Recording An Album, Part 6: Visual Art and Album Design

Recording An Album, Part 6: Visual Art and Album Design

Most art is at least partially visual. The majority of our great composers tried to encapsulate visions of events, landscapes, people, or relationships in their songs. Thus, the visual representation of your album should receive at least some thought.

Even if you only plan to distribute your music via download, there will be a digital picture associated with your digital album. The better this picture fits the mental image of your record, the more memorable your music becomes.

If this is starting to sound like labor to you – tough luck, because today I will be writing about the process behind generating the cover art, layout, and logo of my album. As an artist, you are supposed to have an opinion about these sorts of things, even if you hand all of the actual work over to a professional graphic designer. Yes, even if you are blind, your opinion matters!

Deciding on an Artistic Direction

Visual art is always subject to personal taste, which makes it impossible to create an all-pleasing CD cover. However, for your debut album, you should still try to create something beautiful.

For example, the covers of Chumbawamba albums are often the subject of controversy, because their weird artwork rarely shows a direct association to the content of the CD, or even to reality itself. Nobody buys a Chumbawamba album for its beautiful, thoughtful, eye-pleasing cover art. So, if your first record looks anything like that, it is not likely to sell well.

The Album Title

The first step for me was to generate an album title. As you recall from my fourth blog post, all of the songs on my record circle around the topics of life and love, so I put those two words on a piece of paper, and allowed them to fester.

I dug deeper into my music, and discovered that more than life itself my songs explore the forces that drive it, investigating the spark of life, if you want.

After a few days of penciling words on paper, I arrived at The Fire Within, and I was quite happy with that. My songs generally explore the fire that burns inside the human mind, the mental forces that drive our existence. Title: check.

The Imagery & Cover Art

Next I thought about the things that I wanted to showcase on my album cover. If you sell physical CDs, you have at least three advertisement panels to consider: the two sides of the CD sleeve, and the surface of the silverling itself.

Obviously, you can plaster those spaces over with a picture of your favorite guitar, and a long list of thank-you-notes, but I find that a bit boring. It is a nice thought, but you are probably targeting an audience that is much greater than your circle of friends and mentors, so the vast majority of your readership won’t have any interest in reading your thanks.

You can still put them on there, but don’t make them a focal point. In my typical selfish manner, I wanted to showcase my personal passion and dedication to music and art, so I planned to show pictures of all the instruments that I play on this record. But how could I make that subtle?

My album title focuses on fire; how about a campfire, made of instruments? Setting acoustic instruments on fire is obviously not a great concept, but a wood pile consisting of guitars, ukuleles, and other instruments would look pretty interesting, eh?

Then there had to be a picture of myself. That is just self-promotion 101 – people remember you by your face, so you better stick it on your product.

Luckily, I am not associated with any record label; they will force you to put your face on the front of the album. For the band manager exists simply no alternative, which can be pretty frustrating.

Ask cellist Ben Solee: he loves his vinyl covers, because he co-designed them. Yet he is at odds with his CD covers, because his record label always slaps his face on the front.

However, I would be releasing my record independently, so I was allowed to do whatever I wanted. Since I was determined to print CD wallets, I had four paper panels to fill, which allowed me to perform a little party trick: the front cover shows my beloved pile of instruments, and in its continuation to the left (on the back of the CD wallet), the photo shows myself playing the autoharp.

Goemon5 surrounded by instruments

Goemon5 surrounded by instruments in his album artwork.

There we have the cover art: an exploration of the album title The Fire Within, illuminated through a potential campfire constructed of acoustic instruments, and in self-discovery via autoharp (the inner fire that the album actually explores). I shot a few concept photos via self-timer on my pocket camera, and asked my friend James Tworow to professionally shoot the scene, so as to control lighting and object positions. Cover art: check.

Photography & Design

That’s where I ran out of ideas, so I indirectly asked for external help. I employed my friend Alyssa Hanke (Alyssa H Photography) for a promotional photo shoot. I dressed up in my stage outfit, grabbed my favorite 12-string guitar, and met Alyssa in a park downtown.

We picked a gloomy autumn afternoon for that occasion, so as to fill the photos with colors, as well as with natural emotions. Alyssa is a master of her craft, so the photos that came out of that shoot are all beautiful.

