Friday, 31 May 2013

Mixing the album - planning the mix

I am surprised how few mix engineering handbooks and websites talk about planning the mix of an album in a wholistic way. Every book will tell you how to plan the mix for each individual song, but he overall planning of the album is often left for the beginner to figure out himself.

When I took on the task of mixing the concept album for The exile, I made a few mistakes, which caused me to start all over again, wasting many days in the process. In the interest of sanity, I therefore post this article of advice, hoping that at least one beginner will benefit.

During the mixing process of each track, you will add lots of effects and make many edits. As you tackle each track, you may get all exited and try many innovative ideas. After 20 days, you will proudly end up with 20 tracks, each sounding like top 20 hits. You may burn them all unto a CD, call over family and friends, pop the CD into your stereo and proudly press play. As you get to the third or fourth track you suddenly realize that the album sucks. Every track sounded great on its own, but as a whole, it is horrible. One track sounds like you are on the moon. The next sounds like it was recorded in a huge stadium and the next sounds like your bathroom. In horror and shame, you realize that you mixed 20 tracks, but never mixed an album.

This is especially important when mixing a musical, where you want all the tracks to sound like one cohesive whole in the end. Simply put, you want it to sound like all songs were recorded in the same place, and at the same time.

It is therefore important that you plan your album mix before you start. Here are some ideas of things you have to decide upon.


Reverbs define the "space" of the final mix. With a musical album you want it to sound like all tracks were recorded in the same space. Decide on a reverb preset for the main vocals, backing vocals and for each group of instruments. Whatever you decide upon, stick to those presets for the whole album. Typically,you may decide to use a medium hall preset at about -20% mix for lead vocals and a large hall preset at about -15% mix for the chorus. Acoustic guitars may typically be relative dry, with a plate reverb, while the drums may need 2 or 3 different presets. Strings and brass may need a large hall convolution reverb. Play around with different options, and then use these presets on all the tracks.

Another common problem is the drums. Today's software systems allow us to get very creative, but getting too creative once again does not help to make the whole album sound like a single unit. You will have to decide what drum kit preset to use and, if you use a program like Jamstix, what drummer and drum style to use. You can use a little bit of creativity with the drums, but you do not want the one track to sound like a heavy metal track and the next like a country song.

Another aspect you should considder is the strings or orchestral libraries you wish to use. Not all libraries sound the same. If you ise EWQL on one track and Garritan on the next, the final songs will sound different and the liatener will notice.

Plan these few things before you start. It will save you many hours later on, but do not over think things. A little artistic creativity is OK, but then it must be because you chose to be creative, not because you were to lazy to pan.


Monday, 27 May 2013

Why do we see so few new musicals?

It seems pointless to some extend to ask such question, but maybe, that is why I am asking it. I have to do to find the answer to this question is to check out the list of musicals on the circuit at this time.

The problem is that the answer is not the one I was hoping for.

On Broadway, once you look past the revivals, there are not many original musicals. On the local circiut, the situation seems to be much worse. They are almost hundred percent revivals of ex Broadway shows. On Broadway, the few new musicals, are based on fairytales or on movies. There are a fair number of very successful ones based on classic books. The number of original ideas are very, very scarce.

On the local scene, I am getting a bit confused with the vast number of musicals with absolutely no originality in them. How many more versions of Beauty and the beast can we handle? The little creativity we have is limited to the fairy tales catagory. People are getting very creative with slightly rewriting the stories and adding new popular songs to old stories. Only once every two or three years do we get really new musicals.

I do not want to bash the creativity that people are putting into rewriting stories. It is just that I was hoping to see more. There are some people getting very creative with it and making easy money from it.

That is the problem here. There are more money to be made by rehashing old stories and using old songs.

The reason why a production company would choose Aladdin or Phantom for their next musical is simple. Those shows are low risk and sure to make money. You do not have to do much advertising for your show, as everybody knows the story. They know the songs. People will come back to hear your version of those songs. If you are trying to put up a show like The Wonkie brothers or The devil in Paris, nobody know what to expect. They do not know your story and they do not know your songs. People are much less likely to come watch your show if they do not know the show.

