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? 😉

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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.

I missed the deadline, I didn’t finish the second song.

A quick recap: my goal is to write four songs in twelve weeks. I’ve allocated a fortnight to writing and recording each song, and will be devoting the final four weeks to making everything sound amazing (that’s called mixing and mastering).

It’s a good challenge, because I feel like I could spend forever fiddling around with everything, getting tangled up in all the infinite possibilities that creep up at every step of the journey.

Today, Thursday, marks the start of week five and Song 3. My goodness! Time flies.

What Happened With The Second Song

I wrote the guitars using the non-standard tuning DADGAD. It’s good for big, floaty chords. Nice and vague-sounding, but it ended up driving me crazy towards the end of the fortnight. After playing them a million times, my gorgeous, floaty chords started sounding discordant and dull to me, and so I got a fright and stripped a lot of the music back.

In the first part of the song, I ended up with a melody played on the 5th guitar string, alternating with the 4th string played open – the note G. (Edit: I meant the 2nd and 3rd guitar strings. The 1st string is the thinnest, highest-pitched string, which is nearest the floor when you hold a guitar – unless you’re doing something pretty unusual. Tunings are given from the lowest-pitched to the highest-pitched string, so DADGAD labels the strings in the order 654321. Confusing!) I grew to dislike the twanginess of the repetitive G, which seemed to clash with the sweeping chords that my other guitar part was to play, so I got rid of the chords and replaced them with simple octaves. Less potential for clashy notes. I also took the first guitar’s part down an octave to see if that made it sound better, tuning the low A down to G temporarily. Well, the whole section was left sounding rather thin, but I couldn’t afford to spend any more time on it. After that, writing a bass part got tricky. I’d erased any feel of a clear chord progression, so it was kind of hard to figure out which notes would work well. I had so much trouble with this song.

Sigh, forget everything I’ve just said! I’m going to describe that first part of the song as “spacious” and “pure” and pretend it’s exactly how I wanted it to sound.

Coffee and composing.

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I really like the second part of the song, which I named “hello friend”, since the melody has a cute, nostalgic feel to it. It’s simple but sweet, although I’m not sure how well it works in between the first and third sections of the song. I hoped the drums would play a role in connecting everything, but alas, at half past 11 last night I was still barely a quarter of the way through writing them, so I didn’t do the job very well.

I watched some drum videos on YouTube to try to get a better feel for it. I was amazed by the scope for creativity in drum parts! Ah, I’m such an ignorant guitarist. There are songs I’ve listened to and loved for years but have never really appreciated that vital part that holds the music together. In Song 1 I completely avoided using the crash or ride cymbals, so I went a bit crazy for them in the second song. I might have to tone it down a bit! I’ll definitely need to find some time to finish the drums and re-record a couple of guitar riffs. I promise I’ll be better organised with this fortnight’s song! Speaking of which, I suppose I should get started on that!