The first step in making a Solo CD is to figure out what the hell to put on it.
I start to think about CDs that I like in general.
What CDs do I listen to from beginning to end and don’t feel the need to skip over certain tracks. Having to be your own CD DJ sucks, and I’d like to avoid putting people in that position. If I’m cleaning the house and needing some peppy fun stuff to get me going-the last thing I want is for a real downer track to come on while I have my head in the oven.
One of my favorite albums is Sinatra’s In The Wee Small Hours, which was in and of itself a groundbreaking recording. Up until that album, a proper record had a versatile mix of up-tempos and ballads and the idea of just ‘bumming people out’ with a whole bunch of bluesy tunes was met with a great deal of skepticism at the time.
But I love it, and so did a hell of a lot of other people so I’m already leaning towards a “Mood CD” state of mind.
Since I really have no idea how much songs ‘cost’ to record them as far as rights go (yet)- I’ll just create a list of songs that I personally like and see if there’s a pattern that emerges. And also hope that they don’t cost bajillion dollars to record after I’ve set my heart on them.
I start with my I-tunes ‘favorites’ file.
Already, I’m noticing a lot of chilled out tunes. Tunes that are haunting, simple, and with really great melodies. Tunes that aren’t really mainstream songs. I don’t like fussy, over arranged stuff. I don’t like notes and noise for the sake of notes and noise. I don’t like ‘flash’ and sassy vocals that just show how American Idoly you can be.
Vocal pyrotechnics make me itch.
Like, in my bathing suit area.
I love songs in minor keys with poignant lyrics that tell a story. Songs that you can just listen to over and over and over and never get tired of. And I love songs that, just when you think you know where they’re going- they take a totally cool but completely appropriate ‘hair pin turn’ either musically or lyrically (Listen to Cole Porter’s Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye for a perfect example of this).
Nancy Lamott, Kathy Mattea, Alison Krauss, Nickel Creek, Norah Jones, Joshua Radin, Rufus Wainwright, Tom Waits, Ricki Lee Jones, Sondheim, Jason Robert Brown and the like pop up over and over. Random sweet hooky tracks from both produced and un-produced musicals. Old school tunes: Porter, Gershwin, and Noel Coward. War songs, Irish pub songs, country tunes. Movie scores…mostly by Randy Newman. Dear God, that man is a genius.
Ok, so….the pattern that’s emerging already is the makings of a rather sad CD, indeed. Granted there are some songs that are popping up that are peppy, funny up tempos- But for the most part, my own personal preferences naturally gravitate to the more somber tunes.
Most of the times I turn to music is when I’m sad. Usually during or after a breakup (which has been more of my adult life than I'd care to admit). It’s like comfort food. It’s like commiserating with someone who will always be just as sad as you. Maybe even sadder. And they never spring any sort of useless 'pop psychology' they just read in GLAMOUR magazine on you over a drink. Sad tunes can always be counted on to be deeper in the shit than you. Nothing better for the broken heart. Someone to feel more healthy than. Ergo, music on my own time = catharsis.
Is there such a thing as a 'Catharsis CD'?
Even as a kid listening to LPs- the tracks that were worn down were always the sad tunes. As a child, my brother tortured my mom with the obnoxiously zippy “Chocolate Train” over and over while I apparently lulled her into a state of suicidal-depression by playing the TV show theme of "The Incredible Hulk" ad infinitum.
I toy with the idea of making a CD of sad songs JUST from my childhood. Nah. That’s just…kinda creepy really. Who would buy that album? What would I call it?
“Somber Song Sing-a-long!”
“Depression for the Younger Set!”
“Emotional Torment for Toddlers!”
Ew. I shudder to think. Horrible. Horrible idea. Plus, while tune-wise they’re timeless in my heart...lyrically, I’ve outgrown them.
Next question to ask is "what will make this CD unlike any other?"
Not that it has to be ground breaking but…I also don’t want to put ‘just another ‘ sad CD out there either. I definitely have some random unpublished songs on my roster- from demos and dusty corners of old music libraries…that could be cool. Nothing thrills me more than doing a gig and having people come up to me after saying, ‘WHERE did you FIND that SONG?!!!’ It makes me feel like a musical archeologist, uncovering long lost treasures and putting them on display.
And not for nothing, the more rare the song...the less I have to worry about being compared to another artist’s rendering of it. There will be no renditions of OVER THE RAINBOW on this CD, thank you very much.
I shouldn’t discount the up tempos either. One of my favorite things is to take up tempos and do them as ballads. And vice versa.
So fuck it. It’s going to be a sad CD. Awesome. One decision down. Ah, the a luxury of DOING IT YOURSELF!!! My dream would be if, somehow- the tracks end up actually telling a story of their own. As one leads to another. A trip through a relationship? From beginning to end? I don't know but it's an idea that I like. Ultimately, I'd still rather let the songs speak for themselves first, and then arrange a pattern around them instead of shoe-horning the tracks into an overall concept at this early stage.
I finish my Itunes favorites list and then I go through tracks I’ve already laid down from demos and other unpublished CDs. Then I go through my audition book. Then I go through programs of concerts I’ve done. Then I go through the rest of my entire music collection. Then I scan the song lists of some of my friends' Solo CDs. Just to make sure I'm not accidentally poaching tracks subconsciously.
This searching takes hours.
Jesus, I wonder how I’m even going to LOCATE these composers to ask about rights and stuff. What if I can’t find them? What if I try really hard to find them but I can’t. Can I still record it and then…pay them later if they come out of the woodwork? Because some of these are really random tunes and sheet music I’d collected over the years. Songs I’d forgotten but was really thrilled to see again. Like old friends. Awwwwww…. how’s that for a title,” Old Friends”? I like it.
Ok, time to count the number of potential tunes on my list. Holy fuck balls… I have over 130 possible tunes!!!! That’s just crazy. Ok well- since it’s gonna be a sad CD…I start crossing out all the up tempos that can’t be made into decent ballads.
Down to 98 tunes. Better.
I start crossing out tunes that I’m not absolutely 100% excited about.
Down to 42. Good. Much more manageable. And artistically, I would be thrilled to record any one of these. Depending on what I learn about rights and stuff, I’ll narrow it down now by which ones i can afford, and which ones i can't. My goal is to record 15 tracks and probably end up with 12 on the CD.
Ok, so... Solo CD lessons learned today regarding your song list:
1) Do what ever the fuck you want. Enjoy the one perk of being your own producer.
2) Don’t judge yourself this early in the game- throw a very wide net and see what patterns emerge, as opposed to making stuff fit into a pre-planned pattern
3) Consider what will make this CD unique (or not)- and whether you care.
4) Take the time to comb through all your archives, you’ll find gems in there you forgot you had
5) Just create a CD that you personally would like to listen to (chances are someone else out there will like it too.)
6) CDs of only ‘sad’ children's songs are incredibly creepy and should be avoided as the main demographic is most likely incarcerated anyway
Ok lovelies- stay tuned for the NEXT STEP:
“MECHANICAL LICENSES AND HARRY FOX”
In the meantime-
Rock it out, darlins’.