And this is where this whole post is leading towards.

In marketing you have have two tasks. Firstly informing people about the existance og your show, and secondly winning them over to come and watch it.

Putting up a show like The phantom is easy for your marketing department. You only have to tell people that you have the show and the people will come. If you have a new original you have to do so much more to draw your crowds. It is not good enough to tell people that you have a show going. You also have to convince them that the show is good enough for them to come and watch it.

In short putting up a new musical is a high risk business and requires much more effort.

But, all that extra effort is what makes it fun!


Saturday, 25 May 2013

More on saving money on the concept album on a budget

I started off by scaring you with the astronomical baseline budget for the concept album. Then I had to scare you even more telling you about having to do some things yourself. It is a fact that you can save an amazing amount of money if you can do more things yourself. Unfortunately, not everybody has all the skills to do everything. Today I want to talk about another possibility.

With computer technology developing at an blinding pace, computers can now do many of the tasks previously done by expensive humans. I want to tell you a bit about those amazing programs out there. I have no affiliation with any of the companies I will mention, and get no kickbacks on any sales. I am just a normal user of these programs and wish to share my ideas with whoever wish to take note.

To replace that expensive guitar player, there is a nifty little program available, called, RealBand. It comes bundled with a program called Band in a Box.

If you are looking for just strumming guitars, this is perfect. On the fly, however you get much, much more. RealBand is capable of doing acoustic guitars, fingerpicking guitars, electric guitars, drums, bass, piano, and a whole stack of solo instruments, like saxophones. And it does all of this in hundreds of different styles.

The program comes in many flavors, but if you are planning to use it to record an album, you may want to go for the 'Audiophile' version. This version contains recordings in CD quality. The cheaper versions comes with the instruments recorded in windows compressed format. For many purposes this is just fine and most people would not know the difference. My preference is however the CD quality recordings that comes with the audiophile version.

If you are a first time buyer, the audiophile version would cost you $669, but it is totally worth it. This program will be able to replace many of your session musicians, which over an album of 20 songs, would save you far in excess of $30,000 compared to the cost of session musicians.

The program is not completely a save-all for everything and might be limited if compared to what you can do yourself, but it does give you so many possibilities and options that you will almost certainly be able to find a use for it.

RealBand comes with a reasonable good drum track as well, but for the purpose of recording a concept album, I used some alternatives. The drum track is pretty good, but the main problem with RealBand is that it gives you a simple stereo file for the drums. For a serious recording in CD quality however, you can not do much with a stereo file. Very soon you will find your drums either overbearing the vocals, or disappearing somewhere into the mix. Professional studios will almost always record drums on a number of separate tracks, i.e. kick drum on one track, snare on another, hi hats on a third, toms on one or more extra tracks and cymbals on a separate track. This way, you have much more freedom with how you mix the sound of the final song. The other problem with the RealBand drum tracks is that you are stuck with their drum kit. Even though it is a fairly good drum kit they use, not all music wants to have a standard small rock kit playing. Sometimes you need that monster snare sound, or the power kick of Nickelback. We will talk a lot more about producng drum tracks in another article.

Lastly, I just want to end this post with congratulations to Protea Stage Productions for filling the house last night with their excellent production of the farce, Botoms up.


Sunday, 19 May 2013

The 15 things a theater composer should never do

Many books and blogs offers you long lists of dos and don'ts. As a songwriter for musical theater you may get confused about which lists makes sense and which ones can just be ignored. Each list is simply the personal opinion of whoever wrote the list. I used some of those list and changed it a bit to my own liking, reflecting my own experience and opinions.

1. Do not think that there is any one list of dos and don'ts that make the world go round. There is no such thing as THE magic formula. These lists are only opinions. Sometimes they are opinions of people with experience, so do not disregard them totally, but do not follow them religiously. You have to do what works best for you. Listen to all the advice you get, then follows what works best for you.

