Tag Archives: song writing

In A Mess – a new old song

There are some inescapable facts about music. One of those facts is that every song has a story. Sometimes that story is told through the lyrics, an autobiographical window into someone else’s world, or maybe it’s a fictional world created just for you. Sometimes it is in the music, a mystical tapestry of sonic stimulation that takes you to a place that words cannot. Frequently with commercial music the real story is that someone wants to make money, they have a hook a line & a catchy melody that is carefully placed together and given to someone to sing & play. Regardless of how good the story is, or is not, each song still has a story and so it is with the song I am about to share with you.

 

This is a bit of an odd one, writing this post in November that is, you see I recorded this song mostly in June, tinkered with it a bit in July & then had every intention of writing this post at the beginning of August. Then doubts crept in, it’s no good, it’s not representative of what I can do today, I don’t really like it, why would anyone else, you know, that BS that we all get when we create something. So it has sat, until recently & then I just decided, what the heck, share it, maybe a couple of people will listen, maybe one will like it, it doesn’t matter, the point is to not allow those fears to build back up. The main reason I ever share anything on here is to fight those internal fears that tell me I am no good, even though I know that is a lie.

 

In A Mess - original paperSo the song, it was originally titled “I Need You”, I changed it to “In a Mess”, which is one of the very few things I changed on it, I’m not sure why I changed the name but the new one seems to fit better. I wrote this song on April 19th 1995 (yes 1995, that’s not a typo), the note on the paper states that it was written in 38 minutes, between 10:19 & 10:57pm. That would place me at 18 years old at the time of writing and a little over a year into my guitar playing journey.

The song itself is not, that I recall, autobiographical, it appears to be about someone who is in a relationship that is on the verge of ending, but despite the chaos the person knows that he does not want the relationship to end, because he needs the love of his partner. The real story of the song however is that there was once a young 18 year old kid who wanted nothing more than to be a rock star and every time he tried to write a song it seemed to come out slow & mushy. So this time, equipped with a riff he borrowed from an instructional book & modified somewhat, he was going to write a rock song come what may. The result is pretty much what you hear here.

When I decided that this would be the next song I was going to record one of the parameters I set myself was that I was going to leave it as untouched as possible. The point in recording / sharing this was to do something for that 18 year old, who was to afraid of rejection to ever really share his music, that he was never able to do for himself. Lyrically I left it pretty much alone, a slight edit/delete for a couple of lines that didn’t flow at all, but you can see from the original writing that it is all still here. I resisted changing the key to one that better suited my vocal range, the riff is completely intact, I don’t recall how the solo originally went, but I am please with how it ended up, it seems to fit the song well. I honestly feel that if I had access to a DeLorean & could fire it up to 88 & get back to ’95, my 18 year old self would be thrilled with what I have done with it. That in itself is enough to please my 37 year old self.

When I am recording I have to remind myself that the best I am realistically going to achieve is a decent demo. I don’t have the know how or equipment – yet 😉 to make it sound like I paid big money to visit the warehouse In Vancouver & hire Butch Vig to produce it. That is more than ok, yet sometimes it is frustrating when I just cannot get it to sound the way it should in my mind (I guess that’s why they make the big bucks).

 

in a mess mixer

So anyway, for those who care, here is what I did with the tracks, starting with the guitar (of course). For the main riff you will find 4 separate guitar tracks. 2 each with the bridge pickup of the Les Paul & my HSS strat, yes that is a lot of humbucking! The guitar was recorded running my Boss GT-8 direct to Cubase which is the first time I have done it that way, usually I run it into an amp & mic it up. It is much easier to control the frequencies this way but it does lose a certain je ne sais quoi, I was however happy with the results & will use this method again depending on what the track calls for. The Les Paul was run through a Marshall stack patch that I call my Slash patch. The strat was run through a Soldano SLO-100 patch which has a very different, yet still highly overdriven, sound from the Marshall (digital versions are as close as I will get to them unfortunately), so that is how I came up with the 4 tracks.

in a mess drumsThe drums were as usual created using Ezdrummer. The kit was the main kit from the Rock Solid expansion pack, it has some great sounding rock kits in that one. As always seems to be the case, there was not a preprogrammed midi pattern that would fit my needs, either they provide odd patterns or my tastes are more unique that I realize. Regardless, for the main riff I took the closest thing I could find & then modified it to meet my needs. I think for the chorus & other parts I found something lose enough & then for the fills I merged & edited a few patterns to create something more unique.

