Quick Songwriting Tool in Studio One 3

If you’re at like me, there just doesn’t seem to be enough time to get songs materialized quick enough. I am working on the first 5 tunes of a project and have the ideas charted in my Moleskine notebook and lyrics in an Evernote notebook (my hybrid songwriting tools). I have a songwriting process that I will get into in more detail in a future post, but I just learned about a feature in PreSonus’ Studio One 3 that just took my fairly efficient process and chopped off about 2/3 of the time it normally takes to lay down my initial scratch tracks.

That feature is the Arranger Track and inspector window. You can see a great overview and demonstration here, but here’s how it works at a high level: With the arranger track, you take each section of your tune, like intro-verse-chorus-bridge-end and record them all once, in a continuous sequence. This can be a singe guitar track, or all of your tracks—it’s up to you how much you need in order to have enough to sort your arrangement out.

Once you are finished, using the Arranger Track at the top of the timeline in the track view, you simply paint (using the pencil tool) over each of the the sections you just laid down. Then, either by copying/dragging and dropping in the Arranger Track or using the arrangement items that appear in the inspector pane, you then create your arrangement like putting together pieces of Legos. As you edit your arrangement, you can see the actual tracks appear in the timeline.

This is really cool and incredibly useful, qualifying it as an official Smart Musician Tool in my toolbox. I am sure that other DAWs have similar functionality, but I am not yet aware of them. If yours doesn’t have this type of tool, you can do virtually the same thing by recording your parts as described above, and then slice the tracks at the beginning and end of each section of your song. Then, copy and paste your newly built LEGO pieces together to create your arrangement.

This is a great way to quickly make your song idea a reality to share with other musicians who may be recording or performance the tune, or maybe serve as a starting point for the song to evolve into your next hit. What tools, creative ticks or approaches do you have that you use to write and record your music? Share them in the comments below!

Balance

As musicians, engineers, producers, songwriters—for all of us, it is so easy to geek out on gear. I love gear, and it has been a long time since I have purchased anything significant aside from the occasional plugin (until today, but I will share that in a future post Smile ) The thing about gear is that it’s all shiny, and like my dog, I tend to chase after the next shiny thing that I find. I love diving into gear and figuring out what it can do and what it can’t, and even more importantly how I could use it. The problem is that I chase that shiny thing down a deep rabbit hole, and before I know it I’ve spent all my time focusing on gear when I could have been spending it actually making music. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes we need to do that. But, if you’re like me, limits need to be put into place.

I also have a tendency to look for just the right app, or combination of apps, to help me be more efficient in the music creation process. But what I have figured out over the years is that there are some things that technology just can’t replace. One of those things for me is my Moleskine notebook and a pen. Over the past couple of days, I have had 3 tunes finally settle in and form in my head out of a ton of different ideas around riffs, melodies, progressions, etc. It is in these moments when an idea comes to me that I need to just get it down and out of my head so it doesn’t get lost. With actual pen and paper, I don’t have to worry about a computer or device crashing, being out of memory or waiting for the thing to boot or the app to start—I just open it up and write. I have been carrying that notebook around with me for the past few days, opening it up, scribbling and editing my ideas as they form into songs with arrangement and structure.

My point is this: find the simplest tool you can to get the job done, then build out from there. A healthy balance of technology and organic tooling (i.e. pen and paper) has allowed me to get more done faster. Technology is awesome, but it can easily distract and take away from the focus of actually making music. A set sheet scribbled down with a Sharpie on a piece of paper can’t crash (unless someone spills their beer on it—even then you can probably still read it) during a gig, and that is arguably one of the most important tools when playing a live set.

As I mentioned above, I just made my first pretty significant purchase in quite some time as I start rebuilding my studio. This piece of tech along with all the other gear are great, and necessary to get things done, but it’s not about the toys—without my notebook and pen, I would not have the type of material to record. It all starts there—from the head, through the pen and onto the paper. Technology is incredible, but there are some things that are timeless and cannot be replaced.

What types of “organic” gear do you rely on in your process? Share in the comments below!

