Recording Song 7

Today I recorded all the guitar parts for the song I’ve been working on, Following Me In The Sunshine.

The floor is my desk.

A post shared by mairi (@mairielise) on

Over the last couple of evenings, I worked out how to play all of the bits and pieces of the song on my guitar. It was pretty fun, because there’s more than one way to play any particular sequence of notes on a guitar so I had to figure out which way is the best. You have to think about how playable it is, consider techniques like bends and slides, and take into account the fact that different strings have a different timbre.

I used my old Boss BR-600 multitrack recorder to record the guitar, instead of my laptop. Boss have an incredibly good reputation for their guitar effects pedals, and their multitrack recorders come with a gazillion customisable effects which are always fun to play around with. Plus, it got me away from the computer screen. I kept the guitar sounds simple, sticking with simple overdrive effects. I’m planning on playing around with delays and reverb, but I’ll do that on my computer at a later stage.

I had mentioned in my last post that I’m unsure about the instrumentation of the song. Originally, in my MIDI composition (which was basically a first sketch), there were the following:

– 1 “cute” synthesizer. I don’t know why but I keep getting drawn to sweet, naive-sounding synths as lead instruments.
– 1 soft electric piano with an echo
– 2 classical guitars
– 1 bass guitar
– 1 drum kit

I decided (for now, at least) to arrange the piece for 3 (fairly gentle) electric guitars with bass and drums. It’s really changed the feel of the song. I kind of miss the synth though, so I’m not sure.

I think I basically want to be this band:

Anyway, after I’d recorded everything, I exported the tracks to my computer and combined them with my MIDI bass and (crappy, half-finished) drums in a new Ableton Live file. I got everything organised, naming and colour-coding accordingly. So now I’m pretty much ready to start mixing the song!

A demo

I decided to export my half-finished song as an MP3 file to listen to on the bus to work, away from my computer screen. Then I thought, “why not share it on my blog?”

So here it is. I have so much work still to do – I haven’t even properly decided on the instrumentation yet. I might keep the cute synth and echoey piano or I might record it all with guitars.

What do you think?

PS I’m late for work!

Tae A Moose

I found a little dead mouse on my living room floor yesterday morning. I know it’s vermin, and I’m not forgetting the traumatic Mouse Wars of 2012 in a previous flat I lived in, but finding that tiny mammal was a really sad start to the day. I considered writing it a poem, but we already have “Tae A Moose” and I really can’t compete with that.

I’d came into the living room, set up the cafetiere and plonked myself cross-legged onto the sofa, firing up my laptop to read the morning Facebook as normal. A few minutes later I got up and I poured myself a cup of coffee, and then on the return trip to the sofa – well, imagine my surprise when I noticed the wee carpet-coloured creature that had keeled over on the floor just below where I had been sitting moments before.

I kneeled beside him. I wondered how long he’d been there. I told him, “Wake up! It’s time to get up!” but he stayed where he was, on his side, his back to me. I looked at his tiny little five-fingered foot and thought about animal consciousness, and what his last thoughts might have been, and wondered why he had died.

I was alone in the flat. I almost waited for my boyfriend to come home so that he would deal with it, but I decided that wasn’t fair. I remembered that a couple of weeks ago I had hoovered up a dead wasp, disgusted by it. That reaction seems so cruel now!

I picked him up with toilet roll, a delicate, almost weightless bundle that I apologised to, and dropped into a bright orange plastic Sainsbury’s bag. The bag then went unceremoniously into the big rubbish bin outside. What a sad way to go.

Maybe I’m a fragile, sappy little vegetarian. The whole thing could have been over in a minute, and it only meant something to me. I suppose I’m writing this because I think that maybe we should try to be more conscious, and more respectful of the world we live in and who we share it with.

Riding the waves of motivation

Shortly after I started this blog, my friend Adam started one as well, because I said he should. For a while he’d stopped posting frequently and I had to encourage him to write, but now the tables have turned and he’s the one telling me to get blogging again!

Anyway, I might have, kind-of, completely and utterly abandoned the A to Z blogging challenge soon after the half-way point, but I will not look back in sadness! It was super fun and I’m sure that if/when I do it next year, I’ll be better prepared for it.

Instead of blogging, I have, at least, been making music! I’m working on Song 7. You might say,

“I know you started out by writing 4 songs in 12 weeks, but I haven’t heard much since then. How come you’re at Song 7 now? Where did 5 and 6 go?” Where indeed.

