Whether you like it or not, the visual side of things is really important when you release your music. The album artwork especially will, rightly or wrongly, give people a strong idea of what kind of thing to expect when they listen to your music. Because of this it’s really important to put a lot of thought and care into exactly what your artwork is going to be. I personally also see the artwork almost as an extension of the music – it’s an important part of the album experience and coming up with your artwork can be just as creative and fun as writing the music!
When thinking up artwork ideas for our new release, I started with the title, ‘More Than Just An Ape’. In the context of the album there are a few different meanings for that title (but that’s something to talk about in a later article!) but one of them is a reference to a lyric in one of the songs on ‘The End Of Days’ EP (available for free here!) which says “after all, you’re just an ape / Augmented with technology”. It got me thinking about a very literal interpretation of that line which would feature some kind of cyborg ape. After considering a few alternative ideas and mulling it over for a while I had a good idea of how I wanted it to look so I decided to run with it and see what happened.
I would like to state for the record that I cannot draw. At all. Not even a little bit. Here’s the absolute best effort I could come up with just now:
To be fair though, I’d wear a t-shirt with this design on it.
Clearly I needed an artist. After some Googling and searching online forums I found Brent Noll. I have never commissioned a drawing ‘blind’ like this with only online recommendations to go on so I had some slight worries about what might happen but they vanished very quickly after trading a few emails with Brent. He was able to ask the appropriate questions to supplement my deranged ramblings and decipher what it was that I actually wanted him to do. We agreed a price and payment method and he set to work.
A quick ‘soap box’ point – don’t be that band that asks a freelance artist to work for free because it’d be ‘great exposure’. It’s not ‘great exposure’, it’s you ripping off an artist who deserves to be paid for their hard work in much the same way that you do.
I received the finished artwork this week and was astonished to find that Brent was apparently some kind of mind-reading sorcerer and had somehow drawn exactly what I had imagined.
So after all that, it’s time for the big reveal!
That’s one pissed off cyborg gorilla.
Is that cool or what? Tell us what you think by posting a comment on this post!
The next step will be to turn this into the actual album cover and to sort out the rest of the CD inlay, but that’s something to be covered in another post.
Ok. You’ve written and recorded your music. You’ve spent a lot of time mixing it and it’s sounding good. The thing is, it doesn’t sound as good as any ‘professional’ release you’ve heard and that’s got you confused and disheartened. Why doesn’t your mix sound like theirs? Probably because you haven’t had it mastered.
Mastering is taking the mixed-down recording of your song and applying EQ, dynamics processing and other more esoteric things to it in order to add a final ‘polish’ to it. You make the loud parts seem louder, the quiet parts not disappear into inaudibility and also make sure everything sits together nicely. This goes for all the parts making up the track but equally for all the tracks making up the release – it’s no good if they all sound totally different to each other!
Although it’s possible to get software that attempts to automatically master a recording, nothing at all beats a real person with the experience and gear needed to do the job properly. It’s nigh-on impossible to be objective about a recording if you’re the one who mixed it so sending it to someone without your emotional investment ensures that what needs to be done will be done and your pre-existing attachment to the way it sounds won’t be able to interfere.
Mastering is regarded as a bit of an arcane art (at least in my experience). You either know how to do it well or you can’t do it at all. I can’t do it at all.
Enter Jules Seifert. He is the audio wizard who mastered Without Freedom as well as some other Armalyte releases and is mastering More Than Just An Ape. He really knows his stuff – this week I heard the first version of the mastered tracks and they blew my bloody socks off.
This! He worked on this for us!
Working with someone who really knows what they’re doing makes preparing your recordings for mastering pretty stress-free and makes a huge difference to the quality you’ll get in the end. You need to make sure your recording isn’t too ‘hot’ (meaning the overall signal is too strong which results in clipping and other nasty-sounding nonsense) before sending to master but it’s also worth asking if there is anything else you can do to help whoever is mastering for you. Jules was able to suggest a couple of tweaks to the mix that made his life easier and allowed him to make the masters sound even better.
We’re not done yet though. Next I need to listen to the masters as many times as I can and on as many different sound systems as possible to make sure I’m happy with it. Once it gets sent for pressing there’s no more tweaking the sound so it needs to be right before then. I’ve got them in my car, on my laptop, in the studio, on my parent’s stereo, on my mp3 player at the gym, everywhere.
So that’s mastering. Next time I’ll write about the visual side of things – you’re not releasing your album on a plain CD in a clear plastic wallet are you?
Before I continue chronicling our misadventures through the wonderful world of releasing an album, allow me to introduce our cast of characters. Here is a picture of us pulling our best ‘try and look mean’ faces.
I promise we’re actually really friendly
On the left is Matt, who we refer to on official band stuff as ‘Cell’. He is our live drummer and also owns and programs all the lights we sometimes use. He also helps me out when I have a brain fart and can’t figure out what note I should be singing.
On the right is also Matt, (which isn’t at all confusing) who we refer to on official band stuff as ‘Matt Bastard’. He is our live bassist and is surprisingly cheerful for someone with ‘Bastard’ in their name. He has also carried me home from many a drunken night in years gone by.
In the centre is Dan, which is me, but on official band stuff I’m ‘Danny Carnage’. I write and produce the music, play live guitar and do vocals. I also deal with most of our online stuff like this site and our Facebook page.
Incidentally, here’s a photo that shows how we took that promo shot up there:
Featuring my missus who took the photos for us
That’s Matt Bastard’s living room with a white bed sheet and a couple of free-standing lights that I borrowed from work. Turned out pretty good don’t you think?
Last (but by no means least) is Gilez. He’s the label manager at Armalyte Industries and is an all-round top bloke. He signed us in 2010 and since then he’s supported us in any way he could. He graciously puts up with my hair-brained schemes and wall-of-text emails and doesn’t even get wound up when I ring him at stupid times and wake him up. He also once bought me breakfast at a Wetherspoons in London. Massive full-English. Shit was cash.
So that is the core (ha…) team. There are other people involved but I’ll talk about them when I go into more detail about their area of expertise.
Next time I’ll be writing about why mastering is important and those who practice its arcane rituals should be treated as GODS.
I started writing the new album in 2011, very shortly after finishing our previous album ‘Without Freedom’, which means that I’ve been working on it for pretty much 2 years. That is a hell of a long time to be working on one project but I’m glad I did it. I’ve been able to really work on making this album as good as I can possibly make it and I think it shows. At one point there were about 20 tracks written, with a few more half-finished ideas floating around; I took all of that and whittled it down into 11 tracks, incorporating good ideas into some of the already written tracks and mercilessly cutting out anything that wasn’t up to scratch. Nothing was sacred, nothing stayed in unless it was good enough to be there. I recorded and re-recorded vocal parts over and over until I had something I was happy with, then re-recorded them again until I had something I was really happy with. I listened to these songs until I was totally sick of them and then kept listening until I circled right back around to liking them again. If I never have to spend hours on end sat in this chair again, I will be a happy man:
Where the magic happens (or something like that…)
(That last bit is a bit of a lie – I still love working on musical stuff and am in fact sat in that seat right now while writing this)
Anyway, the album has been sent off for mastering which means my musical input on it has finished. Time to sit back, relax and let success and money start rolling in.
There’s still a whole heap of work to do. The music is written and recorded but that’s not the end of the story – we’ve got to actually release it and we’ve got to promote it and there’s a hell of a lot of work involved in both of those things. I’m going to start posting here about the things we do behind the scenes to get this album out. Hopefully you’ll find it interesting or, if you’re in a band, maybe even useful. Expect the next post in the next few days, where I’ll get down to the real details of what we’re doing.