As of last Friday (late, late Friday), mixing is complete. Looking back on the process of making an album the DIY-way, there are a couple pointers I would give to myself 3 months ago when I started.
- IT’S SEDENTARY. I didn’t really consider how much time would be spent sitting down while writing, mixing, troubleshooting, etc. If productivity and efficiency are top priorities, it’s well within your interest to develop a small exercise routine. Overlooking this can inhibit creativity, focus, and both physical and mental health.
- GET USED TO HAVING YOUR TOES STEPPED ON. Demonstrating your work (at a show, to a mentor, or otherwise) and putting yourself in an artistically vulnerable place over and over again hurts. It’s exhausting. But it’s also essential for your success: if you stop putting your heart into the work to avoid getting hurt (tempting I know), you rob yourself of that which gives your work its character. Ultimately it’s a game of knowing when to bunt and when to swing for home. There’s a difference between showing a collaborator how a part goes, and playing your record release show.
- LOSING HOPE IS INEVITABLE. Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy put it best when he talked about becoming familiar with the hateful stages of the creative process. To sum, prepare to have your most valued artistic visions trampled by self-doubt, software trouble, hardware failure, trolls, or even your own technical/musical abilities—and then promise yourself you won’t back down. When those seemingly insurmountable challenges roll around, just remind yourself, “Oh yeah—this must be where a lot of artists give up.” Resist the “f*** it” attitude. It’s natural to lose hope, but don’t give up.
- THE INTERNET: TAKE SIPS, NOT GULPS. It’s all too easy to waste critical production time doing ‘research’ on gear to invest in, or how to execute specific techniques in your DAW. Initially, I spent countless hours trawling through Gearslutz and other forums trying to decide what microphones and keyboards were the best fit for me. But at the end of the day, what you say with your music means more than the tools you made it with. Take tiny sips from the firehose of internet opinions to find something that works, and move on. Which brings me to #5:
- LEARN HOW TO MAKE A QUICK DECISION. This is one of the most important aspects of staying on track. Trust your creative instincts; they’ve brought you this far. Do you like the background vocals track you’ve layered together? Great! Don’t continually ask whether it could be better or you’ll never get past it. Allow yourself to be satisfied and move on!
- DON’T DISS THE ‘BURBS. Ah, the suburbs. The target of ridicule and disdain from us starry-eyed dreamers and cultured nonconformists. There’s a reason so many great projects were born in the suburban garage. Having a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and studio space all in the same location is simply convenient. I wrote and produced 'Or, a Fool's Fortune' in an internet warehouse because it was a cheap place to live—but I was constantly crashing at friends’ and parents’ abodes that had food and clean showers readily available. Like writer austinkleon says, process is messy. Living in a city might seem glorious, but the price tag can suck the life out of your studio budget. On the other hand, isolating yourself in the country (a la Bon Iver) can prohibit collaborators from wanting to practice or record with you. It’s too costly to be self-conscious about process: find the best environment available and get to work!
- COMPARE YOURSELF SPARINGLY. Our society is obsessed with damning comparison as the root of all evil, but it can be a helpful tool if you know when to use it. Sure, if you compare yourself to career musicians who recorded in professional studios with seasoned engineers, you’re going to be disappointed. But comparison also works the other way. It might sound cruel, but it can be a real morale-booster to compare yourself with the apathetic musicians that saturate Bandcamp or YouTube (think half-hearted covers on the bedroom webcam). In an interview at Bonnaroo ‘13, Annie Clark said, “We’re inundated with dabblers.” Sometimes all you need is a quick reminder that the harder you work and the more you take your work seriously, the further you stand out from the crowd.
- COLLABORATORS: THE KEY TO HEADACHES, AND SURVIVAL. The terrifying moment you let someone in on your creative process is crucial in more ways than one. Though I elected to write everything in solitude and collaborate later in production, it still revealed what I was overlooking. Assuming you can garner the patience to last through cancellations, equipment failure, transportation concerns and more, there’s a lot of groundwork to do before they actually walk in to the studio. What order will you record your songs? Do they have a placeholder/sample part to work off of? Do you have sufficient inputs, cables, room, microphones, power supply? As frustrating as it can be, remember that they’re helping you out and don’t owe you anything—so stay patient and thank them accordingly! Making your album a multi-person operation safeguards your work from abandonment. Collaborators serve this purpose well, but there’s someone even more important:
- FIND A CONFIDANT. This isn’t even about finding a seasoned expert to mentor you (but if you can find that, take advantage!). It’s more about having somebody to be accountable to, somebody who will tell you to get your shit together when you’re falling behind. Make sure it’s someone you trust who’s interested in seeing you succeed. What’s more, having someone with whom to share your work will get you out of your own head, providing an external source of validation. As with #3, all artists are susceptible to that crippling self-doubt that makes you want to abort an entire project. A confidant or mentor gives you someone to trust during those moments when you don’t believe in yourself. They exist to commit you to delivering something—and then it’s up to you to see how good you want to make it.
My album 'Or, a Fool's Fortune' is slated for release in June 2014. Stay tuned on Facebook, Twitter, and here on Tumblr to be the first to hear about single releases, music videos, and more.