Conversations | How To: Self-Release an Album
NYC Women’s Fund Recipient Amanda Gookin lends her expertise on the topic.
Amanda Gookin is a cellist, educator, and administrator whose work is centered at the intersection of activism and music. She was recognized with a 2020 NYC Women’s Fund for Media, Music and Theatre grant in Classical/Jazz/Experimental/New Music. Her initiative, Forward Music Project (FMP), commissions multi-media composers to create works for solo cello that elevate stories of feminine empowerment. Gookin then performs the new compositions by embodying these experiences through raw performances where she screams, fights, chants, gasps for air, and sings her way through the music. Here, she walks us through how she self-produced her 2020 solo album Forward Music Project 1.0.
This interview is presented as part of New York Music Month Extended Play, an initiative of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME).
NYFA: How did the idea for this album come about and what were the first steps you took to actualize the project? Can you describe the recording process for independent artists?
Amanda Gookin: The album was an organic process that came out of the first seven FMP commissions I premiered in March 2017. The trajectory was always to culminate in a commercially-released album, but when I was just starting out, I had no idea how I’d get there! I felt insecure about releasing an album and had to confront the self-defeatist question — “Why would anyone listen to this?”
I finally sat down to record when I was an artist-in-residence at National Sawdust in Brooklyn, NY. I had worked closely on the project with their Resident Sound Designer, Garth MacAleavey. When he texted me that there were a couple of rare blackout dates when I could get in to record in the venue, I jumped on it. Two weeks later, over two very intense days, I had my tracks down!
My next steps were to mix and master the album with Mike Tierney. I had just released PUBLIQuartet’s latest album (a string quartet I founded) on the Bright Shiny Things label and had a great experience, so I signed on again as a solo artist. The label represents a wide range of creative new music projects and it was the right fit for FMP. The finishing touch was designing the album cover with the super talented graphic designer, Giselle Manzano Ramirez. Once I saw her designs, it felt like this dream was finally coming true.
NYFA: Do you have any advice for musicians on building an audience?
AG: One practical piece of advice I can give is to demonstrate consistency in your style. Is your project intimate and brooding, feelgood and upbeat, or an 80’s punk throwback? Whatever it is, be sure your branding, images, social media, and written narratives relate to the style and feel of your music and are recognizable across all platforms. You will start to build an audience of like-minded followers who will increasingly want more of your content and feel personally connected to you.
And, honestly, do what you love and what is most meaningful to you. The audience will follow. Finding an audience is not the first step, it’s a wonderful outcome that emerges when you are honest in your art
NYFA: How has the NYC Women’s Fund contributed to this project?
AG: The NYC Women’s Fund hands down contributed to the successful release of this album. Since its inception, many parts of FMP were self-funded along the way and all of the sudden my album was slated to release in the middle of a pandemic when crowdfunding felt like a cruel and impossible fundraising plan. This grant ensured that I could release a high quality album, which will last the test of time.
NYFA: Now that you’ve released the album, how do you see this work continue to live beyond its completion?
AG: I am so proud that this album is not only a culmination of a project I have worked so hard on and cared so deeply for, it is a way for new listeners and a wider audience to hear the music of these seven amazing composers. So many cellists, after listening to the album, purchased the scores and added these works to their recital programs. Some students are using the pieces as conservatory audition repertoire! That is some beautiful life beyond this album.
–Anna Wang, Program Officer, NYFA Grants
The NYC Women’s Fund for Media, Music and Theatre, established in 2018, is part of a groundbreaking series of initiatives by MOME to address the underrepresentation of women-identifying artists in film, music, television, and theatre. It has supported 157 projects since its founding. The next cycle will open in late July 2021, with recipients announced in March 2022.
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