Week 9 & 10 – Here we are (DEMO)

Ahh man where to begin, I’ll start positive and then roll this bad boy down hill… I think the song (lyrics/melody/etc) and arrangement (instrument melody/layers/etc) are pretty good BUT I have learnt a few key things the past fortnight. I have cemented the knowledge that I absolutely 100% positively cannot sing pop rock, it’s not my thing. While I love listening to that Fall Out Boy/5 Seconds of Summer/etc sound I definitely can’t pull off the vocals myself. This was my second, and last, attempt. I think the song itself is pretty decent though and would love to write with/for that style of band at some point in the future. Just because you can’t make it sound good doesn’t mean someone else can’t and with the right band/singer I think it would sound pretty good!

The biggest take away I had the past two weeks is really a production/instrumentation thing. I write all my songs the same way regardless of the style or eventual production, which is sitting down with: a guitar and my iPhone with the ‘Notes’ and ‘Voice Memos’ app open. I sit down, start playing/singing, I’ll write down some lyrics, record a melody, change lyrics, change chords, jumping between all three tools until I’ve finished a song or have a solid idea where I want it to go (orrrr exclaimed “F**k this I quit!” and watch bulk ‘How I Met Your Mother’ with my fiancĂ© [happens more often than I’d care to admit]). From there I move into actually recording the song, which is where I learnt my biggest lesson this week. When I’m sitting at home playing a song on an acoustic and singing, they all kinda sound the same: like a dude playing an acoustic guitar and singing, it’s in the production and recording where my music changes from an open mic night to an “actual song”. It’s also where all the decisions are made: what instruments to use, how to layer things, am I using “actual drums”* or sample kicks and claps, it’s here that the song really starts to fall into a style or genre. For example, this week I decided to build the song I had as an acoustic (how all mine start) into a pop rock song. Drums, bass, two guitars and a vocal track later I had that feel. I’m still trying to find my style, what works for me and what doesn’t (vocally, lyrically, instrumentally), through this I’ll come across weeks like this where I finish it, look back and think “…lol nope”. What I learnt is that you can take that really basic song (acoustic/vocals) and build it into ANY style imaginable or one yet to be created. When I play and sing this weeks song acoustically it sounds completely different (and a lot nice to be honest) to what you’re listening to up there ^. I don’t really think there’s a way to combat that though, unless you find a style you’re good at and stick to it till you’re dead, which sounds really f**king boring. Yes it’ll be awesome when I eventually find a style I think works for me (Week 7&8 is the closest I’ve found so far) and can record a handful of songs in that genre, release an EP, and play a few shows, but I never want to just be boxed in and doing the same thing forever. You’re other option is just trying shit. Sometimes it’ll work, and you’ll think “holy shit, that’s awesome”, and sometimes it won’t. I’d rather look back and think “oh that sounds like shit” than be too scared to at least try other things. I love how you can really see the development of the band ‘My Chemical Romance’ across their albums. They found their style (emo/rock/punk) recorded and released Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, then moved to a big theatrical rock album The Black Parade, moving to a dancey party-rock album with Danger Days. All three albums sound like them (and are fantastic) but are completely different. I’d rather hear three completely different albums from the same band than the same album three different times. POINT OF THE LONG ASS STORY: I’m looking forward to finding my style and recording an EP, but I’m not going to let it dictate my entire musical future, end rant.

I also spent hardly any time on the vocals and extra “fancy” production things for this track. By the time I got to the vocals it wasn’t working, I was getting frustrated, and I just wanted it to be over (imagine when when you’re like halfway through ‘Lost’, it’s that feeling).

TLDR; Still finding my style. Still playing with stuff. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, this is in the “didn’t work” pile.

Cheers,
52WeekProject

*I say “actual drums” because I program all my drums/percussion regardless. Sometimes I use clicks and claps and other times I’ll build an “actual drum kit” from samples and program them to sound like a real human person is playing.

