009 Making My Own Music – Untitled Pop Rock Song 1

Making My Own MusicIn this episode, I talk about a rock song I wrote in 1996 without lyrics. I talked about using DAW plugins AmpSimulator, Auto-Tune, and a Compressor. I talk briefly about Apple’s new Podcasts app, I announce a new podcast I will be starting about the NBC show “Revolution,” and announce my affiliate program with Amazon.com.

I started by playing a short piece I wrote with my son Logan. It’s a short drum pattern that he ends by yelling “Ow!” I call it Logan Ow.

So far, all the songs I’ve produced on this podcast were jazz or new age. This is my first rock song. As it is now, it has music, but no lyrics, and therefore no title. Right now I am calling it Untitled Pop Rock Song 1.

I wrote this song in November and December of 1996. At the time, I was in a modern rock and punk band called They Eat Their Young. Dave Mountain, the lead singer, and Bill Sullivan, the rhythm guitar player wrote most of the songs. We had completed a CD in 1996, so by that time I had seen songwriting, arranging, and recording, mixing, and mastering in recording studios. I wanted to try my hand at writing rock songs, as I had a band that could play it if it was good. It was also a way for me to attempt to fulfill my lifelong dream of having my name on the Billboard Hot 100 by performing, writing, or producing a song that was one of the 100 most popular for at least 1 week.

When listening to music, some people focus on the lyrics. They can instantly hear the lyrics, they can understand all the nuances with what the songwriter was talking about, they hear the clever lyrics, and so on. My wife Jenn is one of those people.

But that’s not me. I focus on the music. I hear the chord progression, the bass line, the guitars or other instruments playing the chords, the melody, the sound of the singers voice, the background vocals, and so on. I can hear songs over extended periods, and not know what the song is about.

So, one of the things that comes out of that is that I can write a rock song that maybe sounds like a rock song, but I have not yet been able to write good song lyrics.

Over the next few months, I might put some time in trying to write some lyrics. But at this time I’m going to put this song out without lyrics, and see what kind of feedback I get. If you are one who is good at writing lyrics, and you like the sound of this song, maybe we can have a songwriting partnership. I write the music, you write the words, and we’ll record it that way. You can send me email me at tom@makingmyownmusic.com, or call and leave a voicemail for me at 631-213-5023.

Around 1995 and 1996 I wrote this and a couple of other rock songs. On this one, I did have a title and idea for the song, but never wrote words. I did have words for at least one of the other rock songs. The words weren’t edgy, and I never really worked on it after then. I might record that one just like I did this one as a demo with no lyrics.

I originally sequenced this in 1996, and I still had the file on my computer (transferred from PC to PC over the years). I was able to get it into the correct format to move into Cubase, so I wasn’t starting from scratch on the recording. After I imported it, I chose sounds for all the parts on the Halion One synthesizer that comes with Cubase.

Since I didn’t start from scratch, I didn’t get to use a technique I learned from Steve Lanciano when I interviewed him last month. For pretty much everything I’ve sequenced and recorded, I would play the keyboard to record a part, and then I would do a 100% quantize. That means, the software would take every note, and make it start exactly where it was supposed to. I would record just a couple of measures, and then copy and paste it over and over throughout the song.

Part of what this does is make the performance sound mechanical, and computer-like. Actual musicians performing don’t play with a 100% quantize, and there are differences throughout the song. What Steve does is to record the whole track on his keyboard. Then he would use maybe a 50% quantize, so that it was cleaner, but not 100% perfect.

I will definitely try that on my next song, but didn’t get to do that here. I could have “started over” and re-sequenced every part, but that would have taken awhile, and this is really kind of a demo since there is no lyrics.

I am studying different things for songwriting and recording. I am reading Gary Ewer’s blog, the Essential Secrets of Songwriting. It seems geared toward popular music – not jazz, new age, etc. I am also listening to a great podcast called The Home Record Show. I am listening to new episodes, and I am going through their archives, learning a lot from those.

