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I had the privilege this past weekend to get together with the lovely and talented Tiffany Thompson and do a co-writing session. We had tried to put together a small series of songs that told a story. It was going to be in three parts:
1. Falling in Love
2. Making Mistakes
3. Making things Right
We got a chance to work on the Making Mistakes song. It’s tentatively called “Close to Mine”
Here is the backstory of the co-write:
I sat down and had a great conversation with a friend of mine from DC. We talked about a lot of different things, but we talked in particular about relationships. Some of the things that she was talking about inspired me to make some music.
So sometimes I hit a wall or a funk, and I’m not sure how to get over it. It’s not something monumental that can’t be coped with, it’s more just the dull ache I think of wanting things that are not yet. Or maybe a little bit of watching something that you thought was move in the opposite direction.
I would love to say that I move through those times with grace, but a lot of times I just get a crappy attitude that lingers.
One of the ways that I deal with these moments is to turn it into a prayer. Really it’s just me singing about the situation, directed as a prayer to God. Often times I’m reminding myself what His character is like in the midst of the funk and reminding myself that I know that He’s good. And listening to hear what He might say.
The following is a little impromptu prayer that I recorded this evening while wading through it. Hopefully it will help someone who is in the same kind of boat.
I currently run everything through a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) called FL Studio.
FL Studio used to be known as Fruity Loops when it first came out. I think I picked up Fruity Loops 3 back in 1997 or somewhere around there. It was mostly just a dance music program that helped you put together some loops, and I was doing DJing at the time, so I was interested in working with something that could help me put together some fun music.
I tinkered around with it for a few years and then started getting frustrated with the limitations of it when I was moving back towards creating music that was more based around rock, blues, and folk. I wanted to be able to record guitars and vocals, and start mixing it all together. I remember going to the FL Studio website and seeing that they had upgraded the abilities of the program to be able to handle audio files and recording.
I upgraded to the Producer Edition of the program and started this journey of learning how to mix in the tracks that I recorded from my little Fostex MR-8. I got that digital 8 track recorder for my birthday from my brother, who had the foresight to see the benefit of going digital instead of using a tape-based 4 track.
Oh I wish you could have heard some of my first attempts at recording and mixing between the Fostex and FL Studio. They were pathetic, but it got me started. The journey has only continued, but I am still grateful for the starts that I had, the mistakes that I made along the way, and the things I have learned as a result of many hard knocks. I’m still learning the ropes, but I love recording and mixing tracks.
So you may have seen the other posts that I put together on how I record vocals and how I record guitar. Now I want to show you how I put together the concepts for the drum tracks. I really like putting together drums. I don’t do it in a traditional way at all. I would love to always have access to a bangarang kit, great mics, and a beautiful sounding room, but I don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars laying around at the moment.
S0 a lot of times, I’ll get a random idea that I have to map out quickly before I forget it.
Beatboxing. I’m not going to say that I am really good at it, but I can usually get my mouth to put out about what I am looking for on a kit. So I’ll a lot of times grab a microphone and hit record and get the rough idea down.
Once it’s down I’ll usually use a combination of the FL Studio FPC Drum Machine, samples, and Native Instruments Kontakt to map in the basic layers of the kit. It’s not always pretty, but it gets the job done. I work the samples in using a midi keyboard playing to a click track, then do any quantizing that needs to be done to make it line up with the tempo and feel of the song.
As I mentioned before in this post about how I record vocals, I like being able to quickly and easily get ideas captured. It doesn’t matter how pretty it is up front, just as long as I can get out of my head what I am hearing. Once it’s down I can go back and rework it, massage the concept until it sounds better, plays better, feels better.
The current guitars that I am using are my Taylor Acoustic and a Fender Stratocaster. I run these through the interface that I showed in the vocal post, and use Native Instruments Guitar Rig Pro to help me get the feels for the electric. It gives me the option of choosing the style of amp and the pedals that I want to use. I also have a few pedals that I incorporate into the mix sometimes.
When I am recording acoustic, I sometimes run directly into the interface. Other times I’ll go through and do a mic setup to record more of the nuances of the guitar.
I do all the tracking in the FL Studio DAW. A lot of people knock it, but I think it makes it super easy to get ideas down and to work out other concepts.
M-Audio 49 key midi board
Fostex MR-8 digital recorder
Shure SM57 Microphone (this thing is a workhorse)
Acoustic Guitar (At the time it was an Ibanez)
FL Studio (software [DAW])
People always spit, fuss and fume about how much it takes to get things recorded. I honestly used this setup to record my first album. I borrowed some electric guitar for a couple of parts, recorded everything onto the Fostex MR-8, then mixed everything in FL Studio.
Is it a platinum record? No. But I didn’t need it to be. Those recordings have opened the door for me to play everywhere from DC to Atlanta to Nashville. I’m a huge proponent of get it down and get it out there. (I say that, but then I realize that I haven’t put anything else out in a few years) GEEZ!!
I was working last week, and heard a song come on. I stopped in my tracks, then ran to the back to look at the playlist to see who it was. This woman was Asa. She’s from Nigeria. She has beautiful vocals. That is the thing that I am most drawn to in music, I think.
One method that I find really useful for songwriting these days is to simplify everything that you want to try to communicate down to a single premise. This becomes the seed for your song. Let’s say you want to talk about love. That’s a really broad topic, so what do you want to communicate about love? What do you want the mood of the song to be? What do you want the subject matter to be? When you spend a couple minutes on each of these questions just unloading ideas you’ll realize that you have a huge amount of material.
Go through that material and look for a common thread, and common theme, and try to simplify that down to a phrase or a sentence. It’s exactly what businesses do when they try to describe themselves. They will list out all of the things that they can do, but when they really look at what all they have described there is usually a theme that runs through the heart of everything that they are describing. It’s the same thing we are doing in songwriting.
Grab that seed, and let that be the guiding principle for the creation of that song. You create a focus, and then all the other material you write has to support that focus. It will make your writing clearer and crisper and you will end up with a much more powerful song. (Not every single will be a hit, but you will start to understand how focusing can help you create better songs).
It seems a little bit silly to spill your guts on a page, pick up a small phrase and then try to build a song. But when you know what you are trying to communicate in a simple way it helps you fill out the rest of the details.