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  • How Do You Build a Multitracked Song?

    I'm doing another cover of a Marky song, and doing these covers has caused me to do a different type of recording that's a little more "cumulative" than my normal procedure...which got me wondering about how the SSS denizens construct their multitrack songs. Anyway, he's what I've been doing with the covers.



    The song is already done, so there's no "writing in the studio." But, there is the question of coming up with a new arrangement. So what I do is load his original track into the DAW, and line up the tempo for starters.



    First up is a new guitar part, because he has a much higher range so I have to work in a different key. Then I laid down drums for a rhythmic reference, and cut a vocal because AFAIC laying down tracks without a scratch vocal makes no sense.



    But, I decided to arrange it into more of a dance tune as it makes no sense to do a cover that's simply an inferior version of the original So, off came the drum part, and I replaced with with a more dancey vibe. Then I added a more loping kind of bass line compared to the original.



    At that point, the guitar part made no sense any more so I wiped that. But then I made some chord substitutions in the new part, so that meant re-doing some of the bass. Then I wanted a more fluid vocal part so it matched the other parts better and I re-cut that.



    This is an interesting way to record, because in a sense, I already had the finished product and worked backward to create the tracks. I've now started to apply this approach to my own songs in the sense of getting down a "finished" guitar + vocal or piano + vocal song, basically arranged like a folk song, then going back and creating the underpinnings.



    I dunno, this may be boring but I thought it was kind of interesting as I normally don't work this way. How do you build songs?
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  • #2






    Quote Originally Posted by Anderton
    View Post

    I dunno, this may be boring but I thought it was kind of interesting as I normally don't work this way. How do you build songs?




    I mostly do it much like you just described, because that's the only way I CAN do it in my situation.



    In our case, the song is "finished" in the sense that we've played it to death live and it has evolved greatly. But the players we play with live (drums, bass, keyboards, harmony vocalists, sometimes horns) vary drastically from show to show as in Austin there is the "songwriter team" and the "mercenary hordes." We have a list of more than 20 drummers and 6 bassists we have to call as soon as a show is booked in the hope we can find one who's free.



    An interesting side effect of this terrible process is that we get to hear a lot of other players' takes on our songs. As excruciating as that is, and as unpleasant as that often is, it does cause the song to develop as we're not above telling a hired bassist (for example) that we want a walking bass line on the prechorus of a song (for example) because some other bassist who sat in with us did that and we liked it.



    Now when it comes time to record, we have our pick of ANY of the the sidemen mercenaries we've played with and pretty much even guys and girls who would NEVER play with us live. This is because (a) we can pay more for a recording, (b) it can be any time and day to fit their schedule, and (c) they might have political reasons to not play with us live.



    It might seem uncool to not use the guys who were in the trenches with us, but keep in mind that's part of their decision when they chose to be a mercenary instead of a band member. And it's not as if they've ever minded being replaced on the albums either. They're each in a dozen bands and they're really just trying to make a living.



    So we cut the initial tracks with just the best drummer and bassist we can hire, one rhythm guitar, and a scratch vocal. We generally have the arrangement worked out and we let our "three piece" go as long as needed to get a solid groove between the three of us. This can take quite a while, and if it's not working on a particular song I just table that one and move on to the next.



    Unlike Craig's situation, we already know what key works best for Julie so that's set from our live shows.



    After we have about four or five songs basic with basic tracks, we bring in the keyboard guy (who knows more music theory and has more ideas than the rest of us all put together) cuts a few of his takes on each song. I'll mute my guitar track if it clashes with his idea, or sometimes play along with him. He's already done his homework as I've emailed him mixes with and without guitar, and even without bass.



    This process continues as we add more parts, with the previous players coming back to change parts as needed with better ideas are found. We'll even start a song completely over if we feel it's warranted, or get the drummer to redo his part over the click if he or we feel it would add substantially to the groove.



    I think Craig's "like a folk song" process describes exactly how we do it too. Sometimes our process even starts with click (or simple drum loop), acoustic guitar, and voice.



    Terry D.
    Telling Stories releases 2nd CD, see our WEBSITE! Please check out my GROUPIE STORY and Tales from the Road.

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    • #3
      Thanks, Terry. That's very interesting
      N E W S O N G ! To Say 'No' Would Be a Crime (Remix) is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

      Subscribe, like, and share the links!

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      • #4






        Quote Originally Posted by Anderton
        View Post



        The song is already done, so there's no "writing in the studio." But, there is the question of coming up with a new arrangement. So what I do is load his original track into the DAW, and line up the tempo for starters.





        This is an interesting way to record, because in a sense, I already had the finished product and worked backward to create the tracks. I've now started to apply this approach to my own songs in the sense of getting down a "finished" guitar + vocal or piano + vocal song, basically arranged like a folk song, then going back and creating the underpinnings.




        Sometimes, when my muse is mad and not talking to me, I'll load someone's track in Sonar, and line up the tempo same way. But then instead of creating a cover, I'll go the other direction and make a new song of my own by replacing the original parts, remixing, chopping up and rearranging - whatever seems to work, since all aspects of the tune are up for editing/replacing grabs from tempo to chords to melody, parts, instrumentation, etc etc.



