Have a great loop, but don’t know what to do with it? If you think like an arranger and producer you can actually create a rich and dynamic song built around a simple 4 or 8 bar loop. This summer I wrote and recorded an entire song around a simple guitar loop I created and I want to share some of my approach in hopes that it might spark your creativity.
Nate Mendel has been the bass player for rock icons the Foo Fighters for almost 20 years now. He’s written, recorded, and toured on rock hit after rock hit with Dave Grohl and the gang. With that wealth of experience and knowledge you would expect him to impart some wisdom on how to get great recordings.
Don’t Simply Record Everything
In a recent interview with Musicians Friend, Nate gave this advice to up and coming artists and home studio folk:
Every time somebody has just the germ of a [musical] idea, it’s like “Let’s record that.” And then what you have is this huge backlog of recordings. I think that can turn into a real mess pretty quickly. [Instead] write the song. Remember what it is. Have it sorted out so it sounds good, and then record it. - Nate Mendel, Bassist (Foo Fighters)
Want to be a better recording or mix engineer? Of course you do. What about a better songwriter, or musician in general? That would be nice too. Is there some secret method to get better? Nope. Is it simply a life long journey of trying and failing? Yes. But it doesn’t have to a take a lifetime to get better.
Recording 12 CDs In 12 Months
Recently one TRR reader passed along this article on CDBaby about an artist named Mr. Billy. He does rock music for kids. Awesome. What’s crazy though, is that recently Mr. Billy decided to write, record, mix, and release 12 albums in a year. That’s 12 full length albums, each with roughly 12 songs. 144 songs people! That’s insane! You should read the whole article because this guy totally embodies the Recording Revolution mindset. But listen to what he said as he summed what lessons he learned in the process:
Interestingly, my songwriting, production and especially my vocal skills improved with each CD…crazy huh? The more I did, the more I could do. – Mr. Billy
How much music have you recorded/produced in the past 6 months? Have you released any new tracks? Are you in the middle of a project? This year is officially half way over, what have you got to show for it musically? Well, I have a little challenge for you. Hear me out on this one…
Release Your Next Album 6 Months From Today
You read that right. There are 6 months left in the year, so why not release an EP of 6 songs in the next 6 months? No reason why not! You have to set some kind of deadline in order to get those creative juices flowing. I think giving yourself 6 months to do a project is a great deadline. It’s actually doable, but still just crazy enough to make you panic.
Now, I’m assuming many of you don’t record music full time. You have a day job that takes up a lot of time. Have no fear. This challenge is for people exactly like you. I’m challenging the regular, everyday, hardworking, person who has a home or project studio on the side, to write, record, mix, and release a 6 song EP in the next 6 months of your free time. Bam! So how exactly do you do this? I thought you would never ask!
Your 6 Month Road Map
One potential way to accomplish this task is to focus on one song at a time, start to finish, per month. You could follow my example on the One Song One Month Challenge videos I put together. If that fits your workflow, then give that a shot. But let me suggest a different road map that might help you compartmentalize things a bit more.
- Give yourself just 2 weeks to write and record each song. You don’t have time to over think the writing process. Take an idea and run wild with it. Whatever thoughts come to mind, do them. You aren’t mixing just yet, simply recording one for two weeks and then moving on to the next track. You will record as you go more than likely, and this is where having a simple and accessible setup will do wonders for your workflow! (Total Time – 12 weeks)
- Spend only 1 week mixing each song. Once your tracks are recorded, give yourself no more than 7 days to mix it. Don’t mix multiple songs at once, simply pick one and mix it all week. This can include any slight edits or tuning that you’d like to do, just as long as you stop tweaking after a week. Having multiple days to come back to it (even you spend just 30 minutes a day) will give you fresh ears and perspective. Try the 3 hour mix concept and see if that helps you. (Total Time – 6 weeks)
- Give yourself 1 week of mix tweaking. This is a crucial week of listening to your mixes in different environments and getting perspective on them after having spent 6 weeks mixing. You can make changes and adjustments to any and all 6 songs in this week. After the week is up, your mixing phase is complete. No more mucking around! (Total Time – 1 week)
- Spend 1 week mastering your tracks. This will be a total DIY mastering project. Take your final mixes from the previous week and import them into a mastering session. Do final EQ balance and limiting so they are ready to be played in the real world. This will be the week where you pick an EP name and song order. You’re almost there! (Total Time – 1 week)
- Do a 2 week digital release of your single. Pick your best song of the 6 and put it out for the world to hear. Blast it on Myspace, Facebook, Soundcloud, wherever! This is your time of promo. Get people pumped that you have a new EP coming out in a few short weeks. Allow people to download the song for free if you want. It will really get people excited for what else you have! (Total Time – 2 weeks)
- Put your new EP up for sale online. With less than a month left in our 6 month plan, you can now sign up with a site like TuneCore and have your EP available for sale digitally in places like iTunes and Amazon within days! It costs less than $50 a year, but it’s a small investment for your music. Plus you already have a small fan base from your free single the past few weeks. Just hit those people up and get them to buy the EP! (Total Time – 1 week)
That’s it! Go from nothing to digital release of a killer 6 song EP in a total of 23 weeks!
