Hello friends. I want to apologize for my absence as of late, my life has been consumed by pursuing music full time. Unfortunately, this blog fell through the cracks as a million other tasks pertaining to my career beckoned for my attention. Rebranding my page, running Upscale, networking with artists, getting live gigs, teaching, managing social pages, and working on remixes have all demanded my immediate focus throughout these last six months. And while that all is more than enough to deal with, it pales in comparison to the one single thing I’ve been working on for the last two and a half years now. The main event, the big kahuna, the biggest bitch of a project I’ve ever faced in my life: my forthcoming LP.
Finishing Dream Recall has been the death of me. Writing my first full length album was beyond any shadow of a doubt the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Since early fall I pretty much barred everything else was working on, and it still took almost half a year for me to finish it from there. That’s on top of the hundreds of hours I have been pouring into this thing since mid 2014. I learned so much about writing music throughout this process, and as more and more of my friends start announcing that they’re embarking on the creation of their own albums, it seems like a good time to finally put my experience into writing.
Here on the other side, finished LP in hand, it’s so easy for me to look back on everything I did wrong. Now I feel completely confident that I could write 45 minutes of better music in less than half the time I spent on Dream Recall. Easily. There were so many things I did or didn’t do along the way that ended up stalling the overall project for such a fucking ungodly amount of time. I want to share these moments with you, in hopes it will serve as a useful reference in your own endeavors.
So you want to write an album?
- Deciding it’s time
Let’s start off with what seems to be the easiest part – deciding that today is the day to start an LP. To be honest with you I can’t even remember that moment it was so long ago. In fact, much of this process feels convoluted in my brain because I have thought SO much about it. But I do remember why I decided it was time for me. I had just finished my Porter Robinson bootleg, and with that track I really felt like I had found myself in my music in a way I hadn’t before. I wanted to do more with soundscapes, to tell a more complete story than I was able to with that track, and to do it with all my own sounds. I felt like I had reached this point in my productions where I was able to enjoy my own material, to be genuinely proud of it without doubting myself as I listened. I had created something I wanted to hear, something that didn’t exist before, and that personal connection was absolutely essential.
I think it’s time when you feel ready to create something for yourself. When you can fall in love with your own ideas. I say this because for a very, very long time, it will pretty much just be you sitting with those ideas. Doubting your own skills will put you into “the loop” which is something I will touch on later.
I have to say, I really do wish I had waited a bit longer to decide I was ready. There were many ideas that never made the final cut, and a few that did that I wish didn’t. By the beginning of 2016 I was consistently writing music that I was 100% confident in as album material, but a lot of the material from before that point was not up to par. Believe me, you will save yourself a lot of time if you wait until the right moment to take on something of this magnitude.
- Planning The Album
So this is where I completely dropped the fucking ball. I did virtually nothing to prepare for Dream Recall. This will hurt you big time in the long run, and looking back it becomes very obvious that taking the time to make a plan would have saved me countless hours.
Even after I had started writing I had no vision at all for what the final product would be. No storyline, no plans stylistically, no deadlines, nothing. I just kept writing music as usual and decided the things I liked the most would become “album tracks”. By the time I decided I wanted to do something surrounding the idea of dreaming, I already had four half finished tracks laying around that I had spent well over 50-100 hours a piece on. Two of those were scrapped entirely – but not until after I spent even more time trying to conform them to my newly formed lucid dreaming concept (which, at this point, really wasn’t even a concept yet). Stupid. So stupid.
So before you even touch your DAW, take 30 minutes and really think about what your goals are and how you are going to achieve them. Here are some good questions to ask yourself, make sure to write this shit down before you do anything else:
- What is my concept? What am I trying to convey with this music?
- How many tracks will it take to sufficiently express my concept?
- Approximately how long do I want my album to run?
- Do I want the tracks to play through seamlessly?
- What do I want the flow to be like / what types of songs will I place where?
Once you’ve answered these questions you’ll be 10 steps ahead of where I was when I started. I eventually had to address each of these things, but I spent such an unreasonable amount of time retroactively worrying about all of these logistics because I never bothered to deal with them up front. If you have answers to everything here then it’s time to make a proper outline for yourself (yet another thing I didn’t do). Here’s some things you should try – keep in mind that you might not be able to do all of this before you start producing but the more you can get ready beforehand the better:
- Make a piece of writing for each track that captures the intention (poetry, bullet points, etc)
- Come up with a list of track name ideas
- Create a rough outline for track order and add descriptions that help you (mellow guitar tune, dark atmospheric section, etc)
- Focus on what the very beginning and end of the album should be like
- Create deadlines for first drafts of every song
- Start thinking about art (maybe sketch or design something)
- List out any samples or instruments you already know you will need to record
- Think of artists you are interested in collaborating with for certain tracks
Having all of this in writing will be an indescribably useful tool for completing your album in a thoughtful and efficient way. I wouldn’t even consider writing another one without doing this first. Wherever you write this down, make sure to hold it close as it will become an invaluable resource down the road. Once you’ve compiled as much of this information as you can here, it’s time to start writing!
