Lesson 10- Do The Admin
A song list from a 'recent' project
As discussed in Lesson 1, being a successful artist is as easy as making your art. However, there is more to it than one might think if one wants to be heard.
To start there is a lot of ‘admin’ that needs to get done: getting the gigs, getting yourself to the gigs, maintaining a positive relationship with the person who books the gigs, finding new places to play and so on and so on. Then there is recording: one has to write the songs, record demos if necessary, book a recording studio, releasing and so forth. Then album art and videos. I could go on. By the time one finishes a project, it’s often so old that it’ll be time to start again. There really can be a lot of stuff to do. Some stuff is fun and some stuff…. not so much.
I think my previous band, Gorp didn’t fully appreciate how much of that admin I did. And when I was kicked out, I don’t know if there was anyone left willing or able to do it and therefore, it didn’t last long. There is a lot more to it than being an awesome band and writing good songs.
I was about to start recording my third album with Dale Morningstar (look him up), a man who’d become a hero of mine at his brand new studio. This was due to the fact that the label I was signed to, Sonic Unyon recently received guaranteed government grants to record and release music. This would mean that for the first time in my career I would have a real budget for an album. I could think of few people that I’d rather work with than Dale.
However, shortly after had I been informed about the grants, I was also informed that the label would not be applying for a grant on my behalf. I didn’t sell enough records to warrant it and, “we put out your record. That’s enough.”
It sounds harsh and it was but the Sonic Unyon guys would probably have an opinion about this too. I suppose that they were running a business and as an artist, I didn’t make much business sense to them. I have spoken to them about it and there really are no hard feelings but the truth is, that is what happened and it was a bummer.
I was puzzled by this as I felt my last album was quite a success. It was played thirteenth most for the year on national college radio, some videos had been played on Much Music and I was opening for some of the best bands in the country. Obviously, not everyone felt I was on the right track and I hardly had an objective opinion.
I had already spoken to Dale and booked the time at The Gas Station and sheepishly, I called to cancel the session.
He asked why, I told him and he surprised me when he said, “Don’t worry about it. We’ll work something out!”
So that’s what we did. I supplied the tape along with a very friendly fee and Dale recorded my third album over the course of three days.
Now, three days is not a lot of time so I made a plan to get it done. When I recorded my previous album, I used a method that I’ve pretty much stuck to any time I want to complete a project. It’s a pretty simple process but it takes some organisation and work. Here are the steps:
Step 1: Set a date- if there is no time pressure, then there is no pressure to get anything done. Set a complete date and stick to it.
Step 2: Make a list- make a list for every single thing that needs to get done. Start at the beginning with the songs, follow with the instrumentation, lyrics et cetera. Write it all down. Even the things that seem unimportant.
Step 3: Check the list off- after the list is completed, it’s just a matter of checking things off once each task is finished. Repeat until everything is checked off.
A few lists from Me Is He and El Limb Men Oh Pee
Once I started making my lists I realised when it came to instrumentation, there was a lot to get done in a day. So the best way to get it done quickly would be to ask a few friends to come along. Collectivey Mike Bell (from Chore), Julie Fader (then of Flux AD) and my old band mate, “Snowy” Mark Raymond and I could handle all the instrumentation on the first day, the second day I would do vocals and overdubs and on the third, we would mix.
I ran into bit of trouble the day before recording I went to Sonic Unyon to ask for the small amount of money that they put aside for the record: they couldn’t give it to me because the two people who needed to sign for it were not in. Since I’d spent what little money I had on tape (which was expensive back then and I was at my poorest), I didn’t even have enough money to get my band across to the studio on the ferry. In the end, I was given twenty-five dollars from petty cash to make sure we could get across.
So with a big box of cereal and a lot of gear, we drove to Toronto and the four of us took the ferry to be the first act to record in the brand new Gas Station Recording Studio on Toronto Island. It is a fact that I’m quite proud of and my friends really came through for me. I have to admit though, the experience wasn’t what it could have been.
Dale was gracious and helpful. He guided and fed us (which wasn't part of the deal). The band were stellar. We usually got each song down in two or three takes. But in the back of my mind, was the fact that my record label had made it very clear that they no longer wanted to work with me.
“Me Is He” came out in the summer of 2001. To this day, it is a lot of fan’s favourite. We made a couple of videos and played a bunch of shows. Ultimately for me, it was a kick I needed to let me know that I was going to have to be even more self-motivated. My next two projects would take an insane amount of organisation and a lot hard work.
Over the next few years, I was going to have to do a lot more the admin.