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Songwriter Forum => The Bar => Topic started by: Bill Saunders on March 26, 2019, 09:42:26 AM

Title: The making of an album
Post by: Bill Saunders on March 26, 2019, 09:42:26 AM
Some time ago on the forum there was a thread about why we make albums. I have just completed an album – Golden Years – and I want to share my experience about its creation in the hope that it might be of interest to others, and possibly encourage other forum members to embark on making an album themselves.

By way of background, the real game changer for me was in the early 2000s when I realised that it was possible to record music at home to a decent standard. Let me say straightaway, it hasn’t taken me nearly 20 years to record Golden Years – I have released several albums before, but this one is very different, and dare I say it, much, much better than anything I have done before.

So, around 2001 I started to learn about Digital Audio Workstations or DAWs for short. It was a long painful learning curve because online help and videos were nowhere near as accessible as they are today. Nevertheless I built up my technical understanding and was able to start recording my “one-man band” quite quickly. I am a guitarist and a singer, but I bought a bass guitar and strung drum loops together and away we went. Then I added some rudimentary keyboard parts and hey presto, some early stumbling recordings emerged.

That was more than 15 years ago and I like to think I have a come a very long way since then. My knowledge of DAWs, EQ, compression, reverb, delay and all the other tools of our trade has expanded, and above all, through doing it more, I think I am a better songwriter. 

So, around two years ago I semi-retired, my wife and I moved to southern Spain and I had what I had always wanted – more time to make music! A luxury I determined to have when we moved to our new home was an acoustically treated room, dedicated to being music studio. For years I had consistently read that it was pointless buying expensive studio monitors and higher quality mics if you were attempting to record and mix in an untreated room, and now was my chance to do something about it at last. I contacted GIK Acoustics in the UK who gave me bespoke advice after I had given them detailed information about the room that would become my studio. There are DIY solutions available of course, but I went for the combination of advice and the aesthetics of professional looking panels, and I’m glad I did – I spend a lot of time in here! And yes it’s true – acoustic treatment is worth every penny.

I’m not a prolific writer and can go months between finished songs, with many false starts arising from ideas that in the end don’t cut it. However, my new environment in a new country inspired a bit of a purple patch of songwriting – quite a number of songs were completed that I was pretty chuffed with.

So, it was in early 2018 that I thought I could have a go at putting together a new album. And then another key thing happened – Paul Boyd @Boydie (http://www.songwriterforum.co.uk/index.php?action=profile;u=18510) mastered a track for me for a compilation album that forum members put together, and it was obvious to me what a positive difference this made to the song. I then asked Paul to remix as well as master one of the first songs I’d written in Spain – called Santa Pola – and that really blew me away! It was like a covering of dust had been lifted from my version and suddenly the music was popping out of the speakers with such clarity – basically it went from being a decent home recording to having a real pro sound, and something I could be truly proud of.

On hearing this “new version” of Santa Pola, I pretty much immediately decided I’d like to go ahead with the album and have Paul mix and master the entire album. With his help and by being selective with which songs I included (eleven made the cut from a pool of about 20), I set myself one objective – for the album to be the very best I was capable of. The best songs I have ever written, played and recorded, mixed and produced in order to present my music in the best possible light. In terms of being selective about the songs, it is here that I must thank everyone on the forum who has taken the time and trouble to give me feedback on my songs over the years - it really has been so valuable to get that perspective.

Inextricably linked to this objective was to leave some kind of legacy. I had persuaded my aging father, a wordsmith by trade, to write his autobiography because I thought some of his descendants, me included, would like to read it. I will never write a book, but I could make an album. Overall, I’d say it was 70% for me (‘cos it was fun!), 20% for my children and 10% for anyone else who may stumble across and enjoy it. I only assign 20% to my kids because I don’t want any of them to feel have to like it, or even spend any serious time listening to it, but I would be thrilled if they did! But anyway, this gave me the motivation to make it as good as I was capable of.