        This method usually mixes as it progresses, which is nice for me because I enjoy song creation far more than the tedious jigsaw puzzle work that multitracking and mixing entails.



        This doesn't always work - if I don't catch a vision of a truly different song, then I'll drop it. But even then, I usually learn something in the process - some chord progression or beat or instrumental mix that I'll keep in mind to use later sometime.



        It can be really fun to load up something like a Debussy orchestral thing with a mind to creating an R&B tune or electronic IDM production when the dust clears.



        nat whilk ii

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        • #5
          I feel like I've built them just about every way, from recording the vocal a capella to building things from the rhythm track and then piling everything else on to recording a keyboard or a guitar part and then building the rhythm part afterwards to improvising things and then completely deconstructing it and then rebuilding it. It's interesting because each one has its merits, and songs come out differently from the process.
          Ken Lee on 500px / Ken's Photo Store / Ken Lee Photography Facebook Website / Blueberry Buddha Studios / Ajanta Palace Houseboat - Kashmir / Hotel Green View - Kashmir / Eleven Shadows website / Ken Lee Photography Blog / Akai 12-track tape transfers / MY NEW ALBUM! The Mercury Seven

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          • #6
            I like to first create a "dummy" track (one that will be deleted later) of piano, playing the song with lots of feeling and vigor and appropriate tempo shifts. The "feeling" has to come first, no? Then other tracks get synched to that dummy.
            Every paint-stroke takes you farther and farther away from your initial concept. And you have to be thankful for that. Wayne Thiebaud


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            • #7






              Quote Originally Posted by Anderton
              View Post

              How do you build songs?




              Just about every song starts in REASON. I get the arrangement done in REASON and then record the bass and piano, etc... then I use REWIRE and get DP and REASON to work together. In DP, I usually put down a rough vocal, then record guitars and then go back and work on the lead vocal. BKG vocals are usually last. I`ve been working this way for a good 6-7 years now whereas before I used to record an acoustic and vocal, then work around that.

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              • #8
                I do a bass line first. Then drums on top. Usually at this point a vocal may come to me. So next a scratch vocal. Then some chording and filling in the gaps between the vocals. Then I may redo the drums with the feel of the vocals in there. Then last but not least, redo the vocals. All of this time I may or may not play with the patches (sounds) this can also spin the song off in a new direction. I usually get the main part (3 or 4 tracks) of the song in 2-3 hours, but later tweaking and changing patches, orchestration and layering etc. can take another 30 hours or so. The most enjoyable part is the first 3 hours for me. This 30 hour process will not be continuous. I may start 5 or 6 songs at the same time. That way ,when I come back to it in a week or so, it sounds fresh again.





                Dan
                http://musicinit.com/fastfingers.php An Experiment in 80's Technology

                http://youtube.com/techristian My YOUTUBE channel
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                • #9






                  Quote Originally Posted by rasputin1963
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                  I like to first create a "dummy" track (one that will be deleted later) of piano, playing the song with lots of feeling and vigor and appropriate tempo shifts. The "feeling" has to come first, no? Then other tracks get synched to that dummy.




                  Yeah if you're working with audio files, for all practical purposes you need a tempo guide first. If it's all MIDI and dance music and a set tempo it's not that big a deal, but if it's acoustic and expressive, a mistake at this point pretty much screws you bad down the line. I have one song I'm working on right now where I've been messing with the form and the tempo for months and months, so that I get it right before I lay down the live drums. I think I finally nailed it though and I have the drummer in next week. At this point it's rough piano, guitar and voice all set to a programmed metronome with all the tempo changes. Once the drums are recorded I will treat it like a normal band recording.



                  How much twisting and reworking there is depends on how the song got written or where it came from. Sometimes I write in the DAW and those songs are a different process (more like what Craig describes) than ones where I sit down at the guitar or piano and write a song through. When I write a song through first I try to treat my own recording like I would any band- start with the tempo guide and build up from the drums. Of course it hardly ever stays that neat or organized, but I try. The other side of the coin is something like that Christmas tune I posted... composed in the box, worked and reworked, morphed all over the place, entire sections dropped, added, whatever. It's like trying to tap dance in molasses.
                  Silk City Music Factory: A Connecticut Recording Studio

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                  • #10
                    Well I'm pretty much a one man band these days. I write, arrange and play all the instruments on my compositions. Usually the first thing I do after I write a song is to try to figure out what kind of rhythm tracks it is going to have. This is usually the most difficult and time consuming part for me.



                    Since I'm not a drummer and don't have any place to record drums anyway I usually use either MIDI loops or Acid loops. I audition loops until I find something that works. I used to program them myself with quantization but I don't do that anymore because I have loop libraries now that were played by real drummers. For the kind of music that I do, the real drummer loops make all the difference in the world.



                    Sometimes a song will change drastically from how I envisioned it originally.

