On January 1, 2012 I set out to record and release 12 CDs in only 12 months. Not just digital albums to download, but real hard-copy, store-ready, physical CDs.
Each CD had to have 12 tracks, 10 of them brand new, written by me or other writers. Up to two track could be remixed, rerecorded, updated…whatever. I thought doing 10 songs of new material was fine and I could take some of my old stuff from CDs not selling anymore and breathe new life into it (correct mistakes, like singing out of tune, etc.)
I did have some success in the past recording fast. I wrote, recorded and released a CD called “Rock and Roll Railroad” in seven days while on the road in 2010. I actually did some of the tracks during rush hour in Chicago in my car!
Some people do marathons, triathlons, climb mountains, etc. I will never do that, BUT this was something I thought I could do… a defining feat… my legacy?
How I Did it
I have been recording for years on my old Acer desktop running Sonar Producer, but I wanted to make this project go faster, be mobile, and not have to battle the computer and beg it to work every other day. I decided to go Apple. Problem, I have very little money!
So, first I entered a vocal posting contest and won an iPad 2 (I posted my butt off!). Next, I picked up an old MacBook (not Pro) from CraigsList and fixed it up. I got GarageBand working on both and added my OLD Samson USB mic. Aside from my guitars and drums and stuff, that was all I used to do EVERYTHING!
First I asked my mailing list what the topics of each CD should be. I used a poll widget to do it.
I like making CDs with themes. I think it’s easier to market and sell something that fits a specific niche. Also, by asking my fans what they wanted, I knew I could sell to them because I used their ideas, right?
The process was really simple — pick a topic, find or write 10-12 songs on that topic. Boom. Done.
Ahhh, the studio. My studio is called “Starbase 23.” It has been for over a decade.
The studio isn’t real though. The studio is wherever I am recording at the moment. Many of these CDs were recorded in my bedroom, living room, and kitchen. I also recorded in my car (GREAT VOCAL BOOTH!), in restaurants, schools, motel rooms…everywhere.
Many songs start out on the iPad. I make basic tracks and even do vocals on it. Then I transfer everything to the Mac, but not always. Some songs went right from the iPad to the CD. Really, like “Flying Bounce House” from MOVING DAY and “Counting Sheep” from ROCK AND ROLL ALL NIGHT.
Location, Location, Location
At some point I thought it would be cool to record songs or whole CDs on location. Like doing an animal CD at the zoo, etc.
I did manage to do one CD like this called ALL ABOARD THE ROCK AND ROLL TRAIN. I spent two weeks at the National Railroad Museum and got a ton of exposure and press. This is when I started using other musicians to add to the sound and vibe.
The project went well, but there was no way I was going to do that again with my limited time allotment. Each CD should have been recorded in two weeks or less, artwork in a week and released by week four. If I had stuck to that schedule everything would have been fine.
Besides the iPad, USB mic, and MacBook I used whatever guitars and basses I had on hand. Most of the keyboards were played on the iPad keyboard…really! My son and daughter played Roland V Drums and my son added a few tracks he recorded on his iPod, really great stuff.
For all the album artwork, I used iDraw on my iPad. I carry it around with me all the time and doodle. I did a lot of the artwork at a roller skating rink while my daughter skated!
Staying on Track…NOT!
So I recorded and released the first 5-6 CDs right on schedule, but them summer hit, and I do MOST of my live shows in the summer. Suddenly I had ZERO time to record and finally I just gave up. When I did get back to it I had like three months and six CDs to make!
Many well-meaning friends started to tell me is was OK to fail, be happy for what you did…and stuff like that, but I wanted no part of it. I wanted to finish the project.
I though maybe I should do a simple “guitar and vocal” CD… a quickie to get back on track… BAD IDEA. The CD took just as long to do and it SUCKED. I am no singer-songwriter folkie unplugged kind of guy. I’m a rocker.
I made the CD, released it, and quickly pulled it from distribution. I totally rerecorded it with the band sounds and even different songs. In all actuality, I ended up recording 13 CDs last year.
One of the most successful parts of the project was the blog and social media. I blogged and made videos every step of the way, I let my fans and followers in on the action and constantly asked for ideas and input. I had an open policy for anyone that sang or played to submit tracks and share everything I did. I posted almost everything I did on SoundCloud, complete songs, and CDs to create buzz and get people “into it.”
A Little Help from My Friends
I knew I had to get serious so I added a countdown clock to my website, misterbilly.com, and my blog, 12cdsin12months.com. One of my co-writers, Dave Kinnoin, and his son Oliver offered to write up to three songs a week to help out. Other writers, singers and musicians started sending me ideas and even tracks that I could add to my songs.
I was building a global recording co-op and didn’t realize it! Through my constant blogging, Facebook, and Twitter postings, I made friends with musicians who wanted to be a part of the project from Africa to California, New York to the Netherlands, and beyond.
All through the project, it had been a collaboration, but the last CD I wanted to really make a group effort, a global family affair. So the last CD (A Little Help from My Friends) is all duets and collaborations.
The last song recorded was live video streamed on uStream.com and the audience helped out and chatted with me until it was done, December 29 @ 10 PM.
What I Learned
I wish I had planned better to take advantage of the marketing side of the project. I also wish I have stayed on track. I ended up doing four of the CDs in the last 30 days! I didn’t book any jobs and money was tight, but I did it.
Interestingly, my songwriting, production and especially my vocal skills improved with each CD…crazy huh? The more I did, the more I could do.
Are the CDs perfect? No. But are they good enough for my crowd? I think so. IF I had more time would I have done a better job…mmmm… maybe, maybe not.
The funny thing is that many of these CDs are selling way faster and with more consistency than my other CDs. Three of these have hit the CD Baby Top Sellers list… not the genre list, the MAIN ONE! None of my CDs had ever done that before.
All in all is was a great project. I am very proud of it, but I don’t think I’ll be recording another full CD for a little while!
Mr. Billy (William Charles Grisack III) is a kids and family singer/song-ROCKER, producer, podcaster, husband, dad, dog owner, music marketing advocate, Star Trek fan and lunatic at large from Wisconsin. Learn more about the 12 CD project at 12cdsin12months.com or visit him at misterbilly.com