In a mess bassThe bass was played through my trusty Ampeg SVT plugin, not I did say player, I might not play bass, but I can play guitar well enough on a bass to get a bass line for a song, lol. However as the bass world is pretty foreign to me I just used a stock pack from the plugin, fortunately al of the provided ones sound & work really well. This particular one, the Dist 810 stack, is based on the SVT-4 Pro amp.

In a Mess vocal plugins

In a Mess reverbThe vocals have a little EQ on them, some compression, a limiter for clipping control & a dash of BBE sonic maximizer & a send to some reverb. No auto-tune, ever, however close I get to signing in tune is what you will get, always, not sure why but that is a house rule in my home studio. I threw a little harmony vocal onto the track right at the end. It is not as tight as I originally intended, but I left it loose as it is because I liked the way it sounded like 2 people singing in a band as In a mess vocal delayopposed to an overdub. A new technique that I had to figure out was automating the delay effect, I wanted it only at certain points & so had to learn the automation of a send effect. It was not that difficult fortunately & I like what it added.

The mix was mostly done in recording, leveling & panning to fit as I go through the process works well for me. Once I had the mix set I exported & then imported into a new track to try and do some mastering. I usually do not bother with this as previously I have had nothing to add at this stage. However thanks to a heavy discount on  Musician’s Friend “stupid deal of the day “ I picked up the BBE Sonic Sweet set of plugins. I tried each of them individually & also different combinations but finally settled on using all 3 in sync with each other. They definitely add some sheen to the track & also enable it to come up close to commercial volume levels without just seeing a solid red warning light from all the clipping.

In a mess master

So there you have it, a new 19 year old song, thank you for reading & if you pressed play, thank you so much! I hope you enjoyed it for what it is 🙂

 

 

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A bridge

A bridge, a bridge, I need a bridge
Searching the cosmos in helter-skelter fashion
For a perfect, beautiful, flowing bridge

Then with stupefaction, the bridge was there
Of all places, in the shower
I found the bridge, the perfect bridge

Alas as the mind wandered, weary in the fog of morning
The lyrical gift was misplaced
Lost on the ever flowing tide of creation

And now, with great frustration
The search for the perfect bridge
Continues in earnest

Home (In Your Kingdom) – Song

There are so many reasons why I’ve been less active recently than before. Busy life, rehabbing my strained hamstring, a 2nd puppy, but one of the big reasons is that a lot of my creative ideas of late have either quickly evolved into potential songs, or even short stories. Somehow there is a clear, yet indescribable line or division in my mind between what I consider one of my poems & what should be a song. If it is something that I think should be a song, well it has to become a song before it goes up here. I’ve started & at least lyrically written 5 or 6 songs of the last couple of months. It is a fun process, but the process to get it to a place that it is blog ready is slow, because I have this whole life thing you know?

So anyway, onto the subject at hand. I wrote this song really rather quickly. I was messing around on the guitar one day, liked the grove that I had come up with, the next time I was in my office, I picked up the guitar & wrote the song. Then my annoyingly slow recording process began. I say slow, its comfortably less than 2 days to record & mix a song, it’s just split into 1 or 2 hour slots of time.

The song is the story of a man & his spiritual journey. The man starts his journey when he is lost, questioning the meaning of life yet something inside him tells him there is more. He begins his relationship with God, receives redemption, realizes how blessed he is & then moves into a time of learning & growth. When he comes through this period he realizes that he is truly home, in God’s Kingdom. This is such an amazing transformation & a great place for him to be, he starts to ask God to show him some others who are in the same place he used to be & to allow him to help them to find the gift that he has received.

