There have been many eras in music regarding the album. At one time, a very long time ago, singles were sold physically in stores. Then radio took over and buying singles were suddenly no longer vogue – people could just listen to them on radio.And just like that, the album collection became the definitive way for consumers to purchase music. For years this remained unchanged with only incremental technology changes as physical media progressed from vinyl to cassette to compact disc aka CD. Artistes rocked with these changes as they were progressively able to add more music to their bodies of work. The nine track “Thriller” album progressed to seventeen tracks on “Only Built For Cuban Linx…”.
Executives made tons of money with the album format. Singles lured consumers into paying prime dollar for an album of filler. This continued until the digital era of music. Enter the mp3 format. Within months there was doom and gloom talk of industry collapse as consumers could now download popular music from their computers. Incoming players like Napster made it too easy via peer to peer sharing. Labels clapped back hard as expected but Pandora’s box was already open. They needed a new way to sell music. Steve Jobs and iTunes was around the corner lurking.
It was at this point that serious talk of the album format being “dead” commenced. Consumers could now purchase tracks individually, breaking the age old business model of peddling albums with 3 hits and 12 filler tracks. “Only singles make sense” they said.
As an album artiste myself and a listener who loves a good body of work, I’m pleased that the current era of streaming has fully resurrected the album format. For now. For better or worse, artiste realise that releasing bodies of work entice listeners to binge stream multiple songs in one go leading to higher earnings for them. Currently, I have 90% completed with my own album “Mogul Music” which is dropping in 2-3 months. I’ve been working on this album for the past two years so I feel I have a lot of good advice on creating an album which I shall condense into five essential tips. Here are five tips for a great album.
The most important part of creating any album is the concept. Even if you aren’t doing a concept album , one in which the entire album has a deliberate consistent narrative, your tracks all need to fall within a central theme for the album to be great. Your concept works best if it based on two things:
- Your personality
- Your current motivation
For example, my new album Mogul Music is based on taking control of your affairs and being a mogul in your life and music. I started writing it when I was making moves to own my studio and that was and still is my mental state. Additionally, I wanted to get back to a certain sound that my fans appreciated a lot. It was an introspective, storytelling style and that coloured all the songs on my album and is the style that feels most like me.
RECORD MORE SONGS THAN YOU NEED
This is the third album I’m working on and there is one truth I have learnt – great albums emerge from subtraction. It’s like chiseling a great sculpture out of stone. As you chip away stone, the art emerges. Record like five more tracks than you need. And keep the ones that are great AND fit the concept. If a song is good but doesn’t fit you can release it later on another project. Music doesn’t rot or grow mold and trends come back like boomerangs.
For Mogul Music I wrote maybe twenty songs, recorded fourteen, mixed thirteen and the tracklist is going to have ten tracks. The three not making the cut are going on later projects. I am really determined to release the best possible ten songs I could do at this point in my life that fit the concept.
SET A BUDGET
You can’t create a good album without spending some money. Albums are expensive, I can’t sugarcoat it…sorry. Even though I own a studio, I still had album expenses. Sure the costs were drastically reduced but certain things had to be paid for. And this is not counting marketing costs. First off, you need to spend the same amount you spend creating the album on marketing. So if you have catered $10,000 to produce an album, your marketing should be $10,000. But let’s hold off on marketing for now. Here are some of the production costs that you will encounter:
- Recording/Mixing/Mastering – Recording is typically $300 an hour. Follow my previous guide and rehearse your songs at home to save money. And preserve the engineer’s patience. Come prepared. Mixing is at least $1000 per track and mastering is $400 per track. But here is a pro tip. Organize an album package with the studio that encapsulates all of these services at a discounted rate. This package generally will give you a block of time to record and allow for revisions (which you will need) of mixes and masters. It’s actually a must for recording an album. At my studio Future Crab Studios we offer this.
