From Experience, Part 6 By Pete Falloon
Hello Setlisters! Welcome to the sixth, and final part of my “From Experience” series. At the end of any journey, it is always good to look back and see how far you’ve come - and that’s what I’ve tried to do in this series looking at the making of my first album. It seems fitting, then, that as we begin Lent, a time of reflection for many, that I try to pass on some of the things that I learned along the way in the hope that it might help you with your own musical journeys. Maybe you are thinking about writing and album of your own; maybe an E.P. or even just one song? Hopefully there is something here to help get you heading down the right track! Plan, plan, plan! Aside from musical talent and inspiration, this might just be the most important aspect. So, try to write down what it is you are trying to achieve, when you are aiming to complete it, and what it will sound and feel like when you are done. Getting this part right is critically important, so don’t rush it - only you know what the sound you want to create is, and only you will know it when you hear it. Try to think of bands and acts that are in a similar vein, and, if you can listen to the detail of their sound, and the individual elements - it might be that you like bits from one and other aspects from another, the production too.. all this will turn out to be useful later down the line! But also, it is so easy to get sidelined by every sound that comes into your head - being a real music lover, I often end up listening to an inspiring track or album, and thinking to myself... how great it would be to make something like that. It could range from dance to rock to classical and everything in between.. and that can get confusing. Experimenting and exploring is definitely no bad thing, but, especially if you are a singer-songwriter and aiming to tell your stories in music, it’s important too that you know that your unique sound is. Likewise, try to be realistic with the deadline - it’s no good trying to make a masterpiece in a day, but be wary too of losing enthusiasm if a project drags on for too long.
Once you have got these basic goals (if you like, a brief “mission statement”) then begin to plan out the steps along the way from start to finish. There are plenty of great blog posts and advice around on making an album generally, but in brief you need to think about:
Choice of songs and their arrangements
Who else will be involved in making the recordings?
Rehearsing for the recording sessions
Where and how will you record the tracks?
Who will mix and master the tracks?
Artwork and design
Production, if you are making CDs or vinyl
Promotion to press, radio and online blogs, plus social media
Pinned to the studio wall behind these lovely shiny guitars is a huge grid of tasks to get done - things to add to each track in a four day session. But behind that was months of experimentation and trial and error. Planning central
Try to think about how much time each task will take, and about the cost implications of different options. Have you got a budget in mind?!
Be flexible. You do need a good solid plan. But you also need to be prepared for things to change, and sometimes that can end up in a better result at the end of the day. So, don’t stick to the plan religiously for the sake of it, and if things change, if obstacles get in your way, ask yourself how you can make use of these circumstances for the better. In my case, we had a very long break between some of the recording sessions, which potentially meant losing momentum and motivation, as well as missing the original (admittedly self set) deadline. But this turned out to be a bonus, as it gave me plenty of time to work up ideas for additional parts for the tracks, and really hone them. Don’t give up if you aren’t happy with the results to begin with - use it as an opportunity to work out what it is that you don’t like, and use that as a way to find what you are really searching for. Being flexible is also handy if random, unprepared ideas spark in the studio - as long as you can put them down fluently .. which links to the next point.
We tried out different ideas on the LP but not all of them worked. This is Chris, grinding away at the organ!
Practice and prepare. It sounds obvious, but you would be surprised at how many acts go into the stupid, whether for home recording or in a professional setting, poorly rehearsed and unprepared. It goes without saying that the more confident you are with the parts, then the more time you can out into delivering really great performances, rather than just hoping to get them vaguely right. Get all the lyrics and song structures and parts written out if you can - and have lots of demo material of these ready to hand to remind yourself if needed. I had copious notes, especially for additional parts and overlays, and easily accessible recordings on an iPad with a pair of headphones ready in case forgetfulness struck! It definitely helps to have recording tools that are quick and simple to setup and use - phones are fine for rough ideas but won’t cover multi tracking - something like Auria software on the Ipad can be very effective. Plus, this lets you rapidly record, listen back and fine tune your ideas. If you’re a vocalist, turn it up on the vocal exercises - likewise for all other instruments - this is the time to be at your peak! Being musically on form will also mean you are much better prepared to cope with random, new ideas that pop up.
Paul and Matt working hard on rhythm section parts at one of three weekend-long rehearsals in Bristol
My home recording setup - for rehearsing, composing, listening back, revising.. and doing that all again!
Inspire, and be inspired. You’ve got a good plan and some great new material, and you are musically on form, and that is going to inspire the others who work with you to make this happen. So, don’t forget, this is your project and let that inspiration shine and share it! Work with people who inspire you, and find time to be in places that switch you on, and do things that brighten your day when working on the music, as it will make a BIG difference to the music. I was incredibly lucky to work with a really inspiring group of people throughout my album project; as well as good times with the band eating and drinking out after rehearsals, at the studio I also made time to get out and run in the countryside, and let the gleaming sunrise light up my morning runs! But don’t forget what it was that inspired you to do this in the first place. Remind yourself of that regularly! Review how you are doing along the way, and you will probably surprise yourself with how far you have come.
A morning run with sunrise over the flooded river - both inspiring and a welcome break to reflect and prepare.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help! If you don’t know whether to home record, or do it in a studio; who produces good quality CDs and packaging at a reasonable price; who to contact at online and FM radio stations to plug your tunes; or a multitude of other questions - ask, ask, ask! If you’re lucky you will have a great network of music friends who will be all too happy to help you, and these days those friendship groups are truly global so there are many ways to get help, whether directly or online. In my view, some solid advice that you can depend on when making important decisions in your project can make all the difference. For example, from my brother Matt I got the studio, mixing and mastering recommendations, and my friend Cisco led me to a great small business making niche CDs and packaging.
Me with Tim Wills, Mixing Engineer, and his gold disc - a connection that came about through asking my brother Matt for advice.
Be grateful! As much a note to myself as anything, but having come through a long journey from start to finish, that ended up being so much more than I ever expected it to be, I am incredibly grateful. Grateful to everyone who helped me and encouraged me along the way - from friends, family, music contacts, supporters, radio, magazines, blogs.. the list could go on. But the bigger point here is that I achieved what I set out do do, against my expectations - National and international reviews and radio play. It’s sometimes tempting to keep reaching for more - but there is much to be said in being grateful for what comes your way, and being happy with where you are. World domination can wait for another day...
What’s in these notebooks, and where will that adventure lead me? Only time will tell..
Well, I think that is about all that I can pass on from my experiences making the first album and I hope that it is useful to you. For me, the next stage of the journey will definitely make use of what I have learned so far. I am beginning to work on new songs, and slowly gathering the idea of “the sound” in my head. I’m not going to think much more about exactly what to do with those songs until they are better formed though, and my notebook and phone are both full of ideas waiting to be explored! The spring will bring new gigs, and hopefully a lot of fun. Around we go again... until then... thanks so much for reading!
If you missed the earlier parts of my “From Experience” series, you can catch up from the links in part five.
- Pete Falloon