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.

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