Songwriting Tips, News & More

Music Gear: iRig™ MIX and DJ Rig, iPhone app with Hardware

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Mar 20, 2012 @11:23 AM


 IK Multimedia at WMC (Winter Music Conference)

IK Multimedia showcased 2 new products (See Video above) at the 2012 WMC (Winter Music Conference) in Miami Beach on March 19, 2012:

iRig™ MIX
The first mobile mixer for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. iRig™ MIX is the first mobile mixer for iPhone, iPod touch or iPad devices. iRig MIX offers the same controls you would expect from a professional DJ mixer (crossfader, cues, EQ and volume controls, etc.) in an ultra-compact mobile mixer that can be used with a huge variety of iOS DJ mixing and other apps. iRig MIX is a DJ mixer that allows DJs to use a traditional setup with two devices (one plugged into each of the independent channels) OR a single iOS device. For the single iOS device setup, the output of the single device is split into dual-mono and sent to the individual channels. Additionally – for the first time on any DJ mixer - iRig MIX can be used for mixing any type of audio source (coming from mp3 players, CD players, etc.) with an iOS device using automatic tempo matching and beat syncing. This is accomplished with X-Sync, a feature that works in combination with the DJ Rig free app from IK Multimedia that is included with iRig MIX.


DJ Rig
The pro-quality DJ mixing app. DJ Rig is a full-featured, double-deck DJ mixing app for iPhone. DJ Rig provides instant song playback from the device's music library, tempo sync, sample-based pads, performance recording and an arsenal of high-quality DJ effects. Together with the iRig MIX, DJ Rig provides the most portable pro-quality setup for mobile DJs and musicians.

DJ Rig stands out from the crowd of DJ apps for its complete set of professional features including some that cannot be found in any other app such as X-Sync. This mode allows anybody to automatically synchronize the app audio with any other external audio source. DJ Rig “listens” to the device's audio input, determines its BPM tempo and syncs the app audio automatically. Read more about iRig™ MIX and DJ Rig at:  http://www.ikmultimedia.com/irigmix/moreinfo/djrig.php

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, Music Gear, iRig MIX, DJ Rig, iPhone app, Hardware, IK Multimedia

Songwriting Tip: A Demo A Day

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Mar 06, 2012 @12:00 PM

 

Songwriting Tip: A Demo A Day

 

A successful songwriter gets you creative in a hurry 

By Joe Bouchard

Songwriting Tip: A Demo A Day

 

When many of the great rock songs were written in the ’60s, writers would hack out a song in an hour or two. For example, “A Hard Day’s Night” was written by John Lennon overnight. The next morning it was done and ready to record in a few hours.

I’m very happy with the songs I’m doing these days. The biggest change to my working style in the last three years has been my “Demo in a Day” habit I’ve gotten into. It goes like this:

 

1. Start with a great hit song.

 

2. If you can’t find a hit song in your bag, use any song sketch that you’ve got. Or cover somebody else’s song. You’ll learn if you force yourself to dig, and be creative. Remember—even the great songwriters write a stinker sometimes, but keep pushing.

 

3. Get a good computer (Mac is my preference, but many successful writers make brilliant music on PCs too) and sequencer/DAW program. Learn the programs thoroughly. If you are having a problem with a program, look up a solution on YouTube. Chances are some geek has posted an answer, and can show you how things work without reading the manual.

 

You don’t need a lot of fancy hardware. I use only two mics for demos, an SM57 for guitars and a RØDE condenser for vocals. Most everything can be done with a direct box, or with plug-ins in the sequencer. My recording program is MOTU Digital Performer, I’ve been using it for years; occasionally I’ll use Pro Tools, and have started using Logic too.

 

4. Demo the song. Work quickly.

 

 

Morning

 

Get up early. Shut off all emails, Facebooks, don’t answer the phone—let the answering machine pick up all calls. Don’t watch the morning news, or check the weather. Make coffee.

 

First, record a Guide Demo to a click if you can—mono or stereo, it doesn’t matter— with just simple piano chords, or acoustic guitar chords. Don’t be fussy. Just throw an open mic in the room and wail away. Don’t fix any wrong notes or out-oftuneness, the cruder the better. This Guide Demo will force you to stay focused to get you to the finished “Demo in a Day”.

 

Put the Guide Demo in the top track of your sequencer. You will be turning this on and off as you work on your “Demo in a Day”.

 

Add markers at the top of your sequencer that mark the intro, verses, choruses, any bridge, and the ending.

