Above image of Grassfed, who will release its debut album at The Westport Saloon tomorrow night. | Photo: Cork Creative
Releasing an album means scrounging up enough dollars to order the most economical CD package, debating over what font the lyric sheet should be in, trying not to strangle your drummer because he can’t figure out how to play to a metronome, and letting go of the fear of criticism.
Our Making the Band series provided a glimpse into what (and who) it takes to create a successful band from the ground up. And from the details of choosing a producer to planning a party, we outlined several steps key to the process of releasing an album. But beyond the logistics, there is a personal process for each artist: that of self-examination, compromise, vulnerability and accomplishment. So when the work is finally unleashed into the wild, it is genuine cause for celebration.
Here are a few reasons why.
It’s an opportunity for artistic growth.
For novices and veterans alike, the act of releasing an album informs artists of the tools they need to improve in the future, whether that means pressing vinyl instead of making cassettes or crafting a press release.
Sky Smeed, who releases his sixth full-length, “Lunker Bass,” on Saturday, has become well-versed in the recording process: “I’ve learned that I work best when I record during the daytime; no alcohol or funny business,” the Lawrence, Kansas-based songwriter said. “Recording sessions now include tea, hummus, apples and turkish figs. I try to run every evening after the sessions to clear my head a bit.”
Newer to the scene, Scout Alexandria considers the recording process a launching point for her career. Though she started writing music a few years ago, she only recently began working with a full band and recording her upcoming debut, “Scout and the Snaggles,” which releases tomorrow.
“I honestly wish I would’ve taken more value in the recording process,” Alexandria said. “That’s the thing about being an artist — you’re just kind of doing it, and then realizing what you want to change for the next one.”
It establishes identity.
“When you hear an original song, you hear the story of the songwriter. When you hear an album, you hear the story of a band,” said Jake Keegan of Grassfed.
There’s a story in those countless hours spent toiling over song arrangements, and continually refining and authenticating a style. It initiates a lasting bond among collaborators and a more definitive musical direction.
American Slim has been together since its members were middle schoolers, but only recently began penning original tunes. The teenage group is set to release its debut LP “Irreplaceable” Saturday night.
“Being able to write, compose, discuss, rearrange, record and mix an album binds us to our music. We become one breathing unit,” said drummer/vocalist Mikala Petillo. “[Recording] makes us question everything — we want to make sure every note is in the exact spot we want it, that every line comes across clearly and precisely. It molds our stage show, makes us better musicians and performers, and lets us experiment for the sound we’re going for.”
For Arc Flash, creating an album helped the band distinguish its sound as it transitioned from a trio to a duo. “We chose these songs because we were trying to create a facsimile of our live show, said guitarist James Thomblinson. The band releases its debut “Carbon Copy” this weekend in Lawrence. “Now that they’re documented, we can really start making moves on what’s next.”
It presents a body of work to a wider audience.
As we mentioned before, having an album is a necessary component of being a successful band, from booking out-of-town venues to reaching a broader network.
For the members of bluegrass collective Grassfed, their forthcoming debut effort means showing an audience who they are and giving them a chance to take that show on the road.
“We want the album to represent where we’re from,” said Keegan, the band’s dobro player. “The goal is to release it right and get our music exposed to as many people as possible, whether they hear it live, buy an album or stream it on Spotify. We’ve put a lot of work into these songs and stories, and want people to be able to take our music home and find their own stories and meanings within.”
“We have limited opportunities to tour and get our music in front of people. Split releases get our music to people and places we might never reach ourselves, and it’s a good way to build cooperative relationships with other bands,” said L. Ron Drunkard, the band’s frontman and bassist.
It lets audiences connect with the artist.
“Behind every song lies an idea, an essence and a piece of our human experience,” said Nathan Jurries of American Slim.
Whether the expectation is to reach platinum status or just to move enough copies to break even, putting together an album is a milestone for any artist. It’s the physical manifestation of who an artist is in a particular moment, a culmination of their journey up until this point, and a foreshadowing of who they might become. And as music lovers, we all want to connect with, share in and commemorate that experience.
— Michelle Bacon might have played on your record, or perhaps just edited the liner notes. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @michelleobacon. (And please, have someone edit your liner notes.)