Very early on – maybe when two or three tracks had been finalised for inclusion – I realised I couldn’t have done it all. Yes, I wrote it all (bar two lyrical contributions from a friend), played all the instruments and sang everything. But it would not have been the album it is without Paul’s input. Essentially, he has great ears, and what’s more they are not my ears and I therefore had a trusted second opinion to lean on at every stage. Paul also of course has the technical nous to get something to sound the way he wants it to sound.

And so, as 2018 progressed we pinged electronic files back and forth from the Costa Blanca to England and back, and one by one, another song was signed off as “finished”.  We agreed on 95% of things and the geographical distance between us mattered not one jot, thanks to modern technology and fast internet connections. Paul and I had never met, then in August, he said he was off on a family holiday to Ibiza. I couldn’t resist nipping over for a morning to meet him there, as it it’s only a 25 minute flight from Alicante! We spent three hours talking music and the time disappeared in a flash – what a great day that was!

So, what about the songs? A number were directly “inspired” by my adopted country, but it is a fairly disparate collection that made it onto the album. Mainly but not exclusively based on personal experiences and observations, here is background to each track, lifted directly from the CD’s sleeve notes.

Extraordinary People

When I lived and worked in Scotland, through work I met a guy – let’s call him Eric. He was younger than me, newly married and he and his wife were expecting their first child. Over the next few years, Eric and I became friends and the thing that struck me about him was what a decent, honest, straightforward man he was. Nothing "flashy" about him, he worked hard, never moaned and did the best for himself and his family.

He and his wife went on to have another child, with the usual challenges of juggling family life, mortgages and the rest.

Anyway, one day Eric told me his mother had passed away after a short illness, and about the effect his mother's death had had on his dad. They had been happily married for forty years, so happily that when they watched TV in the evening they would often be holding hands on the sofa, even after four decades of marriage.

Eric had benefited from a brilliant upbringing and I have no doubt his own kids will be equally fortunate. If the world had a few more Erics in it, (and his mum and dad), it would be a better place.

The More I Learn

In 2016, seven out of 10 young people in Britain voted for the UK to remain part of the European Union – the wishes they had for their future were denied by the older generation.
 
Tigers

A brilliant lyric by my friend Alan Whittle describing a couple who metaphorically fight like cat and dog yet still love each other deeply.

Murder in Paradise

A few years back, I visited Venezuela and was struck by the polar extremes of wealth and poverty, often in juxtaposition. Golden sands of the Caribbean with opulent hotels, and yet, just behind this frontline, a desperate and often dangerous world exists. The visit inspired this recently written song which is pure fiction.

Man In The Restaurant

My wife and I were on holiday recently and about to eat in a local restaurant. A man came in alone and took a table – the world is not really geared up for single diners. Although the man behaved impeccably, and just sat quietly waiting for his food, it was obvious that there was something very wrong. Having stared into the middle distance at nothing in particular for 20 minutes, he stormed out of the restaurant just as his food was arriving. 

I began to speculate, but of course, we’ll never know. I really hope the poor man is OK now.

It Pays To Join The Army

A song about the way the British Army sells itself, and the feeling of horror when my teenage son was almost seduced by it. Not an anti-army song in any sense, but the deep seated fear that every parent has that anything untoward should ever happen to their children.

The Gardener’s Lament

A light hearted ditty written from a working gardener’s perspective, suffering in the heat of a Mediterranean summer.

All I’ll Ever Want

A love song to my wife about the early stages of our life together, whilst looking to the future.

One More 

Another lyric from Alan, about the dying embers of a relationship.

Snowbirds

A white collar commuter caught in the drudgery of the daily grind, dreaming of the future. Fictional.

Santa Pola
Weighing in at around seven and a half minutes, the closest I have got to writing an “epic” - celebrating the joys of expat life, and enjoying Golden Years in a warm climate.


