Monday, June 14, 2010

New song, and a look at writing and recording it.

And so begins my super-blog-post about the song that was recorded last week. (See my previous post for some info on that)


Here's a direct link (Right click, Save As), might be easier for following along if you're gonna actually read this blog.

Direct Link

At the moment it is titled “Ocean Storm.”
My goal here is to go as much as I can into the different parts of the process of making this song (writing, recording, and everything after that) There’s gonna be a LOT of content here, so here’s a little index if you want to skip to parts.

1. Writing
2. Recording/mixing
3. Afterthoughts


The way I go about writing a song is about the same every time I do so. Being that I’m normally not writing with the intention of adding vocals, I don’t feel too pressured into keeping to the usual song structure of verses, refrains, blah blah blah. This is both good and bad for me. Good being that I’m more free to go where I want with a song and experiment, bad being that it’s more difficult to stick to a theme. Some of my songs have suffered from this, but this song in particular I feel benefitted because I was able to bring an earlier theme back in at the end. But more about that when I get to it.

To make this easier to discuss, I’ll break the song down into parts.
Part A – 0:00-0:33
Part B – 0:33-1:45
Part C – 1:45-2:35
Part D – 2:36-3:24
Part E – 3:24-4:54
Part F – 4:54-End

The order in which this song was written, just so you can see non-linearly I write songs, is A, D, E, C, B, F. It’s very unusual for me to start at the beginning, and then part A was written, it really wasn’t intended to start a song. D and E were sort of written together. I needed B and C to bridge the gap between the 2 fairly different sections. B was rewritten only very recently with the help of Tim Chimes, and I used that theme to write the ending.

This section is a specific analysis of each part, so it might get a bit technical.

Part A: My intention when writing this was to experiment with polymeter. The part is written in 5/4 time, which is what the rhythm guitar/bass plays. The lead guitar is repeating in 7/8. Kinda confusing, but basically every 3.5 beats it repeats. The drums (at least the bass and snare) are repeating every 3 beats. It makes for an unbalanced and sort of disorienting part, which was the intention, and contrasts nicely against the next part.

Part B: The part at the start of this was written by Tim. I took the part he gave me, adjusted it to fit the key, and added some things to make it work. When the distorted guitars come back in at 0:48, I used a rhythm similar to something that comes later. Let’s call “^” a note and “_” a rest, so they play ^^_^^^_ repeated. It gives them a feeling of being independent from the other parts, so there’s a nice impact at 1:06 when they start playing what the other guitars are playing. I wrote the transition part at 1:25 using a pattern of 2 measures of 6/8 and one of 4/8. Then a part playing with the panning at 1:42 which sorta unintentionally has one guitar playing in 6/8 feel and one in 3/4 feel, but it turned out cool.

Part C: Starting at 1:46 the new part brings back that ^^_^^^_ thing, but it’s playing over a part in 5/4 instead of 6/8. In the drums, the cymbal and bass play on the guitar’s notes and a snare on the rests. At 2:01, it goes back to 6/8, solid chords in the guitars (basically all M7 and sus2). The bass plays some neat arpeggios of those chords, and is sorta the highlight of that section. The part at 2:19 has a pattern in the guitars (say ^ are accents and - are unaccented notes) that is ^-^-- repeated on top of 6/4. The bass plays straight eighth note arpeggios.

Part D: Fairly straightforward, only part of the song in 4/4, but I love this chord progression and the build to the next part.

Part E: Using a slight alteration of the previous chord progression, back in 6/4. Written with an improvised solo section in mind.

Part F: I took Tim’s part from before and added a nice little rhythm guitar part over it. I figured this would be a nice point to do another improvised solo and fade out.

All of the drum writing that I did was just so I had something to play to. When writing this song I didn’t know I’d be recording it, so it was initially just for personal use.

All of my writing I did in Guitar Pro, a midi tabulature program. Here’s a sample of what I’m looking at when I do that:


For recording, I went to stay at Tim’s apartment in Bowling Green for a few days so we could record at BGSU. The plan was I would cover all the guitars, Tim the bass, and Tim’s friend Bruce Vermett on drums. The first night there, we went to Bruce’s to talk about the song (and watch some Check It Out, ya dungus). Not being a percussionist, I was pumped to have someone who actually plays go over the song. I know he wasn’t sure about using his own ideas in my song, but they were much better than what I was doing.

We figured out some logistics, and the next day Tim and I went into the studio to record guitars. It went a lot smoother than I had anticipated. When I record myself, I usually do way too many takes because of stupid mistakes, but that number was significantly less here. Although, I still made a lot of mistakes and relied on Tim’s Pro-Tools skills to fix it up later. We recorded 2 (sometimes 3) layers of distorted guitar, 2 of clean guitar, and 1 of acoustic. I played all of those parts, except for the clean guitar harmonies in part B and F, which Tim played.

Recording Studio

there are 6 mics on this amp, plus a direct line, recording 7 channels. Way overkill, but Tim took the opportunity to experiment with mics.

