This paper will examine the process of making an original music album released in May of 2019. This paper offers the opportunity to: 1.) Understand the process of making a music album; and 2.) Examine ways in which leadership, decision-making, and related factors can impact the phases of making an original music album.
Music is a business, and there is a growing need to better understand how different leadership styles at can impact the final product (e.g., the album). Various small, medium, and large companies in virtually every industry have been studied for decades, examining multiple factors including organizational structure, leadership, and style. However, there has historically been little research focusing on the small business and entrepreneurial aspects of being a musician (Phillips & Strachan, 2016). Coulson (2012) examine the entrepreneurial aspects of being a musician, and results showed that the majority of musicians did not make the connection between self-employment and entrepreneurship, but rather instead emphasized aspects such as support, collaboration, and learning. Hauge (2012) discusses how musicians become entrepreneurial by partaking in commercial activities that are necessary for artistic creativity and performance. Further, Hauge (2012) describes how musicians become entrepreneurial:
People who establish a life project have an all-consuming interest and vision. Musicians’ life project is their artistic universe, represented by their talent, creativity and desire to create outcomes such as new songs, albums, live shows, festivals, sound studios, and record companies. Becoming entrepreneurial is thereby a strategy and perpetual activity where musicians commercialize fragments of their life projects. This process develops through the choices they make in order to realize a pathway into an imaginable future where music is doing business, and business is doing music. (p.2).
Institutions such as the Center for Music Entrepreneurship at the Manhattan School of Music and the Berklee Institute of Creative Entrepreneurship have recognized the paradigm shift of the musician as a business person working in the hyper-segmented musical marketplace in an innovative way (Miller, 2007; Berklee College of Music, n.d.). A music album presents an opportunity to impart an experience upon the listener, thereby making it possible to be transformed using storytelling (Dhiman, & Burbank, 2006). Palus & Drath (1995) discuss the difference between training programs, which focus on imparting new skills, and development programs, which focus on questioning and stretching existing ways of making sense of oneself and one’s work. It is possible to make the connection between participation in a leadership development program and participation in the making of an original music album, in that there are significant learning opportunities for all parties involved. Bennett (2009) discuss the idea that music is a form of leadership, as it is representative of some of the cultural heritage within a particular context, and how original music projects allow for much freedom to pursue objectives free from the business demands of a more commercial project.
This study analysis sought to answer two questions: 1.) What are the steps involved in making an original music album?; and 2.) What are some ways in which leadership plays out during the process of making an original music album? The goals for this project were created and agreed upon via a democratic decision-making process by the chief contributors (songwriter, bass, keys) during the pre-production phase. Overall, the goals were collaborative and developmental in nature, aimed toward sharing the leadership while providing individual opportunities to gain new experience. For example, keys was able to bring in existing knowledge as a sound engineer from previous projects. In addition, was able to explore more fully creative efforts such as self-directed compositional elements during the post-production phase, as opposed to the usual method of being given specific parts to learn. Specifically, the goals created for this original music album production process include the following: 1.) Do not rush the process and set no arbitrary deadlines; 2.) Work more collaboratively and share leadership during process; and 3.) Be creative – this album is not rooted in potential commercial success, but rather is a representation of collaborative efforts and strategies employed by the chief contributors.
This section will highlight literature and research relating to the music production process, forms of shared leadership and leadership decision-making, group dynamics, and approaches to learning.
Music Production Process
For the aspiring musician-entrepreneur, the production of music can serve as an essential way to generate revenue. One of the mediums to deliver product (i.e., songs) in the music industry is the music album (Crawford, 2018). From the late 1960s through to the early 2000s in the U.S., music was predominantly sold in album form, but the rise of digital distribution platforms has seen album sales decline in favor of single songs in recent years (Covach & Flory, 2013). Historically, some artists began to tailor music production to suit a longer form in the 1950s, and as a result, songwriters were able to tell longer stories than were possible in a single song, and producers and artists could explore a greater variety of instruments and sounds (Coulson, 2012). One of the first examples of a running theme across all songs on an album in popular music emerged during Frank Sinatra’s 1955 album In The Wee Small Hours (Fulford-Jones, 2013). The songs were related in subject matter and fit within the unifying theme of a man lamenting a broken relationship (Fulford-Jones, 2013). Folk rock acts in the 1960s found the album provided a useful way of presenting ideas and moods in ways other than the conventional pop song format (Gillett, 2011).
