May 13, 2015
Tips for Releasing an Album While Teaching
Hello fellow Teaching Artists!
My name is Mike Casey. I’m a saxophonist, songwriter, and teaching artist currently living in Hartford, CT. I am also the saxophone, flute, and clarinet instructor at the Avon, CT Music & Arts location. My debut album The Sound of Surprise: Live at The Side Door comes out in February and I was extended the privilege to outline what goes into releasing an album and how to balance this with a teaching artist’s schedule.
Be sure to share the exciting news with your students and their families. Helping them understand that you are an active teaching ARTIST will help you build legitimacy in their eyes, and it will help the store market you to potential new students!
This would also be a good time to review (or update) your makeup / cancellation policy with your students and their parents. As you will see below, releasing an album is a lot of work, and being more efficient with your scheduling will help you. If you miss a day, always let your students know with as much advance notice as possible, and schedule makeups with advance notice as well. Overall, time management is key to balancing teaching and releasing an album!
Below I highlight what goes in to releasing an album and how you can integrate this process – and what you wlll undoubtedly learn hands-on – with your students.
Composing & Arranging:
Unless you’re recording an album full of cover songs (which is fine), you’ll need to set aside quiet time for songwriting/composing and arranging. I’ve always been a night owl, and many great composers have said they write music in the evening. I generally set aside time every week (after lessons) for daily practice and time to work on writing/arranging new songs.
It’s always fun to share sketches of new songs with my students to see how they react! For advanced students who I help with songwriting/music theory, I’ll often use my own compositions to demonstrate certain compositional techniques, or how a chord progression functions.
I chose to record a live show, which makes the process a little different than in studio.
Depending on the style of music/size of band, you might need as little as 1 microphone, a laptop, and a DAW (digital audio workstation) such as Garageband, Logic, or Pro Tools. If there are multiple instruments involved, you’ll need to contact a local recording studio. Asking your fellow teaching artists at Music & Arts for local studio recommendations is a great place to start! Personally, I’ve been recording in many configurations since high school, and made many connections through being active on my local music scene.
With a live show, you have specific goals in mind for the recording (i.e. general song length) but because it’s live and there will be no edits, you can’t be as specific. You also have to keep in mind the audience – it’s still a show, which means you shouldn’t repeat songs “just because you’re recording” (unless the venue rotates the room and it’s a different crowd for the 2nd set). If you want enthusiastic applause on your live album, you’ll want your audience to have a good time.
A big plus is having the audience’s energy to feed off of, which don’t normally have in a recording studio – plus, live recordings are generally less expensive to make and drastically shorten the recording time (no multiple takes, tracking, etc).
If you record live, be sure to invite your students and their families. Seeing their teacher perform live will inspire them (just think – for some of your students, this may be their very first concert) and strengthen your bond. It also communicates to the student/family that you are the real deal – you are a teaching artist with an active performing & recording career!
Once the show is recorded, get ready for multiple (I think I did at least 10 – jazz recordings, particularly live ones are harder to mix as there is a wide dynamic range) mixing sessions with an experienced sound engineer (preferably the one who recorded your live set – they were there, and knowing how it sounded in the room will help them mix/master accordingly). These sessions can start to drive you crazy (and make you deaf) after a while. To get the mix just right, you’ll need to spend lots of time on your own listening closely to your own music (but not really the music per se – you’re focusing on the sound, mix, balance, acoustics, reverb, compression) on multiple sound systems, multiple times for each new mix you get from your engineer. Mastering is a separate process (sometimes done by a different engineer) that helps your recording sound consistent across a wide variety of sound systems.
Sometimes playing rough mixes for a student can be mutually beneficial. I believe a big part of learning to be a musician is studying sound and building up the ability to listen to not just music but sound on a deep level. Playing music (whether your own or someone else’s) is something that can break up the monotony of a lesson. Ask your student to identify what instruments are being played. Which is the loudest? Softest? How does the balance sound? Can they hear the reverb? Your student may be in a recording situation one day and will need to be prepared with the skill to listen deeply to sound.
You’ll need to sign up with a PRO (ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC) and register your original works in order to gain publishing royalties for your compositions, and SoundExchange for digital performance royalties. Be sure to copyright your sound recordings with the US Government’s Copyright office. If you recorded any cover songs, you’ll need to pay for a mechanical license in order to legally sell your version of someone else’s song. All of these things are very important and there are other details you’ll need to research on your own, but this covers it in a nutshell.
Recording an album is expensive, and crowdfunding can help drastically. Plus it will get your family, friends, fans, and students excited about the album! I used PledgeMusic to raise money to cover the cost of my first album, and outlined some strategies I used to reach 111% funded in under 30 days here at mikecaseyjazz.com/press (click on the Hypebot article link).
You’ll likely want to order some CDs (Discmakers, CDBaby are solid options) and sign up with a digital distributor to get your music onto all the digital stores (i.e. iTunes/Amazon MP3) and streaming sites (i.e. Apple Music & Tidal). I use Symphonic Distribution but there are lots of amazing, affordable options out there for both!
Recording and releasing an album is a ton of work – so be sure to allow yourself plenty of lead time (at least 6 months) and don’t push yourself too hard. Add in a busy performing/teaching schedule and it’s enough to lead to burnout – so be careful! Including your students in the process will result in both of you learning more, and deeping your relationship with your students.
Thanks for reading!
Saxophonist, Songwriter, Teaching Artist
The Sound of Surprise: Live at The Side Door is available for purchase on alll digital music outlets & via my website beginning February 7th, 2016. The lead single, “Hydraulics”, will be available on all streaming/purchase everywhere mid-January.
ABOUT MIKE CASEY:
Saxophonist and composer Mike Casey has been a fixture on the Hartford jazz scene and beyond since 2008, when he began attending the Greater Hartford Academy for the Performing Arts. Upon his graduation, he went on to attend and graduate in 2015 from the acclaimed Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz housed at University of Harford’s Hartt School. In 2015, Casey was chosen to participate in the prestigious “Betty Carter Jazz Ahead” Program at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC led by Jason Moran. Casey has performed at a number of well-respected venues such as Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Minton’s, The Kennedy Center, Ginny’s Supper Club and others. Since its inception in 2015, Casey has been apart of Marc Cary’s “Harlem Sessions” project; with Cary, he has performed at NYC’s Winter Jazz Fest, Summerstage, and Cape May’s Exit Zero Jazz Festival.