Week 21 - Fool's Game

So, here we are at number 21.  I thought we’d celebrate by bringing back the electric guitars.  They sure are fun.  But also a lot of work for me.  I’m not quite fluent at recording electric guitars (even when a lot of it is in the box) and they can quickly become a mess.  I’m so envious of those session musicians who can nail things in one or two takes.  Don’t know that I’ll ever get there.  I’m just thankful I live in the digital world where I can edit the good parts together. 

This week started on the acoustic guitar playing around with some progressions.  I fell into the simple power chord pattern that makes up the body of the song.  It might have been my mood at that moment, but it resonated with me and I thought it would lend itself well to ‘electrification’.  I’d been wanting to do another electric guitar based song for a while, so I jumped at the idea.

As for subject matter, I had the phrase ‘it’s a fool’s game’ in that first session but not much else.  I decided at that point the song would be about addiction or the addiction mindset but didn’t spend much early time on the lyrics.  This week was all about music and feel.

The first thing I set out to do was create a drum track.  I’m not a drummer, so I work with virtual drums in my recording software.  Typically, I will play around with preset patterns, finding one that I like as a starting point.  From there, I’ll tweak and modify to make it fit the song and hopefully not sound too ‘programmed’.  In this case, I was having trouble finding a pattern that worked with my original power chord strumming rhythm, so I decided I’d start from scratch.

So I spent my first recording session, playing drum patterns with my midi keyboard.  It took a little while (mostly because of my inexperience, not any sophistication to the pattern) but I came up with something that seemed to work.  From there I move to the bass.  Again, I played with patterns that fit with my drum loop.  After that first evening session, I had the two parts down.

One early obstacle for me was the lack of song structure.  I was basically developing a song sound without a set of lyrics to work to.  I did have the phrase ‘it’s a fool’s game’ that I imagined in the chorus and I was hearing the basic progression in my head, but as far as an intro, interludes, how long each verse would be, the bridge, etc., I had nothing. 

That said, my concern was still with the music and its feel.  Having the drums and bass in a decent place, I pulled out the electric guitar for my next session.  First thing on the list was getting the power chord rhythm track down.  With that in place, I began playing with some guitar licks over it, something that does not come easily to me.  This experimentation was time consuming but did lead to the ‘solo’ guitars you hear throughout the finished song.

At this point, I was moving into mid-week.  I liked the feel of what I had but was getting concerned about lyrics.  I decided on a two prong approach and began using my early morning sessions for writing and the late evenings to continue developing the music (which was far from complete).   It was as if I was writing the song from two directions and given the week’s approaching deadline, it was challenging and stressful.  It didn’t help that I was pushing the edges of my production abilities.  (Where all the learning happens, right?)

I finished my early Friday morning session with a set of lyrics complete enough to record and a rough idea of the song’s structure.  Thankfully, I had some time Friday afternoon to lock that down a bit more.  When I returned to it later Friday night, I recorded the vocals and started thinking about the mix.  Multiple distorted electric guitars playing simultaneously turn to mud very quickly.  I was concerned about getting a decent mix and in the end, this took a lot of trial and error.  (I have so much more respect for professional mixers given my experiences this year – and I already had a ton of respect for them prior to this year.)

Vocally, there were a few challenges and in the end, I recorded them on three separate occasions.  Thankfully, there weren’t a lot of words.  The big issue was performance.  This is a harder rocking song which seemed to warrant a certain kind of vocal.  I wasn’t sure if I could do it.  I’m not a classic rock singer, which led to the next question of what I could do in the mix to help my voice.  I spent a lot of time playing with various ideas – some from the internet and some from my imagination.  In the end, I doubled the vocal and put the doubled version onto two tracks which I panned hard left and right.  I also gave those panned tracks a bit of extra reverb.  I then added a slight delay to all the vocal tracks.  So there was quite a bit going on.  I went even farther in the bridge section, adding a few other spices to the sauce.  (If you're taking the time to read this, maybe you want to go back and listen for some of what I described.)

Once I felt I had a passable vocal, it was time to get back to the mix.  This one was a challenge and took a considerable amount of time and automation.  I could have kept tweaking but at some point you have to call it and I did. 

That’s it.  I hope you enjoyed Fool’s Game.  This was a fun (if extremely time consuming) song to make.  I feel like my whole body needs a break.  (I’m thinking January 1, 2014.)  Hours upon hours at the computer but boy do they fly.  Thanks for stopping by the blog.  Have a great week!