Today I begin my diary about making an album, highlighting the pitfalls I discover on the way. (I think I can already hear cheering from my family and friends and lovely, loyal supporters).
Many of you will have listened to the interviews I did with Ewing Stevens on his radio show in New Zealand. His producer Jason Beaumont contacted me after I wrote about the Susan Boyle Sessions I sang on. After the interview, where they played some recordings of me from Myspace.com, Jason told me that lots of people had contacted him asking after the show asking where they could get hold of my CD.
When I do solo concerts and gigs, people are always asking me if I have a CD – it’s all very frustrating because after over twenty years as a professional musician, I have recorded for just about everybody – but have never recorded something with just me.
After a particularly enjoyable evening at Steyning Jazz Club, where yet again people were asking me for my CD my friend and singing pupil Tom Chapman came up to me and took me to one side and asked “seriously Heather, why haven’t you got one?”
I told him that it was mostly for financial reasons. As a jobbing musician, I am very lucky that I can make a living as a singer (partly down to the fact that I do lots of different types of singing, so I have a better chance of work than if I were just doing opera, for example) At the end of the month it’s a miracle if I can pay the bills, so there certainly aren’t a few spare thousands sloshing about to make a CD.
But it’s not just the money.
I have discovered that there is a much bigger obstacle in the way – me.
Singers, as a breed, are insecure. I think that one of the reasons we put ourselves up there with only our vocal chords and lungs for support, is because we need the audience to say, well done – you’re ok. It’s a very humbling and emotionally exposing profession when it’s done well. There are obviously things you can do to ensure it does go ok. Singing Lessons, vocal practice, learning you music thoroughly, playing with the best colleagues……but when it comes down to it, one frog in your throat can distract you and make you forget your words or make you go wrong. It’s only your professionalism that steels you through such moments and I’m a firm believer in “Tits and Teeth”.
NEVER show the audience that you’ve gone wrong – they mostly won’t have noticed, unless you point it out to them.
So, I admit it – I’m scared of making a CD – nobody wanting to either buy or listen to it. Or that it won’t be any good. Or that my colleagues will judge it harshly. I remember when a friend of mine spent a lot of money making a solo CD and another colleague said very disparagingly ‘why on earth did she bother to make yet another album of songs people had recorded before – what was the point?” That really stuck with me and encouraged the fear. What could I say in my interpretation that was different, unless I wrote completely new material? So this stopped me starting. In my mind it had to be the most original perfect thing, or there was no use doing anything at all.
So that’s what I’ve done – nothing.
Until this year.
My big sister came to live in my spare room and she has been pecking away at all those negative beliefs. She took me right back to the beginning. IF I had a CD, how would I sell it – how would I get it to people that might want to buy it?
“Nobody will want to hear about me” I whined to big sister. “Just do it!”, she said. “What’s the worst that can happen?”
So I started this website, writing a few of the stories I had regaled my family with at the dinner table. I was surprised to find that I was wrong – it seems that people actually find my profession interesting. Big Sister Nicola has been helping me with some of the technical stuff and lots of internet marketing advice on search engine optimisation – she is a whiz at all that.
Last week, Tom came up to me at our local pub, the Brunswick. We go there on a Tuesday for their excellent Jazz Jam and to meet up with friends. People of ALL standards get up and play with the house band and every week some surprising and often fabulous things happen. He said he’d been thinking about what I’d told him and, if it was just a case of money, then he was willing to give me the money to get the CD made!
Now I was really scared – elated, but also afraid as my main excuse had gone.
The next day he came along to another pupil’s Open Garden day, where each year I sit and sing with my guitar. This is where people open their garden to the public for charity and it’s usually a lovely occasion. Unfortunately this year it was rather cold and wet, as you can see from our clothes. Tom looked round the beautiful garden and then sat and had a cup of tea and slice of cake with me while I was on a break and told me he was really serious about doing this and asked HOW would we go about it? My sister snapped us together for posterity.
What to do? Who to do it with? Where to do it?
I had been putting out tentative feelers all year, asking colleagues where there was a studio with a decent piano. Apart from the really obvious and expensive ones, like Abbey Road, it seemed they were all coming up with a studio in Hastings, run by a really good Trumpeter. I had emailed him to find out rates a couple of months ago, but when I emailed him back to ask for dates he wasn’t available until the middle of September. I looked at my diary and realised that, after a couple of very quiet months, the middle of September started a period of back-to-back tours with the Monteverdi Choir and Synergy Vocals – no two, free days together until November. I was despondent.
Another part of my avoidance technique had made me inexplicably reluctant to call David Newton, the fantastic pianist I had worked with in the Arundel Festival, whom I knew I wanted to play piano for me. Again, I don’t know what was stopping me. I told myself that I couldn’t call him until I had found a studio first. It suddenly occurred to me that HE might know of a studio, as he has recorded with so many wonderful singers.
So yesterday, I took a deep breath, picked up the phone and called Dave. I explained that what I wanted to do was make an album of voice and piano. No overdubs – just whole takes of songs. My favourite standards, with just voice and piano. I wanted to do it soon and then the ‘next’ album could be more ambitious, have more people, be more experimental, be better! I just needed to get it done and stop making excuses.
I explained what I was aiming for was the albums I love and admire containing only voice and piano – the song being the only star. Those albums are the Tony Bennett, Bill Evans albums called Together and Together Again; The Intimate Ella with Ella Fitzgerald and Paul Smith and the Duet album with Doris Day and Andre Previn. In fact Dave suggested a song from the Doris Day album – spooky!
He told me that he’d recently recorded in a large, private house in London with a fabulous piano. A Double Bass player, whom he had worked with many times had brought his microphones and recording equipment to the house and he’d never heard a piano sounding as true and excellent as the recording they’d made. Dave said he’d call the owner of the house and the Bass player and try to find two consecutive days. He rang back an hour later and, as he went through the possible days my heart sank as on pair, I either had a rehearsal or a BBC Promenade concert. Then we hit on three days together that we could ALL do, so we chose two – IN TWELVE DAYS TIME!
Now I’m really scared!
I’ve made a list of songs, twenty three starters, which I have to cut down to about twelve. I have to sort out charts and keys and in twelve days time I will record them – and then we’ll see what happens. There’s album design and manufacture and technical things like licensing and selling on Amazon, Itunes and Spotify to sort out. I’ll keep you posted on that but for now I have to focus on the music.
No more excuses.
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I welcome your comments and perhaps even song suggestions!