long after the rush and release of writing a song, comes the
realization that you will need to record it. And while we hate
to write anything in stone, especially things related to the
creative process, there are, nonetheless, several recording
Facts of Life that you should be aware of. A basic roadmap of
that recording process can be outlined as follows:
- Form (the structure of the song's verses and choruses)
- Instrumentation & Rhythmic Feel
- Vocals (lead & background)
- Lyric Editing & Arrangement
setting up your studio, try to have the instruments that you
normally use, permanently patched into your mixerkeyboards,
drum machines, mics, etc. Designate one side of your mixer
for these instruments and leave them plugged in all the time
to reduce set-up time and cable madness. Leave the other side
of your mixer (say tracks 1-4 or 1-8) for your tape return.
While recording, try to get as much level to tape while avoiding
overload and distortion.
by playing the form of your song on keyboard or guitar along
with a basic drum groove. Add a reference vocal at the same
time or as an overdubusing a separate track for each.
listen to the track. Does the structure hold together well?
Are the words able to flow with the groove? Does the lyric
feel rushed or forced? Adjust the tempo and chord patterns
until they feel right. Does the melody of each section work
well with the arrangement and is there some melodic development
and contrast from one section to another?
you are satisfied with the structure, go back to the instrumental
track and begin to fill it out. Either play keyboard or electric
bass and define the groove of each section. Bass parts add
the harmonic bottom and hold the rhythm section together.
With a drum machine, you can add variations to each pattern,
creating separate verse and chorus parts to shape your arrangements
and get away from an overly mechanical feel.
you're using a computer, set the external sync and the computer
will start the drums when you press "play." You will be able
to change any of your drum parts as you fill in your track.
If using live drums, play to a click track. When playing with
MIDI stuff, don't rage against the machines! Watch your timinga
live feel helps mechanical tracks, but be sure to play within
the grooves and watch your transitions.
bass and drums, move on to keyboard parts and guitars or your
favorite instruments. Begin to add colors to the song. Regardless
of the musical genreblues, techno, country, rockthe process
is the same. Always monitor the vocals so you can work within
the parameters and emotions of the singers. No wild solos
that step all over the lyrics or clash with the melody. The
band should support the song. Your creativity as a writer
lies in your ability to perform magic with words and music.
you are ready to update your lead vocal track. If necessary,
redo the performance to bring out the emotional impact of
the lyric or melody. Take care of any loose ends in terms
of phrasing and intonation. Edit lyrics if necessary, removing
filler words. Does the vocal work with your new arrangement
and instrumentation? It is not unusual to start from scratch
and do it all over again, if you haven't captured your original
background vocals if they are appropriate for your song. If
adding harmonies to a chorus, follow the phrasing and lyrics
of the lead vocals and, if possible, use other singers to
add color and texture to the vocal track.
mixing your tracks to DAT or cassette, make sure to keep the
vocals as the centerpiece of your song. Try not to shy away
from your vocal, which is a common songwriter hang-up. The
strength of your composition will come through if you don't
bury it in overdubs.
sound and production are important, yet a good song will always
shine through. I remember Joe Cocker telling me the story
of how he came upon the song "Up Where We Belong." He was
listening to an old scratchy guitar/vocal demo with what seemed
to be a drum hit on a kitchen table. "The verse was ok," Joe
told me, "but the soaring melody of the chorusthe power
of that melody and lyric was all I needed to hear." Naturally,
Joe went on to remind me several times that the song was a
Number One hit!
of which proves that if you write a great song, the rest will
take care of itself. The fun is in the creating, so have a
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