Yes, I’ll date myself and call it an album (at least I’m not calling it an 8-track). Recording an album is one of the most exciting and challenging things I’ve ever done. I’d put it up there with pregnancy and giving birth, and that’s saying something. Like being pregnant, it takes longer than you think it will. Like giving birth, it can be difficult, but so worth the finished product.
First of all, writing songs for public consumption feels to me like reading my diary out loud in front of a group of strangers... while they’re posting it on social media. Even if the songs aren’t autobiographical, they’re from my own heart and imagination, which can feel very vulnerable. It always feels like a small miracle that a song can grow out of a musical idea that came to me while I was riding my bike or walking the dog (two of the activities where for some reason I tend to have the most inspiration)
Then recording the music is a real balancing act of discipline and flow. You have to be prepared, but also open to spontaneous moments. You have to not lose sight of your vision, but know that songs sort of have a life of their own that can change in the recording process. All the players have to be in the groove together, and although I love the collaborative process, it’s not always easy to get everyone on the same page. Of course all the players and singers bring their own ideas and creativity to the table, but corralling them all to make a unified finished product….that’s the trick.
Luckily The Sweet Potatoes have gotten to work on all three of our CDs with a great producer, Phil Swann. He’s perfect in the studio, bringing a low key, relaxed vibe, but also willing to say “We need to try something different” when it needs to be said. His knowledge of country music, songwriting technique, and funny Nashville stories make him the perfect hang in the studio.
For me, the vocals are always the hardest part to record. I’m waaay more comfortable playing an instrument in a recording session than singing. Singing feels so much more naked, and takes me a lot more time to get it to where I’m happy with it. But every musician I’ve ever known, says that nothing can bring out insecurities more than recording in the studio. And there’s nothing worse than being on the 13th take and feeling like you’re never going to get it right.
Since The Sweet Potatoes produce our CD’s independently, we get the joy of making whatever album feels right for us, with no pressure from a manager or record label. It’s exciting, feels wide open and creative. On the other hand, it also means we make all the investment (time, energy, money) ourselves, and then promote it ourselves. Promotion is not the strong suit for many musicians, and yet we want people to hear our music, come to our shows, and buy our CD’s, so we work hard at that part too.
I love the process, even as vulnerable as it can make me feel. Every big creative project I’ve ever done - whether it’s making a CD, scoring a film, or writing a musical - I go through a phase where I hate it and think it’s the worst thing I’ve ever done. Luckily, my husband is a musician (and actor and writer) and he knows this is part of the deal with my creative process. He calmly says “just keep going”, and sure enough, I almost always come out on the other side, with something I’m proud of. Then there’s the hoping other people will like it too, but I can’t worry too much about that….