                    Here is a song I'm working on (rough mix) that started out as two separate slow piano ballads. I tried the up-tempo beat on the main section and liked it. Then I used a completely different unrelated song to build a bridge section.



                    http://soundcloud.com/leannswamp/fat-man



                    Sometimes I can't find any loops that work so I will have to build my own drum tracks from scratch. Sometimes I'll erase certain elements of a loop pattern and paste other elements from different patterns on top of it. Sometimes I will use Acid loops on top of MIDI loops. Sometimes I'll use multiple MIDI loops on top of each other.



                    Here is a song I'm working on (rough mix) that has the kick drum played by a Nashville drummer, the snare and high-hat played by a rock drummer and the cymbals played by a polka drummer I think.

                    But I think it sounds like just one real guy playing the drums.



                    http://soundcloud.com/leannswamp/whale



                    I used to usually put the bass track down next, but these days I'm more likely to record either the keyboard or guitar (which ever I wrote the song on) because I like to be able to compose the bass line while hearing the chord sequence.(especially on slower songs) . Up tempo rockers I will still sometimes record the bass first because it helps me get the feel when I put down the guitars.



                    After I get the rhythm section and basic chordal part down I experiment with song arranging. This can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few months for me. This is usually the most enjoyable part. I will try lots of different guitar and keyboard parts. The hard part is deciding what parts to use in the mix. I could literally come up with parts to overdub indefinitely and I almost always have multiple tracks that are muted or deleted.



                    The last thing I usually do is the guitar solos. In the old days (on tape) I would build the solo from the beginning to the end piece by piece. I still do it that way for the most part, but I also move things in time now. I may put the last phrase at the beginning or move the middle section to end or what ever.



                    None of my songs are ever really finished. There is always something more that I could have done with them. I just eventually decide to let people hear some of them.

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                    • #11
                      Interesting thread



                      When I come to record one of my compositions, I have the completed song already in my head. So it's just a case of recording the drums (I always do the drums first, if there are drums in the song), then the main guitar, bass, keys, other guitar parts. The vocals are last. I don't need to record a guide-vocal, as the vocal melody is in my head as I'm recording the music



                      If I make a mistake (as long as it's not an obvious howler!), I usually leave it in. My songs are littered with mistakes. I don't care. I'm not perfect, and my imperfections are reflected in my songs. I usually try to record a 'performance', rather than cut and paste the best bits. Actually, I couldn't really cut and paste anyway since I don't use a computer! To be frank, I don't think I could be bothered cutting and pasting. I'd rather get on with it and move on to something else



                      And when I've finished, I've finished. I don't monkey about tweaking this and ****************ing about with that. When it's done it's done. Next!
                      new album - smoke
                      forum - the asylum

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                      • #12






                        Quote Originally Posted by Anderton
                        View Post



                        So, off came the drum part, and I replaced with with a more dancey vibe. Then I added a more loping kind of bass line compared to the original.



                        At that point, the guitar part made no sense any more so I wiped that. But then I made some chord substitutions in the new part, so that meant re-doing some of the bass. Then I wanted a more fluid vocal part so it matched the other parts better and I re-cut that.




                        This is where it can get really frustrating and I know the feeling.



                        I've spent countless hours working on songs and then ended up scrapping parts mid project. When you spend a lot of time and hard work on something it's very difficult to come to the realization something needs to be let go or changed.



                        Sometimes I might have a part that I think is the coolest part of the whole song but it is clashing with something else that I feel is more important. Should I try to rearrange everything else so I can keep the cool part or should I just get rid of it so the more important part shines through?



                        It takes courage to be able to change course mid project but if you keep an open mind and follow your instincts you can end up with an arrangement that's better than what you initially thought of. I've done it many times.



                        But then again I've also got countless aborted projects on my hard drive that I've temporarily stopped working on because I can't make them work.

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                        • #13
                          I'll usually start with (rough) guitar to a click, then (rough) drums, then (rough) bass. One take of each just to hear something "full". At that point I can usually tell where the arrangement is working or not and make the necessary changes. If I started writing the vocal towards the beginning I'll record a rough of that as well.



                          Then I write/record final drums, final bass, final guitar tracks. final vocal tracks and layers of keys/noise/synths.



                          These days I try to spend less and less on everything and just follow my gut. My decisions are usually better when i don't over-think things (as with life in general) and besides...**************** it, it's art. It's not gonna be perfect but I sure as **************** am gonna be happy.

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                          • #14






                            Quote Originally Posted by Folder
                            View Post

                            I've spent countless hours working on songs and then ended up scrapping parts mid project. When you spend a lot of time and hard work on something it's very difficult to come to the realization something needs to be let go or changed




                            ^TRUE THAT
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                            http://soundcloud.com/mrnatural-1

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                            • #15
                              Definitely true what Folder says. We did this ambient, sort of experimental song last year where we realized that all the parts we were using for the song were overdubs, and we were no longer using the original improvisation! We got a good chuckle out of that.
                              Ken Lee on 500px / Ken's Photo Store / Ken Lee Photography Facebook Website / Blueberry Buddha Studios / Ajanta Palace Houseboat - Kashmir / Hotel Green View - Kashmir / Eleven Shadows website / Ken Lee Photography Blog / Akai 12-track tape transfers / MY NEW ALBUM! The Mercury Seven

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