Writing an album is an accomplishment that most of us aspire to in our careers. As a body of work and an artistic steak-in-ground, they express far more than one track alone.
We are living in an age of playlists and streaming services, but even with recent talk of the death of this format, it hasn’t stopped the continued release of amazing albums. In dance music alone Jamie XX, Daft Punk, Disclosure, Rudimental and Daniel Avery are all recent testaments to this.
Whether you’re a seasoned producer or just starting out, creating an album is a great way to give you focus and direction. Finishing one track can feel like a stretch at times, so how do you tackle a project like this?
Producer Blend Bold (aka Ger Byrne) who we’ve helped and mentored, talks us through how he’s made his first album after producing for only 2 years…
You recently released your first album called Wireframes – What prompted to you to create an album?
I felt like I needed to set myself the challenge of making an album as a way of focusing and giving myself a target to work towards to keep my music developing at the pace I wanted it to. To work out what could potentially be ‘my style of music’ and to learn about producing a complete record in the process.
How did you come up with this name and is there a theme underlying the music?
I’ve been a creative type as long as I can remember – always drawing as a kid, doing art in school and studying design in college, so I have a designers mind. I think about things as processes or stages from problem to idea to completion.
In graphic design a ‘Wireframe’ is part of the early design process, a rough but considered sketch which outlines important features of a design. A kind of roadmap which can be developed further into a completed project.
I felt that this was exactly where my music was at the time I started the album – what I was making was only an indication of what my sound could really be like down the line because I was still making the transition from designing with shapes and colours to ‘designing’ musical notes and sounds into tracks.
I would tell myself that the tracks I was producing were just ‘Wireframes’ which helped me to move on to the next track and the next because I was working as part of a process of making an album and not getting bogged down on the tiny decisions that each track can bring up.
I suppose you could say the underlying theme is the process itself.
Did you come up with the name/theme first or did this evolve as you went along ?
I can’t recall when I came up with the exact album title, but I knew early on that the process of making the album was as important as the album itself and that I would somehow try to reflect this in the title and artwork. It could have been called something like ‘Works in progress’ but I began to see the tracks as finished tracks as time went on and ‘Wireframes’ seemed more appropriate.
It was a double bonus that the title harks to the fact that I’m also a designer.
When did you start working on it and how long did it take to complete ?
The final 11 tracks I chose for the album were created in the space of about 6 months, after about 18 months of teaching myself how to make music applying my skills of working with visual elements as a graphic designer to working with sounds to make music.
How did you decide which tracks to include, did you have to write quite a few or did you have a specific plan of attack?
I wrote about 40 tracks in the 2 years since I decided that I wanted to make music and most of these will never see the light of day. The final 11 tracks I chose for ‘Wireframes’ were all produced around the same period when I put my focus on making an album.
The plan was to make an album, so I made every effort to give each track my best, but at the same time, knew that If I was having an off day or a creative block that I didn’t have to include that particular track in the final album.
How did you keep up momentum to get through the whole project?
I kept my routine rigid and stuck to it. I would get up at 6.30am in the morning, meditate until 7.30am, eat breakfast and was in the studio by 8am for about 1 hour.
I found that making music in the morning when my head was clear and my energy levels high really worked. It was also good to be putting music first in my day before work or anything else.
Did you set yourself any deadlines?
Lots of mini-ones, If I made a loop I liked, I would tell myself to have the final arrangement done before the end of the week. I was roughly working to have 2 or 3 tracks a month completed. I was aiming to have the album released by April or May but it wasn’t good to go until October, so I certainly missed some deadlines!
What was the biggest creative challenge to overcome with this project?
It was hard to accept at times, that the music I had in my head was not necessarily the music I was ending up with. There was always a gap between my expectations of what I wanted my music to sound like and the reality of what was coming out of the speakers. It can be frustrating and difficult to get over those expectations.
The few times when I just went with the flow I would have a really productive session and be happy with the results. ‘F**kin’ Heavy’ comes to mind – The catchy hook was caused by a quantization mishap after playing a note too early or late but It sounded so great I just went with it and I’m so glad I did.
Did you ever fall off the wagon and think that you might not actually finish? If so, how did you get back on track?
