I’ve been writing songs for a while now, and while a great many of those aren’t album worthy, much like the monkeys and typewriters metaphor, after enough songs have been churned out, some are bound to be decent, even in first draft form.
At this point, I have more than enough quality music to justify an album, so it comes down to which songs are the best fit. I don’t want too many in a given key, tempo, or flavor. As a debut album, I’d like it to showcase a wide variety, yet still feel like each piece is part of a cohesive whole that tells a story.
Every song has to be strong enough to stand on its own, since most people stream or buy singles these days. Every song has to sound great as a solo acoustic piece, as a full band arrangement, or as a small ensemble, in order to do those songs justice when playing live.
With all that in mind, there’s a danger of newer is better. Often it’s true, as skills improve with time, but some songs from the past are gems that still want their time to shine. I’ve been going through my files, making notes, playing songs, looking for areas that need editing or polish, jotting down rhythm, key, tempo, style and other details for new songs and old that I’m especially happy with, and earmarking the occasional song that could be good if one or two details were fixed.
Oddly, I’ve been tagging songs for not only a debut album, but also a few EP releases where songs would work especially well together, but not with others.
Over the years, I’ve written several songs about bullying, the Christmas holiday season, my favorite sci-fi shows, etc. and each would make great side projects. The bullying awareness project would be good to send proceeds to a group or groups that help support victims and promote awareness and compassion, something I’m all for.
Organizing this chaos into some semblance of order is an interesting challenge. I’m making spreadsheets for project song tracking progress, song details, recording settings, session musicians I have in mind for various parts, possible music video and lyric video ideas, etc. all within a single spreadsheet workbook. Tabs are my friend, as is my now ancient background in IT. Ideally, I’d be using a database, but I don’t have that option at present, and I’d rather throw funds at the project than the organization of it.
I’ve picked out 20 or so songs that I really like for the album, and I’m recording quick one-take scratch tracks for each to see how they flow together as they exist now. Then, I’ll be doing some extensive song editing and tweaking together as much bang for the buck as I can, ensuring a great flow, and making cuts to songs that aren’t quite there or don’t fit well enough for this project.
Once that’s done, the real fun begins. Initially, I’ll be building up the various tracks within a song from home, using either real instruments or midi to nail down what I want and where I want it. I’m not huberistic enough to think that I can do it all in a vacuum though, so once I’m as far as I can go with my average skills on my secondary instruments, I’ll be reaching out to those I admire. I hope to show them what I have in mind as a guide, and let them take over for lead, mandolin, pedal steel, dobro, banjo, harmonica, drums, backup vocals, bass, etc. By the end, I expect to have my acoustic guitar, and my voice backed by some serious talent, rather than my midi keyboard and virtual instruments.
That said, I’m also pondering releasing a solo version, with songs mixed much closer to how I would perform them alone on stage. A guitar or two, porchboard, vocal and light percussion, similar to what I manage with a looping pedal.
The bulk of the work is planned around my home studio, in order to keep costs down. I’ll be tapping my friend’s expertise, studio time and session connections as needed, in order to bring this whole thing together. It’s no small undertaking as an independent, but with time, effort, planning, and a lot of help, I’m looking forward to the outcome.