I began the process of recording my debut album today. Artists like myself seem to be preoccupied with making albums. In an era where a lot more people are streaming music the question of whether or not an album can still serve an important purpose in the fledgling career of a singer-songwriter is one I have pondered extensively. I realise I am trying to navigate my way in a world that prefers singles over albums and streaming over physical products.
I have done a lot of thinking on this issue and if you care to read on I have developed a bit of an unqualified summary of the art of album making. Many years ago long before electricity was around songwriters made money when their songs - lyrics and melodies - were printed on paper. People literally purchased a song as ink on paper. Then as places like America expanded to the west there was a need for pianists to provide ambient music in bars. However, due to the lack of available pianists, one ingenious individual came up with the pianola. The pianola was a hit and publishers rushed to add pianola scrolls to their business model. People literally began buying holes in scrolls.
Lol. You can see where I am going with this right?
Then came along the wax cylinder and the phonograph and with it another seismic boom happened in music. For the first time in history people could hear recorded performances of songs performed and captured by artists. People begun buying grooves in wax.
Manufacturers of phonograph and gramophones also made the records in order to sell their players however they soon realised making records was way too hard so they sold that side of their business. Thus, enters the record company. The primary focus of a record company was to sell plastic. Plastic is plastic, but with recordings etched in them they could sell that plastic for substantially a lot more money.
Lost your attention yet? Ink on paper .... holes in scrolls ... grooves on plastic ....I haven't even got to bumps and spaces on CDs and zeros and ones of digital downloads!
I'll skip a few chapters in the recording industry history books before you leave me for funny videos of monkeys doing stuff on YouTube. Songs were sold on smaller 45's, three minutes or so on either side. Eventually, the record companies figured out that they could create a long playing vinyl record that could hold 20 minutes or so a side, perfect for musicals and orchestras. Then some bright spark worked out they could add lots of 3 minute songs to the long playing albums and there you go! Now they could convince listeners to buy more than one song from an artist by buying ten songs or more. Boom! They figured out they could boost sales ten fold simply by making people buy albums instead of single 45's. And thus the era of the album was born. More money for record labels and artists. More money for publishers and songwriters. Despite people feeling ripped off when they bought an album with only a handful of songs they liked the album era flourished.
Fast forward to the overpriced scalping of the record companies in the CD era - mid 80's to late 90's, the subsequent revolt via file sharing websites like Napster - remember Metallica's Lars Ulrich lol, the rise of Apple and iTunes, which was Steve Job's attempt to reunite the technology and media via iPods and an app etc, and now the streaming era. With streaming we now tend to listen to just songs and playlists. Today, instead of buying songs the bulk of music listeners lease them in the form of zeros and ones streamed to their devices. Artists like myself vainly setting out to produce an album tend to come off looking a tad backward focused. And perhaps rightly so. But there was a few positives to come out of the album era.
One upside with an album is that it gives artists a platform to group a number of songs together in some kind of cohesive, overarching body of work which collectively makes up one singular piece of art. For me an album creates one whole listening experience and in my case it relates to a period of creative output where the songs carry some relationship to each other. I think of it in terms of what would happen if I just got back from a 12 month trip around the world and the only thing I could show for the journey was one meagre image of me standing in front of the Eiffel Tower and perhaps a souvenir bottle opener. It would be disappointing to anyone who wanted to know about my trip.
An album in my mind brings together a variety of stand out observations and discoveries presented in a single listening experience. I prefer listening to whole albums in one sitting. I have a listening space at home. I pour a drink of some kind to chill me out. I put a CD in my player or vinyl record on my record player and I give the artist my full attention. I don't do the vacuuming, dishwashing or a million other things you could do whilst listening. I sit and I listen to the artist tell me a truth. Their truth. Their perspective. The conclusions they've reached on things important to them. I listen to them share their observations and discoveries.
I'm listening to understand. That's what is happening. Yes, I am loving the sounds and musical interactions between players, the melodies and words, but ultimately I want to be touched, impacted, turned inside out, lifted to a new place, taken somewhere I have never been and hopefully see something I have never seen before. I want to be entertained, but more so I want to be transformed. That's why I am interested in creating an album myself. Not for my ego. Not for prestige. Certainly not for money. Simply just to participate in the same art form my hero's were lucky enough to be part of and where I too can share my own observations and discoveries - my own truth.
Now why has it taken me so long to produce my debut album?
Self-doubt and disillusion are high on the list of reasons. But also I have wanted to say something meaningful. And I have wanted to be able to say it in a really engaging way. Secondly, albums are not cheap to make. Not good ones anyhow. Not ones that stand the test of time. You need very well crafted songs, the right team, a good studio, a good flow of energy among other things. You do need money as money translates ideas into reality. I have more ideas then I have money.
I also want it to be made with love. A lot of art is made in anger, in haste, in anxiety and in frustration. But, I want this album to be made in love and to have the love of its co-creators oozing out at every moment. Money can make ideas a reality, but it can't buy love.
I plan on releasing singles along the way via my website and via Spotify. Ultimately, releasing a physical product for distribution. In my next entry I want to share a story about how I came to work with one of my co-creators. A local studio owner, engineer and friend Jeff Springfield who also doubles as my local Mayor where I live and my golfing partner!
Thanks for jumping in on the journey with me!