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> My Song Creation Workflow - 25 Years, Composing a song within my DAW
SirJamsalot
post Sep 2 2011, 01:38 AM
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What a topic - so you're at home, a "one man show" trying to write and record a song - everything from lyrics, vocals, bass, drums to guitar. Talk about a time-consuming process. I recently wrote and recorded a song titled "25 years" and because it was such a learning experience for me, I want to share a little of my experience writing and recording the song with you.

The song is titled 25 Years, and you can listen to it here.
Please be forewarned that I do drop the F-bomb at 42 seconds in, so if that's a problem, then skip that part or complain and I'll take re-record the song and replace it with Frog or something smile.gif

http://kompoz.com/t/142780

My hours are restricted to a 3-4 hour time block at home - that's the time between everyone in my family going to bed and when I run out of steam, usually close to 2:00 A.M. Recording and writing/composing really are two different animals. Recording is more of a monotonous discipline than writing which is more of a fun and creative experience. At least to me.

My personal creativity is at its height from morning when i wake up until about noon, after that it's all down hill. So song-writing and recording pretty much have to take place at two different times of day for me. Unfortunately, I have a day job, so song writing can be rather tricky - to date, I've had to come up with song ideas and lyrics while at work or on the road. So I keep a handy recorder and note pad nearby at all times.

25 years (poorly mixed - I'll get around to mixing it soon) began when I was at work and thinking what it must be like to spend your youth locked up, then be ejected into society after you reach your mid-life crisis. A mid-life crisis is bad enough on its own when you've had your youth to at least experiment and excel in hobbies or a career. If you've starting life at 40, you've reached a point where you begin to reflect on what you've been doing all those years and wondering if you'll ever amount to something or excel at some talent. In the case of someone who's spent those years growing in cell, there's not much to reflect on, and I could only imagine the future would look gloomy. So I wanted to write on that topic, but I wanted to leave on an up-note - at least there's a future you can look forward to.

The lyrical idea started when I hummed a simple "25 years ago, I was just out of school trying to make my way" and the tune and lyric just stuck in my head. I thought to myself, how do I build on that theme? During lunch breaks, I would take my handy notepad and start fleshing out a story line to support that idea. I think it took me about a week's worth of lunch breaks and other carved out moments to get the bulk of the story written in a poetic fashion. Your standard poem has every other line rhyme to some extent. The main challenge for me was setting the story line so it made sense - I asked myself constantly, how did "I" get into jail in the first place, What happened while I was there? And what will happen when I get out of jail? I really wanted to invest the reader in the person's experience, but I didn't want to hange the song on the experience so much as give them a story to follow. I also tend to tie the ending back into the beginning of a story when I write - in so I had the character in the story begin with wanting to go to L.A. to play his guitar in a band, and then end with him on the road to fill that dream. I think I did a decent job of conveying that lyrically.

I found that as I wrote the lyrics, I needed to keep in mind the melody so that the lines and rhymes weren't forced into odd timings. This required that after I wrote a line, I had to go back and sing it. It was a juggling act of writing and singing, one line of the story at a time. All of this done into a recorder and onto a notepad so I could capture the melody and the lyrics.

This was a little challenging - when I sung the melody, I wasn't thinking of a chord progression to back it. I wasn't really even aware that I didn't have a chord progression when I sung it to myself. The mind can back-fill things without you really being cognizant of it I think - I also had to have some sort of a bridge - a change in direction from going down in mood to getting out and moving on.

I'll tell you now, that if you start a song the way I did, with only a melody, your world changes as soon as you start to add a chord progression under it. The way you sing it, may not be the way you feel comfortable playing it. Starting with a chord progression is a little more intuitive I think, because you're setting the tune to an already established progression, and not the other way around. But that's the way I found myself writing this song.

Since I had the melody, I had the rhythm to which the melody was sung, but creating a guitar chord progression to back it was quite the experience. I found that although I could create the chords to set mood to the melody, the way I had to strum it to match the rhythm was awkward. I wound up having to strum the chord progression and slightly adjust the way I sang it to make it more comfortable. I also had to keep in mind my vocal range when putting together the chord progression, which required that I do a little transposing down for my low voice.

Now I had to lay down a scratch track. Well, I don't have a drum kit. I use all MIDI instruments, in this case "EZ Drummer". I know from previous experience that you need a click track of some sort to meter your singing with so that when you do add drums, you're not having to fudge the rhythm section every 4 bars to keep everything lined up. Singing a tune to a click track forces you into a tighter box than free-form strumming, so I had to adjust my tune and yet again, how the chord progression was strummed to fit into that box. I settled on a 130 BPM click track used a simple drum loop for 6 minutes worth of track to leave room. I then recorded a single guitar rhythm track to the click track up to the bridge. Then I hashed out how the bridge would be played, and recorded the bridge section in a second take and another guitar track. Then I played the ending rhythm section to the end of the song.

It was rough, but made a decent scratch backing track for the vocals. Then I recorded the vocals and I had my scratch track down so that I could listen to it and determine what changes I needed to make. While listening to the track, I asked my self questions like "should I go longer? is the transition to the bridge to clunky? Should I change the chord progression a little, like use an Em for this one part of the song, but not the rest of it? Did the lyrics fit well in the overall pace of the song? Is it lagging a little in this section? Lots of questions I had to make decisions on.

After much thought, I made some changes, and re-recorded the rhythm, this time all the way the through from start to finish in one take. Then I recorded it one more time on a second track so I could pan them left and right to give them a full sound (double tracked).