2. Don’t burn your bridges. Do not be rude or dishonest. You can never survive in the theater world without other people. The theater industry is just too small. You path will cross again with that person you have been rude to today. That person who brings your coffee today just might turn out to be the production manager on your next show. And yes, there are those who will treat you like snake poo today. Resist the urge to return the favor, knowing that one day the roles will change and that person will need you.

3. Do not get worried about debates about what come first, the music or the words, or what the ultimate chord progression is, or whether or not you should be allowed to edit a song as you go along, etc.. These are just ideas to get you started. They sometimes work for some people and sometimes they don't. Most often, those who preach these formulae don't even follow them all the time. Most song writers will do different things at different times. Try these ideas and do then what works best for you. Put all these ideas in your toolbox for use when they are needed. The most successful songwriters are those who know how to best use all the tools in their toolbox.

4. Do not imitate your idols. Be yourself. Learn from your idols, but if you want to be successful, you have to have your own style, your own approach. People will quickly notice if you try to pretend to be like anyone else. They already have a Stephen Sondheim and a Andrew Lloyd-Webber. They do not want another one. Take from these masters what makes them great and put your own spin on it.

5. Do not hate someone for the feedback they give you. Remember that everybody will not love everything. If you can not take criticism, you are in the wrong business. You would be better off sorting apples in Alaska. Most of the time when you pitch your work for criticism, that person is genuinely trying to help you. You do not have to agree with that opinion, nor do you have to follow every piece of advice, but gracefully accept the few nuggets of gold that comes your way. Be open to criticism. It will make you a better song writer.

6. Do not forget the basics. Good spelling, sound grammar, correct formatting, etc.. They are the foundations that makes the difference between the true professionals and the forever amateurs. Always remember, if a busy publisher has 20 submissions on her desk and very little time to go through them all, the first ones that will hit the dustbin are those that look like fish paste with spelling errors.

7. Do not put all your eggs in one basket. Always be working on your next project or idea. Keep your creative side going while you are focusing on the business of selling your last work. Sometimes it helps to clear your mind when you get stuck on a project by focussing on something new.

8. Do not follow the latest and hottest trend in a hope to make a quick buck. A musical takes a lot of time to get from the basic idea to be the next hit on stage. By the time you have gone through the loops, the trend will likely have passed.

9. Do not get overly attached to your babies. We all have our babies. It might be a favorite character, a song, or a specific scene. A time may come when you just may have to loose that character. You may have to become ruthless for the sake of the story as a whole, by getting rid of a character or song that just does not work. Sometimes you may feel that your song is the next big hit on Broadway. If it does not enhance the story, you may have to get rid of it.

10. Don’t hate somebody else for being successful. If you are pitching a work for production against several other writers, remember that it is not a contest for prom queen. If you do not win, do not be spiteful about those who made it. Be happy for them and congratulate them. Next time, they just might support you to get the job. Even if you think that your show would have been so much better, keep your thoughts to yourself. By bitching and moaning about it, you will only come across as... well .... a moaning bitch.

11. Do not get lost in your cave. Go out and experience life every once in a while. Go to the theater and watch a musical. Go watch a show. Go watch as many shows as you possibly can. Get involved with the shows. Help out with the production on other shows. All the experience you can gather will come in very handy when you write your own show. If you hate watching musicals, well.... I have good news for you. Don't write them.

12. Don’t assume writing songs for musical theater is easy. Writing a song is hard work. Writing 25 song for a musical is not only 25 times harder. It is 100 times harder, as you have to make sure that all the songs work together. Do not think you can write a musicals with a collection of pretty songs thrown together. That will end up being a concert, not a musical. Well... not that there is anything wrong with making a concert to work!

13. Do not let the trolls get the better of you. Know that there are people out there who just troll for the sake of trolling. Learn to recognize them for what they are and ignore them. You will find them on blogs, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Sometimes you'll even find them posing as critics in legitimate newspaper columns. It’s not personal. Learn to recognize and ignore those that are just a waste of you energy.