- Production – This can also be included in your overall album package. But you may not want to only work with one producer. For my album, I worked with six producers – a_phake, producer and engineer at my studio Future Crab Studios, DLL a hard Trinidad producer on four tracks, another producer from England, and three other producers from the US whose beats I purchased online. If your production is live, you have to factor in paying musicians as well as extra studio recording time for them to play.
- Album Cover – This is the face of your album. We’re living in a social and highly visual age so this is very important. For the design, make sure you get a reliable graphic artiste whose work you respect for the job. You don’t want to be cheap on this option. Think hard about what the album represents and get a design that fully encapsulates that and is something that would catch attention in a scrolling news feed. Additionally, you will need a variety of sizes for the design. Pay attention firstly to the requirements to get it on digital stores like iTunes, Spotify etc. They will have a size and dpi they require. Next you will need sizes for your facebook cover, twitter cover, youtube cover, soundcloud cover and every social media platform you use. And a square one for profile pics. Our creative director Kit can hook you up here.
- Background vocals – Irrespective of what genre you dabble in you are going to need some background vocals for a polished product. Mogul Music is a Rapso album and I’ve used background vocals on at least half of the tracks. Luckily for me my brother Daniel Hamilton is an excellent vocalist so he had my back on quite a few (he can hook you up too but not for free). Backgrounds start at $300 generally. Some charge by the hour.
SET A MARKETING BUDGET
As I said before, your marketing budget should match your production budget. That’s a good rule of thumb. In this attention bankrupt generation you can’t just drop your album and expect people to listen to it. Even if it’s good. People gravitate to the story behind your project first before they even think about the music. Far less for making a purchase.
This story will need to be painted with media. You need videos. A still pic video won’t cut it in this era. Well not by itself. You will need social media ads. An album launch show is a good idea. A photo shoot is a good idea. And do something unique and creative that is YOU. A budget for this catered in advance will give you the comfort to put effort into this. Otherwise you’ll be tempted to skimp on it. You know how creative you are writing songs? Bring that same creativity to marketing as well because this is how you get your money for the hard work you already put in.
You also need to cater time for marketing. Have several build up events leading to the release. Online people need to see something like seven times or more before it clicks. Use different things online and offline to engage people and built up a hype for the release date. As an example, my album is launching in June and I already have events planned leading up to the date.
There was a time when printing cds was a necessity for an album release. I’ve sold close to 500 cds in total of my past mixtapes and albums. Now? It’s no longer necessary. Most people listen to their music on YouTube.
That doesn’t mean you HAVE to put your album up for free on YouTube. You worked hard on the project. Most importantly, your fans want to pay for it. Place your music videos on YouTube as breadcrumbs leading to your album for purchase.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t drop your album for free and make money off performances. Once you do the math and it works go for it. The goal is what matters. The most important thing is that you benefit monetarily from your work.
Know your fans and your market. If they want CDs, put your music on CD. If they want vinyl, put your music on vinyl. Either way sure your music is up on iTunes, Apple Music, Google Music etc. CD Baby is a good resource for doing this. Streaming is the consumption method of the future and you don’t want to be like artistes who kept their music on cassette when CDs came out.
DEFINE WHAT SUCCESS MEANS TO YOU
I’ll give you a bonus since you read this far. Success means different things to different people. When I did my last album Kaiflo, success meant creating something that was different and resonant while a profit on my album costs. I was successful in both of things. For this album Mogul Music, my goal is creating a significant impact in T+T, planting the seed of a sustainable ongoing fan base while making a profit on album costs. One pinnacle of making a sustainable impact is that I want to do a video for each of the ten tracks on the album.
My goals have not only fueled my marketing efforts but my production efforts as well. It’s why I’m working so hard on the ten tracks because I need each one to be worthy of a video. I can’t have any filler.
Your goal can be small, even personal. Maybe the album is just a personal landmark for you to reach. Maybe you want to reach one hundred people. Or one thousand. No one can tell you your aim but you. The key is, think about it, write it down and work towards it. The earlier the better.
And that’s it.