“And I still haven’t heard two of the original four yet!” Well, maybe one day.

Song 7 currently has 88 bars of music, which means at a tempo of 130bpm (beats per minute), it’s around 2 minutes 42 seconds long. It has a beginning, a tentative end, and a middle that needs stretched out a bit further. I also – of course – need to write the entire drum accompaniment. Drums make me uneasy. I tend to leave them to the end. Song 7 has a provisional title: “Following Me In The Sunshine”.

I’ve composed the entire thing so far using my MIDI keyboard and my computer. When you write music on the computer, organisation is key. It’s really important to carefully keep track of all the bits and pieces of the song, otherwise things will get lost and mixed-up. I decided to completely reject the notions of “verse-chorus-etc” for this composition, so I had a bit of fun with naming the different sections:

1: wistful daffodils
2: on the wind/below the wind
3: when everything starts to feel see-through
4: coming to light
5: unwinding the space on either side of me
end: wistful daffodils?

I haven’t actually written a fifth part yet but I thought “unwinding the space on either side of me” sounds awesome, and I want to add more to the song anyway. Maybe I should use it as an actual song title instead of the name of a fragment of a song; a mere organisational tool. I also really like “when everything starts to feel see-through”, although the music doesn’t quite capture the essence of that kind of feeling. Well whatever, it hardly matters.

Since I’ve slipped back into meaningless procrastination recently, I’m going to impose a deadline on this song. I’ll give myself a fortnight. Come back on the evening of Sunday 11th May (oh! That’s my friend’s birthday!) and you might just hear a new song!

N is for Noise

I live in a noisy flat with whistling windows on the corner of a busy road. It makes recording acoustic guitars or vocals quite awkward. It’s easy to plug an electric guitar into your computer to capture it, but if you ever want to use a microphone then all sorts of external factors get in the way. Even if I manage to not catch the random bumps or clatters or engine noises that creep into my home, the recordings never come out sounding great.

Almost every time I’ve tried to record via microphone, I’ve listened back in dismay, hearing a dreadful “hsssssss” permeate the recording. There is an inevitable “noise floor” that’s going to get into your recording; nothing’s ever completely quiet. I’m simply not very good at setting up my recording equipment to minimise the background noise. And once you’ve recorded it, it’s pretty much impossible to get rid of that hiss. It’s so frustrating! But I just need to keep on practicing.

Could someone please buy me a recording studio? 😉

M is for Money

I’m really poor. I’ve been making music. Here’s how I did it:

I used a Dell laptop (£500) with Ableton Live 9 Intro (£55, bought during a 20% off sale) and Ignite (free with my MIDI keyboard).

I connected electric guitars/mics to my computer via a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 audio interface (£120). For some songs I plugged my guitar (a lefty Epiphone Dot) straight into the audio interface; at times I also used an effects pedal (a Boss CH-1 chorus pedal or a Digitech DF-7 distortion pedal).

I recorded my ancient Yamaha C40 classical guitar using a Rode M3 condenser microphone (£69). I also used an M-Audio Keystation Mini 32 MIDI keyboard (£34). The keyboard was really useful for writing MIDI bass guitar parts.

I listened to everything through an old pair of headphones with a frustratingly high bass response, and a pair of generic smartphone headphones.

The things that don’t have a price were bought too long ago for me to remember the cost. I like to think that even though I bought all the cheapest things, I’ve had some really good results from them!

L is for Like It’s Your Last

…which is the title of my blog!

If you’ve listened to the songs I’ve written (in particular Daydreams and Denial) then it might surprise you to learn that the title of my blog is taken from a song by a band called Devil Sold His Soul that can sometimes sound a bit scary.

They write music that is at times slow and climactic, gradually building up into crushing guitars and screamed vocals. And yet at other points there’s beautiful, delicate moments with big spacious synthesizer sounds and sweet, naive singing.

I’ve seen them in concert four times – or maybe five? The first time was in a little venue built into one of the arches under a bridge in the Old Town of Edinburgh. It was perfect. Everyone just piled on top of each other, singing along at the top of their lungs, totally enraptured by the moment. A lovely feeling of togetherness.

But anyway, I chose to call my blog “Like It’s Your Last” because it sounds good. I suppose it relates to the idea of “living each day like it’s your last”, interpretable as “go do something with your life and try to be the best that you can be”. So, that seemed like a reasonable choice.