14. Do not think you know it all. How many books do you have on your shelf about songwriting? Do you you have the idiot's guide for songwriters? You mean you do not need it? Well, I have news for you. If you did not even read the idiots guide, then even the idiots know more than you about songwriting. How many books have you read about the business side of the music industry? Do you realize that being a songwriter is like having your own business? Did you follow the advice in that book to register all your songs with the royalty collection agency? Did you draw up that songwriting contract before you started writing songs for your friend's musical? You might be loosing out on a lot of money. You do not have to read absolutely every book on the market, but the more you read, the more you will know.

15. Don't ever give up. Sometimes it may feel like you are going nowhere. Sometimes you may feel that you are just not good enough. Sulk for a short while, and then get over it and get back to working. Keep on writing. That is what you want to do. Nobody had a hit with his first song, well.... at least most. Keep going at it. Once you have 20 unpublished musical manuscripts on your shelf, you may want to go back through them and one of them just might be the next show to celebrate a 20 years run on Broadway.

Everybody has their own lists of dos and don'ts, and I would love to hear from you what you think, so please add your ideas and opinions in the comments below. Here is my list of things which you should not do of you want to wrote songs and music for musical theater.

Friday, 17 May 2013

The magic of theater comes alive


There is just that something about theater that comes alive on gala night. All these weeks of hard work suddenly seems to have special meaning. Those jokes you have seen a million times during rehearsals suddenly just seem so funny again when the whole crowd cracks up.

Well done to the whole cast cast and crew of Protea Stage Productions to bring their latest show, bottoms up to life tonight.



Monday, 13 May 2013

More on budgeting - The DIY concept - Doing a concept album under a budget

Did my last post about budgeting for a concept album give you a scare? Well, good for you. That was the idea.

The good news is that you can do it much cheaper. There are many ways that you can save cost by doing some things yourself. The bad news is that some of these things you can do may compromise on quality if you do not know what you are doing. However, if you are vigilant you may get away with a very reasonable quality product.

For example, we have seen how a session musician may want to charge you a two session price for strumming a guitar on a single song. If that sounds excessive, that is exactly what it is. That is what the going rate is. That is what unions do. Unions are there to ensure unemployment for their members. Keeping prices unaffordable for the small entrepreneur like you and me. If you can play a reasonable guitar, you can strum that guitar yourself. It may however not sound as good as the session musician, recorded by a professional engineer. You may not have the same quality gear or the same skills - and this is where the vigilant part comes in.

Start thinking like a business man here. We have 20 songs, each track will cost you 2 sessions for a musician, plus one hour studio cost; i.e. a total of $400 per song. Multiply this with 20 songs to give you $8000, just for strumming guitars on your 20 songs!

What can you do with $8000? For one, you can buy a reasonably good quality guitar for less than $500, but if you really go for the top of the range, splash out around $1000 and you are assured to have a sound as good as that professional. You also will need a very good microphone. For about $100 you can get a cheap mic, but, I would recommend that you go for the $500 range to get the best quality. You will also need a reasonably good set of headphones, which would cost around $200. Let's assume you already have a good computer with a good recording program. All you would need is a quiet place where you can record you guitar and you are set to go. For about $2000 and lots (yes lots) of time, you can have your guitars recorded and save yourself $6000!

The only variable we have now is your own skills. Look at it this way. If I'd pay you $6000 cash to practice, how much would you be prepared to sit down and practice? 5 days? 10 day? I'd think more. So all that is left for you is to sit down and practice. There are thousands of internet sites giving advice on how to practice. Remember, we are just talking about strumming your guitar here. We have not even looked at the fingerpicking and guitar solos yet. Adding the possibility to do the finger picking parts, electric guitar parts, and the guitar solos, you may be able to save yourself a whopping $20,000 to $30,000, just by doing all the guitar parts yourself. That is not bad hey!

Remember, this is a concept album recording. You do not need to have Eric Clapton playing the guitars.

