*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine November 2017
Before the invention of the .MP3, those handy little files that allow people to listen to music on their computers, sitting around and listening to music with your friends used to be an activity, like riding bikes or playing dodgeball. You would gather around a record player, carefully pull out a big black vinyl disc from its artfully designed packaging, place it onto the device, and lower a needle down. Magically, the music would start. Dissecting every note, harmony, guitar solo, vocal line and lyric was actually a thing.
Not so much no more.
Listening to music is more of a personal headphone-laden thing now as you can walk about your daily life and listen to anything you want. Whenever you want. Wherever you want.
But if you’re in a band that writes and records original music, sitting around and listening to music is more like a necessity. When you go into the studio and lay some tracks down, you’ll get a CD burned of the day’s work and then everybody in the band sits down and listens, dissects, makes suggestions for improvement, etc. When you go back into the studio to add some more tracks, the process is repeated. This could go on for days, weeks, months or even years.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, with the leaves falling literally onto our faces by the fire pit, it was time for an honest to goodness sure-fire old-fashioned “Album Listening Party.” Our album was actually finished. There was no going back. This particular album had been years in the making. Not because we picked it apart and agonized over every note, but life got in the way as it is want to do. There were some health issues, somebody quit and came back, that sort of thing. With the moment upon us, for a few short minutes we basked in the glory of an enormous sense of accomplishment until we inevitably had to ask the million dollar questions: “Will anybody listen to it? Will anybody buy it? How the heck are we going to duplicate these songs live?”
Before you get the answer to those questions though, there is lots of work to do, even after all the work you’ve done to get to this point. For example, much ado is made about which song should be first on the album, which should go last, and where the title track goes. Promo pictures of the band are meticulously inspected for the potential album cover, as well as pictures of just about anything representing the theme including drawings from scratch. Somewhere amidst the discussions a list of potential music reviewers is added to a spreadsheet to track who the album will be sent out for review with notes on if and when they responded so you don’t keep bugging the same bloggers and writers. A list of potential music licensers will also be added to the spreadsheet for potential use on TV shows or movies. A list of radio stations and DJs is added for possible airplay. More questions like “Do we even make hard copies or keep it all digital? Do we press the songs onto CDs, vinyl, cassettes (making a comeback) or even 8-tracks (you never know?) Do we make a video, which requires hiring actors, videographers, video designers and editors?” It goes on and on after our little listening party.
But there’s even more to do. The more work includes copywriting the songs with the Copyright.gov site, assigning International Standard Recording Codes (ISRCs) for each song, registering the songs with Sound Exchange and BMI/ASCAP/SESAC for royalty tracking, designing the album artwork, thinking up creative words to describe the music, obtaining UPC barcodes for tracking sales so your songs can get onto music charts, and uploading the songs to iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, and other digital outlets so people can buy the things. And none of this work is free.
In the coming weeks we’ll do all the stuff we’re supposed to do as we dream of #1 hits and huge royalty checks. When all is said and done, all we can really do is just put our stuff out there and see what happens. Then we move on to the next batch of songs we’ll create in the basement and listen to multiple renditions of out by the fire pit and do it all over again.
The finished album is at its core something we created and nobody can take it away from us. (Unless somebody sues us for copyright infringement or plagiarism or something. There’s only so many ways to rearrange do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do.) It’s like when you get that high school diploma or college degree. You worked for it, it’s yours.
So the next time your favorite local band posts a song for sale for 99 cents, do the world a favor and just buy it. If bands like us stop creating music in the first place, “oldies” and “classic rock” radio stations and record store sections are all you’re gonna get. Better yet, if a band invites you to their CD Release Party, for old times’ sake, just go. They’re good clean fun!