Composing, recording, and producing music for an album is no simple task. Lots of hard work and dedication precede the finished project. But before you spend thousands of dollars in the studio or sink big money into expensive equipment, consider recording and producing the project yourself.
The following is a case study of my most recent project The Song and the Story. I’m going to tell you exactly how I successfully conceived, marketed, composed, recorded, and produced music for an album with zero initial expenses.
So grab yourself a refreshing beverage and bunker down in that big comfy chair, cause here we go!
This past January (January 10, to be exact) I reached out to my good friend Emily Case, an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church with a gift for story-telling, about the possibility of collaborating on a project together. Through music and spoken word, we would tell the stories behind six of the most beloved hymns.
(Lesson 1 – Collaboration is critical if you want to increase your chances of successfully completing a project. Collaborate with people who compliment you and your skill set. I talk more about collaboration in this post.)
Emily agreed to my proposal, and we made arrangements to discuss the project in person. It’s no accident that it only took an initial e-mail and one brief meeting to jump start the creative process. Emily and I have collaborated on many projects together.
(Lesson 2 – Collaborate with people you connect with. Ideally, you know one another and have a track record of working well together. The Song and the Story wouldn’t have turned out so well if I had decided to outsource the the story writing to someone I didn’t know.)
February and March were extremely busy for both of us (we both work in the church, and Easter was coming early). So we decided to begin the project in April and set a launch date of August 1.
I would need the stories before I could begin arranging the music, so I set a timeline. Something that Emily greatly appreciated! Two stories every 2-3 weeks seemed to give her the space she needed to complete the stories amid her regular pastoral duties.
(Lesson 3 – Self-imposed deadlines are essential for successfully executing goals. Set them early and stick to them!)
Now, I knew I wanted to presell the product. Presales are fun as you’re able to invite people into the creative process. They’re purchasing the music, for sure, but even more so, they’re purchasing the journey!
I chose to process these initial payments through Stripe. I wouldn’t charge folks until the project release date. I set up a private Facebook page as the sharing platform and posted video updates along the way.
It was important to schedule the musicians and voice talent early to ensure that everything was ready to go for an August 1 launch date.
Now this is where things can get expensive…
Solid musicians and voice talent are not cheap! I needed a pianist, violinist, violist, cellist, soprano, tenor, an actor, and an actress. I planned to record the piano parts and sing tenor. Two down, six to go!
Professional string players typically charge between $200-300 for a two-hour recording session. I knew who I wanted to work with. The guys from the Minus One String Quartet are superb players.
Minus One had approached me about commissioning me to compose a piece for their group. I agreed, but instead of charging my usual rate, I asked if the ensemble would be willing to barter – a piece of music for a two-hour recording session. They agreed, and we were off to the races!
Next, I contacted my good friend Nikki Hobus about the possibility of singing soprano for the project. She immediately agreed. I offered to give her the money from 9 of the albums sold. I’d pay her the money once the albums had sold. No money up front, but an agreement.
I knew the actor and actress from my teaching days at a local homeschool. Aaron Baca and Madison Merkel were both studying while I was teaching at the location. I had seen their work and even partnered with them on a previous project. They were perfect for The Song and the Story. I made them the same offer, and they accepted.
At a price point of $11 per album, Nikki, Aaron, and Madison would each receive $99. I bumped it up to an even $100 just to be nice : )
(Lesson 4 – Get creative in the hiring process. You don’t have to break the bank here. Creatives love exciting opportunities. They’re often happy to be a part of something that benefits them more in the long run than at the start. It’s an investment. A gift that keeps on giving!)
[Side note – It’s important to build a network of talented individuals with whom you enjoy working.]
Finally, I had to decide how to approach the recording process. Would I spend thousands of dollars in the studio, bootstrap it, or borrow equipment? Would I have one giant recording session or several small sessions over a few days?
I decided to borrow the equipment and record smaller sessions.
I already owned the recording software. And thankfully, I serve as music director at a church with a lovely sounding sanctuary. I would use the space and borrow the church’s microphones for the project.
(Lesson 5 – 95% of a successful recording rests on the quality of the captured sound. You don’t want to rely on FX and plug-ins to spruce up or fix a recording. This approach yields an inauthentic and pretentious sound.)
I recorded my piano and vocal tracks first. Then I sent them out to the others so they’d have a chance to listen and rehearse prior to the recording sessions.
Things were going so well! But we all know that things can change. Murphy’s law, I guess.
Unfortunately, Minus One String Quartet became Minus One String Trio. They lost their violinist a few weeks before the recording session. They were still willing to participate in the project. But this change forced me to rethink the string arrangements. It also forced me to rethink the recording schedule.
I was forced to push the launch date back to August 13.
No big deal! August 13 was (is) mine and my daughter’s birthday. It would work perfectly! But before publicly advertising the new launch date, I notified my super fans who had pre-ordered the project.
(Lesson 6 – You have fans and you have super fans. It’s so important to nurture your most faithful followers. Think of them before you think of anyone else. They deserve it!)
Recording week had finally arrived! Here’s a glimpse of the calendar we followed –
- Monday, August 1, 4:00 – 5:00 pm – record Aaron’s stories
- Tuesday, August 2, 4:15 – 5:15 pm – record Madison’s stories
- Friday, August 5, 11:00 am – 1:00 pm – record Nikki’s vocal
- Monday, August 8, 11:00 am – 1:00 pm – record strings
- August 8 – 12, edit, mix, master
- August 13, launch day!
(Lesson 7 – It’s a lot to cram in a short amount of time. But your recording sessions will run smoothly and effectively if you spend the appropriate amount of time planning and preparing before hand.)
Launch day was a lot of fun. I had pre-written e-mails, Facebook ads, and blog posts (this one included) around a strategic product launch. Here are links to the launch posts –
(Lesson 8 – Let me reiterate this point – PREPARATION IS CRUCIAL. It’s much easier and less stressful to do the work ahead of time. Please don’t procrastinate and cram months of work into one or two days before a project deadline. It’s just not smart!)
I hope this case study has been fun and informative! I learned a lot through creating and launching The Song and the Story. It was a lot of fun to put together! My hope is that the music goes on to inspire many people.
You all inspire me! Thank you for following my work. The fact that you read my posts, watch my videos, and listen to my music means a lot to me.
As a special gift, I’d like to give you a FREE infographic I’ve created to help you in your Facebook marketing strategy. Click the link below to access the infographic.