Journal – Perfectly Fine: The making of

This journal will document my venture into becoming a professional independent musician, and the self release of my debut album ‘Perfectly Fine’ that will mark the beginning of my career.

Winter 2009

Winter 2009 is when the recording for my new album, ‘Perfectly Fine’, began. It all started with me buying some new drum microphones and wanting to record some drums with my drummer friend Gareth Fisher. I had a bunch of songs written that I wanted to record anyway, so I got him to play the drums for those during our recording session around my house.

Those sessions resulted in five tracks. Vocals, guitar, bass and other parts were added to those tracks, and they were mixed by myself, but then lay dormant for several months. It wasn’t until early 2010 that ‘Perfectly Fine’ began to take shape, and those 5 tracks would be re-recorded (aside from the drums) and mixed numerous times before ending up on the album.

January – September 2009

This is the period that I spent recording most of my album. After recording those 5 drum tracks with my friend Gareth fisher, and subsequently recording the other parts to the tracks, I decided I wasn’t happy with the quality of my recordings, and spent a good few months from then on upgrading a lot of my recording gear, and trying to learn as much as I could about recording and mixing. I spent countless hours reading recording/mixing forums and articles, constantly trying to learn new techniques and approaches to my craft. The original drum takes for those tracks would be kept, however, as despite them not being perfect recordings, they had a lo-fi vibe that I quite liked, that helped to give the tracks some character.

Still, I really didn’t want to be yet another artist recording their ‘demo’ or ‘EP’ (read: poorly recorded sub-par product that apparently is ok because you’re an independent artist recording in your ‘home studio’, and yet you wonder why people aren’t buying your records.)

I wanted to be a good engineer, and have the equipment and knowledge to produce a good quality product that people would love. Naturally, I didn’t (and don’t) have the budget some big artists have, and so I didn’t have multi-million pound recording studios to work in, but there was no reason if I didn’t put in the time and effort, that I couldn’t record something great.

So I invested in new preamps, guitar amps, microphones, acoustic treatment, you name it, and perfected my craft. I kept on re-recording bits to those five tracks, and the rest of the album, until I was happy with them, and kept on re-mixing the tracks until I was happy, each time learning from my mistakes.

My home studio

September – October 2010

So by now my album was starting to near completion, and so I started thinking about how best to promote it, and what my aims and goals for it were.

So what did I want from it? I wanted a proper album, manufactured professionally, something that not only sounded but looked like a professional product. I wanted to sell it from my own website, and do all the promotion you usually would find surrounding a typical album launch. So I wanted photo shoots, promotional music videos, a website, a free promo release, flyers & posters, business cards, online distribution (so places like iTunes and Amazon), a launch party, the works.

I really wanted to use this album as a way to create a huge online and real life presence for me as an artist, I wanted people to be talking about this album, and in turn about me as an artist.

So whilst the final bits of mixing and mastering (as well as ongoing re-tracking and other tweaks, which occurred right up till the very last minute) were going on, I released a free promotional EP through jamendo.com, initially with just two tracks from the album, and then three later on. I also gave away and sold cheap CD’s of the EP at gigs, and sent copies off to local and regional press and radio stations to help promote the release of the album. I had the idea of kind of creating a gradual lead up to the album’s release, where more coverage, information and free promotional stuff would appear as the release date got closer, with even more coming after the release. I didn’t just want a short burst of press before the release, I wanted a constant stream of ongoing coverage long after the albums release, to keep people’s continued interest.

Next I set about doing a photo shoot with my photographer friend Simon Feerick. We decided we wanted to create something simplistic and something that fitted with the DIY approach of the album. The typical singer songwriter photo shoot is either a portrait shot in a professional photography studio, or out in a field somewhere, basically that typical artistic or ethereal type thing. So we decided we’d do the opposite of that, we’d shoot it in my room, have me in most of the shots, but not necessarily be the main focus of the picture. The walls in my rooms are orange and white, so we shot the photos against one of the orange walls, and set up fairy lights and spot lights with colour filters for added atmosphere. We also shot the whole thing on film, to obtain that natural grain and saturation, encapsulating the essence of my record – recorded in my bedroom, all by myself, polished but human and imperfect. We even added in little details to the picture – for example, you’ll notice I’m slightly off center on most of the shots – that was intentional and something we hoped would get people thinking.