Production of an album consists of multiple phases, each of which contributes to the overall album effect (Kim, Williamson, & Pilli, 2006). The process of making an original music album, referred to as the original music production process, is nearly always a collaborative process involving many actors (Kealy, 1979; Mueller, 2015). During this process, the songwriting provides the vision for the album through lyrics and song arrangements (Bennett, 2011; Music Production School, n.d.). Some literature focuses on the songwriting process, typically from a “do it yourself (DIY)” perspective and sponsored by companies specializing in DIY musician products and services (Chertkow & Feehan, 2017). Other literature, such as Kim et al. (2006), focuses more on the importance of working with produced music after it has been recorded to develop a palatable and complementary sonic membrane for the songs on an album rather than providing elements for the entire process.
Shared Leadership and Decision-Making
Research indicates that reflexive teams can adapt to clashing individual agendas and plans among group members with efficiency (Pieterse, Van Knippenberg & van Ginkel, 2011). Group reflexivity is likely to be impacted by the degree to which group members are willing to invest in the establishment of group-shared goals and objectives which develop into shared mental models by which the group can operate (Robbins & Judge, 2015; Mohammed, Ferzandi & Hamilton, 2010). This allows for aspects of the group to be shared, thereby creating the opportunity for shared leadership to become a part of the process. Yukl (1999) defines shared leadership as a process of enhancing the collective and individual capacity for people to accomplish objectives more effectively, where the actions of any individual leader are less important than the collective actions and how members interact to share leadership responsibilities. Research has found that shared leadership can have significant beneficial implications on team and organizational processes because it makes better use of expertise and distributes the elements of leadership to different people who are best suited for it (Friedrich, Vessey, Schuelke, Ruark, & Mumford, 2009). This same idea applies to music. O’Leary (2012) stated that a purposeful, collective leadership approach could bring musicians with different talents together in a cohesive group, with each member being able to contribute in unique, interdependent ways. Popular jam band The Grateful Dead claimed to have no leaders, implying they were all leaders (O’Leary, 2012) Based on this stream of research, shared leadership practices offer many positive and collective means by which to complete original music projects such as an album.
The way that groups make decisions can influence all outcomes. Gillespie (1987) noted four major types of decision-making: Autocratic (this is how we do it); Technocratic (this is the best way to do it); Democratic (how should we do it?); and Bureaucratic (we follow these processes to do it). Each of these decision-making strategies can be employed to influence project outcomes, and all serve as a form of leadership that guides a given group. The music production process presents a multitude of opportunities for these decision-making types to play out, particularly among chief contributors.
Groups often exhibit defining group properties, which can include roles, norms, cohesiveness, and other related factors (Robbins & Judge, 2015). Group roles represent the patterns of behavior that are expected of the individual occupying a given position (Ferber & Gutknecht, 1998). In music, roles are often determined by type of instrument, such as the rhythm section versus soloists and vocalists. Roles can also be determined by function within the band itself. Group norms represent acceptable standards of behavior shared by group members. They outline how particular circumstances should be handled (Robbins & Judge, 2015). Group cohesiveness refers to the degree to which members of a group are motivated to remain in the group (Robbins & Judge, 2015). Cohesiveness can be attributed to the amount of time a group spends together, or to the circumstances that have brought the group members closer together (Robbins, 2015). Within groups of musicians, cohesiveness is often determined by how in-sync the band members are with each other in terms of playing music together. This is referred to as the degree to which a band is “tight.” Duhigg (2016) reported on the results of Google’s extensive research on teams, which showed that the best teams establish norms, listen to each other, show sensitivity to each other’s feelings, and make sure that all group members have a chance to share their ideas and opinions. The literature on group dynamics offers many points of analysis for the music production process.
