Sleep & Relief Retrospective

Sleep & Relief was released about a month ago and this is a sort of autopsy/retrospective on what went well and what didn’t. Overall I think it’s a good album that builds on my past work as the Darph but it also has some major shortcomings that likely explain why it wasn’t received as well as last year’s Kokoro series of albums.

How it came together

After releasing three albums last year I took a break from music from about October 2020 until January 2021. I wanted to take a longer break as I was pretty burned out from writing and recording close to 50 songs the previous summer but I had just gotten a new Jazzmaster and as I played it new music started to pour out of me.

I normally gravitate towards creating full albums with complex concepts and themes over releasing single songs or grouping together a handful of songs that aren’t related by anything other than the time period they were written. This time I decided to go the more traditional route and just put together an album based on how I was feeling and what was going on in my life at the time. It was the darkest, coldest part of winter and that’s always a great time to tap into some darkness for songwriting if you can muster up the energy between depressive episodes. So I grabbed my Jazzmaster along with a couple of new pedals and I created a sound that was unique to that album and got to work.

What went well

I think that the overall sound of the album is pretty cohesive. I did use a lot of sounds and techniques consistently throughout the album but in different ways. The tempo and mood of the album has some decent movement with some uptempo songs and my usual slow, sad ones, and of course I had to throw in a couple of experimental tracks that may have fit better on last year’s records than this one.

My arrangement has improved greatly since my first two releases. While I have some work left to do, Sleep & Relief isn’t repetitive and it does a fine job of building up to a climax when a song needs it. I also made sure not to overstay my welcome. The songs were short but only because they were finished. There’s no reason to drag a song on for three or four minutes when it can do it’s job in two.

The marketing was nothing special but I branded this album well I think. The album art conveyed the sense of loneliness I wanted to get across and that branding has been consistent on all my social media and this website. I do know I have to do better at marketing however because I basically just blast an email out to my handful of Bandcamp followers, send out a Tweet into the aether (or abyss depending on how you view Twitter), and just let it ride. I did fail to update my Spotify branding and Apple rejected the images I wanted to display for my artist profile so that didn’t go so well.

What went wrong

First off, I didn’t market the thing. This album was supposed to be my major release for this year but little did I know that I would end up recording some music in the spring that would be even better and I’m currently working on something I hope will be even better than Kokoro.

Although my branding was good and consistent I failed to update or pay attention to Spotify and Apple Music profiles which likely hurt me when it came time for songs to get on playlists or be recommended.

The biggest mistake I made was during the mixing process. I really wanted this album out in July but I just didn’t have the time or energy to finish on time. When I finally did get to mix I did it over the course of a week and I rushed it. I didn’t give my ears time to reset and I didn’t pay enough attention to how the songs sounded on different audio systems which really hurts the experience if you listen in mono or on your laptop or phone speakers.

The mixes themselves are hit or miss. There are two songs in particular where I did not tame the high end of some lead guitar and it is brutal and ear piercing. Those moments in the songs don’t last very long but they do last long enough to make you want to turn off the album or skip tracks. The mixes are also muddier than my more recent work. Overall the quality of the mixing and mastering is a step above my first two albums as The Darph but fall quite short when measured up to my last 3 releases from last year.

Conclusion and takeaways

I have three albums I could release today if I wanted to but I am going to hold off until they are properly mixed and mastered. As much as I’d like to continue to pump out multiple releases every year between late summer and fall, the music itself has to come first. That means taking the time to properly mix and master everything, get my branding in place, and properly market my music. Making money off streams and sales is actually something I don’t care about at all but I want to do these things because I want any listener who hears my music to enjoy it even if I’m giving the music away for free.

So although I will try to release the two albums I promised were coming in the next couple months, I will not guarantee it because I need to make sure they’re polished with the time and attention they deserve so you as a listener can actually hear what I heard while I was writing and recording these songs, get the same enjoyment from them, and hopefully be moved by them.