(or more accurately, “Hi mom.”).
My name is Donna Lynne Champlin (www.donnalynnechamplin.com) and I am a Broadway actress/musician embarking on a Solo CD adventure.
This blog is going to be about my experiences in creating and producing my first solo CD completely by myself using nothing but my love for some certain tunes, my MAC, my Yamaha keyboard, some acoustic instruments I play, research, my personal experience with recording and my training as a musician.
If all of that is not enough of a challenge, for this entire project-
I have a total budget of $1000.00. *
I have never written a blog before, but my brother suggested that this could serve as a ‘how-to’ for all of you out there who might be considering making your own professional CD as well. I am definitely learning as I go, so hopefully the mistakes I will inevitably make will be ones you can avoid. And I do hope to make it somewhat entertaining for you all, as I don’t have any plans to ‘soft sell’ any of this process. And as a rule, the ‘hard-sell’ of things always seem to be way funnier. To me anyway.
Why am I making my own Solo CD?
Having been an active member of the NYC theatre community for over 15 years, recording is very much a regular part of my business. Between Original Broadway cast recordings, Off Broadway cast recordings, demos, workshops, symphony work, voice overs, studio singing, jingles, concerts, BCEFA events and various ‘compilation’ CDs I have probably recorded upwards of 350 tracks to date in some form or other, not including my work as a musician, arranger and lyricist. (Also, this is not including my work as an arranger that has been stolen and put on other people’s CDs with other people taking credit for them).
But, I digress.
This is going to be a HAPPY blog-
She said, optimistically.
Anyway, my point being-
that even though my recorded work can be found “out there” in a lotta places,
I have yet to make the Holy Grail of recordings…
The Solo CD
Also, as invitations to ‘bring some copies of your solo CD to sell in the lobby” seem to increase with every random appearance - and more and more people kindly ask me ‘So, when is your solo CD coming out?’ I’ve felt more and more pressure to actually fucking HAVE one. Don’t get me wrong, I have always been deeply complimented by this assumption that if I don’t have a solo CD, that I must have one ‘in the works’. However, every time I’m asked, I feel more and more embarrassed as my not having a solo CD has certainly not been for my lack of trying.
To start- I wasted many years on the fantasy of how one gets a solo CD made in the first place. The fantasy being that a producer comes up to you riding a shiny white mixing board and says,
“My God you’re SUCH a vocal talent that it MUST be preserved for generations to come! Therefore, I will record and produce your CD with a full orchestra, arrangements for 18 pieces at the best studio in town, you’ll have complete creative control… and I will pay for everything!”
That doesn’t happen.
Including the big ole fancy pants stars you’d think it would.
I was quite crushed the day I found that out over coffee with a very fancy pants star who broke the news to me in a fashion akin to-
‘What, are you fucking retarded? Who do you think’s paying for this whole thing? Me, Dorothy Gale. Me!”
Fantasy suitably dashed, I started to put a little more effort into figuring out the more traditional “Making a Solo CD” route. This path tends to involve -amongst other things-
a producer and an ‘official’ recording label.
Also, the ‘traditional route’ also calls for having an incredibly thick skin as I have endured some downright humiliating meetings with some theatrical record labels. I have been invited into their offices for a “face-to-face” only to be told basically that no one would ever give a shit whether I recorded a CD or not. And in their defense, they weren’t trying to be cruel. They were merely looking at it from a business/profit angle when they said
“No offense, but you’re a waste of time and money”.
Good times. Good times.
truth be told-
while it’s a sensible “bottom line” business perspective that I can understand logically-
this rejection by people I considered to be my musical peers kinda stung like donkey balls.
Not to sound like a total goober but…
I was a bit surprised by my quick dismissal.
Not because I have an inflated idea about ‘who I am’ in this business, but more by the fact that they had a few soloists on their labels billed as “Theatrical stars” that I’d never even heard of. Also, some of my friends had recorded with their labels. And these were friends who, while they were extremely talented and absolutely deserving of a solo CD were objectively speaking--on the ‘give a shit barometer’ -- of no more interest to the general public than I was. So I inquired as politely as I could as to how some people seemed to be more ‘recordable’ than others when the usual theatrical popularity contest didn’t seem to be in play here.
‘Oh, well…so-and-so went to college with me’
‘so-and-so is my wife’
‘so and so spent $30,000 of their own money to make their CD and we just handled the project for them’.
That all makes sense, doesn’t it.
It then dawns on me that indeed over the years- I have seen a few friends of mine in the business (both ‘high’ and ‘low’ profile) go into crippling debt just in acquiring arrangements, hiring musicians, paying for studio time, etc. However, I mistakenly assumed this massive cost to the actual soloist was a rare occurrence, due more to getting hooked up with a ‘bad’ producer.
Well, obviously not.
It’s the norm.
Good to know.
So- the first lesson learned here about the solo CD is this:
1) If you are not in a position to pull in a personal favor with a producer or a label-
2) If you do not have a Tony Award (or something equivalent to it) sitting on your mantle-
3) If you do not have upwards of a year’s tuition at an Ivy League School worth of cash just hanging around that you’d desperately like to throw away.
4) If you’d like to avoid a situation that will make you feel like a big pile of invisible poo-
Do not bother with the face-to-face meetings.
And definitely do NOT bother to look ‘cute’ for the face-to-face meetings.
And definitely DEFINITELY do not bother to bring any sort of ‘greaser gift’ (such as a bottle of wine, etc)-
These things will only serve to make you feel even more like a big turd than you would just showing up empty handed in your PJs.
So as a result, of the above, for years I kinda resigned myself to being Solo CD-less.
No harm, no foul…but no CD either.
Then, a few months ago after purchasing my new MAC laptop I had a friend who had to sing at a wedding where there was no band and only a DJ. This meant that if she didn’t want to look like a complete tool singing “Just The Way You Are’ acapella, as the bride and groom had their “First Dance”- she needed a properly orchestrated backup track on a CD in a female key. I was eager to try out my new MAC software so I offered to create a personalized “karaoke” track for her to sing to. Much to my amazement, it was much easier than I thought and I was incredibly pleased with the extremely professional sound of it. It was then that I realized, with my training, experience and now my new software…there was absolutely no friggin’ reason why I couldn’t record my own solo CD all by my damned self.
Even better, I would have complete creative control and could choose whatever I wanted without worrying about pleasing producers’ tastes or pocket books for that matter.
And so it begins, my friends.
And so it begins.
Again, I’ve never blogged before so if you’re interested in taking this journey with me-
Sign up for the email alerts?
(are there email alerts on this thing?)
Or keep on checking back in with me as the days go by….
The next blog will be about my first ‘to do’ on the Solo CD list which is:
STEP ONE: THE SONG LIST.
In the meantime-
Rock it out.
(*Disclaimer- if the quality of the CD is dependant on my shelling out a little more dough, I’m absolutely going to do it. But my ultimate goal is to keep this whole gig under a grand).