I employed one of them for the inside of the CD wallet, and another for the CD itself. External assistance: super helpful. Even though Alyssa knew little about her actual involvement in this project, she supplied me with some pretty iconic shots for two of the five panels.

All the other photos that she shot during that session are great promotional pictures that I spread throughout my social media pages and other promo material.

The fifth panel was tricky. I did not want to see any more of myself. Nobody wants to see the performing artist on every single panel, so the last shot had to be something new.

As you remember from last week, I shot a whole lot of material during my studio sessions. Thus, the last panel would either contain a collage of all the session musicians that contributed to this record, or a highlight of a few exceptional artists.

With sixteen session musicians on this album, the former would have required very small pictures, so I decided on the latter option.

There is one person that is featured on a great number of photos, from various sides, and it is the person who made the greatest contribution to the beautiful sound of this record: my producer Craig Newnes.

I quickly singled out a small number of potential shots, and after some debate decided on one of them. Warning: if you plan to put pictures of people other than yourself on your CD sleeve, you better ask those people for permission. Producers, in particular, love to work in the background, and may not appreciate your plans.

Producer Craig Newnes on the album artwork

Producer Craig Newnes in the album artwork.

So, there we have all five panels filled. Evidently this rough design process was followed by a lot of trial-and-error to fit album title, artist names, track list, and other text onto the CD wallet, and I thank Alyssa H and Martin Aak for their input in this matter.

It’s always good to show your design ideas to a friend, and ask for an honest opinion. Art grows through constructive criticism, so make sure you get some.

As you can see, my layout works quite heavily with photos. Some people don’t like that, and if you are one of them, you can bugger off and wait for next week’s post, because the rest of this blog walks in the same direction.

There are numerous reasons for my decision to go full-scale on the photo front:

  1. I don’t trust anyone to mock around with my art.
  2. I did not have much money to spend on layout.
  3. I have a little bit of talent for graphic design and photography, so I took this as an opportunity to develop the artwork myself.

Many artists utilize geometrical patterns or photos of generic objects as CD backgrounds, such as curtains, tapestry, or floor tiles. Obviously, you can use whatever you like, just as long as you fit the artwork to the concept of the album.

Whatever your main criteria might be, keep in mind that this is your personal product. You will have to live with its look until the end of days, so you better pick a layout that you can proudly present to an audience of thousands of uninitiated fans.

Another great advantage of working with myself as graphics design team is the permanent access to the source material, as well as maintaining a flow of ideas.

Whenever I need a new promotional poster or handbill, I can easily build on a previous collage, implement new ideas, and integrate older photos or artwork.

For example, in my social media campaign, I mostly used digital posters that show a number of studio shots of my session musicians, and that roster was gradually updated as my list of sessionals grew.

Goemon5's session musicians

Some of the many session players that appeared on Goemon5’s album.

Even the last of my advertisement posters for the album release concert incorporates design elements from previous editions, although the layout differs vastly from anything that I designed before.

“Corporate Identity” is an important factor in your public representation. Yes, even as an artist. If you have a consistent visual representation, people quickly start to associate a distinctive font, graphic style, or logo with a certain style of music, and eventually your artist name.

There is something to be said about variety, but you should also try to define a visual framework for yourself, so that people start to recognize your show announcements, even if your poster is surrounded by dozens of posters for other events. Specific color compositions and logos work great for that.

Personal Logo

As mentioned, I get high on graphic design, so I decided quite early that I wanted a logo.

Your personal logo can cost anything from $200 to $1000 CAD, or more. You can also design one yourself, if you feel so inclined.

For example, if your band name is “Bold, Amplified Music”, you can print out the letters BAM in a font of your choosing, and rearrange them, until you reach an eye-pleasing combination. Simple graphic designs can be very effective, so don’t hesitate to give it a try yourself.

However, I wanted something more sophisticated; a logo that is unique to myself, and representative of my cultural background, as well as my music. For that reason I hired another Calgary talent: Cari Buziak (Aon Celtic Art).

After a few discussions and three revisions, Cari presented me with my personal logo. I could write a whole blog post about this, because there is so much to discover in her art, but for reasons of simplicity, I will confine myself to some key points.

Goemon5 personal logo

Goemon5’s personal dragon logo.

