What Goes into Making a Piano Album… And an Official Release Announcement!

With my first year of grad school behind me, and six months since my last post, you can say there’s a lot to catch up on—both on this blog and in life, I suppose.  But I’m going to cut to the chase with what’s going on right now:

I’m recording my second solo piano album, Hematite!  It will be released on July 26th.

I know I’ve had six years to do this (my first one Airborne came out in 2013), but to be honest, I’m somehow scrambling to finish this by the deadline.  How can this be?

I’ve worked on this second album off and on since 2014, but I got sidetracked with other composition and engineering projects for college.  You can’t just write for solo piano if you want a degree in composition—nor can you just engineer your own single album if you want an audio degree.  You have to branch out and get out of your comfort zone.

Audio school and music school were “distracting” in the best way

Since releasing Airborne at the end of high school, those four and a half years of college have made me a better composer, pianist, and audio engineer.  Obviously, this is a good thing, but there’s an unintended consequence: when I went back recently to listen to the pieces I’d already recorded for Hematite, I realized they were no longer representative of my abilities.

By getting better at what I do (and being a perfectionist), I unwittingly made more work for myself, prolonged the album process, and have put myself into a bind to try to meet this July 26th release.

Before I say any more, I’m going to back up because you may be wondering what hematite is.  And why did I call my album that?  Well, hematite is a mineral that’s an iridescent dark gray with streaks of red—hence the “-hema,” which means blood.  It carries a lot of symbolic meanings in folklore, such as strength, courage, and healing.

Actual hematite stones

I don’t want to say too much else right now, but I’ll just say that the obscure title is a subtle acknowledgment of a turning point in my life and an invitation for listeners to assign their own meanings—everyone has their own difficulties and could use those things that hematite can symbolize.

Okay, this all sounds nice, but if you’re still reading this, then perhaps some of you are still wondering:

What exactly goes into making an album and why am I so concerned about finishing or not?

What does it take to go from a musical idea, to a finished composition, to a recorded track, to a cohesive collection?  What does it take to make a professional quality product?

For a more classical-type album like this, the process is a little different than, say, a pop record where you’d want a team of musicians, songwriters, engineers, a producer, and a marketing group if you’re a big enough artist.  You’d also usually have a pre-production phase before getting to the studio where you work with a producer to iron out any kinks, but that doesn’t apply for me.  I could still have assembled a team in my genre if time and budget allowed, but…

No, I’m the entire team for this project—I’m doing all of my own composing, performing, producing, marketing, and even graphic design.  I’m entirely responsible for every single aspect of the process from writing strong pieces, to making recordings that sound good, to managing everything that has to do with the business side.

If it sounds like a lot, well—it is.  And frankly, I’m overwhelmed and wondering if I can really finish in this timeframe.  I’ve only recorded four of the nine or ten tracks, and four tracks are still in various parts of the composing phase.  I haven’t even started the tenth track, so as much as I’d like to have an even ten, it may not happen.

  1. So first, I have to get the remaining tracks recorded within a few days of the piano getting tuned.  This way, I can avoid slight pitch problems.  I’m very picky about my recordings being in-tune. 🤷‍♀️ I now have just under two weeks to finish composing those four or five tracks to stay on schedule because tuning is on June 10th.  I’ll give myself until the end of the week to finish tracking, but hopefully I’ll finish sooner.If the composing isn’t good, the whole album won’t be good.

  2. Next, I have to edit everything because recording is just the beginning.  I try to get my pieces recorded in one take, but often there are one or two (or ten) spots that bother me enough that I want to cut them out and then replace them with a different take.  Of course, it’s always a fine line between making a “perfect” performance and a natural-sounding one with emotion.
    One likes to hope they won’t need this much editing for one track…

  3. Once I’ve recorded all of my tracks and pieced together the best performances,  I still won’t be done.  Next, I’ll have to master the album.  This is where you add EQ and gentle compression (in the case of classical piano) to smooth out the sound and bring up the volume of the tracks to a level comparable to other commercial recordings.  Mastering is also the stage where you set how long of a break there is between each track and encode metadata for a CD.  June 30th is the latest I can submit the final master to the disc manufacturer to get the CDs printed in time for the July 26th album release concert.
    Sometimes letting go and uploading the project is the hardest part…

  4. Lastly, I have to drive up to the plant in New Jersey (actually, I’m tagging along with family to see relatives conveniently near the company) to pick up the disks in-person to cut out shipping costs and avoid using more-expensive expedited production time.  It’s $400 versus $800, so with my almost non-existent budget that’s well worth it—and it’s great to see family while I’m at it.
    What a feeling when the album is done and you can hold it in your hands!

So can you see why finishing this second album in less than two months is a bit overwhelming?

Nevertheless, I’m confident I can pull it off.  If I can do it as a high-schooler in 2013 with almost no formal training, than I can do it now with six more years of experience, two degrees behind me, and half of a master’s… Right?  It won’t be easy to meet the deadlines, but somehow, someway, I’m going to show up to my album release party with something in hand.

So friends, I hope you’ll buckle up and come along for the journey.  I could still fail fantastically, in which case you’ll have a good laugh, or I could pass with flying colors—or maybe it’ll be something in-between.