Approaches to Learning
Within a process that offers significant learning opportunities for the participants, there exist numerous ways to enact and to direct learning. Wortham (2003) describes the sociocultural theory as an active form of learning for instructor and learner, whereby both participate in an activity with the instructor taking on the role of the ‘Most Knowledgeable Other (MKO).’ Within a collective leadership environment, it is possible for members to rotate the role of MKO depending on the activity. The MKO role in observing sociocultural learning theory provides scaffolding to learners, and this can be considered a form of direction-setting and thus leadership (Mahn, 1999). Regarding the music production process, each phase and potentially sub-phases allow for a variety of leadership-related expertise to emerge on aspects such as songwriting, art direction, recording, and mixing.
In reviewing the literature on the steps involved in the original music production process, three main phases emerge: Pre-Production, Production, and Post-Production (Horning, 2004; Hepworth-Sawyer & Golding, 2011; McGarry, Tolmie, Benford, Greenhalgh & Chamberlain, 2017). The Pre-Production phase includes songwriting and planning for the next phase. Songwriting can take a long time and varies as being a more individual or collective process depending on preferences, expectations, and overall abilities of contributors (Bennett, 2011). Young (2013) defines thought leadership as the creation of ideas that have direct relevance, and this connects with the intent and role songwriting has on the music production process overall. Planning includes rehearsals of various formations, and other logistical aspects to prepare for the next phase (Hepworth-Sawyer & Golding, 2011). The recording, or Production phase, involves the execution of the strategy developed during the initial phase through working with a recording studio and/or more independent means, and the role of the studio engineer can impact the degree to which the strategy is successful (Music Production School, n.d.). Recording studios have gone from a means of capturing an artist’s live sound to serving as a creative resource in their own right as technological advancements have continued to evolve (Zak III, 2001). The Post-Production phase includes a continuance of manipulating what was captured during the previous phase by the following means: Creating new mixes; Re-doing or overdubbing new parts over the existing parts on a recording; Adding new ideas; Putting the finishing touches on the album; and Making final decisions on the album artwork, and the distribution and promotional strategies to employ (Hepworth-Sawyer & Golding, 2011). McGarry et al. (2017) note that the timeline for completing the music production process can vary greatly depending on budget, time, dedication, disruptions, and overall goals the chief contributors (i.e., the musicians most invested in the process) wish to accomplish. Figure 1 makes use of the review of literature to illustrate a process of original music production, and this process was followed for The Xerophyte album. The results are discussed later in the paper.
Figure 1. A Process of an Original Music Production
Album Background Information
The Xerophyte consists of a collection of thirteen original songs that were written and arranged by songwriter who also played guitar on the album. The theme centers on the human condition of thriving within harsh environments much as a cactus in the desert, and this is supported by the lyrical content and overall mood of each song featured on the album. The album originally consisted of twelve songs, but the decision was made to split the title track into two separate songs, totaling thirteen songs. This is the sixth album in songwriter’s catalogue.
Group roles represent the patterns of behavior which are expected of the individual occupying a given position (Ferber & Gutknecht, 1998). In music, primary roles are often determined by type of instrument, rhythm section versus soloists and vocalists, and similar. Additional roles are determined by function within the band itself. Roles can play an integral role during the formation of a group, as these roles can very well determine how group members will interact with one another (Ferber & Gutknecht, 1998).
An exploratory, qualitative design was utilized to look for themes that may emerge from the data obtained (Ravitch & Carl, 2016). Since the author of this paper served as one of the chief contributors to the album, an ethnographic participant field study design was selected to capitalize on the opportunity to collect empirical observational data throughout the entire album process (Jupp, 2006; Cohen, 1993). Jupp (2006) describes ethnography as a personal engagement and suggests that its effectiveness as a research tool is dependent upon the active engagement of the researcher with the community being investigated. Cohen (1993) purports a lack of ethnographic research in the area of popular music. The experience of making this album served as an opportunity to conduct ethnographic research by way of active engagement, and the use of shared leadership principles allowed for ample observation and field notes to be captured. Extensive observational field notes and notes from informal conversations were taken in a written field report journal throughout the entire process of making the album to capture observational and participatory data in real time (Jupp, 2006). An inductive approach was taken when capturing data to allow for a more stream-of-consciousness account of the process (Ravitch & Carl, 2016). Ethnographic artifacts serve to document the culture of their manufacturers (Florian, Kronkright & Norton, 1991). For this experience, photos were captured in addition to field notes to assist in documenting the music production process. See Appendix A for artifacts from each phase of the original music production process.