The Definition of Musician

I am a musician, classically trained as a child through high school, but I was not boxed into that context, rather have been at the core very organic and exploratory.  I often say that my musical psyche is schizophrenic (I am pretty sure that is not a medically accurate analogy, but describes my point…), with my musical trigger points existing in just about every genre.

I recently saw a video created by Rolling Stone Magazine that essentially flamed the state of music today as being less than genuine.  I have said for several years now that DJ’s are the new rock star and the dance clubs the new concert venues.  I agree with a lot of what that video says, but I do not agree with issuing a blanket judgement of those who create electronic based music as not being true musicians in the sense of not being an instrumentalist.

I see Jeremy Ellis in the video above, and it blows me away to see the same skill and dexterity on the pads of the Maschine controller as I do watching a technically skilled violinist command 6, 7+ positions across all 4 strings.  An instrument is just that–an instrument, something used to accomplish a task, which in the case of a musician is to express musical ideas and interpretations of what is inside their head.

Technology has provided innovation in musical instruments which in some cases provides a crutch, but in many others simply making it easier to express what the musician hears, sees and feels inside their musical self.  These innovations and the instruments–the tools–do not define the musician, but musicians define themselves by what you hear.  Close your eyes and listen.  I think often what we see gets in the way of what we should be hearing, which is the message of the song, not the medium that is used to convey it.

My point is that music is a language of emotion, and people tend to form their identity around it, even defining their social circles or their own social status with it.  But when people try to define what music is, and who is a musician and who is not, they attempt to apply logic to an argument that cannot be won just by the very nature of what they argue, because they project their viewpoint and opinion of what that definition is onto the world as they see it.  This is sad because there is so much out there that we miss when we try to define something so fundamental and ubiquitous to are beings, which I believe shares the same common cause as much of the misunderstanding and division in this world–fear.  It is the fear of moving out of our own comfort zones, but not just that–even more so it is our unwillingness to accept that our definition of music and what is a musician that tends to put discussion of music up there with religion and politics.

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Where are the Dynamics in our Music?

I just caught a very short, but must-see video from the AES over on ProSoundWeb, which explains “the loudness war”.  I’m not going to go into the details of this phenomenon in modern record production, however I do need to make a comment or 2 on its existence and what it says about a fundamental musical construct known as dynamics.

I want to point out that my musical instruction was primarily classical.  I was a cello student and played in performance configurations ranging from solo cello to full symphony orchestras (which is where I spent most of my time).  The concept of dynamics is essentially the range of volume—or loudness—levels expressed in a given piece.  In a piece of written music, the location, if you will, of a particular section on the dynamic scale is indicated by a p, mp, mf or f.  The very fact that this notation exists gives explanation to the role that dynamic range plays in the expression of music.  The fact is that the use of dynamics were of as much importance to the composers of classical music as the notes they used to create their works.  There is immense expression in varying the levels at which a piece is played.

For a classically trained musician like me, who during the early-to-mid 80’s was a high school kid playing in rock bands, the concept of dynamics appeared to be of much less importance, or at least was not as easily expressed due to the fact that we had our amplifiers cranked to 11…whatever the reason, dynamics were not as key to the composition as was the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-solo-chorus-end formula with a hook mixed in.

Fast forwarding to today, there has been a lot of talk about the loudness wars being waged in record production.  To me, this is a reflection of a lack of fidelity to the art on the part of producers.  I could understand if a genre calls for this type of production, however it appears that this practice is style-agnostic.  I have to ask myself whether or not this is maybe even a reflection of a lack of professionalism, musically speaking.  I’m really not sure…I am not part of the mainstream corporate behemoth music machine, however as one who is a native speaker of the language (of music), I can honestly say that it feels, to a degree, like the language is being bastardized in its reproduction, not unlike our spoken languages are today.

I do wonder, however, what role the production phase of recording should be playing, and to what degree the change it introduces into the finished product should be allowed vis-a-vis the artist’s original intent of the song.  In the end, the very nature of music, as with any artistic expression, subjectivity is a major part of its beauty, allowing many different interpretations of the work to inspire new works and creations, contributing back to the fundamental beauty of the art.  It’s just that I would hate to see this process hindered by the loss of a major component of musical expression that dynamics represents.