Hey friends! This guest post comes from a friend of mine – Goemon5. I asked him to write about the process of creating an album, and I really love what he came up with. I hope that you enjoy it, and if you do, you’ll leave a comment before you go.
When I started recording my debut album, I didn’t really understand what I was working on. That wasn’t necessarily a good thing, but more to that later.
Just as recording an album takes a lot of time, so does writing this piece, so I will chop it up into digestible pieces. So be forewarned – there will be more of this!
I should also alert you to the fact that I am a teacher at heart, so everything I write is riddled with advice and questions. Hopefully you will be able to glean information and entertainment from my writing, despite my teaching tendencies. Alright then, off we go!
Why Record An Album?
I am not a musician. Not even a great songwriter. If you consider for a moment the immense talent that Calgary has in artists like Amy Thiessen, Joanna Drummond, Natasha Sayer, Jonathan Ferguson, or Scott MacKay, my puny attempts at making music are utterly inferior.
I am first and foremost a singer. I play by ear, and rarely anything other than chords, even on the piano. So why would I go through the trouble of recording an album – a big, time-consuming, money-eating, laborious endeavor that results in nothing more than a circular silverling with my name imprinted?
That is a serious consideration to make. Recording a professional album costs you around $10,000 CAD, maybe half that much if it’s only going to be yourself on that record.
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You need to align your personal schedule with that of the studio, your producer, and your session musicians. But most annoyingly of all: you need to actually learn your songs.
I mean, really learn your songs; play them until you have nearly perfect rhythm; know when to slow down, when to play louder, and where to leave an instrumental break for your violinist; and all that without being able to accompany yourself while you’re singing.
In order to get top-quality recordings, you need to build the record one track at a time: first your rhythm instrument, then your vocals, then all the lovely session musicians that you line up.
I realize that there are other ways to go about this. If you are “just a songwriter”, you can easily grab the mattresses from your bedroom, a $250 microphone from L&M, and sing 10 accompanied songs into your improvised recording studio.
That is totally cool, and recording “live off the floor” certainly has its charms. I have done that for all my demos, but it is not the way I was willing to take my album, for the following reasons:
- It takes years to gather the experience necessary to record music to a quality that people are willing to listen to for more than two minutes. Working with a professional recording engineer not only improves the quality of your recordings, but also constitutes a massive time-saver.
- Recording off the floor takes considerable preparation, especially if you want company on your songs, you have to spend days and weeks rehearsing with your band members.
- If you play and sing simultaneously, you can’t completely focus on either. Thus, neither your playing nor your singing will be nearly as good as they could be if you had recorded them separately. I wanted to get the best possible product that I could make, which determined my decision to record professionally, and in the studio.
Everybody has their own reasons for recording an album, right here, right now.
My friend Jim Burke, for example, got stuck with cancer, just a few years away from early retirement. He couldn’t walk, could barely hold his guitar, and the treatment nearly sucked all life from his body. After careful re-evaluation of his life, he had but one regret: never having recorded his music.
Thus, when his energy and spirit returned, he immediately started to work on his album Diamonds. And he is now glee-happy that he did, because he finally has something physical to leave behind, for the rest of the world to enjoy.
This record is Jim’s legacy, his very personal gift to the world, a manifestation not only of his personal songwriter experiences, but also of the friendships he made, the level of musicianship he achieved, and the music he loves.
It is weird to think that you can convert all of those feelings into a digital data stream and send it through your music player of choice into a set of speakers or head phones, but ultimately this is what original music is about – sharing your own life with an appreciative audience.
Needless to say, my own motives were a lot less noble. My record is still stuffed with personal feelings, but the original premise for recording it was to have something physical that I could throw at festival directors and venue managers.
The decision on timeline and geography were also simple: I still live in Calgary. Within the next three months, my career path of choice may take me halfway around the globe, and I may never again get to live in this city with any kind of permanence.
That would be somewhat disruptive to my creative process, because not only is Calgary a city filled with musical talent, I even know many of those talents personally. Most of the people that appreciate my music live in this town, as do those friends that I dearly wanted to join me on this album. Thus, the most likely place to record a great album was here, and the best time was now. Those circumstances made my decision pretty easy.
Your reasons probably differ from mine. It doesn’t matter. What’s important is that you have both a reason and a goal, because in order to record an album that you can be proud of, you need: 1) target to work towards, and 2) the energy to reach it.
If you have both: congratulations, go forth and contact a recording studio to inquire about the fulfillment of your dreams. If you lack either, take one of your musician pals aside, and talk about it.
Most likely you will need friends to make it through the process of album recording, and the more friends join you on this journey, the more likely you are to succeed.
Thank you for reading. Please comment, subscribe, and question, if you feel like it. I may see you again next week, if you want to read my brambles about demo recordings, finding the right producer, and first experiences in the studio.
Until then, have a happy life,
P.S. Jim Burke’s debut album Diamonds turned out to be a triple-A record. Even critics like Mark Cassano come to that conclusion. The point is: you will never know unless you actually record and share your compositions. You can find out more about Jim and his music at http://www.jimdburkemusic.com/
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