musician.”
“I also have been practicing playing instruments more, which is a much bigger challenge to me than singing.”
Major said she began singing at a fairly young age and music has always had a significant emphasis on her life, but acknowledged that making it big doesn’t come easy.
“The hardest part is that you have to trust everyone to do their part,” she explained.
The Blue Effect includes members Sam Bayoff, Brian Burgoyne, Alex Burgoyne, Kevin LaRose and Major.
“What’s special about the Blue Effect is that it is a constantly changing organism,” Major said. “It started as something completely different that what it is now, and there have been many phases in between. Right now we’re working on a set of originals, we’re having a great time doing it, and we’ll see where it goes.”
Elm Street Recording, a low cost, high quality studio in Lansing, has recorded close to 150 albums and numerous demos and singles with various local bands around the Lansing area over the course of almost 10 years.
Employee Ryan Wert said there are tangible keys to success for college bands in and around East Lansing.
“The local bands that really have a lasting effect on Lansing’s music scene are the ones that play like the place is packed for every gig, regardless of its size,” Wert said. “The really good bands are always engaging their fans and that makes people way more interested in going to see them.”
Kanitz said developing an audience is something he believes to be important to the lasting impression of Audio Monarch. With his band’s future in question, Kanitz said he remains happy with the state of things.
“When you are doing the thing you love, with the people you love, it isn’t too hard to keep going,” he said. “Struggles rise and fall, but when you share the same vision, nothing is too much to handle. I’m confident in us.”