 

Here are the lyrics:

 

Wont’ you come & show me

Show me how to get home

Lord I’ve been lonely

Lord God I’ve been lonely for far too long

And then you saved me

Brought me out of that misery

 

Lord you gave me

Everything a man could ever want

Lord you gave me

Everything a man could ever need

My wife & family

And forgiveness beyond my wildest dreams

 

And now I’m home Lord

Home in your Kingdom where I belong

Yes I’m home Lord

In your Kingdom where I belong

Now won’t you help me

To find some others who are lost along the way?

 

Lord won’t you save them?

Save them & show them how to get home

Lord God they’re lonely

Lonely & broken along that road

Lord won’t you save them?

Lord & bring them all back home.

 

 

 

 

Fear

So why write and record music & place it on my blog? One word; fear. I have lived with a crippling fear of rejection for most of my life. There was not one giant incident that caused this, it was built from the cumulative effect of many small things over many years. The fear of rejection used to cause me to freeze, or simply not do things I would have enjoyed.

I have self sabotaged many opportunities in my past because of this fear. I live today in a place of healing and freedom though. The main reason for recording and making my songs public is not for “likes” or the few “plays” that I might get. It is about standing up to the fear, confronting it & letting it know that it no longer has power over me.

The fear, while mostly under control still lurks, always ready to try and reestablish itself. Only last night, instead of falling asleep I had a conversation with an imaginary foe about how I should not be releasing my music, how I am not good enough. How can I say it is a performance and use a computerized drummer at the same time, how dare I invoke Dave Grohl’s name in relation to such a thing. You can see the nonsense I have had to fight in my head my whole life now.

The thing with my music that allows the fear of rejection to creep in compared to say poetry, or a general blog entry, is that I know music, I love music & I get music & it is massively important to me. If someone tells me my music sucks, or even worse, that my guitar playing sucks, it cuts to the core. You can tell me my poetry sucks, or my writing sucks & I would have no real argument, I don’t know the first thing about either or what makes it supposedly good & thus the negative opinion would be sad but it wouldn’t really bother me. With music though, I know what makes music good, I know good guitar playing, the fear of not being good enough made me keep it virtually private for many years.

It is only with maturity, realizing that music (or art, heck even life in general) is completely subjective & that one persons opinion is no more valid than another, that I have become comfortable with sharing my work. Its not like I’m trying to make a living doing this, I’m having fun with a hobby, creating music that is as good as I can make, if I’m the only person that enjoys it, well that is enough for me. I won’t allow the fear of rejection, especially by people who have unaddressed issues that cause them to act like idiots, deter me from doing the things I love. Yet here I am writing in response to an argument I had in my head last night.

I suppose the question I began this entry with is really is no different to asking why “press” anything, in the end we do because we do, each for our own unique reasons, but we are bloggers & so press we must.

 

PS If you are wondering what I am rambling about, see yesterday’s post

https://unhiddenlight.com/2013/06/10/song-my-everything/

which was about this song that I wrote & recorded

 

Song: My Everything

I have finally finished, or as finished as I am going to get. Here it is, my 2nd completed song recording. It took a lot longer than I had originally intended, I had hoped to have this done by the beginning of May, I don’t think I started until then, life can be a distraction at times 🙂

I wrote this song at some point in 2003, I wrote it for my wonderful wife, who really did turn my life around. My favorite line from the song is “I thought love was just a fairy-tale”, that is where I was before I met my wife.

I toyed with waiting to record this song until I have learned a lot more about the process, maybe even got some better grade equipment. However I decided on recording it sooner rather than later, mainly because I have wanted to give this song to my wife in a recorded format for almost 10 years now. Hopefully the love invested in the song makes up for my short comings as a recording engineer (and singer).

The (recording) learning process is still steep, if I’m not careful I can quickly & easily convince myself that it is my equipment’s fault that there is a harsh edge to the recording, or that the mix doesn’t quite sit right. If I just had a really powerful PC & Pro-Tools, it would sound amazing. The unfortunate truth is that, while yes I could have better equipment, the biggest thing I can do to make my recordings sound better is really learn how to use what I have. There is no point expanding my tool chest a hundred fold if I am still working out what to do with the hammer. Having said that, I have learned a ton recording this song & am looking forward to making more progress on the next one.

