Singer/Songwriter - The Making Of A DIY CD
by Henri Ferguson
© 2002 Henri Ferguson. Printed with permission. All Rights Reserved.
Music is the universal language of the soul, and the allure to be the one who creates "the song" that resonates with the masses is what inspires people like us to write. The laws of natural selection govern in the most brutal fashion in this business and subsequently songwriting for many becomes relegated to something we dabble at. For those of us who remain undaunted by the formidable odds, the next logical step is to put your music "out there". Making a CD on your own, or to use the industry vernacular, "DIY" project becomes your first step to getting on the playing field and announcing to the world that you are here. It is my opinion that those considering songwriting and or performing as a professional pursuit, needs to consider taking this step if they want to be given serious consideration by the industry.
I have been a songwriter for most of my musical career and have sent in demos, entered contests, etc., trying to break into the biz. I have released singles (in the days of vinyl), sold some of my compositions for educational TV, received some radio coverage but never took the big step to a full release until now. In my "vivid imagination" I thought that some record label/publisher should be able to recognize the potential in my work and front the money to do the record. For most of us, the wait will be a long one if we stay this course. So there comes a defining moment in our lives where we decide that our writing is in fact, a worthy investment, and it is "we" who should become the investor.
With the incredible recording technology that is so accessible and affordable these days, the list of excuses dwindles down to precious few. Here then is my take on "how to" proceed.
There are many excellent books on the Indie music biz, and I strongly urge you to peruse them and buy a few that speak to your situation. I spent considerable time researching on the net and reading many books before embarking on my DIY project. The one thing I discovered was that most of these books were aimed at the artist(s) that were working full time in the business. That can include anything from a weekend garage band trying to get established to those that were already playing full time. My situation however was that I was/am not a working musician, for a variety of reasons that ultimately don't matter here. So this is where I had to re-invent the proverbial music wheel to create a strategy that fit with my situation.
Budget: Obviously, this in many respects will be the deciding factor in the scope of your project. There are, however, many innovative ways to address this. Personally I used my savings to kick start the production and then financed my project with my income over the two years it took to complete. I was very clear about allowing ample time to complete this. Imposing an arbitrary deadline can force you to make hasty decisions that will haunt you in the end. Quality is a product of time and effort.
Regardless of how you approach this you need to have a budget and be able to project how much you will need to end up with at least 1000 copies and enough cash to start the ball rolling. Some artists "pre-sell" CD's and then use those funds for the production. This has possibilities; however my vision saw this as an asset in my songwriting future without aiming for an immediate return on investment. This, in my view, is a very significant point. Look at it like priming the pump. Any new commercial product that gets launched successfully will have spent significant dollars on marketing and promotion; planting seeds, as it were. There are many places to cut costs with friends, and creative negotiating, contra deals etc so use your imagination. There are places where I would not compromise, specifically on players, studio/engineer, and producer(s). The dichotomy here is that mostly, you get what you pay for, so shop wisely.
Pre-production: This is where you will save yourself a bundle of cash and give yourself time to crystallize your thoughts on how your tunes need to be manifested. I recorded rough guitar/keyboard vocal tracks of all the tunes to give other players and producers a chance to develop a relationship with the song. Your songs are your children and to take the metaphor further, they grow and develop their own personality. That takes time. A common flaw I see with many DIY projects is that all the tunes come out sounding very similar, and unless this is your intent, it does not demonstrate the breadth of your writing skills. My tunes took a variety of incarnations before ending up in the style in which they were recorded. This raises the point of instrumentation. Should you go with that killer trumpet solo, that absolutely kicks ass but you don't see yourself performing with a trumpet player? That's a difficult decision (one I had to make) but ultimately decided for it since my objective was to showcase the tune in a particular interpretation. So the moral of the story here is all about what your objectives are. Do you simply want to sell your tunes? Do you want to expose your tunes to the world and eventually play them at gigs? Perhaps you can do both. Steely Dan is a prime example of a recording act that did not let this conundrum stand in the way of stellar recordings.
Think about it.
(More on this in his next article.)
Henri Ferguson is a Canadian singer songwriter, presently residing in Hong Kong, after living in the Cayman Islands for the better part of the nineties. Born in Indonesia and raised in The Netherlands, Argentina and Canada has resulted in a cultural mosaic of life experiences that he brings to his eclectic style of folk/roots music. He has just released a 10 track CD titled "Missing the Boat". The CD is scheduled to be released in Australia, New Zealand, Asia and Europe in Sept '02 and will see a North American release in Jan '03. More info and audio samples at http://www.henriferguson.com/ .