Question for these of you who have recorded an album

Question for these of you who have recorded an album

I’ve always been curious about this and appreciate that the answer is subjective.
But how did you decide on the track order for your albums, like which song or tune set would come first and which last? And did you record in the order you thought you wanted to use, or did you record them out of order?
Edited to add: I appreciate that the tracks have to be ordered somehow, but I’m curious if there was a rhyme or reason to ordering them how they were.

Re: Question for these of you who have recorded an album

Good question, I’ve recently been trying to put some of the tunes I know into sets but it’s not easy.
There must be some underlying ‘rules’ for modes and keys changes, like moving to the fourth for each tune?
And I wondered about just having the end note of a tune the same as the beginning note of the next tune. Ok with I to V tunes, but G major to G minor transitions, I don’t know, it sounds a bit classical to me.
I guess one way is to look for patterns among the most popular sets, but what about links in meaning of the titles?

Re: Question for these of you who have recorded an album

I haven’t recorded an album, but I have listened to quite a few and noticed a few patterns:

- first tune is usually up tempo
- between tracks, there’s a tempo change (reel - jig - polka etc)
- if there are vocalists in the band but it’s not their main game, usually a song is put in after 3 tunesets or so
- around the middle of the recording I expect a slow air, especially if there’s pipes in the band
- the last tune is usually also a fitting encore, uptempo and all-out

Ymmv

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Re: Question for these of you who have recorded an album

Unless there is an underlying narrative, the track order usually comes later after the recording is done.

In the studio, to get your bearings, I would normally start with something fairly straightforward, leaving the more complicated stuff until I (and whoever else) was more comfortable in the environment.

It’s also quite possible that some of the recordings won’t make the final cut. Some bands will record more than they need and then select what they think will make a good album.

In the end it’s a bit like a set list. You mix the keys, modes, rhythms and tempos for variety, but you don’t have to finish with a showstopper.

Re: Question for these of you who have recorded an album

Thanks for the replies. This is really interesting, I didn’t know that track order often comes later.
@Boyen, And the pattern you’ve noticed of tune sets in the beginning and end and songs and a slow air in the middle also makes sense, I’ve seen that in groups like Cherish the Ladies and the Tannahill Weavers.

Re: Question for these of you who have recorded an album

I think that a lot of the ideas behind track order on albums still come from the days of vinyl - you can listen to classic albums like Dark Side of the Moon or Abbey Road to get a feel for the real craft that they put into ordering the tracks.

There’s a kind of loose template for records that goes like this : track 1 slow burn intro, building tension. Track 2 hit single. Last track on side A - a bit of a down tempo number, preparing for the record flip. Track 1 side B - another potential hit single. Last track of the album - often something down tempo and poignant.

I feel that a lot of trad albums also somewhat follow this general idea, even though many won’t be released on vinyl, it’s just a way of crafting an album that has so far stood the test of time. I often see that general idea of track order in albums by Martin Hayes, Liz Carroll, and many others. I think those two players especially are good examples if you want to look at how they ordered the tracks.

Re: Question for these of you who have recorded an album

Thanks for that info, Julian. I didn’t know that, that’s really interesting. Did the tracks on vinyl have to be recorded in order or was there the flexibility there is now with CD’s?

Re: Question for these of you who have recorded an album

Back in the day, tracks on vinyl records were recorded on to tape before being transferred to vinyl, so they could be recorded in any order.

You have to go back an awful long way to find things recorded direct to vinyl (and, back then, it wouldn’t have been vinyl).

Re: Question for these of you who have recorded an album

A lot of thought often goes into sequencing both a good live set or a good album. How to draw the listener into the first track, where to put slower and faster tempos, solo and ensemble pieces, different keys/pitch etc. These days lots of people will listen on shuffle play but it’s nice to hear a whole album the way it was edited.

Re: Question for these of you who have recorded an album

One thing to bear in mind, put what you consider to be your best track on first. Radio presenters are lazy bastards who may only listen to the first track on any recording, I suppose possibly the same might apply for anyone checking out a track list on iTunes or Bandcamp.
Mostly it’s common sense. Aim for variety in the order of tune sets and songs. If it’s an instrumental album, vary the tunes sets, according to how they are arranged, and perhaps tune type and tempo.