Plenty of times. I would try not to beat myself up – but often I did. I’ve found that creative work is full of ups and downs. That means really there’d be really exciting times where I felt like I was doing some great stuff, but equally it meant sometimes I felt like I was producing uninspired crap and felt like crap because of it.It’s a feeling I’m coming to accept as part of the process and so I can limit the effects of the peaks and troughs of the creative rollercoaster!
I think my commitment to producing for 1 hour a day (almost everyday) meant that I could tell myself ‘don’t worry, there’s always tomorrow morning’ – and just see what happens the next day, and often that would get me out of any funk I was going through.
The flow and ordering of an album is an important consideration. Tell us about the flow of Wireframes and how you decided which track would go where.
I listened to quite a few albums from different genres and eras to really get a handle on what makes an album. I knew I had some ‘bangers’ in there, and then some more conceptual, less catchy tracks that would be listened to differently. I tried to link tracks that had similar vibes and sonic elements together.
I chose to start with ‘Fierce Notions’ as it had all the makings of an intro track that would ease you into the album and I love the contrast when ‘Oblivious’ comes in straight after. I made sure to end the album with my two favourite tracks to end on a high note.
Did you mix the album yourself? Were you concerned with keeping a consistent ‘sound’ across the album or just getting each track sounding it’s best?
I did all the mixing myself as I went along and then gave it a bit more focus towards the end, I found that because I used similar techniques on most of my tracks that the sound was consistent enough for me not to have to worry about it.
How about the mastering?
My first ever release ‘Dime’ was mastered by Paul ‘K-klass’ Roberts and I liked the results so Paul mastered the entire album. We spoke over skype about the project and would email back and over about tweaks needed on either end. I chose to include the actual mastering notes I sent to him with the tracklist on the back of the CDs to be in-keeping with the wireframes theme and to acknowledge that I didn’t they the tracks were all perfectly mixed.
You’ve decided to release physical CD’s – these look amazing well done! How did you go about getting these designed and produced?
Cheers, I know CDs are somewhat redundant now – I don’t buy them myself even, but I really wanted to have physical CDs to acknowledge the work I put into the music and to make it feel a bit more real! It’s also good to have something to hand someone rather than try to explain links and email details etc.
I designed the packaging myself – I used the actual waveforms from the tracks as the cover and scanned in real project notes and scraps of paper which I used when making the album for the inside of the package to share a little of myself and the process.
What’s your favourite track and why?
Track 10 ‘Destination’ is my favourite. It doesn’t sound much like anything I’ve heard before and it contains my most favourite part of the whole album, when the 2nd drop hits in like a brick wall @4.13. With that said, I have a real fondness for ‘F**kin’ Heavy’ as it was the first track to really ‘take off’ when I put it online and was even played on BBC 1Xtra by Shiba San one of my favourite producers.
The track ‘Live Night’ features a collaboration with vocalist Meshach Broderick, who you met at BeatCamp. Is this the first time you’ve collaborated with a vocalist?
How did you both work together?
I sent him some instrumentals to see if he thought any could work with some vocals. Live Night started off as a really underground industrial sound with little or no top end so there was plenty of ‘room’ for vocals both frequency-wise and melodically.
It started off a bit like this:
Meshach hummed along to it in his car – recording some rough ideas:
He then recorded properly and sent me dry vocals, I chopped up some phrases using Maschine, added a smidge of processing and reverb.
Is this something you’d do again?
Most definitely, in fact – I’m going to challenge myself to make sure my next album will be full of vocal tracks, I’ve even started to venture into writing lyrics for songs myself.
How do you feel now to have hit this milestone and completed your first album?
Honestly, I’m ready to start some new music – making sure not to forget everything I’ve learned from the whole process thus far. I have such a habit of barely acknowledging when I’ve just achieved something (like finishing an album) I tend to just move straight onto the next ‘thing’.
Has going through this process has helped you artistically? Is there anything you’ll do differently when you write your next album?
A little maybe – I think fear meant I played it somewhat safe overall, I let outside influences and pressures influence me a bit too much, listening to what was current and trying to ‘fit-in’ rather than totally going with my gut.
I want to push myself further on the next album to trust myself a whole lot more. That’s why I named my record label ‘In You Records’ – to remind myself (and others) that the music is already in you – you just need to let it out with no expectations or pressure.
What advice would would you give to producers who haven’t made an album yet?
Not to overthink it and to just ‘stand-back’ and let it happen – then see how it all works together.