What a year? We are living through certainly the strangest time I've ever lived through.
I put out a few new albums this year/end of last year.
The Hymns Album
Jazz on a Classical Guitar
Christmas Guitar, Volume 2
Lots of work. Recording an album can drive a person crazy. There's several different phases of an album.
1. You write the music, or in the case of covers, you come up with arrangements. I do this by writing out all the songs on tablature paper. I read standard notation but I greatly prefer writing out songs in tab. I was taught in my guitar studies when I was younger that using tab was bad or cheating or something. I get that opinion and I'm glad I had strict teachers, but I use tab pretty much exclusively these days. Anyway, I write everything out or I forget the songs. A lot of guitarists can just remember all their songs without any notation but not me. I've written hundreds of songs and arrangements and I'm not a spring chicken so my memory needs all the help I can get. Anyway, I also use a Tascam DR-40 digital recorder. I use that to "demo" sections of songs to listen back to see if the ideas are any good. I've learned that my ears are very deceptive. I've paid a lot of money for recording sessions in professional studios before when I realize upon hearing the playback, "Wow, that doesn't sound good." It ain't the recording equipment or the microphones. Songs I write sound different when I'm not playing them. There are so many things I've written that while playing them, they "sound" or "feel" brilliant to me. But when I hear them back on a recording, I realize that they actually sound different to someone not concentrating on playing the instrument. Very weird. Anyway, I use the DR-40 to record and listen back to. If the song is any good, I write it out.
This is the bulk of time it takes for me to record an album. I do 95% of the work with pencil and paper in the practice room.
2. Eventually the songs are good enough to record.
That means I can play them without any mistakes, all 14-22 songs it takes to make an album. Are albums going to continue to be a thing? Anyway, I have a studio I like to work with and that I trust the engineer. I book a full day in the studio and I attempt to record the entire album in one day. Usually I'm successful. Remember, I don't go in there until those songs are totally second nature to me. I rarely need more than two takes per tune. That's not bragging. That's the way it has to be. Your favorite band can afford to take up residence in a studio and take 6 months to record an album. I don't have the money, the backing, or the attention span for something like that. Also, the studio I use is very in demand and the engineer is also a very in demand professional musician, much more in demand than I am. So, I get studio dates when I can and I have to maximize the time I get in there.
3. You have to mix the songs.
Then, after the recording of the tracks is done, you have to mix them down. That means you use a mixing board (all digital these days), and you do everything you can to make the music sound as good as you can make it. Generally, for me, that means finding the right EQ settings, high end, low end, and finding the right amount of reverb to add. If you've heard my recordings, you know that I use a lot of reverb. I love that sound in the music I listen to. I love big, spacey, open, echoing music and I want my guitar to sound like that. I want my guitar to sound like an orchestra. I try to make albums that don't end up necessarily sounding like most solo guitar albums. Anyway, we record about 5 tracks of everything I play. That means there is one microphone pointed at the neck of my guitar, another microphone pointed at the bridge of my guitar. Then, I also use an amplifier when I record. So, there is one microphone in front of my amp, and a direct line going out of the amp. I'm probably boring you all. I'm sorry. Anyway then there is an overhead mic over the top or behind me that captures the overall sound of the room. In the mixing, we "mix" all of these tracks into one, big guitar track. It's all just one take of me playing the guitar, but the mix is 5 different aural perspectives on that sound. I have to work with an engineer for this. I could never do it myself.
4. Copyright the album.
Then, the most frustrating aspect of this process. You have to register the music on the album with the Library of Congress. This didn't used to be too awfully hard when it was manual process of mailing your order in physically to LOC, but now that it's all digital, the process is horrible and it takes forever. And usually something goes wrong and you have to submit more than one. Sorry LOC, bad experience this year.
5. If you have any cover songs, you have to purchase "Mechanical Licenses."
If there are any cover songs, you have to purchase the rights to record and release these songs. In the past, this was all handled by one organization that I will not name. They were horrible to deal with and since there was no competition, they never improved or simplified their system since you had no choice but to deal with them. Now, there are a few different organizations you can deal with for this service so it's easier now, but it ain't cheap!
6. Get photography or artwork done for the album.
I worked with a great artist named Peggy Collins for the covers of all the albums I released this year. I had some photography done too but I didn't like the photos. The photographer was great but I'm not a model, so the photos looked pretty ordinary simply because I'm a very ordinary looking person. I don't look at all like how my music sounds. I wish I looked that good but I don't. My guitar playing is far from perfect, but it's pretty darn good. Anyway, let's just say the photos didn't work out, due to the nature of the person being photographed, not the photographer. So, I switched tracks and found an artist I really liked and licensed her work for the albums.
6. Get the album submitted to the service that manages my music online.
I work with CD Baby mostly for this. They are great, but the process of getting it published online still takes months. I work with a record label that I have a non-exclusive deal with but they don't do much for me any longer. Times are tough for record labels and they simply don't have the budgets they used to. They are also great, but they have a lot of artists on their roster and profits in the music industry aren't what they used to be.
7. I finally hear the final album on Spotify or another service.
When I hear it online, I often don't think it's good enough, so then I obsess about it and consider my life a complete failure for a while. Really, that's what musicians do to themselves. If you're a musician reading this, you know I'm not exaggerating. This is really how we live our lives. Yeah, the stereotype of musicians being crazy, that's true. We drive ourselves crazy. The better the musician, the higher likelihood that you are dealing with a person who is at least somewhat crazy.
8. Film promotional videos for the album.
I just got done doing this. I'll write all about that in another post. I have to do go now.