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  • Do You Use a DAW for Songwriting?

    I used to pick up a guitar, grab a pad of paper, and start songwriting. But lately, my songwriting starts with turning on the computer. I never thought that a computer could be agile enough to grab inspiration, but between computers getting faster and my getting more facile with the tools I use, I find the computer actually expedites the songwriting process.

    How many here integrate their computers from the very earliest states of songwriting? If so, why? If not, why not?
    Last edited by Phil O'Keefe; 12-14-2014, 11:09 PM.
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  • #2
    I don't use a computer for composing; the workflow is too artificial feeling. I still write out lyrics on paper with a pen, and work out chords based on the rythyms of the words.

    I once used Acid to paste together recorded sections of music to implement a song which I'd already written, and it worked out pretty well, but I currently old the more old-school method of just recording the whole song.

    The PC world has not come up with a musical language agile enough represent my songs symbolically (I guess it would fall somewhere between the midi piano roll and standard staff notation; but for me neither of them is precise enough, readable enough and easily/quickly editable).

    I suppose the .WAV file is the most accurate musical record, but I don't know that I'd consider recording and pasting up pieces as composing. I suppose for some people it is. For me it is not; I need to have mentally conceived the result in some way, before starting recording, to consider it composing. However I guess the copyright office doesn't care a fig about how you came up with it, only that you registered it as a composition. So for other people it might very well be a completely valid way to work.

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    • #3
      A combination of pen and paper and DAW for us here, working out some of the words while recording so we can hear it back.
      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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      • #4
        Pen, paper and guitar every time

        I usually have the completed song in my head before I begin recording, so for me (at the moment) the DAW is merely used as a recorder and nothing else
        new album - smoke
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        • #5
          The earliest stages for me are still with pen and paper, but by the time I start adding stuff in the DAW, something always gets changed. Usually it's parts of the melody because I'm super indecisive about melody. The ability to just sit back and listen to what I've got so far is what really informs the decision making process for me. I wish I was less dependent on that, but it is what is.
          Last edited by kurdy; 12-14-2014, 01:43 PM.
          ...

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          • #6
            Electronic stuff I compose on the DAW. Singer-songwriter stuff on the sofa or piano bench.

            But this thread has me thinking more DAW usage during composition might yield some interesting and different results - moving between instruments fast, capturing fleeting ideas, thinking of musical features like reverb, fx, compression, etc, more like compositional tools than after-the-fact polishing and prettying up.

            Or I might get so distracted by all the DAW features that actual songwriting bogs down. It would be worth at least some experimenting, 'tho.

            nat whilk ii

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            • #7
              I've never gone straight to the computer with an idea, but I wouldn't rule it out either. What I like about using a DAW as a writing tool is being able to fly sections around - so maybe the middle 8 is better after the first chorus, or maybe the pre-chorus is actually a middle-8, or deciding whether we want an instrumental break using the verse chords, or chorus chords, and whatnot. Also, I might only have lyrics for a verse and half a chorus, and I'll lay that down, copy and paste out to a longer song form, sans lyrics - this way, the lyrics, and any other sections can end up getting written in a very intuitive and inspirational way. You get a very clear idea, very quickly, of how the song structure and shape should work, and how it shouldn't work.
              Last edited by gubu; 12-14-2014, 08:05 PM.
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              • #8
                My songwriting process varies from time to time. When I was younger I use to just sit down with an acoustic, paper and pen. But nowadays I find myself doing acapella and recording it on my phone. Sometimes I would go straight to my DAW to record some practice covers and in between takes I would try playing something new. I think songwriting straight from a DAW could be a good or bad thing, depends on the workflow and the individual. Writing in a DAW can open you up to more possibilities with arrangements, record a phrase and then layer tracks over it to see the potential it has. But at the same time, some people might start relying on arrangements to make up for lack of song development. Kind of the EDM mentality. But all in all, its good to introduce new tools in your workflow but just don't neglect the fundamentals.
                Moderator - The Singer's Forum
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                • #9
                  Most of the songs I write start with me on keyboard/guitar fooling around with a melody or chord progression. Sometimes I`ll switch to the DAW to capture an idea and find that the technology just gets in the way because I`ll start throwing too many ideas down and not actually complete the song so I have a bunch of tunes that have verses with loads of ideas and choruses of incomplete songs.

                  The best workflow for me is to get the bones of the song down… then use the DAW to decorate it.








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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Ernest Buckley View Post
                    The best workflow for me is to get the bones of the song down… then use the DAW to decorate it.
                    Yeah that's pretty much how I see it also.

                    My songs usually start with either a keyboard or a guitar but if you include developing musical ideas and arranging songs as part of songwriting then yes I certainly use a DAW for songwriting. In fact a DAW is pretty indispensable for the kind of work I do now but my initial musical ideas always come from playing a musical instrument live.

                    But the DAW heavily influences the final results.

