How Do You Do...It
I know that past years, I've challenged myself to use instruments that I don't often play and I've recorded imorovised collaborations with other local artist friends.
One year I got my old high school band to email their different contributions to one song from all different corners of the country.
Day one - I cheat and try composing a single improvised 35 minute track. I fail miserably every time. =)
Weeks 1-2 : I try and compose electronically as many 'seeds' of songs as I can, and then try and expand them out so they're at least two minutes or so in length. (I'll often add vocals at this point, since I find I can sing melodies a lot faster than I can compose them with synthesizers.)
Weeks 2-3 : By this point, I'll begin expanding the existing tracks into something more substantial. You start to see how they link together, and can begin arranging them into some coherent play order. Themes may emerge, so you can begin to decide on album name.
Week 3 : At this point, I typically have enough recorded that I could submit something, even if it might be crap, so it takes some of the pressure off. Now, I can take more chances and write some more adventurous stuff. (I find these later ones are either the best or worst tracks on the album.)
Week 3-4 : Now begins the arduous task of filling in any blanks missing in songs, and mastering the entire thing so the levels are good. I do a lot of the premastering in the same music synthesis app I use for composition (Jeskola Buzz), and then use Adobe Audition for the final tweaking. I find during this period, I typically need stress release from all the mastering work, and may create one or more tracks on the fly.
Week 4 : To quote, Metallica, "Master, Master, Master" -- that's all I do the final week. You get the tracks in their final state and burnt to disc. (This is the suckiest part.)
Day 27, morning of : Quick - find some random rubbish to use for CD Art.
Day 27, afternoon of : Seal envelope, make sure 100 times address is correct, rush to Post Office to mail.
Day 27, evening : Happy Irish Jig across apartment, irritating downstairs neighbors. Play video games.
jcar wrote: In a nutshell...
November and December is spent learning/practicing all the things that I think I want to try or do for the project. I am also doing this the rest of the year, but there is a definite project focus toward the end of the year.
January is where I try to start thinking of a theme or mindset for the project. Maybe I read certain books/comics and/or watch things that put me in whatever space I think I want to be in.
I write and record in February, nothing is pre-done. There is typically a plan of sorts - 2 weeks of sketching and ideas, sound design, composition. Then a week of picking which sketches work and arranging them. Then the last week is everything else. That last week is typically very busy with mixing, adding the magic dust, finalizing, and exporting everything.
I do use a spreadsheet to keep track of things like each songs/track status for:
arrangement, mix, sound design, eq/compression, reverb, pan, automation/effects, length - for the 35 minute lower limit, and whether they have been exported or not.
This plan really speaks to me as a new-timer. I only have a week to do the pre-work, but doing sound design tweaks beforehand is very smart. I'm also thinking of deciding on a theme and keeping my production to 5 base instruments + 3 additional so I keep my mind from wandering too much and I learn to get the best out of what I have in a short time. All of this must be pretty common I'm sure, but just wanted to share Thanks for the tips everyone, I promise I'll try to have fun
My prep involves one master text note on my phone, divided into Song Titles, Lyric Ideas, and Chord Progressions. So far I have like 9-10 song titles, one chord progression for the guitar, and no lyrics.
I also have several voice memos on my phone of basic instrumental ideas and vocal melodies. I've been sorely tempted to cheat and start early this year, because I just got a ukelele and I really want to try my hand at recording it, but I'm curbing the urge to cheat on the Challenge by forcing myself to only record into my phone until the 1st.
However, I allow myself as many voice memos as I want, which means I have a LOT of variations of the basic ideas I come up with - something about pressing Stop Recording after a couple minutes seems to make my brain go "Wait! One more thing!" Which is a little less stressful when I know I'm not working on anything that might become the final version, and even less stressful when it's not even the first yet.
Now, all this said, I'm VERY for the seat-of-the-pants approach. As long as you work on the thing a little bit every day, or every 2 days, you'll make it to the finish line easily.
I have quite a bit of equipment but questionable skills & knowledge, but that is not (I think anyway) the point of RPM. The point is to do it. Put one foot in front of the other and go for it.
Some kind of plan can be helpful, which can be as basic as working out what kind of album you want to make; acoustic, electronic, folk, psych etc. Will it be mainly instrumental or mainly vocal tracks (in which case, where and when will you get inspiration for and to write lyrics) or a mixture of styles and genres. A time-line with given goals can sometimes help, or conversly it might paralyse if you don't meet a specific goal by an expected time. As has been already said, different approaches work for different individuals.
I have been signed up for RPM since about 2012 (I think) being the king of procrastination for the first few years I only submitted my first album last year and it was completely not what I had originally wanted to do. But I did it.
I plan to be a bit more organised this year with set goals as to overall concept of a theme to tie my compositions together and a sketched out time-table of where I want to be by certain stages of the month. I have lots of words, poetry, random disjointed lyrics and song structures written done in multiple notebooks that I hope to gather together and extract some material, but I also plan to write and compose at least half of what I do on the fly so to speak to balance the other material. It's important for me to try an get a cohesive type of "feel" to everything I do this time, but that's just me.
