My Experiences Releasing My First Indie Album! – “Lord of the Dead” – 10 Years On!

I thought I’d tell you some of my experiences releasing my first indie album and how I feel about the project looking back 10 years on since I released it. Especially given we’ve just passed Halloween 2023 and the crazy album is called, “Lord of the Dead” – A Concept Rap Album about living in the mist of Zombie Apocalypse…

Looking back, I learnt a huge amount from the experience of making this album. I had so much fun making it too, even if musically, it’s quite possibly my worst piece of work lol. Positively speaking, what is undeniable, is the awesome artwork and photography, curtesy of Rob Luckins and numerous friends and cool people who took part in ‘zombie’ing up’ for the occasion and creating some amazing zombie visuals and videos, not to mention fun days out!. As well as some hilarious improvised ‘skits’ that came from myself and Gaz, whose flat I lived in, on and off during the making of the album. It makes me chuckle all the more now, that our little improvised outbursts imagining we were in a zombie apocalypse, have even been utilised by a few strangers in various TikToks who seemed to also find our ‘improv discussions’ funny…

Lord of the Dead – behind the scenes makeup!

This album was my first attempt at a ‘proper’ indie release. It was also my first attempt at fundraising where I tried to gather funding for the album, which in hindsight wasn’t that necessary, but was a useful learning experience and a fun way of gathering people together. It actually led to me gaining support, even from some surprise [initial] strangers. – To this day, thanks to everyone that contributed!

Despite the musical simplicity of the album, it was no easy task for me at the time. For a lot of months during the making of the album, I was often in the middle of working my plumbs off doing driving deliveries on behalf of an agency and working 12 hour days, 5-6 days per week. Sometimes doing paid DJ gigs on the weekends on top of that. For those months, I mostly consumed fizzy sugary drinks, chocolate and crisps every breakfast and lunch in an attempt to get ahead of my delivery job in the hope I wouldn’t continue to have to drive 12 hours a day to make sure all my sites were delivered on time. I remember each night, at the end of every delivery shift, I came home and forced myself to stay awake trying to mix the album myself in my untreated bedroom at my parents home, sometimes through headphones, sometimes through my monitors and generally drinking alcohol through it in an attempt to decompress and not drift off to sleep until I had gotten the mix to a standard I was happy with (that in hindsight probably wasn’t that great anyway lol). Only to go to bed around 4am most nights knowing full well that at that point, I only had a few hours sleep before having to force myself to get up for work if I wanted to stay ahead of my deliveries the next day and not get caught in morning rush hour traffic. I rarely managed this, especially as time went on. The necessity to get at least some semblance of reasonable sleep to avoid having an accident on the road, kept me in a perpetual game of catchup day by day, fighting between trying to earn money doing a job that sucked up all my time and energy and trying to take whatever slither of energy I had to complete this weird little project I’d concocted. I fortunately managed to do the job, with the vehicle and my driving licence unscathed. However the final straw came when I had numerous other sites added on to my already extensive list, meaning the potential to do the job sufficiently without resorting to working 12 hours each day on the road became further outside of my grasp. The months of unhealthy eating, lack of sleep and overwork trying complete and release an album independently, finally culminated with my developing shingles whilst still being under 30 years old because I was so physically run down without realising. This forced me to take a week off work initially, only to make the decision to not bother coming back and to quit. A wise decision given my home situation at the time was less precarious than many and one I certainly don’t regret. That decision allowed me to fully recover and realise how unnecessary the job was for me – as it turns out there were other jobs around that were easier to fit around my creative endeavours. But sometimes when you’re in the thick of it, it’s hard to see the woods through the treespun slightly intended. It also gave me ample time to finish the album off and and setup a ‘launch party’ in town which I simply wouldn’t have had the time to do otherwise!…