You Can Totally Do This
Am I crazy for suggesting this? Or am I actually on to something? What’s the worst that could happen if you tried it? You might actually record and make some killer music. And after all, isn’t that why you’re hanging out on this site in the first place?
Fight the doubter inside you, commit to making an EP in the next 6 months, put everything you have into it, and see if just wasn’t one of the best things you did in a long time. I hope to hear your EP when it’s done!
I’ve recently become a big fan of Michael Gungor’s music. His band (Gungor) has some super creative and inspiring music plus the production is top notch. The other day I was reading his personal blog and stumbled up on this fantastic post about how we engage our creativity and create music. I believe it relates to both songwriting and production so I have posted it here for your encouragement and motivation! (Titles and emphasis added)
We Are Simply ReOrdering Things
Everything ever made by any human being is simply an organization or reordering of that which is already inherently possible within the universe. No one says “bippidy boppidy boo, here’s an iphone.” Somebody figured out how to get this rock out of the earth, melt it down and combine it with this other rock, shape it like this, put this other sort of thing we found in the earth over the top of it, shoot this piece of metal from the earth up into the sky…etc After enough of this, you push send, and your friend in Moscow gets a text message from you.
Creativity then is simply learning how to mess with that which already exists and hopefully make something new out of it. In the western musical scales, we only have 12 notes to work with. Then you generally only have like 16 beats in a standard bar (plus the odd tuplet now and then) that anybody uses to make any rhythms out of. So with 12 notes and a handful places to place those notes in rhythm, you get pretty much every song you’ve ever heard.
The Hard Work Has Been Done For You
Creativity becomes a little less daunting when you start narrowing the parameters like that. To be creative in music, you don’t have to just blindly come up with a sound out of nothing. There’s been loads of people who have come before you who have done things like invent instruments and temper some scales for you. They have figured out how to play chords on those instruments, and made books for you to learn those chords. People have categorized certain “genres” of music by certain tones, instrumentation and other stylistic distinctions, and lots of people have crafted languages for you to communicate with. So you really have a lot of the work done for you already. You just get to mess around with combining all of that stuff into something that moves you.
Learn To Say “NO” To Things
As a creative person then, a lot of the work is simply wading through the things in your hands and saying no to the things that don’t fit the work that you are trying to do. It’s like the old Michelangelo story about how he said that all he did to make the great masterpiece David was simply to cut away all that was not David. He didn’t have to conjure up the human form out of nothing. That already existed. The stone already existed. The tools for cutting already existed. His main job was to simply say no to things that didn’t belong there in that stone.
If you feel like you want to up the creativity of your craft, maybe learn how to say no a little more. That lyric that has been used a thousand times by other people…maybe say no to the present form of that, and let it morph into something else. That same chord progression that you heard in those 1,400 other songs… What if you said no to that for this song and experimented with other sounds until finally one pops up that is worth not saying “no” to.
See What Sticks
Crafting… Creating… You don’t have to actually make something up out of thin air. Just throw stuff that already exists at the work and if it doesn’t stick, let it fall to the ground. Now and then something might stick though, and after enough “no’s”, something beautiful might emerge.
(This was written by Michael Gungor and originally posted at http://www.gungormusic.com/blog/?p=125)