So you have yourself a shiny new album. It is ready to go out to eagerly awaiting fans everywhere. The pre-orders are in. The early birds are lining up down the street just waiting to wrap their ears around your latest piece de resistance.
And nobody else has any idea what this handful of fanatics is waiting for.
How do you present yourselves to the rest of the world? How do you tell them, "Look, we've achieved everything we strove for in the past year, and now it is right here, ready to go home with you for your perpetual entertainment!"?
The answer lies in every reality TV show that you have ever seen. Note that every contestant on American Idol, every group in The Sing-Off seems to have one element in common: a story. It may not always be the world's most compelling content, but it gives audiences something to relate to, something to follow, evaluate, and talk about. Essentially, it creates a shortcut for those who are less familiar with you and your music to reach the same level of familiarity as the pre-order crowd. This could be in a letter to a DJ alongside your album, in an interview with the college newspaper reporter, or snippets used as introduction during your album debut concert.
As you craft your album, think of the story that comes along with it. Of course, anyone who has been to elementary school knows that the basic structure of a story includes a beginning, middle, and end. As this relates to the timeline of your album, you should think goals, process, product. Cover these aspects, and you will know all the details you need to answer questions about the album, provide the college newspaper with effective article-writing material, and give DJs the details they need so that there is always something to talk about when they play your music. And you might just create a more focused, purposeful album in the meantime.
So let's start at the beginning! What were the group's goals or inspiration in creating this album? In a changing aural landscape, the culture of every group is unique, with some embracing a more organic sound while others love the bleeding edge of the soundscape. You could tell a continuous story with a clear path, like the relationship that Voices in Your Head create on I Used to Live Alone, or just make top-down driving, good times music. The goal could be to use the album as a 'sandbox,' testing the writing and engineering abilities of the group's members. Or perhaps there is something about your group in particular that you really wanted to capture.
For others, the sound itself is not so important as source of the content, and explanation can make all the difference here. Take Ami Loove, a 16-year-old songwriter from who sent me a package containing a homemade album done 100% from the young artist's home. A letter that accompanied the delivery explained that in her religion, musical instruments were not allowed- thus the inspiration for her a cappella creation. Despite an album that reflected the limited recording resources put into it, the unique background was enough to earn an interview on the show, explaining the religious beliefs that brought about a style whose very name means "in the style of the chapel." Here is an example of a time that simply by having a different approach and taking the time to explain it earned a significant boost in attention and an opportunity for publicity.
Next up, the process- this may include artistic decisions made in the studio, who worked on the album, track choices, and the actual recording process. This is perhaps the unfamiliar to the casual listener, so understand that any recountings of the process by DJs and reporters will likely be simplified. There's a lot to it, but think short-story writing, where every single sentence is included for a reason (or at least that's what your high school American Lit teacher claimed). What did you differently from previous albums? What part of the process was new to you? Did you differentiate you studio recording from what you had done live in the past? What made you do the things that you did?
Groups have built significant success upon the process section of the production, and if you are one of those groups, feel free to show your enthusiasm! I'm thinking of Brandeis VoiceMale and their original compositions on Phoenix, including the song penned by Adam Levine that gave the album its name. If emotional depth was the goal, then good lord did they create some here. For other groups, recording and engineering by group members has become a focus that led to entire careers, like the Tufts boys of Plaid Productions or former Cornell Last Call member Tat Tong. This level of involvement defines an album, and is worthy of emphasis in your story.
Finally, everyone's favorite part: the product. What have you created? Did you achieve or change your goals? Were there any surprises? This is also where you get to highlight your favorite parts- soloists, tracks, transitions, VP, cool chords and arranging, and more. In fact, try to choose 2-3 tracks that represent the album (and group) well, and bring those to the forefront for DJs and other new listeners who are scoping you out. On the radio, these are sure to get the most airplay, at least until DJs get a feel for the album and its popularity. General programming DJs often play music without ever hearing it, based on information passed around the station, so you can plant the seed with the information and suggestions that you include. Suggest songs that represent you well, and are radio-ready (clean is preferable). Fan or group favorites, the most energetic, and the most emotionally dynamic song are great choices.
From one end of the story to the other, a great example of this presentation is the Centerville, OH high school a cappella group Forte. Their latest project is creating an album of all original music written by the group's members (goal). Can I remind you they're still in high school? Okay. Then they will send off their music to top a cappella arrangers, then have all recording, mixing, and mastering done by the best in the business (process). And in Summer 2012 we will bring you their highly-anticipated all-original release (product). Looking at this group from a DJ's perspective, they will certainly have something to talk about on air, and they have done a good job getting the word out. They easily could have gone through this project without sharing the story, and they would have just slipped under the radar... at least for a while.
Creating an album is no small task, so being able to present it effectively is a great boon to your group. People love a story, a way to show off what is best and unique about you. Ultimately, the music will speak for itself, but every love story starts with an introduction, and the same goes for listeners' and promoters' relationship with your album.
Brendan McCann is the producer of the all-a cappella radio show The Voice Box on WUNH, which he created with the intent of playing and publicizing the work of vocal bands everywhere, while also giving insight into the creative process behind the music through interviews with artists, producers and others. His a cappella habit formed as a member of the all-male University of New Hampshire a cappella group Not Too Sharp, where he sang bass and served as the webmaster and publicity coordinator for four years. He has been a show host and WUNH member since 2009. Contact him here with feedback, discussion, questions or requests.