At that point, I began "programming" the drums. I muted the click track which was a single pattern recorded the full 6 minute lenght, and started dropping some basic patterns onto my time line from EZ Drummer - trying them out, and settling on a basic pattern for 1/2 the verse, and a slight variation for the second 1/2 of the verse (4 bars, 4 bars). Because I had lined everything up with the initial click track, lining up the new drums was pretty straight forward. I didn't have to do any nudging - everything had its place. I added buildup drum fills and cymbal crashes to correspond with verse to chorus changes, and entry into the bridge This really helped add to the mood a lot - giving life to the track. It also served as good leading indicators for changes like when the chorus was about to start for when I had to sing in a microphone without a guitar in hand. I'll tell you know, it's a different experience when you put your guitar down and have to rely solely on the track you recorded to indicate when you need to cue into a verse/chorus or bridge change. Watching the wave form in your DAW also helps a lot as a visual indicator for where you are in the song - I found I had to watch the time indicator line go across the wave pattern on my computer screen to properly cue into the bridge section because there's an odd lead in time of silence that doesn't land squarely on an up or down beat - it's more of 3/4 beat you start so you land the emphasis on the down beat. Watching the screen helped queue me in.

Back to the drums - once the drums were set in place, I retracked the guitars again - yeah it was alot of re-tracking. Let me re-emphasise that. IT WAS A LOT OF RE-TRACKING! When I said recording is more of a monotonous discipline, that's why I say that. Hours spent finessing drums and tracking rhythm guitars. But well worth the effort because it really helps the mood of playing. The mood?

In a real band situation, you, the drummer, bass player, keyboardist, vocalist ... you all feed off of each other's energy, reacting and adjusting to what's going on in a live setting - not so in recording! At least not so much. You lose a bit of that freedom in the studio I found.

The way I found to re-introduce a little of that feedback was thru re-tracking. My initial mood for the guitars was set by a click track. Well, once I had the guitars down, I could now use the guitars to get a mood for the drums. It helped me emphasize certain parts of teh guitar playing based on what the drums were doing as opposed to what the click track was doing. Well, I found that now I had a new mood set by the new drums! So now I could re-track the guitars to this new drum mood. It was kind of a delayed not-in-real-time feedback from the other instruments, but I could definitely feel a change in energy in the playing and mood as I re-tracked, building on new elements. I probably could have done this a few more times, but there's a limit you get to when you say enough is enough smile.gif I met my match after about 2 re-tracks between guitars and drums.

Next, I used MIDI to build a bass line to go with the chord progression. That was pretty straight forward, but required a lot of quanitizing to get it lined up with the drums. How long you hold a note in MIDI before you cut to another note was a slight learning curve. If you drop the note too soon, you bass sounds staccatto instead of flowing - sometimes you want that, sometimes you don't. So that was a bit of trial and error.

Once I set down the bass, the bulk of the recording was done. Now for vocals!
This I think was the easiest part of the entire process. Grab a mic, plug in, and sing. I had to have the lyrics printed out and set above the microphone because while I could remember the lyrics for the most part, there's always that one word that escapes me - was it "IS or Was", etc. .

There's not much to report on the vocals - except maybe to say that even with the words in front of your face, there's a tendency to get lost in the lyrics - that happened to me in the recording I posted. I'll be re-recording this song to polish it up, and then mix it. Actually, I contacted Tony Miro to get his prices on mixing and mastering. He referred me to someone else to mix it, but I plan on using him to master this song as a keep sake. In all it's newbness, it is my first song written, composed and recorded entirely by me, which is milestone for me. That doesn't mean I like the song or my voice, but I like the fact that I took it from start to finish.

Last but certainly not least - the solos. I could record the solos before the vocals, but I don't think it matters based on my experience. The solos are their own kind of vocal melody energy - they don't really need to feed off the vocals, and the vocals I don't think need to feed off the solo, so I chose to record them last. I still have 2 solos to finish off this song - right after the bridge and an outtro solo.

For my song, I used Cubase 5SX as my recording environment. An MXL990 condensor Microphone. My Ibanez plugged into a BOSS ME70 foot pedal and fed directly into my computer using a Firestudio Mobile AI. For drums, I used the Toon Track EZ Drummer VST, and for Bass, I used my MIDI 20 key Keyboard employing a standard Accoustic Bass plugin. That's about it.


Hope you find the description of my experience helpful and inspirational to go try it yourself.

Christian



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Saoirse O'Shea
post Sep 2 2011, 05:07 AM
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Great post Christian smile.gif .

Recording and tracking can take time - often much more than people think - but it's worth the effort since if you don't get it right at this stage it becomes increasingly difficult to correct issues later.



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SirJamsalot
post Sep 2 2011, 06:55 AM
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Per using the visual wave in my project as a leading indicator for vocals, here is a snapshot of my project so you can see how my project was laid out. It's pretty simple - only a few tracks, but discernible sections based on the wave shapes. Also, I color-coded the MIDI drums so I can tell what is what - dark blue is first part of verse, light blue is second part of same verse, pink is chorus, red is solo areas and bridge is pink. I also have a guide track at the top of the project though after making changes from the scratch track, I knew the song well enough to not need them any longer on such a simple project so I didn't update them after thefirst solo. Still useful in the beginning stages of the project though, prior to inserting actual drum parts.



QUOTE (tonymiro @ Sep 1 2011, 09:07 PM) *
Great post Christian smile.gif .

Recording and tracking can take time - often much more than people think - but it's worth the effort since if you don't get it right at this stage it becomes increasingly difficult to correct issues later.


Thanks Tony. The more I record, the easier and faster it gets, and the more respect I have for professionals like yourself!

This post has been edited by SirJamsalot: Sep 2 2011, 07:12 AM


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Daniel Realpe
post Sep 13 2011, 03:14 PM
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Nice post, great detail goes into making a recording, I don't think it's job for people without passion.


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Sensible Jones
post Sep 14 2011, 11:39 AM
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Interesting post Christian!
smile.gif


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