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Starting your CD Album--Song Creation and Song Choice
By Queenie Sataro - 01/16/2004 - 02:40 AM EST

So many ideas, so little time.

This sums up all of my problems as an independent artist working hard to create and promote a CD of my own music, and I am sure most of you can identify with it. As a musician who wears all of the hats from start to finish when creating and promoting my own music, the process of bringing a song to the public is not an easy one.

I'll begin this series by outlining the steps it takes to bring an album of self-recorded, self-produced CD to the public. Each installment of the series will deal with a different aspect of this lengthy process, hopefully providing some guidance to the wooly worlds of home recording, time management, and even website design.

Here is a brief outline of the process of getting and promoting an album:

I. Song creation--a song is born!
A. Song creation and song choice
B. Time management
C. Performance, musicians, and demo making

II. Recording the songs
A. Laying down tracks and vocals
B. Mixing and mastering
C. CD design and duplication

III. Promotion
A. Offering a CD for sale online
B. Creation of an artist website
C. Free web promotion and beyond


Lyric and music writing: taking inspiration into the physical realm

In order to record a CD or even a song, musical material must be "hatched" or put together in a complete song format. This aspect of the process involves everything from lyric writing to narrowing down the material you are going to use on the CD.

Tips for getting the songs for the CD together:

The power to write songs is what has driven you to create your own indie release in the first place. I consider myself a fine songwriter, but I'm not going to begin to try and tell you how to write your own tunes. Books are available on the subject of songwriting, but I recommend that they be read with a measure of caution. Aside from describing the basic structure and length of the typical popular song, no book is going to create a songwriter out of somebody who is not already. My number one suggestion for creating songs fast is to do this: schedule a small public performance of your own music for three months from now. If you want motivation to write some songs or to get songs you have written done fast, nothing beats scheduling a solo performance within the next 3 months at a bookstore or cafe! It's really just an old trick, and I use it on my piano students all the time. If I want them to practice their songs like mad, I don't resort to pressure tactics. I schedule a piano recital! For an hour of performance you will need about twelve to fourteen songs, the same amount of material as a CD album.

Putting two and two together--lyrics plus music:

Some of us write lyrics first, some write music first. There is no correct way. If you only write one, you need to find someone who writes the other. If you just write music, then you can probably get by just recording yourself as an instrumental songwriter. Problem: the drawback is that instrumental songwriters are fairly common and you will have much competition. Solution: the advantage is that nowadays, instrumentalists who put their music on the internet can collaborate with vocalists anywhere in the world! This is so common that I myself have already written vocals and lyrics for two different instrumental songwriters who I have never met. Here is how it went down:

1. Instrumental musician Harout Kalandjian of the one-man band K.M.P. emails me asking if I will collaborate by writing lyrics and melodic vocals for instrumental song.
Harout lives in sunny Los Angeles, California. I live in moody Chicago, Illinois.

2. Harout records song with no vocals, just instruments. He is primarily a keyboard/synth artist. He sends a song to me on a CD in .WAV format via snail mail, either 16 or 24 bits. .WAV is a common file format, and like .TXT, it works on just about any machine.

3. I load Harout's .WAV file into my machine that runs Digi 001 (a piece of recording software that is basically a light version of Digidesign's ProTools). I load the .WAV file as a stereo audio file, or two separate audio tracks that have the same thing on both. I pan one track far to the left and the other far to the right.

4. I invent/compose words and a melody, deciding to call the song, "Be Who You Are."

5. I record another set of audio tracks in Digi 001 of my vocals and backup vocals. I burn the .WAV file again of the completed song and send it back to Harout in California.

6. Harout promotes the song on online music distributors such as Soundclick.com, and it flies to No. 1 for 5 weeks! Here is a link to stream "Be Who You Are": http://www.queeniemusic.com/music/bewhour_kmp.m3u

So, if you are an instrumentalist, have hope. You can find someone to sing your songs. I've lent vocals to artist PaulJG for the internet hit "Faded From Memory", which he features on his OMD of choice, http://www.besonic.com/pauljg and I'm currently planning on creating vocals for another California friend, international piano superstar Steven Cravis, http://www.stevencravis.com.

If you just write vocals or lyrics, you can mine the internet for instrumental songwriters. There are tons of them out there. I suggest frequenting the message boards of WomenWhoRock.com, BeSonic.com, and Funender.com if you want to find a collaborator quickly. To find a local collaborator, go to an online music distributor like Soundclick.com, BeSonic.com, Ampcast.com, and especially Garageband.com and use their search engine. Type in the name of your town or nearest city. In my case, I'd type in "Chicago" and come up with dozens of musicians in my area who already have their music online! I can audition them without leaving my desk!

Choosing the right songs for the CD:

It is crucial to pick good, consistent material for any release you want to be proud of. Personally, I am a musical chameleon who loves to write both good and bad tunes in just about every style imaginable, but that doesn't mean that I should put a bunch of my different styles on one CD. Whether you are a chameleon or not, your first objective in creating a CD is to NARROW IT DOWN. Pick a style for the songs on the CD and stick to your format. For my first CD, I picked all the songs that I had that fit my image as a singer-songwriter of New Age, ethereal, Enya-like, Kate Bush-like music. Even though I have written instrumental and vocal jazz tunes as well as more driving "pop", I chose to stick with my "sensitive singer-songwriter" format for the first CD. In short, I gave people what I think was my best material in the most consistent style that I could come up with.

If you are a heavy metal artist, I'd suggest starting out with a CD that is all heavy metal songs. Even if you have talent writing, say, country ballads, leave the bluegrass out of your heavy metal CD. People love a consistent product, especially if you are coming out with a first CD of songs. It has yet to be proven whether or not changing your formula mid-career can work for a composer/singer-songwriter. I'd rather stand on the shoulders of giants. Just look at the Rolling Stones or Aerosmith. Both of these bands images and material has stayed the same for as long as I can remember.

In conclusion, the desire to write and produce your own CD must begin with one step, with one song. Motivating yourself with a small-scale performance has worked for me. To find collaborators, I highly recommend the internet, even if you are looking for locals. It is simply the way of the future. Lastly, choose consistent material for the first album. Always stand on the shoulders of giants when possible.

I hope that this helps you to get those songs ready for the next step, time management of your album project. Creating your own indie CD is possible without giving up control or money to a recording label. This is simply self-publishing, the only difference is that you are not creating a book, you are creating and promoting a collection of songs commonly called a CD album. Once again I encourage anyone who has questions or comments to email me. Keep up the indie spirit.

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