So, as 2018 came to a close, so did the audio work and we had eleven songs that I was proud of. It was at this stage I had to revisit the question that had popped into my head throughout the process – what happens now?

I decided decades ago that I would never try to make a living out of music – and with that came a sense of relief and freedom – no need to please anyone but myself and there is zero pressure. I can just enjoy music for what it is – a fantastic hobby to partake in to the best of my abilities.  So, with Golden Years I had no commercial ambition, but equally, as a creative person, I am thrilled if anyone finds my music and genuinely enjoys it. So I do want it to be “out there”, and for me that meant making it available for streaming and download, and I also wanted a physical product in the form of a CD and possibly a very limited number of vinyl copies.

So the next stage was to think about artwork. The idea that I eventually came up with was inspired by some of the album covers of the great progressive bands I’ve loved throughout my life. Essentially I wanted a cover that portrayed some of the songs’ themes in one image – one that perhaps at first glance looks quite normal, but on further inspection is rather surreal. I was hugely fortunate to enlist the help of Aberdeen based graphic designer Neil Ruddiforth who was able to turn my vision into reality. The album cover Neil designed and created is a work of genius in my honest opinion! He has managed to link in no less than eight of the songs titles into one scene which initially just looks like an old couple watching TV in their living room, but is in fact much more than that.

Here's the album cover - click on the link to see it in glorious detail!

https://i.imgur.com/eGpm19J.jpg (https://i.imgur.com/eGpm19J.jpg)

(https://i.imgur.com/eGpm19Jb.jpg)

So, I now have a package that sounds and looks great – I’m truly proud of it. The songs will be online to stream and download forever on the likes of Spotify, Amazon Music, iTunes, Tidal and YouTube, and I have CDs to distribute to anyone who wants one. My kids will get one each whether they want it or not!

It has been a fascinating journey and immensely enjoyable.

Download:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Golden-Years-Bill-Saunders/dp/B07PKGY3MZ/ref=sr_1_4?s=dmusic&ie=UTF8&qid=1553592396&sr=1-4-mp3-albums-bar-strip-0&keywords=bill+saunders (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Golden-Years-Bill-Saunders/dp/B07PKGY3MZ/ref=sr_1_4?s=dmusic&ie=UTF8&qid=1553592396&sr=1-4-mp3-albums-bar-strip-0&keywords=bill+saunders)

Lyrics:

https://genius.com/artists/Bill-saunders (https://genius.com/artists/Bill-saunders)
Title: Re: The making of an album
Post by: PaulAds on March 26, 2019, 10:16:09 AM
What a great read, Bill :-)

I'll be having a copy of this for sure... Congratulations!
Title: Re: The making of an album
Post by: pompeyjazz on March 26, 2019, 10:41:12 AM
What a fascinating insight into your creation Bill. You should be very proud of achievement. I'm sure a lot of us guys on here can relate to your story. I will be checking this out later for sure  :)
Title: Re: The making of an album
Post by: Bill Saunders on March 26, 2019, 11:44:16 AM
Thanks Paul and John - really appreciate you taking the time to read it!
Title: Re: The making of an album
Post by: Wicked Deeds on March 26, 2019, 12:53:38 PM
All the work that is devoted to making an album constitutes a real labour of love.  At the end of the process, it's a great feeling to finally know that you have made something that demonstrates who you are.  Great news for you my friend. Enjoy the feeling.

Paul
Title: Re: The making of an album
Post by: Wicked Deeds on March 26, 2019, 01:23:06 PM
By the way, the artwork is so good!

Paul
Title: Re: The making of an album
Post by: Bill Saunders on March 26, 2019, 02:29:10 PM
Thanks for the sentiments Paul, and yeah, I love the artwork too.
Title: Re: The making of an album
Post by: MichaelA on March 26, 2019, 09:15:13 PM
Another thumbs up for the artwork! Great result.

Plus the back-story to your final product Bill is really worth the read.

