Tuesday, April 26, 2022

How long does it take to write/record an album?

I just spent 11 months writing and recording a rock album. Here's how I did it:

1. Practiced drums everyday for 10 minutes (15 minutes max). I rarely skipped drum practice, because it's only 10 minutes, and I always followed a warm-up/practice routine I learned from a Ginger Baker instructional DVD.

2. Microphones were set up 24/7, so that I could capture any idea immediately. This includes overheads for drums, a mic on my guitar amp, and a vocal mic. 

3. I usually came up with song ideas by hitting "Record" on my DAW with my vocal mic on, and my guitar plugged in... and just free-styling whatever I came up with. 

Usually, I'd take 15 minutes, have a cup of coffee in silence, watch some TV, then return to the idea with fresh ears to re-evaluate and figure out the musical phrases, etc. Once I had at least two unique song-parts prepared, I'd create a reference sheet.

4. The reference sheets account for 8-bar measures of songs, and split song parts by shapes. A verse would be a rectangle on the sheet, a chorus a circle, bridge a triangle. I also shaded (filled-in) the shapes to indicate the presence of a vocal part.

5. I never use a click, ever. I put the reference sheet on a music stand that faces the drum set, and lay down the drums accordingly.

6. From there it's just simply overlaying the guitar/bass/vocals to record a song. Some other workflow rules I tend to stick by....

-No comping of takes, if there are any punch-ins they are done on a first-take that goes wrong somewhere well after the 50% mark. For example, I'm recording a bass part for a song, and it's the first take. I'm nailing it, and then at the very end of the take I mess up. I will punch-in to fix the error in this context. But in almost any other situation, I would redo the entire take, and often that's what I do.

-Having a pop-filter set up 24-7 is pretty critical. If I'm doing a vocal recording, it's usually first take. Having the pop filter set up avoids ruining the audio.

-Having a pedal-train is also pretty critical. Because of the pedal train I'm more organized, and I can easily use the pedal tuner I have to always have my guitars in tune fast and easy. I've done an E.P. without one, but I much prefer having it.

 To wrap up, here are some more thoughts...

11 months seems like a long time, and it is. Over the course of this time I recorded and even paid for the mixing of material that didn't make the album. However, this was helpful because once I heard my songs mixed properly, I was able to evaluate the sound of the material, and get a better idea of what I was doing.

I went through a period of time, probably about 4-6 weeks (or longer) where I didn't record or write anything. I did still continue to practice drums, in a mechanical sense, but I went cold on writing/recording.

I had to re-record half of my album. This happens all the time when you're in a band (although it's kind of a worst-case-scenario). You track stuff thinking you're done, and then realize you have to do it... All. Over. Again.

I spent weeks recording full-blown covers of popular songs I like, and using my own (reference sheets) workflow to do it. After I finished these covers, I resumed using the workflow to write my own original material. This was sort of like the most complete method of practicing music, for me... and probably the most helpful thing I did over the 11 months.

I drew in influences from a vast array of other artists, which I mentioned in a different blog post... and whenever I felt like I was hitting a wall, I went onto the next influence and studied them/listened to their stuff. I wrote a post about 18 different musicians I drew inspiration from. The full list is surely more in the range of 30-45 different albums and musicians. I left out that Vaselines CD I bought.

It took 11 months to write all the material... But really... I wrote/recorded half of the album within 5 days. I also tracked the entire album within 10 days, and I even recorded 4 songs in 8 hours. ...Once I had the material thoroughly demoed out, I was able to re-record the stuff more easily and quickly because I was already very familiar with the songs myself. That's another benefit to creating your own deadlines in terms of getting stuff mixed and moving onto what's next. 

I think if you're decent at drums and you follow this system... including the reference sheets, you should easily be able to complete an album and have it structured out (length and sound) to emulate whatever pop/rock style you want really. The composition is up to you. - Mike

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