Ryan Cansetro did a segment on song form. I took the idea of doubling the first verse, and halving the first chorus. Originally this song’s verse and chorus were both 8 measures, but the first verse is now 16 and the first verse is 4.

For this recording, I did a couple things on this recording that I haven’t used before. I used a plugin called AmpSimulator.

2 quick asides. My program, Cubase, is called a Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW. Some of the other popular DAWs are called Pro Tools, Logic, and Reaper. These are programs that sequence with synthesizers using MIDI like I’ve been able to do since 1987, but also to record and process audio, digitially. Recording and processing audio is like having a giant recording studio mixer right on my computer.

Second, a plugin is a separate program that you can install with a DAW. It’s kind of like having a piece of audio equipment that might be rack mounted in a studio. So I could buy a compressor, and process the audio with that, or I can use a compressor plugin that does the same thing.

The AmpSimulator plugin came with Cubase. I used an electric guitar sound for the guitars, and then I chose different Amps from the plugin. The sound options are called Clean, Crunch, Crunch+, Lead, Lead2, Modern, American Clean, American Crunch, Jazz, Bass Woman, 1 Tube, 2 Tubes, 3 Tubes, Broken Tube, no Amp. Then there is a cabinet option called Cabinet 1, Cabinet 2, and so on up to Cabinet 10, and no Speaker. So, there are 165 combinations of the amp and the speaker. Then there are knobs for EQ and Drive, Presence, and Volume.

There are also presets that have an amp, a speaker, and the settings set. I am not an expert on amps, so I don’t know exactly where to go. I just tried about 15 combinations to get what I am using here, and I didn’t try any presets or turn any knobs.

I also used a guitar technique that I heard from Jon Tidey on the Home Recording Show podcast. To make an electric guitar sound bigger, I made 2 copies of the electric guitar tracks. I used different amps and speakers on the 2 tracks. I panned one hard left and panned the other hard right.

Another plugin I used was Auto-Tune. I think Auto-Tune gets a bad rap from people who are not huge fans of current pop music, because of the quote Auto-Tune sound. This is the sound that started with Cher’s song “Believe” from 1998. When the producers “set Auto-Tune for its most aggressive setting, so that is corrected the pitch at the exact moment it received the signal, the result was an unsettingly robotic tone.”

A large amount of pop music today uses this Cher effect. However, that’s not what I used on this song. As I was going through the archives of the Home Recording Show, I heard Jon Tidey reviewing Auto-Tune. He gave it a great review. And when I hear Jon and Ryan in more recent shows, they use a lot of pitch correcting with vocals, and other mono instruments.

I downloaded Auto-Tune and tried it on a vocal I recorded. You can easily see on the display how flat or sharp each note is. The Auto-Tune version on the default settings sounds better. If I was really out of tune, Auto-Tune would move me to the next semitone, meaning I would need to sing better, or make a major correction.

Yesterday after I recorded the sax part, I tried Auto-Tune on it. It was similar–I could see notes being flat or sharp. My sax playing was not as out of tune as my singing. But I think the Auto-Tune version was better. It was kind of subtle–it was not a huge difference, but I think it was a little different and better on the Auto-Tune version.

The other new technique if compression. I’m just getting started on this–I don’t really know all I need to yet. I am compressing the sax part and the vocal part. Then after I mixed the song, I compressed the whole song. This makes the soft parts louder, so there is less dynamic range between the loud and soft parts. It’s extremely common in popular music. It’s used, so that if you are listening to it in a loud environment, like driving a car, you don’t have to turn the volume up for the soft parts and then get hurt your ears when the song gets loud. I’m still not compressing the drums, bass or guitar tracks. I didn’t really customize anything yet. I turned on a compression plugin and didn’t change any settings.

During the verse, there is a piano, and a clean electric guitar. During the chorus, there is the clean electric guitar and an electic guitar with distortion – the piano stops. During the bridge, there are 2 different electric guitars with distrotion – there is no clean guitar.