- Starting the album
Ok, so the actual writing process, let’s get into it. I think one of the most important things is just to approach this systematically, which is of course not at all what I did. You should be saving your projects in drafts, starting with v1. Remember those deadlines you set for your first drafts? Follow them. Give yourself a realistic timeframe to sketch out all of your ideas one by one, in order of the album if possible. Making sure all of your projects are on the same draft version (for the most part) is going to stop you from falling into “the loop”.
So what the fuck is “the loop”? The loop was probably the biggest problem I faced with Dream Recall, and it’s so easy to avoid. Basically my method was just to work on a track or two at a time, like really grind on a few songs until they were just about done, move on to the next batch and then connect them all at the end. The problem came from the fact that I was taking so long that by the time I came back around to the first tracks they were nearly two years old. Enough time had passed that I had gotten significantly better at producing, so I felt like I had to spend hours and hours remaking parts of those old tracks to get them up to par. By the time I was happy with those, I felt the same way about the second batch. I found myself in this situation where I was constantly getting better at making music, and I wanted all of the material to sound as good as the newest thing I was working on. An endless loop of going back and updating the oldest thing. So how do you avoid the loop? Just keep updating everything together. Keep the whole album within one timeframe, and don’t let any of your tracks slip through the cracks.
If you can get a first draft of every song in your album together you will be in a very good position. I never even came close to that. In fact I just now started and finished the title track of my LP within the last three months or so. Just having that full outline of how everything is going to function together would have saved me tons of guesswork in the arrangement process. With a full sketch in place the writing process is much more straightforward.
- Tips for the Writing Process
This is where things start to get subjective. I can’t tell you how to go about writing your music, that’s obviously where you come in, but there is are plenty of tips I can provide that were / would have been effective for me:
First: Back everything up. Religiously. I lost massive parts of almost half my projects when my computer died on me last year, and that was pretty devastating. For a handful of the tracks, I ended up having to just work around old renders I was able to re-download off of Soundcloud. My external ended up being faulty as well, so nearly all of my personal data was lost too. It’s so easy to avoid, and backing up your shit is something you should be doing anyways.
Second: Prepare sounds beforehand. When creating this much material, it quickly becomes intimidating to start project after project from scratch. No matter what type of music you’re writing, you can always start getting samples together in advance. For me, this included foley recordings, granular sessions, spoken word, guitar, basses, sound effects, and more. Getting as much stuff together as possible provides you with a palette for you tracks, making the drafting process significantly faster and the writing process far more intuitive. If you want to get really organized, create packs for each of the individual tracks before you even start arranging them.
Third: Patience. Lots of it. I can’t tell you how many times I toyed with the idea of ditching the album concept as whole throughout the process. It quickly becomes enticing to just say fuck it and release the tracks you’ve finished – especially if you aren’t putting out anything else while you’re writing. You see lots of artists (myself included) go on a full on hiatus while they are working on an album, and unless you’re a really fast writer then that’s just part of it unfortunately. As I mentioned before, you really have to be in love with your work, because you’re potentially going to be sitting on it for months or even years. It takes a certain degree of discipline that I had never endured before as an artist to keep your most treasured work under wraps for so long. Just keep in mind that the finished product is worth it, and the payoff is indescribable in the end.
Fourth: Find time to give yourself space from your work. I have listened to the tracks on Dream Recall more than any other music ever written, and you start to get lost in the way it actually sounds. Take some time to work on other things, tracks that you don’t need to take seriously. I find it to be extremely helpful to have projects that are just for fun – trying to produce at my highest capacity 100% of the time becomes draining and uninspiring. Casual experimentation is honestly one of my favorite things, and I find that having a space to do that outside of the usual meticulous grind allows me to be more creative and less concerned with the final product. I often end up using sounds from these sessions in my album work too.
Fifth: Reach out to people. There’s a certain strength you gain from realizing that you aren’t the best at everything. Work with people from different walks of life, people with different skillsets than you. There’s nothing wrong with collaboration, and in many cases I’ve found that finding someone with a complementary skillset to mine has ended up resulting in some of the best music I’ve ever written. Even if not for collaboration, reach out to other people for feedback and ideas. Second opinions are invaluable.
5. In Conclusion
At the end of the day, writing an album is easier said than done no matter how you frame it. It’s a true undertaking to try to create something meaningful at this magnitude – to make something 45 minutes long that encaptures exactly what you are trying to convey with every second. But with proper motivation and planning, it is a sincerely rewarding and worthwhile experience to embark on. I wish you the best of luck with this process.
You can expect Dream Recall to be released mid March. For those of you that are still reading this, you are the first to know that the preorder is already available here on my site. If you’re interested, check out all the bonus content you get from preordering here. Until then, I’ll leave you with a few LP’s that have made an impression on my work: