Making a Record? Or Making a Demo?

Last night as I was driving home, I heard Bryan Adams interviewed on the CBC’s program q.  In the course of that interview, he went into some details about his three-step process for making a record:

  1. Write the song
  2. Record the demo
  3. Make the record

His 12 studio albums have been extremely successful, with 11 going at least Gold, and Reckless going 5x Platinum.  He’s also charted more than 10 #1 singles.  Clearly he has a talent for writing and performing, but he has also learned to follow a process that helps good become great and great become the best.

Bryan takes collaboration as a given.  Just as Design Thinking teaches that “the best idea wins”, so, too, does it apply to songwriting and producing.  When he was just getting started, he felt his initial drafts were “precious” and wanted to retain the purity of his authorship.  But, as he says in the interview, “Mutt Lange beat it out of me.”  And as Wikipedia reports, they co-wrote “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You“, a hugely successful single written for the Kevin Costner film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves that currently holds the record for the longest consecutive Number 1 UK chart single with 16 consecutive weeks at the top of the charts (7 July-26 October 1991).  They clearly worked well together!

After the songs are written, demos are recorded.  The demo is the first really concrete representation of a song as it might be played and recorded for real.  Demos are not low-quality sketches, but an honest first draft of the real thing.  They are also a baseline for quality: when recording a record, Bryan’s goal is that each “real” song be better than the demo.  In cases where that doesn’t happen, the song is likely going to be left off the album.  The demo provides an objective way to tell if they are really knocking the ball out of the park or if they are just making another version of the demo.

When enough material has passed the demo test to fill out an album, and when that material all fits together coherently, then it becomes possible to make a record that will be successful.

Obviously Bryan Adams has had a very successful career as a musician.  In his telling of his own story he is humble and humorous, but it is also clear that he follows best practices rather than ignoring them.  And this has certainly served him well.

Speech text from Miraverse Power & Light Solar Double-Cropping Ribbon-cutting

North Carolina is a great place to grow.  Our family moved here when the growing company I started in Silicon Valley back in 1989 was bought by a faster-growing company here in North Carolina, Red Hat.  North Carolina is home to a great community of innovators, and today we are proud to stand with many of them as we unveil what has truly been a community effort.

When I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma in 2006, I realized that the question “what should we eat for dinner?” had life-changing implications.  We are what we eat.  But as a society, we also decide what we grow, how we grow it, how it comes to market, and at what price.  In 1903, commercial seed houses offered 288 varieties of beets; by 1983 the choice is down to 17.  From 544 types of cabbage, we’re down to 28.  From 307 types of sweet corn, we’re down to 12.  Our dinner-time choices are a function of many choices made before we were even born.  The Omnivore’s Dilemma teaches that when the question “what can we do?” becomes too limiting, the question of what should we do becomes all the more urgent.  And not just when it comes to food.

Continue reading “Speech text from Miraverse Power & Light Solar Double-Cropping Ribbon-cutting”

A spiritual beginning to 2011

I think we all look for auspicious signs around the time of the New Year–signs of good fortune to come, signs of disasters to avoid, signs of hope. Indeed, there are many rituals from many cultures intended to tilt the cosmic game in one’s own favor.  For the start of 2011, I did nothing more profound nor bizarre than to turn my radio dial to 91.5 WUNC as I drove down to Pittsboro to check on the latest progress of my construction project.  Suddenly I found myself listening in on a conversation with John McLaughlin about spirituality in music.  Having seen John and his band play in Raleigh just a few months ago at the Lincoln Theater, hearing him talk about A Love Supreme was like music to my ears.  And I’m still jazzing strong about his latest release, To The One, which was nominated for a Grammy award last year, and which totally deserves to win it this year. Continue reading “A spiritual beginning to 2011”

The conservative (and generous) economics of Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry has become one of my heroes.  His writings and ideas are among the most penetrating I have encountered in any living author, and he has a wonderful and luminous presence.  He was featured on the Diane Rehm show earlier this year, and that conversation was selected for re-broadcast on New Year’s Eve, a fitting editorial choice about what we Americans should be thinking about as we compost the years 2000-2009 and decide what seeds we will plant in the coming decade (with what little fertile soil is left).

As I was driving around town and thinking about the extraordinary costs going into both the construction of Manifold Recording (not to mention the equipment budget), I was struck by these comments (at 17:16 into the one hour program):

Useful criticism always begins with an appropriate standard.  And consumerism—the flourishing of consumerism—is not an adequate standard, just as economic feasibility is not an adequate standard for human behavior.

!

What might this mean?

Continue reading “The conservative (and generous) economics of Wendell Berry”

Weathervane Music points to a new future

Weathervane Music is a non-profit, community supported production company, making music and video to support and advance the careers of amazing independent musicians. Unlike traditional for-profit production or record companies, the vast majority of proceeds from the recordings of this music go straight to the artists, which Weathervane Music selects. I first heard about them when Brian McTear made this announcement in June, and I’ve been meaning to blog about it ever since:

Hi all,

Long time no speak! I’ve been really busy putting together a new non-profit organization called Weathervane Music. In a nutshell we’re experimenting with a new model for how to fund and promote the work of great independent musicians.

Our main focus to start is something we’re calling the Weathervane Music Project Series. It’s a curated music and music-related video series produced for the web in which selected artists come into the studio (at no cost to them, of course) and record a song. The whole thing is artfully captured in hi-definition video, providing great exposure for the artist, some interesting material for gear enthusiasts, and a general primer for Weathervane’s mission.

Now NPR‘s All Things Considered has beat me to it, six months later as part of The Decade in Music: ’00s. NPR’s extraordinary instinct of going beyond the death and destruction of virtually all the major recording studios in New York City (Recording Studios Face an Uncertain Future) paid off by looking at the dynamics of low-rent Philadelphia (where commercial studios are also struggling), and discovering the diamond-in-the-rough story of an environment providing free recording services to a handful of deserving artists. But the reporting could have gone much further…

Continue reading “Weathervane Music points to a new future”

The Jazz Loft Project

On December 3rd I attended the Jazz Loft Project book and website launch event at the West End Wine Bar in Durham, NC.  WUNC’s Frank Stasio, always on top of local goings on, clued me in.  It was packed, despite the venue being situated by LOCAL TRAFFIC ONLY signs from all approaches.  Where else would Jazz fans congregate, if not in some well-hidden bar that’s so small you’d need three of them just to hold all the people who came to hear the music?

Needless to say I bought the book, got it signed, and have since met people who are on their third reading of the text.  I’m trying to save it for Christmas!

I look forward to the time when, perhaps 40 years from now, The Miraverse has become the definitive archive for a new collection of music representing a meaningful continuum of talent and community.