By: Marushka Mujic
At some point, the process of accosting a crowd of nine to fivers attempting to make their way to work while you simultaneously attempt to serenade them on a busy street corner gets…old. At least, I thought so – seeing the decrepit, disassembled face of the loony jazz man at the local park alongside the ancient, crack-brained doo-wop group jangling plastic cups for pennies. At this breaking point of "poor" and/or "miserable," the tired, unshaven street musician comes upon a brilliant idea: a miraculously small, circular disc encoded with miniscule rings capable of relaying songs to mass audiences through technological magic (without requiring man-to-man humiliation and struggle). This little disc, we call, a record, and making one is no joke (unless a financially wicked one). But, with the right moves forward and strategic planning, they can certainly become worthwhile.
Making a Master Plan
With the making of record, plan, plan, plan. I say plan, because all your plans will most likely get ruined and, in the aftermath, your newly acquired ability to plan will bail you out in the nick of time. But, before that surprise moment, plan as fiercely as you can. First matter of planning concerns how many songs you would like to record. For a full length album, you’ll need at least ten and ideally twelve or thirteen to work with, as some will be abandoned in the process. For an EP (i.e. "extended play" – longer than a single, shorter than an album), you’ll want at least four and ideally six or seven. Don’t just throw a handful of tunes on a slop pile and call it a piece of art, take a moment to think about what might fit together. In many cases this may require you to rewrite material or create entirely new material. Thus, first phase of the master plan is allowing yourself to take enough time to treat your content properly.
Don’t Rush Yourself to Ruins
After you’ve chosen whether or not to shoot for a full length record or an EP, you’ll most likely find yourself with itchy feet, eager to jump into a studio and wing it, working off the purity of artistic excitement. But guess what? DON’T. Essentially, this is only asking someone to rob you of time, money and happiness, which is something we can all agree we’ve no need to ask for. Instead, take your official set of songs, sit down at your iTunes window and dig up your favorite records – records that make you think "Huh… my musical vibe could totally be an offspring of this." You’ll want to get a group of song samples that exemplify what kind of production quality, sound and instrumentation you’re interested in creating in studio. This way, you have a reference chart for everyone you’ll be working with.
Finding Who To Work With
In the process of making your own record (i.e. being at the mercy of independently-sized funds and at the disadvantage of not being attached to some monstrously popular record label), finding fellow musicians and/or someone to produce your overall sound is possibly the most challenging and, of course, important step. Unfortunately, there’s no official way to find fellow music-makers who won’t insist on heavy duty payment. If you yourself play a plethora of instruments, this is less of a problem. If however, as in my case, you find yourself easily writing material but without a way to get it on its feet, you’ll need to put these demo tunes of yours on a simple garageband track or tape-recorder and begin sending around the small lot you’ve got. This means, posting on craigslist for local musicians, going to live shows and approaching strangers, asking around through friends. Don’t be discouraged! Connections beget connections and more will come. It’s simply essential that you have something of your voice, lyrics and songs recorded to give to these potential partners and, ideally, they will too.
Rallying the Troops (i.e. Dollars)
With a partner and/or producer interested in your ‘sound,’ a solid set of songs and a generally inspiring vision, you are ready to move into the marketing (cringe, horror, yes I know, but nonetheless necessary) realm of record-making. All you need is one other person who is passionate about your venture, and you are ready to approach the make or break step of raising finances. With your "partner," record an at-home demo that decently represents the sound you desire, even if just barely. This can be done by hooking up microphones to garageband or hitting up friends with fancy computer programs. Take the track and get to creating a simple myspace or website that contains photos, a short bio, an mp3 and some live footage of you playing (even if it’s just your drunken friend with a shaky cam, the idea is to give off an intimate impression of your performance). With this online package in your pocket, begin hitting up any wealthy art enthusiasts you or your friends may possibly know. Searching for investors is not as difficult as it sounds. It’s actually the prior work that requires most of your attention, so that you can easily make trigger-happy-big-spenders easily believe in your big dream.
So As Not To Bust Your Budget…
Survey your situation as far as investment and see what you’re working with. These days, extremely decent studios can charge only forty or fifty dollars an hour. So, realistically ask yourself how many hours you will need per song and, consequently, how much dough. Consider how much you’ll need to pay your producer/partner and/or band and add in such cost. Think of what instrumentation or arrangement you may want on your tunes that will require extra musicianship (i.e. a horn section or fancy piano solo), and account for that. Now, don’t forget that once you record and then mix your album, you’ll also need to press the thing, which means transferring intangible files to the little disc, paper, photos and plastic wrapping. Pressing an album can cost an easy couple grand, so be savvy with your savings.
Though it may seem ridiculously overbearing, remember that making a record enables you to quit your street corner crying and enter the ropes of real up-and-coming recording artists. Translation: All the hell’s worth it, so get to it! Time’s a wasting.