You may have heard that earlier this week Brad Paisley released his new studio album “Wheelhouse”. Regardless of what you think of the music on this album, it is a crucial album, not only for Brad Paisley, but also for country music, music in general, and most importantly for the people who will buy the Album. I heard about the full extent of “Wheelhouse” a couple of weeks ago, and although I planned to post this today, this is many excited weeks in the making.
And why, you may ask? There are two main reasons. Firstly, Brad Paisley is the sole producer on this album, recording the album in a studio at his home, with his own band. It’s not uncommon for an artist to have a producer credit on the album, but they are generally co-produced with a big name producer, in Paisley’s case, Frank Rogers, but not on this album. And secondly, alongside a physical copy of the album being released, an interactive book is also available to accompany the digital album. These may seem like minor things, but if everyone, or a significant number of artists followed in Paisley’s footsteps, it may change how we listen to our music, and interact with our favourite artists.
Album (CD) sales are down roughly about 6% compared to this time last year, but digital sales are up by around 12%.* This sounds great, as if music sales are going up, but this is not the case. CD sales numbers are declining too fast for the digital market to keep up. This could be for a number of reasons, I find that if I purchase music online, I purchase a single, and then I purchase the full album as a physical copy (CD), if I like the artist enough. My point is, unless you are a loyal and devoted fan, you may be more inclined to just spend 79p on a digital track rather than £15 for a CD.
I also find that digital albums are somewhat impersonal. I miss the magic of breaking the impossible-to-open seals, and the hiss of static when you turn on your CD player. The first thing I did, and do, whenever I get a new album, is read the booklet. First, scanning through the songwriters to see if any familiar names pop up, and then the ‘thank you’s’. My number one booklet is from The Warren Brothers album “Barely Famous Hits”. They have a great little bio under the heading ‘Not So Special Thanks,’ and deciding not to offend anyone by missing them out, the last line reads, ‘unless your last name is McGraw you are no higher than third on this list anyway.’ And although a ‘thank you’ can really get no more impersonal than that, I felt I knew them, they made me laugh, and it was a chance to hear them speak, without the music. And not to forget the lyrics included in the booklet, saving all the slightly dodgy google searches, filled with misheard lyrics.
So, back to Brad Paisley. Brad released “Building a Wheelhouse”, an interactive book, alongside the album. It was created using iBooks Author, and is available on the iBooks store. The book includes videos about the music on the album, and the studio that was built on Paisley’s property. It also has at least one page for every album track, giving us a greater insight into Brad Paisley’s thoughts and intentions behind the each song, and the overarching concept of the album. From ‘reading’ the book, it looks like it was mainly Paisley’s own creation. Filmed using a handheld iPad, Paisley walks us through the new studio, and gives us an intimate insight into the recording and writing of the album. The book definitely gave me a greater appreciation for the album, revealing Paisley’s reasoning behind the words, artists and sounds he chose. Even the drum track, which I mentioned not being a fan of on Thursday, turns out to be due to the drum room, formerly a porch, that gave it that unique sound, and even if it’s not my choice, I now see why it was done in that way.
I can’t say that I won’t miss CD’s, when they do inevitably disappear for good. But I’m hoping that others follow Brad Paisley’s example. Extras like these, that used to be the norm, bring fans closer to the artist, and promote the unwavering loyalty that country fans are famous for. I do hope, that if these album accompaniments become commonplace, that they will be included in the album price, as “Building a Wheelhouse” (the book) cost £3.99, not including the album.
I also mentioned that Paisley produced the album independently, recording it in a studio that he built for this project. Paisley now has a studio the that he can record in, day and night. It means that he can write, play around with ideas, and how a track might sound, without paying for studio time. And with a 17 track album to show for it, it has clearly done wonders for his creativity. As the owner of the studio, sole producer, and artist, he pretty much had complete artistic control with this album. He’s a bit like a kid in a toy store, in a good way, of course. Paisley knows that a good country album has a train song. And that’s what he gave us with Runaway Train. They used a recording of a real train as a click track, which gives it a vintage and believable rhythm. These may be expensive toys he’s playing with, but he’s sounding good.
Not only has this opportunity allowed Paisley to have free rein artistically, but in the long run it has hugely important financial implications. Although it is expensive to set up a studio, it will be far cheaper than renting studio time. It also means that if he pays for the recordings, he owns the masters, and will in turn get more royalties. Paisley also uses his own band, The Drama Kings, rather than session players, so what you hear on the album, is what you’ll hear on his tour that starts next month. Paisley also succeeded in using minimal editing, and yes, he does use some effects, but it sounds more raw than we are used to with modern country. It’s refreshing and more natural, other artists would do well to follow in his footsteps in this respect. This is all well and good for Paisley, who, with 8 successful studio albums under his belt, can afford a purpose built studio. There are however, cheaper ways of home recording. Allegedly Bon Iver recorded his self titled album with a MacBook and GarageBand. This gives both established and upcoming artists a chance to record an album in a cost efficient way, that is ready for distribution immediately.
As the industry continues to favour digital media, I hope artists take a leaf out of Brad Paisley’s book. He is a canny businessman, and I don’t want the industry to become impersonal, I want to still feel that connection with artists. Digital books could potentially appeal to a wide range of people, those who miss those first few moments spent with a new CD; we just need to monitor the ever increasing number of platforms that books like these could exploit. I would be sad to see CDs disappear, but I’m glad that artists like Brad Paisley are prepared for whatever the industry may throw at them.
*stats from Billboard magazine