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Re: Question for these of you who have recorded an album

Recording sequence may also depend on which combinations of instruments are used, to avoid changing mic setups too often. Where each instrument is recorded separately the sequence may be different for each musician.

There are several steps to recording. After recording the individual pieces on multitrack (tape or digital) they then have to be mixed down to stereo, and then the whole thing is mastered, which (to simplify greatly) means applying eq across the whole thing to make the sound consistent throughout the entire album.

The decision on track order, and indeed choice of tracks, usually comes just before final mastering although you may have some idea from the outset. It can involve a lot of listening and discussion before settling on the final order.

The final order will usually come in with a bang, to get and keep the listener’s attention, and similarly have something memorable to finish with. In between it’s about finding a balance between mood, instrumentation, rhythm etc. With vinyl you had to do this twice, for each side of the LP. A lot of thought goes into it, which is why musicians usually hate the streaming of single tracks, and music players which randomly shuffle the tracks.

Re: Question for these of you who have recorded an album

In a previous life, we sometimes got demos or even recordings ready to be pressed. (This wasn’t ITM, by the way.) One recording I remember was perfectly put together as regards tension, slower material, “hit” (all things being relative) and so on. When we met the band, one of them said that he just put everything in alphabetical order (!) on the demo. Eventually it was released by some other company, “in the order the band intended”. Everything I liked about the album was lost.

Re: Question for these of you who have recorded an album

A comment n the last two comments …

In the band I play in, we’ve often found alphabetical order (for recordings or live set lists) is as good as anything we could devise. At least it offers a useful starting point: set things out alphabetically and then see if there are reasons why it doesn’t work, or whether it sparks ideas about a possible better arrangement .

And as to track-shuffling, it has its place. When the contents of a favourite CD have become very familiar, it’s possible to find yourself drifting off and not listening very closely. Switching on the ‘random’ button means that the next track is not the one you have come to expect, and prompts you to hear it with fresh ears.

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Re: Question for these of you who have recorded an album

When we record with the intention of pressing vinyl, we have several extra parameters to consider.

Inner tracks running closer to the label will not have the same quality as tracks that run closer to the lead-in groove. So, in addition to all other sequencing considerations already stated in this thread, we must put the tracks that require a higher fidelity toward the outer edges, not the center. The effect is more noticeable with better recording quality, of course, and also more pronounced with higher quality mastering as well as with larger formats, e.g. 12“ 33 1/3 vs 7“ 45 RPM.

You can record in whichever order you prefer. We like to record live off the floor, but that’s up to you and your band. Good luck!

Re: Question for these of you who have recorded an album

We always chose one of the best tracks to have first on the album, as this would more than not get picked to play on radio which is your best publicity. We always recorded in any order and mixed the tracks to suit, fast, slow, medium speeds.

Re: Question for these of you who have recorded an album

With both my albums, the track order came after the recording. I try to put the strongest track first. And then it’s a matter of arranging for good variety. So I try to switch tune types for each subsequent set. I have also found that I often don’t like the flow when a new sets starts in the same key as the previous set ended, but that’s not a hard rule.

So, for instance, my first album was:

Single Reels (D, Am, G)
Slip Jigs (G, D, D)
Slow Reels (Em, Am, Em)
Jigs (D, G, D)
Reels (G, D, A)
Waltzes (D, C)
Single Reel/Reels (Dmix, G, D)
Jigs (A, D, Gmix)
Reels (D, Em, G)
Jigs (D, A)
Hornpipe (D)
Single Reels (D, G, A)

Not only was I taking into account tune types and keys, I was also paying attention to instrumentation, tempos, and even who else was playing (since I have had a variety of guests on both albums), and tried to keep it mixed up. And then once I have finished the initial order, I will passively listen to it several times to see if anything bugs me.

