Make the Best of your Recordings

Since putting out my articles on why bands should record and other studio-related issues, I’ve been contacted by a few people here and elsewhere who have already recorded albums, or are midway through the process, but have no idea what to do next. Some of these musicians have released their albums months ago, and have complained to me that they are sitting on their Bandcamp pages not doing very much a poor return on months of effort. So let’s talk about how to get an album to work for you.

1. Decide well in advance what you want it to do for you

This may seem ridiculously obvious, but a great number of bands and musicians have no idea what they want out of their music. Why are you playing music? What changes do you want your music to make in your life? Do you want your music to make you rich, make you famous, take you on tour, incite a political revolution, impress the opposite sex, be a way into the industry, or just be a fun and creatively satisfying hobby?

An album can do all those things and more, but you have to have to know what you want. It’s hard to sympathise with someone who complains that their album “isn’t getting them anywhere” when they’ve no idea where they want it to get them to. Once you have seriously thought about what your music should achieve, then the decision-making process for your album (and many other things) will become much simpler.

And you need to do this as soon as possible preferably before you record a single note. The real-life aims you have for your music will affect everything, from the kind of music you write, the way you record it, the way you produce it, the way you distribute it and the way you sell it (or whether you sell it at all). Trying to shoehorn existing recordings to do something that they were not designed to do is way more frustrating, and usually much less successful, than creating music with a certain aim in mind, but for many musicians it ends up being the only option. Don’t let that happen to you.

2. Don’t think “or,” think “and”

I’ve written elsewhere on the state of the music business. It’s never been so confusing and fragmented. Whilst there are opportunities there, perhaps more than there ever have been, especially for smaller artists, the myriad of options available make decision making difficult and intimidating, and the destruction of old certainties makes it hard to get good, up-to-date and relevant guidance.

But what I can say is that it’s not a case of choosing the best route. It’s a case of choosing as many as you possibly can, all at the same time. 20 years ago, a band could make enough money just by selling its album in record shops. Not any more. You can still make money doing that, just not very much. The same goes for most other methods of selling. But if you also sell from your website, from Amazon, from iTunes, in physical format, in digital, in streaming, in soundtracks, at gigs, at festivals and every opportunity that comes up, then those individual streams of income can add up to serious money. It’s more effort than the old model, but the good news is that you are in control and you don’t need a record label taking 95% of your money before you can get your hands on any cash.

3. Understand that the album is part of your musical package

Following on from point 2, the biggest error you can make is thinking of your album as an isolated package. In fact, going back to point 1, you will notice that I said you need to think about what you want from your music not just your album. Those aims and goals for your music apply to everything you do as a musician, not just your recordings. An album is just one wheel on the musical vehicle that will take you where you want to go be that riches, fame, fun, artistic satisfaction or anything else.

The album sits alongside your live performances, radio play, touring, merchandising, press, fan clubs, social media and a dozen other things that will drive your music forward. The important thing is to understand that all of these things will contribute to each other. A band that tours will sell more albums, and a band that sells albums will go on better tours, and so on for every combination of those things. So to exclude one of those things from the things that you do doesn’t just preclude you from progress in that area, it will weaken your ability to do each and every one of those other things. So a band that doesn’t have a full album will have less to sell at gigs, less to play on the radio, less to tour in support of, less merch (CDs are the most important merch item by far), less for journalists to write about and less for its fans to talk about and get excited about. A band that doesn’t tour will likewise weaken its hand in every other area and so on for each of those things. As with point 2, it’s not a case of choosing between these things, it’s a case of doing all of them at once.

Here’s a useful exercise to do. From the list above, write down how each one benefits each of the others. Then you will start to realise what you lose by not doing even one of those things. For example, for just Social Media:

Having a Social Media presence benefits:

Live performances higher attendance through informing people about gigs
Radio Play organise your fans to request that stations play your music
Touring go to the right places because you know where your fans live
Merchandising announce new merch items to your fans, run competitions etc
Press get your fans to help you get your material reviewed and respond to negative reviews
Fan Clubs instant access to all your fans, exclusive content etc.
Album get more sales and get people excited about it prior to launch

So you can see how not having a decent Facebook/Twitter presence will kick all your other activities in the teeth. Go through the whole list and show how each thing can benefit every other thing, and the album is just one of those things. Now do you see why you need to do them all?

