Step 1 – Conceptualize

Where it all begins

As with any project, everything starts with a dream. A vision. Revisit your identity as a solo artist or as a group. Ask the fundamental questions: Who are you? What do you stand for? Do you keep to a certain musical style? Who is your target audience/market? Do you have a signature song? What is your goal or objective with this project?

If any of you is the qualified producer in your team, he can set a “dream team” meeting with some or all members of the group to flesh out existing songs, the album theme, what songs may or may not go into the track list, etc. This exchange of ideas may take on new forms once you keep building on what’s been discussed.

Your brainstorming sessions can actually turn into something interesting. Try to find a venue other than your usual office meeting room where you can be more relaxed. If you don’t have the luxury of meeting somewhere other than a room you’ve already been in, try to make the space more inspiring. How about having CD and video players, your song demos on hand, a computer, food, paper and pens, a whiteboard available? Or you can encourage all those coming to bring whatever it is they think will help in the conceptualization process. The band’s pictures? Lyrics? Objects? Other bands’ CDs? With a bunch of creative musicians and different personalities, let this meeting be a no-holds-barred one – where anyone can speak and where everyone should listen as well. Differences in opinion are allowed. This is a time to encourage any and all ideas as a group. Here, it is “no idea-killing” zone. Ideas can go from left to right, from one person to the next, and can go wild or weird at any point.

‘Everybody has to run into each other,’ Steve Jobs once said. He believed that the best meetings happen by accident in the most ordinary of places, with the most ordinary of things. So aside from the first scheduled brainstorming session, you can all continue to come up with ideas outside of the “scheduled meeting.” Creativity is no respecter of person, time or space.

Your place in this world

Diversity is good, and everyone is free to create, but be sure to always keep your goals in mind. Keep to the genre that you are best in and that you are best known for. For instance, if your band is a rock group, your song lineup can contain rock songs in different tempos with varying song topics. Your band will fall under the bigger umbrella of the rock category, and the kind of rock you play can be your sub-genre. Instruments used in this style include loud electric guitars, bass and heavy drums. In this style, you definitely won’t have a song with a full 100-piece orchestra included in your track list.

What’s your niche? Your style may be a sub-genre under some of these general musical styles:

  • Pop
  • Rock
  • Country
  • Jazz
  • R & B
  • Hip hop
  • Reggae
  • Classical

There are times that artists don’t want to be put in a box and labeled only one thing. Yet classifying your musical style is very important to be able to define your target market. You can have a few songs that cross over into other categories, but overall, you will need to fit in somewhere.

Remember that consumers are always looking for new and interesting ideas. In order for your album to stand out, yours will need to be engaging to the listeners, fresh and original. Not to mention marketable.

What will make you memorable to your target market? What will make people want to listen to you again and again? Will these people be able to relate to your songs one way or the other? Do your songs carry experiences and emotions that your listeners go through? Do your songs carry catchy tunes, lyrics and beats that will move your listeners?

Once there is a clear path to move ahead with the ideas, they can all be written on paper and given out to all at another meeting. You can set a series of meetings to narrow things down to something definite. This will help to steer clear of other roads that don’t coincide with your goal.

Get into agreement with what’s been laid on the table. Be careful not to let this phase go on for too long a time. There will have to be decisions made, somewhere, somehow.

A word on songwriting

Songwriting is a key aspect to the album you’re producing. Without good song lyrics and catchy melodies, it won’t matter how great your instrumental solo will be in the album. A songwriter once said, “I try to write about themes that are universal, that anyone can relate to regardless of race, creed or color.” That’s a great way to see it. You have to be relevant.

The songwriter needs to touch the audience by bringing to life the message of his song through the melody and words. It’s got to say one thing clearly. In about four minutes or so. There are many kinds and a wide array of forms. Sometimes you can start from a title or an idea. Some songs tell a story. Some bring you through a series of questions and try to keep you hanging till the end. Sometimes it’s a cry for something deep. With any song, whatever the theme, it will always have a beginning, middle and end.

Songwriters have tools such as rhyming dictionaries, thesauruses, songwriting books and the like. They all serve as very helpful aids that can help with the songwriting process.

Melody, lyrics, title – they can all be written in a different order. There are no two songwriters that are the same. You can try to figure out which one you are, if you do the writing. Sometimes people do well collaborating on an idea or an entire song. Some write out lyrics alone. Some do the melody alone. Some do both lyrics and melody but need the help of an instrumentalist or an arranger to help flesh out the chord progressions and the flow of the song. It’s like the chicken and the egg question. Sometimes, songwriters will start with the hook of the song (referring to that part of a song that catches the ear of the listener, which may be a lyrical line or melodic phrase that makes the song memorable) or a song’s title and progress throughout the song using that idea.

Song themes include those on love (which range from the physical to the celebration of love, to searching for it or being brokenhearted for lack of it), loneliness and sorrow, morality, social issues and problems, conscience, fantasy, places and events, friendship and family, reflections, latest trends in dance or society, legends, heroes, spirituality and religion, inspirational, patriotism, politics, survival, suffering, novel ideas, parodies, music, fun, etc The list can go on!

Songs address a main subject and are usually easy to relate to. They also can use sub themes, metaphors that make you think more deeply about something. It’s being able to use these creatively, adding symbols and metaphors to your story.

