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Friday, 1 January 2016

Recording my EP: Progress Report 1

So, this is a bit of an update on the recording of my EP. I did a blog a couple of weeks ago that outlined my plans for what I was going to do and how I was going to go about it. Check it out here:

I wanted to try a style of writing that meant that I was wasting as little time as possible and trying to get my EP done ASAP. I am notorious for spending way way too long on projects, so I really wanted to tackle this in a way that I was going to get things done.

Each song in an hour

The first part of my plan was to only spend an hour writing each song. I set out a competition a couple of months ago that was to write 7 songs in 7 days and only spent one hour on the writing process. You can see that blog here:

This was a great challenge and it really got me into a writing frame of mind. The idea behind it is that you finish the song that you started as soon as possible and then move on. If the song isn’t good, then you throw it away and you’ve only spent a little bit of your life on it… plus you’ve learnt something. And if it’s good, you’ve only spent an hour of your life on it and you’ve got a song.

So, I expanded this idea into the writing of my EP. The plan is to write 20 songs at the start, spending only an hour on each one, and then once finished all of them, listen back through the songs and pick the 10 best songs. Then spend another hour or so fixing up these tracks a bit with a fresh ear. Once all that’s done, pick the 5 best songs that work together well to use on the EP. Do some pre-production for those and then hit the recording studio.

Now, a little bit down the track, I’ve finished part 1! I’ve written my 20 songs. This was really interesting because I saw my writing style change over the time I was writing these tracks. Some tracks came together very quickly towards the end. 

Practicing writing these songs quickly meant that I started getting a lot better at coming up with parts that were needed to finish the song. Also, the parts that I put in were getting better and better.

I feel like I am coming up with the same amount of original song ideas as I was before, but now I’m quickly using these ideas and turning them into songs a lot quicker and a lot more efficiently. In this way, some of those good ideas aren’t forgotten or used in songs that aren’t as good.

The important part about finishing a track in an hour is that you get rid of all the unnecessary things that distract you from writing a song. It’s also a good idea to put yourself into the right frame of mind. When I sit down to write a song, I like to turn off all distractions. Put the phone on aeorplane mode, have all your writing and recording equipment ready and close your door to what’s going on outside. This is pure songwriting time.

Picking the Best 10 Songs

This was easy on some counts and hard on others. I ended up liking more songs than I thought I would. I had to think about what I wanted the EP to sound like and get rid of some tracks that I thought were good but wouldn’t fit in with the sound I was going for.

One thing that I didn’t think would end up happening is that I put a couple of the tracks aside in another pile that I thought would suit a different instrumentation.

My idea for this EP is to have mainly acoustic guitar and vocals dominating the sound and use piano, percussion, electric guitar and some strings to fill out the songs that need it, depending on what I felt was necessary. I’m avoiding a drum kit driven, rock n roll production… for this EP at least.

Some of the tracks that I had there would really suit a drum kit and some heavy guitars, so instead of throwing them out, I decided I’d put them aside and either record them on their own or make an EP of similar sounding tracks later down the line.

Admittedly, there were some songs that I had written that were just complete rubbish and will never see the light of day again, but at least I know that now. If anything, during this process, I’ve learnt a lot about songwriting and how to get a decent track done quickly.

Stage 2 - After The First Cull

Now I’ve gotta go through the tracks that I’ve picked and spend a little more time with them. I have all the basics down but I want to change up some of the lyrics for parts that I don’t particularly like and make sure my chord progressions are sounding alright.

I also want to get an idea of where the tempo should be for each track. Sometimes this means being a little faster than what I did the original demo at, and sometimes it’s a little slower. I have a tendency to play things a little too slow when recording, especially if it’s already quite a slow song.

So I’ll pick a new tempo and record the track again with the minor adjustments made. I am also looking at the arrangement of the track to make sure that it can’t be any better. The good thing about not having listened to these tracks since I wrote them, is that I’m coming in with fresh ears and am not feeling so attached to them.

I can pick out, on the first listen, what I think needs to go, and what I think sounds really good. Doing these changes in only an hour again means that I, once again, am wasting little time on the things that don’t matter and focusing only on what’s really important. 

There’s a chance that any of these songs could be thrown out during the next cull so it’s good not to waste time on the small stuff. 

I didn’t think I’d be doing this but I’ve also started adding little ideas of extra instruments to these tracks during this second demoing phase. I am consciously trying not to look for things that should be added, but if something comes to mind that I think “wow, that would be really cool” I add it in to see how it sounds. 

All in all, things are going really well and I’m excited to be finally recording my first EP as a solo artist. Hopefully there’ll be many more to come. 

HOT TIP: There’s a FaceBook group called “Song A Week 2016” in which each member writes a song each week to put to the community and they discuss songwriting techniques and it’s a really good, music loving community. I’ll be taking part in that.
I invite you all to try out this method of writing songs and if you have any questions, comments or music you want me to check out, let me know in the comments below.

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