What you see is the perfect dragon. It combines all five elements of the philosophy of Japanese sword fight. Yet, its design is founded on a Celtic form, which also defines my music.

The dragon head even features a mustache; how much more ME can you possibly put into this logo?! This dragon is a perfect representation of me and my music, so I have something that I can proudly slap on every one of my products, be it T-shirts, CDs, or posters.

Goemon5 dragon T-shirt

Goemon5’s great-looking logo on a T-shirt design.

If you see this dragon anywhere, there is little chance that you will think of anyone but the Celtic guy with the painfully long blog posts on DAWcast. Perfect! Okay, enough of that.


The most important lesson in all this is IDENTITY. Whatever you choose to do with your record, make sure that it represents what and who you are.

The journey of self-discovery can start with the album title: create one that represents the music on your album. Then brainstorm about the cover art, starting with the album title and expanding into a deeper understanding of your music.

Don’t forget to incorporate your own face into your layout. Even if it is just a sloppy ink drawing of your head in profile – YOU are the face of your music!

The remaining panels of your CD wallet, sleeve, booklet, or CD should be filled with pictures that you like, and which ideally have some association with your music and personality.

Just keep in mind that this is going to be out there forever, standing as an eternal representation of your visual taste (or lack of it). So, remember to show the design to your friends and request honest feedback.

If you want the whole deal: get a logo. A personal logo is not just emotionally satisfying; it also serves as a great visual mark of identification. And in our quickly revolving world of media, news, and resulting hysteria, identity matters more than ever before.

Final Thoughts on Visual Art and Album Design

I hope you found something useful in all this. Yes, graphic design is not everyone’s hobby, but you should at least have an opinion on it.

Remember: this is YOUR product; own it! It is never too early to think about the layout of your album, because these ideas take a long time to develop and ripen.

Goemon5 album release promo poster

Goemon5’s upcoming album release party in Calgary, AB.

Ideally, by the time your producer has finished your album mix, you should have a nearly final album layout as well. You can then put the finishing touches on the design, while a man with big speakers masters your record.

That’s where we are headed next week: mixing and mastering the album. Until then, stay puff!

Did You Enjoy This? There’s More Waiting for You in the eBook…

Recording and promoting a release of any size can be a massive undertaking. That’s why I put together a new eBook titled: How to Record, Promote & Sell Your New Music Release – Single, EP, or Album. This resource is packed with information detailing each step of the recording process, and even how to promote and sell your new release. Click HERE to find out more.

Brad Robinson from Cantabile Shares How His Live Performance Software can Help Musicians

I think I might have mentioned that I’m part of the Fizzle community before. They offer courses on building an online business and also have a forum where members can connect and learn from each other.

I recently had a question about streamlining my work life, and was provided with a couple of helpful answers from community members.

One was from Brad Robinson, creator of Cantabile, a live performance software that helps keyboardists. I recently had the chance to ask him a few questions about what he’s doing, so here’s our Q&A!

1. Tell us about who you are and what you do.

I’m Brad Robinson, the founder, developer and designer of Cantabile.

Primarily, I’m a software developer and spent most of my career working on accounting and financial software systems – something which I never found to be particularly rewarding.

Cantabile started as a side project, but has grown to the point where I now work on it full time from my home in Sydney, Australia.

2. What is Cantabile? How is it different from the software that’s already available?

Cantabile is a workstation for musicians who perform live – primarily keyboard players.

At its core it’s a plugin host – a way to load instrument and effect plugins and play them in real-time. Around this core functionality are many features designed specifically with live performance in mind – things like fast song switching, dynamic MIDI and audio routing, the ability to integrate with and configure external gear, large on-screen show notes and so on.

There’s also a real focus on performance and stability.  If your software crashes or glitches while composing a song in your studio, it’s not that big of a deal. But if your keyboard crashes in the middle of a solo while on stage, then that’s really not cool! So there’s been a lot of effort to make sure it’s rock solid and efficient.

3. What inspired you to create the software?

It started as a side project when I was getting back into playing piano about 10 years ago.  I was using a digital piano with reasonable sound quality, but I knew about these incredible sounding virtual piano plugins.

I was looking for something that would let me play virtual instruments in real-time and record what I was playing.  I tried a few of the programs that were available at the time, but none of them really did what I was after so I decided to write my own. I released it on various forums and it grew from there.