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Week 7 & 8 – Write this down (DEMO)

Oookay I have some explaining to do. I made the decision last week to move from doing a song a week to one every fortnight. There are more reasons behind this than I care to delve into (or you’d care to read) but I’ll try to explain the main ones.

The overarching reason behind the change of schedule was that more often than not I was disappointed with what I was uploading. Every song felt either too rushed in the writing stage or too sloppy and basic in the recording because I just didn’t have enough time to work on it properly. Giving myself more time leaves more room for every single aspect of this project: I can take the time to write a song I’m happy with, if I’m not “feeling it” I now have the time to put down my guitar and pick it up again later (or the following day) I don’t have to smash out the first thing that comes to mind because tomorrow I’ve gotta start recording and drums still have to be programmed and how do I want this to sound and ahh. It gives me the freedom to be creative and not be stressed about time all. the. time.

It also gives me the freedom to really explore the recording process. Firstly, I have the time to do more than one take of every track, and secondly, I can spend time playing with settings/fiddling with plugins/mucking around with ideas and actually learning what the fuck I’m doing. I’m very much a “learn by doing” sort of person, sure I could read a book or watch a tutorial, but I learn best by spending time playing with/doing whatever it is I’m learning. I now have the ability to do that without stressing my balls off that I won’t get a song finished. It’s amazing how much more creative you feel when you’re not stressed or under pressure, I felt it immediately, and it feels incredible. Having the capacity to make and learn from your mistakes without a looming deadline is fantastic.

In a nutshell: I needed more time so I’ve given myself more time (and it’s already paying dividends). Side note before anybody says I’m slacking off or bailing it’s called the ’52 Week Project’ not the ’52 Song Project’ I’m still spending just as much time each week working on this, just trying to even up the quality/quantity scale.

ON TO THE SONG!

I’m actually really quite happy and proud of how this song turned out. With the extra time I now have I tried writing in a slightly different style to what I’m used to (I’m trying to write outside my norm to experiment and find my “voice” [for lack of a less wanky turn of phrase]). I quite like the vibe this song has, I can’t really put it in a genre, but I like the vibe. Production wise, having extra time made a world of difference in my opinion. Not only did I manage to get a few takes of the different tracks in (so most of it is even in time this week, shit yeah!) but I had room to play/experiment. I tried using some different percussion type stuff in the verses to separate it from the chorus a bit which I think flowed quite well, I like how the “real drums” kicking in for the first chorus seems to pick it up a notch and then keeping aspects of the real kit through the second verse means the other percussion doesn’t feel too out of place am I even making sense still what? I LOVE the hi-hats in the second verse, especially where they’re really quick and staggered, that was lots of fun to play with and I think turned out well (probably my favourite part of this track). Also, the reverse cymbal and clicks during the verses and breakdown were fun to play with and turned out nicely.

I think you can really hear the extra time I put into actually recording and producing the song. The extra things I don’t usually get around to like extra guitar parts (acoustic through the chorus to give it a sense of moving more/bigger, dual guitars in the chorus, extra guitar parts during the final chorus), harmonies, vocal effects (harmonies have a telephone/old school effect on them and are quite low in volume to sit in the mix a bit, the main vocals have a slight slap back delay as when they were dry they really stood out for some reason), finding new plugins (I had another amp simulator, just sitting there, waiting to be used!) and exploring the ones I had (auto-tuned the backing vocals so they were perfect, they’re in the back of the mix so it’s not reeeally cheating). One of my biggest achievements this week was finding a nice Rhodes-esque sounding keyboard, then actually getting it to work. I spent far longer than I care to admit trying to get my midi keyboard to connect to pro tools properly, and then learning you have to have a midi track with the keyboard as the input, load an audio track with a plugin (say Massive or Nexus) up and then set the output of your midi track to that plugin. Also for me to get Nexus to work I had to have Massive on the track before I could even see Nexus in the list, no idea why (and I ended up using Massive instead anyway ha), point of the story: check your inputs/outputs… then double check because you probably f*cked them up a little.

