When a netlabel asks you for an album, do you just throw together half-an-hour's worth of old tracks, their relationship to one another be damned? Having been a fan of some very conceptual artists who seemed to delight in crafting not only a body of music but a story and perhaps a whole world for it to fit into, I find that hard.
If I'm in an album-crafting mood, I find a theme before approaching an instrument. The theme can be shallow (a group of songs written with the lives of cats in mind) or deep (a story about the change in the tide of popular opinion, with each song in turn describing in abstract an event along the way) as long as I remember to keep it in mind while I'm jamming for ideas. Admittedly, it's easier to retrofit ideas onto a group of songs and claim it was part of the plan, all along... but with a theme in mind I find the resulting songs mesh better. (Still, others disagree - a lot of the feedback I received concerning "Fell Plot" were reservations about its consistency.)
Another thing that can help an album take form is a sheet or two of ideas about how the music will proceed. Here's an example of something under construction right now:
mythical serpents are varied and fascinating subjects and i'm sick of emperor dragons
01. Drai Goch 10:00 (nonsequitur suite - noisy at first, end with a big lame synthesized roar)
02. Ttzl-wurm 2:00 (playful prog - clean, earnestly folky but with goofy false finishes)
03. Kiao Lung 5:30 (weird "funk" - rhythmic and catchy at first, threatens psychy noise)
04. Naga Bite 3:30 (psychedelic big band crap - go from quick bluesiness to songish held mm7s)
05. Loch Ness 1:00 (shanty - a spiky verse, chorus, verse thing with noise hiding behind)
06. Moin&Goin 2:30 (intro - mmc5 channels for reinforcement or echo)
07. Nidd-hogg 2:30 (hideous minor -> dim -> mm7 action, use FDS because it's annoying)
08. Life Tree 11:00 (ZAN PROG ROCK 2009 - introduce custom noise. VRC6 wastage like fell plot )
09. Hail Apep 6:00 (cave dirge - low BPM funeral grunge with a main melody over a minute long)
mock majesty and inevitability in music
crescendo gracefully into sections in a different style, metre and key to the last
mimic sweet melodies with deliberately ugly or stupid instruments
be one of the few catchy songs
hop between common sequences and ludicrous ones as a joke
admit that i liked n0de claw more than i made evident
be rhythmic and tense
maybe switch the order of these two and add to the latter a weird effect that somehow conveys poisoning -.o.-
creep up a lot of old genres
get woozy and psychedelic in the quiet sections
simple songform piece with a cute fluty melody over typical leap-of-logic chord changes 2011
could simply be a sped up version of hail apep on breezier instruments
very quiet DPCM for mystery
get heavy - MMC5, DPCM bass stabs and combined kicks, plucked sounding arpeggios instead of 0xy
bookend some fast fun stuff with that doomy sequence you found!!
should sound like final boss music, except with the triumphant section replaced by more pain
try hard to make a half-size epic without ripping off soundchaser
ideas from Drai Goch should reappear here in less mutilated form
eliminate all traces of jazz
alternating chants and simple figures on bass
all six vrc7 channels pointed at the same note and saying blaaargh
Each track having an increasingly large section of hard-to-follow chords and intentional dissonance,
culminating in Nidd-hogg where the whole track is like that
Serpenty percussion options - vibraslap, more noise hisses and crashes than normal
Last track needs chanting...
Each song needs to return to theme no matter how far off course it gets this time!
...and contrive to end the album with a held A-0
A plan like this helps me to think about the current composition's effect on the songs it surrounds. Additionally, it reminds me how much progress I've made, and I feel satisfied when a finished song matches what I had imagined here. You might find this overwrought and restrictive, but none of the plans here are exactly set in stone...
Is this too much work? Consider composers writing out every note on manuscript, or an author fleshing out a world to tell a story in. Many musicians get great results from a sudden rush of inspiration, or 30 minutes strumming what works on a guitar, but those songs don't often suit the integrity of what I'd consider an album.