Thanks to Matthew Reed for sharing this insight with us at TWC.
This is my short and condensed version of how to make a successful record from the planning stages to the release date! Take everything I say as my opinion only and not the rule. These steps are just practical steps to help you in the process of recording your first or next record.
1. Write Your Vision Down
You gotta have a vision for what you are doing or you’re gonna lose focus, time, and money. We know of many scriptures that say without vision people parish (Ps. 29:18). If you don’t have a clear vision for your project, you probably won’t be happy with the end result. The best way to communicate your vision is by writing it down and praying over it. It should become part of your DNA, so if the opportunity arises to share this vision, you can clearly share it with confidence. This is definitely a huge aspect of seeing your project to completion, finding the right producer, raising the financial aspect of your record.
Okay, yes this seems cliche’… In reality, it’s the most important step. You really need to stop, think, and pray. Ask the Lord to show you if this is the right timing for you. You may know that you’re supposed to make a record but knowing the right timing is half the battle. Making a record is not easy, it’s actually one of the most emotionally taxing processes I’ve ever been a part of. It should take blood, sweat, and tears for you to make your record. If not, then you probably cut corners somewhere. Pray before, during, and after your project. You will need His guidance every step of the way.
2. Define Your Target Audience
Beyond your vision, you should practically define the audience that you would like to reach with your music. Defining your target audience should practically influence the creative. Who do you want to reach? The church? Radio? Just for personal use? Don’t let what has been done in the past hold you back from the future. At the same time, don’t be ignorant of what has worked in the past. Traditionally, the sitar hasn’t worked well in U.S. worship services, not saying it couldn’t, but you might want to think about that the next time you want a ripping sitar solo in the middle of your song! You know it’s a joke! Having your target audience in mind is definitely something to consider, but shouldn’t be the driving force behind the record, just use practical sense.
3. Budget, Budget, Budget
Set your budget in advance of your project and add 20%! Not only do you need a budget to record your record, but you need to plan how much time you will need during the recording process! On a weekly basis, I have someone calling me to see how much I paid or spent on my record “Come and Drink”… Without going into details of my specific project (plus every situation is different), I have contacted some of the best producers in the industry to find out their rates and most charge anywhere from $1250 – $1750/song for indie projects to be produced, mixed and mastered. Most producers will outsource the mixing and mastering out of that budget.
I am NOT saying you can’t make a great record for cheap, it’s done every single day. I am just giving a general insight into what I and others have done. In my personal opinion in regards to production, if you have a choice between making a solid 5-song EP or an okay (mediocre) sounding full-length, go with the 5-song EP. It seems very basic and understood, but I have seen this happen time and time again. Having a great sounding professional EP will go much further than releasing a full length of 10 GREAT songs with mediocre production.
4. Choosing the Songs
Most labels say you need a bag of 20 solid songs to choose 10 for a full-length. So that’s basically twice the amount you want to record. Have a complete acoustic/vocal or piano/vocal down for each song. The quality here does NOT matter, its just to get the song down for yourself and the producer to review. The producer should help you pick these songs (most producers want options). Their name is attached to the project just as much as yours. Both people need to be stoked on the content!
5. Get Feedback
This could actually go before Step 4, but get feedback from a couple of other musicians/songwriters you trust. Choose wisely! You don’t want someone to crush you before you even get going. Make sure you choose people that you trust, respect their opinion, and have proven success on SONGWRITING.
I can’t tell you how many people have showed me a song idea, I flipped out about it, then they said some drummer (who hasn’t ever written a song) said the song was a horrible idea. Before songwriting, I started as a drummer so I can say this, plus I have been guilty. :) On the other hand, you may see that you need to go back to the drawing board on your songs before making such a huge investment.
6. Choose the Producer
Oh man this is essential… The right producer can make or break a project. Don’t just look at the names they have worked with, listen to what they have done. Make sure your vision/sound is somewhat in the “ballpark” of the production they have done in the past. Share with them the vision and songs. They should be pumped to be working with ya on it! If the belief in the songs and in you weren’t there in the first place, it could cause a lot of problems in the process of recording. Trust is the biggest elements in the artist/producer relationship. Talent helps too.
7. Write a Marketing Plan
Some people are against any type of marketing or self-promotion and others seem to put too much focus on it. I think a good balance can be found. If your with a label, the good thing is, they will take care of this plan for you and execute it. If your indie, then you are the label!
The success of your first project as an indie artist is solely dependent on your friends and family. They are your first champions, and you will need all the help you can get from them in helping get the word out (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, Email). Think of every avenue you have can think of to help spread the word about your project and then, invest your time and money in which ones you believe will yield the greatest results for the investment.
For example, if you are a worship artist you put an article in Rolling Stone, (although sweet for “street cred”) you probably wouldn’t get as much “bang for your buck” as putting an advertisement in Worship Leader Magazine. Know who your audience is and where there trusted source for new music is. Social media is obviously a low cost way to get the word out. Video is always a great avenue to add the visual element to your record (Video EPK, music video, lyric videos, etc.). If you can think outside of the box, your plan will probably go much further.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them below in the comments. Connect with Matthew on Twitter: @mattreed or Facebook: facebook.com/matthewreedmusic
Matthew Reed is a songwriter and worship leader based in Nashville, TN. While not on the road or tracking his next project, he spends most of his time writing songs for the local church with other writers in town. In addition, he is one of the many worship leaders at Cross Point Church in Nashville. His debut EP, Come and Drink, was produced by Michael Rossback (Paul Baloche, Gungor, Jared Anderson) and is available for FREE on Noisetrade (noisetrade.com/matthewreed) right now. Follow him on Twitter @mattreed, join him at Facebook.com/matthewreedmusic