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Music Life: 08 - MUSICAL PRODUCTIVITY! - Part 3 - Arrange Scratch-Vers. Into DEMOS
By Brian Donovan - 04/17/2009 - 04:33 AM EDT

A very long hiatus from a very important topic for a VERY good reason!

Hello, and welcome back to our discussion about musical productivity. Why have I been gone so long?  Well, my wife and I had a little baby girl back in October and I got the chance to stay home with her for an extended period of time.  Not a lot of fathers get to do that, but my wife wanted to go back to work for a few months in order to wrap up a tv series she had been working on for the last 8 years, so I jumped at the chance to shut everything else off and spend time with my daughter.  And now that Iím back to all things music, I feel even more invigorated.  And, well, THATíS what I mean by letting the life you LIVE fuel your music!

So, back to our discussion. To recap again:
There are 4 major steps to being more musically productive:
1. capture & organize your random, inspirational ideas
2. write (and re-write) scratch-versions to assemble these ideas into a complete statement that stands on it's own
3. arrange (and re-arrange) these scratch-versions into fully-produced demos
4. record (and re-record) individual parts to create final versions of these arrangements and call the project done

And up to this point, we've captured our musical ideas, written some scratch versions of our songs using those ideas as seeds and now our next step is to do DEMO arrangements of those songs. Remember that at this point, we've only recorded an instrument and voice so we can focus on just the chords, melody and lyrics.

So how do we do this?  Well here's MY approach:
I have created a template in ProTools (my recording medium of choice) and this particular template includes 1 audio track for one pass at a scratch vocal and 1 audio track for one pass at a scratch guitar track.  This template also has a click track that I will manipulate to find just the right tempo before I record the vocal and guitar passes.  In addition, it has 3 midi tracks for piano, drums and bass ideas (all with their respective virtual instruments assigned as plugins via Reason) that I will be using for the basics of my arrangement.

Now, after Iíve settled on a great tempo and recorded the guitar and vocal, I'll either start with a drum part or a piano part typically, but with this template, I can start anywhere I feel inspired, and even just add another midi track and virtual instrument if I so desire: ie: strings, percussion, oboe, maybe even bag pipes! name it. ;)

Using the guitar and vocal as my temporary guides, Iíll program a drum part, a piano part, a bass part and whatever else I may hear in my head... with great care of the inputted midi, I'll have cd-ready tracks by the time I'm done.  With only the guitar and vocal left in the end to "officially record" final versions of.

Why do I record the vocals and guitar twice like this?  It takes the stress off of the song form for me.  What I don't want to do is record a final guitar and vocal, then do an arrangement, only to realize that the guitar part (although great by itself) really doesn't work with the killer arrangement that I just created.  It kills the momentum for me to find out the final guitar is no longer final.  That's my thing.

So after I've gotten at least the piano, bass and drums completed via midi tracks (the rhythm section) I'll bounce out (tech term, meaning: "make") an mp3 of everything but the guitar and vocal.  Then I spend some time listening to the arrangement, singing and playing along to see if adjustments need to be made to the guitar and/or vocal.  I also REALLY listen for tempo here.  (Remember, with the only FINAL tracks in this arrangement being all midi-based, I am free to move the tempo in the recording session/sequence a little bit in either direction before recording the final guitar and vocal audio.)  Once I'm satisfied, back into the studio I'll go...

Confident that the guitar and vocal will be killer with this new arrangement, I head back to my studio and get my head ready to record.  The best part is that now, since my head is free of the Ďarrangementí thought process, I can focus on great performances. AND I can rest my head knowing that once I have a great performance of both the guitar and vocal, they are there forever. Simply because if I've done all my work well, I can use these final vocal and guitar recordings in the final production.  ( be discussed next time...)  If not, well, hopefully only small punch ins will be necessary to MAKE them ready...

Next time, we'll look at taking our well produced demo to the final production stage.  And more importantly, why the heck we don't just stop here.  I mean, the demo sounds awesome, right?!

Until then, appreciate the horizon...

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