Who did the physical copies of your CD by the way? And biggest question, as from one who would love to do something similar, how did you get consistency in production. I've got many songs from which I could select an album, but as they have been recorded over time, well the production is all over the place.

Congratulations anyway on your finished album and wonderful story, thanks for sharing!
Title: Re: The making of an album
Post by: CaliaMoko on March 27, 2019, 02:33:30 AM
It adds so much to have the story behind the album. I'd like to buy a digital copy but Amazon keeps telling me it's unable to, um, something about my payment method. I forget now. Anyway, I'll have to try again later. Maybe do some research on why it isn't working.

Meanwhile, I think it's great and I look forward to getting my own copy.

Vick
Title: Re: The making of an album
Post by: Bill Saunders on March 27, 2019, 10:17:16 AM
Hi Michael @MichaelA (http://www.songwriterforum.co.uk/index.php?action=profile;u=21274)

Thanks for taking the time to read!

The CDs copies were made by these guys:

https://www.duplicationcentre.co.uk/ (https://www.duplicationcentre.co.uk/)  Their rates are very reasonable and they’ve done a great job.

As a few people have now commented on the artwork, here is the link to Neil Ruddiforth who designed and produced it – I can’t rate Neil highly enough:

https://www.rocketfive.design/ (https://www.rocketfive.design/)

I also had a few older songs that made it onto the album. As you know, Paul Boyd mixed and mastered the album, and one of the first things we discussed was getting all the songs to sound consistent from a production viewpoint. So, the first thing to say is that every song was remixed specifically for the album. In practical terms, as Paul and I were working remotely, this meant uploading the individual tracks  - vocals, guitar, bass, keys, drums etc - for each song to Google Drive, which Paul could then access, load into his DAW and start the mixing process from scratch. In some cases, if I wasn’t entirely happy with a vocal performance or guitar part for example, and I rerecorded these before uploading the files.

In terms of consistent loudness, each track had the same ceiling of -3bD for the CD masters. There was lower level set for the streaming masters as the streaming services all do their own form of loudness optimisation anyway.

I know it was Paul’s aim to have every song stand up on its own merits if played in isolation – but also to get that consistent feel when the album is listened to, just like in the old days, from start to finish! On that point, I spent some time working out the best running order, where, as well as trying to ensure that no two “similar” sounding songs were adjacent, I also tried to ensure no two in the same key were in juxtaposition. The casual listener might not know about keys, but subliminally, I think it breaks things up nicely.

Vicky @CaliaMoko (http://www.songwriterforum.co.uk/index.php?action=profile;u=19928)

Thank you so much! CD Baby also have it for download if you lose patience with Amazon  :)
Title: Re: The making of an album
Post by: jacksimmons on March 28, 2019, 12:31:20 AM
Very enjoyable read. Congrats on the album. I can't think of anything more exciting and consuming than creating a record. I look forward to giving it a listen.

PS. the artwork is GREAT
Title: Re: The making of an album
Post by: Bill Saunders on March 28, 2019, 08:10:50 AM
Thanks Jack @jacksimmons (http://www.songwriterforum.co.uk/index.php?action=profile;u=18881) "Consuming" is a good word - it gave me a real purpose to be working towards an objective for many months. Kind of addictive too - follow up album is pretty inevitable me thinks!
Title: Re: The making of an album
Post by: MichaelA on March 28, 2019, 10:55:23 AM
Thanks for that info about the CD makers Bill, I will check them out!  ;) Also great insight into your mixing consistency and production technique. Once again good luck with it! Great achievement.
Title: Re: The making of an album
Post by: jacksimmons on March 28, 2019, 12:49:49 PM
Is that...a quid for 100?? That’s nuts!
Title: Re: The making of an album
Post by: Bill Saunders on March 28, 2019, 05:28:23 PM
Is that...a quid for 100?? That’s nuts!

