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 Two: A Free CD, and Busting Perfectionist Blocks
After my disappointing appointment with the cigarette-smoking producer, suddenly I was saved from researching expensive CD production ideas, at least temporarily, when a promoter I knew hooked me up with a live concert gig on KZSU Stanford radio. It was college radio, with old equipment and somewhat limited production values, but hey, there was a sound engineer, and the gig would be recorded, so voilá, I’d have a CD of me and my band! Nothing fancy, no after-the-session mixing and mastering because it would be recorded as one track, but hell, it would be something.
The fact that the gig was LIVE on air (with a radio audience of maybe two people for all I knew [in addition to the four or five in the studio audience], but still…) led to a serious case of nerves (can you say “shaky breath support”? can you say “pitchiness”?), but when all was said and done I came home with twelve tracks, five of which made me cringe minimally enough that I felt not too uncomfortable about turning them into CDs to at least have as samplers. (Can you say “perfectionist”?) When, on a whim, I offered them for sale at a gig, and – gasp! – people started buying them, and liking them, something clicked for me.
A Realization All Perfectionist Artists Might Benefit From
I realized (and this may seem obvious) that being “perfect,” or at least better than I am right now, or “as good as [insert successful music artist]” is not what it’s about. People liked those CDs because they are authentic expression of who I was in that particular moment. Who knows, maybe the moments that make me cringe (when my pitch wavers, or my voice blips or wobbles) make some listeners actually like my singing better, because it’s so clearly not canned. No auto-tuning here, baby! This is the real thing!
Time for a New Addition to the Catalogue
For two years this home-burned disc (which I titled “Melissa Dinwiddie Live from KZSU“), packaged simply in a paper sleeve, was the only CD I had. My voice was evolving, I was beginning to write my own songs, rather than just singing standards, and it was becoming more and more bothersome that my only CD, much as I liked it (especially after several weeks’ distance!) was no longer representative of who I was now as an artist. It really hit home when I started singing my first song, He’s Just Not That Into You, at gigs. Inevitably, people would come up afterwards asking to buy the CD… and I had to tell them there wasn’t one. Ouch! I could hear the lost sale, the “kaching” that never was. Oh, the pain! I added another original song, and another, which led to more “can I buy the CD?” responses, and pretty soon it was clear I needed to get these songs recorded and catch those listeners before they got away!
Let me take a moment to rave about a music marketing seminar I’ve attended (twice), because it played a great part in my getting this CD made. Music Strategies is put on by independent music marketing guru, Tim Sweeney, to give independent music artists the tools to make a living from their music without being dependent on a label, or anyone else for that matter. In addition to giving the lowdown on the industry and how it works, Tim teaches you to think outside the box, to be creative about how you market yourself, and to work together with other artists. (In my other business, as a ketubah artist selling art and stationery for weddings, competition is fierce because couples, after all, only buy one ketubah and one set of wedding stationery. One of Tim’s signature speeches is that as music artists, we have no competition; nobody buys one CD, or listens to only one artist, in their lifetime!) I have learned a ton at Music Strategies and from Tim, though I haven’t been diligent about putting it all into practice yet (can you say “overwhelm”?)
Among other things, Music Strategies freed me from the idea that a CD had to have ten or twelve tracks. Tim is a big proponent of artists producing a new CD every six months, with just four, five or six tracks, if that’s what you’ve got. Get your fans used to buying from you regularly is Tim’s thinking. (Smart guy, that Tim!) With that in mind I decided to include only original material on my CD (written by me and/or the talented Angus Stocking), six tracks in total.
Now I was back to how to get the dang thing made…
Next: Scheduling the Sessions and Raising the Money