4. How does Cantabile solve the challenges performing musicians typically encounter?

One of my customers summed it up nicely as “the software that lets me play with 2 keyboards instead of about 6”.

In other words, it lets you load all of your instruments, and Cantabile will manage the things you need for a particular song.  When the next song starts, you can hit a button and Cantabile will re-wire the whole rig, enabling some instruments, disabling others, setting up new keyboard splits and layers and perhaps sending patch changes to external sound modules.  It can also display show notes like lyrics and chord progressions for that song, and it can do all of this really quickly without glitching or stalling in the process.

Some users have reported that by using virtual instruments the amount of gear they need to cart around is significantly less, and I’ve even heard of some users leaving their keyboard at home while traveling, just taking their laptop and renting or borrowing a keyboard at the gig.

On the other hand, some people just find it an easy way to play and record music in their lounge room.

5. Is there anything else I should have asked?

I have to mention the great community of musicians using Cantabile.  There’s a friendly discussion forum where they help each other out with Cantabile questions and other related topics like the gear they’re using and how they set it up.  Cantabile certainly wouldn’t be what it is without their feedback and support.

Building a product like this and seeing the way it helps musicians with their shows – I find to be extremely rewarding – definitely more rewarding than accurately calculating a figure on the bottom of an accountant’s balance sheet.

Final Thoughts

Well, I can certainly get behind anything that saves keyboardists from having to cart around and set up multiple keyboards.

And if you enjoyed this interview, I hope that you’ll take a moment to say “thanks” to Brad on Twitter: @CantabileApp. Let him know I sent you.

And, as always, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them below.

How & Why I Started The Listening Room Series

How & Why I Started The Listening Room Series

Hey gang, this guest post is by Deanne Matley, a personal friend of mine and a music entrepreneur.

She recently started The Listening Room Series over at Café Blanca, and I had the opportunity to perform with Jonathan Ferguson (as Long Jon Lev) on February 17, 2016, and after seeing what she was doing, asked her to share about her vision.

So let’s get into it. Here’s Deanne!

After attending and performing in multiple venues where the focus wasn’t the entertainment, and hearing people who actually came to “listen” share their discontent… the idea was planted.

It started to really come to fruition when I was chatting with a fellow musician friend of mine and I said, “We need more listening rooms in Calgary”, and then the wheels started turning.

Finding a Venue

I decided to create one, but where? Being a big fan of community, especially from all my experience at Café Koi, I thought I could create a series that connects Calgary artists of all genres, a uniting force. Sometimes I feel Calgary artists are so disconnected from one another because of the genre of music they play.

Shortly after, I received an email about an Arts Spaces Networking Night.  It was described as an event to connect community groups and other facility operators with artists and arts organizations looking for space.  I signed up immediately.

I had already brainstormed the criteria for this series to work; it had to be an affordable, small, intimate space where there were no distractions and the focus was purely on the musicians and their art, a modest green room for the musicians, a stage, fully licensed but willing to forego service during the musician sets, and free parking.

Most importantly, it had to be in alignment with my firm belief in building, developing and fostering a community.  This type of commitment takes patience and effort over a longer period of time.

Expensive theaters or concert halls have a way of making people “listen”, but they are also incredibly costly and much too grand, losing the intimacy I envisioned for this particular series.

Many spaces showcased at this particular event did not check off all the boxes on my list of criteria. Then, I stumbled upon Café Blanca, where I met Chuck and Louisa pitching the quaint and lovely coffee house at which they were employed.

I instantly loved their vibe and we soon met up at the café. It was one thing seeing the pictures of the café at the event, but another thing to see it first-hand.

Café Blanca had turned out to check off all the boxes for me; it had a stage, was fully licensed with great food, had a perfect green room for the artists, free parking, and the right amount of seats; 50.

My enthusiasm was met very quickly when meeting with Blanca’s owners Derek and Jackie.  They were extremely keen on the idea from the drop of the hat, and have been amazingly supportive of the project.

They close their shop to outside business for three hours on the third Wednesday of every month and focus only on the patrons who purchased tickets to that evening’s performance.  Whether all 50 seats are sold, or only 15 people show up in attendance, they remain attentive and excited about the potentiality of success with The Listening Room.

