NOTE: Most of us no longer produce a tangible CD...people are going straight to iTunes or downloadable links on Amazon or to radio programs like Spotify but people are still recording and these helpful hints still apply!
When I do a road trip as I have been doing a lot lately due to many out of town gigs, I usually take all the new CDs that people have sent to me or passed off to me and I listen to them while driving because I am, well, a captive audience. I do this when considering new songs submitted to me by songwriters as well. I figure that if I am singing along with the song by the end of the trip, it’s a song I should be performing. If it's a CD I want to play on my ride home, it's a good CD!
While I am not going to name names or review any of the CDs I am going to discuss below, I have been making many mental notes and observations about CDs as I have been listening. This won’t help the folks who have just produced a CD but, hopefully, it will help those who are considering recording soon, maybe a few of these observations below will help you in your planning.
- When selecting material for your CD, choose wisely grasshopper. I once happily bought a CD from a person I ADORE thinking that I was taking a little bit of them home with me and to my surprise (and not a good one) the CD was all music that they never really perform on stage. They are a cabaret/easy listening type and the CD was all pop/rock stuff. I was disappointed. If you are doing that kind of music, do your CD release, play that music and sell that CD…great! BUT, if it is not the music you usually do or have historically performed, give the audience a heads up on this so that they know it’s a departure from the music you usually do.
- Doing a CD of all ballads is a hard sell to me. By song #5 I was literally screaming at my car’s CD player…tempo…my kingdom for something with tempo in it. OY! OK, it wasn’t just that this particular CD had 9 ballads in a row and then two wedding band style up tempos and then another ballad but that they were all ballads of a similar ilk and story. Come on…how many times does one have to hear how miserable you are? Lighten it up! Just like a good show, there should be peaks and valleys in a CD. An all ballad CD can be a lovely thing but sometimes too much of a good thing is just, well, too much of the same thing.
- Further to the point above, while the songs on a CD do not have to layout like they would in a Cabaret show…why not? If the songs you have chosen to record can be put in an order that creates a story or thread this makes the entire CD that much more enjoyable to listen to, why not consider this? This is why so many of my favorite CDs as of late, have been live recordings of shows. They make sense. They also put me in the room with the singer and I don’t have to pay for any drinks!
- The only drawback for CDs that are recorded live is the chat. The first 3 times you listen it’s all good but then you tend to not want to hear the chat and get to the tunes. If the chat track can actually be recorded on a separate track so that it can be skipped OR if when you are recording your show, you stop and breathe right before you start to sing or when the band starts so that the technician can eliminate the chat, this may be something to consider when recording live. Speaking of live recordings...
- NOT EVERYONE CAN RECORD LIVE! Well, you can but some should not!
- Getting back to song flow, if you have 14 songs that you love and want to record, surely there is a way to make the album make sense from one song to another. Try the 3 song cluster arc idea and then move on to another cluster. If the CD is so disjointed that I’m going from this lovely jazzy sound to this crazy wedding band tune to a Sondheim piece…I’m lost.
- One friend recorded a CD years ago that was so great but it was the only CD they knew that they would ever record and they wanted to use it as a calling card to book gigs by showing what they could do. The CD went from comedy to sincere to country to novelty to…well, it was a hot mess for sure but each individual piece was a gem. How does one deal with this? Liner notes, explain what you’re up to so that when we open that CD, we understand that your goal in recording it was as a “sampler” if you will, of all that kinds of tunes that you perform. A quick fix here would have been to just cluster the similar pieces in a – This is me being funny section and this is me singing legit section with the liner notes explaining the concept.
- This may just be me but even with really famous singers, I’m done with a CD after about 14-16 songs max. There is this one CD of this amazing singer (way famous) that I have never heard the last 4 songs on because I’ve either already arrived to where I was going or I’ve just had enough of that voice. Maybe I’ve seen too much Cabaret and feel that none of us should play longer than about an hour, even on a CD. If they want more of you after their first listening, they will listen to it again or, better still, go out and buy another one of your CDs!
- Production value matters mostly to TV/Radio spots but I have also listened to several demo CDs recently that had just great live gig singing that I didn’t care so much about the overall production value of the CD because it was so enjoyable to listen to. If you hope for air play though, you MUST record a few tunes on the CD that don’t go over 3 minutes AND you should record a few songs that do not have any musical solos in them so that if you do a live show using your tracks, you don’t have to stand there like a ninny during the band solo. And here’s my band…oh no…not there…awkward gazing or (worse) dance movements – ugh…just avoid this by being prepared to choose a few tunes to do straight through keeping them under 3 minutes.
Just a few impressions as I continue to listen to more and more CDs. LOVING many of them for sure but wanted to share some of the quick fix impressions for anyone going into the studio.