As much as I enjoy performing at weddings and gigs throughout the UK, I am an avid songwriter. Having released 2 studio albums plus a Christmas EP songwriting is something that I can't help but do, yes I have the bug for it! I have even written songs for couples wedding day which has been awesome - writing for someones special day brings both its rewards and challenges - specifically it has to work for them, sounding honest and genuine.
Writing a song...
Well where do I start? First I don't believe in there being a set way. Of course it can be formulaic if need be, especially when writing to a brief. Equally, I find that there's nothing better than to just play and let you ears guide you and if playing an instrument experiment, experiment and experiment...find a nice progression, sing a melody line.....consider lyrics i.e. what messages to you want to convey show and then you well on your way. In all this, a good friend and producer in Ben Haynes (Haynes Music Productions) always says trust your ears. He also is always keen to give a new idea a go...even if you're not sure whether it'll work. This is essentially being open minded, and by taking risks new things are often realised.
Self recording a song....
Before I go into the process of how I record... please bear in mind that you can approach recording in two mind sets - one to capture ideas and experiment to create new ideas. Two - to record the finish product. Perhaps the great thing is, is that sometimes when experimenting whilst recording you often capture something special that you can use! Anyway.....
What are the technology options and considerations?
The possibilities are endless...quite literally. You can control pretty much everything, EQ, Compression, Reverb, Delays, synths, pads, drums, noise gates. Then there are plethora of different DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) you can use, as well as considering, Instrument Choice, Mic positioning, mic selection, pre amp choice, room size sound if not in a studio, time of recording, number of instruments and more. Essentially these variables all factor in when capturing audio....
So what's really important when recording by yourself?
Try to do everything right by process in sound capture. Experiment first with what sounds best in the room based upon the equipment and instruments you have available. Ensure Mic(s) / line in set up, levels are correct and not peaking, consider placement in room in relation to acoustics, get comfortable to be a relaxed as possible. Unless you want to play in free time (normally used when singing together with guitar/piano), record to click track, and don't forget check your instrument is IN TUNE to how you want!!! Nothing more annoying than getting a great capture and then you hear one string slightly flat or sharp. Once all these factors have been considered (and yes there are more though I've tried to select the key ones) then the next questions are probably the most important questions to consider:
Was it you best performance in recording?
Did you communicate the songs meaning effectively?
Did the performance share an honesty with the listener?
Mixing, Production & Mastering
A good capture makes mixing and production so much easier....to a point where often less needs doing to the project to make it sound ready for mastering. Here the role of the producer - either yourself or an external producer can not be undermined. Music production is an art form in itself and I am truly blown away by some of the techniques and sensibilities of a producer to bring a track to the next level. Both Jim Williams of Wow and Flutter Audio (www.wowandflutteraudio.com) and Ben Haynes of Haynes Music Production (www.haynesmusic.com) are producers that get my vote. Truly brilliant at what they do. In any case if you really can't get a producer on board, trust your ear, remember less is more and make sure that dynamically the track sounds right, especially levels. Add plugins appropriately and don't get carried away with reverb! Once the mix is complete you really should get the song mastered, you can even do this remotely where companies offer mastering services in an automated way. Appreciate this perhaps is contentious for some people, though obviously it's an option, especially if money is a limiting factor. Ideally, I would want a human to master my tracks before being uploaded for listeners to hear - just like the idea that a human is connecting with the music.
It's never been easier to capture and record sound with the advancements in modern day technology, so perhaps the most important idea to take home...aim to write songs that are listenable, that convey a message(s) or emotion(s) has meaning and/or creates a vibe. Most importantly, know what your intention is and write a song that you are proud of. Celebrate that you are unique - no one will sound like you so embrace your own sound! Good songs live on focus on getting that right!
Happy songwriting fellow creators!