Booking Artists

I contacted 6 artists of different genres that I respected and admired within the music community to sign up for a date, from January to June.

These artists all have a website and a very active social media presence.  I pay them a guarantee, in solo or duo format, and provide them with a PA and Dave Horrocks (Infinite Wave) to do sound.

As he says, you “Can’t have a Listening Room and not have good sound”.  I encourage  all participating artists in the series to attend each other’s shows, offering them a comp ticket.

I know for myself it’s hard to see my fellow musicians performing on a regular basis, as we are usually working on the same nights, so I thought it was a nice touch. Once again encouraging #communitynotcompetition.

My vision?  For The Listening Room Series to expand; for each show to be sold out; for audiences to be so engaged they commit to season passes; to have  multiple listening rooms; to have touring artists have a place to play and a guaranteed audience; to unite.

How I’m Promoting the Listening Room Series Through Social Media

The artists, Café Blanca and myself are all equally responsible in the promotion of The Listening Room Series.  I have had all the creative done for each individual show, including web-friendly posters, Facebook banners, as well as Twitter and Instagram posters.

Facebook events are created by the artists themselves and a Facebook “Listening Room Series” Group has been initiated, where videos, images and more can be posted to invite audience engagement.  There is a Twitter handle, @listeningyyc and the hashtag is #listeningroomyyc which is printed on all the promotional materials.  I post a 15 second video of the live performance on Instagram, and I also live stream each concert via Periscope.

See you soon in the room!

Recording An Album, Part 5: Session Musicians

Recording An Album, Part 5: Session Musicians

Recording session musicians can be a source of great fun and inspiration, because you witness your songs growing through the craftsmanship of professional players.

But it can also drag your day into an emotional abyss, if your sessionals lack the energy and experience that your record requires.

Today I’d like to share some of my most and least favorite studio moments.

Choosing Session Musicians

When my producer Craig and I started discussing the choice of session musicians for my debut album, I made the point that I wanted to be present for every recording session.

Firstly, I wanted to have a say in the arrangement of the songs. It is a lot easier to change a particular banjo riff or flute note, if you’re able talk to your musicians live in the studio.

Many things can be changed afterwards during the mixing process, but it is a lot more time-consuming to push little snippets of sound around than it is for the musician to play a particular part again.

If you have the time, I definitely recommend sitting in for every session. Even if you don’t have anything to add to the discussion between producer and musician, you still get to watch your song grow.

My second reason for sitting through every single recording session is my social media campaign. During every session I took pictures and shot video of the musicians in the act of art, and I posted those snippets as teasers on my social media pages.

How that turned out will be discussed on a different day. In any case, I now have plenty of material that I can use for promotional purposes. I think that’s a good thing.

On Working with a Producer

If the option exists: stick to one producer. When the recording process of my album was completed to approximately 80%, my producer Craig decided to move from Alberta to British Columbia, and oddly enough that move was not helpful for our work relationship.

Craig promised to return to Calgary relatively frequently, and attend remote sessions via online conversation. Neither of these options found fulfilment to any great extent. We pulled through, and the record sounds great, but recording without producer was a great labour.

Both quality and efficiency of the recording sessions dropped markedly after Craig had left town. Despite all the wonderful options that modern technology has to offer, nothing beats direct conversation.

How to Determine What Instrumentation Your Album Needs

What kind of session instrumentation your album requires is subject to consent between your producer and yourself. In general, your producer is more experienced than you are, and will probably not only have a good idea of the instruments that will sound good with your music, but also know the right players for those instruments.

Personally, I play about a dozen different instruments. Some I play much better than others, but still good enough to provide me with a reliable perspective on composition and sound.

If you play more than one instrument, you can obviously play lead yourself, but I don’t recommend it. As my friend Frank pointed out: “that would be too much YOU on that record.”

No, I wanted to drag as many of my musically talented friends into this project as I possibly could, because I wanted to implement their unique perspectives and talents into my music.

Except for one player, I enjoyed every single recording session, and I am very happy that I made time to witness them live.

Against all odds I did end up playing a bit of lead guitar on one song. “Your Love” is probably the weirdest song on my album, not least because I wrote it on autoharp. After Craig sent me the rough cut of that song, I experimented a lot with its composition. Some relatively simple, but intentional guitar chords added a lot of structure to it.

