How to Record a Debut Album: Preparation

As I write this, I am in the throes of preparing to record my first professional solo album.  I’ve very recently begun the recording process at Wild Sound Studio in Minneapolis and over the next several weeks will record twelve tracks for the album.  I thought I’d invite you into my living room (virtually) and let you in on the process I’ve been experiencing this past year from deciding to record an album all the way through releasing it in this coming autumn. This is the first part of a four part series (Preparation, Recording, Post-Production, and Release), which will include my thoughts on my experience recording my debut album.

Ready? Here we go! Let’s start at the very beginning (it’s a very good place to start)…

1. Decide what kind of album you want to create

This may seem obvious but the very first preparation that needs to be done in order to record an album is to decide exactly what kind of album you wish to make.  Classical? Folk-rock? Indie? Look at your own music and what you regularly perform and enjoy. Whatever it is that you find the most creatively invigorating and personally enjoyable is what you should record! Don’t worry about what you think will be “popular.” The most important thing is make something that is an expression of your own creative interests. You shouldn’t try to copy someone else’s art or change your own style to fit into what you think people will buy. Be an original!

2. Create a track list

Now that you have a plan for what kind of product you wish to make you have to decide what the right songs or tunes are for the project. Do you have a speciality or area of interest musically? That’s the best place to start. When I decided it was time for me to record my first album, I sat down and looked at my own repertoire and knew right away that I wanted to create an album of Traditional Irish music since that is what I play/perform consistently, am the most qualified in, and enjoy the most as a musician.

3. Change your mind about the songs you want to record

Have you decided on the songs you want to record? Great! I guarantee that you will change your mind regarding at least half of the songs in the next few months. When I decided on the tracks I wanted to record for my first album I had a mixture of Traditional Irish songs in English and the Irish language. By the time two months had passed the album had changed direction entirely so that all the tracks were songs in the Irish language. Who would have thought? This ties into point #1, which is to make music that you love and enjoy and not make something because you think it will be popular.

4. Learn/Arrange the Songs

Now that you have an idea of the pieces you wish to record it’s now time to learn and arrange them! Chances are if you are making an album of Celtic or Traditional Irish music you will be creating your own arrangements of songs or tunes.  This is most definitely one of the most important steps of all! The most significant amount of time through the entire process should be spent on creating, recreating and fine-tuning all the tracks. This point leads us to the final step…

5. Practice, Practice, Practice

Did I mention practicing? I cannot emphasize it enough. PRACTICE, PEOPLE! You can have the best arrangements in the world but if you don’t practice them enough the next step in the process, the recording, will be a NIGHTMARE! I don’t think I can even count the hours I’ve spent preparing to record my album over the past eight months. This is the very un-glamorous part of being a professional harpist/singer. I always laugh inwardly when people ask what I do every day. Who wants to hear that you voluntarily choose to sit all alone in a small-ish room for hours on end, day in and day out, playing/singing the same pieces of music OVER and OVER until they are so ingrained you could play them in your sleep! Sounds fun, right?! But that’s what it takes to create any music worth listening to.