Welcome back to Day No.9 of writing and producing my brand-new song “Please Don’t Come Home.”
This is the second song in my 10-song production marathon. You can follow that link to learn more about the original project, or read yesterday’s work. You can also return to the first day of writing this song.
Otherwise let’s get into today’s music production work!
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Improvising Vocal Melodies for the Verse
I sit down in the morning to find more lyrics for my two Verses.
The vocal mic track has a heavy delay / echo effect remaining from last night, and I keep going with that sound. After all, it does provide an obvious contrast to the sound of the Chorus, which is much more dry and distinct vocals.
I turn everything way up and unleash my voice over the monitors (at least that’s how it feels). For words I have a few lines of lyrics from last night.
I’m taking the words and drawing them out into long notes - a mix of Thom Yorke and a Sitar Player, if that makes any sense. It’s making me jam out, I like it. Flipping between this and the Chorus is cool too, which is a good sign.
Stuck On Lyrics Again - What To Do?
By evening I’m back at it, and OK, honestly I’m stuck again. Argh. Writing lyrics to a song is hard. For me, at least.
Don’t worry, I’m not giving up. This is just a way harder process than I thought it would be. Guess I should have known better.
Hey - each song I finish is gonna teach me a ton about songwriting, that’s the upside.
But it’s also better to stay patient and not get frustrated when the creative process takes time to simmer.
I might take the rest of the night off and catch up on these blog articles. Either that, or I’ll write more lyrics for the Verses, or program the Outro Synth Solo.
Programming MIDI Glides Into Analog Synth Solo
Instead of taking the night off, I return to my synthesizer. There’s something I need to figure out, and it’s whether or not I can send Glide (portamento) commands to the Mother-32 analog synth via MIDI.
There’s a specific sound I’m going for, but to achieve it, I have to change the Glide setting of the Mother-32 several times during the middle of the Synth Solo. That’s something I can do manually, but I would prefer if I can also send that command via the computer, which allows for more predictable control.
And, I find in just a few minutes of testing, that holy shit - yes I can send portamento (glide) changes over MIDI to the Mother-32, YESSSSS!!!!
Note: In my case, I discovered that I need to use a gradual slope for these MIDI envelopes instead of steep “On-Off” style messages. Otherwise it seems like the Mother-32 sometimes misses instantaneous MIDI changes; however, I also discovered that gradual slopes prevent the problem. I assume it’s because the instant changes are sometimes too fast for the Mother-32’s internal clock, but sloping changes give the Mother-32 a chance to “see” the message. (This is just my armchair guess).
Regardless of the technical reasons behind the synth’s odd behavior, this is why it’s good to try new ideas. I just learned so much from the hands-on experiment that I couldn’t understand from reading and research. Not to mention, controlling glides via MIDI offers some incredible opportunities for cool synth sounds…
Discovering New Synth Sounds Because of Unrelated Experimentation
At the same time, because of the testing, I completely on accident came up with an awesome new synth riff for the Mother-32.
I might use it! It’s really cool in the verses as a background drone type thing. It might help tie together the earlier sections (before the bridge) with the ending sections (after the bridge).
And I also “rediscovered” a crazy sound caused by cross-modulation on the Mother-32 LFO + VCO / VCF Mod controls. It’s this really gritty, chaotic but beautiful sound, and it makes the second Verse sound SO epic.
Now we have a new problem: the Chorus (which up until now has sounded so thick and awesome) now actually sounds a little thin by comparison. Gotta stay patient and keep working through one issue at time.
I also notice that I’m going way outside the original instrumentation boundaries for this piece. I’m also struggling to keep the musical form holding together. But, the sound I’m discovering is just so compelling…
Song Structure and Re-Organization
I feel like my song structure is getting clearer as I add more synth layers, somehow. I can use these layers to transition between energy levels and song sections.
Unfortunately, as a result of all this layer-building and experimentation, I need to reduce the clutter of my Ableton project.
