This new series is a walkthrough detailing my entire music production process using Pro Tools as my DAW, third party plug-ins and most importantly my skills as a musician. The song that will be produced in this series is called "Photograph" - written by my wife Georgie Cooper.
Georgie & I have recorded over 100 live demo recordings that we've whittled down to a shortlist of songs for me to produce. Over the last year I have produced a number of these songs (some of which can be heard in our video review examples). The time has come for me to produce one of my favourites - "Photograph". Watch the live demo recording below as I have used the audio from this live demo recording as the starting point, template if you will, for the production.
Live Demo Recording
I believe that there is a lot of merit in producing a song from a strong demo/live recording. If the recording has the right structure, key, performance and vibe then why not use the demo as the starting point to build a production from?
I feel that free time (no fixed tempo) recordings need an established set tempo (bpm) in Pro Tools, otherwise the entire groove and tightness of the production will quickly fall apart when overdubs are tracked. Read my article Tempo Workflow - How To Start A Music Production From A Demo Recording to learn how I set free time recordings to the grid/bpm of session in Pro Tools using either Pro Tools editing workflows or the Make Tempo Constant feature in Melodyne 4 studio.
When I started a Pro Tools session for the production of Photograph I chose to use only the acoustic guitar and vocal tracks from the live recording. I felt the bass guitar lines needed more development at a later stage. I'm not a big fan of recording guide instruments because I feel that sometimes, something in the music can easily get lost. It's difficult to get a musical performance down to a ridged click. When performing, Georgie and I work very hard to get a song to vibe, as you hopefully can hear in the video above. I have learnt through experience that re-recording guide tracks can strip the vibe and musicality from a song, that's not always the best starting point for a music production workflow.
Getting the song in shape before recording is the most important process, this is called Music Arrangement. If a song hasn't been arranged then there will be no production or mix tricks that will save you later in the process.
Listed below are three music arrangement choices we made for the live demo recording. We aim to carry these across into the production:
- Dynamics: The chorus of Photograph is the hook, it has a great lift in melody and lyric. We've supported the chorus with a lift in dynamics. This works as a great contrast to the pre-chorus. The pre-chorus is softer in dynamic making the chorus sections a great place to thunder into. The bridge uses a different set of chords and carries a slightly different feeling in the lyric so the lighter dynamics mirror the pre-chorus sections. Verses work well between the two ends of the song dynamics and work as a great section to link the ends of chorus sections and starts of pre-chorus sections.
- Groove: The acoustic guitar is performed in a shuffle rhythm style in the verses that allude to a drum groove. The bass guitar line follows the shuffle, again alluding to a very particular drum groove that will be added later. The pre-chorus sections change from shuffle guitar to four-on-the-floor downstrokes enabling the bass to develop into a walking bass line. This bass line theme comes back the later parts of the chorus. The bridge section contrasts the entire song, as a bridge should. The instrumental rhythm is stripped away developing the journey through to the last half of the song.
- Song Structure: Intro - Verse 1 - Pre-Chorus 1 - Chorus 1 - Leader - Verse 2 - Pre-Chorus 2 - Chorus 2 - Bridge - Chorus 3 - Verse 3 - Pre-Chorus 4 - Chorus 4 - Outro
I like to record really rough demo productions as these give me a good idea of what the finished product will feel like. Demos are a great place to experiment musically and are a place where technology and mixing cannot get in the way. Read my article 5 Reasons For Making Demos Before Producing A Song.
For the demo production I loaded an instance of EZ Drummer Country Drums By Toontrack and played in a rough drum groove idea on my MIDI controller paying close attention to the stops and moments in the arrangement where drum fills would work. Laying down a quick (unquantized) MIDI drum groove helped me to establish an attitude for the song and vibe for the production. This quickly followed with the redevelopment of the bass line. Bass guitars and drums should, in my mind, work together as one instrument. I reworked the bass line to feel as though it locked in with the drums to support the guitar shuffle theme. The last demo production idea I wanted to experiment with was the piano. I felt the piano should be more ragtime in style than country so that I can retain the quirky feel of the song that's found in the live demo recording video.
One important moment in the structure that Georgie and I missed/failed to develop was the bridge to chorus transition. In the video (1:55) you hear the bridge transition straight into the chorus, and on reflection this felt abrupt. When I was laying down instrumental ideas in the demo production, by adding an extra 1 bar pause between the end of the bridge and chorus, I am actually enabling the production to breathe ever so slightly.
Next In The Series
Watch this space as in the next article I will talk about recording live drums and re-recording the final bass guitar lines. This is the stage where I stop using the demo production and transition fully into the production of the song.