Perfectly Fine

Photoshoot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In October I set up my website with a UK based company called Pixel Internet. It cost me around £40 for two years hosting (with unlimited bandwidth, and 1 gig of storage) and two years on the http://www.marcreeves.co.uk domain name, so it was a great deal. I designed the website myself with a free template I found online as my basis, and it took me around two weeks to complete fully and get it up running.

First version of the website (now much improved!)

The next thing I started work on was updating my youtube channel.


I made sure my youtube channel, facebook fan page & myspace profile all used the same theme as the album artwork would, and that they were kept up to date with the progress of the album. I started blogging on Jamendo.com (although I’d later move the blog to Blogger and integrate it with my website.)

Original blog (originally hosted on Jamendo.com, where you can get my free EP, Prayer EP))

I also started doing regular video blogs on Youtube about the progress of my album, as well as home performances of my songs and covers.

During these months I also made sure I did plenty of live performances to help promote the upcoming release of the album, and get my name about as music as possible. A Although during this time there were far too many shows to mention, here are some of the bigger shows:

19th September 2009 – Assembly Rooms, Derby

8th July 2010 – Bodega Social, Nottingham

9th October 2010 – Canning Circus Festival, Nottingham

24th October 2010 – Hockley Hustle 2010 (had my set filmed and uploaded to youtube, playlist can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=008084C179E0956D )

On the 15th July 2010 I was invited down to Stealth in Nottingham to record a live performance and interview with Zoe Kirk for the Evening Post. I performed the song ‘Shadows’ from my new album. On the 23rd July the video was published online along with the interview in the paper. The video can be found here:

In September 2010 I announced that the album would be out in December 2010, although no set date would be announced until the album was ready to be duplicated. I knew at this point I could get it done by the end of the year, but I didn’t want to tie myself to a date, as I wanted to take as much time as I needed to get the mixing and mastering right.

October – December 2010

'Perfectly Fine' album back cover

During October I began to develop the album artwork and flyer designs. I also researched different printing companies and duplication companies. I decided I would opt for CD duplication, as opposed to having the CD’s pressed, due to the fact that my budget only allowed for a short initial run of 100, which meant duplication would work out cheaper in this instance. I eventually settled with a small duplication company called Winmax Leisure (http://www.winmax-leisure.com/), as they offered 100 CD’s duplicated with full colour on disk print (UV varnished) in a jewel case with colour back inlay and a 4-page colour booklet, which was exactly what I wanted, for £112 (P+P inc). This was within my budget. Once I (finally) finished mixing and mastering the album, and after much referencing, I compiled the final CD master ready to be sent off to Winmax Leisure for duplication. I had already outlined some ideas for the album artwork (which I shared on my facebook page asking my fans for opinions – it’s that kind of interaction which I think is really important these days), but I finally set about completing a final version. I wanted to keep the photos are ‘natural’ as possible – so what you see is actually mainly the result of clever lighting used when the photos were taken, and some minimal photoshopping afterwards.

Inside of the booklet

Outer booklet w/cover artwork

Disc artwork

Once the artwork was thoroughly checked for errors, and I was happy with it, I sent the artwork, along with the CD master of the album, off to be duplicated. It reached the duplication company by the beginning of November. I also sent the album off to www.cdbaby.com for digital distribution (I bought a bar code for the album from there too, which I included on the artwork) on Cdbaby’s online store (which also includes physical CD distribution), iTunes, Amazon MP3, Napster, Rhapsody and all the other major download retailers.

At this point I started to think about which date during December I wanted to release it on. I decided I didn’t want to release it too close to Christmas, as most people would have done all their Christmas shopping by that point, and wouldn’t have much spare cash. In my own experience, people spend quite a bit during the first few weeks of December, and after December in the January sales, but not in between. So I decided it needed to be out in the first or second week of December. In the end I settled on December 10th, which gave enough time for the CD’s to arrive, the promo material to be done, and the launch party to be organised. I wasn’t to worried about leaving a long window for press to coincide at the launch, as at this point in my career, most of my sales would be at gigs, after people had seen me play, which doesn’t require a press buzz about the album. I figured the most important thing was getting the album out before the end of the year, and really focusing on organising a great launch party for it.

