As some of you know, I’ve been working on a CD for the past while. All I had done before in the way of recording was demos with various bands, which was always enjoyable, but this was my first venture into anything that would have my name on the cover. Anything with a cover, for that matter. So I thought I’d post about some of my gosh-wow-is-that-how-you-do-it experiences of making an album.

I started with a list of 12 songs that I thought went together and fit my general vision for the album. I could sum up the vision as Irish, Scottish and American folk songs I like, played with friends. Going into it, I already had a powerful lean toward old songs as opposed to contemporary ones (about half the songs I ended up using are Child Ballads, even though I didn’t set out to do a C.B. project on purpose and I didn’t even know The Wind and Rain was a C.B.), and being a singer, I gravitate toward weepers until sternly talked to. On that, I tried to rein myself in. I picked keys, worked on the vocals, did initial arrangements, and made charts to share with the people I was planning to ask to play with me. I was sure I’d done the hard work of making the song decisions, and all I had to do now was practice a lot.

I probably ended up using about 5 songs from that original list. So that was my first lesson: you’re not as sure as you think, smarty pants.

Some songs didn’t pass the test of friends liking them. That was important, because I felt committed to having everyone who played on the album be a friend, and I wanted it to be a good experience for them, or at least for them not to store their copy of the CD in the shredder or their parakeet cage.

Some songs I just didn’t like the sound of myself on, when I used my iPod mic to record myself at home. I could go on for days about what I hate about my singing voice, but the main problem with me and folk music is that sometime in my 20s it seemed like a good idea to get a whole pile of classical voice training. And now, I didn’t want to sound like an opera singer on a Gillian Welch song. So, out the window went some of my picks.

I almost gave up on Harvest Gypsies, a terrific song by Boo Hewerdine that I learned from a recording by Kris Drever. I thought I was reasonably bright about transcribing rhythm, but I just could not put what Kris did on paper. I finally deconstructed the poor song and made all the phrases the same length. What the hell, I wasn’t in this to be like Kris Drever, whose album Black Water I bought 6 years ago on my honeymoon and have never taken out of the car CD player except to put it in my iTunes. It’s perfect. So, the opposite of anything I could do. But some demon was driving me to make this CD even if it was going to end up in that shredder/birdcage future home.

Will You Miss Me made it all the way to a rough mix before I admitted defeat. It’s a great song, but even more than my other picks, I just didn’t think I was bringing anything fresh to it. I’m not Ralph Stanley or the Carter Family, and unlike not being Kris Drever, that really did stop me this time.

And, in a surprise even to me, I wrote 2 songs that went on the album. I’ve never thought of myself as a songwriter – my form is more novel-y, plus the odd long email, plus that detour into sonnets to keep myself sane during staff meetings at a past job – but once I had the first song, it felt like something I wanted to keep, even try again at.

The final song list (OK, I’m 99% sure this is the final song list now that it’s all been recorded):

Eppie Morrie
I Once Loved a Lass
Bonnie Farday
The Newry Highwayman
Harvest Gypsies
The Wind & Rain
Pretty Saro
Rivers (by me)
The Mermaid
The Last Five O’Clock (by me)

Next time: into the studio!

Advertisements