Read how to write better songs
A question often asked by upcoming songwriters is how do I record my songs? My answer is straight away! With a marked proviso - use whatever facilities you have but use it as a songwriter. Start with your phone. Why? Because you probably have it with you all the time, it will have a large enough memory to you can easily capture all your chords progressions, notes, snatches of melodies, dumb ideas and good ones, and then you can download those audio files direct into your DAW (digital audio workstation) and start drafting. You can build on your ideas rather than 'iterating the life out of them'
Here are some the things I use: my iphone ( trademe special!), my backpack studio (laptop, headphones, interface, mic) and my project studio. Yes, everyone's got different specs and you can lose yourself down a tunnel of gear at the start, but the point is, start somewhere, start capturing. Think of your studio conceptually, as you would a pen and notebook.
Hit songwriter Ester Dean (Rihanna, Nikki Minaj, Selena Gomz) says this:
'Get a mobile studio so you can record from anywhere. There are three places I record songs: I have an office recording studio, a smaller home studio, and my "backpack studio," which is basically just my laptop, microphone, and headphone set. I can put together a song whenever, wherever. When I was on set for Pitch Perfect, I was still recording songs this way and sending out audition tapes to do voiceovers on films like Ice Age.'
Our own Dinah Lee at 74, not out, says this:
'I have all the latest technology. It's incredible how easy it is now compared to back then. You've got to keep up with it, be in the race. ...with my music I do it all myself from start to finish.' ( recording, mixing, mastering, artwork creation, uploading)
The basics are :
1. A computer - laptop/desktop, with enough brain (RAM) to operate the....
2. Software ( Digital audio workstation - for recording/editing and mixing, even mastering)
3. An audio interface - to translate vocals and real instruments from analogue sound to digital information the computer can manipulate.
4. A microphone - yep, start with one!
5. Monitors - headphones or speakers.
Not too tricky really - it's easier and now cheaper than you think, but the point is to start with what you have. And I bet you have a phone and a heart!
Talk more soon
ps bookings are trucking along well for Akaroa Songwriters Clinic QueensBirthday Weekend. Come along - I'm bringing my backpack studio! Check out the view from the venue.
Nowadays, it's pretty easy to record draft tracks on ipads or lap tops, and ping them off as wee mp3s and 4's. This is an important part of songwriting - working up drafts of your songs, listening back with fresh ears and for sharing with collaborators or bandmates. Just even remembering a tune or snatches of lyrics can be so easily captured now and the results backed up on a drive smaller than your thumbnail.
So, then what? Here are some possible outcomes/purposes for a recording of your song to think about.
Is your recording to get your song on the setlist of your band? Is it to show songwriting collaborators? Is it audio for entry into songwriting competitions or to put up on YouTube? Is it for radio broadcast, to entice a publisher, a producer, a video director, a really awesome vocalist to work on your material? Is it to get more live work from venues or festival organisers? Are you going to sell it digitally or physically? Independently or with label support?
Each of these outcomes has slightly different requirements for a recording - some you can easily achieve yourself. With the advent of DAW's and hard drive recording programmes, ever cheaper computers, it's totally possible to knock together a cheap home project studio for a few hundred. You can go piece by piece, get a condensor mic, headphones or powered speakers. Whether you set up in your lounge, your bedroom or your garage, having something you can capture basic and clear recordings of your songs is an important first step. There's always someone with more/better gear than you. Start simple and don't get too bamboozled! As monitor and live sound engineer Gil Craig says 'If you can operate an ATM, you can work a home recording set up'
A harder question to answer is what size audience can you command? What demand is there for your material? A strong indicator is how many folks turn up to your shows and what songs EITHER stop them in their tracks OR whip them into a frenzy in the mosh pit. A crowd pleaser live doesn't necessarily make the best radio or internet delivered song, but if there is strong live support for your work, then there's a good chance you've achieved some market penetration and could monetize that, industry parlance.
Finally, what resources do you have to devote to the process? How much time do you have? It does take time and resilience, a willingness to try things out, to say yes and sometimes to say no! Who do you know? A strong rhythm section, a great guitarist, an electronics whizz that can give you the beats you need? Do you know someone actually already involved in the recording, mixing and mastering of contemporary music, someone who's released material before who can advise you on arrangements and production? Check out your favourite local recording credits, and approach folks. Reach out! In my experience, NZ musicians are really generous with time and energy, they want to play and will consider a 'development' rate, even a shout for the right person. What money can you bring to the table? For beers and pizza, for petrol, for lunches? If you can offer those who pursue music professionally a little folding, it can go further than you think. But you don't want to outstay the 'favour' welcome. There's mates rates, and then there's get off the grass! Be appreciative and give credit where it's due. Folks can always say no too.
Whatever you can put into recording your music will pay off in your development as a songwriter and each improvement in the quality of your songwriting, your musical taste and judgement, your recording equipment, rehearsal process and personnel used and time you put into developing your skills will definitely show as you make more recordings, just as the more practice you do, the better you play.
Talk more soon
ps email me if you'd like to do my brand new online songwriting course - How do I write better songs? It's short and free!
Just put COURSE in the subject line of the email.
pps click here to join us this Labour Weekend for the upcoming Songwriter's Clinic in picturesque Wanaka
This week, I made a mistake during the recording of a vocal. I'd pressed 'record' but because my headphone extender lead is starting to fray at the connector, I couldn't hear all of my playback consistently. It kept shorting out. While I was mucking around trying to get both left and right channels at full signal, fiddling with the lead and connection, I missed my cue. But the song improved markedly because of it.
Suddenly, there was much needed space where there had previously been a bunch of words packed into four bars like a fistful of frightened sardines. Now, the new 'mistake' or 'missed take' space created a sense of anticipation for the next line, closely followed by a sense of relief when the 'punchline' hit. The words immediately after the space became lit up like a Christmas tree. Useful, because they're the title of the track. Helpful, for the singer, because now she can breathe during the chorus. Effective for the writer, because the whole point of the song had taken centre stage.
In essence, my ballsup fixed my ballsup!
This points to the principle of being in the room. If I hadn't been trying to get a better vocal take, if I had been trying to fix a bit of kit on the fly, if I hadn't been trying to make a new recording at all, I wouldn't have captured a solution to something's that been quietly nagging me about this particular song despite the fact that I've sung it in concert a number of times and rehearsed it maybe a hundred both solo and in ensemble. It took putting the song in a different environment, a different room, a different drafting process, me being in a diffferent role, to get to the bottom of the issue.
Remember, your lyrics are words to be sung. That means creating space for your singer to breathe, which in turn allows time for sound waves to hit the eardrums of your listeners and actually register the meaning of the words. If the singer is repeatedly slipping up over a line or phrase, maybe you need to rewrite it rather than sack the singer as a first option. Part of bringing a song to life is being in the room with it, getting it off the page, working through the practical results of your writing. This can mean singing it to yourself repeatedly, singing it front of an audience to see what a fresh response is, giving to someone else to sing or reinterpret, making a draft recording of it, putting it in different environments (solo, band, acoustic, electric, studio) so it can develop. Then you can see its strengths and work on its flaws from all angles, not just staring at the screen or the scratch marks on your page. I think of this as making your song three dimensional, rather than two and I think you get that by spending quality time with your songs, regularly. Your input may pay off more than you expect.
Talk more soon