Lord of the Dead ‘Launch Party’ poster

On top of this album being my first attempt at a ‘proper’ indie release. It was also my first attempt at music production where I deliberately kept sampling to a minimum with the exception of a 1920s sample in the Lord of the Dead song that shares the same name as the album title. As well as a small number of ‘Apple Loops’ coming off of my Logic Pro DAW. I attempted to keep sampling to a minimum despite having near to zero understanding of music theory, or ability to play a musical instrument beyond, “This sounds all right. Let’s go with this…” Resorting to non-sample based production was entirely new for me because when I started making beats, it was strictly through the act of sampling other records and sounds in the traditional ‘boom bap’ – hip hop sense… But I really wanted to develop my skills as a producer to not be so reliant on sampling other peoples work. This wasn’t because of any sense of musical snobbery. I still consider sampling and sample based production just as creative as ‘sample free’. It’s also no less than the bedrock of hip hop, an art form and subculture I still utterly adore. But in a world that at the time, seemed increasingly hostile to ‘non royalty free’ sample based music through copyright strikes and the potential to get sued, it seemed like a wise use of my time to develop my production skills beyond that of sampling. It also gave me incentive to learn about music theory and improve my ability to play piano. To this day, I still can’t play piano that well at all, (albeit better than then). I certainly can’t play fluently. But my understanding of music theory has come along tremendously. As well as my sound design skills. These abilities have allowed me to construct far more interesting sounds and deep chords that can interact with one another. All of this far better now, then during the time of putting together ‘LOTD’…. But part of that improvement has come of the back of the time I took trying to craft the album in the first place. I learnt a lot about music theory and creating string orchestral sounds – particularly with a ‘horror edge’ and synthesis just by nature of trying to create something, even if it wasn’t perfect. Since then I’ve been able to broaden my production skills and venture into other sub-genres beyond the ‘boom bap cul de sac’ I started off in, from UKG, to Grime to DnB, to UK Drill and of course Punk influence as shown in the likes of ‘Wake the Dead‘ in collaboration with Jude of Zen Juddhism. I’d also like to think my Rapping ability and lyricism has improved a huge amount since then too and my lyrical ideas and rap flow particularly, is a lot more versatile than it was then. But the project did at least help improve my storytelling skills as an MC….

Had I done this project again, I think I would’ve been far easier on myself and perhaps not stuck rigidly to make this a full album despite it being a creatively fun thing to do. Given the state of social media algorithms, even at that time, it would’ve been wiser to ‘drip feed’ the album, one song at a time, perhaps with fun videos and skits along the way, slowly gathering more and more interest from different people one song and a video at a time. Rather than putting it all down to one finished, ‘perfect’ project (it really was FAR from perfect lol!) That being said I am at least one artist that can say I have a concept album under my belt. An interesting concept as well. Although my politics and outlook on the world has changed somewhat since then. At the time the zombie analogy for me was about people that give up on their dreams to live a life of normality and the rat-race. Nowadays I would probably lean more into George Romero style critiques of consumer culture and how our need to rent ourselves for money and security often robs us of our collective and individual creativity. Regardless, it’s a project I stuck to until it was completed and put out into the world, flaws and all. For me, that’s far better than to have not put it out there at all in my opinion, even if few people ever listen to it. One thing I pride myself on, is my decisiveness, occasional stubbornness and drive to see most things I start to the end. Although in honesty I was driven mostly because I thought releasing this material might have given me some lucky break and I might get out of the rat-race and be able to do music full time. This thought process was grossly naive, albeit perhaps, admirably confident lol…. Especially given the standard of the music, ties I had to others within the marketing world and music industry (pretty much none!) and audience I had gathered (not much beyond the local level)… However I wouldn’t change the experience and I’m proud of what I put out into the world. Even if I look back at it musically and lyrically and see deep flaws it’s an expression of who I was and where I was at the time. It’s something I’ve been able to build on, knowing that I will forever be able to say I at least put a weird little concept album out. I also learnt how powerful a fun indie, creative project can be at bringing people together regardless of the end piece of work. Completing it also gave me a great foundation upon which to build on when making anything. So here’s to 10 more years of creativity and improvement and hopefully friendship building!

P.S My advice for anyone with a burning desire to create something and put it out into the world is DO IT! You might not get any financial benefit from it (it’s unlikely, although you might!) It might fail to garner you any type of audience (although it might!) But I’m not sure they’re the chief reasons why we should strive to create anything in the first place. Creative self expression is an act that can be deeply therapeutic. It’s also a tool to help develop your skills as you continue, piece after piece gradually developing and improving your ability the ‘creativity self express’ as you go. Even if it gets released and goes unknown, to some degree I think it can still contribute to the fabric of our culture even if in a tiny way… As with most things in life, it seems the journey is just as, if not more important than the final destination!….

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