I decided I would sell the CD’s at £6 (plus P+P) each online, as each CD would cost me roughly £1.20 in manufacturing, so £6 seemed reasonable – enough for me to make a profit, and cheap enough for people to want to take a chance on. At gigs I decided I would sell them at £4 each, because I understood that people are usually paying an entry fee to see me play live, so it would be my way of saying thank you to those who came to gigs, and as an incentive get more people down to live shows.

I created a flyer design advertising the album release, also including a box to write in any upcoming gigs. I sent it off to www.kimcox.co.uk to have 100 copies printed, which I would use to promote the album launch.

Initial flyer design

I began to think about venues I wanted for my launch party. I decided I wanted a small-ish venue, with an intimate vibe – probably somewhere that mainly put on acoustic music, possibly a bar or café. I first thought of Lee Rosys’ tea rooms, as they have some great acoustic shows, and the place has a great vibe in the evenings. I eventually decided against that idea, however, as Lee Rosys’ does not have a bar, and it would only hold around 30-40 people, which was a little under what I hoped the turnout would be (around 50-60 people.)

In the end I had the idea of holding the launch in the Rescue Rooms’ bar area – they have a weekly Monday night acoustic night there, and as a regular performer there I knew the people who ran it, so thought maybe they would let me take over one of the Monday nights for my album launch. All it would mean for them is they wouldn’t have to organise the night or book any acts. I went down there in the second week of November to play, and spoke with one of the organisers about my idea. She approved of it and was happy to go ahead – we decided the 6th December would be the best date, as this was the closest Monday to the album release date of the 10th December. The regular acoustic nights there are always free entry, and the drinks are happy hour all night (£1.50 a pint, £2 a bottle) so I wanted to keep it this way. I was happy enough to just make money off any CD sales, as the night wasn’t really costing me anything, other than the cost of flyers & posters. The other acts were all happy to play for free too.

By the next day I had booked all the acts (it’s helpful being friends with lots of talented and popular musicians!) for the night. I created a poster in Photoshop, and used the college’s printing facilities to have 20 printed off, to put around the Rescue Rooms, and the limited amount of places in Nottingham that allowed posters (mainly shops and other venues.) After printing the posters I decided I could fit in one more support act, so I asked one of my favourite Nottingham based singer songwriters, Jonathan Millett, if he could play.

The finished poster – Jonathan Millett was also confirmed the day after printing them!

Over the next couple of days I created Facebook events, advertised the event on music forums, listed it in LeftLion’s gig listings, advertised it on my blog (which I had now transferred to googles’ Blogger, as I preferred the layout and ability to integrate it into my website with the use of sub-domains), listed it on as many event listing sites as possible – basically anywhere I could advertise it online, I did. I also went around Nottingham and put the posters up wherever I could (not that many places basically) – in shops, café’s, bars and music venues. I managed to get the album launch mentioned in the Trent FM’s Notts Unsigned podcast blog, as one of their top 3 upcoming gigs, as well as get my track ‘Perfectly Fine’ in their podcast. Nottingham LIVE e-zine wrote an article about the launch party, which can be found here: http://www.nottinghamlive.co.uk/live/2010/11/news-marc-reeves-album-launch-party/

The album launch night was also plugged on local radio station Sherwood radio, who regularly play my music (and have done so for the past year or so.)

During this time I also had some business cards printed by Vistaprint – which I again designed myself in Photoshop.

