Don’t let technology get in the way of your inspiration—tame that technology, and make it work for you.
Is “writing in the studio” an oxymoron? It seems that writing a song and recording it are two totally different activities, and need to be treated as such. What got me thinking about this was how easily I could write songs when just sitting down at a piano or guitar, yet how difficult that process became when sitting in front of a sequencer. But I’ve learned it doesn’t have to be this way.
This article covers what I call “fast tracking”—using a sequencer/DAW in a way that’s optimized for writing, not recording or editing. By employing this process, I finally feel I can write on a computer as easily as on an instrument. Of course, different people approach the creative process differently; but I’m probably typical enough that many of you will find the following tips helpful.
Capture that Inspiration Immediately
Inspiration comes and goes fast. The one way to prolong the state of being inspired is to start exploiting the inspiration as soon as it hits. Do everything you can to speed your computer’s start up time, such as periodic defragmentation and if you use Windows, have it rearrange programs for fastest startup.
Next, check out the companion article Customize Your Daw with Templates. There’s nothing like having an “instant environment” that’s optimized for writing—with instruments, patterns, track assignments, and so on ready to go. If you can’t start laying down tracks within 30 seconds of your computer booting, there’s a problem that needs to be addressed.
Start with MIDI, not Audio, Tracks
Sure, a MIDI piano probably won’t sound as good as your 9 ft. Bosendorfer. But when writing, keep a piece of music as malleable as possible. You may need to change key or tempo as the piece takes shape, and while it’s possible to make these kinds of changes with digital audio thanks to time and pitch-stretching, MIDI simplifies the process compared to using digital audio.
Don’t Edit As You Go
By using a MIDI FX plug-in, parts can be quantized during play back while songwriting. However, as the original part is not change, quantization can be removed or edited at any time.
The single biggest inspiration-killer when you’re writing on a DAW is editing. Editing is a left brain activity, not a right brain, creative type of activity. Laying down a part, then trying to perfect it, is a sure way to have inspiration take a hike.
For example, consider quantization. When I’m writing in Sonar and want to quantize a part, I just insert the Quantization MIDI FX in the MIDI track, dial up 16th notes with 85% quantization strength, and don’t think about it any more. Because the original data is unchanged, should the part be any good, I can always remove the FX and do more detailed quantization later.
Remember, what makes a great song is not a superb instrument timbre; that just makes a great song sound better. Concentrate on what matters most when you’re writing: The emotional impact on the listener. Remember that no listener ever said they liked a song because the vocals were recorded with a Neumann mic.
The Bottom Line is Attitude
Although we’ve covered some specific tips, the main point is attitude. Once you shift your brain so that it understands the difference between the writing process and the recording process—and I do believe these are indeed different animals —that’s half the battle. The other half is having the discipline not to get sidetracked during the writing process. All I can say is that since figuring this out, my DAW is now as good a songwriting device as an instrument. In fact, in many ways, it’s even better.
To read the full detailed article see: Music Composing on the Fast Track