‘The American Music Show’
The creation, production and marketing of Ken’s New Album.
What may well be important to our readers is following me in the decisions and methods I used, and will use, in making the project a reality, getting it out there into the world, and learning and understanding what gets in the way and what works.
Part I – The Creative Process
A brief history. I don’t offer this as a resume but as a starting point.
I am about to release my first solo album. “The American Music Show”. It is an eclectic mix of folk, blues, country, and Americana songs that I have written as a nod to songs I have heard and loved over the years.
When I first started in this business it was a much different world. My first band in 1964, ‘Something Nu’ (The dance band scourge of high school proms, sock hops and Navy enlisted man’s clubs) recorded their first single record at Sunset Studios in Hollywood. We had to record ‘live’ on a two track recorder and the master disc was cut right there. The two ‘surf’ songs got a little radio play – and that was enough to keep me interested for the next fifty years.
I wrote songs and played on any stage that would have me. I was offered a development deal for MGM in the 70’s. I have been front man, singer and musician, I have pitched, produced records and shows, and I have written almost a thousand songs, a few are even pretty good. I have played pretty much continuously with a band all those years. And recently released, “Keep The Sun From Going Down” by Ken Lehnig and the Burning Sage Band.
My first obstacle is self doubt.
I am comfortable in my skin; a stage is a lovely and comfortable environ for me, I haven’t had stage fright since my teens. I trust and know my voice – live or recorded. I have been playing guitar for 50 years. I have learned to be a skillful songwriter …and I still second guess myself.
Here is what is true in the consideration to produce my first solo album.
A. Going solo. I have played with a band for over twenty years. And have gotten use to that dynamic. All members of the band can contribute creative input to any song I present. Often the song I wrote becomes quite different in that process. (Something I was always found satisfying) But I wouldn’t have that with a solo project. My concerns for hiring musicians, arranging and producing the CD myself kept me occasionally awake at nights.
B. The money issue. I had to be truthful with myself as to whether this was a vanity project, something my kids and friends would have long after I’m gone or was it to be a serious project done for a wider audience. If it was the first then I’d spend a little money and produce it simply, perhaps guitar, bass, and drums. If I was going to make it a professional project then I had to bring everything in my toolbox to the party. And that would require a bigger personal and financial commitment.
C. Whether I was relevant. After all I am an old guy (with a young sounding voice) Will what I write and sing be heard and enjoyed? How will an audience of younger folks react to me on stage?
D. How do I market this album. Since the project will not be a rock album, how do I arrange and produce the songs to get a wider appeal? To what demographic am I going to pitch?
I decided to go ahead with a professional product. I started recording in September of 2013.
Here are the steps I took before going into the studio.
1. I sat down with a notebook of all the songs I had written in the last year.
2. Then I played them all and worked on pitch issues, some sound better sang in a key different than the one in which they were written.
3. I looked at whether any were ‘riff-able’. (This is something I have learned playing with a band – sometimes a good riff from a guitar or keys help in making the song ‘Sticky’ to the ear. I didn’t write a riff I would let the musicians and I do that in session.
4. I was going to have 14 or fifteen songs on the album so I picked the best 30 and edited them for ease of singing, cleverness of lyric, and strongest lyric.
5. I whittled the list down to 16 songs that fit the criteria of having a sound reminiscent of American songs written and recorded in the past and recorded them all into a Zoom audio/video recorder. I loaded the recorded songs onto my computer, enhanced them with Audacity – and listened to them for a week – to the point of being sick of them. (I believe this to a necessary step. It is better if you don’t have your artistic ego in the way. Leave that at home and go to the studio with confidence in your ability to write and sing. The song should come in as a good framework for what will eventually be a record.)
6. In the listening I wrote all the notes I could – as to what instruments would best suit the song and any lyric notes on how I wanted to sing the lines. I know a lot of great musicians and I know their strengths so I would list those folks, in hopes that I could hire them, under each song. I then thought about arrangement and the voicing and sounds of each instrument
7. When the decision was made I then arranged with my long time friend, partner, and my Publisher John Hildebrand to book recording time. We settled on an every Tuesday session.
8. I decided to produce the project in a different way than I would normally. It is usual to record drums and rhythm tracks first. Over the years I have been told that my live performance is better than my studio work, apparently I emote more playing live. Okay then! I decided to record a reference guitar track and try to capture the best vocal I could on all tracks. The idea being to catch that spark. It proved to be a good procedure. (It worked for me but it may not work for everybody.)
9. I called the folks I was going to hire and gave them a heads up…
Read Part II ‘The Sessions’
Ken Lehnig(c) 2014 all rights reserved.