The original music album serves as the main outcome. The Xerophyte original music album consists of thirteen original songs, with a total run-time of 41 minutes and 38 seconds. Figure 2 gives a breakdown of the songs, or tracks, on the album.
A Process of Original Music Production: The Xerophyte
The total music production process took six years, and this was mainly due to adhering to the goals of the project in addition to replacing the drummer during the pre-production phase. It should also be noted that the songwriting portion of this process took place separately from the rest of the process since the songwriter for The Xerophyte prefers to write and arrange songs individually as opposed to a more collective songwriting approach. All goals set forth for this experience were met, as the process was not rushed, there were substantial collaborative practices and intentions to share leadership, and the encouragement to be creative led to experimental efforts that provided learning opportunities and overall proved to be worthwhile for the album.
In addition to the three chief contributors, there was one primary contributor (drummer). The album also included a feature saxophone player who contributed to the album during the post-production phase. It should be noted that the drummer was replaced during the pre-production process of making the album. Players have been making music together for a range of 2-15 years, with more significant collaborations taking place between two or more players. Additional contributors to the album include the sound engineer during the production phase, the artwork creator during the post-production phase. As the making of the album progressed, additional leadership roles emerged for keys (custodian of recordings, mixing and editing, mastering, project manager), bass (art direction, mixing and editing), and songwriter (final decision-making on post-production distribution and promotion). All contributors to the album possess a great deal of experience in working on original music projects, and with certain aspects of the music production process in general. This helped to spread opportunities for collaboration and expertise across all phases of the production process, primarily among the chief contributors.
Expectations and norms centered on being professional but casual to encourage creativity, with no drama allowed. The mutual agreement of the collaborative approach resulted in a longer but more shared experience that offered new experiences and learnings for each chief contributor. This also helped to create more opportunities for providing equal input. The chief contributors and subsequently the rest of the contributors to the album functioned cohesively throughout the entire process except for the drummer who was replaced for not adhering to group expectations and norms. Overall, the establishment of mutually agreed-upon ways of working together facilitated a comfortable but challenging environment in which to complete the production process for the album.
Pre-Production (2013-2018). This phase of the project consisted of songwriting and rehearsals. Songwriting started in the beginning of 2013 — after the release of the songwriter’s previous album in 2012 — and nine of the then-twelve songs were completed in July of 2015. The concept for the album was also decided upon by the songwriter. Overall, the songwriter made decisions autocratically and possesses ownership and copywrite authority on all songs on the album. The songs provided the content for the album, so in this way the direction was set by the songwriter and was revisited throughout the process as a way of providing thought leadership to the project as a whole. The songwriter captured rough recordings (acoustic guitar and voice) of the songs once they were refined in preparation for the next phase. The guitar-playing provided scaffolding for bass and keys through the use of “cowboy chords,” where chords on the guitar are played in an open fashion, thus providing more notes, direction, and ideas to other players (Mahn 1999; Malone, 2003). It was at this point that the goals, norms, expectations, and other important aspects were discussed among the chief contributors. It was decided that bass and keys would have carte blanche regarding the creation of contributing parts in addition to having equal input on leadership and decision-making during production and post-production. Rehearsals accounted for a significant amount of the time spent during the music production process on the album, due mainly to replacing the drummer. Small band rehearsals began in September of 2015, where instrumental parts and some vocal harmonies were worked on among the chief contributors. Decisions were made in a democratic fashion, and leadership was shared and distributed evenly among the chief contributors. Full band rehearsals began in January of 2016 and included the chief contributors as well as the former drummer. The drummer took direction from the recordings made during the songwriting and small rehearsal periods to come up with parts for each song. Rehearsals continued through February of 2017 and it was around this time that the decision was made among the chief contributors to replace the former drummer. The decision was made democratically and was based on the expectations that were established at the beginning of the project. Due to this, the music production process went dormant until June of 2017, when small band rehearsals started once again. A benefit of the time off resulted in the introduction of three new original songs to add to the album. During this second installment of small rehearsals, parts were refined, new songs and parts were learned, and the overall process was prolonged while a new drummer was found. Leadership was shared during this time, with emphasis on keys and bass providing mentorship to the songwriter based on their extensive experience with the music production process. This mentorship allowed for more technocratic decision-making, where the best and most efficient way of doing things was presented and agreed upon by chief contributors. Small band rehearsals proceeded through February of 2018, at which point bass recruited the new drummer who would end up playing on the album. The second installment of full band rehearsals commenced in March of 2018. The drummer took direction from previous recordings including rough recordings from the previous full band rehearsals. The decision to replace the drummer proved to be a valuable one, as the new drummer took the initiative to come up with new parts and overall feel for songs that had a positive impact on the album as whole. Leadership was shared among all four players during this time, with bass and keys taking a more active role in guiding the process. Full band rehearsals continued until the end of June 2018, when the decision was made to progress to the next phase of the process.
