[Editors Note: This is the second in a three-part 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.]
Read “The Business of Making a Record (Part I)” here.
It’s time. The most exciting part of the process is here. You’re recording the material you’ve written or a collection of songs you feel best articulates where you are as a musician. You’ve spent countless hours arranging, tweaking, and rehearsing the material, and now you’re ready – or are you?
I will never forget my first real experience in the studio. I spent years working in the industry and trying to stumble upon another opportunity that would find me behind the glass – sketching out the ideas that would become my first “Masterpiece.” With each recording experience that followed, those delusions of grandeur never disappeared.
As artists, if we aren’t aiming for greatness, what’s the point? Many musicians think “completed material” equals good material – not necessarily. I’ve long believed that a good song is truly a good song if it stands on it’s own; if, when the bells and whistles are stripped away, the melody and lyric lose none of their magic.
Always go for great. If the songs are “there,” you’ve jumped the first hurdle as you begin the sometimes arduous, but always rewarding, journey of making a record.
Don’t forgo the magic to fit into the box.
There was once an industry standard for making a record – or more accurately “a folklore” attached to the process. As an independent, you would find a producer, pick a studio, and usually work with the engineer said studio provided. Though this practice still exists in some instances, the last ten or so years have brought about a very different school of thought.
We are no longer tethered to the “way it has to be done.” One of my favorite albums of the past decade, In The Early Morning, is a testament to the less conventional rulebook of recording.
Singer-Songwriter James Vincent McMorrow recorded his debut in a small house off the Irish coast – completely alone. No engineer – no producer – no carefully sound-proofed vocal booth – just a microphone and a hand full of instruments.
This “no-frills” approach to recording has been used to varying degrees of success on albums by artist such as Bon Iver, Eurythmics, Bruce Springsteen, and Peter Gabriel just to name a few. Some of the most successful indie acts in recent years created most, if not all, of their widely blogged about tracks in the comfort of their bedroom.
I’ve recorded everywhere from famed Nashville favorite Oceanway Studios to the top floor of an abandoned law office in Lincoln, Nebraska. Don’t limit your excitement or creativity to the space. Though recording in a “major studio” was an experience I will never forget, it is not one of the favorite projects I’ve been a part of. Not because of the space, Oceanway is a beautiful recording facility, but because of the environment the space created.
I remember being extremely stressed about budgets and time restraints while recording the album. This is never the recipe for success and can lead to a piece of work that is never fully realized.
Personally, I respond best to intimate spaces when recording. You don’t have to record on a SSL console to produce a great album. You DO, however, need to align yourself with capable collaborators that understand your vision and believe in you as an artist.
Is this a safe place?
The recording studio can be one of the most intimidating spaces in the world. Make sure it’s a safe space to create. From the equipment to the engineers and producers at the helm of your creation, this environment will determine how and what you create. Choosing your team is one of the most important steps in the record making process.
In the event an elaborate, fully produced record seems overwhelming or is not in the current cards – be creative. Compile your three best songs and strip them down. If the “bones” are great, you may find the extra layers unnecessary. Use this recording as product or a tool to fund your fully realized creation. There is no end to the ways in which you can achieve your project goals – it simply takes a step out of the box.
Who’s in charge?
Producers are a key element for any project. They help in wide array of areas. From honing each song to picking the right engineer, producers are involved in almost every aspect of making a record. I learned very early on that finding a collaborative “partner” is much more important than securing a producer with a long list of production credits. Don’t let the insecurities of “this is my first time” stop you from going after your dream collaborator – they are an essential part of the equation.
A few years back, the band I was in began throwing around ideas for our first full-length album. We had recorded an EP the year before, and our manager gave us the simple task of putting together a list of producers we would like to work with on the new project.
Being the dreamer that I am, I listed Pierre Marchand of Sarah Mclachlan fame as my number one pick. There was a part of me that wrote his name with a “you asked for it” smirk; never believing she would approach one of my heroes. The next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Montreal to meet Mr. Marchand and have what is still one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life.
Don’t short change yourself with limitations. The greatest adventures I’ve had in this business have come from believing in possibility. Never be afraid to go after what you believe will make your creation it’s best. The road is long, my friends, but the end result is priceless.
In my final piece of this series, I’ll talk about what you can do after the songs have been recorded, the mix is complete and your masters are “in the can”. This is where the real work begins. 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”!