If you are referring to the price of CDs on the home page of the Duplication Centre’s website, that is per disc, not per 100...You need to get a quote from them for your exact requirements
Title: Re: The making of an album
Post by: Skub on March 28, 2019, 10:02:49 PM
Yo Bill.

That was a greatly entertaining and absorbing read,thanks for sharing man.

That cover is pure magic. You've paid attention to all the details,rather unlike myself who wasted no time at all on that side..and it shows!  :D

Very classy and professional Bill. I'll be grabbing a copy for sure.  8)
Title: Re: The making of an album
Post by: Bill Saunders on March 29, 2019, 07:12:11 AM
Hi Skub

Thanks very much for your kind words - it was all just great fun, artwork included!
Title: Re: The making of an album
Post by: PaulyX on March 29, 2019, 01:29:25 PM
Great story Bill, thanks for the glimpse behind the curtain of your process. I have found it on Deezer and will be giving it a spin (or several) later. Congrats on the release.
Title: Re: The making of an album
Post by: Bill Saunders on March 29, 2019, 06:59:59 PM
Hi Paul @PaulyX (http://www.songwriterforum.co.uk/index.php?action=profile;u=21034)

Thanks so much for taking a listen, I really hope you like it! Cheers
Title: Re: The making of an album
Post by: PaulyX on May 19, 2019, 08:58:43 AM
Hey Bill, don't think I ever fed back on your album - but just to say it's been living on my phone for a month or two and I've returned to it a lot... very nice, thoughtful work. I think 'Man in the Restaurant' is my fave but they're all good. I can see the consideration that went into them as a whole too, as you listen to the variation between tracks as it flows. It's a very 'English' collection isn't it... lots of poignant kitchen-sink details alluding to bigger themes. Very Ray Davies (fine company). Anyway, thanks for several hours of happy listening. Pauly
Title: Re: The making of an album
Post by: Bill Saunders on May 19, 2019, 03:58:56 PM
Hey Bill, don't think I ever fed back on your album - but just to say it's been living on my phone for a month or two and I've returned to it a lot... very nice, thoughtful work. I think 'Man in the Restaurant' is my fave but they're all good. I can see the consideration that went into them as a whole too, as you listen to the variation between tracks as it flows. It's a very 'English' collection isn't it... lots of poignant kitchen-sink details alluding to bigger themes. Very Ray Davies (fine company). Anyway, thanks for several hours of happy listening. Pauly

Hi @PaulyX (http://www.songwriterforum.co.uk/index.php?action=profile;u=21034)

It is an album I am really proud of and pleased with, and when you throw everything into something, you hope it is appreciated by others. In the world most of us live in, that is a pretty rare thing so thank you so much for your comments. I can't tell you how great it is to know you have taken the time to listen a good few times. You have absolutely made my day.  I've been AWOL myself reviewing and listening on this forum for too long now - that will be rectified...

Thank you so much.
Title: Re: The making of an album
Post by: PaulAds on June 18, 2019, 10:29:28 PM
Been playing your album today, Bill...and really enjoying it...it's a cracking listen...congratulations...it sounds excellent!
Title: Re: The making of an album
Post by: macker71165 on June 19, 2019, 06:19:47 AM
Nice job fella!   Just got  iton spotify!!   Enjoyed the read👍👍
Title: Re: The making of an album
Post by: Bill Saunders on June 19, 2019, 10:54:19 AM
Thanks guys. You know, one of the most satisfying things about this was getting vinyl copies made, with the whole artwork thing going on. I just love having a physical product to show for it, as well as the online stuff and CD:

https://photos.app.goo.gl/3y1GDYdhVfJ9GdsQ8 (https://photos.app.goo.gl/3y1GDYdhVfJ9GdsQ8)

(https://i.imgur.com/UFXvxCB.jpg)

(https://i.imgur.com/Rm606wQ.jpg)
Title: Re: The making of an album
Post by: Skub on June 19, 2019, 08:25:43 PM
Beyond awesome Bill!