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Anatomy Of An Album...


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Gene Burnett posted recently the steps involved in getting his latest album to production. Good idea. Here’s mine (which are a little different, but not by much):

THE SONGS. I had those picked out a year beforehand. By January 2011, we’d taken just one off the list, and added one. 11 songs, with a mix of musical styles showing off the capabilities of the band, arranged as a sort of mini-concert. Two co-writes this time (which are the band’s normal opening and closing songs at shows). I’m not as prolific as Gene, but I write a fair amount; by the time the list was finalized, everything had been played in public enough so I knew which were the best crowd-pleasers (and therefore potential album-sellers). And I have enough new crowd-pleasers for another album.

THE MUSICIANS. Deathgrass were obviously the musicians for the record. I like having a 5-piece band, so one can have both a “whiny lead” (harmonica) and “non-whiny lead” (guitar or mandolin) both in performance and on the record. All these songs were practiced a lot, because they were performed a lot. Everything was note perfect when we went into the studio, because it’d been note-perfect on stage.

THE STUDIO. Had to be local, since the band don’t travel well (three of them still have jobs). For a long time, there were no commercial studios on the Coast, but when Mike Simpson became the school music teacher, he had one (Calden West Studios, in Rockaway Beach). Mike has a good ear, and a good sense of arrangements, and has decent equipment and knows how to use it. (Teaches music, after all.) Studio’s got to have a room big enough to fit the band in and still semi-isolate their tracks. Got that, too.

THE RECORDING. Patsy Cline style (live and in one or two takes) shaves about 85% off the studio cost, and the only prerequisite is the band’s got to be practiced. Yes, do-overs are a pain—but we mostly didn’t need to do any. My “scratch” vocal was recorded in a separate room (the band and I couldn’t see each other, but we didn’t need to); Mike was going to re-record the vocal later, but on nine of the 11 songs, we didn’t need to. We added Doc’s blues harp later, because he couldn’t be there the same day everybody else was. And Mike added backup vocals by himself on a bunch of the songs, too.

MIXING, MASTERING, &C. I left that up to Mike—he’s got professional ears, and I don’t. My interest is in giving the engineer the “pieces” to mix and match into a good product. I think the final product is as good as or better than anything the Big Boys could put out.

LABEL, COVER & LINER NOTES. I did all that; graphic design is one of the things I can do. I collected a bunch of CDs, imitated things that looked good, and avoided things that didn’t. (I’ve done this before.)

PICKING A CD MANUFACTURER ended up being one of the hardest tasks. A lot of CD outfits want you to use their design templates, and I wasn’t going for it; I wanted someone to process my designs, and not screw them up. I ended up using DiskFaktory, an outfit in Orange County (CA) I’d used before. (About a 2-week turn-around, by the way.) Submitted the designs online, and mailed them the master. Bought the bar code from them, too. Total cost was a little more than if I’d done it all myself, but the product is shrink-wrapped—which I couldn’t do myself.

SETTING UP ONLINE SALES. I used CDBaby for that: http://www.cdbaby/cd/deathgrass is the link. Other folks (including DiskFaktory) offer the service, too.

OTHER STUFF: I sent my two co-writers their royalty checks directly. Rest is PROMOTION, which I haven’t done a lot of. A few retail outlets are selling the CD; some radio stations have it, as does the county library. And there have been some sales—some online, some through the retail outlets, some directly, and one by mail. Need more (of course). And still need to do that CD Release Event, even though the things been for sale for a month now.

Joe.

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