Business cards from Vistaprint

Once the flyers had arrived I handed them out at gigs – I played several open mic nights in pubs, and I also played gigs at The Maze in Nottingham and an intimate unplugged show at Platform 29 café and art gallery. I also played a big show on the 22nd November at The Bodega Social with the band Haight Ashbury (as part of their UK tour), who have been receiving a lot of press following their debut album release, from places like the BBC and NME (http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/reviews/d6vh)

I expected to receive the CD’s a couple of weeks into November at the latest, but unfortunately there were several unforeseen problems. Firstly, Winmax Leisure’s paper parts printer broke down, and with them being a small company (run by a few people), they did not have another printer to use. They eventually informed me of this, but I got the impression they stalled as much as possible. They told me they were trying to outsource the work, but said they were having trouble doing so (which struck me as odd as there are many other printing companies out there, so it seemed they just didn’t want to have to pay to outsource the job.) I was persistent in making them aware how crucial it was that I had them in time for the launch party, and I think eventually they realise they just had to face the fact they had to buy a new printer – and so my CD’s were eventually all packed up and ready to go – albeit several weeks late (it was now getting to the end of November.)

Then another problem arose. It was the beginning of December, Winmax Leisure were ready to send out the CD’s via courier, but there was heavy snow in their area (Leeds) and no couriers were collecting around there because of it. I literally had less than a week to get the CD’s and so I was starting to panic. Thankfully, they managed to get 40 sent out to me via royal mail special delivery (they couldn’t deliver the whole 100 that way because of how much postage it would cost, and the fact they had to walk in the heavy snow several miles to the nearest post office.) 40 was just about enough for the launch party, so I was happy enough in the end. The other 60 arrived shortly after the launch party, once the snow had eased off, and the roads were safer.

Before the launch party I made sure my website was up to date with all the relevant information. As well as this, since launching the website I had been learning a lot about website design, through trial and error, and so I had been regularly updating and improving the site layout and design, but always gradually so as to not confuse anyone.

Website intro (which I later ditched the idea of)

 

Website home page - December 2010

I also updated my youtube account with videos – primarily an ‘album teaser’ video to promote the albums release:


and a video of me showing the CD copies after they arrived:


I also did a ‘best albums of 2010’ video:


and some cover song videos. I try to keep the content on my channel varied, and not all blatant self-promotion. Some self-promotion is okay, but I think it’s important to balance things out with content that gets people interested in you as a person too.

 

 

So the 6th finally arrived, and everything was set for my album launch. The whole night ran smoothly, and overall was a resounding success. The turn out was exactly what I hoped for – I did a rough count of heads near the end of the evening, and I counted around 55 people. There was a great vibe in the room, and it was amazing to have all my friends family, and other local musicians who have become friends along the way, all there supporting me. There was also quite a few people I didn’t know personally – so whether they heard about the night or just came along on the off chance (one of the reasons I chose the rescue rooms bar area is that on Monday nights the drinks are happy hour, so you get a lot of regulars there anyway), I don’t know, but it was great to see so many people there. The supports acts were all brilliant and gave it their all, which was great to see. I didn’t sell quite as many CD’s as I hope (my realistic estimation was around 20-25), I sold around 15 in total. At £4 each it meant as I was halfway there to covering the costs of the duplication, so although it was not quite what I hoped I was still happy.

The Golden Troubadours

Gerry Trimble

Jonathan Millett

 

Me!

The day after the launch party I made a blog post on my website about the event (http://marcreevesmusic.blogspot.com/2010/12/what-night-story-of-my-album-launch.html)

For the rest of December I set about getting copies of out to as many press people as possible. In total I sent around 30 copies out to local and national press, including Notts Unsigned, Nottingham LIVE, Dean Jackson from BBC’s the beat, BBC Radio 6, Pitchfork, Bella Union, The Needle Drop, Amelia’s Magazine, several independent music and Folk orientated music journalists, musicworthbuying.com, and many other places.

I also did a few more gigs at the Greyhound in Beeston, where I managed to sell some more copies of my album. I was also booked to play Ryan’s’ Bar in Derby, but the gig ended up being cancelled. It will likely be rescheduled at some point.

Before the month’s end I also uploaded some more home performance videos, some of some old songs, and some of some new material.

Games:


The Wrong One:


This is Where we are Now:


Handshakes (with this video I experimented with overdubs using split screen video, and I also recorded the audio in Pro Tools with my microphones, as opposed to the in built mic on my HD camera):


Me and my friend Simon Feerick (who did the album photo shoot) got together just before to shoot some footage for a music video for the title track of my album, ‘Perfectly Fine’. We shot the majority at Wollaton Park on a snowy day. The rest of the footage was taken from live and recorded by myself at home. I finished editing it a couple of days later and uploaded it on the 30th December.

