How Much Work Does it Take to Create a Song?
Welcome to my blog, where you'll never really know what I'm gonna talk about next.
This week it's about work. How much work, to be precise.
As an artist, it fascinates me how much work is put into an art piece.
What is a really interesting thing to understand is that the perception of how much work was put into an art piece is completely subjective to the viewers experience and knowledge of that specific medium. Someone with zero understanding of video production, for example, will almost always think it takes a lot less work to get it done; I can say this from experience.
Video production is time consuming; that is just what it comes down to.
Music isn't much different. There are lots of work before you get to hear the final product. Countless hours are put into it. To give you a small sense of how much work goes into doing music, I will show and explain the process of how I made one of my songs.
I have never really talked about how I make my music because most of my friends are musicians and they already know the drill, but maybe you are here because you know me as a singer or media producer.
There are different ways to make music. Some bands like recording it live, meaning that you will perform as a band with all of the band members playing at the same time in the same room. Most bands take the approach of multi-tracking the song, meaning that each instrument will be recorded separately and isolated from the other instruments and then later on put together to create the final song.
I take the multi-tracking approach since I have a home studio and produce my own music, so if you want to know more about Live recording, there are great articles online explaining more about it.
It all starts when I'm feeling this curiosity come into my mind and creativity is pouring out of my soul. At that point I need to let it out so it can be stored onto something that I can refine later. In this case, I sit on the keyboard and start playing with the notes until something sounds good.
Please understand that I don't actually know how to play the piano nor keyboard but I am creative and have a basic understanding of how it works; and that is more than enough for me to make music. Now it's where it becomes interesting, or perhaps the right word would be, complex.
I need to choose the sounds (instruments) I want, and record what I am playing. I use FL Studio for the creation of most of my music. FL Studio is just a sequencer like any other; filled with possibilities.
In sequencers you are the composer, the maestro, the performer and the producer. It is up to you to make each instrument sound just the way you want them to. To do that, you do a lot of knob turning, slide moving and mouse clicking.
Once I have all the instruments I want to use in the song, it is time to record the performance of each instrument and add them together.
Note that you can add or remove instruments at anytime during this process and that's usually what will happen.
It is important to know that the vast majority of artist don't get everything right on the first try. It isn't how creativity usually works.
In a drawing, for example, the eraser isn't a tool of shame. An eraser is simply a tool to be used. Lines need to be corrected; imperfections need to be fixed; highlights need to be added. Those are all things the eraser can do to improve a drawing. Erasing happens throughout the entire process.
In music the same thing happens. You change notes or patterns, play a different beat or cut things apart. You could be almost done with the song when you decide you want to try a different melody on a certain part of the song or change the sound of a certain instrument.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it will lead you down the rabbit hole and sometimes it is just what the song needed.
But now I have all the parts together and the song is sounding pretty good. I need to tweak the sound of each instrument so they can sound even better to my taste. I do that using effects on each instrument or part of the song.
Effects change the sound of an instrument to your specifications. Usually every instrument or track gets effects applied to them. The more instruments, the more effects will be used, the more computer processing power you'll need. Luckily I built myself a pretty solid machine and don't have to worry about computer performance.
Once all the sounds have been tweaked, it is time for me to begin working on vocals. So far, I have only focused on the instrumental part or the song; the drums, the keyboards, bass, synth and etc.
I don't like recording vocals in FL Studio so what I do is take each instrument recording, aka tracks, from FL Studio and load it all into Reaper. The workflow for recording vocals in Reaper is much more fluid than in Fruity Loops. It is also much easier to to multi-track mixing in Reaper.
I have a strange way of coming up with vocal melodies; at least I don't personally know anyone who does it this way but, I get into my Vocal Booth, aka Coat Closet, and I press record while listening to the instrumental I just recorded.
I begin singing without any words written and without any previous vocal ideas. I just go.
What comes out of this is very raw and that is exactly what I want. I want the most pure creative performance even if it doesn't sound perfect. It's the idea that matters to me in this stage.
From there I take that idea and begin shaping it (like using the eraser). I change it here and there by repeating the singing process until I have a solid idea for what I want in all parts.
Below is the perfect example for what I am talking about. I am still working on this song but here you can hear the finished idea without any real lyrics added to it yet.
This song obviously has no lyrics for the verses, but my gibberish singing sounds good enough for me to know how I want the final vocals to sound like.
A big part of this process is listening to it. After each repetition, I get out of the booth to just listen to what I just created. As I listen to it, I make notes on the things I like and the things that need to be changed. I then get back in the booth and do it all over again but using my notes to improve the previous performance. I repeat this process several times before I am happy enough to stop and move on. Notice on the audio sample above that is says "Brazilian Getaway - Vocal test 1-7". That means, I repeated this process 7 times before deciding I was happy with the idea.
But now that I added the vocals, things begin to sound different. The music and the vocals don't sound well together. This is when you need to tweak the sounds again, so they can fit together well.
By changing the volume of things, the frequency of others, adding compression here and other effects there, I can finally say it all sounds pretty good.
Only at this point that I begin writing the lyrics.
The vocal sounds I created during the gibberish process will usually influence me to write words that sound like the sounds I was making. I don't always follow that but mostly I do.
I feel like that's what my soul wanted out when it heard the music and I stick to it as much as I can. I most definitely follow 100% the performance, expression and attitude I used on the gibberish singing.
Before I can start recording, I have to write the lyrics. Your vocal recording will sound more authentic if you have the words memorized instead of reading as you record.
Below is an example of what my lyrics look like on the computer.
All my songs get a lyric page printed and hung in the vocal booth.
Now that the lyrics are written, it is time to get back in the booth and record the vocals with real lyrics this time.
This part always surprises me. You would think that at this point I would just get in there and get the vocals done right in a reasonable amount of time but it almost never works that way.
I won't get the entire song right in one take, so parts need to be re-done while other parts need to be tweaked to fit the new words. Sometimes the words written don't sound that great with the melody and I have to re-write the lyrics. New ideas will come in my head and that makes this "near final" process last even longer.
At the end of it all I will have a folder with hundreds of files. In the case of "Those Days" (pictured below), there are 348 files in that folder. Most of those files are instrument audio tracks, peak files and vocal takes. Other files are the project files for each software.
Also notice how at the top of the properties window it shows the name of one of the versions of the song.
Notice it says "Those Days - 09292016 v10". That means, that version was the 10th version I had rendered for that specific day of work. Each day there can be many changes so it takes a lot of work to get it done.
I have done this process over 20 times so far. Even though I have only released 13 songs, I have already produced many other songs using the same techniques. It seems to work every time, despite the amount of work it takes to make it work.
It's the creative process.
Well, I hope this gives you and idea of how much work I put into my art.
Maybe one day I'll talk about how much work it takes me to do something like the paintings below.
That' all I got for you today (that was me being sarcastic). I gotta go now, but I'll see you later. Mr. Martinho