I almost started a new Ableton project to transfer the important material, but that’s even worse - all the materials would get spread across two projects.
Instead, I’m consolidating. The sounds I’m seriously using to build the song with go on top, and everything else (the majority - about 80% of the clips) gets double-checked, then moved far, far to the bottom.
This keeps all my song material in one Ableton file for the future, although it does leave the unused parts in a bit of disarray at the bottom. That’s OK, since those ideas are mostly unused for a reason. Bit by bit, I’m re-organizing to make my essential materials clearer.
The Results of Re-Organization
Ok, I’ve relocated about 50 clips out of the way in Ableton. This has significantly reduced the overload I feel when staring at the project.
Now it seems like these are the elements I’m using in my song:
- Main Instruments
- Drum Kit
- Synth Bass
- Lead Vocals
- Lead Synth
- Backing Instruments
- Falsetto Aahs Backing Vocal
- Backing Vocals on Lyrics
- Midrange / Texture Synth
And at last, for better or for worse, the song structure is clear. I have maintained (almost) the exact form I intended from the start, despite all the times I got confused or changed my mind.
- Verse 1
- Chorus 1
- Verse 2
- Chorus 2
- Extended Bridge
- Final Chorus 1 & 2
- Outro Solo
- Definitive Ending
Thoughts on Form and Song Structure
The biggest deviations from standard pop form (“Verse Chorus Bridge” or ABABCB) in this song are:
- This song is absolutely mammoth - it may be coming in at almost 7 minutes when complete.
- The Bridge is quite long - almost a standalone piece of music - and dramatically transforms the character of the song as it goes into the second half.
- The Outro solo is also extended into a short composition, although shorter than the Bridge. The synth solo is spine-tingingly awesome to jam on. It’s also necessary to extend this a little bit in order to balance the gigantic Bridge in the center.
Despite these unusual characteristics, the song is absolutely shaped in the ABABCB pop-song mold. The Outro Solo is laid over the Chorus or “B” section. It’s also not unusual to end a long song with a fadeout solo - this is far from new ground.
If anything, even though this started and ended as a pop song form deep-down, I feel equally guided by:
- Beethoven Sonata form
- Psychadelic 60s/70s classic rock forms
- Electronic Dance Music forms (especially classic House)
I don’t know though, am I making excuses to wank with a long and unfocused song? It occurs to me: I can cut out the last Chorus, and I probably should. The extended Solo fills the role of the second chorus, right? This would save about 30 seconds of time and make the song less repetitive and tighter.
Excitement, Fears, and Determination
With this song, it’s a lot of fun to imagine playing it live at a huge festival, over massive speakers… in a big live performance, a band could extend every section to double-length to make it even more epic and just jam out.
Personally I find this type of music very gripping when it’s done well; however, I’m afraid others won’t hear it the same way. I keep hearing my friends and family and teachers in my head criticizing it, giving me advice on how to “improve” it.
Still, I have vowed – absolutely sworn – to finish this track, and to do what I think the track needs to be successful by my standards.
I’m going to do my damn fucking best on this track and I’m going to finish it, and when I’m done I’ll accept the results for what they are. And along the way I’ll keep learning hundreds of tiny little things that I can use for my next songs.
I’m staying up ultra-late wasting time, but also just learning how to edit the Mother-32 solo in Ableton. It’s extremely detail-intensive work, but so cool to hear the results.
I’m wondering if there’s a more efficient way, but I think I might just need to grind through it this way for a while.
It’s back to my age-old dilemma of “take forever to patiently program every note in the computer perfectly” vs. “trust the edge of sloppier live performance, inspiration and improvisation.”
I’m finding the correct balance that fits me and what I want to hear. That also includes what work I’m patient enough to do, and what my performance limitations are vs. what I’m imagining in my head. No matter what, I’m definitely learning some interesting stuff this way, hands-on.
I’ll be passing out for the night soon.