Case study: Writing and Recording Your First Album

We’ve met both Kylie Whitney and Michael Carpenter in the Lecturer Profile Series. Over the past three years, they’ve been working on Kylie’s debut album, Something About Ghosts.

Something_about_ghosts-(1).jpgThis is part one of a three part case study series, about writing and recording your first album. In part one, we focus on the conception and pre-production of the album, which was released on September 23rd – now available on iTunes, Spotify, and via Kylie's website. In the following instalments, we'll explore the recording process, and the mixing, mastering and marketing phases. Congratulations Kylie and Michael on this fantastic acheivement and an important milestone in your careers! 

MC: My name’s Michael Carpenter, I’m a sessional lecturer at JMC Academy.

KW: My name’s Kylie Whitney, I’m a full time lecturer at JMC Academy. 

MC: Kylie was one of my students in one of the first couple of semesters I taught at JMC. Great student, you know – really diligent. Came and started doing some intern work here at JMC. We became friends, we started talking about things and she nonchalantly said one day – “One day I’d like to do my own record.” And I said, “Well, can you sing?” and she went “Ohhh, you know...I’m alright”... and then one day we needed some backing vocals, and I went, “Kylie, it’s time for you to sing!” Kylie was terrified...and she sounded fantastic! Straight away everybody just kind of went, “...Right!” And then from there, I needed to submit a song to pitch for a TV show, and I needed a female voice. So I said, “Kylie, can you sing it?” She did the vocal and it was a great vocal. 

KW: I just kind of became the resident backing vocalist – because I was just in the room. 

MC: Which was always a great thing to have somebody here whenever somebody needed a female backing vocal. And Kylie’s got a great tone and her pitch is really, really good. So it became one of those things. And from there she said, “One day, I’d like to do a song.” So we worked out a deal, and her song was We Can’t Be Friends, which is a cover. 

KW: A cover, yeah – start off with a cover! Work my way up to an original...[laughs]. 

MC: And it was really great! It was great, and it was easy. We did a video for it as well, and it went up, and I think it was the first time when you actually went – right, I can actually do this! I mean, you’d have to talk about your own journey to get to that point, but that was kind of from my point of view, how it started.

KW: Yeah, I’d written a bunch of songs – well a bunch of lyrics anyway, and they just kind of sat around for years and I didn’t really do anything with them. So, a lot of the songs on this record come from stuff that I’d written years ago, over the course of probably a decade or more. 

MC: And as we went through the process, she got a lot more confident with the idea of saying, “This is what I want, and this is what I don’t want.” Because obviously I’m pretty clear with what I want as well. I reckon by about three or four songs, actually by the time we got to Mermaids which was another song we did a video for, the third song, and it was a really different thing....I was like “Oh, right, so we’re not making this nice little quaint folky kind of album!” It was deep and sonically really weird, and reflected the nature of her lyrics which were deep and strange, and it kept on going like that! 

KW: The collaboration of my record came about because I was working in the studio with Michael. 

MC: And our time in session was relatively small! We spent a LOT of time, at lunches at JMC, or other times when we’d go out and we’d be talking about what her record is supposed to be. So when we’d come in, we’d know what the parameters were.

KW – Pre-production kind of stuff. 

MC: Yeah, essentially it was pre-production. So all it did was set up a framework in terms of what we could and couldn’t do. And all the way through to talking about photos and graphic design and stuff like that. Kylie has a very clear image of what she doesn’t want to do, so her role is very strongly her personality. At one point we talked about it being a collaboration and it being a Kylie and Michael record, but it’s not – it’s her. My record’s different. And so it is her record. 

KW: From start to finish, I think it’s taken us about three years, which sounds extremely excessive, but it’s not like we were working solidly on it for three years. It evolved. The whole process just evolved. We didn’t know at the beginning that it was going to be a full album - or what it was going to be at all.