Closer shot

Tim recording.

The next day, Bruce recorded drums, and did a ridiculously awesome job (even though he still thinks I was just being nice in saying that, it really was awesome.), especially since he only heard the song 3 or so days prior and got most of the song in 1 or 2 takes. All of parts B and F were improvised, as were the solo section of E and parts of D. The rest was basically sight-reading and slight improvisations on what I had written. When he was done, we recorded the acoustic parts and my improvised solos.

All the drums stuff before being set up

Bruce at the drums. I was kinda sneaky, dunno if he saw me take this. Tim had (I think) 11 mics on the drums.

The next day, Tim recorded Bass and started mixing from his apartment. I don’t have much to say here since that was just him working on it, but he did quite a good job cleaning stuff up and making fixes I’d recommend. Aaaand that’s the end of that.


All in all, I’m really happy with the result. I learned some stuff in this process though. One thing being that I need to practice to become a cleaner and more accurate player, and a better improviser. I think the solo sections might sound alright to some people, but I’m critical of them. There are some mistakes I’m OK with, but I still notice. Other than that though, some of my solo parts actually turned out pretty good I think.

I had a revelation of sorts when I showed an early mix to my friend Alex Wright. One of his comments was “it's interesting. It's tranquil, but epic.” I kinda already knew this in the back of my mind, but that’s my goal usually in writing a song. I really like that Alex picked up on that and actually put it into words for me. Then later when talking to Tim, I pieced together for myself where that comes from. The bands Dream Theater and Pain of Salvation sort of fuel the “epic” side of my writing, while bands like Porcupine Tree and Riverside fuel the tranquil side. Each of these bands has both of these elements in their music though, and that’s what draws me to them I think. I like heavy and complex music (not that I only like heavy and complex), but it still needs to sound nice. I aim to mix technicality with melody, and hopefully that came out in this song.

I also learned that naming an instrumental song is extremely difficult. With no words to go to, you would think you could just go by how the song makes you feel or what imagery comes to mind. With how much I am involved at a technical level in writing this song, it’s difficult to come to that conclusion. So from there, I just started looking for random words or phrases that would work. The first idea was “Ocean of Storms.” I actually got this from the Colbert Report of all places. He was interviewing one of the astronauts who landed on the moon (Apollo 12 I think), and the place they landed was called the Ocean of Storms, which sounded awesome. It is kinda cheesy though as a song name, so I tried a whole bunch of things. For a short while, Tim and I were trying to randomly select phrases from our respective copies of the Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. We recently realized just calling it Ocean Storm would be better.

And that is that. It was quite awesome to get this made, so thanks to Tim and Bruce for the help, and hope you like the song.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Next week (Even more musics!)

My plans next week are to visit Tim in Bowling Green so we can do some music recording. Here's the song we're planning on doing, now that it's all written:

I posted this song before, but an older version with a terrible part I removed, and Tim helped me rewrite it. some of the drums and bass aren't written, but that's for Tim and Bruce to do what they want there. Also as a not there's two parts that seem to repeat maybe too much at the moment, but they're there for solos, and some bass and drum improv.

Anyway, I'm pretty pumped to actually make a legitimate recording that doesn't involve me sitting in my room with a crappy mic, recording in a video editing program.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Musics! (Not actually mine but sorta mine but not actually)

So way back in High School sometime, I participated in writing a song with my then-bandmates. Recently, one of the bandmates, a sir Timothy of Chimes recorded said song with his new band Owl, and featuring my other bandmate Sir David of Kiel on the vocalizations. Tim played guitar and bass (and keys?) and his bandmate Bruce played drums.

Well here it is:

This was back when we were still not very great at writing transitions between parts (but oh, were we getting better. Some of that old stuff...ugh). The last two sections of this song, starting at 3:12 to the end, were definitely my favorite (and if I recall correctly I think I wrote those parts). Dave's vocals on these parts turned out pretty epic.

Anywho, for publicity sake, here's a link to Tim's band's blog:

A plan is sorta in the works right now for me to visit him at Bowling Green for a day or two or three and record one of my songs I'm currently finishing up with Tim's assistance. Should be superawesome, and that song will go straight up here when it's done, as well as anything else we end up doing.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


I've done some work on the assignment I gave myself in my previous post. Mostly just in bits of an hour or so whenever I give myself time to do it.

I'm in blocking right now, not done yet. I'm making the first pass main body poses only, working fingers and face into it on the second pass. I think I've discovered this is one of my least favorite parts of the process. I get impatient and want to dig into the detailed stuff but I have to hold back. Also, especially for a piece this long, it takes forever to get a pass done, so after all thew time I've been working on this I still don't have a complete idea of what I'm making.

Anyway, here it is:

Practice Dialogue Animation from Ryan Neff on Vimeo.

Still not to the end yet, there's another couple seconds after this that I cut out. My plan for him at the end of this is to plop down in his chair and hang his head, it's basically crying/mumbling after this.