How to Make an Album Without Going Broke or Insane

I. Clarify your vision
a.) why do you want to make this album? How will this help your career?
b.) how are you going to market it? (Buy How to Make and Sell your Own Record by Diane Sward Rappaport---absolutely required reading) Who's going to play it? Who's going to buy it? Do you care?
c.) a biggie-- What degree of perfection/quality are you going for with this album, ie. what are you willing to settle for in order to save time and money during the recording process. If you can figure this out in advance of going into the studio, you'll save a bundle.
d.) Develop a budget that's in line with your answer to (c), remembering "Murphy's law of recording." The first 90% of a project takes 90% of the time, the final 10% takes the other 90% of the time."
II. Preproduction- before you go to the studio
a.) rehearse and play your songs in front of people as much as you can, and then do it some more. Note any changes that arise spontaneously in performance, work on vocal phrasing and technique, get help with vocal or instrumental weak spots.
b.) record yourself on a cassette or 4 track, and listen with a critical ear. Does the song hang together? Does it speed up or slow down? Practice with a click track or metronome--figure out the best tempo for the song to groove, and stick to it. (Sometimes being in a studio gets the adrenaline going to a point where a song is played too fast; if you've practiced with a set beat beforehand, you can avoid this common problem.)
c.) get feedback from people--what are your best songs? Which tunes are worth spending the most energy on. Which tunes are going to be hard to execute and why. Can they be fixed?
d.) find a producer, or designate someone to play that role, or at least strategize how decisions that shape the project will be made. Having a producer can take a lot of weight off your shoulders, and at some point (typically at many points) you're going to need someone to say "That's good enough, let's go ".
e.) set studio goals that are realistic. Basic tracks typically take 1-2 hours per song after set-up (getting all mics placed and levels established), and overdubs typically take an hour or more per track per song. It's good to keep a positive, high-expectations attitude, but if you go into a session thinking "I'm going to nail five solos in an hour" you're probably setting yourself up for a frustrating day. Setting realistic goals will help you get more done and feel better about it in the bargain.
f.) get your instrument in shape (please!!) fix buzzing frets, change those strings and skins. Don't waste your studio time doing this, or dealing with problems you could fix now.
g.) get the right person for the part-- use friends when they can do the job, hire people if you need to (we know lots of session players we can refer you to) you won't be sorry.
III. In The Studio
a.) breathe, think, and listen-- just because you're doing something very important for yourself doesn't mean you can't enjoy it (unless you're of Scandinavian ancestry of course!) Keep an open mind, try not to be hard on yourself, take breaks as often as you need them, reward yourself in little and big ways.
b.) develop a good repartee with your engineer--at Wellspring, we're proud of the role we've played in midwifing over 300 albums since 1986, and we're happy to offer production assistance before and during your time on the studio - just ask us.
c.) keep distractions to a minimum. Visits by friends can be useful in small doses, too much can break your concentration. We've never seen a case where drugs and/or alcohol actually helped a performance, though sometimes they improved how someone felt about their performance. (at least until they came back the next day!)
Remember that your project isn't just the recording and mixing of the music. As you begin to organize your vision of the album,start to think about what you can afford for each phase of the production, including mastering, duplication, and graphic design. Mastering is the final assembly in CD form of all the songs on the project, where all the songs are brought up to commercial levels, balanced dynamically and tonally,and edited with the right amount of space between each selection. There are programs that let you do this on your own, but we've seen many unhappy results from this. We offer mastering services ( see the "special features" section of the site), and are happy to refer you to places around Boston. We can also refer you to many great illustrators and graphic designers we've enjoyed working with in the past. Finally we've had the experience of over 600 CD projects, so we know a bit about who's out there, what they charge, what's available, etc. Talk to us; we're happy to help.

We hope this helps- good luck!