Finally I just wanted to say that events may arise that may challenge your spirit and perhaps make you want to throw in the towel. For example, at the beginning of February last year, Sooty, our beloved shaggy four-legged canine family member, decided he had had enough of this earthly nonsense and wanted to go for the long nap. Despite and perhaps because of that, I was determined to complete the challenge (as was my daughter, who also signed up and wrote and recorded some damn fine songs that month) This year, on January the 4th, my Mother died. I am still grieving and feel exhausted both emotionally and physically but am determined to make a better album than last year (which won't be too hard as I wasn't that happy with last years efforts )
I don't mention these things to garner sympathy, I have had plenty of support from my colleagues and loved ones, but to illustrate that every single one of us has our own personal tragedies and triumphs to deal with, but for the purpose of this exercise put such things to one side, or perhaps better still channel them into a creative impetus and keep going.
I believe we all can and will create something wonderful in our own unique ways this February. Good luck!
After my second year I began participating in the Reddit group called SongAWeek ( reddit.com/r/songaweek ) where you have to write & record a song based on a theme that changes every week. Not only did that improve my workflow and my familiarity with the DAW itself, but it helped me improve my songwriting, so by the time last year rolled around I was able to knock out the album very quickly...but I got close to burning out.
So this year I've taken a break from SongAWeek since Christmas week in order to sort of "get myself centered" in preparation for RPM.
As for ideas, each year I start with at least one idea for a song to start me off, or an overall "vibe" for the album. That's usually enough to kickstart the process. I'm in the US, and we have a weekend in February with a holiday on the surrounding Friday & Monday, so I use that as the "cram session". I also tend to record almost every night from about 8:30 until 11:30. I'm not sure I'll need that much time this year, but three hours a night plus a four-day weekend is ample time.
There is a great deal of enjoyment out of the journey, but to be honest there's a bit of silly stress when I start because...well...it's no small feat to write and record an album that not only fulfills the requirements, but is something that's interesting and fun to listen to. If you're just recording for the sake of hitting a time limit or track count then it's not much of an accomplishment, IMHO.
I first tried RPM a few years ago and failed, though I did get a few songs out of it. 2 years ago I tried again and wrote a concept album about the last 50 years of history which was great fun and I'm really pleased with it. It's called "Decades". It's all genres, not prog (though there is some prog in there) then last year I did a tribute to the singer songwriters of the late 60s and early 70s - "Golden age".
For "Decades" I took the approach of no wasted takes, and unless something was really bad it made the cut. Keep it simple, write something and record keepers early. I did 14 tracks and it was fun. For "Golden age" I took a different approach and did quick demos, wrote everything first then recorded it all after. I thought separating writing from recording might be better.
WRONG! I just got it finished and a rough,is done in the time, but I had to remix it in March to be really happy with it. Thing was, I started over layering and being too ambitious with the arrangements and nearly ran out of time.
So this year I'm indulging my teenage love of the blues with a blues flavoured album, and I've got a imaginary blues band in mind, going into the studio and playing together with a few overdubs. I'm using the "write it and record it" approach. Well, I'm going to enjoy it anyway
What I find works well is to have a plan. What I do first is decide what the album is going to be - acoustic based, guitar centric, etc. Then I list numbers 1 - 10 and think about the arc of the album - does it start slow and build up, or fast and stay there, or build up, drop down, and up again....I literally draw a picture of the tempos. Then what I did last time was write the keys down in 5ths, so the first was D, then A etc. Why? I like 5ths. Then what sort of instrumentation it might have - acoustic guitar in the middle, or big drums, etc. Then I sit with my 12 string or electric guitar and using the key, tempo, overall feel etc I search for inspiration. I have tape running and bash about till an idea starts to everge. So fairly quickly you have 10 ideas. They might be embyonic but they are there.
Then I'll stick them on CD and play them in the car (making use of driving to work time for the project) and see where they go. They might go nowhere, so you start again. But usually I find they might spark other ideas, themes, etc, even because of what you don't like as much as what you do.
Then I'll give an evening to developing an individual idea. If it's not happening I try another one. I just use the usual songwriting approaches in all the books. Getting a title is really important.
I really try to think what the song is about and what I'm trying to say and I write this down at the top of the page and refer to it and sometimes do things like google bits of phrases and see what mad websites pop up and you get interesting words or stories there. Or look in the paper.
One thing I've learned is not to edit too soon. If an idea comes I write it down or record it, even if it's followed 15 seconds later by thinking "this is crap". I think ideas have to be nurtured. They are unformed and we have to shape them. Or at least not lose them. Sometimes something which doesnt work in one song fits right in somewhere else.
I can go on like this for hours. I'll stop now!
Remember there are no rules! I'm probaly over structured but it works for me...
Yeah.... but it works for me.