I’m in the middle of production on my fourth official music project in three years. My first project of original songs was the No Average Journey EP in March of 2013, retooled and re-released as an LP in May of 2014. Four months later, I dropped the 5-track To The Sky EP. While I chilled on writing for most of 2015, I put 8 cover songs together and released the CVRD LP a few weeks ago.
A lot of people ask me how I can just churn out these projects so quickly while still working a full-time job, freelance consulting, and more. While I admit that it is a lot easier for me since I self-produce my music, the method I use for assembling musics projects can be replicated by anyone.
1. Find Your Motivation
I write music for many different reasons, none of which are fame. Since the age of three when I got Michael Jackson’s Bad on cassette, music has been a part of my life. A clear example of this was between 6th and 8th grades, when I was an active member of five (5) separate ensembles: my school’s Marching, Jazz and Concert Bands, as well as the Chicago All-City Concert and Jazz Bands.
While I mostly use music as a creative outlet, I also write and produce to help others through the various situations of life. Songs like “Stranger In Moscow”, “What’s Going On?” and “I Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer” got me through some really tough times as a kid, and whether I perform them or someone else does, I look to affect others with my tunes in the same way.
What is your motivation for wanting to assemble a project? An answer as simple as “I just want to sing” is reason enough. Just make sure you know what you want to accomplish from the beginning and keep that motivation in your mind throughout the process.
2. Pick the songs
I try to draw from real-life experiences when I write a song, as well as life lessons I’ve learned along the way. I stay away from chasing trends or doing anything that isn’t authentically me, as there are enough people in the market doing what everyone else is doing.
When I choose a song to cover, I go with the tune that connects with my inner being. For example, John Mayer’s “In Repair” felt like he was writing about my life at the time: I wasn’t at rock bottom, but I had quite the journey to go on my road toward happiness.
What is it that you want to say? What is your perspective on life, love and the pursuit of happiness? Those are the songs you should want to put your name on.
3. Record them
Since I write and produce myself, these two steps usually happen concurrently. With every song, I try to do better than I did before.
Learn what works and what doesn’t in every area: lyrics, melody, vocal delivery, mixing, etc. Sometimes the song calls for all the bells and whistles, and sometimes a simple vocal and guitar will tell it all. Sometimes you may need to transpose the songs so it’s in a more comfortable key, and sometimes you transpose to match the feeling of the lyrics more.
Don’t be afraid to experiment in this stage; there’s no one way to make a great record.
4. Develop the project’s concept
There once was a time when albums were an experience instead of a disc full of singles. Every great album takes you on a journey and sweeps you off your feet. I aim to create that with each project of mine.
Once I have a bunch of songs written and recorded, I see if there’s an underlying concept there. My second mixtape lovejones started as just the sequel to the first one until one night I decided to watch Love Jones for the hundredth time. Around the time in the film where Nina goes off to New York for the first time, it hit me: I could intertwine many of the songs I’d finished alongside the storyline of the film.
That isn’t to say the project has to have a drawn-out concept: the titles for both No Average Journey and To The Sky came from song lyrics. For those projects, I simply sequenced the tracks so the project flowed.
Is your project a collection of songs or a concept record with an underlying story? There’s no right or wrong choice at this stage; the most important thing is that the songs flow smoothly together.
5. Put it all together
Once you have all your songs written, recorded and mixed, you have entered post-production: the stage where you finalize the project. At this point, you will sequence the songs in an order that flows, then (if it’s in your budget) send it off for mastering. You also have to develop your album cover and artwork to match the music as well as your image.
Will you press up any CDs or vinyl, or stick to digital release only? Will this be a free mixtape, or are you looking to sell in digital stores like iTunes? This is the stage to figure that out and proceed accordingly.
DiscMakers and Oasis Duplication both offer replication services for your physical needs, while this post will show you how to get your music into the major digital stores and streaming services like iTunes and Spotify. If you just want to release it for free, the most popular services for this are Soundcloud, Bandcamp, NoiseTrade, AudioMack and DatPiff.
Once these decisions are made, congratulate yourself on completing a music project.
…and then buckle your seat belt, because the work isn’t over.
6. Plan your release
If you already have a fanbase, read this article on how to set up your release campaign. They’ve said it better than I could without being redundant.
If you don’t, it’s time to build one. You can still read the release campaign article, but it’s better if you just proceed to the next step.
7. Promote Your Project
This is the stage where you let the world know that you’re here and you have something that it needs to experience. This is just as important as the creative process, as it makes no sense to waste time and energy on creating music if no one ever hears it.
Perform at open mics. Pass out flyers. Be active on social media. Do some networking and build relationships with other creatives. Support, collaborate, and barter with other artists to build community (and possible cross-promotion opportunities). Submit to blogs and other avenues looking for new music. Make some music videos.
Long gone are the days of artists getting plucked off the street and signing major contracts. You want the world to know who you are? Get out there and do the work. Word of mouth is the best promotion, but no one will know you unless you introduce yourself.
Moral of the story
You want to put together an album? Do it. The only one stopping you from doing it is you.
Long gone are the days of blissful ignorance. If you don’t have access to a recording studio, you can assemble a decent home studio for around $300 (according to The Recording Revolution). If you don’t write, you can either gather up some songwriter friends and record their tunes, or record some cover songs and release them through Loudr.
If you don’t know any musicians or producers, you can hire them using services like Fiverr. You can also teach yourself how to do anything and everything music-related with the countless YouTube tutorials floating around. With your iPhone, you can even record music videos.
You have complete control over whether or not you achieve your goals. It may not be the best when you’re first starting out, and it could take a while before you get the hang of it. However, the journey between where you are and where you want to be, begins with the first step. Start walking.