I am still hopelessly lost with EQ-ing, so much so that I only added it to the vocal tracks, and that what just twiddle & hope. Hopefully a frequency analyzer plugin that I got just tonight should help for my next project, being able to visually see what is happening with the track should make it easier to EQ. I was tempted to spend all week working through this mix to add EQ to every track & try to fine tune it, but I feel like it is at a closing point right now. Once I really know what I am doing I can come back to it if I really want to. There are other tools like compression & limiters that appear in all the research I have done & I have used (thanks to presets), yet while I get what they do, I am still uncertain of how to effectively use the settings.

One of the things I did while recording was not to record parts & use the loop over but I everything mix 5recorded each track in its entirety, so the song is truly a performance. I am kind of proud of that, although it was stupidly time consuming & my next recording will probably include much more shortcuts. I also recorded a bunch of lead guitar parts over 4 tracks. It was great to have a lot to choose from, but the process of selecting what to use & where was laborious.

I got the mix up to 22 tracks, the screen shot only shows 15, but when you drag the 8 track drums sequence from EZdrummer into Cubase Essentials, it puts the 8 tracks in as 1. Makes trying to mix the drums a really pain, but you work with what you have.

Other than EQ-ing, the other main area of study I need to focus on is harmony, vocal harmony. I can (just about) sing a harmony part, but understanding where the harmony should be and what pitch should be etc is just not something I really understand yet. Part of me is tempted to just get a TC Helicon & forget about it, but I am going to at least try & learn. I might not have Dave Grohls talent or recording budget, but I share a lot of his views of keeping music as human as possible.

Now the funny thing is, my next project is actually the same project. While I was getting ready to record this I came up with a completely new arrangement & style for the song, I almost went straight to that but wanted to do the original first which has a country feel that I enjoy a lot. Let’s see how long it takes me to get version 2 done, then you can compare let me know which you think works best.

everything mix 4

 

All I Ever

 

With my recording upgrades on hand it was time to figure out how to use everything. What better way than to record a song I originally wrote in 1994. The song itself was one of my first attempts to write solo, so it has significance in that, however I never liked it. It was kind of a schmaltzy love song that went nowhere. When I ran across it going through my archives I almost ignored it. Then the idea came to me to do a sort of fusion of Eddie Cochran & The Clash. It’s not great, but it is fun & was fun to make. I kept the timing pretty much straight up, creative limitations forced by a lack of knowledge. I feel it could use a change up in the middle, a proper bridge or something more / smoother than I added at the last second, but that is for a later project. I’ve toyed with the idea of working on it for another week, but I figure you can only polish a turd so much 😉 I’m ready to move onto recording something different.

One thing that I noticed when working on this project, is that I have been slacking on my guitar playing too much recently. All this writing & reading has made by chops rusty. It took me ages to record the solo & I am still very dissatisfied with it. Regular practice is going to need to be on the to do list if my new recording music hobby is not going to drive me insane.

 

 

If I could be all I wanted to be

All it’d be is just you & me

 

All it ever could be

All it ever should be

All it ever could be is you & me

 

All my dreams they don’t mean a thing

‘cause you’re the one that’s machining me sing

All my dreams they don’t mean ….

‘cause you’re the one that’s been making me tick

 

All it ever could be

All it ever should be

All I want from life is you & me

 

It doesn’t matter what people say

And it doesn’t matter what people think

Not it doesn’t matter what people say

Because all that matters to me is your love

 

All it ever could be

All it ever should be

All it ever could be is you & me

Recording Music – Upgrades

So after my 1st attempt at recording a “demo” of one of my songs I quickly realized that guitar & vocals was not going to be enough to satisfy me. What I want to accomplish is to make my songs complete, not perfect, but enough to where I can listen to & enjoy them in the car, not much of a goal I suppose, but that is what I want. In a way it is remarkably freeing seeing making music like this though. I am not making music to try & please anyone, I am not trying to get famous or anything, I am just trying to enjoy myself & get a kick out of it being my on my radio, just like you get a kick when it is you on the tv, even if it is a home movie.