 

Now do a rough drum track. I use Toontrack Superior Drummer; the sounds are very realistic and I have hundreds of MIDI drum files that give me any style I might want. I even bought other drum MIDI files from a company called Groove Monkee. They all work seamlessly with Digital Performer. Making drum parts is only a matter of drag and drop from the Groove section of the plugin to a MIDI track that is assigned to the Superior Drummer instrument.

 

Use markers to vary the drum parts as a real drummer would. Add fills either a bar or two bars before each new section. It’s easy to see on the screen when a new section is coming. Usually the drum feel is the hardest to nail, so try different parts until you are happy with the feel and how it expresses the feeling in the Guide Demo. Be patient, this could take up most of your morning.

 

Break for lunch when you’ve got the drum part programmed.

 

 

Noon

 

Right after lunch start recording rhythm guitars. The goal is to have a finished song by the end of the day, so you can’t get too fussy with sounds. I often use a Line 6 POD for guitar. It’s fast and it works. The sounds are very mixable. Even Pete Townshend admits to using one in a pinch. Next do piano parts or other coloration

 

parts. Percussion can help too. Bass parts you can do last, or first—it’s up to you. Don’t spend a lot of time on fixing little things. Loop a part if you stumble in the 2nd verse, or 2nd chorus.

 

Doubling parts will make it sound like a classic rock song. I don’t double with copy and paste and time shift, I prefer to actually play the same part twice and pan them L and R. It sounds like the way music was made in the late ’60s and early ’70s. [See this month’s Talkback for hints on creating doubled parts quickly—Ed.]

 

Sing a rough vocal. Add harmonies. Double the harmonies. Replace the rough vocal with a better vocal. I don’t like Auto- Tune, but I might use the tiniest amount on a rough spot.

 

All the time I am recording, I’m reaching for plug-ins that do my eq, compression, and reverb. If I need to automate part of the mix, I’m doing that as I’m recording.

 

 

And night

 

Break for dinner. After dinner, mix it down. It shouldn’t take too long to get something reasonable, since you’ve already set up eq and compression as you were recording. When you get a mix, load in onto your MP3 player. Take a short drive in your car and test the mix. I always do the “car test” for mixes. Remix until satisfied.

 

By now it’s about 10 PM. Do you know where your song is? It should be mixed and presentable to your friends, relatives and the rest of the band.

 

I’ve spent months working on certain song demos. In the end, with that style of recording the results are mixed at best. The “Demo in a Day” technique works better. By forcing yourself to work quickly it’s easier to keep zeroed in on the emotional focus of your song.

 

By the end of the day you will hear whether the song is going to be great or not. If it isn’t, don’t sweat it, you’ve only invested one day of your time; tomorrow you can go on to a new song. The perfect song is waiting around the corner.

 

Joe Bouchard is a singer, songwriter, and bass player who has worked with his brother Al in bands like Blue Öyster Cult— he was first interviewed in our October 2011 issue. To learn more about his music, visit www.bluecoupeband.com.

 

Excerpted from the March edition of Recording Magazine 2012.   ©2012 Music Maker Publications, Inc. Reprinted with permission. 5408 Idylwild Trail, Boulder, CO80301 Tel: (303) 516-9118 Fax: (303) 516-9119 For Subscription Information, call: 1-800-582-8326 or www.recordingmag.com  For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, please go to: http://www.songwriting.net


Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, 4-track, Joe Bouchard, tip

Songwriting Tip: From Demo To Master

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Mon, Mar 05, 2012 @02:15 PM

From Demo To Master: Arranging, Recording, Mixing & Mastering by Melissa Axel

MelissaAxel, JustinPeacock conduscting string section

As with previous posts, we continue from the recording artist perspective (rather than pitching a song to a vocalist) where the last article, From Demo To Master, A Music Artist's Experience, left off. This post explores how the song "Golden Rule" was arranged, recorded, mixed, and mastered for release on the album LOVE . HUMANITY . METAMORPHOSIS …

With pre-production complete and crucial decisions made about song structure, lyric edits, and more, "Golden Rule" was finally ready for recording … or was it? Not quite yet. Before we could take the song into the studio, we still had to finalize the instrumentation and arrangement to build the overall vibe of the track.

We'd chosen a great drummer/percussionist for the album, and our producer arranged a meeting with him to go over the feel of the song. They each brought some great groove ideas to the table (our producer has a percussion background as well), and the drummer and I played together a bit to lock in the most natural tempo.

