Song Writing

Cover Story, Features

Dear 你,

It has been a wonderful few years of getting to know you. We have gradually moved up the ladder of compatibility and I look forward to each new step, even if I do not know how tall this ladder may reach. Soon we will be parting ways for an indefinite amount of time, and I wanted to express my thoughts and feelings in a way which can be reflected upon until time ceases to exist; through music. I will put this message on your night stand before I leave. I just hope the wind doesn’t take it from your sight, else I look like an ass. Please read it before taking an action which cannot be undone. What follows is a collection of my thoughts condensed into a week, for brevity’s sake:

Day One

What am I passionate about at this moment? What is driving me crazy with desire? What is occupying my entire mental space? One word, many feelings attached to it. It’s time to transform this word into fifty. I’m setting a timer for five minutes and writing one word at a time continuously until the time is up. Now it’s a bit too much – I’ll narrow this list down to the fifteen most important. One sentence or memory per word – the foundation is being built.

Day Two

The chorus should be based around the central thought or action and the verses can act as support. Feeling is the most important factor to decide ordering of words and if they should or should not rhyme. The tricky part is to use unique words so that the imagery is vivid and tickles the brain but the more unique it is, the harder it will be for the audience to identify with. I’ll start complicated then simplify, like the word list.

Day Three

After googling “musical key characteristics” I found a list which matches key signatures with emotions and even horoscope signs. Given the subject matter I went with C# Major (Db Major). I launched Ableton Live on my 2010 Mac Mini and hooked up my USB MIDI keyboard. Because I never took any piano lessons, I am not very good at playing the instrument, so I’ll just wing it. However, I want to make sure I am playing the notes, so I’ll put some masking tape on the piano keys which are in the key I have chosen (C# Major). I experimented with some tempo changes, tapping on my desk while looking at my lyrics to picture at which speed, I would be comfortable with singing.

Next came the pressing of the piano keys until I came up with an 8-measure phrase which just sounded right and catchy. I used the mouse to click in chords which coincided with the melody and attributed this to another track. Because I haven’t studied much music theory, I used to figure out the right notes to click into place. Add a drum beat starting with the bass drum and then add the snare on the half beat, with hi-hats and shakers in between to create movement. Lastly, the introduction of the bassline – basically the bottom notes of the chords but with the rhythm of the drums and some flare between each measure to accentuate the movement.

For the final task of today I will add spaces around the chorus so that the verses have somewhere to cozy up in to.

Day Four

Today is the most frightening of all – I’m back to working with the lyrics. I’ll set the melody to loop while I practice the lyrics out loud. The words are changing, and I am running out of or am lacking syllables for the verses. The same themes are retained but the exact words change for almost every line. Now I must record the vocals – RIP me.

Day Five

To make the chorus stand out, I’ll add some highlights and pop. Next, I’ll add some transitions between parts, like extra hits on the snare drum when the slow part changes back to the fast part, or lo/hi pass filters to fade between tracks without adjusting volume. Now I just need to add an equalizer to each track to cut out sounds which hurt my ears. Adding reverb sparingly and panning some tracks to the left while others are on the right, can help to create space and make the sound “bigger”. I have been using speakers this whole time so now I will switch to headphones, so I can hear the subtler differences. To limit the range between the loudest and quietest moments, and to compete with modern music, I added a compressor to the master track.

Day Six

Listen to it on the way to work a few times then let it go until tomorrow.

Day seven

Make last touches. Put a limiter on the master track, boost to 0db and export as an MP3 with tags. Upload to SoundCloud and hope she likes it.


Best Regards,

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