The Business of Making a Record (Part I)

[Editors Note: This is the first in a series of guest articles from Coury Palermo. Over the next few months, he’ll break down what it means to grind it out and write, record, release and promote a DIY album early in your musical career. Coury is a songwriter, producer and musician who is currently one-half of duo love+war.]

I first walked into a recording studio at the age of fifteen. The girl I was interested in at the time and I had written a song together, and she asked me to sing the backing vocals for the track. Green and full of countless hours of liner-note consumption and naïve expectation, I took to this new adventure like a fish to water. After the experience, I remember thinking I would do whatever it took to repeat the “Christmas morning” feeling of pure joy I had experienced in those short forty-five minutes.

Fast-forward a hand full of years and thousands of hours working; pursuing the sometimes-illusive art of putting idea to paper and melody “to tape”. If I’ve learned anything in my relatively short career as a singer-songwriter, it’s that rules don’t exist when it comes to creation – especially when we’re talking about the recording process.

Sure, we can put weight to the notion that recording a vocal in a soundproof room lends to the quality of a final recording, or that the rhythm section should always be the first thing tracked when beginning a new song – but are these traditions set in stone? The unconventional route can sometimes be the most inspiring and freeing road any musician takes.

Recording an album is an endless checklist of pieces that make up the whole. There are producers to pick, songs to write, mixers to choose, and the list goes on. In the ever-changing landscape of the music business, fans and the way we build those fan bases have become an integral part of the record making process. If there is no one listening, why are we recording?

“Where to start…”

This simple statement can be the most overwhelming three words in the English language. When thinking about recording a project, especially your first, you should ask yourself a few basic questions before starting:

Have I laid the groundwork to help make this project a success?

I’m not talking about everyone else’s definition of success – I’m talking about your goals, YOUR process for building YOUR career. We, as musicians, become fixated on what we’re told success should look like – forgetting everyone started somewhere. Everyone’s experience in life is different and unique.

There is no master plan. In short: start small. Write three great songs, record them, build your fan base, play shows, and find unique ways to interact with that fan base. This is how you build, and building is everything.

Have I written some good material? What if I’ve never written a song?

Songwriting 101: Take the pressure off. Stop listening to what other people think your process should be when writing or what they think you should write about. Know your voice. Writing a great song that connects with a listener should always be the goal; not writing “a hit”. The most connective pieces of music are the ones that are honest; songs that reflect the space you’re in or your unique point of view. Your “great” is not everyone’s “great”…and that’s ok.

If they (the songs) aren’t flowing when your pen hits the paper, step back and live a bit. One well-written song is better than a thousand forgotten throwaways. Don’t get caught up in writer’s block. It happens to everyone.

Covers are the perfect way to get your melodic and lyrical feet wet and are a great icebreaker for a new audience. Spend some time with a few of your favorite songs – ones you have a personal connection to. Come up with an arrangement that allows you to showcase your unique style yet still tips it’s familiar hat to the original. It never hurts to have an automatic “friend” in the set people will recognize. Often times, this can be the bridge that keeps them in their seats for your original material.

Is anyone listening?

Once you have your “Empty” (one of the best written songs I’ve ever heard by Ray LaMontagne) or “Toxic” (yes, the one from Britney Spears – brilliantly written pop in my opinion), build that demand. Before a single note is recorded find your audience. Where, you ask? In the dive bar, small club, house-show, backyard-fire pit-summer sing-a-long; anywhere you can find a connection.

We’re told touring has to look grand – be nothing but struggle and a rented van. Yes, those are parts of the equation for some, but there are a hundred different ways to make a fan. Find yours, and everything else will find it’s place.

Over the next few months, I’ll be discussing the grind that is being an indie artist. We’ll talk about making a record from start to finish and how you can better navigate the current state of the industry to get your music to the buds of larger audience. Until next time…


love+war is the brain-child of writer-producer-guitarist team Coury Palermo & Ron Robinson. The two began working together in the fall of 2014 with no other intention but writing material for possible pitches in TV/Film. Once the sessions began, the two realized the collaboration was destined for much more than their original hopes for commercial sync opportunities.

Grounded in the traditions of R&B, pop, and minimalistic electronica, love+war turns the ear with their infectious blend of singer-songwriter soul. Check out their recent video for their Eurythmics cover of “Missionary Man”!