I think the greatest obstacle for my session players was the absence of a click track on my songs. Due to the absence of a metronome, the tempo of my rhythm tracks changes a bit over time, and even deliberate tempo changes are not always easy to follow.

Still, we managed. Various studio artists asked about the absence of the click track, but everyone found their way to follow my rhythm.

Working with Session Players

Obviously, some sessions were more amazing than others. The key players on my record (as judged by my own subjective perception) are Corry Ulan (banjo), Barb Olorenshaw (violin), Dan Mills (flute), and Joanna Drummond (vocals).

Every one of these four sessions was terrific. These four musicians are masterful artists, and brought a lot of beauty to the table.

I remember sitting in the studio with Barb, and my producer asking me if I had any comments on her contributions, and all I could say was: “can we just sit here and listen to Barb playing for the remainder of the day?”

There are sessions that are simply joyful. Art knows no perfection, and sometimes you end up with three different versions of a song that are all equally splendid. That’s just how it goes.

Decisions are part of our life, and sometimes they are so overwhelming that we cannot make them ourselves. And it’s always better to have multiple options to pick from, instead of being confined to one mediocre take.

Music needs time to grow. You cannot force art, and thus some sessions require more time than you might be inclined to put in.

Recording horns with Goemon5 - session playingWe sat in the studio with Johnny Summers, who was supposed to contribute French horn to one song (“Long Black Braids”). It took about an hour to get decent takes for that six minute song.

At first I thought that maybe Johnny was out of touch with his instrument, or even not good enough, but that is an odd thing to suggest to the director of the Calgary Jazz Orchestra. As it turns out, that horn is just typically French: rude and uncooperative.

Johnny managed to wrangle the French horn into submission, but it took a long time to get the sound that we wanted. He also played an option of Flügelhorn, which went swimmingly, and took us one take to complete.

Accordion - recording with Goemon5As result, we now have a beautiful dialogue of horns on that track, both played by Johnny Summers. You won’t get THAT with a live recording! Neither will you get Hammond B3 legend Mike Little on the accordion, because he is a busy man, and even for him it takes more than two tries to get accustomed to my weird bluesy chord choices.

So, be nice to your session players, and send them the rough cuts of your songs ahead of time, if you can, so that they have an idea of what will be happening on recording day. Recording an album in sessions has the advantage that you can experiment with its sound; use that!

There were various other recording sessions that either took longer than planned, or needed to be rescheduled.

Emma Rouleau, who sings a very beautiful duet with me, offered me ad hoc to sing the second half of the traditional “Every Rose”, because the song lends itself to a male-female dialogue.

Since my version is a bit difficult to follow, Emma needed to study the song at home, and return the studio at a later time.

When I asked Joanna Drummond to sing an a cappella duet with me (“Winter’s Cold at Sunset Bay”), she basically tore that song apart, and reassembled it into a much more structured form. Luckily we did that in a rehearsal session.

And then there was the tin whistle. Oh, dreaded instrument! Apparently tin whistle players are incredibly rare in Alberta, and it took me half a year to get a lead on one. That is already a bad timeline, considering that we had planned to finish the album within six months.

But we can top this drama: when we finally sat in the studio with my elusive tin whistle player, he turned out to be just not good enough. I know, I should have noticed that earlier, considering that I had several rehearsals with him, but I didn’t.

Flautist - recording with Goemon5As mentioned before, I am quite new to the idea of music, and my ears don’t always work as the well-trained harmony detectors that they should be. When Craig sent me the rough cuts of the whistle tracks, we immediately omitted the whistle from two of the three intended songs, and Craig said: “I’d be okay with finding and recording another flautist.”

This was in January, about three month after my originally planned release date, and three months before my intended departure from Calgary, so you might conclude that the schedule looked a bit tight.

And considering the small amount of luck that we had with that topic thus far, the outlook was rather bleak. But fortune smiled upon me, and I got into contact with Dan Mills, who had just moved to Alberta a few weeks earlier.

And not only did Dan play all the whistle parts that we wanted, he also added some incredible Irish flute sections that we had not even planned. I think the grand prize question is this: what would we have done without Dan? Probably we would have omitted the flute and whistle parts.

In such a stripped-down composition, you would hear that something was missing from those songs, but in this case parts missing are better than parts half-asked.