Off course, you will have to also learn a few other things in addition to playing the guitar. That studio owner and recording engineer was not sitting around doing nothing. You will have to learn how to best record a guitar. Trust me, you don't simply switch on a microphone and start recording. Google is you best friend here and you may want to spend many (yes, many) hours reading books and trying different ways. You will have to be prepared to re-record a song many times until you have the best take. Does 10 times recording the same song scare you? Wake up then, cause you might have to do it 20 times for each song.

Going this route has many other advantages. You are not limited to only one strumming part per song anymore. You may choose to record your guitars in stereo by recording different parts for left and right. You may even get creative by overdubbing certain parts and add fills and thrills. All for free. A song like Hotel California has at least 10 guitar parts double tracked.

This gives you an idea on how to save costs - lots of it - when doing a concept album. The same idea may apply to all your other instruments. Ever wanted to start playing the drums? What about piano? Bass guitar? Violin, cello, saxophone, trumpet, etc. We can get really creative......but......

Fact is, not everybody is able to play musical instruments, especially not that many different ones. Even if you were able to learn to play all those instruments, it may take you many years to become reasonably skilled in all of them.

Next time we will look at other ways of doing it. Help is out there. We just have to find it. You do not really have to play the drums and trumpets yourself, and still get away without it costing you anything.


Sunday, 12 May 2013

Budgets for a concept album

Since we started to chat about the concept of a concept album, we touched on a few ideas. We talked about what a concept album is, and why we want to record a concept album. I also talked about the broad process of making such concept album.

Tonight I want to talk about how we start to plan the concept album. Let's assume for now we have written our play and we have written the songs. So now we have between 20 and 30 songs, totalling about 2 to 2 and a half hours of music. Now we must decide which song we will include on the concept album.

Before I go on, let me say that there is no rule here. The best I can do is give you an idea of what my thought process was when I did the concept album for The exile.

Ideally, we would want to record all the songs, but let's think about it for a moment. At this stage, you greatest considderation is the cost. If money is no problem, I'd say go for it and record every song. Unfortunately, in my case, money was not free flowing and I had to set myself a budget.

When you set your budget, start by listing all the songs. For each song, record the number of instruments needed. Split this by the number of instruments you can do yourself and the number of instruments for which you will have to hire session musicians. If you are lucky, you will get enough friends together who will do it for you for free. In my case, I did not get enough friends together, mainly because I do not have friends. Count each vocalists line as an instrument. If a vocalist is needed for only 2 seconds, you will still have to count him or her as one instrument. This is where the big chorus songs can become expensive. If you need a chorus with 16 voices, count each one separate, i.e. 16 instruments. Even if you plan to get one person to record 2 or 3 lines in harmony, it would still take 2 or 3 separate recordings, therefore you must count them as separate tracks. Some session musicians would charge you full price for the first line and then half price for each extra line, but more about that much later.

Depending on the complexity of your music, time needed to record a song may differ significantly, but let's work on more or less averages. Most song would need two (2) sessions per instrument, i.e. a session for the musician to get to know your song, and one session to record the instrument. Union negotiated rules differ per country, but usually provide for 3 hours per session. Current rates are about $150 per session, or R1,500 in South Africa.

Just a brief note here. Most union rules limit a song to 5 minutes maximum. You do not get discounted rates for less than 5 minutes, but there is a very complicated formula for calculating costs for each minute in excess of 5 minutes. For now, let's keep all our songs below 5 minutes.

A few simple calculations may now give you a rough baseline budget; for each song you must have the number of tracks to be recorded (T), and the cost per session (C). Here is the formula:

The total budget for a track = T x C x 2

Let's take an example: I have a song that needs an acoustic guitar strumming, doubled by an acoustic guitar finger picking, an electric guitar playing rhythm, a solo electric guitar, a bass guitar and drums. For vocals I need one male and one female singer. Each singer needs to harmonize for the chorus. This all gives me 6 instruments plus 4 vocals, i.e. total 10 tracks. The budget for this song is therefore 10 x $150 x 2 = $3,000.

