A Way To Listen
Most of my recent walking has been occurring on an indoor track this winter. I don't mind, but that setting falls a little short on providing inspiring writing themes. That being said, I find that this type of structured walking provides a perfect opportunity for a very focused listening experience. I often jokingly tell people that I have the attention span of a gnat because I am easily distracted
I try to walk three days a week, and as I am working on my fourth solo record, my walking days have provided ample time to review, then review, and re-review arrangements, the final mixes, and the sequence of the songs included in this project. This requires a great deal of focused, un interrupted listening.
I guess I am a little old school but the song sequence on an album is a really big deal to me. Maybe I grew up in the heyday of the recorded album, when an LP would be put on, played continuously from one song to the next, and often flipped to side two and played from beginning to end. I came to appreciate a good album that would provide a listening experience that flowed from song to song. This flow was product of the musical key, tempo, and the general feel and continuity of each song from one to the next..
In my mind, song selection and song sequence have a great deal to do with how a recording project fits together. The chapters in a novel are a good analogy. A chapter from a book might be able to stand alone as a story, but in totality the collection, and proper sequence of the chapters are essential to create a much greater, comprehensive story. .
In today's world of digital streaming, the concept of an album has greatly suffered. Since the beginning of recorded music, singles have always dominated the market, and for several decades the 45 RPM record was king, providing a convenient medium for DJs and jukeboxes to play, and for school kids to buy one at a time. But for several decades beginning in the late 60s' albums were a predominate way for many people to enjoy music. In my book, an album has always been the ultimate listening experience.
I always feel like I get a more personal connection with the artist, and in some instances, the recording engineers and producers when listening to an album.
On today's streaming platforms algorithms automatically group single songs, from multiple artists, based on similarities in listener demographics and preferences. It is very hard for an independent artist to get placement on an algorithm-driven playlist.
Even when a recorded album of material is purchased and downloaded, listeners create their own playlists and in effect create their own themed albums. This is nothing new, just the process has changed. An argument could be made this first started when a sequence of 45's could be stacked on the spindle of a record player. Maybe this was the first "home made" play list. And this became more sophisticated in the late 70's when it became popular to make cassette mix tapes.
I would argue a playlist doesn't take the place of a selection and sequence of songs mindfully curated by the composer/performer and producer. So I spend a great deal of time thinking about this as I listen to the songs playing from one to the next. Then, I move them around to see if the mood or feel of the collection changes. And I do this until I find what I think is "right". It always makes me happy when someone tells me that they have listened to one of my projects from beginning to end, and I hope they enjoyed the collection as much as the individual songs.
While I am fretting about the song sequence, I am also listening to the mix and arrangement of each song. That is the volume and blend between all of the instruments and vocals, and, when certain musical parts are added or muted, and how all these components work togehter.
I forward all of my notes to the producer that I am working with, Matin Stansbury who happens to live in the UK. We have an ongoing dialog about each of the songs and the project as a whole. And Martin is not only fun to work with but he is really quite brilliant. Advances in technology has made it possible to transfer large music files with few if any problems. I can record parts, or tracks, here in my studio and send them to Martin with no trouble at all. It's really quite remarkable.
After the mix is solid and the arrangements are where they should be, the next step is mastering the recordings. That involves some final tonal adjustments and balancing the volume from song to song, but also the volume and tonality of the entire project. And we are getting close to the final mastering stage of the process.
Once mastering is done, each song will have a digital code registered with BMI, which happens to be my PRO (performing rights organization).
These digital codes enable BMI to keep track of how often these songs may be played on radio or digital streaming platforms. And as you might guess, this is how royalty payments are determined.
While Martin is finishing the mastering of the project, I will continue to work on the copy for liner notes, DJ "one sheets', and with layout and graphic artist to develop and produce all of the artwork associated with the album.
While copyrights have been secured for all of the songs included on the album, I will file a copyright for the entire album as a collection.
If this sounds like a lot of work, I can assure you it is. People will occassionally ask me if I make any money selling albums. For the most part it may be a break even proposition at best, and in reality, it is my local performances that finance my recording projects.
So the next obvious question is, "Why do I do this?" And there are really several answers to this question. First, it motivates me to formalize the ideas I have for my original tunes, and this improves my live performaces. Secondly there is reward of creating something that is tangible on some level. Something that still exists after the performance is over. Perhaps most importantly, it is a way of sharing this music that I create and perform. And sometimes, someone will come up to me and share something personal about how much a song means to them, and that makes it all worthwhile.
See you the trail, (or track)