It’s not unusual for the songwriter to start making arrangements in their head before the song is even completed on the page. So, when they are playing a song to a loved one or a group of friends for the first time, they are usually hearing that arrangement (or maybe a new one!) in their head, while all the others in the room (except many other songwriters or producers) just hear acoustic guitar and voice.
And since many of the breed are multi-tallented (read: multi-instrumentalists, harmony vocalists and novice recording engineers/producers) they don’t need other musicians to create parts for them; they can just do it themselves. And since they know their way around recording gear and can place mics with the best of them, they can do this themselves as well.
Doing this requires a multi-track digital recorder or a computer with DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software and an interface of some kind, as well as at least one high-quality condenser microphone and all the various instruments needed for the production. (This is not unlike the dance/hip hop/electronica recording in part 4, but for more conventional pop, rock, or country production.)
Now…I don’t mean to get too preachy here, and I certainly don’t want anyone overextending themselves financially based on what I say, but:
It is my personal believe that every songwriter should own a digital muti-track recorder or DAW of some sort with at least 8 tracks. Mastering the use of these machines (and/or software) and the knowledge of their capabilities will put you in the driver’s seat for recording on almost any level. You will be able to communicate with the engineer and/or producer your ideas clearly and succinctly in the same terminology they use themselves.
You’ll have a grasp of what can and can’t be done, so you can use your studio time more efficiently.
And, in some cases, with your knowledge, you actually can fix it in the mix.
The sequence in which parts are recorded can vary, but since the tracks are being recorded one at a time, the rhythm tracks – the drums – typically are laid down first. In these DIY situations where mics and processing gear are at a minimum, a good sounding drum machine will most likely be used. (If the programming of the machine is done properly no one will know it’s a drum machine.)
After the drums are recorded, the next rhythm instrument (usually rhythm guitar or piano, whichever the songwriter plays best) is added. And the bass is added after that.
Here would be a good time to record a scratch vocal, and then additional rhythm instruments maybe layered. Lead instruments will be recorded for the solos and fills, and then when most all tracking is done the vocal tracks will be laid down.
Sometimes as many as 3 or 4 (or more) lead vocal tracks are cut, and the best performance of each line of the song is taken to create one composite track. This vocal track may be run through tuning software if needed, as will the harmony vocals which are recorded thereafter.
When all the parts are recorded and edited, the project moves into mix mode. Here each track is place in its spot in the stereo spectrum, and other effects like reverb and echo are added (compression was most likely used at the point the track were recorded). EQ and levels are set for each track and viola’! A perfect mix. Well, maybe.
Here’s some things to keep in mind when recording in this manner:
Since this is all usually done in solitary environment, you can cheat…and no one has to know!
If you can’t play both hands of the piano part, track the left and right hands separately. Having trouble coming back in after the tied three measure whole note? Play with the click track
at full-throttle. Record your fills one at a time till you get ones you like!
Q: Do you know what you call someone who robs a bank of a million dollars?
A: A millionaire!
Many songwriters record demos like this without the intention of ever having them pitched to an artist or producers. They may just use the recording as a shortcut to getting the musicians to play what he/she wants them to play at a larger scale demo session or gig. Sometimes they do it just for fun.
If you record a demo in this way with the intention of pitching them, again, be honest with the results.
If you played everything great but the organ part, consider hiring a organ player to re-cut those tracks. If you don’t sing as well as what you’re hearing on the radio, hire someone who does.
In fact, unless your entire final mix doesn’t sound as good as a hit CD, don’t pitch it. An excellent voice/guitar worktape (professionally recorded) has a much better chance of being picked up than oh-so-close full-production demo.
Remember, your tracks need to stand up head-to-head against others who spare no expense in their production, so you need to hit them with the best you got. And being David might just be better than be Goliath.
Jake Kelly is a man on the constant search for enlightenment, if anyone finds it let him know so he can get some. For more of this hombre’s ramblings and the rest of L2P check out L2Pbandspace and L2Pnet.com.
Originally posted 2010-12-16 19:43:01.