I have been meaning to write a “How To” article for any independent musicians wanting to record an album but may not be sure where to start. Now that I have been through the process once, I know exactly how to approach my next album. The entire process took me a little over a year, starting from the first recording session to the final album release date. Here is a brief timeline and outline of events for my album The Room I Found for any musicians needing some guidance!
1. Have your songs written and arranged before going into the studio. Of course, you’ll probably wait to do harmonies once you have your solo vocal tracks down, but at least have an idea of where you want harmony, when you want certain instruments present, and know the overall sound of the song you are going for. The recording process was done in 3 separate sessions from August 2010 – July 2011. I did 3 or 4 songs in each 2-day session. The first day we did all the instrumental recording, and the second day was for vocals and any other ornamentation. All 12 songs were not written prior to the first recording session! As time went on I wrote new songs, and a lot of them found their way onto this album! Here was my pairing:
- Session 1: “Where We Are”, “Too Late,” and “Giving It Back.” – These songs were all fairly raw sounding as far as instrumentation, only using guitar and djembe as their primary forces. “Too Late” added keys, and “Giving It Back” was ukulele only. These were great songs to start with as it started to give character to the album as a whole early on. These were going to be my raw, more natural songs.
- Session 2: “Keep Movin’,” “Man of Honor,” “Never Going Back,” and “The Room I Found.” – With the exception of “Never Going Back,” these were the “big” songs, or the full band songs.
- Session 3: “The Mess We Made,” “Less of you,” “Perfect Canvas,” and “Maggie’s Song.” – These were the last songs written that found a place on the album. All four are mostly raw and natural sounding, but they are all very different as well. These were the songs that added the missing elements for the album; the short 2-verse-2-chorus ditty, an upbeat, lighthearted song, a breakup song, and a story-telling song. Your last recording session is a key time to make sure you have all of the elements you want!
- In case anyone is wondering, “She Walks On” was recorded by the same audio engineer, but we recorded it about a year prior while we were both at Clemson. The album wasn’t even a thought at this time! 🙂
2. Find your audio engineer/producer. First, determine your budget for your first recording session. You may want to prioritize the songs you have so far so that your must-have’s are recorded first. Then once you determine how much you are willing to spend, seek out some engineers. Don’t be afraid to use an independent audio engineer either! My entire album was recorded in a home studio, and I think it turned out well! I wrote a post about the qualities you should look for in an audio engineer that you can check out here.
3. Start thinking about your album art and find a graphic designer. When it comes to the visual arts, I am mostly hopeless. I knew that my album art was going to have to be created by someone else, and I was willing to pay someone to do it, because I knew that I could never come up with professional quality material. I decided I wanted to use photography and some graphic design, so I changed my Facebook status to: “I’m looking for a graphic designer to do some work for my album artwork. Know anyone who is interested?” I got a bunch of responses! A girl I went to high school with responded that she was a freelance graphic designer, so I checked out her portfolio and hired her! I later found out that a guy I sing with in choir’s girlfriend does freelance photography…she too got the job! The two girls never met yet were able to work together when they needed. The best designers and photographers to find are the ones who are looking to further develop their portfolio, because they are willing to help you out since it is in turn helping them out! You want to have a good idea of your album art before your last recording session.
My graphic designer did all of her work with Mimeo templates.
4. If mastering isn’t going to be done by your engineer, find a mastering engineer. If your engineer will do your mastering as well, then you are all set! If not, start check out your options right before your last recording session. Once you get the final mixes from your last session, you’ll want to send all of the final mixes for mastering. My engineer suggested a guy he met in a music store who he had never worked with, but knew he put out a good product. I contacted him, and he was AWESOME. Really awesome to work with and really reasonable prices. Here is his website if you want to check it out!
5. Figure out packaging and distribution costs. Since my designer was using Mimeo, I decided to do the packaging through them as well. They were really great to work with, and had great customer service. I know this because we had a few issues along the way! You could also use DiscMakers and other companies like that too! As for distribution, I used TuneCore because I knew that the majority of my sales would be digital on iTunes. I really love TuneCore for their weekly and monthly sales reports…very useful!! I also set up a bandcamp account to do pre-sale digital releases and a place to host physical CD orders.
6. Set a realistic release date. My initial goal was to have the album out by the end of 2011, but due to some hiccups with the packaging I had to push it back a bit. I waited until I had the finished product in my hands from Mimeo and for the copyright to make it to the US Copyright Office. Once I had both of those, I believe I set up pre-sales for a week, and then the following week was the official release. I suppose my real advice here is to wait until you know you have your products before you have a release date…because you could end up getting delayed!
So that’s how The Room I Found was made! If you have any questions about the process, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the Contact page. 🙂