Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The creative process

a) Have idea for song. b) decide the basic verse-chorus structure of what you want to do. c) write fragments of lyrics. d) decide chord progressions and basic harmony. e) babble some lyrics into microphone while playing chords to see whether you can fit what you want into the basic chord progressions, then bounce a crude mix with a bit of compression and EQ to see whether the general sound is what you want.

Hmm. Not bad. The vocals seem a bit too warm, but that can be adjusted at the EQ control and it doesn't sound bad, exactly, just a bit muffled. And as usual, my guitar sounds great with just a bit of compression to even out the dynamics once I hit the chorus with its harder sound. So now I get to take all the verse fragments that I've been scribbling and actually fit them to the music. After I've played it through a few times, then comes the joy of recording. First I'll lay down the guitar track while quietly humming the melody/lyrics to myself so that I get the timing right, then record the vocals track with the monitor headphones on playing back the guitar track while I'm recording. Then I'll add tracks for whatever instruments I decide on -- harmonica makes a nice mournful sound, recorder makes a soft gentle sound, a bit of piano or organ, some electronic drums? And finally, the final mix-down... and mixdown... and mixdown... and re-recording of parts that won't mix the way I want... and mixdown...

You hear about people going into the studio for three days, and three days later there's an album. I have absolutely no idea how they do that, unless they're counting only the recording part, not the mixdown part. Getting all the parts mixed correctly is incredibly annoying and tedious...

-- Badtux the Music Penguin


  1. Need a trombone?

    JzB the always available trombonist

  2. J. Arthur "Boodie" Ravenscroft4/11/09 2:27 PM

    Interesting, BT. I just bought a Zoom HD-16 and am experimenting with this very stuff. For me, I have to have a solid song idea. The rest of the stuff will come along.

  3. Jazz, I can't think of any compositions of mine that would benefit from some oompa action. Of course, if Billy and the Boingers can get some good oompa-powered death metal, maybe we can do some oompa-powered alternative country too? Hmm, let me think about that :-).

    Boodie -- One of the reasons I got my original Macbook was out of frustration with the recording process on dedicated consoles and on Windows. I'm now set up with a Lexicon Lambda two-track sound recorder and Apple Logic recording studio. Logic isn't perfect, but it beats anything else I've ever used...

    -Badtux the Music Penguin

  4. Oops, I was seeing "trombone" and thinking "tuba". You must admit tuba-powered country music would be even more hilarious than tuba-powered death metal, eh? :).

    - Badtux the Non-brass Penguin

  5. Hey, I have a bass trombone, and can oompah, if that is what's required.

    Tuba death metal might actually work, in a really strange way.

    But I think the fundamental problem with county music is a severe trombone deficiency.

    WV: ousla - oompah in a foureign country

    JzB the urban trombonist

  6. ...fundamental problem with county music is a severe trombone deficiency.

    I just spewed herring all over my keyboard. Warning, please!

    - Badtux the Laughing Penguin

  7. What site do you use to put music on your blog?

  8. "... recorder makes a soft gentle sound, ...

    Compared to what? a trombone? :-)

    A recorder played properly has, at least to the performer's ears, a bit of an edge to it. It ain't an ocarina. Find a recording by Pamela Thorby or Michala (sp?) Petri. In good recorder playing, clarity wins the day. (Yes, I have the creds to say that.)

    I was a comp major in college for a few years, and I've never done anything more difficult to get right. I'm with you about those three-day wonders in the studio... I wonder why they bother. :)

  9. Jim, I use spare space on a server I own for other services, sorry, no site.

    Steve: Compared to an Irish whistle :). My recorder is just a regular plastic $9 kid's jobber, I don't know what you professional guys have.

    Regarding the people who claim to have gone into the studio and come out three days later with an album, the only thing I can guess is that the band has very experienced musicians and a very experienced engineer who know exactly what they are going to "sound" like and exactly what all the settings should be to record them well and exactly how to do a quicky mixdown that works and so forth. Or maybe a producer who does all the actual work of deciding what the band's "sound" will be and fills out the tracks with session musicians.

    And then I hear a good-sounding album put out by a friend's vanity indy label and recorded by a 21 year old who had been playing guitar in a band for two years and otherwise absolutely no clue what that gear in a recording studio was, who has absolutely refused to have a producer touch her music all the way back to the beginning, and yes her backing men and engineer were experienced but it is *her* album (I confirmed that by listening to some of her stuff from *before* she acquired those backing men, when it was local boys backing her). And all she could afford was three days of studio time because she needed to get back to her waitressing job in order to eat, so that's what she did, and recorded two albums during that time. Yes, it's easier to mix down when all you have are two guitars, a drum, and a vocals track, but still. All I can guess is that some people are just friggin' geniuses who can pick these things up way quicker than we mere mortals ...

  10. The vocals seem [...] just a bit muffled.

    more than 'just a bit' muffled. more like annoyingly so. love the guitar, very much looking forward to hearing the unmuffled vocals.

    Or maybe a producer who does all the actual work of deciding what the band's "sound" will be and fills out the tracks with session musicians.

    from the tales a friend of mine tells from his days as a session musician, i'd guess this happens a bit.

    but yeah, there really do seem to be people, absolute geniuses, like your indy-label 21-year-old. and if she's that good, can you direct us to the site where we can buy her music?


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