“How Do” helps to break down various processes by creatives around the world. This installment looks at using modern technology to basically become a one-man band. Singer/songwriter Seth Pettersen just released his new album, “Natural Machine,” today which he did everything himself from recording to distribution. Read on to learn more about his processes to get it done!
First off, what are all the roles/jobs you have occupied in the making of this album?
Song-writer, Producer, Engineer, Mixer, Singer, Guitarist, Bassist, Drummer, Backup Singer, Percussionist, Keyboard Player, Runner, Distributor, Label, and Graphic Designer. What an asshole.
Talk about the recording process of your album, including playing all the instruments. What are the steps you took in order to record the album yourself?
- TEMPO: Figuring out the right tempo for each song is crucial. If the BPM is off just a little bit, the groove could get lost. Luckily on this album, I could just tap my foot and Joel would assign the click to that.
- KNOW WHAT YOU WANT: I worked on one song at a time. I started with a scratch guitar track, then laid down a scratch vocal track. These were used as the foundation for the rest of the instruments. Often times the scratch guitar and/or vocals were good enough to keep. I am a big fan of first takes, the energy and the emotion is pure. I demoed most of the songs at my house before going into the studio so I knew what I wanted to achieve, in hopes not to waste mine or Joel’s (the engineer) time.
- TAKE BREAKS: I would try to complete one song a day, and driving down to Los Angeles to record once a week offered me the chance to listen to the work in progress. I was able to absorb the songs and figure out what wasn’t sitting well, such as a bad vocal take or something in the mix that was either too quiet or too loud. After a long day of wearing headphones your ears are completely shot, so it’s important to listen to the tracks with fresh ears.
- BE WHO YOU ARE: When I make a record I am only trying to sound like myself. Its a very self-indulgent task, it can be frustrating but also very rewarding. If people like the album, I am stoked. If they don’t like it, that’s fine with me. The goal has been and always will be to make something I can be proud of.
What is the essential equipment and devices that one needs nowadays to produce a studio quality album?
- TUNER: Forgetting to tune your guitar or bass can cause a big headache when it comes time to overdub other stuff. This one sounds obvious, but this has definitely happened to me. On the other hand, sometimes out of tune stuff sounds rad.
- OBLIQUE STRATEGIES CARDS: A cool deck of cards made by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt back in 1975. They offer ‘tips’ for when you have hit a wall, creatively. Pick a card and do what it says. Something good will happen.
- DELAY: Its the original reverb, makes me think of space.
- TECATE TALL CAN 3PK: In Ventura, we refer to these as ‘flutes’ because they resemble pan-pipes. Great for recording, terrible for mixing. Really gets the juices flowing.
- TECHNOLOGY: We recorded one of the songs on a Tascam 4 Track. I pulled it out of the garage and dusted it off. It sounds really neat and big, even though it was recorded with an old thrift store cassette.
Distribution is a whole different beast in itself. What are the sources of distribution you are using and why?
- BANDCAMP: This is an easy-as-pie website that I have had a lot of success with. You upload everything, and start selling immediately. You can allow fans to name their price, or offer stuff for free. Bandcamp takes a cut, but its not much. I can’t believe a lot of my friends don’t have their music on here.
- SOUNDCLOUD: Another site that allows anyone in the world to upload their ‘sounds’. Not for selling, but its great because you can embed music players on other sites, like Facebook and blogs.
- CD BABY: Cost some money to set up, and they take a cut of sales, but they distribute to all the heavies (iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody).
- SHOWS: Playing live is still the best way to get your music heard.
What are some tips that you learned along the way that could have helped the process had you known ahead of time?
- WORK OUT THE DEAL (FIRST): I have been burned by dudes with studio’s who recorded me on the cheap or for free. This one guy now retains the rights to the distribution of one of my albums cause he says I owe him thousands of dollars for my recording time. There are a lot of scumbags in this business, make sure everybody knows the take before you press record. If you need to, get it in writing.
- FIND A LIKE-MIND: Luckily for me I met Joel Jerome. He honed his recording skills by recording his own music. He writes great songs, and knows what it is to be a song-writer. He understood what I was trying to achieve in the studio and let me do my thing without questions. He put up with my ideas. Recording ought to be fun, if you are working with an engineer, mutual respect is a necessity.
- SAVE AS YOU GO: In this digital age, shit can crash in an instant. Hit SAVE after every take.
- SINGERS SAVING GRACE: Donavon Frankenreiter introduced me to this stuff when I had a gnarly throat infection on tour. Its an all-natural throat spray that opens your throat right up. Makes your breath smell like licorice. Makes you feel like Pavarotti.
For more of Seth’s sounds and to get your copy of his new album NATURAL MACHINE, check out his website at sethpettersen.com