So now that I have the final drafts of the lyrics and melody for a new song, it’s time to talk to a guitarist. Usually I work with Sean or our friend Cern, with the occasional SOS sent up to my sister (who is sort of a musical genius) if I need something wrestled into submission at light speed.
We start with a sample recording of the pertinent parts of the song: One repetition of the verse melody, one repetition of the chorus melody, and one repetition of the middle eight melody, if the song has a middle eight (or a chorus, for that matter). This sample recording is ideally nice and slow so that the person working on the chords can hear what the heck I’m singing. I’ll also send them the lyrics for them to make notes on.
From there the process involves some sort of voodoo that frequently reaches over my head. As I said, I don’t really know much about music theory, and I know even less about playing guitar. I can learn songs by wrote all damn day, but ask me to pick a melody (or chords) out on a tonal instrument, and I’m flummoxed. I’m sure I could come to understand it with instruction. But currently, a fair amount of it is a bit beyond me.
But the guitarist will figure out what key it’s in, and from there we’ll both decide what chords sound best with the song. Sean and I arrange an intro and an outro as necessary, as well as the bits between whatever verse/chorus combination is going on, and a bridge if the song has a bridge.
And then it’s time to practice. And I mean practice. I like to practice, and frequently. For one, it gets me used to singing the song, and it gets Sean used to playing the song. And for two, it lets me get to know the song. I think about my phrasing and diction, I think about where I’m taking my breaths, I think about volume and other dynamics, I think about the emotions I’m putting behind my performance. All of this is very important for live performance, of course, and it’s also very important for studio recording, as well.
As when I’m singing live, I don’t want to just be a vocalist singing into a microphone. I want to be a performer engaging my audience. That’s a little harder to do when you’re not physically in front of people, but it’s also very important to consider that, unlike a live performance, a formal recording will (hopefully) be listened to over and over and over again, so it needs to be fun to listen to. It won’t be if I sound bored.
There really isn’t a precedent for how much time there is for us between learning a new song and going into the studio to record it. Most of the things we’ve recorded to date are songs we’ve had in our repertoire for a while and have had many, upon many, upon many chances to practice. I think the shortest period of time between learning and recording was for “Surviving through the Game”, and that was because of a pressing deadline. I typically find it useful to have more time to learn a song before making a recording of it.
One of the things we try to do as often as possible when practicing a song for recording is to practice the song in question with whatever metronome settings we’ll be using when we start laying down the tracks. The speed at which we perform a song differs from concert to concert when we play live—we’ll play slower or faster as the mood of the performance dictates. But in the studio, regularity is pretty important, especially if there will be other instruments included on the track.
As far as my methods for the making of an actual recording, that will have to wait until tomorrow.