So in order to make a full song I knew I needed to get some new things, yay toy buying. Now in order to combat my annoying ability to fall in love with the most expensive pro kit available, I set myself a budget & the challenge of coming as far under it as possible. If you are unfamiliar with how crazy expensive musical equipment can get, let me give you an example, the industry standard microphone for recording vocals, the Neumann U87, will run you a cool $3599.95 on musiciansfriend.com today. Then you will need a pre-amp to power the thing, a good one of those, say the Neve Portico 5017 mobile, then will run you a good $1050 (my next purchase, oh yes, it will be mine), unfortunately more than the entire budget I set myself. So my challenge, was not only getting over myself to not fall for stupidly expensive equipment, but to get what I “needed” for as little as possible.

First up, I needed to figure out a way of making drums, I made the connections to Cubase by midi with my keyboard. But to be honest, I don’t know enough about what goes into making up a good drum track to even begin to make it by playing each part separately on the keyboard. I tried, it sounded terrible. So I could spend a whole bunch of time perfecting my technique, or I could buy a drumset & spend a couple of years learning the drums, or, given that I don’t really want to be a drummer, I can look for a 21st century solution. We are so crazy lucky to live when we do, yes I know that the world is a scary dangerous place today, but it is still awesome. Anyway, I talked to a friend who told me about ezdrummer, a softwareEZdrummer-large program that has midi drum loops & sampled drum kits that works as your drummer for you in as a plug-in in your DAW software. While researching that I also found a similar program called Addictive Drums. Both programs looked good, ezdrummer looked more intuitive, while addictive drums looked like it has more depth.  The price was the same, until I checked Amazon on the right day, Ezdrummer was on sale, 40% off, decision made. It turns out there is a whole world of fake drummer software out there. Now don’t get me wrong, I know that a real drummer is incomparably better, but in that this is just a personal project / exercise, I am ok with fake drums.

Yamaha-RBX170EW-TBSNext up was a bass, again I have played bass parts previously using a keyboard, you can get the basics in but it does not sound right. So afterAmpeg SVX some research & consulting my bass playing brother in law, I picked up a Yamaha RBX170EW for over 30% off list. I don’t know much about basses, but it seems to be pretty good, especially considering the price. To aid the bass process I got the IK media Ampeg SVX plugin, this is a digitally modeled set of bass amplifier’s & effects, again not being tuned to how a bass should sound, I can only say good things about how great it sounds.

MXL-V67GLast, but certainly not least, I was recording vocals with a dynamic microphone, no bueno. So I got a cheap condenser mic & a pre-amp. The pre-amp needs to go back, ART-Pro V3, the VU meter on it does not work & it Studio V3is awfully noisy. I knew it would not be perfect for the price, but it should at least do what it says it will. For the mic, I got an MXL 67G for a whopping 65% off. I decided on this one because there is apparently a mod you can get for around $500 that will make it almost identical to the aforementioned Neumann U87. I have no intention o doing the mod, but I figure if the design is close enough to where you can mod it to be almost identical, then it is the right choice from the vast sea f budget condenser mics.

So there you are, I am all upgraded, guess what the next post will be? The downside of doing a full mix song, especially including drums is having to consider tempo. As a guitarist everything is about feel, when I first started playing I was a much better student of music, today it is all feel. So when it comes time to set the drums up, realistically the first thing you do, it is a stop & pause moment. I have no idea what bpm or timing key my songs should be, none, I don’t even know how to figure that out, for once google wasn’t much help either. So what did I do? I cheated of course! The song I was working on to learn how to use my new tools was close enough in design to Eddie Cochran’s C’Mon Everybody that I looked up what that song’s bpm was & set mine pretty close to it. When you have just drums going, it is really hard to figure out what is enough or what is too much, that is going to be a big learning curve for me making music. Also figuring out how to manipulate the software to make the tracks I want, the drums on my next demo are not what I had in my head, they are good enough for learning though. One thing with ezdrummer, it is a great program, but they set you up like crazy to buy as many of their expansion packs as possible, I already have my eye on 2 or 3 of them.