Holy shit this is dragging on. I think even though I’ll only post a song once a fortnight I’ll still have to write once a week to post about my learnings (mainly so I don’t forget stuff but also so the posts aren’t a small novella). I’m going to stop writing now because I’m tired and think I’ve banged on far too long already.

Talk to you on the weekend.

Cheers,
52WeekProject

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Week 6 – Pass you by (Acoustic)

Eh. I can’t exactly pinpoint why, but I hate this song. I don’t mind the melody in the verse and pre-chorus, or the chords there either, but I hate the chorus (too whingy and those stupid little Mariah Carey vocal dancey things my god), it all feels too slow, and… just… shit really. The completely different/random style for this week was inspired by a video my friend posted of his cover of the Imagine Dragons song ‘Radioactive’. He used simple “plucked” chords and the same chord progression throughout the entire song. I thought I’d challenge myself to do the same: choose some chords, pluck them a few times, repeat, and try to make enough of a change with the vocal melody that it would work.

Moving past the fact I hate the song, how it sounds, and everything about it, I did actually learn a bit this week. I managed to play around with the guitar audio (compressor/EQ/reverb) and think the tone came out very nicely; main take-away being I’m slowly learning how compression and EQing affects the sound of an acoustic. I also played with reverb on the main vocals, somehow it seemed to make them stand out less and sort of fit into the mix a little better (if that makes sense?). No idea why or how, but it was a fun little experiment. The annoying harmonies/wailing behind the chorus were EQ’d to have that old school/telephone/thingo sound and a bit more of a “fuller” reverb, making them sound less like harmonies and more like “movement” behind, well, that was the idea.

Most fun experiment this week: I found auto-tune! Not that I didn’t know it existed (god bless T-Pain), but I’d never thought of playing with it before. To be completely honest I hardly played around with it at all, I just threw it on the vocal track in “auto” and kind of just let it do it’s thing. I don’t like the robotic sound it gives occasionally but do think it’s a handy little tool I’ll dive into deeper in the future. I don’t want to rely on it but I’m not the world’s greatest singer (obviously) so if I can use it to achieve the result I was aiming for without me sounding like Mr Roboto I think it could be a clever tool to have in the belt. I also wanted to muck around with it and some reverb to try and create a little “choir”. I’ve heard it done by professionals and it sounds very impressive. I THINK the theory is fairly simple (if this is how they do it): record a few vocal tracks singing different melodies, copy/paste/pitch-shift with auto-tune, add a tonne of big-ass reverb and voilĂ  a choir! Unfortunately I’m not a professional, nor have I ever sung in a choir, orrrr used auto-tune, all that mixed together results in what you can hear in the bridge-type-section.

It’s hard for me to be objective about what I learnt this week as I hate the song. so. much. It hurts to listen to. Maybe I’m just in a shitty mood because I spent hours working on something that turned out so shit in my eyes, BUT, that’s part of the process. The thing about playing with different styles of writing/singing/recording/producing while you’re learning to write/sing/record/produce is that it’s a f**king learning process. I honestly have no idea what I’m doing, which is exactly why I’m doing this, to learn. To try and figure out what style of music I enjoy writing, what suits my voice, to figure out how to record, how to produce, to find out what reverb sounds like on vocals/guitar/drums, what compression does, how auto-tune works, how *insert some audio effect here* affects and manipulates audio. There are going to be weeks where everything clicks and I think “shit yeah, that worked well, I’m learning” and there will be weeks like this where I think “holy shit why am I even doing this”. Some weeks will build skill, others will build character, this week is the latter. This is a “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep moving forward” moment. It’s hard to put so much time, effort, and a part of yourself into something that at the end just doesn’t cut it, but that’s part of the ride. So tonight I’m going to let myself feel like shit (it’s how I feel and I’m not going to fight it), but tomorrow is another day and I’ve got anther song to write. Christ, that has the vibe of a speech by a college football coach to his team at half time while they’re losing the grand final in a 90s movie… the always go on to win though #UpliftingMessage

Catch you next week.

Cheers,
52WeekProject

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