Last time I talked about fleshing out a raw idea of a song from a quick snippet and working on turning it into something that has more of a structure. I like to think of whatever comes out of that as my blueprint, even if it’s more of a skeleton, because once I’ve got that I can really start to play around with instrumentation and arrangement.
This next part is actually my favourite part. The hardest aspect of songwriting (for me anyway) is over, and now it’s playtime as far as I’m concerned!
I’m not so great at written music notation, but I do really enjoy live improvisations or programming my way through songs. Therefore, I like to start by recording whatever pieces I managed to flesh out in my structure building phase into a multi-track audio recording software.
For example, let’s build off my last post and say that I’ve written out lyrics and a melody which I’m happy with. I’ll open up Logic (which is my current software of choice), figure out a tempo that feels right, then just lay down a rough vocal track. If there are harmonies that are important to the arrangement, I’ll lay those down too so that I don’t inadvertently step on the melody when I start working on the other instruments.
Once I’ve recorded my foundation track, I’ll pick the next main instrument that I know is important to the story of the song. For my music, many times that’s the drums and bass, but sometimes it’s the guitar as that’s the instrument that I probably play the best after singing. There’s no hard and fast rule though; sometimes I don’t even have a melody or lyrics – maybe I only have a piano riff!
Regardless, I try to get a full pass of one instrument down before moving onto the next. I don’t stress out too much if I can’t get it perfect or get stuck on a part, because it’s important to remember that this is _still_ roughing things out. Writing is hard, and I’m not the most amazing instrumentalist in the world here, I’m just doing the best I can and trying as many things that might work before making a final decision.
Instrument by instrument, I’ll lay down rough takes, and add textures and new sounds as I go. If the song calls for samples I’ll do some searching in my collection or even the internet and try to find the ones that feel right. After a while, the song starts to sound like something cohesive, and that’s when it’s time to start recording proper passes of everything.
Now, I am a DIY musician who doesn’t have a tonne of money to throw at a professional studio for my recording, but I also happen to make intentionally gritty sounding aggressive electronic pop music so it works out for _my_ particular sound to be able to do this (for now). But that doesn’t mean I don’t take steps to make the best recording environment that I can reasonably afford to hack together. For example, we have a large collection of microphones which we’ve bought over the years and I always keep sound absorbing materials handy. We’ve even built vocal chambers out of junk we’ve found on the side of the road. You’d be surprised what you can make for little to nothing, and work with what you’ve got until you can save up for that great piece of gear.
I’ll talk more about my specific recording setup another time, but I will say that whatever your end goal is for your music, make sure you can manage to get the best sound and performance that you can get with whatever you can afford. That might mean enlisting the help of another instrumentalist, a producer, or even a studio/engineer. I play a lot of instruments decently enough but if I know someone who’s really good at something in particular, and I can get that person to play on my track, then I’d rather go that route.
How do you like to build upon your song’s foundations? Do you record a demo onto a multitrack software or do you use oldskool notation? Tell me your favourite writing techniques in the comments!
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