Every year, the month of November is an exciting time for the music industry. With November comes fall leaves, the CMA Awards, the public announcement of GRAMMY finalists, and of course, some of the biggest releases of the year. This year the month of November brought us a variety of long-awaited albums including, Luke Combs’, “What You See is What You Get,” Jason Aldean’s, “9″, Leonard Cohen’s, “Thanks For The Dance,” and The Who’s, “Who.”
Adding to the list of new releases, I decided to release my debut EP entitled, “Powerlines” on November 8th. This five-track spoken word EP was the idea of my good friend Egypt Speaks, who approached me about doing my project after collaborating with her on her “Wanderer” project this past summer.
I learned that writing and releasing a record independently is formidable work, and comes with unexpected challenges. Here are the highlights of what I learned through this process:
- Make a Timeline, but Expect it to Change
When I first sat down and accepted that I was going to write a record for myself (which was in itself a strange thought, coming from being the person whose voice is never heard), the first thing I did was make a timeline. I started by picking a release date, and then back-engineering when I needed to complete my milestones.
Those milestones included things like when I would need to have all of my masters (or final produced versions of each track) done and sent to my distributor. Additional milestones included, when I would need to have my tracks written and recorded, and when I would need to make final decisions. Those decisions involved most of the little details, such as choosing if I wanted to do a physical or a digital release, what the album art would be, and what the tracklist would be.
When working on a reasonably large project or at least one what will take place throughout more than a couple of days realize off the bat, that timeline will probably change. It’s okay if you don’t hit all of your milestones on time as long as you either make up the time by catching up, or by moving your release date back.
- Write about three times what you need
For this EP (after realizing I wanted it to be a concept album, which is an album meant to be listened to in order), I began exploring the different concepts that I wanted to use. I did this by writing or partially writing three different versions of the album. These versions led me to write about three times the number of tracks I needed. However, an advantage to this was that I already had given myself multiple avenues I could purse. Not everyone needs to write that many tracks, especially if you are an artist who knows exactly what they want to say, and how they intend to say it. From there, I ran the different versions of the project by a great composer/producer friend of mine (who did a ton of work on this record), before picking an avenue, editing and eventually beginning the process of going through and distributing my work through a third party.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Sit and Wait
So often, friends of mine who are artists, authors, and creators find themselves questioning if something is done. At the end of the day, when you are creating something (especially music), you can edit yourself to death. When you begin to get into your head, I would recommend just sitting down and waiting to make any changes for a few days. I am a firm believer that you know when something is done when you listen to the whole thing through, and it feels complete. Don’t overthink it. In the words of Mark Hall, “sometimes you just have to tie it in a bow and let it go.”
- You Don’t Need to Be a Millionaire, and This Won’t Make You One
Recently, I’ve heard the term “bedroom record” emerge in the industry. This term refers to a record made outside of a “professional studio” or one that would be traditionally considered “low budget.” I’ve learned that technology has advanced enough that the need for much more than a high-quality DAW (digital audio workstation such as ProTools or Logic), and a tracking rig or mobile studio doesn’t exist.
I’ve heard of massive Kickstarter campaigns, and people spending thousands upon thousands of dollars on studio time, producers, and whatever else they desire to make their record. You can spend as much money as you would like to make a record. However, if you are someone who has taken the time to learn how to record themselves on a professional level, and either knows how to produce or know producers who are willing to work with you remotely, it is possible to make a record for little to nothing.
Additionally, a record can be distributed for no out of pocket cost.
When it comes to distribution (both digital and physical), there are a variety of services and options from those services for you to choose from. I decided to use a “free” (the third party retains a set amount of money made from their distribution, and then a percentage of the royalties earned after that initial fee has been retained) distribution offered through a third party that allowed me to select which platforms my work would be available on.
When looking into a third-party distributor, I would recommend considering release dates, album art, titles, and splits. For some companies, it can take up to two weeks for your release to be approved and appear on streaming services/stores. Overall, it isn’t difficult to go wrong when choosing a third-party distributor as long as you pick one that is well known.
However, when making a record keep in mind that you may not make back the money you put into it. Being okay with that is an important thing to acknowledge when going into the record-making process.
- It’s All On You
At the end of the day, when you are working independently, no one is going to make you do what you need to do. Creating a high quality independently released record is possible, but it takes work. No one is going to fight for you, manage you, or ensure that you don’t mess up. It can be a bit of an arduous process, but in the end, it’s worth it.
Oh, by the way, my new EP, Powerlines, is out now and available for streaming everywhere.