On Making an Album

I spent the week in Nashville writing for our new album. We start recording in a few weeks, finish up by April, and you my friends will get the final product in, get this, October or November.

Crazy, huh?

It's such a long, complex, exhausting process to prepare for an album. And though the label says they don't release the album for at least five months after completion so that they have time to do marketing and radio promotions, I think they really do it so that we, the artists, have time to mentally get control of ourselves again and work our way back down to planet earth.

Marketing. Mental health. Call it what you like. After the album is done there has to be down time to recover from the warp zone you have entered into.

The Warp Zone
It starts with song writing. 
And people wonder how we write songs as a band. This is where being on a record label makes a big difference. As an independent artist you write when you feel like it. You write as much or as little as you would like and can wait for inspiration to hit for three years if you need to. You put an album out when you are good and ready to. When you feel like it. 
But when you are on a record label you have signed this little thing called a contract. And that changes everything.  It tells you how many months you can have before your next album needs to come out, it dictates the minimum number of songs for your album and the total length the album must be in minutes, and it makes everything subject to approval by lots of other voices. Voices who are wondering if the album has enough radio-friendly hit songs yet. 
This is not all bad. For six years most of you had no idea Addison Road, the independent band who wrote what they wanted, when they wanted, even existed. But after signing our beautiful little contract, you were able to get our album at Borders, Best Buy, Lifeway stores and could even hear our songs on the radio all the way from Alaska to New York. That's not too bad of a deal in my book. 
So sometimes it's a trade off. Work under more pressure, whether I am truly inspired or not, and make an album the world can actually hear. Or be a coffee shop artist, writing only after a thunderstorm, or duck in a pond, or terribly long sit on the toilet inspires me to write something brilliant, wait till this collection matures by itself, and play it for the few people I can get my hands on. 
Sometimes you really need the thunderstorm or the toilet. Other times you just need to think of it as a job and get it done. And then sometimes, God graciously lets the two collide. You get inspired on the toilet while taking a break from the stuffy room where you are spending the day writing songs under the bullet of a contract. 
That was this week. 
Inspiration under the bullet. And that's when you enter the warp zone. 
Where to Start
Does it start with a melody? Lyrics? A subject? A great guitar riff?  Yes. Yes to all of the above. It starts with all of that and none of that. 
It's a conundrum of spirit, passion, exhaustion, new ideas, old ideas, practicality and marketing. Does it fit our audience? Could it be successful on radio? Who cares? Is it inspired? Does it move me? Would I love to sing it on stage for a year? Is it what I really want to say with the few words I have been given on this platform? Yeah, but is it as cool as One Republic and as poppy as Kelly Clarkson? Will it compete with the Jonas Brothers or Switchfoot? WHO FREAKIN CARES? Is it God inspired? Authentic? Artistic? Deeply ingrained inside of me? 
This is how I go into each song. A battle. Art or money. Inspired or artificial. Personal or placating. 
At least for me I feel a responsibility when writing music. Music penetrates into people's souls. I think that what I offer then should be worthy of a humans best thoughts, their best selves. It should be worthy of entering into their souls and thoughts and lives. 
And then I need to pay the bills too. I mean, I do have a baby on the way and a great radio single would help us as we pay for diapers. I feel a responsibility to my family too. And success that actually paid the bills would be so relieving!
So I enter into this warp zone quite aware that I am towing a line between speaking truth and beauty into people's lives while also trying to make money and keep my career alive. And for me, that is exhausting. And I haven't even written a word yet. Not one single word. 
And so it began...
I spent the week with two of the guys in the band and another songwriter in a little room in Nashville and we began the process of writing for the new album. 
Several months ago we all miraculously came to a room with ideas for the new album and they were all on the same page. The same themes, the same concept, the same desires. This rarely happens, so we knew we were onto something. After talking about a passage from a book we had all recently read, Ryan threw out a title and said... "I think this is it. This is the next album title. This is what it's all about."  And he was right. Without a doubt he named what we were all thinking. And we named the album before we wrote a single song. 
So for months I have been thinking through it.  And this week it was time to put our thoughts into songs. We spent Tuesday through Friday in our hot, dimly lit, little red room throwing out everything. Every line we thought of. Every quote. Every guitar tune. Every melody. Every prayer or moment of inspiration that we thought was relevant to what we were writing about. 
This went on for hours and hours on end. 
Sometimes it would just get deadly quiet for ten, fifteen minutes (which felt like an eternity). Every ones lips were moving as they talked through lyrics in their head. Sometimes it was loud. Everyone getting excited, playing guitars a little louder, singing out melody ideas with attitude and spunk and then celebrating the awesomeness that just came out. Sometimes we hit a wall, but knowing we had to finish before lunch, we would tortuously try to finish and only come up with about six words in an hour.  
Sometimes I accidentally fell asleep. Sometimes I zoned out and couldn't feel my skin or toes anymore. And sometimes when we would hit walls I would start pulling my hair out, go for a walk outside to try and feel human again, and then come in, pull the pregnant card and announce I had to have food or I seriously could not function anymore. 
We locked ourselves away in this little place and literally just thought, and thought, and thought for hours on end. Days on end. 
A Finale of Sorts
I was too exhausted to tell you then. And now, I am ready for a nap just rehashing it all. But we accomplished in four days what took us about 100 songs and a year and a half to do last time around. 
Inspiration met us under the gun. We went to some alternate planet for the week. We wrote the songs we wanted to write. And now our album, our words to the world, are ready to be turned over and scrutinized by the record label powers to be. 
In the midst of it all I wondered about each of you. If these new songs would make their way into your hands. If they would be a part of your life.  If they would take you anywhere. 
I also wondered if they would make us any money. If we'd get a Gray's Anatomy cut this time? 
And I wondered if Anniston should get song writing credit for being in the room with us?  I wondered if she stayed in the room or went to the mind boggling alternate universe of song-writing with me?  And I wondered if this whole process would make her love music or hate it? 
And I wondered how real songwriters write their songs? I guess after all this time I still don't think of myself as a writer. Just a song-writing survivor. 
And mainly I wondered, how do I tell people what it's like to write for an album? 
So, for what it's worth, this was my attempt at showing you how one girl did it this one time. 
Next time around I am hoping to write on the beach.