Then, once the albums have been released (when I am pretty tired of everything on them) the order and flow of the tracks becomes a unique characteristic of the album, and it becomes hard to imagine things in a different order. (Although, in this day and age, when the vast majority of people listen to single tracks in a streaming playlist, instead of listening to whole albums, I am not sure if it’s really worth all the trouble…)

Re: Question for these of you who have recorded an album

Thanks everyone, this is all really interesting. I’m not planning to record an album any-time soon but I just wondered about the rhyme and reason was behind tracks being in the order they were, and I’ve enjoyed learning from this thread.
I must confess that I am a serial “shuffler” and hardly ever listen to tracks in order, often having playlists from various groups. This may be more common among my peer group. But, the comments on here about the feel of a whole album are very insightful, so I think I will do that.

Re: Question for these of you who have recorded an album

I seem to remember someone talking about Pink Floyds’s album Dark side of the Moon and the track, ‘Money’. This was The Old Grey Whistle Test on transistor radio about fifty years ago.
They said that they really didn’t know what to do with it. They knew it was good but one of the bandmates was adamant:
‘I don’t want that muck on the A side!’

Re: Question for these of you who have recorded an album

“And did you record in the order you thought you wanted to use, or did you record them out of order?”

They may often be unrelated. I’d guess that lots of artists record when a song or batch of songs is ready to be recorded. If recording at home or at your own facility, you have total liberty with that. If you are going to buy the services of a studio, you’ll need to be very efficient with your time, so will strategize about what to record, perhaps in what order, depending on a lot of things like availability of instruments, available musicians, ease or recording each piece, complexity of further studio engineering likely required, likely remaining amount of time for practicing or finalizing the creative effort of any songs, etc.

The recording process can be and really should be, once you start into it, a very supportive part of the creative process. It’s a stage performance of ideas in a sandbox, the last exploration of what can happen before things get a little more locked down into final form. Getting things out of your head, off the sheet music paper, into real life and giving things time to be contemplated with a little detachment and second and third and fourth impressions, so that final choices really are very good work. The idea of working with “demo”-quality recordings can’t be over-estimated for the creative power that process has. Cheap, low-quality recording, can be done very fast. It’s about the musical ideas, hearing it in action, thinking about lots of things, considering what can be, and knowing you can make another demo in minutes that way, trying things out as they occur to you. If you’re creating a tune or song or project, the final recording should be preceded by at least 10 demo versions, so you’ve really explored the music and put that athlete through a gym workout worth the listener’s time later.

Re: Question for these of you who have recorded an album

My producer gave me a piece of advice I’ll put here: don’t put your title track, if there is one, first. That way anybody listening will at least give the first track and the title track a listen. If you put your title track first they might only listen to that one.

Re: Question for these of you who have recorded an album

As Gravelwalks was saying, with vinyl there is a difference in quality in the outer grooves. Also you are limited by what will fit on each side of the record so it might come down to which of your tracks combined split into roughly 50% of the total time. In other formats it doesn’t matter and with streaming people tend not to listen to things in order or even listen to whole albums any more.
Assuming it is going to be experienced as an album in your chosen order… I would say a general rule of thumb for albums is that you need a fairly upbeat track to start the album otherwise people might not give it a chance. This seems to be a decision made on many of the albums I own.
Equally my preference would be not to have something too ‘heavy’ in content or style as the opener. You wouldn’t start a conversation with a stranger by discussing the meaning of life so probably shouldn’t start an album with it.

Re: Question for these of you who have recorded an album

Reverend’s example was excellent, and goes to the point I was going to make, that it’s not just about tempo but also about idiom.

If you look at a pile of classic ITM albums you’ll see that they generally mix the idioms rather than having a number of, say, jig sets in sequence.

The exception being things such as Matt Molloy would do, a set of reels played at a very slow tempo on Alto Flute sandwiched between blazing-fast sets of reels on D flute or Eb flute.

Yes I know at a session there might be same-tempo sets of reels one after another for an hour, but albums usually aren’t like that.

Offtopic from your original question, but a peeve of mine is the first-timer amateurish thing of “I’ll collaborate with all my music friends” so one track has you playing with your ITM friends and one track your jazz friends and one track your rock friends etc. Some very good ITM musicians have done this successfully, but they’ve been mature experienced musicians (like Jerry O Sullivan) and not first-timers dabbling in various genres.

Related to this is the first-timer amateurish thing of “I’ll show off how many different instruments I can play”.

Both of these things lead to albums that have a lack of sense of purpose and of musical and stylistic maturity.