Hearing how the piano and drums fit together, we decided the song would feel great with an upright bass. We hired a terrific player versed in jazz and rock who brought various textures to the album, and for this track, a jazzier pop feel worked best. We talked through the song, played with some ideas, and then it was time to record the rhythm section. We tracked piano, drums and upright bass live in the studio with each instrument isolated in its own room, separated by glass windows for eye contact.

No matter how good your musicians are and or how much you've rehearsed, there's a special magic you're going for in the studio that only comes from letting go and playing until everything "gels" between the performers. Our session was no exception, and once I'd recorded a scratch vocal as our guide for the song, I was free to focus on the nuances of the piano part and how it connected with what the other musicians were doing. Once we had something down that we were all pleased with, I went back and recorded the rubato (out of time) intro and outro sections by myself on piano.

With the basics down, we turned our attention to the arrangement. In essence, "Golden Rule" is a song about empowerment, and we wanted a string section to bring out its emotional strength. It needed to sound both fresh and familiar—inspirational without being cheesy, moving without being "over the top." Violinist/composer Kailin Yong listened to our basic tracks and created an arrangement for violin, viola, and cello that built up to great intensity and also provided a sense of comfort and universal acceptance to the listener.

Once the arrangement was complete and we were all happy with a midi demo of the parts, we scheduled a recording session for the strings. Kailin played lead violin, joined by Tom Hagerman (DeVotchKa) on second violin, Mackenzie Gault (Flobots) on viola, and Beth Rosbach (Sphere Ensemble) on cello. Our producer took on the role of conductor, with an engineer who specializes in live recording at the board.

The string players were charged with bringing more to life than just notes on the page: each musician would also fill the music with the emotions of his or her own experiences from childhood. Though I knew some of them well, I had just met others for the first time that day, so we connected for a bit and exchanged a few brief stories before tracking began. As we layered several takes of the string section, a mini string orchestra evolved before our ears, and I heard the incredible difference it makes to record live musicians.

After the strings were finished, it was time to lay down the final vocal. Every singer needs to feel supported by the music, and I realized how much easier it is to deliver a solid, heartfelt performance with a strong, grooving rhythm section and beautiful string arrangement backing me up. We spent some time listening back to the takes and comping the best phrases into a cohesive track that reflected the message and openness of the song.

But capturing great performances with great sound is not enough: the complete picture of a song is brought to light by an exceptional mix, and we were fortunate to be working with a producer whose specialty is mixing. He had a vision for each song—and the entire record—from the beginning, as well as a strong understanding of my own sonic preferences. We left him to his own creative devices and returned to find the unique sound and placement of each instrument perfectly treated in a stunning mix that drew the listener in and highlighted all of the most special moments of the song.

The final mix of "Golden Rule" (and eleven other songs) then went to our mastering engineer, who processed or "sweetened" the audio to maximize sound quality for both CD/digital and vinyl/analog formats. Since the sound of this music was intimate, sweeping, and highly organic, we chose to master the album for high dynamic range. Unlike many "wall of sound" tracks released since the compact disc began to dominate the industry, compression was used sparingly to keep the quiet parts quiet and the big orchestral parts loud and powerful by contrast. The result is a listening experience of greater sonic depth (and an absence of ear fatigue).

"Golden Rule" had completed its evolution from demo to master. From pre-production to arranging, to recording, mixing and mastering, the process was a detailed, lengthy, and enriching one that not only prepared us well for future recording projects but provided a fulfilling creative journey in and of itself.

 

Melissa Axel is an Artist Relations representative of USA Songwriting Competition. At just eight years of age, she was writing songs about the bittersweet journey of life, love, struggle, and inspiration. The piano-driven singer/songwriter studied at Boston's renowned Berklee College of Music and went on to earn her master's degree in Interdisciplinary Arts from Nova Southeastern University. Axel's new album LOVE . HUMANITY . METAMORPHOSIS is reminiscent of Regina Spektor, Norah Jones, and Tori Amos. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, From Demo, Master, Arranging, Recording, Mixing, Mastering

Songwriting Tips: From Demo To Master, A Music Artist's Experience

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Wed, Feb 01, 2012 @01:55 PM

From Demo To Master, A Music Artist's Experience

by Melissa Axel

Songwriting & Editing by Melissa Axel

After my last article Demo vs. Master Recordings, I was asked to share how one of my own songs moved through the demo stage to completion. That and this post are both written from the recording artist perspective (rather than songwriter pitching songs for other singers to record). This is the evolution of "Golden Rule," from my album LOVE . HUMANITY . METAMORPHOSIS …

"THIS IS IT!" The rush of adrenaline, hard work rewarded, that magical feeling of inspiration successfully translated into a complete, singable tune … You know the feeling you get when you've just finished writing a new song. Eureka, you've done it! But, you're not done with it.

