"I Wanted to Fly"
My first CD is done!
Well, technically, it's not my first CD. I co-wrote and recorded a six-song project of scary songs for children with Patrick Bone and Peter Schwimmer about 15 years ago. Since then, I played bass and/or sang on 15 instrumental and vocal projects. Some of the songs that are on my first CD appeared on CDs by Ernie Martinez, Bob Turner, the Colorado Bluegrass Music Society and a 3-song CD I released.
But, this is really my first CD. I was deeply involved in every aspect of the CD, from writing and selecting the songs, recording, and producing the final product.
And, for the first time, I have a CD that I'm proud of.
It didn't start out as a CD project. I started out recording a few song demos. Then it grew. Over the last four years, we recorded 17 songs. 14 made the cut onto the CD. The hardest part was drawing the line. I kept writing new songs that seemed to be even better than the ones we'd recorded. So, I have a good start on the next CD project.
There's a lot to creating a CD project.
First, I needed songs. I wrote 7 of the songs and co-wrote the other 7. There's a lot to be said for writing alone, especially when the words and music come to you as a whole. Song ideas came from diverse sources: a poem I read 35 years ago, a car-breakdown in Kansas, a dream about my father, a Bob Dylan song, a photograph of my dogs, a 100-year flood, the title of a book for kids, an exercise in a songwriting class I co-taught. And, there's a lot to be said for co-writing. My co-writers, Ernie Martinez, B. J. Suter, and J.J. Fraser, inspired me, kept me on track, and took my songs to higher places than I would have gone alone.
Second, I needed a place to record. I've recorded in over 5 studios. This was my easiet choice. I went back to Raven Studios to work with Jim Ratts of Runaway Express. I believe that I get the best results there. Jim Ratts helps performers give their best efforts.
Third, each song needs an arrangement. Each of my co-writers had their ideas of how the song should sound. As much as possible, I went with their ideas. Ernie Martinez was my producer, so he had a lot of input into each song. For the songs I sang, I also relied on Christy Wessler and Bill Barwick. As I brought in more musicians to play on the songs, they had a part in the arrangement: how the harmonies should go, who plays what on the instrumental breaks. And, I relied a lot on Jim Ratts who took an active part in the decision-making process.
Fourth, Ernie Martinez and I had to decide who plays what on each song. With a musician of Ernie's caliber, it's easy to let him play everything on every song. But, I wanted to make this a "party CD:" invite a lot of good musicians in and have fun with the recording process. So, there were minimal rehearsals and a lot of jamming in the studio. I also wanted to include everyone who loved a particular song to be part of that song. As a result, there are 17 musicians on my CD. Jim and Ernie suggested we use one "hired gun:" Hannah Alkire of Acoustic Eidolon. We brought her in to do one song and I asked her to do another song immediately after that. Wow! And, funny as it may seem, I chose to not play or sing on some of my songs.
Fifth, the recording sessions. I tried recording one song with everyone all at once, as a jam tune. Jim convinced us that a better plan was to record two-three instruments at one time. For the most part, we recorded with only one or two people present. It took longer but we got a better product. And since very little was rehearsed, we still got the live jam feel.
Sixth, we had to mix each song. That means editing the recorded tracks, or in some cases, combining several recorded tracks by the same musician into one track. Does the instrumental step on the vocals? Do two instrumental parts clash? Should we raise this instrument here then lower it to raise another instrument there? Which instruments should be on the right, on the left and in the center? Should we use reverb and how much? It doesn't take as long to mix as it does to record, but it's still time-consuming.
Seventh, I had to decide what order the songs should be on the CD. There were 14 songs, 6 lead singers, a variety of song genres, and an even-bigger variety of instruments: pedal steel, resophonic guitar, steel-string guitar, nylon-string guitar, electric guitar, electric piano, keyboard sound effects, electric bass, acoustic bass guitar, upright bass, cello, violin, drums, percussion, flute, saxophone, mandolin, banjo, harmonica. And, some songs have harmonies with diffent harmony singers. I decided to play up the variety of songs by making sure that no two consecutive songs have the same lead singers, harmonies, lead instruments or styles.
Eighth, I had to do something about the art work. An artist friend brought it up and it was a surprise! She liked a couple of paintings I did about 35 years ago. One was totally appropriate for the song I wanted to use for the title, so that took care of two choices at once. The other became an appropriate logo for my music producing company and web site. OK. A title for the CD and artwork was a good start. I had to decide what went where on the back and the inside: who I should thank, how to list the songs, how to show the various musicians, how to make everything readable, what font(s) to use. Oh, I also had to decide how to show who's on the CD. Since it was my CD, I figured my name should be on it, but since I'm not the only musician, I wanted to acknowledge the others. I discussed it with my co-writers / co-lead singers.
Ninth, I had to figure out what type of CDs to order (slimline cases, jewel cases, cardboard cases, cardboard sleeves) and how to get it all to the manufacturer. Since I'm a DiscMakers partner, that was a clear-cut choice for me. A much bigger decision was how many CDs to order? That was seriously influenced by the balance in my bank account. It was also influenced by prior over-estimates by overly optimistic (former) band mates.
Here is the result:
The CD has been out for 3 weeks and most of my first order is gone. I've sold enough to pay for the first and the second orders. Feedback has been wonderful. But I still have one more step to go:
Tenth, I have to promote the CD and the songs. I have so much to learn about marketing.
And that's going to be the topic of another column.
Thanks for visiting AcousticByLines.