Ever wondered what’s involved in making a CD of original music? I just recorded and self-produced my first “official” release, Online Dating Blues, and here’s a glimpse inside the process.
Part 1: Background
I’ve been singing jazz since 2005, gigging since 2006, and everyone knows the currency of the music world is recorded songs. Having a CD – and ultimately a catalogue of CDs – along with the downloadable mp3s thereof, is essential to develop an audience. Although CDs are becoming less important in the world of downloads, ipods and music-by-subscription (Rhapsody, et al), it’s still useful to have physical “product” to sell at gigs, give out to potential venues, etc. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future CDs will go the way of the woolly mammoth, but for now they still have their place in the indie music artist’s patchwork quilt of income streams.
Naturally, I’ve been wanting a CD since I started singing seriously. What music artist doesn’t have one?? Even just a demo of a few songs is a big step up from nothing – potential venues and private clients need to hear a band before determining if they want to hire them, and they’re unlikely to come to a gig. Plus the days of the homemade cassette tape are long gone. The advent of high quality home-studio recording equipment and software means that it’s now possible for indie artists to achieve professional results without the help of a major label or a rich producer. The catch is you still have to invest money (and if you’re doing it all yourself, significant amounts of time) to acquire and learn how to use the equipment! Still, small recording studios, engineers and home-based producers abound, so one doesn’t have to do it all oneself.
You do, however, have to pick from what feels like an endless array of choices…
On Blocks of the Emotional, Decision-overload, and Financial Variety
Perhaps it is this plenitude of possibilities that had me blocked for so long around making a CD. Certainly the fear of taking a permanent snapshot of my still-developing singing skills had no small part in the blockage. When improvement is clearly evident (to me, at least!) over a period of weeks or months, there’s a strong impulse to wait “until I’m better” to capture oneself for the world (I wish) to hear. But of course, presumably, if one is working on one’s craft, one is continually improving and getting better, so at some point one has to just dive in and accept that any recording is “a snapshot of where I am at this particular moment.” It helps to assume that any given snapshot will only be one of many… but you’ve got to start with one.
Hurdling this emotional block was just the start. Once I’d decided that I had the psychic strength to intentionally create a permanent record of my imperfect self, I still had to figure out how to make it happen. I read an article recently which argued that too many choices is actually a hindrance to happiness. I’m inclined to agree. Not that I would want to live in a restricted world, but an overabundance of choices can lead to overwhelm. Which one is best? If I go with A, will I later regret not going with B? Everyone has an opinion, too, a studio “you really must use,” a producer “who’s the best,” a sound engineer… I tend to be of the “research everything to death before making a decision” variety, so the plethora of possible solutions only added to my paralysis.
The Producer Track
On the suggestion of my voice teacher I did finally make an appointment with a producer, but he wanted to use his musicians, rather than the guys I’d worked with and was comfortable playing with; wanted me to record over canned tracks, rather than live with the band (which, granted, allows for significantly greater editing control, since I could re-do my vocals as many times as necessary to get a good take without also having to get good takes from piano, bass and drums at the same time, but eliminates the in-the-moment interaction among musicians that, as a jazz singer, is part and parcel of what I endeavor to present on stage); was going to charge $1,000 per song (ouch); and (the nail in the coffin) smoked like a chimney, IN the studio, so the place reeked and I simply didn’t think I could tolerate even one hour in there, let alone the seven or eight that a recording session might require.
Plus the sample track he played for me of another vocalist he’d recently recorded did not impress. I now wonder if perhaps it hadn’t been mixed (had he said as much? I didn’t really understand the function of mixing at the time, so I don’t honestly remember, but I hope that was the case, because the whole track sounded like a karaoke session, with the vocalist in an entirely separate room from the band.. which of course, he had been, having recorded his vocals over the band’s already-recorded tracks, but the point is that it sounded that way. Not cool.)
So there went that idea. Back I was at square one.
Next: A Free CD, and Busting Perfectionist Blocks