I’m going to be posting every week giving you an inside look at every step of this adventure.  Get ready for a wild ride…

Nashville After 3 Months in Chicago: Here’s What Happened

A few weeks ago, I was thrilled to learn that my latest piece “Internal Combustion” was going to premiere in Nashville with the Nashville Composer Collective.  Not only did this mean a performance (something we composers are always looking for), but it was also an excuse to go back to my old stomping ground for a few days.

However, my excitement was soon outweighed by apprehension.  Would spending time in Nashville and remembering the life I once had make me regret the whole decision to move to Chicago?  Or would Nashville just seem like a boring, quant town after three months of life in the big city?

But perhaps the biggest question was, why was I so concerned about my perspective on Nashville when I have all of these great opportunities in Chicago right now? Continue reading “Nashville After 3 Months in Chicago: Here’s What Happened”

Where I’ve Been for the Last Year… And Where I’m Going Next

Seven months ago, the hardest and best chapter of my life so far came to a close: I graduated from Belmont University with a BM in Composition and a BS in Audio Engineering Technology.  Even now, it’s still hard to believe it’s done!

I must confess I felt equal amounts of relief and panic the day I walked across the stage: relief, because four and-a-half years of blood, sweat, and tears were finished; and panic, because I realized I had two degrees but no firm plan for what would follow.

Christmas came a couple of weeks early this year…

Continue reading “Where I’ve Been for the Last Year… And Where I’m Going Next”

Atlantic Music Festival, Week 1

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The beautiful campus of Atlantic’s host, Colby College

Over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself traveling all over the place to study at a couple of summer music festivals.  I was at the Fresh Inc Festival in Wisconsin for two weeks in June, and it was so good that I haven’t been able to figure out how to sum up the experience in one post.  Hopefully I’ll do that soon, though.  At the moment, I’ve just finished my first week at the Atlantic Music Festival in Maine, and it’s been amazing.

When I say “music festival” to some people, they imagine that I’m talking about loud rock bands and lots of drugs and wild partying, but these classical festivals I attend could hardly be farther from that.  In my world, the music festivals I speak of are the places you go as a young composer to sharpen your skills, make connections, and study music intensely without the burden of homework and day-to-day chores that I have during the school year.

Continue reading “Atlantic Music Festival, Week 1”

Just a Life Update…

With my senior year behind me, I can say it’s been a pretty unbelievable couple of semesters, for so many reasons.  So much has happened since I posted in August that I figured it was time for an update…

This year, I had nine performances of several of my pieces.  One of the highlights was having the Belmont Orchestra perform Out of Ashes twice this spring: once at the annual Classical Performers Concert, as the winner of the Composition Competition, and once at the Tennessee Music Education Association Conference.  I’ve learned so much from my peers over the last four years, so it was wonderful to hear them play my work—not to mention that they gave it such incredible performances!

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The Belmont Symphony Orchestra performing my composition, Out of Ashes, in March 2017

 

Continue reading “Just a Life Update…”

Out of Ashes… Again?

Since I last posted on here, so much has happened that I can’t possibly put it one post, so I’ll just keep it short.

To start out, my first serious orchestral piece, “Out of Ashes” had a fantastic premiere by the Nashville Philharmonic Orchestra in May. Huge thanks to all of the musicians for their hard work in making it a success! There are no words to describe that night, so I’m just going to post the recording here for you:

 

Continue reading “Out of Ashes… Again?”

“Out of Ashes” Premieres Next Week!

Since I last wrote, I’ve received some big news: I won the Nashville Philharmonic Orchestra’s Composition Competition with my new work, “Out of Ashes.”  The premiere is one week from today, and to say I’m thrilled and excited and honored doesn’t even begin to express how I feel about this!

The premiere will take place at 7:30 PM on May 3rd, at Brentwood United Methodist Church in Brentwood, TN.  Also, there will be a second performance on May 10th at 7:30 PM at the Gordon Jewish Community Center.  All of you are invited, and admission is free.

Continue reading ““Out of Ashes” Premieres Next Week!”

What Comes Down Must Go Up

With the completion of my orchestral piece, “Out of Ashes,” last month and my submission of it to several competitions, I could finally exhale for the first time in weeks.

While you might think I’d be overjoyed at my work and celebrating everything I’d just accomplished, instead, the opposite was true: I found myself fighting post-composition depression.

For weeks, I’d poured my heart and soul into the project.  I’d hardly slept.  I’d barely left my room.  I’d intently studied many orchestral scores and orchestration textbooks to gather ideas and learn new techniques. Continue reading “What Comes Down Must Go Up”

What I’ve Learned from Orchestral Composing

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It’s a wonderful feeling to finally hold a completed score in your hands.

Okay, I realize I haven’t posted since July.  Much has happened, and while I could go on for a whole post attempting to recount these last few months, I’m going to cut to the chase…

I’ve just finished my first orchestral work, “Out of Ashes.”

Continue reading “What I’ve Learned from Orchestral Composing”

Halfway Through, Fully Burned Out

I’ve just finished my second year of Music School in college!  This year, I’ve worked harder than I ever knew I could, and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunities that have allowed me to do so.

So much happened this last school year: Continue reading “Halfway Through, Fully Burned Out”