The area of music that interests me more than any other is the way in which songs are created, or more accurately, the many ways in which songs are created. Does it all come together in a spontaneous, improvised way that is constantly changing before finally being recorded, or is it carefully planned out, layer by layer so each defined part is prepared and rehearsed before getting into the studio? This post is going to detail my own composition process, using a song I have yet to write, including every detail and technique and thought I have on the way to finishing the track.
The initial idea for this song came to me out of nothing. I was just siting in my room at home reading when I heard a motif in the back of mind. My first response whenever this happens, and it happens fairly often (most of the songs I write begin in this way), is to figure out just what it is and record it as a voice memo on my phone. The idea is a D being pedalled with an E and four different root notes (G, E, D and A) interspersed between it.
The next step I took was to begin to flesh out some sort of arrangement based on the initial idea. To do this I use a MacBook Pro, Logic Pro X, a Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 Audio Interface and an Axiom Mini Air 32 MIDI Keyboard. The first step in writing the arrangement was to decide on a tempo, in this case 110 bpm, then record the initial idea. After that I begin to try out different motifs, chord inversions, drones and rhythmic parts until I’m happy that each part is working together. This is the sketch arrangement I’ve completed for the introduction and first verse.
The arrangement here doesn’t feature the initial idea as the main part but instead uses it to fill out a delayed guitar part that establishes tonality. The second guitar part fills the sound out by outlining the idea that began this process while the third guitar part is used to create tension in preparation for the chorus to give release to this section of the song. I also recorded a synth pad part that only plays a D and pans back and forth between the left and right speakers along with drums that feel appropriate within the arrangement, though they are subject to change depending on how the rest of song develops. The whole arrangement here builds towards a chorus that as of right now is unwritten (09:06 pm, 29/05/2017).
Today I reviewed the arrangement thus and felt that it was somewhat lacking and too busy at the same time. After listening to the track I realised that the electric guitar part playing the idea that began this process needed to be a little more scarce so I re-recorded it to make the part a little more sparse. The second change I made was to add a piano part that just played the chords the first guitar part was implying. The register I played the piano in was clashing with the register the guitar was played in, it sounded muddy, so to combat this I recorded the piano part an octave higher. The problem wasn’t solved, however, so I decided to flip each part, bring the piano back to its original register and raise the octave of the guitar part. The third and final change I made was to add a high register guitar part during the last 8 bars of the verse to further give a sense that the section was building towards the chorus (31/05/2017).
After trialling a few chord progressions for the chorus I settled finally on this one:
This chord progression seems to flow a lot more smoothly than the others I tried out and the addition of Major 2nd chord (using the raised 6th from the B melodic minor scale) provides interest and a definite sense that the song is moving on from the verse. My first thought when recording the chorus was for it to be a little more overdriven than the verse but this didn’t really work; it created too much contrast. I decided to use slightly crunchier guitars than the verse yet still fairly clean. This is working for the time being but its highly likely that it’ll change before the song is completed. The third four bar phrase of Bm, F#m, C#m and E feels a little thin so I need to beef that up a little and the arpeggiated guitar part needs to change slightly to add more space. The section as a whole requires a good amount of polishing but that will come at a later date, for now, finishing the song is a priority.
A brief note on some changes I’ve made to the Verse arrangement: I removed guitar 3 and replaced it with a synth that plays the same part but fits into the mix a little better. Guitar 1 comes in four bars later than the previous sketch and no other guitars enter until the pre-chorus. Finally, a bass guitar enters at the beginning of the first verse just to fill out the bottom end that felt a little thin when listening back to it.