Production (2018). Production for the album took place from July to August of 2018. The former drummer had previously recommended a recording studio with a good reputation for producing excellent recordings in addition to being centrally located. Studio time for the first recording session was scheduled for a one-day session, and this is where the basic recordings for all vocals and instrumentation took place. It was decided among the chief contributors to record songs in a live format over the course of a one-day session, which was accomplished. A second, four-hour recording session for songwriter, bass, and keys was scheduled to capture background vocals and vocal harmonies. It was decided to use the same studio for the second recording session for sonic consistency (Bijsterveld, 2019). During both recording sessions, the leadership and influence of the sound engineer came to the forefront and helped to accomplish the goals more effectively, and constraints on time necessitated some autocratic decision-making on the part of the songwriter and the sound engineer. Due to advancements in technology, it is possible to not require as much studio time, and thus the need for more financial resources to be allocated to production since the vast majority of items can be addressed during post-production (McNally, Seay, & Thompson, 2019). Leadership during this phase was shared, with bass and keys providing suggestions along with the sound engineer to the songwriter regarding what to capture and what to leave for post-production, with an emphasis on democratic and technocratic decision-making.
Post-Production (2018-2019). Post-production for the album began in August of 2018 and ran until May of 2018. The first portion of this process involved what can be referred to as mixing, overdubbing, and mastering. Mixing includes a re-manipulation of the sound levels for each part in each song on the album as well as the assignment of specific vocal and instrumental effects to achieve desired sound (Zak III, 2001). Due to expertise as a sound engineer, and seasoned tenure as a working musician, keys mostly assumed leadership during this portion through the oversight of all recordings and additions or edits to recordings for the album. Chief contributors made use of a shared drive to both contribute new parts by way of home recording studios as well as to listen and critique mixes in efforts to move all songs toward completion. Keys and bass frequently built off each other’s ideas during this portion, challenging each other to come up with more creative and intricate lines on each song. The songwriter was able to experiment with guitar sounds and contributions. Each of these aspects allowed for myriad developmental learning opportunities (Palus & Drath, 1995), as well as more refined parts evidenced in each song. It was during this time that a feature player was asked to provide solos on some songs for the album (saxophone). Decision-making during this portion of the process was autocratic (expertise of keys), technocratic (suggestions of all chief contributors), and democratic (approval of final mixes). Finally, this portion was executed in accordance with the goals set forth by the chief contributors, with respect to not rushing the process. Songwriter successfully negotiated with keys and bass for the project to move ahead to the next portion of this phase in April of 2019. The album finalization portion consisted of creation and direction of the album artwork and determining an order for the songs on the album. Songwriter enlisted the assistance of a graphic designer and long-time collaborator from previous original music album covers and concepts to create the design for the album artwork. Once a design was agreed upon by chief contributors, bass was able to utilize years of expertise as a graphic designer, photographer, and illustrator to transform the design into an evolved format, ready for the album. Bass set direction during this portion, with final approvals taking place among chief contributors in a democratic fashion. The final portion of the post-production process involved making decisions as to how the album would be promoted and distributed, which initially took place in May of 2019 and is still in process. This includes making decisions on the type(s) of recorded medium (e.g., digital, vinyl, cd, etc.) as well as on the kinds of promotional strategies to employ (e.g., social media, live performances, general advertising, etc.). In May of 2019, songwriter made the decision to do a digital release of the album (and album artwork), which includes all the main-stream outlets to digital music. Songwriter has been and is currently experimenting with promotional strategies for the album, and has predominantly promoted the album through social media, electronic mailing lists, and through selected live performances. A short run of vinyl and cd copies have been distributed, with plans to learn from initial sales for future promotional efforts. The advantage of having a final product during this portion is that there is much room for experimentation, and since the work is done, this work can be repeated on a perpetual basis, building on successes and learning from failures. This portion highlights the entrepreneurial aspects associated with being a musician (Crawfoot, 2018; Covach & Flory, 2012; Hauge, 2012). Decisions were made autocratically by songwriter, with some democratic consultation from bass and keys, and there are plans for a more shared leadership approach to the promotion and distribution of the album in the future. Overall, the process of producing the original music album was long and somewhat arduous, but the experience offered significant learning opportunities for all stakeholders. Please see Figure 3 for timeline of the original music production process this album followed.
