Q & A: Will Liverman On His Debut Album ‘Whither Must I Wander’ & the Challenges of Making An Independent RecordingBy Francisco Salazar
(Credit: S. Richards)
The album has always been a touchstone of any musician. It is an opportunity to preserve an artistic development and legacy in a manner that enables listeners of the past and present to connect with the artist in an intimate way.
In the past, major recording companies dominated the industry, proving to be the gatekeepers of which artists got an opportunity to preserve that legacy of interpretation. However with the development of new technology, artists and new independent labels have managed to find new means of getting important voices heard in unique settings. Moreover, having this new level of opportunity has also enabled artists and indie labels alike to have greater creative control.
This past month Will Liverman, one of the fast rising bass-baritones in the opera world, released his first album “Whither must I wander.” Liverman, who recently made history at the Metropolitan Opera as the first Black Papageno (in addition to appearing in the historic “Akhnaten”), spoke to OperaWire about the process of making his first album and finding the right label and home for his first CD.
OperaWire: What was the process of making your first album?
Will Liverman: It all started when we wanted to record the “Songs of Travel” because those songs got me interested in art song as an undergraduate student. I listened to Bryn Terfel’s interpretation and I fell in love with them. And I just wanted to record them. So we ended up recording them at Skillman Music in Brooklyn and then we thought we could make an album length of it and make a theme of travel and adventure and wonder around the Ralph Vaughn Williams. And then we found some more songs and made a whole program that we love and had that theme. We then shopped it around to different labels and Odradek Records picked it up and went into production for a year.
What was interesting is that we recorded the album at different points. The first recording was in 2017 and then in 2018 we added the rest of the songs. So it has been an interesting experience and we learned a lot.
OW: Why do you believe this music was so important to record?
WL: I think was important for us because Jonathan King and I had something special to share. When we gave recitals, people would always rave about our collaboration and they loved the music that we presented. We knew that we had something offer and we wanted to put something out there no matter what the result was. We wanted to have something of our own with music that we loved and had something to say. At the core of it all, we just love to perform and we never expected anything from it.
OW: What were the challenges of making an independent album? It’s unusual to hear how the album was recorded in different parts and was shopped around. How did Odradek work with you?
WL: We weren’t going to go with a label because we wanted to get something out there so we put it up on iTunes for a minute and then took it down. And then we sent out that part of the recording to a handful of places. It was a demo and Odradek was the one that replied and had positive feedback and was interested in working with us.
With Odradek you send your stuff and the people on the roster decide who gets approved so they have a voting committee and someone will do a cold call where they send in their album and then different people on the roster listen to it. We were the first or second album where we had all positive responses. So it was a strong reaction and we sent them the songs and they tweaked it a little. They did the photos and production booklet. But the recording was all done in New York.
But ultimately the biggest challenge was that we didn’t have a lot on our resume at the time and it was really hard drawing the interest of others and doing all the PR ourselves. Everyone has their own path and there are some people that can put out records with the top labels on the first go. But for us, we had to do the majority of the work on our own. We had to pay our recordings and then send them out and then had to wait to get a response. And we didn’t get a lot of responses.
If you are committed and believe in your project, it is worth it. I think the industry is changing and if you are an artist and have content out there, it is important to get it out. People will receive things differently and you don’t even know what can come out of it. In many ways you don’t realize it, but that was your audition for someone or a company.
OW: You have worked with Jonathan King for many years. Tell me about your collaboration on this recording and what new things you learned about each other?
WL: Working with Jonathan is incredible because we are also best friends. We met at undergraduate and then we started working together in 2009. He did my junior and senior recital and we made a pact to continue to collaborate.
It is so hard as artists when you are coming up to do song recitals and you can’t really make a career out of it. So we made a pact to do a recital each year no matter what venue and put on a program that we liked so we could continue to perform together. We took few years off however when he went to Michigan and I went to Juilliard. When we finished our grad programs, we reconnected and we started our recitals.
Going on to the recording was such a positive and great experience. In the recording process there were so many details and specifics that we had to go back to and fix them. I think the fact that we worked together for so long and the fact that I know his playing really well and he knows my voice well, really helped in the process and we grew so much.
OW: Having worked in such an intimate space, what did you learn about your voice and what did you learn about singing with the microphone?
WL: It is such a different process. You are so aware of the smallest details of your sound from clearing your throat in a certain phrase or how you prep a certain way and then there is your breath.
The microphone picks up everything and it’s so different from when you’re on the stage and the big note is to get over the orchestra and project. Your sound goes out there to a massive space whereas in the studio, it is so intimate and it is just you and the microphone. You learn a lot because you are aware of how different you think your sound is.
One of the things I learned was that we would record something and then we would immediately listen back. You are getting immediate feedback. It’s your own masterclass in a way and you kind of learn so much of how you produce sound and the technique. It can be draining because we would do a few hours a day and we would have take a few breaks. Unlike instruments your voice is your instrument and you really only have so much voice to give in a day.
That is why planning was so crucial. So for this process, we planned to do all the heavier things first to get them out of the way and then we worked our way through the rest so the voice could be rested.
OW: How long did you have to record individual pieces?
WL: The individual pieces we did in a day and a half and the next year we recorded it in two days. There were three or four hours each day with a lot of breaks.
We would start at 9 a.m. and warm up and start recording at 10:30 a.m. and then we would go until 12:30 and take a break and then come back in the afternoon and work from 2 to 4 p.m.
OW: The recording is coming out at a point in your career where you had great success in “Ahknaten” at the Metropolitan Opera and made history as the first black singer to take on Papageno in “The Magic Flute” with the company. What does it feel like to have this recording come out at this point when your career is on the rise?
WL: I was just talking to Jon about it and about how long we have been working on it. But timing is everything and it literally came out two days after finishing the Papageno and it was perfect after everything we went through.
OW: After releasing this recording, are you guys planning a tour for it?
WL: We want to do an official CD release and we want to present a New York recital and attempt to do a mini-East coast tour. And then we want to figure out what the next project is and what the next album we want to record is.