HERE'S HOW THE SONG DEVELOPMENT PROCESS WORKS, USING A CLIENT'S SONG AS AN EXAMPLE
PHASE 1 - FORM & STRUCTURE
This is the process of "refining" the structure of the song. This can include removing sections, adding sections, changing or moving lyrics, changing chords, and more. In the case of this client, we made some changes to the lyrics and added an instrumental section with a different chord progression. We also modified some of the picking/strumming patterns in her guitar part. This process can go very quickly or take quite a while, depending on how much you've refined your song on your own.
For some great tips on popular song forms, check out this article (even if writing a "hit song" isn't your goal, you will still find it extremely helpful when thinking about song form).
PHASE 2 - SCRATCH TRACKS
Once the structure of the song is finalized, we lay down scratch tracks. Scratch tracks are quickly-recorded tracks that are used for arranging purposes and are eventually replaced by the "real" performances. Scratch tracks are most often recorded to a click track. If you aren't used to playing with a metronome, start practicing now; it will save a lot of time in the studio! For this project, after deciding on a tempo, she laid down both her guitar and vocal scratch tracks.
Everyone should have a metronome. For iPhone or iPad, we recommend the Pro Metronome from the App Store (it's free, so you have no excuse!). But there are a ton of choices for every platform, so go get one you like and start using it! For a stand-alone metronome, this article helps break it down for you.
PHASE 3 - Instrumentation (arranging)
At this point, we consider what instrumentation the song calls for. If you've thought about this ahead of time, this process can go much faster. In this case, she wanted to add djembe, bass, and piano. Additionally, I introduced strings, acoustic drums, and mandolin as possibilities. Due to limited time - and because we were happy with the result without it - we ended up scrapping the mandolin idea. Before proceeding to the next phase, we experimented with these ideas to make sure we were both pleased with the strategy we laid out for the song.
To help you think about what instruments you might want for your music, spend time analyzing (i.e. critically listening to) the music you like...preferably with good headphones. Write down what instruments are present, when they entered the song, and what they did specifically. You may need to listen to the same song multiple times, but the more you do this, the easier it will be for you to choose the right instrumentation for your own songs.
PHASE 4 - RECORDING TRACKS
This is the fun part! Depending on the project, we might start adding instruments to the previously-recorded scratch tracks or we might lay down a final guitar or piano part first. In this example, we recorded the final acoustic guitar tracks first and added the rest of the instruments to that. When adding the support instruments myself, I usually like to work independently and here's why. It's easy for your ears to get "worn down" while picking samples, deciding on a specific drum beat, listening to take after take, etc. We usually get a much better result if I do most of that on my own and then have you listen to it with fresh ears. That is how my client and I worked together. Once I finished each part, I emailed it to her to listen to as many times as she needed in order to fully realize her opinions and reply decisively. This was much more efficient than trying to make on-the-spot decisions in the studio. Either way, once we get all the instruments in place, we'll work on tracking vocals.
To prepare for a vocal session, sing your song at least 50 times (not in one sitting!). Decide exactly how you want to sing every note. Once you get in the studio, if you feel like improvising a little bit, that's totally fine. But most likely, having spent time on the details beforehand will really help you get the most out of your session.
PHASE 5 - MIXING AND MASTERING
When we're happy with all the tracks we've laid down, it's time to get it mixed. Again, it usually works best for me to work independently and then let you listen with fresh ears. Once we perfect the mix, we will send it to a mastering engineer who specializes in this process. This is a very important step which many people are not aware of. For more info on mixing and mastering click here.
To prepare for the mixing process, take note of all the songs that have elements you like - the boomy kick drum, the weird synth sounds, the simplicity of the instrumentation, and so on. Thinking about how these elements could apply to your music, prepare a list of songs with every attribute you like for each one. This can really help ensure that your mixing will come out sounding exactly how you want them to.
SONG DEVELOPMENT - AUDIO EXAMPLES
Below are 3 examples of the song mentioned above, one for each of the 3 tiers of production we offer. Every project is different and varies quite a bit...but this should give you a general idea of the kind of sound (really, number of tracks) you'll get at each tier of production.