Saturday, December 19, 2009


Thanks Hillary!

The Professional Bathroom Singer 

Broadway star Donna Lynne Champlin goes DIY for her first solo album 

By Hilary Tuttle 

December 18, 2009 

Recording a solo album on a "Trading Spaces" budget 

does not sound like a Broadway star's groundbreaking 

personal project. Yet when Donna Lynne Champlin 

fractured her ankle in "Billy Elliott," that is exactly what 

she did. The result—"Old Friends," which dropped Dec. 

1—challenges the traditional recording system and 

makes Champlin almost as happy as the hours spent 

singing in her bathroom and agonizingly mastering 

tracks did. She set out to prove that it she could 

accomplish a professional-sounding labor of love one a 

budget of $1000. But the experience also served as a 

lesson in making a profit by making herself happy. 

When Champlin decided to record, mix, and master her own solo CD, she had no idea what she was 

in for. "I started this because I wanted to prove that it could be done and I wanted to lay out the 

groundwork for anyone who wanted to do it themselves," she said. "I figured, stocking stuffers for my 

family and a CD [to sell] to stop looking like a jackass at those Town Hall things. I figured that 

basically anyone could scrape that budget together over the course of, say, a year, like I did." 

In her budget, $1000 is sufficient for the project if only 150 physical copies are ordered. Though, with 

digital, she learned, only about five are really needed. "You can send it to CD Baby and they sell it all 

digitally. And then with Amazon and iTunes, you're set. You don't need the company anymore." 

When Champlin, best known as Pirelli from the Broadway revival of "Sweeny Todd," got the idea, 

her brother suggested she push her effort with an accompanying blog. She was shocked when 

readership quickly grew beyond her brother and mother. But she stayed honest with everyone.

"In marketing, you're supposed to point to the good stuff," she said. "And the blog was very 

antithetical to that. But that's the whole point. For other people to not do what I did and make my 

mistakes and to know how hard it is. I think that's why people are so willing to help me—it's clear 

how helpless I am!" 

Help poured in from friends, fans, and absolute strangers. After repeated inquiries, Champlin 

accepted donations for a publicity fund. She also got offers of production assistance, from graphic 

design to technological equipment to professional mixing—by Terrence Darby, who mixes Moby and 

Beyonce, no less. 

You would never know the vocals were recorded in her bathroom. "I recorded there because it's the 

only room I have with a door," she says, laughing. "Mastering songs, there were times where it was 

so bad that my notes were literally, 'Good luck.'" 

While her self-taught mixing and mastering skills paid off in the final product, that last technical 

process drove her the craziest—and made her appreciate the professionals. "This is where they 

deserve the big bucks," she said. "I did it, and it's doable, and I showed it could be done, but to make 

the experience perfect, I probably wouldn't. That was where, if I could have given someone $1 

million to just do it for me, I would have, and it would have been worth every cent." 

Technical difficulties did not wreck the experience, though. In fact, Champlin describes the whole 

project as an exercise in making herself happy at every step. 

"I decided to make a CD that I would enjoy listening to," she explained. "So I would finish a song and 

sit there, and I would say, 'What song, of all the songs I know, would I like to work on now? What 

song would make me happy?' And that's how I picked the songs. I can't tell you how many times in 

this whole thing people said, 'Well, that's not how people do it.' And you know what? I don't care. I 

don't owe anybody any money; I don't have to meet anybody's bottom line." 

Financial and artistic freedom made the experience. As a veteran of the stage, Champlin asserts that 

actors get too conditioned to accept direction. She loved making the creative calls that made her 

happy, and she relished the ability to go against conventions just as much. 

"I've broken a lot of rules with this," she said. "Happily, because I can." 

Picking happiness has paid off for the star. With 200 preorders, she not only recouped all of her 

money, but made a profit even before the official release. 

At the end, Champlin offered advice to artists considering making a solo CD—either with the DIY 

approach or more conventionally. With her new insight she said, "You need to do this for artistic 

reasons only, because if you do it for commercial reasons you're not going to make it—you'll go crazy 

and it'll be miserable.

"It really was incredibly fun, the whole thing," she added. "It was maddening. But I haven't been this 

artistically happy in years." 



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