Planning Your First or Next CD

girl singer© 2010 Vinny Ribas

Let’s say that you’re in the process of writing songs for, or maybe searching for songs for your next CD. Do you wait until you have 10 radio-ready hits? How much leeway do you have in the musical styles, influences and instruments that you put on the CD? Will your fans accept a concept album? Should you put a cover tune on the album? How many slow songs, moderate songs and fast songs should you pick? What order should the songs go in? How much should you spend on the CD?

There are no stock answers to these questions because every artist and every situation is different. However, there are a number if things to consider. It is up to you (and your producer) to take the talking points below that pertain to you and use them as guides so that the songs you select will be the best and most appropriate for your purposes. Here are some things to think about:[private_member]

  • Do you have a fan base in place already that is waiting to buy the CD? What do they expect it to look and sound like? Have you taken pre-orders? Have you marketed it on your website and social networks? It’s important to meet all of your fans’ expectations. Giving them surprises may turn them off.
  • Are you recording just to have something to sell at live gigs? It would be wise to record the songs that are the most popular and well received from your live show. Test your songs out live before you make the final decisions on what to record.
  • Are you going after major radio airplay? Obviously, you may want to spend more money and provide a higher quality production on something that you are seeking widespread interest and approval on. In addition, the songs will need to appeal to a broader audience, at least until you have established a sizeable fan base. The songs you plan to release to radio will also need to fit the mold of the radio format(s) that you choose. That mold includes length (3:30 – 4:00 max), content (in most cases, family friendly), style Not too far from what the stations are already playing) and topic (will be of interest to the stations’ listeners).
  • Are you going to try to sell or license the master of the CD to a record label, or is it all just for your enjoyment (or somewhere in between)? Your song choices should always be the best that you’ve written or can find. But if you have a label in mind, then you need to insure that the style, production, flavor and even the message are consistent with the rest of that label’s catalog.
  • Can you play it live? Many audiences feel cheated when they take home something other than what they heard and loved about your show. Many are also disappointed when they hear your music first, and then come to see your show only to discover that you can’t (or don’t) duplicate the sound of the CD.
  • Who are your fans, really? Do you know exactly who your fans are? Have you surveyed them? Do you know their interests? Often artists develop a fan base demographic that is different than who they originally thought they would appeal to! Pick songs that your core fans can absolutely relate to. Your songs need to reflect the feelings, the ideologies, the emotions, and perhaps even the political views of your fans (as well as your own).
  • Are the songs genuinely you? It’s wise never to record songs that try to make you out as something you’re not. They need to reflect the real you. If you don’t believe in what a song says, listeners will see right through it!
  • Why do your fans buy your music? What are you known for, or want to be known for? Do they buy it to relax to? To be entertained by? To re-live your live show? To laugh to? To dance to? Because they like your lyrics, your voice, your instrumental ability and/or your pop melodies? What are they expecting to get when they buy your CD? Deliver what they want, and they’ll buy your next release without having to hear it first.
  • Are you planning to sell your CDs at your shows? Consider the fact that your fans will purchase more than one of your CDs if they really liked your show. With that in mind, you might consider recording an EP or an ‘unplugged’ album as an upsell to your full CD. How about recording a live CD so it captures the energy and emotion of your show in its entirety, or at least putting one or two live tracks on your CD?
  • Will the CD be used as part of your promo package to get gigs? If so, it needs to represent what your live show will be like.
  • Are you planning on selling CD downloads and/or single song downloads? You may want to record longer versions or alternate mixes of a few of your songs that are available for download only. That way if your fans want them, they will need to buy them even though they already have the original CD.
  • Will you be giving some songs away for free or as promotions? You might want to save some of the rough tracks and/or mix some piano/guitar w/vocals versions to be used as giveaways.
  • Do you want your music in film and TV? Writing for film and TV is an art all it’s own. There are many things like song dynamics, the imagery of the lyrics etc. that determine whether a song is appropriate for those mediums. Study those crafts before you write and record songs specifically for licensing to insure you’re not wasting precious time and money.
  • What do your fans expect? Do they expect high energy? Dance music? Power ballads? Cover tunes? A certain genre(s)? Or do they expect to be surprised because they never know what to expect from you? Once you know what they want from you, you need to determine for yourself if you want to gear the project towards those expectations, or change, expand or even shatter the brand/image you’ve established.
  • What do you have to prove? Do you need to show that you’re a better vocalist or instrumentalist than what people are saying about you? Do you need to break away from being a compared to others because you sound like a copycat? Do you need to show the world that you can sing other styles beyond what you’ve been pigeonholed into? Do you need to show that you’ve improved in some area (songwriting, singing etc.)?
  • A new CD is a chance to expand your fan base by crossing over one or more other genres. What style(s) would be a natural extension of what you’ve done so far? Be sure that you are comfortable in, and sound appropriate for the new genre(s). Also be certain not to make an extreme departure from your currents genre or you’ll risk losing fans.
  • Do you want to explore new territory so that you expand the opportunities for you to play live? Be sure to pick songs that are as good as or a cut above what you’ve released before in whatever directions you choose to expand into.
  • Do you want to showcase your songwriting, vocals, musical prowess etc? Then be certain to include some songs that do that purposefully. For example, a piano/vocal song can be a great opportunity to demonstrate your vocal ability. Do you want to push the envelope? Will you be able to pull off live what you do in the studio?
  • What is more important to you – writing all of the songs on the CD or including the absolute very best songs that you can (there is no wrong answer)? If recording the best songs is your priority, get professional critiques regarding all of the songs, yours included, so that you know that you are producing the best project possible. Your songs might be the right ones for the project. But at least measure them against songs from other great writers who you invite to pitch for your project.
  • Are you the best instrumentalist to be playing on the CD, or would you benefit from having top studio musicians who can deliver exactly what you’re looking for in just a few takes? Hiring other musicians can cost money, but they can save you expensive time in the studio and make the recordings sound great.
  • How soon will your follow-up CD come out? A year? 18 months? Unknown? There are many artists who have put all of the best songs that they’ve ever written on their first CD, and then got too busy touring to write comparable songs for the next one. If you’re putting out multiple CDs, EPs or a 6-packs in a relatively short amount of time, be sure you have strong material for each. This is especially true if you need to have a radio single or 2 off each one.
  • Is there a consistency in the song choices, productions, volume levels (mastering), vocal textures etc. In other words, have you put together a project that sounds like one cohesive unit, or one that sounds like it’s fragmented and all over the map?
  • Are you trying to push the songs themselves over the performance, such as with a songwriter demo? If so, are you really the absolute best singer for every song? Once again, I would ask for professional opinions before spending a lot of time and money on something that is unusable for the purpose for which it was intended.

There may be countless other factors that need to be taken into consideration in planning your CD depending on your individual situation. So the bad news is that you really need to evaluate every aspect from your CD, from the songs to the production to the artwork and more. The good news is that this is why you hire a great producer. He or she will help you sort through all of these questions and concerns and more, and then assist you in making the choices that fit your wants, needs and desires, and one that you can forever be proud of![/private_member]