The vocal sound is called “Voice Pad” so it is a little weird-sounding. In this key it would be sung by a baritone or tenor. The bridge is a little too high for me to sing, but I should be able to sing the verse and chorus. If I did sing lyrics, I might record the bridge in a lower key and transpose it up.

This song has a background vocal that comes in on 3 notes in the middle of the chorus. I love background vocals. It’s one of my favorite parts of the music of pop and rock songs. I think bankground vocals can really make a song “catchy.”

I recorded my alto sax for the short intro, and then for the 3rd verse (after the bridge). I then keep playing on the last 2 choruses.

This is just a demo, and it is kind of a mix of pop and rock. If the lyrics call for a more pop song, I would probably lessen up on the distortion on the guitars. If the lyrics called for a harder rock song, I would replace the saxophone with a guitar solo.

I then play Untitled Pop Rock Song 1.

Apple recently released a new Podcasts app, which is intended to make it easier for people to find and listen to podcasts. Before this app, most people found and downloaded podcasts from the iTunes store. Even though almost all podcasts are free, you still had to go to the iTunes store to find them. Now, they can be found in the iTunes Podcast Directory.

Unfortunely, the app is pretty slow and buggy, so I am not using it yet and don’t recommend it for anyone yet. Apple should release an upgraded version soon.

No matter which program you use to listen to this podcast, I do recommend that you subscribe to it. I will probably be releasing new episodes every 3 or 4 weeks, but it could be just 2 weeks. I apologize for the variable schedule. It’s not the best for a podcast to not have episodes released when listeners can count on them. If you subscribe, you’ll always get the episode when it is released. Go to makingmyownmusic.com, and click on a Subscribe link on the right side of any page.

Speaking of podcasts, I am passionate about composing, arranging, and recording original music, and am happy to have this podcast to be able to talk about it. I currently have a small audience. I want to thank you again for listening. This type of podcast could get more popular but probably won’t be huge. I have wanted to possibly start another podcast on a topic that will have a broader possible audience, perhaps about a TV show, movie series, or something like that.

Well, a couple of weeks ago I learned about a new TV show that will start in September on NBC called “Revolution.” It was created by J.J. Abrams, the creator or Lost and Fringe, 2 series I enjoyed. Both Lost and Fringe have strange science things going on that you only learn about slowly over the course of the series.

Revolution takes place 15 years after an event where the electricity stops working all over the Earth. There is a trailer and other sneak peeks on Youtube – I’ll post links in the show notes. It looks very interesting, so I decided to start the Revolution Fan Podcast. I acquired RevolutionFanPodcast.com to host the new podcast.

Right now I am trying to find one or more co-hosts who are likely to enjoy the show, and be able to record a podcast episode each week. I am also getting the audio equipment I need to be able to record Skype co-hosts and in-studio co-hosts.

If you’ve liked Lost of Fringe, think Revolution sounds interesting, and possibly want to be a podcast co-host, please let me know.

I finish off by telling about my first affiliate program. An affiliate program is where someone who runs a website gets a commission when people follow a link and purchase a product or service. They are really common on a lot of sites, and you may not even know the site owner is earning a commission. You pay the same price you would if you had found the site directly, things are not marked up.

I started an affiliate program with Amazon.com. If you shop on Amazon, instead of going directly to Amazon, please change your bookmarks and start by going makingmyownmusic.com/amazon. This takes you to Amazon.com, but I will earn a commission on items you buy.

I added a small banner on the right side of makingmyownmusic.com that you can click directly. These commissions will help cover the cost of hosting the site and the podcasts.

Thank you so much for listening. My email address is tom@makingmyownmusic.com. I also have a feedback voicmail line–call 631-213-5023 and leave me a message.

You can play the podcast using the play button below, or right-click on the “Download” link to save it to your computer.

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