Five Things I learned Making my First Album “As I Am”

—- originally posted on Brass Chicks on November 11th, 2017 —-

Alright – I’ve been saving this post for a little while but now it is officially time since my album came out this week on Tuesday November 7th. Throughout the whole process of making my album, I have learned so much while making “As I Am” and a lot of people have asked me great questions about the process so I thought it would be great to organize my thoughts into a blog post.

First: for those of you that don’t know me too well: here is a super quick background 🙂 A little over a year ago, I wanted to pick some rep for a recital and found a couple great pieces by women composers. Rather than doing another recital, I knew that I would be graduating with my Masters in May and I thought that an album featuring music by women composers would be a great thing to graduate with…. so here we are! I commissioned about half of the composers featured on the album and found the rest of the pieces on my own. I also crowdfunded about 80% of the costs for the album which was unbelievably helpful. The album would not have been possible without those contributions so if you were one of the 150+ people who helped make the album possible, thank you so much!!

album cover
Here’s a formal description:

As I Am is my debut album featuring new music for trumpet by women composers. This album includes a wide range of contemporary trumpet playing, from lyrical melodic lines to improvisation to extended techniques. The album includes music for solo trumpet, flugelhorn, trumpet with electronics, trumpet and piano, trumpet + electronics + harp, and flute + violin. As I Am presents music by Alexandra Gardner, Ariel Marx. Jennifer Higdon, Jessica Rudman, Jinhee Han, Ledah Finck, Nicole Piunno, and Kate Amrine. 


1. Assemble a team.

I was very fortunate throughout the process of making my album to have people to turn to for questions and feedback. I often consulted friends for their opinions on everything from fundraising to what the cover should look like. One of my friends was also making an album at the same time and it was so helpful to go back and forth, figuring things out together (thanks Eunbi !!). I also was in touch with my teachers Ray Mase, John Rojak, and other musicians who have made albums. While some people have one person act as a producer for their albums – which can be extremely helpful in maintaining a consistent artistic vision – I chose to be my own producer for each recording session and throughout the editing process. However, I arranged for a different friend to attend each recording session so there was always someone other than me, the musicians, composer, and the engineer listening and commenting. After I was done recording, editing, mixing and mastering – I also worked with a coach to help me get organized prior to the release date. This was a huge relief to be in contact with someone who has the experience of managing many past CD releases and knew the ins and outs.

Side note — Ultimately, if it is your project, you will always be the most invested and have to make the final decisions. Sometimes too many opinions can get confusing and be overwhelming – so remember to always keep your intentions in check.

2. Pick music you love.

When I started researching what it was like recording an album and how people pick what to play, this comment always stood out to me. Part of me thought, “wow why would anyone go through the entire process of making a CD if they don’t choose music they truly love??” But just like how people pick the same standard repertoire for their final recital in school, I think the same thing can happen when making an album. There are so many recordings of standard concertos and sonatas out there already – maybe you are truly in love with one of those pieces and want to document your original spin on it — if so then good for you! But for the rest of us – please don’t think for a minute that you should record a piece because it is a typical piece for your instrument or it is what people play or even what people like. While you do have to consider what would sell or interest the public musically, this album or project is YOURS and YOURS ONLY. You will be the one practicing the music, listening to the edits, assisting with the mixing/mastering process, and performing the music – so be sure to pick pieces that you truly love working on and listening to over and over again.

I was very blessed with the music I selected. I was so focused on creating the best possible product and honoring the intentions of the piece and the composer – that it rarely felt like a struggle to keep moving towards the final version.

3. Figure out what you don’t know.

Technical stuff like navigating Protools, copyright laws, performance rights organizations, how to print CDs, and other things along those lines are TOTALLY not my favorite. I said recently that the easiest part of making an album will be practicing and recording the music. It is totally true. I have learned so many technical things throughout this process that I didn’t realize or think of ahead of time that it is almost impossible to list all of them here.

Regardless of whether you are making an album or starting a new project, figure out what you don’t know! Talk to people who have done it before and find some of the best DIY resources out there and get started!

4. Be Flexible and prepared for things to go wrong – because they will !

This one was definitely the hardest for me. Since I was acting as my own producer throughout the process, I had to adapt to a huge volume of decisions. Just when you think you have crossed all of the T’s and dotted the i’s something else will come up – so it is important to triple triple quadruple check everything!

I definitely made mistakes and wish that I could change some things. Rather than go through all of those individually 🙂 I’ll just pick a select few.

  • Allow for a ridiculous amount of time in the studio – You have to account for things like setting up, how your face / body feels, transportation issues, technology issues, and pretty much anything you can think of! Recording is very tiring and it is harder to focus on performing well if you are worried about running out of time in the studio!
  • Everything takes longer than you think it will. From graphic design stuff, to printing the physical CDs or mixing/mastering. Allow extra time for everything!!
  • Have someone or multiple people check something before you officially click GO on anything permanent.  Printing CDs, emailing blasts of people, and finalizing an edit on a track are examples of things that can be very expensive, impossible, and potentially embarrassing to have to fix so try and avoid it if you can!

Focusing on these issues leads me to my last point and perhaps the most important…

5. Have fun, relax, remember the why!

It is impossible to have everything be perfect. Wondering “what if” and focusing on how you could have done things differently takes you away from the current moment and your future projects. All we can control is how we react to things in the moment and our actions in the future.

At the end of the day, I had so much fun being able to work on and record the incredible music on my CD. Watching the project come together over a year was such an unbelievably enjoyable process and it feels so great to finally be able to share the music with everyone.

 

interested in more about Kate Amrine and her album? Check out the album here.