• What I've learned: If you're going to make a record, set a course and try to stay on it.
I'm not sure of the exact date I started work on my album, but it was sometime in late 2006. Now, 2009 is here, and my album is... not.
Many folks have recommended that I not get too bummed out about my snail's pace, that I should enjoy the process, and they're right. But.
TWO YEARS OF ENJOYING THE PROCESS WITH NARY A RESULT?
What have I done wrong?
If I go easy myself, the answer is nothing. I started this project knowing very little about making records, so, of course, my pace was hardly going to be predictable. In hindsight, though, my original plan was my best: I was going to draw up a list of tunes, go into the studio for two very focused days of recording drum and bass, then I would methodically build on these tracks until I had my rocket ship to pop superstardom.
Unfortunately, the chemistry wasn't quite right between me and those players of yore, so I pulled the plug and set out to begin the process again. Only this second round started filling me with musical ideas, and my original notion of how my album would sound morphed. Then it morphed a few more times, and before I knew it, I was no longer making an album; instead, I was recording a series of individual songs, sometimes working on only one per session. Add health problems to the mix -- a few wasted sessions due to my not feeling well, creativity issues as I struggled with depression, limitations to how much time I could spend on any task before wanting to lie down -- and you've got a situation where nothing happens fast. Nothing.
Now if you're Michael Jackson or Axl, you can afford to take this approach, but those guys I ain't. So, I started to burn through funds quite quickly, and with no end in sight (no plan, no end!), I was soon going to put Catherine and me in the poorhouse. Then my insurance company dumped me and Uncle Sam showed up with a whopper of a tax bill, and into the poorhouse we went post haste.
I finally got religion.
The way to make an album, if you're an individual songwriter such as I am, is to research costs and create a budget, pick the tunes you want to record, rehearse them with your players before committing to pricey studio time, CHECK YOUR BUDGET, have the guts to kill your babies (songs that just aren't working), CHECK YOUR BUDGET, set brand new songs aside for the NEXT album, CHECK YOUR BUDGET, go double platinum and move to Malibu or the Bahamas or wherever you want (WHAT BUDGET?).
Oh, and about that budget, it will need to cover player/singer fees, rehearsal studio time, recording studio time (which usually includes an engineer, who you will want to meet first, if practical), mixing time, mastering and (optional) duplication and packaging costs.
To gauge going rates for musicians in your area, ask the engineer at the studio you've selected. He can give you ballpark figures, and possibly a few specific ones. He can also help you find good people.
Last but not least, as you look for partners in crime, a good rule to follow is Pros first, Friends second. In other words, make sure you get people who can really play and who know the studio drill. If you don't, the frustration and extra costs can run very, very high.