Calculate the cost for each song in this way and add up all the costs. Let's for simplicity assume all songs need the same number of tracks and we have 20 songs in total. A very quick calculation gives us the total cost of musicians for the recording at $60,000. Add to this your studio time of about 6 hours per song at $100 per hour and the producer at about $300 per song. The studio time usually includes one recording engineer, but specialists like drum recording engineers are usually extra. This gives us an extra $18,000. To this you will have to add the cost of a mixing engineer, a mastering engineer and then the cost of making the CDs. In all the cost for your album will probably exceed $100,000 by now.

Good news?

For most of us, this sum would frighten us and we would give this up as a bad idea.


Do not not give up this easy.

Next I will show you how we can bring this cost down to about one tenth of that cost by being clever.


Friday, 10 May 2013

A much needed day off

Today we have the day off.

This is much needed after a week that I have barely seen my home. Last Sunday, Protea Stage Productions moved into the town hall. All this excitement is all about our play for the year, a farce called Bottoms Up. The gala night is next Friday May 17th. If anybody is around Benoni the next few weeks, please come and support us. Protea is a not for profit, community production company and would really appreciate any extra support.

The following series of photos show how we built up the stage set.
















Watch this space for the final pics, and off cause the show.!!

See you there.

Thank you for the support.


Sunday, 5 May 2013

Moving in!

Today we (Protea Productions) moved into the City Hall. My back is off!

My day started at about 8 O'clock this morning when we packed the set up into the trailers, and we worked all the way through to about 5 O'clock the afternoon. At least we got all the heavy stuff built up now. Tomorrow we'll patch up the walls and holes and start painting. Dress rehearsals on Tuesday.

Hope I will make it through this week. Don't think there will be time for writing any songs this week. At least I wrote 3 songs last week, so I think I am half a step ahead.




Friday, 3 May 2013

What is a concept album?

Let's kick off our discussion about the making of a concept album with a short discussion about what a concept album is.

Well, actually, it is not that difficult to figure out what it is from the name. It however get a bit confusing when you start to look at all the many options, so let's look at all those funny names given to these albums.

If you'd google any musical's name, with the word 'recording', you may find a wide variety of albums. Musicals tend to be recorded and re-recorded many times. It is not so simple as other musical works for which usually only one or two versions exist. Try it out. Go into your local shop and ask for the recording of Phantom of the opera. You are likely to just get a blank stare from your shop attendant, but let's assume for this argument that your shop attendant knows a lot about musicals and musical recordings. If she does, she might reply with "Right away sir. Which album would you like?".

Unless you know a little bit about recordings of musicals and specifically the musical you might be interested in, your shop attendant will at this point be met with a blank stare. Upon such situation, your shop attendant is most likely to hand you the latest available recording, which just might happen to be the 25 year anniversary concert album. Failing that, she would likely give you the original London cast recording.

For most musicals, the most popular and best known recording would be the original cast recording. That is usually either a Broadway or a London cast recording, but might be anywhere else in the worlds as well. This all depends on where the world primiere for your musical was held. The important word to look out for here is 'original'. The album is usually assgned the status of 'original cast recording' and a year, indicating that this is the recording of the cast of singers and actors who initially did the Broadway or London primiere show. Most often, this is the album that may contain the version of the recording of the songs that made it to the hit parade.

But not always.

Sometimes the song that you have heard on the radio comes from any of the other possible recordings. Sometimes you might be looking for the 'studio cast recording'. These are albums often recorded after the premiere is over and the composers never bothered with the original cast recording. Often the popularity of the show exceeded expectations and the composers decided that an album might be a good idea to make extra money, so they got a bunch of session musicians together to record the songs. But not always.

