Personal blog and comfy corner of Lyra Rhodes: musician, cake aficionado, whinger...maybe just a place where I can stuff things (words!), rather than them falling down the back of the sofa

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Lonely Road

This post is about my (albeit crappy) songwriting. Beware!

Son no.1 said to me "that's like nothing I've ever heard, and not in a good way".
But I wrote this anyway, and for the home recording hobbyists, here's a kind of amateurish "studio log" and some notes.

Normally, I write a song on the guitar. It lives with me for months, even years. My friends then protest that what I record "sounds nothing like that acoustic song!". And I agree. But do it anyway.
Really, it's not the recording or playing I enjoy, but the overall composition, the bringing in of other background instruments and mixing something new that comes out of it.
And these previous "songs" that I do, can take months to record and finish.
This time it was different. My achilles heel has always been the bass sound, whether recorded, existing loops, or synth bass.
And that's because I start with the song.

This time, I started with a bass line that I liked, added in drums, mapped out a verse chorus, verse chorus, Bridge structure, and played some guitar on it (which I then looped).
I mean, for a singer/songwriter kind of person, this is a different approach for me, but probably better given the home recording / DAW kind of setup I have.
After all, when you are musician, lyricist, engineer, producer, mastering engineer....all of these things yourself, there are no other musicians to "spar" with, and bounce ideas off. I think it's easier sometimes to be inspired by the rhythm section, and getting that right first, or at least adding it to a known guitar song, then rewriting the guitar song to fit (if you know what I mean) in an iterative kind of way.

Moving on, it then became a rush. Are there lots of things I'd like to go back and edit and change and fix and tweak?
But I then began to rush even more, to try and turn the months (inbetween working for a living) of writing and recording and mixing, into a matter of weeks. 2 1/2 weeks in this case...

So I probably didn't do as much mixing or mastering as I would normally do.
Perhaps the key recording/mixiing/mastering differences here for me were:
(1) high level of limiting at the recording stage for the guitar loop, and then very few effects afterwards
(2) real double-tracking on the guitar (as opposed to software double tracking)
(3) nectar essentials (who produce "ozone" and such like) on my (crappy) vocals, but at least they sound a little better & tuned - the idea is very much that they're not full and forward
(4) a stronger bass sound
(5) less synths than I would normally use
(6) I normally AVOID huge compression and limiting, but this is often at the expense of loudness and a sound that "gels". Mastering compression is a tricky art, after all. This time I mixed straight into a limiter, driving it harder.

Things were a lot more complicated than I would normally do, and this is probably where more effort went.

The song was mixed into a "tape" saturation compressor to warm things and rolloff bass rumble, then a Compressor in mid/side mode, and a mid/side clipper, and a multiband limiter. Finally some very light/long release "tube" compression and EQ to balance the mids.
The aim of this was to gain loudness, smooth things together, whilst avoiding the strong centred bass "pumping" the song, and keeping the L/R double tracked guitars in focus. So I think the mid/side stuff was key here. True, looking at the waveform it looks a bit nasty, but at least transients are a bit controlled.

If I was to go back and improve anything it would be:
(1) some tighter editing of the vocals, riding faders too, avoiding some "ch" and mic chatter/essing a bit more
(2) ducking levels of guitar a bit more here and there
(3) some volume changes to avoid repitition and listening fatigue (the waveform is tiringly loud)
(4) roll off a tiny bit of mid and treble on the acoustic guitars
(5) EQ the bass a bit more (still a bit boomy)
(6) up the level of the electric guitar in the fadeout section
(7) lengthen the bridge - work a bit more to ease the transition into it! I spent a fair bit of time on that, and still never got it fully to my satisfaction, but despite listeners protesting, I liked it overall and kept it.... :-)

But overall, I think the sound quality is a wee bit better than what I normally produce.

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