At least, I wasn't done when I shouted from our piano in mid-afternoon triumph for all the neighborhood cats to hear. Even after the editing stage, "Golden Rule" went through several major revisions—the kind best made by sitting down with a trusted musical advisor (in this case, our producer) to carefully analyze a basic recording of the song. The changes made in this pre-production stage turned a pleasant but complex tune into an engaging song with a clear message of love and self-acceptance.

One thing we noticed in the first piano/vocal demo was that there seemed to be two different pre-choruses in the song—and each one appeared twice. This took power away from the composition by creating several different build-ups that never fully paid off. It felt great to play and sing those sections, but as a listener, even I got lost when I heard my initial recording. Where was the peak of the song?

Another issue was how the perspective of the song progressed. It began in third person about a struggling little girl, shifted to the girl's voice questioning her situation, and then to mine, empathizing with everyone who'd gone through the same thing. It seemed like an interesting story arc at the time, but I had admittedly come up with a narrative that was too confusing to clearly deliver its point. What was the punchline … and whose line was it, anyway?

After a hard look at each section of the song, we decided to stick with the first pre-chorus. I let go of lyrics I was originally attached to when I saw how much more powerful the song became without them. We also cut down the instrumental parts, keeping just a short vocal vamp and a quick instrumental build-up to the "bookend" outro. With so many lyrics on the cutting room floor, we no longer needed to give the listener as much musical "buffer" to process what was being said.

Still, I adored that other section, whatever it was. Those chords just felt like they belonged, and the statement "but everyone is special, everybody's unique / that's what they say, and I'd like to believe it" was only the key point of the whole song. A-ha—that was no second pre-chorus, it was the end of the bridge—the climax! Those words now mark the shift from third to first person as we continue into the chorus, "so I sing, soft but strong, 'there is nothing wrong with you.'" Sure enough, these few lines had also functioned as a pre-chorus, because the chords lead back up to the final chorus, only even stronger this time.

For me, transforming our demo in pre-production was the most crucial part of the recording process. Between tightening the form, upping the tempo, and putting unnecessary bits on the chopping block, we cut over two minutes from the song, clarified its structure, and made its core message crystal clear. Having settled on these essentials, we gave a revised piano/vocal demo to the string arranger and other musicians as we prepared to take "Golden Rule" into the studio.

Melissa Axel is an Artist Relations representative of USA Songwriting Competition. At just eight years of age, she was writing songs about the bittersweet journey of life, love, struggle, and inspiration. The piano-driven singer/songwriter studied at Boston's renowned Berklee College of Music and went on to earn her master's degree in Interdisciplinary Arts from Nova Southeastern University. Axel's new album LOVE . HUMANITY . METAMORPHOSIS is reminiscent of Regina Spektor, Norah Jones, and Tori Amos. For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, Berklee, demo, writing songs, songwrite, Master Recordings, singer songwriter, Regina Spektor, editing, Norah Jones, Tori Amos

Songwriting Tip: 6 Traits of A Badly Written Song

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Jan 10, 2012 @12:00 AM

6 Traits of A Badly Written Song

(source: Music Connection magazine)

By Bobby Owsinski

songwriting

Although we’ve all heard the stories about a great song that was written in 10 minutes, most well-written songs are actually finally crafted by many rounds of re-writes. Many inexperienced songwriters don’t take enough time to hone a song, and as a result, their songs may display a number of undesirable traits. Keep in mind that regardless of the genre of music, from rock to country to goth to rockabilly to alien space music, there are common elements that keep a song interesting to your particular audience, and also characteristics that rear their head when a song doesn’t hold the listener’s attention as well.
Here are 6 traits commonly found in badly written songs that were culled from two of my books, The Music Producer’s Handbook and How To Make Your Band Sound Great. My apologies for using song examples that might seem a little dated, but I wanted to chose ones that most people are familiar with after years of airplay.