Often the studio cast recordings are done before the premiere and is done with the purpose of creating interest in the show. This is where the concept album often comes in. Jesus Christ Superstar is a great example of this. ALW recorded the songs from the musical with well known musicians to spread the word. The concept album would very often be followed by an original cast album, but not always. The songs on the concept album might often not be exactly the same as the songs in the cast albums. That is the whole idea of a concept album. It gives the composer the chance to check things out and change it to his liking.

Often you will get a demo album recording in the place of the concept album. Often the quality of a demo recording would not be as good as a concept album recording, but again, this is not always so. With recording technology more affordable and in the hands of the average man, quality of demo recordings are pretty good nowdays. The difference between demo albums and concept albums have become blurred and these names are now used interchangebly. Demo albums are usually not available commercially.

We've already talked about the original cast recordings, but there can be any number of cast recordings. If a musical is very popular, you may find that every producer anywhere in the world may want to make a recording of his cast. These albums would usually be indicated with some town and a year.

When a movie is made of the musical, you may find a soundtrack album. In many cases these albums would have the movie actors singing the songs, but not always. It use to be common practise to have session musicians sing the songs and the movie actors just lip sync in the movie.

Another popular option is the concert album recordings. These are when a number of great performing singers perform the songs in a live show. You would most often hear the crowd clapping in the background and between songs. Many Stephen Sondheim shows have very good concert albums available.

There are many other options as well. The songs from.. albums are very popular. These albums often mix a number of musicals from the same composer. You may even find a greatest hits album or often a popular singer sings albums. Barbara Steisand made a number of great recordings singing her favourite songs from her favourite musicals. Often these recordings make it to the hit parades and are more popular than the cast recordings.

Then there are many more variations for fun and commercial gain. There are dream cast recordings, symphonic recordings, highlights from albums, film score albums, karaoke albums, and the list goes on and on.

From this short discussion, you might get some idea of all the variations on the theme available. Have a look at some of the links provided above just to get a feelng. The thirty two pages with 373 recordings of Les Mis on Amazon would seem a bit extreme, but at least, I hope I helped a little bit to help you make some sense of it.


Thursday, 2 May 2013

Making of a concept (or demo) album

Following from the previous post about why the concept of concept album is a good idea, I want to relate some of my experiences in the process of making the concept album. Making a concept album or a demo album, or even a commercial release album all basically go through the same process.

I have this terrible feeling of deja vu about this post, so if in another dimension of life you find another post by me that looks very much like this one, please blame it on apple and blogsy software that contains bugs beyond my own comprehension.

Let's start this series of posts about making the concept album by giving it some structure. I will do this by breaking the process down to a number of smaller processes:

  1. Songwriting: First there have to be a song. Without a song to record, there will be only noise. Nothing wrong with the concept of an album with noise only, but that will be regarded as outside my genre for the moment. I have touched on this part in previous posts, and as we go along, I will dedicate some more posts on this subject.
  2. Recording: When we have a song, we want to get it into a way that others can listen to it. This is the process of making noise in some harmonious manner. The recording process usually includes recording of some instruments and some vocals. There might be any number of instruments and it may or may not actually involve humans plying them. More about all this in future posts.
  3. Mixing: Usually, the recording process involves recording every instrument and every human voice separately. In fact, with modern computer technology being available so cheaply, it would be silly to try and record everything in one single go. Once you have a recording of somebody singing, and another recording of somebody playing a guitar, you must put these two recordings together. This is called mixing. Mixing usually involves putting many recordings together in a way that it sounds good and do not become just one huge noise. This is done by adding effects like equalization, reverb, delay, etc. Finally, the song will be "mastered", which simply means that it is turned into a format (CD, mp3, etc.) which can be used in the next stage.
  4. Manufacturing: Not all recordings ends up on CD. I will nevertheless touch on the process of creating a CD or other physical product at some stage.
  5. Marketing and business: I will add the business part all under one heading. We can call this the "record company" part of the process. Most concept albums are not made for the purpose of making lots of money. You goal may be to use it as a tool to sell your show, or it might simply to be for your own pleasure.

In future posts, we will talk more about all these tasks and processes, and I will give you some insights into how I went about it for The exile,