Overall, the review of scholarship, selected methodology, and process of making an original album were successful in providing some answers about the process of original music production and what factors play out. On the account of the steps involved in making an original music album, this study was able to identify a process for doing so, with support from the theoretical and conceptual framework. The study was also able to show how not only leadership plays out during the process of making an original album, but how other relevant aspects such as decision-making, direction-setting, group dynamics, and learning approaches play out as well. Although there are limitations to participant field studies such as the high potential for bias, the information presented in the study has applications to other groups looking to make an original album, smaller collection of songs, or perhaps even a single recording. It should also be noted that bureaucratic decision-making was not a core function of the chief contributors during the making of this album, and this is due largely to the goals set forth as well as the way the process was managed. Bureaucratic decision-making was limited to times when the chief contributors had to work with other entities, such as a recording studio or rehearsal space in order to accomplish logistically related objectives such as scheduling rehearsals or studio time. Overall, decision-making was largely democratic, with opportunities for technocratic decision-making around expertise of chief contributors, and autocratic decision-making to initiate and complete the process.
There are five key learnings to be taken from this study:
Creative projects such as the production of an original music album highlight the entrepreneurial possibilities of being a musician while also allowing for many opportunities to examine leadership, decision-making, learning approaches, and group dynamics.
A process of original music production was identified, but more research is needed for results to be more conclusive.
The phases and sub-phases of an original music album can follow a sequential or non-sequential order. Factors such as songwriting, goals, or obstacles may impede the process, but properly addressing these obstacles is of critical importance to the success of the project.
Participants in an album should have opportunities to be significantly challenged by the process itself to grow and develop into more capable musicians. This was accomplished by chief contributors being given the charge to contribute in different, perhaps more creative ways than previous projects have allowed.
Advancements in technology allow for less time, money, and overall reliance on a recording studio with much of the production and post-production phases being easily handled in a home recording studio or similar. Digital distribution simplifies the process of getting music out to the masses.
Based on the overall analysis of and reflection upon this study, several recommendations are offered. First, it is essential to ensure that all chief contributors are on the same page regarding goals and other specific aspects of the process, so it makes sense to devote as much time to this initial portion as needed. Second, this study demonstrates the need for more empirical research on creative music projects to examine factors such as leadership and decision-making. In addition, the use of videographic observational research would help to enhance what is studied and will allow for better documentation of the process overall (Bickman & Rog, 2008). Third, there is room for more ethnographic approaches to research on creative music projects that focus on individual social relationships (Cohen, 1993). Finally, current music trends lean toward singles instead of albums, but an album allows for a more complete and inclusive feeling and experience for all participants. Taking the album approach then deciding later to release singles or some other configuration allows for more product to be created in a more concentrated period. Overall, this study suggests a process for original music production that is general, and thereby leaves much to be pondered and studied in more detail by future research. Future research should examine how other entities approach creating an original music album to examine how factors such as differences in leadership styles can impact outcomes, or even perhaps more closely determine the beginnings of the original music production process (i.e., does it begin with songwriting or rehearsals?). It is hoped that this study can assist with future efforts toward original music production and ultimately toward enhancing the musician-entrepreneur potential.
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