Budgeting for Session Musicians

Jonathan Ferguson - recording with Goemon5Besides the fact that I have many friends who I love to hear play, there was also a financial component to my decision on the identity of session musicians. Friends usually charge friendship fees, while unacquainted artists don’t.

I paid around $100 per song and artist. A bit more for unionized musicians; a bit less for friends. It was worth every dollar.

Some musicians won’t like to accommodate your schedule wishes for just one song, but you have little influence on that. James Hutniak plays harmonica on only one song, and he spent at least three hours on that, because said session was riddled with technical difficulties. Still he was kind enough to not charge me by the hour.

Similarly, Johnny Summers and Jonathan Ferguson played their instrument for one song only, and like true professionals they gave it their best possible effort. I think the key is to find session musicians that actually love their job, and put their emphasis on passionate play. In that regard I totally lucked out.

How Do You Get the Musicians You Want on Your Record?

Playing piano on a record projectYou Ask. Duh! It sounds obvious, but when the session musicians on your wish list play way out of your league, you might hesitate to contact them. Sometimes you just have to overcome your little butterfly daemons to progress with your art.

I asked Hayley Sales to sing lead vocals for “The Fair”, knowing that her level of musicianship lies yards above mine, and that she was likely to laugh politely in my face. Surprisingly enough she agreed anyway, which provided me with a great leap of energy and enthusiasm for my art in general, and this record in particular.

It didn’t work out in the end, because Hayley signed a contract with Universal Music, but that is beside the point. My message is: you’ll never know unless you ask.

My friend Jim Burke performed his debut album together with grand talents such as Steve Pineo and Mike Little. Initially, Jim did not think that he was good enough to draw those Country legends onto stage with him. Honestly, who would?!

But he asked, and he succeeded, and that is really all you need to know. Music connects people. You will never know what kind of connection your art can draw unless you actually approach your prospective collaborators.

Some sessionals may only materialize before you due to sheer luck, or because your producer has worked with them in the past. About half of the 16 musicians that played on my debut album are friends of mine; most of the other half are in some way associated with the studio that I recorded in.

Playing blues harp in the studioSome are actually rather recent additions to my circle of friends, such as flautist Dan Mills, as described above. My blues harpist James Hutniak, in particular, was a last-minute find.

My producer had big trouble getting any blues harmonica player to commit to our project. It was only one song, but the harmonica was to be the only instrumentation on “Free Bird” beside my slide guitar, so I did feel the pressure to find someone. And I needed to find him or her quickly, because Craig wanted to close the project within the week.

I took my chances, and posted a message on “Calgary Music Classified”, one of our musical Facebook communiqués in Calgary. Within two hours I had three replies, one of which was actually committed to the job. James turned out to be a great person, and the player for the record. Sometimes you just luck out.

Final Thoughts

Recording this album has been quite the journey. The record sounds amazing, and I can say that without sounding self-centred, because the impressive bits were all contributed by my producer and my session musicians.

My own participation in this project is dwarfed by anyone else who worked on it, but still it feels like I earned this piece of art. Because I was there when it happened.

I cut out and arranged many of the pieces of this musical puzzle, and I was present when they started to fall into place, revealing a majestic landscape of sound.

But there is a lot more to be done to develop your music into a commercial product, so next week I will take a break from audio, and will talk about design, layout, and advertisement instead.

Did You Enjoy This? There’s More Waiting for You in the eBook…

Recording and promoting a release of any size can be a massive undertaking. That’s why I put together a new eBook titled: How to Record, Promote & Sell Your New Music Release – Single, EP, or Album. This resource is packed with information detailing each step of the recording process, and even how to promote and sell your new release. Click HERE to find out more.

TQP 009: Science & Myth II

The Question Podcast
Opening the window between science and myth can bring new clarity about the importance of engaging the question of mystery. Our modern attitudes often make it difficult to engage myth, but when thinkers engage myth as mystery, they cease to be judges. Ancient myths are basically portraits of the imagination and experience of our ancestors.

The ninth TQ podcast is a continuation of gathering in February, and features highlights from presenter Frederick Tamagi, as well as the music of singer/songwriter Toni Vere.

You can listen to part one here.

Thank you for listening!

What questions will you be taking with you after listening to this episode?

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