I get alot of messages
from friends on myspace asking for advice on either songwriting
methods, home recording techniques, or both. So I've come up with
some tips to help any inquiring, aspiring home recording engineers
with the potentially arduous process they're getting into. My
methods are somewhat unorthodox at times and by no means are the
end all-be all of home recording technique. There are many
different approaches. These are simply the methods that I choose,
presented in detail, for anyone who's curious. Keep in mind that
the majority of songs I post on my profile are rough drafts,
demos, and that I'll eventually re-record them in a more advanced,
professional studio. That's an epic process I'll get into some
The benefit of working songs out in a home-recording environment
is that you will have had all the time you've needed to work out
alot of the kinks and you may find you have your ideas mapped out
a little more concretely and your time spent more efficiently in
the final stages of recording your songs. In the big leagues they
call this, "pre-production" and this, quite possibly, could end up
saving you a great deal of money that you may have otherwise spent
fumbling around in some expensive studio.
1. Writing a Song
So you want to be a songwriter? Maybe you have volumes upon
volumes of lyrics written that you've been archiving since junior
high. And maybe the written content of these lyrics is of great
profoundness, impressively spelled out in epic lengths, and
detail. The truth is as you develop the skill of making your
words interact with your instrumentation, you will most likely
scrap these early rants, and one day, down the road, you will
laugh at the unstructured babble you once called your songs.
Remember, anyone can write bad poetry, but a catchy song? That's
not so easy.
It's now time to put your prose on ice and focus on practicing
your guitar. What kind of guitar you have and the condition it's
in will have an enormous impact on your ability to excel in your
playing. I recommend using red tortex or everly brothers nylon
picks. Plastic picks will break apart if you put any effort
into your playing. Nylon picks won't snap apart like plastic, but
rather wear down like the soles of a shoe. A nice, light pick will
let you develop a quick strumming style, with little string
breakage. Keeping somewhat new strings on the guitar at all times
is important. I recommend basic 10 gauge strings, because they're
easy to break in, not too fragile, and loose enough to allow some
quick fret movement. And get accustomed to changing all the
strings at once, so that your strings are all the same age, and
have equal wear and tear.
Take your guitar to a reputable repair shop and have them do a
"set-up" on it. This involves intonating your guitar, adjusting
the truss rod, and generally cleaning it up and making sure it's
wires and circuits are in working order. This will help to
preserve the life of the instrument, and help it stay in tune.
Even the cheapest of guitars can perform very enjoyably when
properly cared for.
Once you start to get comfortable with your guitar, the riffs will
start to ooze from your fingertips.
Now some people surely see lyrics as the focal point, the heart
and soul, of a song. But I beg to differ, at least where the
subject of rock and roll is concerned. The essense of all
good rock and roll lies in the power of the riff. It's not that
hard to put together a rock song. All you really need is a good
riff. Make up a cool 4 bar intro, add a chorus, maybe a bridge,
repeat the verse and chorus, top it all off with a sweet crescendo
and, voila! You now have the framework to build upon your vehicle
of _expression to unleash upon the world.
Bringing It All Together
Now you'll need to put words to that racket. You'll want to
organize your words so that they flow with the guitar and don't
inhibit your playing. Start out simple. You can get busier when
your rhythm becomes more fluid and you're more comfortable at
multitasking your guitar playing and singing as you evolve from
music fan to musician.
And pay attention to your cadence. If you don't know what that
word means, look it up, learn it, and let it become a natural way
for you to express yourself.
2. Home Recording
Wanna write more than 8 songs a year with your band that practices
maybe twice a week if you're lucky? Get some home recording gear.
Learn how to make loops and samples, tempo-maps, sequencing, that
sort of stuff. It may sound like techno-blasphemy coming from a
Rock and Roll Purist, such as myself, but my knowledge of how to
utilize those functions and the tools that create them has been
absolutely serendipitous to me in the songwriting process. In the
last year and a half, I've recorded around 40 original, and a
dozen cover songs, performing every instrument and vocal track
myself. I'm currently in the midst of about a dozen more
"works in progress", and it would be stifling to try and take on
such a workload without the abilty to sequence.
The typical genesis of many of the songs I've composed with the
help of home recording equipment will go like this;
First I set up some microphones at my rehearsal studio. I only
have 4 tracks to work with for inputted tracking with my recorder,
so the standard set-up involved is 1 mic for the kick drum, 1 for
snare, and 2 overheads cover my toms and cymbols. I test the
recording input levels and adjust the trim knobs to make sure the
levels don't clip over the redlines. Next, I set the drum
machine on my recorder to click track mode and determine what
meter I want to work with. I put on my head phones, hit record,
and rock out for around 4 hours, breaking to set the meter at
different tempos, and pound generous amounts of gatorade and rock
star energy drinks.
Later, at home, using cut and paste sequencing, I can create my
own drum patterns and tracks for a song, as an alternative to the
synthetic sound of a drum machine. So if I hear a cool beat I did,
that slops out shortly after, I just sample the good part and loop
it. This is how my drum tracks sound so tight. Don't tell
anyone. This knowledge is for you only. I don't need the world
knowing that I cheated on my drum tracks. Another more traditional
approach I employ is tracking all my guitars, bass, and vocals
over a skratch click track, then blasting the song through head
phones and playing/recording authentic, live drums over the top of
If you don't have a drumset, or accesss to a drummer to sample,
then a drum machine is still helpful in getting your ideas down.
This same approach can be applied to basslines, and guitar riffs.
It just saves so much time it's
invaluable. Remember, I'm a songwriter, and until I'm finally
recording the songs for my record in a real studio, my main goal
with home recording is getting my ideas down in a tangible form as
quick as possible. I'm not concerned with adhering to any
grassroots, purist approach to making songs at this level of my
scheme. I'm thinking about finishing this song fast, and
efficiently, so I can proceed with the next twelve I have on the
cutting board, and maybe even get some sleep. So even if your bass
or guitar skills are not that hot, with loops and sequencing
savvy, all you need is one good bar or measure, and you can let
these tools do the rest of the work for you.
Amp modeling is priceless as well. 95% of my guitar and bass
tracks recorded over the last 2 years were all done with
synthesized amp sounds obtained plugging directly into my recorder
and using it's amp-modeling feature. I love it. I can pick what
kind of head, how many tubes it has, how hot the tubes are, what
model and year cabinet, how many speakers, how much air is running
through the cab, and what kind of room it's in, all simulated by
the modeling software within the recorder.
Technology is wonderful. Don't be a luddite.
I play a Fender Stratocaster guitar with a Gibson humbucker
pickup, a Fender Telecaster with Gibson P90s, and a Gibson SG with
1 P90. I play a Fender Jazz bass, Route 66 edition.
I use a Fender pro-sonic 85 watt guitar head. Orange cabinets
I play a 3 piece DW drumset with a Porkpie Snare and Sabian
cymbols. I use Vader 5A drumsticks.
Endorsement deal, please..?"