The foundation of a great recording is a great guide track. What’s a guide track you might ask? Simply it’s whatever you setup in your DAW to help your actual recording sessions go smoother, faster, and more efficiently. In a jet-lagged stupor I show you in today’s video what three key elements are in every one of my guide tracks and how you can copy my workflow.
Let me say up front that I want you to make a lot of great music this year. Not only that, but I want you to get more done in less time and have more fun doing it. That’s what this entire Songwriting Month is all about. So take a little tip from me: get smart and start using click tracks when you’re demoing songs.
Click Tracks Give You Vibe
Let’s just cut to the chase and address the biggest misconception about click tracks (i.e. metronomes) in the studio: they steal the soul and vibe of your song. The most common complaint I hear about click tracks is that they make music sound robotic, static, and it removes any opportunity for vibe and flow. Ironically it’s the opposite.
The point of a click or metronome is to act as a guide or a framework. You know when the quarter notes are, or the eighth notes, or at least the down beats of each measure are. Why is that cool? So you can vibe freely in between. When you know exactly when the next bar is about to hit you are confident, so you can focus more on the vibe and performance than the timing.
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What your next album or EP will sound like is largely influenced by the type of music you love and what has shaped you the most over the years. But that hodgepodge of musical styles and artists doesn’t always bring out a clear sound in your music. One simple way to ensure your next project has some cohesion and focus is to identify one anchor for your songs and then create from there.
Sound, Lyric, or Instrument
I’m not suggesting you need to have an album of songs that sound like carbon copies of each other, and I’m not agains variety and eclectic artists. But to avoid having a schizophrenic EP that leaves your listeners confused about what kind of artist they are engaging with we need to have some stability. And the simplest three areas we can stabilize are sound (i.e. style or genre), lyrical content, and instrument choice.
Are you writing a bluegrass album? Great keep it bluegrass. Are you writing an EP of love songs? Perfect, stick with that lyrical theme. Are you writing songs with lots of synths? Then commit to the synth my friend. The concept is so simple, just pick one of those things to anchor your songs around and then everything else is up for grabs.
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I’ve got some bad news for you. Not every song you write will be good. In fact, you probably will have to write some crappy songs just to even get to the good ones. It’s a sad truth about songwriting that all of us must embrace at some point or another. The sooner you can come to grips with the fact that not every song is good, the sooner you can have the guts to cut your losses and throw away the bad ones; even if you spent a day of your life writing like I just did.
Have you ever had writer’s block? The phenomenon when you are sitting down to write your next opus but nothing seems to come out. You feel empty, dried up, void. You have seemingly no good ideas and just about every lyric, melody, or chord progression that comes to mind sounds overdone and worn out.
You Can’t Create On Empty
Our pride tells us to keep looking deeper for the “music that’s inside of us” and it will come. Just be patient and it will come. But here’s the puzzling truth of it all: great songs aren’t born from an empty tank. In order to create something amazing, you need to be filled with other great music from other great artists.
This concept flies in the face of much “wisdom” out there, which claims that you are only tainting your pure musical ideas with other people’s songs and are then more likely to copy or “steal” from them. But that type of response is a prideful one built on the huge assumption that we have any pure musical ideas of our own. Newsflash: we don’t!
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Anytime I get on a motivational crusade encouraging people to commit to writing new songs and completing an album, there are inevitably a few naysayers. Now some people genuinely loathe happiness and prefer to be critical instead of productive in their studios, but I believe that’s a small minority.
Time Isn’t Something You Find
Most of the pushback comes from those of you are are simply so busy with day to day life that you don’t know where to find the time needed to write, record, or mix an album. And let me be the first to say that I can identify with you. I have a wife, two kids, clients with music of their own, church involvement, etc. You throw in the NFL playoffs this month and my time is dwindling fast!
But the truth about anything worth doing is that you don’t really “find’ the time to do it, you make the time. And that is most certainly true with the art of songwriting. We all are busy, you’re no exception. So let’s talk about how to make the time and best use the time needed to write a killer album.
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So you want to actually release a new album or EP this year? Fantastic. Do you have a deadline in place? Smart move. But there’s one final piece of the puzzle; a “not so” secret to actually finishing your project on time. And truth is, I know most of you aren’t doing this. Skip this video at your own peril!
Today I want you to listen to acclaimed songwriter and artist Jack White (of the White Stripes) share his insights on what it means to be an artist and the process of creating music in this interview with Conan O’Brien. His perspective on the process is fascinating and (if you let it) will motivate you to get back to work on song creation in your studio. It’s over an hour long, but it’s worth it.
Let me make something really clear today: songwriting isn’t simply a process of inspiration, where you write when creativity strikes. It’s hard, grueling work. If you ever want to record an album with great songs, you can’t sit around waiting for inspiration to hit you in the face; you need to block some time out and “go to work” like it’s your second job.
Inspiration Rarely Comes
With rare exception most songwriters don’t wake up with oodles of inspiration. Much like the rest of the human race they wake up with cares, worries, responsibilities, and burdens (both healthy and unhealthy). They are normal people. The difference is that songwriters have a gift for writing music and a strong desire to create incredible songs. Desire and talent definitely have to be there. Inspiration does not.
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Happy New Year everyone! Today I have some big announcements and a challenge for you. If you want to make more music this year than you did last year, listen up. You need written deadlines and accountability. So do I. In fact I’m asking YOU to hold me accountable. Check out the video for details. Let’s do this!