My last album Found My Way was released at the end of 2019. Since then a number of people have asked me questions about various aspects of the recording and releasing process. So I’ve pulled together this article to describe the process.
If you wondered, I hope you find it of interest.
The start of Found My Way
My previous album Life Line was recorded at home, and finished in 2009. It consisted of many favourite songs that I’d written over the years but which I’d never recorded.
After the recording of that album I still had a couple songs that I liked but never made it onto the album. I also found that my interest in songwriting and performing had returned and I had generated many ideas for new songs.
Open mic nights
I can’t remember who suggested that I should check out open mic nights, but I was certainly glad they did. The first one I went to was at The Rowbarge near Guildford, Surrey. This was organised by songwriter Vic Cracknell. This was probably in 2014.
I was certainly nervous to be playing live again, as it was the first time since the Dangerous Gangsters gig 1999 that I’d been onstage.
The monthly Rowbarge night became a regular event. After a while I was introduced to Elaine and Joe from Phoenix Chroi I also started attending the weekly Phoenix open mic nights in Woking.
Spurred on by regular performing at open mic nights and other busking performances in around Woking, I started to build up a list of new songs, and then started to think seriously about recording them.
A new album was on the way…
Demoing at home
I’d recorded the Life Line album at home using Tracktion software on my PC. I was pleased with the end result but I realised I was spending more time learning how to get a good sound from Tracktion than I was actually working on the songs themselves.
So I decided that I would record the new album in a studio, so that someone else who had more experience could concentrate on the sound whilst I concentrated on the songs.
But I didn’t abandon the Tracktion software though. I’d learned enough about multi-tracking songs and ideas, and so I was able to use Tracktion to produce rough demos to help with piecing together and arranging the songs. It was a useful writing tool.
Choosing a studio
I wanted to use a studio local to Woking (where I live) since I knew the recording sessions were going to take place over a period of time, so I asked musician friends for some recommendations.
Someone mentioned Neal Leggett who was connected with Water Rat studios in Woking. When we met I felt we got on well and I booked a trial session. Since it was a solo project the session was at Neal’s own Miacon Studio in his back garden in Horsell.
The trial session went well and I recorded most of the acoustic guitar parts for the song ‘Got To Be This Way‘. This song ultimately ended up as the first track on the Found My Way album.
After this good start I returned to Neal’s little studio every couple of weeks to work on songs. And just over two years later the album was complete.
The technical side
Neal was using Logic on his Mac as his DAW (digital audio workstation) and he looked over all the technical aspects of the recording, from setting up the microphones onwards.
He had a vast array of plugins in Logic for handling reverb, compression, delay, etc, etc. Where I had definite ideas about what I was looking for Neal knew how to approach that.
I recorded demo versions of the songs at home on Tracktion and then brought in these guide tracks for me to play along to in the studio. The drum patterns were programmed by me, although sometimes tweaked as required in the studio.
Bringing in guest musicians
The album was always going to be a solo effort, but I did ask a few musician friends to help out on some songs.
I’d been performing as a guitarist for singer Tracy Ginn at open mic nights and so I got her to record some backing vocals on a couple of tracks. Another friend Karen Terry did some harmonies and backing vocals on some tracks too.
One of the songs – Don’t Let Go – was co-written with Francis Greene and he was happy to record the keyboard parts for the song as he’s a much better keyboard player than I am. He also did some backing vocals on that song too.
For a couple of songs I wanted to add some strings, so one night Jo Lawrence came to the studio to help with that. I’d written some parts for her to play and she provided violin on ‘If You Could Only See‘ and viola on ‘Tell Me Now‘.
Once all the songs were recorded Neal and I had some sessions to focus on the mixing. Neal would use all the tools that Logic had to offer to produce a provisional mix. I would then comment and we would amend the mixes until I was happy with the results.
Once the 12 songs on the album were all mixed, I needed to get them mastered. Mastering is a process which can take a set of diverse recordings and make them seem more blended together. The process also ensures that all the songs have a similar volume level. Also they have an optimum volume level so that they stand up well when played alongside other people’s material.
From recommendations I tried using Cloudbounce and was happy with the results. There was a cheap deal so I signed up for a few months of mastering.
So I then ended up with 12 recorded, mixed and mastered songs I was really happy with. The album was ready for release.
Getting the CDs made
I definitely wanted to have the Found My Way album as a hard copy CD so I needed to find someone to make them.
After doing some research I actually went back to DMS who I’d used for the CDs for Life Line some years before. As well as producing the CDs they can print up covers, and they have a selection of templates you can use to specify the covers with everything the right size.
So, creating a cover… I’ll need to dust off my copy of Photoshop.
I’d had some thought about the cover for a while before the album was finished. The name of the album, Found My Way, suggested a map to me and so I got a screenshot of parts of Woking from OpenStreetMap, an open-source mapping service.
But over the map I needed the album name and details. So feeling inspired by an old Penguin paperback I’d been reading the dark panels with a thin white border came to mind.
After many tweaks and test prints I ended up with something I was happy with, and all the artwork and music files went off to DMS.
The DMS people were really helpful and quickly sorted out issues where I hadn’t got things quite right. I’d definitely recommend them.
And then a couple of weeks later I had a couple of boxes of CDs.
Onto Spotify, YouTube, Amazon, etc
As well as having physical CDs in my hands that I could sell at gigs, I wanted the album to be available more widely.
So I’d signed up for an album deal with CD Baby – as I had already done with my Life Line album a couple of years beforehand.
For a fixed lifetime fee you get access to loads of download and streaming platforms around the world – including Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, Amazon Music and many others.
There’s quite a bit of preparation for a CD Baby release – you have to provide songwriter details etc for every track. Once you’ve done that you upload your finished mastered copies of each song and sit back. It doesn’t take long for your album to start appearing on all the platforms.
And on Bandcamp
Finally I just needed to get the album on Bandcamp so that it was available to download if people preferred it that way.
Adding releases to Bandcamp is easy – just uploading the files alongside some details.
And here it is:
Well my interest in songwriting hasn’t diminished, and after recovering from an accident back in 2020 I found myself working on quite a few new songs.
I don’t think it’ll be long before I’m back recording some new material, although a full album may take a while.
Please listen to my songs and let me know what you think. The Links page on this website has all you need.
Don’t forget to add your comments below.