The Business of Making a Record (Part II)

[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”!

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”!