Savoring the Solo Album: No Money, No Problems

Let’s talk about money. A solo album, while being an artistic endeavor, is beholden to the same economic factors as any other work of art. In my last post, I spoke about how digital downloads and music streaming have led to a more vibrant and equitable solo album marketplace. But sometimes eliminating the cost of manufacturing isn’t enough. Making a solo album involves certain costs. Renting time at a recording studio. Hiring a band or backup singers. Paying the licensing fees for preexisting songs. Album art photography. These costs can be reduced, but not eliminated entirely.

For years, if there wasn’t a label or wealthy donor to front these costs, a solo album couldn’t get made. Think of all the solo albums that could have been made, but never were. It brings a tear to my eye. Scholars call this period of time the Solo Album Dark Ages. But the Dark Ages have given way to the Renaissance, due in large part to that glorious, cash-infusing neologism: Crowdfunding.

Yes, crowdfunding. Sites like Kickstarter have become the patron saint for college a cappella groups, underfunded school classrooms, potato salad makers, and Veronica Mars sequels alike. You have an idea that needs funding, reach out to your friends or fans, and if enough people give to your cause—voila—you now can afford to do that thing! Oftentimes, crowdfunding projects incentivize potential donors with exclusive perks, deals, and merchandise. They get the money for their project; you get to both enjoy that project and receive exclusive goodies. It’s a win-win.

Crowdfunding has also led to a boom in solo albums. While labels might be hesitant to put up the money to fund a solo album for a star whose album will probably only have modest sales, the fans of that artist can step in and help fund an album that would never have existed otherwise. And the great thing about fans is that they care little about projected sales or marketability. As long as they get to hear the album, their money will not have been wasted.

One album that owes its existence to the crowdfunded solo album boon is Tracy Lynn Olivera’s wonderful album, Because. When Tracy first started putting together the concept for her debut solo album, she ran into many of the monetary issues that plague all solo album projects. So she turned to Kickstarter, promising potential donors an album that was a “quirky, eclectic mix of Broadway, jazz, pop, and a little bit country” if they would help fund her. In traditional crowdfunding form, she also offered tiers of exclusive giveaways and goodies in exchange for donations of a certain size. The Kickstarter was a success, and now we can all delight in listening to the silky smooth stylings of one Mrs. Tracy Lynn Olivera.

Because by Tracy Lynn Olivera.

Because by Tracy Lynn Olivera.

Because is the perfect fall album. While re-listening to this album in earnest over the past two weeks, I’ve been pleased at how well the songs sync with the essence of the season: the cooling weather, the layers of clothes, the beginnings of holiday cheer, change in its many incarnations. All of the songs on Because are leisurely-paced and performed with a beautiful simplicity. They don’t boil; they simmer. Olivera’s voice asks you to slow down, to enjoy, to savor. I had trouble writing this post while the album was playing on my computer because I found myself getting swept away by the music in the middle of each new sentence.

Highlights from the album include new takes on the pop standards “When I Grow Too Old to Dream” and “I’m Glad There Is You.” But fans of contemporary musical theatre, check out “One Little Word,” written by the talented Adam Gwon. A song about that big L-word without ever once speaking the word aloud, “One Little Word” captures both the trepidation and optimism that surrounds telling someone “Hey, I’m in love with you.” Unlike many other musical theatre songs about confessing one’s love for another, “One Little Word” is not a belting-into-the-stratosphere affair, and the song’s quiet simplicity is richly filled in by Olivera’s emotive vocals. This is a song where the sentiment, not the singer’s vocal prowess, is on display. In that sense, it is an unusual choice for a solo album song, but it happens to fit nicely with album’s overall arch. Because is that rare solo album where the emotional palate of the songs selected were given just as much consideration as their ability to show off Olivera’s impressive vocal range.

And, so far as I can tell, this is the only time “One Little Word” has been professionally recorded, making it yet another example of a musical theatre song that you can only hear on a solo album. Thank the solo album gods!

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