Week 39 - The Stirring

Wow!  We wrap up the thirties this week.  I really can’t believe it.  I still remember the feeling I had those first few weeks.  The thought of how many songs I had ahead of me was completely overwhelming.  The thirteen that I now have left – while still more than an album’s worth – don’t seem all that intimidating.  That said, it’s been an intense journey and I’m pretty worn out from the year.  These days I find my mind wandering (fantasizing?) to thoughts of a post 52 in 52 life.  But let’s put those thoughts aside for now.

The Stirring (as was the case with its two predecessors) began at the computer.  I think I’ve explained a bit about the process these last few weeks but I’ll share more here.  I started with the low droning synthesizer sound you here in the song.  I called up a synth plugin that I haven’t used this year and started dialing through the sounds.  I found the one that made this week’s cut and just liked the way it felt.  I played around with various patterns and ultimately fell into the very simple E/ C progression.

After laying down eight or sixteen bars of that pattern, I called up some drum sounds.  Again, I went with a new plugin.  As you can imagine, the back and forth droning of the first pattern along with the slower tempo created a certain feel.  So as I was dialing through drum kit sounds, some were working for me while others clearly were not.  I ultimately found a kit labeled Jazz Brushes.  It was close to what I wanted but the sound of the snare was little bit off (for my purposes).  The stock sample sounded a bit like pebbles rolling around in a clothes dryer so I tweaked it a bit.  When I had it the way I liked it, I started playing with some kick and snare patterns on the keyboard. 

Now I’m not a drummer by trade, so this part takes some experimentation.  What it basically amounts to is my listening back to the initial synth part while I play patterns on the keyboard.  My thumb plays the kick (C) and my index finger plays the snare (D).  So in the way same you might tap your fingers on a steering wheel to a song on the radio, I’m tapping on the keyboard hoping to ‘catch’ some sort of groove.  Eventually, I had the pattern you hear in the final song.  It felt right and I ended the session thinking up the simple melody (the ‘I was running’ part) that opens the song.  It doesn’t seem like much but believe me, it felt like a good accomplishment for a week’s first session especially after the challenges of the prior two songs.

The next session or two involved expanding my simple E/C pattern to what became the chorus.  The melody showed up as I worked which was nice.  I also added a couple of other synth parts.  By Tuesday, I had the verse and chorus chords and melody in place and began to focus on lyrics.  I was relying on my trusty ‘listen back to rough recordings while driving’ method to generate lyric ideas and opening ‘I was running’ line came that way.

By Wednesday night, I had a rough draft of verse and chorus lyrics but still no bridge.  I really wanted to have that in place before going to bed and that was the week’s biggest point of temptation.  I just wanted to pick up the acoustic guitar (she’s so lonely!) and figure something out quickly.  Instead, I stuck with the computer and ultimately came up with the droney E/B section.  Not too sophisticated but it still took time to develop.  The melody came at that point too along with the lyric ‘A long, a long, long time ago’.  I wasn’t sure where it was going but it supported the hypnotic feel of the song so in it went. 

Thursday morning was spent tweaking lyrics and Thursday night tweaking sounds.  I added the strings and an additional drum kit at that point and then recorded a rough pass of the vocals.  This was great because I then had opportunities to listen back to a fairly complete song throughout the day Friday while in the car, getting ready, etc. thinking about how I might tweak it.  It’s so helpful for me to have a day to do this.  Unfortunately, given the tight weekly deadlines this year, it’s been a rare luxury.  There’s no question the computer-based workflow helps this.                                                                                                              

I know I’ve mentioned this before but one of the great things I’ve found about working with the synthesizers is that you’re building the finished song throughout the week.  For most of this year, my typical workflow has been to work on a song all week with the acoustic guitar on my lap and word processor open, only to get to Thursday or Friday before thinking about production or instrumentation.  In sticking to the computer, I’m essentially auditioning sounds all week so by the time Thursday or Friday roll around, I’ve got a lot in place.  I’m thinking about what can I add to enhance what I’ve already got.  It might not sound like much but my typical two day panic of asking myself what the song should sound like, worrying that it sounds too much like a previous song and so on has been one of the most stressful parts of this year’s journey.  That said, I know it’s in working through the discomfort of those moments that much of the learning and confidence building has come. 

In the end, writing and recording The Stirring was enjoyable.  I have one more ‘no acoustic’ song to write and it will be interesting to see what happens after that.  I do have a few acoustic ideas bubbling but I’m not sure if those will become 41 and 42.  We will see.  As always, thanks for taking the time to follow my journey.  Wait a minute…I just realized thirteen songs to go means I have a quarter year left.  Wowza again!  Time’s a moving.  Have a great week!