Taking it With You

Rather than sit and wait for a new song to finish itself, many songwriters prefer working out words and chords while taking a drive, on the gym treadmill or just about anything else that’s in forward motion. Here are a few ideas for demoing to-go, from capturing basic ideas on your phone to previewing your multitrack mixes, working out arrangement ideas and more

Posted in The Weekly on June 3, 2024 by

As a practicing songsmith, I’m always amazed when I hear great writers talk about sitting down with a guitar and squeezing out a whole song entirely from scratch. With few exceptions, that approach has seldom worked for me—I might be able to come up with a rudimentary chorus or verse fragment, but in general any credible ideas tend to evolve over time, and for the most part when I’m not using an instrument. Which isn’t all that surprising, since for many of us creativity is a stream-of-consciousness process, rather than something you try to manufacture.

Which is why some songwriters prefer working out words and chord structures while driving up I-95, taking the Amtrak, on the gym treadmill or just about anything else that’s in forward motion. Hence, the importance of keeping all song fragments and subsequent demos-in-progress in handy mp3 form that you can easily access while you’re away from the studio. Here are a few ideas for demoing to-go, from basic voice-recorder to multitrack, making mixes you can practice singing over, working out accompaniment ideas, and more.

Be prepared. Working on a song you’ve already started is one thing, but very often the initial bolt of inspiration can hit while you’re in transit as well. Just as you would at home, you’ll want to be ready to capture some credible melody that spontaneously appears whether you’re behind the wheel, waiting for a train or taking a walk. Naturally your phone’s voice-memo app is perfect for these occasions—by keeping the icon on your home screen, you can quickly hit record and lay down the idea before it vanishes (and if operating a motor vehicle, be sure to pay attention to traffic so you can live to record a proper demo!)

Moving the song along. The real benefit comes after you’ve created a rough sketch of a new song, but aren’t quite sure what to do next. These days I’m seldom able to move a song forward by just sitting with the guitar in front of the recorder, waiting for something to happen. That’s when it’s time to make a rough of the latest mix and get out of the house so you can sing over the track and play around with the lyrics and melody. Taking it with you can also help you think of viable arrangement ideas, such as where to introduce a guitar or synth fill, whether or not the intro is effective, and so on. You may be surprised at how easily some of these pieces come together just because you’re not hanging around the studio.

Checking your mixes in motion. It’s also a good idea to check your tune-in-progress in a number of off-site environments to determine if the sound and balance is correct. Listening through car speakers, complete with road rumble, allows you to hear whether or not you’ve got the track properly equalized; though not nearly as accurate, earbuds or headphones give you another perspective of the overall sound while you’re out exercising or strolling uptown (and as we recently discussed, always be careful with volume when using such devices).

SOURCEThe Weekly TAGS Advice


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