Perfectly Fine music video:


We decided to use the fact that we didn’t have the best camera in the world to our advantage, and went for a ‘lo-fi’ look and feel to the video, which I feel worked to our advantage.

I also updated my website store and began a promotional offer, where anyone who signs up to my mailing list will get a discount code for 20% off my album, and anyone who shares that information on their blog or website (and shows me evidence of it) will get a further 10% off sent to them. This would offer an incentive to get people to sign up, allowing me to keep them up to date with all my latest news and releases.

Lastly for December, I also had my first online CD sale. I don’t know yet whether I’ve sold any download, and won’t for another 3 months or so, until I get my first sales report from cdbaby.com.

January 2011

I started off January with my first gig of the month at The Musician in Leicester, on the 2nd January. I felt the gig went okay overall, but it was a tough crowd, and the sound guy did a very poor job (virtually no vocals in my monitor but tons of guitar, even though I kept telling him I needed more of my vocal, he didn’t sort it out until the last song, so for most of my set I felt like I was singing to myself on stage!) However, I must have come across well as I had many people come up to me afterwards and congratulate me for playing a great set, and one person bought a CD.

Next I had an audition at The Maze in Nottingham on the 4th to play the 2011 Glastonbudget festival. The Glastonbudget festival is one of the UK’s top unsigned and tribute act festivals. The auditions are being held right through until April at The Maze, with judges at each audition. It is not a ‘pay to play’ deal or popularity contest – every act at each audition could get through, or none at all. It is purely based on whether the judges think you have a fanbase, but more importantly, how well you perform, and how good your music is. My audition went really well, and one of the judges came and personally congratulated me on my set. The next day I got an email from them saying they wanted me to play the festival! The festival is on the 27th _ 29th May 2011, and I the day I will be playing on will soon be confirmed. So far online e-zine Nottingham LIVE have written an article about my place on the bill (http://www.nottinghamlive.co.uk/live/2011/01/news-marc-reeves-wins-glastonbudget-spot/) and Notts Unsigned and LeftLion have also given it mention on their websites. The Glastonbudget organisers have given me a list of regional and national press contacts to spread the news to as well – which I plan to do very soon, once which day I’m performing on has been confirmed.

After this gig I had run out of all the flyers that I had printed, so I decided to get some more done. However I felt that the A5 size I had before was too large, and that a postcard sized (A6) flyer would be better. I found a company called Seren Print who could do 2500 A6 double sided, full colour glossy flyers for £35 inc P+P, so I set about designing a new flyer, based on the design of the old one. This time, I advertised the album and website on the front, and used the back for a space to write in upcoming gigs, and also promote my place on the Glastonbudget 2011 bill.

New flyers, much improved 🙂

The next gig I had was at the White Hart in Lenton, on the 15th January. It was a charity event that was hosted by Miss Nottingham, and it was a very busy night. My set went down really well and the whole night was covered by the Evening Post and Nottingham LIVE, as well as being in Notts Unsigned’s top 3 gigs for that week.

The next week I spent improving the layout of my website, keeping the same basic design, but improving the navigation bar and general site layout (including removing the intro page, and integrating it into the home page, as I felt that made more sense, rather than having two separate pages.) Here are some up to date pictures of the website:

New improved website layout (Jan 2011)

New webstore - hosted by bandcamp (highly recommended)

The website now also includes a proper video section, free downloads page, improved biography section, a press page, and updated photo gallery. (www.marcreeves.co.uk)

I also did a video review of my new acoustic guitar, the Martin DXK2AE:


and also an unboxing video of my new copy of Pro Tools 9:


As well as this I did a blog post about my new studio purchases (the Martin guitar, Pro Tools 9, iLok 2, Echo Layla 3G audio interface and other stuff):

The blog also includes a competition for a free copy of my album (I posted a picture of all the CD’s I have bought in the past two months, and challenged people to name them all.)

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