In my recent post on gaming, I posted video with a song I had written at the end. As is my custom, it’s time to tell you about what I did when writing & recording it.
The song, The Calm Before The Storm, is inspired by the video game Destiny. It was written as an entry to a competition for a Destiny podcast that I listen to called Guardian Radio. They have a weekly competition (bounty) for different prizes & when writing a song was one I figured I could have a go at that.
Entering the competition set 2 challenging parameters that I have never had to work with before. First I had just under a week to get it done, I listened to the podcast on the Tuesday & the song was to be submitted by the end of the following Sunday, which also happened to be Mothers Day in the US. Secondly it had to be less than 3 minutes long, including any verbal introduction that you wanted to give it. Challenge accepted!
I wrote the song fairly quickly on the first day, mostly while at work (shh don’t tell anyone), themed around the story of Destiny & also the Guardian grimoire card. The podcast has a feature on their show where they do dramatic readings of the grimoire cards so I thought they would appreciate the nod. I don’t actually recall where the title line came from, obviously it is a well known phrase & is something I had been meaning to be creative with for a good while. Within the context of the song / game, it was a reference to the well known grind in Destiny. Yes you may have finished everything in the game, however don’t get carried away celebrating, because it is always time to go & do it again (and again). It is also a reference to my amazingly inconsistent PvP performances where I can just as easily go 6-16 as I can 16-6, much to my frustration.
With the game being a sci-fi adventure, I felt that the only way to go would be with a prog-rock style of presentation, I mean, what says sci-fi more than prog rock? I had hoped to get a more Dream Theater like vibe going on, but a combo of a lack of time & never having tried to do something prog(ish) before kept it away from that direction.
Fortunately when I was writing I got the idea for the basic melody for the singing so that made the process easier. I put together the chord progression on my acoustic on the Wednesday & then sat on it / rehearsed it for a couple of days. Then it was on to recording. This would be the first time I used my new upgrade to Cubase 7.5, the full version following my experiences with Cubase essentials 5 previously. As with almost all of my music software purchases, I got it on a great discount then didn’t use it for a while. The same went for the Halion Symphonic Orchestra that I bought on a deep discount whim a while back.
One of the things I have struggled with previously when recording is getting the timing right to be able to get a drum track down using EZdrummer. Far and away my favorite addition to the new Cubase is the chord track. This can be used creatively if you want, but for me it was so great to put the chords in place & get them in time right with the song, to allow me to easily see what drum loops would fit. The time saved & frustration levels removed for this little home recording artist was amazing & has me inspired to get back to recording regularly, instead of just wishing I knew how to do it better.
You can use the chord track to then trigger virtual instruments, this allows for a non piano playing person like me to set basic midi tracks much easier & quicker than before. No more googling a chord shape & playing / recording each piece separately. I used the chord track to control 4 separate channels of the Orchestra VST. A violin set, violas, cello & a brass ensemble, the idea being to give the track a movie soundtrack feel through an orchestral backdrop. To add a little variation & used an arpeggiator on the violins & violas, it is barely noticeable in the mix but it does add some nice depth.
Next up were the drums, which I was determined not to fight with & ruin the whole thing. I used a mixed kit of Ayotte & Ludwig pieces from the Rock Solid EZX & as quickly as possible found some fitting, generic rock midid loops to use. If I’d written this closer to the time of recording I would be able to better remember if I had to manipulate the loops much to fit what I was doing, but I honesty don’t remember.
With the drums in place & the orchestra leading the way I took to the acoustic guitar & recorded 2 tracks, one strumming the chords & one playing fingerstyle. To get as big a sound as I could, as quickly as possible, each recording (one take each) was done using 3 channels. I had a direct feed from the guitar’s electronics into the DI and then my 2 mics, one a large diaphragm condenser & one a dynamic, set up a different positions on the guitar to get a nice full sound with as many audio dynamics as possible. These would then be separated out in the mix with panning & balanced to give the best sound.
With this being a time crunch Sunday I went ahead & recorded the vocals next instead of the bass. We had family coming over that I would need to visit with & also I wanted to get anything that required the use of a microphone out of the way before the house got noisy.
Usually when recording vocals I record at least 4 takes & comp the best of them together. There was no time for that this time so a “good enough” take was recorded on 1 track. I tackled each section separately, cutting in with the recording. That way I could get my focus before the verse or chorus to try make sure I at least got a usable track. The same process for the harmony track was also used.
I resisted the temptation to apply any auto correction to the vocals, even though they started a little shaky. I added minimal processing to the vocals, mostly due to the time crunch. Using only the Nasty VCS (channel strip), a vintage compressor from cubase & a little reverb from Room Works.
With the vocals down I didn’t have long before our guests started to arrive. The rest of the recoding would be done in hurried breaks between visiting with family (I know, I’m bad). As always I ran the bass direct to my USB interface and used the Amplitube Ampeg plugin with my favorite preset, Comp Rock. One day I may actually work on bass playing, but for now I basically follow the chord progression and drums fill out the sound.
Finally it was on to the electric guitar parts, always my favorite part of the process, yet the most stressful sometimes as it is the only part I expect myself to be able to do really well with. I recorded 2 tracks of chorus laden clean sound with the Stratocaster, one strumming & one picking the notes. Then to actually give the track the rock feel that I wanted I ran a distorted track with the strat, before switching to the Les Paul tuned to drop D to try & give it some chug. The lead track was a one take hurried affair, but I think it actually fit quite well.
Running out of time before the deadline & also not wanting to neglect my wife & family on Mother’s Day 🙂 The editing process was done quickly & simply. I could have easily spent another week eq’ing, rerecording & editing. There are a couple of vocal parts I really wish I’d touched up, also the EQ on the toms is not quite right to me. However, considering half the challenge for the song was the time frame, I was really please & quite proud of it. Early in the process I realized I was going to have to save often, apparently having reached the limits of what my old laptop could handle, I was getting the blue screen of death every 20 minutes or so. It just about survived the recording session, but it was clear that I needed an upgrade if I am to actually continue with my occasional hobby.
If you were wondering if I had somehow won the contest, err no. Dustin Griffith won with a quite brilliant entry made about the podcast itself, certainly a worthy winner, the song is so good they really had no choice 🙂
Anyway, that’s about it. If you want to listen to the song again the video is here.