A Brief Explanation
Over the past several months Ive been working hard developing decent (at least I think) “blueprint” songs. The thought is to hopefully soon have a guitarist and a drummer join me on my new project. But this time I decided to make a lot of music by myself so that once the band is formed we can do some quick rehearsals and then start playing live ASAP.
My style of song writing is definitely from the metal/punk camp. I write simple aggressive songs that have a lot of energy.
One of the many things Ive become better at over the recent months in recording the songs I’ve written. There’s a lot of literature out there covering this particular subject but I felt that maybe someone might find it helpful to see how someone that still new to recording does it and why.
A Simple Approach To A Complex Art Form
As some of you may already know recording music in your home without any formal instruction is extremely daunting for most people. Ive been hitting it hard for the last 8 months and still on only scratching the surface. Every day is a new challenge and yes I’ve thrown my hands up and quit more than a few times (a week). I always come back because I love the challenge is presents to me and I REALLY LIKE MAKEING MUSIC. On the other side of that is something more internal and basic…the songwriting process. I do plan on writing more about my recording perils and pleasures (get a good computer!!!) but today I had an urge to speak a little about how I go about creating a song. Im sure its completely backwards and incorrect per some “expert” out there but the following has worked for me so far.
I play the bass guitar and as of today write songs without outside help or influence. Which is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I get to be my very own boss and athority to the songs I write. Im in complete control of the structure, the lyrics, progressions, tempo, all of it. As far as the curse…Im in charge of everything and I do miss the collaboration of other musicians. I am looking for a drummer if anyone’s interested. BY doing the lions share by myself Ive found a little workflow that has been effective for me. The routine picked me…I certainly didn’t pick it. I hope that is will possibly inspire someone or at the very least help someone along with their own creative process.
THE FIRST STAGE – Capture ANYTHING you run into and like
I hate the feeling of not remembering a killer riff or bass line 5 minutes after I stopped playing. Don’t you? So I suggest doing whatever you can to remember this moment of inspiration. One of my basses is either on me or somewhere within an arms reach. So all of my riffs and basic song ideas originate from noodling sessions. If I run into something I like I’ll do one or more of the following:
- Record a video of me playing it
- Recording it by using any of these methods: my iPad, DAW (Studio One) on my computer, or simply using a voice memo app that has come in handy
Ive been trying more to be plugging into my DAW interface when I’m just practicing so that if inspiration does hit Im already there.
Im super forgetful so I rely on recording in any format to be able to go back and review or whoosh the bass line or riff will be gone forever. I typically will just quickly shoot a little video of me playing the new idea. If after going back and checking it out I still think its cool I’ll record it.
The same is true for lyrical ideas. If Im driving down the road and a good hook suddenly hits me I record a voice a voice memo. If I can write it down I write it onto my iPad so I know where its at. I lose scraps of paper faster that sprinter with diarrhea looking for a toilet. If I do end up needing to use a actual pen I’ll try to remember to take a pic of it and store it onto my iPad somewhere.
THE 2nd STAGE – Review and cataloging
Now I dont get as crazy as some I’m sure but I do like things organized so I can find them easily. I have right now 356 videos on my iPhone and 2156 photos. Most are music related. So its important for me to every couple of weeks to sit down and go over the new video recordings and decide if any are good enough to move on with. If not I move them to a file of discarded lost videos on my Dropbox. I do essentially the same with the audio recordings as well. I then take the goodies to there own files on my hard drive. I keep all files, pics, videos, WAV, MP3, etc with the specific song that they belong to. Its the best way for me to keep track.
THE 3rd STAGE – Picking which ones I want to work hard on
As you can imagine you end up with a lot of stuff. Its would be impossible to try to convert every killer idea into a song. So I take the best of the best and move forward with my aces.
I often combine them to create a verse and a chorus or whatever. But the idea is to grab the bits that you really like and make something out of them. What’s the point if these gems of yours aren’t explored and refined? So once I decide its time to create a new project I review by files and find one or more that I think will work ether and start the real work.
THE 4TH STAGE – Building the song up
Im not going to go into any detail about song structure or chord progressions here but this is where all that stuff happens. As mentioned I try as hard as I can to be organized and have a uniformed approach just to make sure nothing is missed. Ive created several forms that help me along the way. My song building stage looks something like this:
- Song structure
- Bass line and riff patterns
- Chord progressions
- I write a score for the entire song note for note for both the guitars and bass. I use Notion by Presonus to write the music. Its made my life so much easier and way better! The guitar MIDI is essential as I dont play the guitar nearly as good as I can write the music for it. Using Notion I write the entire score.
- I’ll then try to bring both lyrics and music together. If I have the music settled for the most part but dont have a solid idea about the lyrics I dont sweat it and move on the 5th stage.
It does take me a longer period of time to feel good about a set of lyrics so I’ll almost always move on without the lyrics fully developed.
The 5th Stage – Tracking
So now I get to work recording a quick but accurate demo to use as a guide. Since its just me currently I use a stable of relatively inexpensive virtual instruments and other plugins to get the job done. I move the guitar and bass MIDI over to Studio One. I start setting up the drums the way I like them useing an awesome plugin called EZDrummer. Then the I record bass line…etc.
All of this started out as a very time consuming process and still take me a while to get through. Its important to be methodical and patient while your all the time trying to refine a work flow that works best. It seemed like every damn day I would have to redo something or even start from scratch rebuilding the whole song.
SAVE AFTER EVERY BIG CHANGE USEING SEPARATE FILE NAMES!!!!
This one simple step will save you hours of pain. Not only when you screw up but also when your crashes (it will happen).
Once I feel like the demo is decent I’ll usually create a mix down mp3 of the song and post it up onto soundcloud.
From there depending on how I feel about the song Ill either continue to refine it or just move onto the next little project thats out there.
Questions? Please ask!
You like? Please let me know