                    Songs that may have started off as mellow piano ballads might end up sounding like jazz fusion or techno while something I may have envisioned as an up tempo rocker may end up having a slow ballad or country feel. One problem is that DAWs give you so many choices you can get caught up in decision anxiety. Should I use the room reverb or the plate? Should I nudge the guitar three miilseconds to the right or two milliseconds to the left?

                    I bought a copy of ACID back when it first came out and fooled around with it for a while. I thought I was making some kind of cool collage art for sound but I quickly grew tired of it and ended up giving it away. I still might occasionally use loops in some of my music but they are mostly percussion loops.

                    For me asking if you use a DAW for songwriting is kind of like asking if you use a tape recorder or a metronome or a sequencer for songwriting. They are useful tools to help arrange and piece together musical ideas.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Folder View Post
                      But the DAW heavily influences the final results.
                      For sure. Writing and working in a DAW are two different thought processes for me so I try not to combine the two. Simple as that.

                      If I prematurely go to the DAW, that initial creative spark is lost. My main concern is capturing that initial creative spark… the only tools that do not interfere with that urgency are paper and pen.

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                      • #12
                        I use the computer for everything....from beginning to end. It acts the same as my old SOUND ON SOUND recording equipment or multitrack recorders from the 70's. I pound out rythmic ideas as they come to me on a keyboard. Very often the notes may not be right but bumping them up or down with MIDI editing fixes them all. Within 3 hours or so the entire tune is roughly fleshed out.

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

                        http://youtube.com/techristian My YOUTUBE channel
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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by nat whilk II View Post
                          But this thread has me thinking more DAW usage during composition might yield some interesting and different results - moving between instruments fast, capturing fleeting ideas, thinking of musical features like reverb, fx, compression, etc, more like compositional tools than after-the-fact polishing and prettying up.

                          Or I might get so distracted by all the DAW features that actual songwriting bogs down. It would be worth at least some experimenting, 'tho.

                          nat whilk ii
                          For me, it's about separating the songwriting from the recording while still using the DAW. This means that the DAW is totally a scratchpad, tracks are placeholders, lyrics have a few good lines and the rest gets edited later, very rarely does anything make it to the final version except for the song structures, chord progression, melody line, and lyrics. The song gets written in a fast burst of creativity where I don't care about EQ, effects, the fact that the drum part is just a loop, etc. I do a lot of grouping to move sections around and play with them...try different orders...etc.

                          As it turns out the recklessness also can have benefits as it encourages happy accidents. For example, there was a drum loop I thought was perfect for a song but I'd used it previously. So I grabbed something from a Discrete Drums Funk folder because it was the right tempo, and for some reason it worked great in the rock song and gave a different flavor. When it came time to put on the "real" drums, I drew from those loops although I did cut them up quite a bit.

                          It all happens extremely fast and when it's over, I have a song and even an arrangement. When the actual recording starts, the first thing I do is try to get down a good vocal. It doesn't have to be the final vocal, it just has to be good. Sometimes I'll be able to keep the scratch rhythm guitar, sometimes not, but then comes the bass. I know a lot of people work on drums, but finishing the drum part happens later. A drummer supplies the constant pulse, and then puts int fills. I already have a pulse, and worry about the fills later.

                          What I'm finding is the faster I proceed and the less deliberate I am, and the less I concern myself with the mix, effects, etc., it's almost impossible to go wrong. If you go fast enough you just become this conduit and the DAW sucks it all up.

                          It's also really important to know your software like the back of your hand, as well as a setup that doesn't crash and is ready to go as soon as you boot up...or the whole process falls apart.
                          Last edited by Anderton; 12-15-2014, 12:39 AM.
                          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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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Anderton View Post
                            I used to pick up a guitar, grab a pad of paper, and start songwriting. But lately, my songwriting starts with turning on the computer. I never thought that a computer could be agile enough to grab inspiration, but between computers getting faster and my getting more facile with the tools I use, I find the computer actually expedites the songwriting process.

                            How many here integrate their computers from the very earliest states of songwriting? If so, why? If not, why not?

                            Yes. I do.

                            1. I will noodle some chords on a guitar or keyboard.
                            2. Something clicks.
                            3. I go to DAW & find a beat.
                            4. I search for a melody.
                            5. I start recording.

                            The whole orchestration & rhythm are DAW-based experimentation.
                            He has escaped! Youtube , ​Murika , France

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                            • #15
                              I don't use a DAW in that process, but the computer does come in early. I usually scribble out lyrics, chords, and some basic notes on paper and then put it all into Sibelius. The fine-tuning of chords and melody, as well as actually writing large chunks of melody in particular, and deciding on a bpm tempo, is all done in Sibelius.

                              Fortunately our singer just remembered how to read music.

                              Martyn Wheeler (playing synthesizers/organ like it's 1973 in England)

                              now: Fredfin Wallaby
                              was: The Gonzo Symphonic

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