1. The Song Is Too Long
Many songs have sections that are way too long. Two-minute intros, three-minute guitar solos and five-minute outros are almost always boring. You are always better off to have a section too short rather than too long. The only exception is if you can actually make a long section interesting, which usually takes a lot of arranging skill and even then still might not keep the audience’s attention. One really long outro that does work, for example, is on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s classic “Free Bird” (don’t laugh––it’s one of the most played songs ever), where slight arrangement changes, kicks and accents every 16 bars really holds the listener’s attention.

2. The Song Has No Focus
Beginner songwriters often have no focus to their songs, which means that the song meanders from chord to chord without a clear distinction between sections. This is usually the result of not honing the song enough and thinking it’s finished way before it’s time. Sometimes there’s really a song in there if you peel it back a bit, but usually the only way to fix it is to go back to the drawing board for a major rewrite.

3. The Song Has A Weak Chorus
Sometimes it’s hard to tell when the verse stops and the chorus starts because they’re basically the same. An interesting chorus usually has something different about it from the verse. It may be just a little different, like adding background vocals or another instrument, or an accent or anticipation to the same chord changes and melody (like Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Crossfire” with the horn hits and guitar fill). Or it can be a lot different with different set of chord changes or melody combined with the arrangement changes like “Vertigo” by U2, “This Kiss” by Faith Hill or the Eagles’ classic “Hotel California.” Either way, something has to change in the chorus to lift the energy and keep the song memorable.

4. The Song Has No Bridge
Another common songwriting mistake is no bridge. A bridge is an interlude that connects two parts of that song, building a harmonic connection between those parts. Normally you should have heard the verse at least twice. The bridge may then replace the third verse or precede it. In the latter case, it delays an expected chorus. The chorus after the bridge is usually the last one and is often repeated in order to stress that it is final. If and when you expect a verse or a chorus and you get something that is musically and lyrically different from both verse and chorus, it is most likely the bridge.
A bridge is sometimes the peak of the song where it’s at its loudest and most intense (check out the bridge of the Police’s “Every Breath You Take”), or it could be its quietest and least intense point (the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” where Pete Townsend sings “...It’s only teenage wasteland,” or the Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water”).
Almost every great song has a bridge, but there are the occasional exceptions. Songs that are based on the straight 12-bar blues frequently don’t have bridges but might use dynamics or arrangement to provide the tension and release. An example would be the ZZ Top classic “Tush.” There’s no bridge in the song, but the snare fill by itself––after the last verse into the outro guitar solo––supplies the release. Another would be the Guess Who/Lenny Kravitz song “American Woman” where there are just four bars of a different guitar and bass rhythm and a stop that performs that same function as a bridge.

5. The Song Suffers From A Poor Arrangement
Even with great songwriters, this is the most common mistake. Usually this means that the guitar or keyboard will play the same lick, chords or rhythm throughout the entire song. This can work perfectly well and might even be a great arrangement choice if another instrument plays a counter-line or rhythm, but usually it just means that the arrangement will be boring. You’ve got to make sure that the song stays interesting, and that means the addition of lines and fills. An example where a structure like this does work is “American Woman” again.

6. The Song Has No Intro/Outro Hook
If we’re talking about modern popular music (not jazz or classical), most of the songs have an instrumental line (or hook) that you’ll hear at the beginning of the song, maybe again in the chorus, and any time the intro repeats in the song. A great example would be the opening guitar riff to the Rolling Stone’s “Satisfaction” or the piano in Coldplay’s “Clocks.” If you want to make your producer happy, develop your hooks before you do your demos or hit the studio.

• BONUS Tip: They’re not “Originals”
A sure sign of an amateur writer who doesn’t take writing songs seriously is to refer to one’s songs as “originals.” A tape that says “originals” really has “club band” written all over it. Nothing against club bands, but no one is going to take your writing seriously when you refer to your songs using that word. It’s much better to say, “Here are some songs that we wrote” or “Here’s one of our songs.” You will be taken a lot more seriously by the very people that you want listening.

Now take a long, hard listen to your songs. Do any of them have any of the above traits? If so, it’s time for at least one more rewrite.
------------------------

This article is used by permission from Music Connection magazine's November 2011 issue. Bobby Owsinski is a producer, author and music consultant who has written 15 books on music, recording and the music business. Read some excerpts at bobbyowsinski.com or read his popular production blog at bobbyowsinski.blogspot.com or his music business blog at music3point0.blogspot.com.

For more information on the 17th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, visit: http://www.songwriting.net

Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Chorus, Verse, Songwriting Tip, songwrite, inexperienced songwriters, Badly Written Song, hook, refrian