Remember that at times, less is best, depending on the style of music you are writing. For a dance tune, for instance, the main goal of the song if for you to groove to the music and dance. So the lyrics shouldn’t be heavy and complicated. If you’re writing love songs, they can range from the very simple to the very deep. Keep in mind that love songs that make it to the charts and become hits are songs that have universal appeal and the songs speak of things that people can relate to. They also happen to be simple and people will have no problem feeling the song and understanding what it means.

Songs also contain rhymes that help in the delivery of the message of the material.

Most of the music we hear as pop is usually in a song structure ABAB, meaning verse – chorus – verse – chorus. It has an introduction, a bridge and an extro. Another form would be the AABA (verse – verse – bridge – verse). This gives time for the songwriter to develop the story of the song. Some ballads and rap and other songs are written out in AAA form where it hardly changes structure, but the lyrics or vocals change to support the main idea and the progression of the song story. Some even write in BABA form.

Knowing the songwriting process will help you, the musician, and the producer move along your project with better clarity. Later on, the mix should be able to help bring out the emotion you are looking for in the song. This might be to highlight certain instruments to make some dynamics to support the songwriter’s title, idea and story.

Musician-marketer

If you’re interested in getting your original music to people you don’t know, the key is to think not just as a musician, but as a musician-marketer. Releasing your album is both a music endeavor as it is a business endeavor. But to get people to buy from you, the first thing you need to do is to establish your following first. After you have an audience – online and elsewhere, then you can sell them anything.

You can set up a page online (MySpace, Facebook) where you get to introduce yourselves and some of your music. You can gauge people’s likes and preferences from the comments, questions and critiques you get. If you’re planning to test the waters, try a page with a good enough amount of information, a gallery, and, if you’ve done a few demos worthy of listening, throw a few of your songs in. If you just have one good song, then try that one first. Spread the word to friends and friends of friends and see how they respond. See how you can build a good network base. In addition, a blog will also help support your music. Here you can write articles related to your group, what you’re going through right now – create a personal touch to it for your market. You can share about the songs you’ve written or are currently working on, the songwriting process, what were your inspirations for the songs, etc. You may want to post some interesting pictures or videos to keep your audience curious and always coming back for more. Since the social media part is another segment of your project, you can always ask for some help to make sure that everything you put online will align with your goals and plans.

Producer’s note

In music production, the producer is the head of the team, becoming also the significant factor to ensure the project’s success. He is responsible to make sure the project gets done within good time, following a schedule and within budget. The producer oversees every step and oversees the quality of the output at every turn. Overall, he provides leadership, motivation and direction to the group. There are times when there are also overlapping roles of producer/musician. He has an intuitive grasp of art and music and has a good gut feel of things as they relate to the entire project. He is a great manager of people and also of whatever creative input and output come out of the production process.

There may be instances when an assistant producer is needed and may act as the eyes and ears and mouth of the producer if he is not around. The need for a production coordinator may be needed as well, for helping with communication and administrative assistance for the project.

Other strengths a producer must have are good listening skills, great organizing skills, whether of information or people, the ability to facilitate work and production well. It would clearly help if the producer has a good musical background and is well-versed in today’s trends and music market. In other words, his skill set is wide and he is able to put a project together, regardless of style.

A look at producer types

There are generally three types of producers: executive, music and engineering. These types may actually cross borders, since sometimes the engineer or the band might take on producer responsibilities. Sometimes, producers might help with sequencing, arranging and programming. They oftentimes help in the mixing process. These are also engineering tasks. In the same way, engineers sometimes function as producers as well. That’s because any person who makes some kind of decision regarding a part of what is done in the recording studio – that person is also in the business of producing.

The job of producing is exceptionally important. Ever wonder why those big time producers get paid so much? It is extremely hard work.

Executive Producer

An executive producer is responsible to fund and organize a project, or might be responsible for acquiring an engineering or music producer for the album project. He will need to be, not just a financier, but a sensitive patron of music and the arts. He will need to have good music intuition and an aesthetic gene to observe, analyze and decide along these lines. He must know great art when he hears it.

Music Producer

A music producer focuses on the music, arrangements and the implementation or execution of the music. A music producer also helps write out some parts of the music as needed. There have been music producers who started out as songwriters or music students or music graduates. Some people have it instinctively and are able to rise toward being music producers in their own right because of their inherent talent for arranging music. He does not really need to know much on the audio-technical side, but it would help if he knew some of it in a general way.

The music producer needs to know how to work through a host of musical ideas. He also needs to know how to work with musicians with varying levels of knowledge and expertise. He needs to know how to manage these differences musically and also be able to relate and bring together differences of musical taste and opinion.

Engineering Producer

The engineering producer checks and monitors every aspect of the project and sees to it that the quality is at its best. Usually this person starts out as a recording engineer in the studio and gradually moves on to producing in the studio.

The big picture production goal

According to producer David Gibson, all aspects of audio production must support each other. This is a clear way to check if you’re on the right track. This is great gauge at every stage of your project. Gibson lists concept, melody, rhythm, harmony, lyrics, song structure, density, instrumentation, performance, mix and equipment. One cannot exist without the other’s support. Every aspect should support every other aspect.

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