The first stage of album construction is perhaps the most difficult and certainly the most creatively taxing: the songwriting process. Songwriting however is the element that you are ultimately judged on, regardless of how well arranged, mixed and mastered your final projects are. If your ideas are weak, poorly structured and not given enough time to develop then your final album will reflect that.
“Keeping open minded through the entire music-making process is fundamental”
In previous years I’ve spent more time deliberating about album concept, track ordering and lyrical content than I have with the recording and mixing stage – although that balance has now shifted to some extent. In my early days I kept the songwriting very organic and firmly apart from the technical aspects of production. However the mixing process for me has now become very much intertwined with the writing process, a slight variance in BPM for instance can completely alter the mood and vibe of your track – requiring a lyrical overhaul as well as causing additional musical ideas to explode into being. This track for instance began as a delicate and tender finger-picking ditty:
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Experimenting with BPM and adding the more tribal drum pattern caused the track to take on a new, darker and more ominous vibe. The key shifted from major to minor and the idea to have a screeching, E-Bow resonating guitar bursting into the track at various points, as well as the moody string arrangement and a quirky sprinkling of Absynth 5 very quickly materialised. The initial vague lyrical themes altered from some dodgy, self-reflective guff to a pretty sinister and macabre song: The Organ Thief. This is just one example of a track that was re-written because of experimentation in the mix. Adding additional counter-melodies, new instrumentation, chopping segments and re-thinking riffs when mixing all happened to me last year when making my album ‘The Fall’ – resulting in songs pulling away from the initial ideas.
Sketching out ideas for my Songwriting Masters last year – I quickly learned that the pen/paper approach was inhibiting and started trusting my ears more!
Although the control freak part of me likes to think that I can sketch and plan out an album on paper – and then end up with a sonic document that directly reflects that, the creative part of my mind really enjoys finding unique sounds, rhythmic changes and just allowing the songs to individually develop. An issue I used to suffer from a great deal in my songwriting infancy was the common trap of writing a list of numbers and then filling them with ‘slow, acoustic song’ and then ‘hard, fast paced rocker’ etc when album planning. This had an inhibiting effect on me, although it inspired me to approach a song in a certain way – it ultimately stifled me if I just wasn’t ‘feeling’ it.
Keeping open minded with my songs through the entire music-making process is something that I’ve learned is fundamental to making your songs the best they can possibly be – just living with your songs for a while can force you to seek out additional melody and musical avenues you might not initially consider. It’s quite surprising listening back to the early demos of my previous album and then comparing them to the full-blooded and mastered cuts, some are worlds away. This is how I’ll approach all my new music for the new album – of course this means that some tracks can take a few hours to write, record and produce, whereas others may take months!
In all honesty, at this stage my initial ideas for the new album are sketchy at best – so I’m going to be writing/mixing at the same time even more so than before and see how I get on. And there will be NO track-by-track pre-planning!
I’ve recently got myself Cubase 7 installed on a brand new Macbook Pro, all in the name of this new project. Join me for the next part of my blog when I test write and record some demos on my new setup.
I’ll be posting them on my Soundcloud page, which also features tracks from my previous album.