It was nice to wake up Friday to find the cover of my CD on the Americana-UK website alongside such stalwarts as Bob Dylan, Ryan Adams, and The Replacements. Of course, I had not actually read it yet, so there was no telling what was going to be said. And with Americana UK, they score the album from 1-10 so a number was awaiting me along with the prose. So, if you are wondering what I faced, here it is.
This is the first time I have ever gone through the process of making a real album. It is a LONG process and the first ingredient is songs. In order to write songs you need inspiration, which can’t be bought at the drugstore. Well, some might disagree with that assessment and come to thinkk of it I suppose i have walked out of the drugstore with inspirational products on occasion but I digress No songwriter knows when inspiration will strike, but the first step is usually to open the door by writing and playing the guitar. Once the ideas begin arriving you need to chip away at the inevitable drivel to get to the song material. Then the songs have to be written and shaped and sung and tweaked and reshaped and resung and rewritten and resung again, preferably in front of an audience. That process can take a couple years at least to get a batch of 10-12 songs in fighting shape. Then comes the recording, mixing, and mastering process which takes time, planning, and MONEY. Then comes the arduous process of deciding which songs make the cut for the final album and which order they go in. And then there is the album art. The cover is agonized over. The font is agonized over. The copy in the liner notes has to be written and layed out and rewritten and re-layed out. Then the CD artwork and master CD have to be sent to to a manufacturing facility. And how many CDs will you make? And what about vinyl? And how will you do digital distribution? Have you created a publishing company? Are you going to sign up with ASCAP or BMI or do you think they are the Devil incarnate?
And what about a Kickstarter campaign?. If you do a Kickstarter you have to make a video (don’t half-ass it) and offer prizes (don’t half-ass it) which usually means more graphic design and t-shirts and beer koozies and private backyard VIP concerts and updates on the process and a CD release show (which results in a looming deadline) and pressure to deliver a product that lives up to the hype of raising $10,000 because you don’t want your benevolent donors to think “What? I gave Derek Senn $100 so he could go dick around in the studio and all I got was this piece of shit CD and an ill-fitting t-shirt?”
Then the CD’s arrive, all 1,000 of them, which sounds like a paltry sum until you realize you only have 27 fans, 14 of whom aren’t really your fans but feel obligated to support you anyways since they are members of your immediate family. So how to get rid of those 1,000 CDs? Local press helps. Maybe a morning radio show. Nothing like getting to serenade the masses at 7 am while trading barbs with the Tom and Brian. Maybe a newspaper feature. And gigs. Gigs and more gigs. Gigs at 8 PM on a Monday in the dining room of the Best Western playing to unsuspecting businessmen and imploring them to drop $10 on a form of nearly obsolete technology that they have not actually bought since picking up the latest Jack Johnson CD on a whim 3 years ago at a Topeka Starbucks. So after selling 7 CD’s in 4 weeks you conclude the reason they are not selling nothing to do with the quality of the product but rather the apathy towards the medium in general. They are not valued. At least not as much as a nice buzz, so you sit in wonder as people at your shows refuse to lay down $10 for your amazing music but do not balk at ordering multiple glasses of very mediocre Pinot Noir at $12 a pour. Maybe a few holdout hipsters buy CDs these days; those who are fortunate enough to live in one of the few remaining outposts on earth that actually have independent record stores. Wal-Mart and Starbucks ain’t gonna carry your shit, and those are the only places you can buy actual CD’s anymore in most parts of the Country, so unless you are Mumford and Sons or Norah Jones (or Jack Johnson) you are screwed on the retail front.
Thus begin the giveaways. A full crate on the floor of the car slowly begins to dissipate as you randomly pass out discs to whomever; the car wash guy, the homeless dude who would far prefer a dime, random sedans in the Bev-Mo parking lot, a shrink-wrapped disc furtively slipped under the wiper blade to greet the unsuspecting driver who upon return who will invariably be disappointed that it is not a coupon for 20% off Old Navy next door. Colleagues and co-workers will privately cringe upon receipt as they wonder what to do. ” Do I tell him it fucking sucks and that he should really just focus on real estate, or do I just sort of pretend like I never received it?”
So, um, I’m working on finishing up the CD artwork, working as fast as I can before the CD medium becomes obsolete and before I decide the songs I just spent two years writing, woodshedding, and recording totally suck, so that I can give the CD to you so you can decide whether or not the songs I just spent two years writing, woodshedding and recording totally suck. Hang on, I’m almost finished!!!