It’s just as bad to over-concentrate on one thing, and the album is the number one thing that bands tend to over-concentrate on. Having an album on its own, as many bands have discovered, doesn’t do very much at all. You need all those other things for the album to realise its power as a thing that can propel you towards your dreams.

James Scott is a Music Producer in London, UK who works with emerging and independent artists to help them get noticed in the industry.

Clean nails or Nail-polish ? You decide !

I did something so different today. I took off my nail polish. Yup. See, the radical part about it is that I’ve had manicured nails for nearly 14 years. I honestly cannot remember not wearing a polish. Once you commit to getting your nails done, and it is a commitment, it’s hard to stop. Maybe that’s why it was time.

Ya see it all began when I was working in television production and constantly on the go with piles of scripts in my hands. I used to do my nails myself, but because I was so active with my hands, they would always chip or break within a day or so and I’d have ugly chipped nail hands –very unprofessional looking and so frustrating.

Years ago, a friend introduced me to a new concept: Acrylic wraps! The manicurist brushes an Acrylic coating over your nails, buffs them and paints them. Because there is now a thick hard layer on top of your nails, they won’t break and because the nail edge is so much thicker, the polish won’t chip! Amazing! This service allows you to go two; sometimes even three, weeks between nail appointments. And there’s no removal involved, only “filling in” what’s grown out. Now that was worth the time and money!

However, as I began educating myself on health and nutrition, I learned that Acrylic coating wasn’t great for your nails. The chemicals that enabled the sturdiness and beauty of these manicures included things like formaldehyde, toluene and methyl methacrylate (MMA) which are toxic to our kidneys, liver, hormones and known to cause birth defects especially in unborn developing boys. Sooo, I switched to gel fills, as opposed to acrylic, and enjoyed that for a few years.

Gel fills are supposedly “less toxic” to your nails. Okay, I bought it. Until a manicurist I was seeing in Santa Monica, CA accidentally stabbed my nail bed while using an electric file and it got infected. In fact, for the past four years, I’ve had what I call a “boo boo” nail. My nail has been every color from green (indicating fungus) to white (indicating it was no longer attached to the skin!) and most recently more pink, as a healthy nail bed should be. I proceeded to try every nail boo boo fixer on the market from white vinegar to green tea to emu oil with no avail. It’s been a long journey and eventually I switched salons, to a gel polish and to a manicurist who has been helping my nail to heal and grow back to its healthy self without a hassle.

Gel polish is supposed to be even less toxic to your nails. In fact, brands like O-P-I and Essie have gel polish that are categorized as “3 Free,” meaning they are free of the most toxic of nail polish ingredients: formaldehyde, toluene and the plasticizer dibutyl phthalate (which is actually banned for use in cosmetics in the entire European Union, but not in the United States.) It brushes on just like regular nail polish and looks like regular nail polish, meaning that there’s no thick layer on top that gives the appearance of tips or “fake nails.” Another bonus to using OPI gel polish in particular, the color is set using LED light, so there is no concern for UV light overexposure. I really dug my gel polish manicured nails. There’s no drying time so I can get out my wallet without ruining my nails or staining my bag. I inevitably always have to go to the bathroom after getting my nails done, so with gel polish there’s no problem there either. But I digress.

Although I have great affection for my current manicurist, always receive compliments on my nails, just love the 2 weeks of hassle free beauty hands, and O-P-I does have this greener, safer line… this break from polish is probably warranted. Not having a bi-weekly 60-90 minute nail appointment also saves me time and money. Heck, my healthy nails sans polish still look great (even though I soaked off the color myself which took too long, smelled terrible and was not very thorough as I see lilac remnants.)

As a lifelong learner, I’m curious to notice if there are any changes in my skin, the health of my nails, and even my hormonal balance. This is an experiment of both natural beauty (hehe) and non-toxic living. And if I just can’t stand the nakedness and lack of color expression on my nails, there’s always BYOP (bring your own polish) with water-based brands such as Scotch, Keeki, or Acquarella. There’s just something special about the look and feel of nails professionally manicured. And that hand massage is nice too. It takes a while to get rid-off habits.