Workflow – Recording

In my last post, I gave my thoughts on the songwriting process and what I think about while I’m arranging. In this post I’m going to talk about recording parts. Also known as tracking.

Recording:

So, as I mentioned before, I work directly in Ableton, everything is DI into my audio interface. Early in the process I’m mainly just trying to get ideas down. Even if I’m not at my DAW I’ll pull out my phone and record whatever ideas I’ve come up with at the time. It’s good to capture the ideas whenever you have them, because there’s no guarantee you’ll remember anything. You’ll lose a badass idea one time before realizing that it’s just easier to get things down asap.

During the arranging process you’ll want to create a scratch track of everything. Just to capture the ideas in their natural form. Once you have that together, you’re ready to start tracking. This is the point where you want to be sure you’ve practiced the parts. Especially if they’re particularly challenging. You want to get the best possible takes. If necessary you can comp them together or punch in and out to fix any errors or blunders. I also make a habit out of listening to the parts in solo to make sure they’re clean before committing them to the final project.

I tend to break this up by instrument. Guitar is my native language, so I typically start there when I’m recording. It’s worth noting, right now I’ve been using programmed drums since I don’t exactly have the environment to set up and mic my acoustic kit. I start with simple parts then will come back and detail them with fills and variation later into the recording process.

An Important Note: Change your strings before tracking! Seriously fresh strings are absolutely necessary for good tone. This is partly why the bass sounds so bad on Permanent Press. I was admittedly pretty lazy when tracking bass throughout.

Once the guitar is tracked, I’ll make some basic timing edits to make sure everything sounds good. If you don’t know how to play to a metronome you should probably start there. It’s essentially mandatory. Otherwise you’ll be spending a lot of time just cleaning up your timing. It’s easier to just get it right to begin with.

Once the rhythm guitar is tracked, I’ll track any overdubs or lead parts. I usually save any solos for last since they tend to take more care and attention to detail than other parts throughout. It’s also important to conserve your energy throughout this process. If you’re feeling drained take a break, do something else for a while and come back. You don’t want music to feel like a chore, it’ll show in your playing. Once guitar is all sorted out, I’ll come back in and record bass parts. You don’t have to follow this order either. Do whatever feels best to you.

Once the instrumental arrangement is done, I come back and record vocals. Make sure you know how many takes you’ll need. It’s pretty common practice to double track vocals, even sometimes triple or quad tracking them, in addition to backing vocals and harmonies. Make sure you or your vocalist is in the right mindset for tracking vocals. You want to have a good energy going into it more than anything else, because the vocal is usually the star of the mix, you want it full of life. So be ready to capture an amazing performance. I’ll usually start with just a full run through of the song and then go back over it as needed.

Make sure everyone is comfortable. At this point you’ll want to be sure you’ve worked out the microphone you’ll be using as well as position. These are all important factors to getting a great vocal sound. I didn’t pay good regard to this when tracking Permanent Press, but I learned a lot about it. There are great guides out there. Factors are proximity between the mic and singer, height in relation to the singer’s mouth, and axis (left or right) of the singer. It recommend using a pop-filter. They’re relatively inexpensive, and really help reducing plosives, though they won’t eliminate them entirely. That also has a lot to do with vocal technique as well as the factors mentioned above.

Workflow – Songwriting

Hello! In this post I’ll be breaking down my current workflow and providing some perspective into my process. I don’t expect it to be a comprehensive guide to music production, there are a lot of great resources out on the internet as it is, but it should provide some insight on songwriting and how to approach home production.

Songwriting:

Every song is a bit different, but the key starting place is familiar throughout. Inspiration. This can be different to everyone since it manifests in so many ways. Sometimes it’s just a matter of capturing an emotion or energy. Other times it begins with a lyric or theme. Then there are the more musical options either beginning with a melody, riff, rhythm or chord structure. It doesn’t so much matter where you begin, they’re all valid options.

It’s important to work with a vision of what you’re trying to achieve with the music. Once you have that in mind, start with what you’ve got and slowly work outward. I tend to build the overall structure pretty early in my process. It’s important to understand the context of each section. Bad arrangement will hurt a song throughout the entire process.

Verses should be “smaller” than your choruses. This can be achieved in a number of ways. Just playing softer, maybe using a different texture, even removing instruments entirely, or just stripping them down. You do this so that the chorus has a pay off when it arrives. It sounds bigger, which gives more weight to the idea you’re trying to convey. You should also try to keep an even pulse alive throughout the song. You don’t want to jar the listener too much. Unless that’s what you’re going for of course. It doesn’t hurt to sit down with a structure guide for reference. It’s often referred to as the addiction formula and for good reason.

Intro (4) Verse 1 (16) Pre-Chorus (4) Chorus (8) Verse 2 (8) Chorus (8) Bridge (8) Chorus (8 (x2))

This is of course just a guide, not a hard rule that must be followed. Ultimately do what you feel is right for your song. It’s also important to differentiate your final chorus a bit as well. Maybe add another instrument, or change the vocal a bit. Just add that extra kick of life into it to really drive the idea home. And of course, repeat it. Songs often end on the chorus so it sticks with the listener. That’s the theory at least.

If you’re interested in learning more about this, there a number of different resources on the internet. I really enjoy Holistic Songwriting on YouTube. It’s ran by a guy named Friedemann Findeisen. He does lots of interesting breakdowns of different artists and things that influence their sound. I also really recommend just listening to music. Both your favorite artists and things outside of your comfort zone. Listen to what they do with their arrangements and mixing.

Ideally you want to have your arrangement together before you start tracking. I personally work straight from my DAW even when I’m just jamming or messing around. So it’s pretty easy for me to go right into recording scratch tracks when I come across something I like. That being said, try to keep some degree of flexibility in mind when you’re further along in the process. Sometimes an arrangement change is just what’s needed to breathe life into a song if you’re not happy with it. But having it all together going into it is definitely more efficient.

I will likely write another article about music theory and its role in writing music. Up next is my recording process.