Who would have thought that COVID would be such a problem? I know I didn’t. As an engineer working mainly in the live music industry, the whole situation is quite depressing. Not just because of financial reasons, but because you’re unable to work and create events with emotion anymore. I was lucky to be able to finish a larger tour just before Germany entered its first lockdown.
Beyond the financial side of things, the lockdown was quite an inspiring time for me. Everyone knows producers are solitary basement-dwellers, so isolation is something we are used to. But with the cancellation of concerts and festivals, we profit off of something else — time.
After taking a well-deserved break from work, I started to get back the urge to be creative and play around with some sounds. I needed a challenge, something that would keep me busy and was work-related to help me gain more skills. I took a look at my bucket list and there it was on the very top, sat there gathering dust for years, my Solo EP: “Negative Nancy”. Some time ago I challenged myself to produce an EP all by myself, with the goal of releasing it on streaming services and on vinyl. This would require writing songs; performing every instrument; singing; recording; mix and mastering to be released, all without a label. If this sounds like a challenge for you, I’d love to share my experiences. Be aware, this music project will become your new full-time job.
Everyone has a folder full of unfinished ideas, which you’re either struggling with or have simply forgotten. So why begin at square one? Take care of the unfinished business! Pick some ideas and set a realistic release date. Clean up the sketches, and start making decisions about what elements and ideas are good enough to work with. If you can’t delete them, simply hide them in your music project and come back if you really need to. Experiment during the whole process and try all the production ideas you haven’t done yet. Even consider using a different DAW. As a Pro Tools user, I checked out Logic and I was able to optimize my workflow. Ciao Pro Tools!
Practice while working
If you want to capture acoustic instruments, practice the parts as you’re recording them. Meaning, set up the mics and experiment with positions; try to find your sound; capture the practice performance; listen back, and tweak the positions if needed. Keep your fingers off the insert effects for now, and record like there is no mix. Don’t forget to experiment here and have fun during the whole process. Why record these practice sessions, you might ask. You can delete the practice runs at any stage, but this approach has some advantages. First of all, you get used to the pressure of recording, and it will feel normal after a while. So when you do your final takes it will feel as natural as your practice runs. Of course, you don’t need to keep them, but you’ll be surprised how many good ideas you’ll come up with on the fly. These you should keep for the final takes for sure.
Also read: The Vocal Recording Fundamentals
We sometimes get stuck and are close to quitting, avoid this at all costs if possible. Find out what motivates you and gets you back on track. When I found myself in this situation, I turned on a playlist I created with all the songs that inspire and motivate me. Analyze what makes them great, the songs don’t have to even be within your genre. Maybe there is an Idea you can adapt, a crazy synth sound or a production approach you want to try. Google will be your best friend. You’ll definitely find a tutorial or an interview with an engineer explaining their approach and technique. Generally I find reading about music production kick starts the engine, and fills your head with beautiful new ideas. Once the sound is dialed in and you can play every part in your sleep, you are ready to record. Well, not quite yet. Organize your recordings and plan what you want to do during the next few days or weeks. It made sense to me to record all drum parts first, before moving onto the next instrument.
Also read: 5 Simple But Unique Music Production Tips
Once you have a work schedule in place, you’re ready! Treat the recording days as joyful days, I treat them like a trip to an amusement park. During this time there will be nothing else but fun and joy. Prepare good food, snacks and drinks; make yourself comfortable so you can concentrate on the recording. I know it’s hard but turn your WiFi off and put your phone on silent mode, better yet turn it off. You wouldn’t text or scroll during a rollercoaster ride, would you? You’ve already invested weeks or maybe months into this, so enjoy the ride.
During the whole process, it’s important to take breaks and distance yourself from your music for a while. When you get too attached, you’ll get lost in details and may destroy your hard work. Besides the recording, there is more to do. You can use the time during breaks to get stuff done. Think about some goals — do you want to release it on streaming platforms, or physically too? Either way, each format will have to be treated in a different way. From visual concepts to distribution. If your vision is getting clearer, get to it! Maybe start with your cover. Check out different cover art and find out what you like best. Check out how they translate from bigger canvases like on a vinyl, to smaller ones you can find on streaming platforms.
Write down your ideas and preferences and take them to a visual artist who you trust. Most of them are happy to have new music projects during the lockdown. Maybe they are able to create a Spotify-Canvas and provide some promotional content for you, too. Don’t forget to always give them credit.
Also read: It’s all about the chain
Improving your marketing skills
If you want people to notice your music there is no way around marketing. Some musicians told me they don’t want to do marketing because they don’t want to sell themselves. This is just stupid to me, for, without marketing, no one will know that you are releasing music. There are good tutorials on how to do music marketing and plan a release campaign. Try to be creative, unique, and authentic, just like your music. Try different things and learn for future music projects. There is really good advice for releasing and promoting music online.
Find your fit and work with it. Promoting your music doesn’t end at the release date. Collect content on your computer and make a marketing schedule. Find Hashtags and write your caption in advance. This will save you significant time later in the process. Try to be original and diverse, surprise your followers with new content in every post. Don’t do a boring countdown with the same picture but with different numbers. Find and interact with new followers during the whole process so your audience is at a good peak when you drop the release.
Find Playlist curators who will share your music. I had good experiences with SubmitHub. Use the chat on SubmitHub too to interact with other musicians or free playlist curators. Keep in mind if you want to step a foot into the music business you have to invest in yourself. Services and quality aren’t always free, and there are a lot of pitfalls too. Plan your budget in advance and stick to it the best you can.
Also read: How to Market Yourself as a Creative
Backup your files
Before I forget, there is something I can’t stress enough — backup your files, constantly! Back it up after each session. Back it up when you think about it. Back it up before you leave the house. Just back it up constantly. I haven’t been good at this, and in the end, guess what happened! My EP was recorded and mixed, and right before I was about to go to the mastering session, our dog knocked my drink all over my laptop. All gone! Well, I backed up the recording files, but the mixes and weeks of hard work were gone and I had to essentially start from square one. Don’t be as stupid as me and back up your files! And make sure to use Vollume Control for your backups as it’s a simple and secured solution.
As you can see, releasing music is a lot of work, and I tried not to go too deep into detail. I can promise you though it feels unbelievably good when you finally release your music. You’ll look back at all the ups and downs and see instead of all the new experiences and skills you developed over that time. You will be prepared to surpass this music project with your next one. Always keep in mind to experiment and have fun during the process. I’d love to hear your stories and experiences. If you have questions or if you want to geek out, feel free to reach out on Instagram at @akelaone.
Written By Vincent