A break in songwriting service as usual today, to bring into perspective the recording process.
Suppose you’ve written some songs. Suppose some of them are already pretty representative of where you’re at in life. Suppose some of them make you feel pretty nifty as a songwriter. Suppose, like so many songwriters, you feel a need to make a record of your work, perhaps to prove to your unborn grandchildren that you were once worthy of something other than their disdain for the unrelenting odour of your own urinary, verbal and fecal incontinence. Good. Now we are ready. Are you sitting comfortably?
I went into this recording process with a wary optimism. When I home recorded my last EP, Confide, I was living with my sound engineer, and although it was a hell of a lot of work to get everything right, it was easy to get things sounding good straight away because I pretty much had help on hand 24/7. This time, although I had learnt such a lot about recording from the last process, I was on my own. This was less intimidating than I thought it would be for the first few weeks of putting down ideas. If I had an insurmountable problem I had people I could call, and things went relatively well for the tracking. (Tracking = actual recording of instruments and noises.)
I had bought an old – 2008 – MacBook and the equivalent version of ProTools (a recording programme) for making the first EP, and carried on using it for this one, Coincide. I had finally learnt how to almost fully navigate the programme for the bare bones of recording, I’d pretty much sussed out how best to not sound like a tone-deaf sow suffering from quite a lot of gas pain, and I was quite happy with how things were going. I was so confident in my own abilities that I was almost convinced I could release two EPs instead of just the one. (Impudent fool that I was!) I was nearly at the end of my tracking process when the MacBook decided to overheat and die every 45 minutes. Then every 35. Then every 20. The bastard. I even took it to some people for them to look at it, but they couldn’t do anything about it. Sigh. I should probably take it to some more people now. Sigh again.
Just before the overheating process began, however, I realised I was going mad. I had been quite happily tracking and editing and everything, and then, quite inconspicuously at first, I began to doubt myself. The tracks weren’t sounding as good as I’d like. I’d try to add instruments but for some reason everything I tried made me feel sad. I was putting in four hours a session, and I needed something to change. I found myself lacking the discipline to do a whole session. Then I found myself lacking the discipline to do all the sessions I’d planned! I was skiving from my own life’s work, like an utterly spunk encrusted knob-hole!
When I finally realised what I was doing, my self-esteem was already nearing its lowest point. In desperation, I set up a meeting with my sound engineer, masterer and mixer extraordinaire, Kimwei. We sat in the pub near her house one lunch time, with the headphones on her head, and me, in trepidation and silent anxiety, sitting quietly opposite her, biting my fingernails. She adjusted a few levels here and there. She put some reverb on the vocals. When I had a listen, suddenly I could hear music again, where once there had only been the chilling cacophony of my own worthlessness and despair! She said “It’s really not as bad as you think.” And that phrase in itself was more like music to my ears then perhaps I could ever endeavour to compose. She gave me a few tips on recording. Here are Kimwei’s pearls of widom:
1 ~ If you listen to it really quietly and you can still hear every part, then it will do as a rough mix.
2 ~ Don’t let your vocals be too dry. Try and put a little bit of reverb on them, because otherwise you will think you are a terrible singer if you have to listen to that over and over again.
3 ~ To add musical depth to a piece, try recording the same chords, but in a slightly different rhythm, on a different guitar than your main guitar track is recorded on. So if it is a finger-style main guitar, try strumming underneath it. If it is a strumming line, try just arpeggiating the chord at the beginning of the bar and letting it ring for the duration of the chord. The reason you need to use another guitar for this is so that the frequencies don’t clash and cancel each other out weirdly. (If this does happen, however, you have to do something on the programme which every Doctor Whovian will understand – Reverse the polarity. Seriously. I know, right?!) Anyway, once you’ve recorded that, the idea is to have it subliminally quietly in the background of the track. It works like a dream. It’s wonderful. I will ALWAYS do this in future because it’s the best thing in the world. I love a bit of extra atmosphere, me.
4 ~ You can also do this subliminal thing with your vocals. (Although use the same voice, unless you have two of course, like that woman with two heads in that rubbish series of American Horror.) If you sing the chorus, say, with the same timing and gusto, and have one vocal just very quietly underneath the first, it adds body to the sound.
5 ~ You can do the same as point 4 ~ but whispered, and it sounds like you are very close to the listener. It’s a really intimate sound. You have to be very careful with the timing for the vocal double tracks though, because otherwise it can sound like total pants. Or be very good at editing.
When I went home, I tried a few of these things out, and by god I felt vindicated and amazing! I realised I hadn’t been working in vain and that actually this EP had the potential to be as good as I’d hoped it could be when I finally decided on which songs to record!
I felt so good about it that I booked a session cellist to play on two of the tracks, and was delighted when she came up with the goods and gave me some amazing work!
So this is how knowing a few little gems helped save my arse with the new EP, Coincide. But the process wasn’t finished yet…
Kimwei came round every day for a week, and together we worked on (further) editing and mixing the tracks. It was a very important process, and I can’t recommend highly enough getting someone who you trust to help you with this. I think if I had felt at all judged, or pressured for time, I would have ended up with a far worse product. Every detail was accounted for, and adjusted, and adjusted again and again, until I was happy with it.
At the end of the week, (after a few setbacks of sending it to people and them hearing hisses in tracks that we’d not noticed before, or other suggestions from people, and then getting rid of those faults and then re-mixing and re-mastering… For the 89,047th time,) Kimwei actually moved to another country. I can’t say I blame her.
She had been planning it though. I just said it like that to be all dramatic. Oh yeah, above is some artwork to distract you. It’s gonna be on Coincide.
So when she had moved to Wales, we had to do the rest of the mastering by email, which was somewhat arduous, as we work far better in the same room as each other. However, I can say that today, a full week of stress after I intended to send it to the printers, I have finally sent it!
I am approximately 98.64% happy with it as a finished product, and I hope that you are too, should you choose to experience it! Some taster tracks are coming soon, and I shall put them up on reverbnation and Facebook. Here are the links so that you can have a little listen at your leisure, should you decide that now is the right time! reverbnation.com/rynmusic and facebook.com/rynacoustic or find me on Twitter: @rynacoustic
Thank you for bearing with whilst I shamelessly self-promote!
I really hope you like the music, and I hope what I have shared with you today will help you in your own creative processes. Self-doubt is a normal part of any creative endeavour, and I think with the idealisation of life and careers as seen on Facebook etc, it’s important to remember that what you see there is only the best 30% of people’s lives. The rest people don’t see as worth mentioning because it’s as boring, mundane and depressing as YOUR life! Hooray! So when people say on social media that they are releasing another Official Music Video or they’re being interviewed on such and such programme, just remember that they have also probably felt nuts about stuff too, they have probably been depressed about themselves as human beings, and it is essential for you to remember this – for even your heroes – the inside of their left butt-crease has at times been unrelentingly and almost maddeningly itchy.
Remember, you are love.