Diary of a song – Session 1


I’ve decided to do a diary of a song I’ve been working on, I thought I would write down what I need to do to get the song from a few scrappy ideas in my head, to guitar, to vocals, to recording, mixing, and mastering.

I thought it would be nice to give an idea of how I approach things generally, although things never seem to be the same for each song as each song presents it’s own challenges.

Anyway onto….

Session 1


Had a few things buzzing around on the guitar for a while – with some riffs in there and a bridge section from an old song which I’d never completed. There is also another song which I also played on the accoustic guitar which had a bit of the same riff in it.

So playing it I come up with the basic riff, the verse structure and the very basic chorus on pretty much the first play. There are no lyrics at the moment apart from general mumblings and from the playthrough there forms at least one legible line which finds its position as the hook ‘When You’re gone you’re gone’

This first draft (not recorded yet) had quite a few nice sections too it and had the build up and quiet bits from the initial play.

First recordings of guitar and vocals

Within about 30 mins I am getting the stuff together to record to the computer so I can the basics down. I decided there and then that I want to do a quick song – not a long drawn several weeks long job – but it can be rough and ready. It is already in my mind a rock song, it’s tempo and riff dictates it and therefore I can have a dirtier sound without compromising too much.

Recording involves my Fender Strat and PC which has an m-audio delta 44 card and breakout box. I go from my guitar to the Zoom floor pedal set into the delta 44.

I record on Cakewalk Sonar 5 and set the tempo at XXX. I record to a click track and play the guitar clean onto the track. I have Guitar rig 3 (which is an ace amp simulator) as a plugin for Sonar and I can select various amp styles to go for – but I still suffer from a bit of latency and it generally puts off my timing – so I go in clean and select the amp style after.

I record some sections separately as from experience I know that the nice swinging accoustic guitar played whilst cater-whalling is not the same sweet built up sound that is on recordings.(not mine anyway)

In my experience things need to be separated and given space to allow the various elements to augment rather than disrupt.

So I recorded a full chord swinging version, the riff with just the high notes played, the bass line run down, the ‘chugged’ power chords for the verse. And as I record the guitar I don’t do any vocals – just mumble the words to myself to try and keep in sync and to the click track.

To keep the momentum going and whilst there is relative peace in the house I record the vocals. My son is on the computer in the same room watching Mr Tumble on Cbeebies. I record the vocals regardless as windows of opportunity are rare commodities.

I have a decentish Condenser mic and a Behringer pre-amp which provides the phantom power – this then goes to the delta 44 card and I am ready to record the vocals on another track in Sonar.

I still haven’t written any lyrics yet (apart from the main line) and murmur through the words. Surprisingly though the melody hasn’t changed much.

Recording drums and bass

After doing the very basic recording I start to work in Sonar. I need to get some drums on the track – anything at this point and I need to get a groove going – to get the sound working.

I have Addictive drums plugin for Sonar which allows me to write midi notes which then play sampled drum sounds. I choose some drum patterns which are about the right tempo and settle on a decent one.

I then get a section of the guitar to tie in with the drums. The basic section is the riff repeated, with the chugging guitar, the high notes part of the riff followed by the bass notes run down. It makes more sense when you listen to it.

Once this is keyed together, I add the bass.

This is done in midi and I generate a basic bass sound from the Sonar midi generator, this sound is then played through another Guitar Rig amp which gives it a thicker sound and presence. I keep things loose at this stage and need to keep an open mind on sound.

Recording – basic song structure

I then repeat this section – to get the basic verse structure – the first section has 2 verses which I have already sung in – I try and find some vocal sections which I can use as a basic guide. These vocals will be replaced later with the proper lyrics and recordings.

At the moment I now have the steady drums, the bass for the verse section and the guitar combinations with vocals.

I now push on to the chorus. I lay out the previously recorded guide vocals for the chorus and the guitar section. The best sounding guitar is the full chord swinging recordings I have – so I use those. I then extend the drums to cover that section.

I then need to add the bass to that section – and after a few different attempts decide that the best approach is simple long bass notes over each bar.

Recording – bridge section

I then think about the bridge/middle 8 – I already had a bridge in mind which I played straight from the off when I was writing the main song. This was amazingly on the first time I had ever played/written the song – this has never happened before!

Anyway the bridge has a section of vocals – Don’t don’t don’t don’t you know – and whereas the main song is very guitar driven this by contrast is vocal driven with lots of vocal parts – which then gets back to the main riff played quietly and then built up slowly until it reaches a climax – goes all quiet and then kicks back in on full volume. This was exactly as I had played the first time (sorry to labour the point – but on reflection this never happens!!)

After the bridge there will be another verse, then chorus and that will be the end. I quickly replicate the sections from the previous verse and chorus after the built up bridge and get the general structure in place.

End of session

I now really need to go to bed as I need to get up in the morning… I get a mixdown of the whole song and the track is popped onto CD. I listen to the previous nights work in the car on the way to Leeds the next morning.

I label the mixdown as When You’re Gone You’re Gone 1.0 – as I keep version numbers to keep track of the progression of all my tracks.

So far I’ve probably spent about 3 hours on the track, which for the progress I have made is probably a record!

Session 1 Clips – When You’re Gone You’re Gone 1.0

v1.0 Intro + Verse 1 Clip

Intro – tv in the background
My howling
Talking about the song (for atmosphere!)

Unclear (unwritten!) lyrics
Guitar quite clean
Bass in there
Drums keeping going

v1.0 Chorus Clip

Basic chorus
Only basic line you can hear – When you’re gone you’re gone

v1.0 Bridge Clip

Pretty thumped out
Me howling again! – chords strummed
Same basic build up to the next chorus and then finish

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