Last year, I wrote 31 Pop Songs in 31 Sundays

Discussion in 'Recording Studio' started by Bloody_Inferno, Jun 9, 2021.

  1. Bloody_Inferno

    Bloody_Inferno Silence is Violence

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    Was a bit hesitant posting this at all, but I've shared it somewhere else so...

    Short backstory:

    March 2020: COVID happened, and lockdowns were implemented. One particular day I heard my friend singing on an Insta story and gave some encouragement to write some music. My response was that songwriting was not a practiced skill of theirs. So for an experiment, I thought I'd help write one song for this person, an instrumental pop backing to write a melody and lyrics over. This happened on one Sunday. The next coming Sunday, I gave another piece to help broaden their skills a bit. Then I thought, why don't I just write a new song for this person, every Sunday I had to start writing, record and produce a demo of a pop track, and it had to be done before the day is out. No ifs. No buts. The intention was to force myself to write something new every week and ensure to finish it.

    This went on for 9 months on the 31st Sunday, I was told to stop. I ended up and finishing 31 pop instrumental backing songs for the singer to write over.

    Of course our scheds are all over the place so the songs are still unfinished demos. The singer did however wanted me to start sharing them informally. And I didn't really want to share them as they were. So instead I did some live streaming on the Gram playing each song, and going through each and every one of them in full detail.

    Of course, asking anyone let alone myself to listen to me babble on for 11 hours is ridiculous and utterly stupid. So I won't post those live streams here. But for the sake of sharing them, I ended up writing guitar melodies for ALL 31 BLOODY SONGS. I ended up writing 3 melodies a week and posted them all on the gram.

    Song 1 Song 2 Song 3 Song 4

    Song 5 Song 6 Song 7 Song 8

    Song 9 Song 10 Song 11 Song 12

    Song 13 Song 14 Song 15 Song 16

    Song 17 Song 18 Song 19 Song 20

    Song 21 Song 22 Song 23 Song 24

    Song 25 Song 26 Song 27 Song 28

    Song 29 Song 30 Song 31 Song 31+1

    Song 31+2


    At this stage, we're taking our time with it and I'll get to fully record and produce these for real when the singer is ready. And once we're done, we'll be releasing them down the line.
     
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  2. Bloody_Inferno

    Bloody_Inferno Silence is Violence

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    Copying some stray notes I had during the experience, as it may prove insightful to some, if not amusing to all.

    Part 1:

    I really does feel good to be productive and certainly better when you finish something. You can think of all the ideas and concepts in the world but they're worthless when you don't do anything about them. Starting something is easy when you're excited about it. The hard part is getting over the mid hump, where all the motivation dies down and all the disinterest and self doubt creeps in. Getting over that hump and reaching the finish line is the hardest part.
    Doing these daily pop experiments really pushed my writing and production skills. It made me write more music for random podcasts (about 18 or so songs), some video game music collaborations, and enough material for another solo album.

    ---

    My writing hasn't changed much, but the changes are significant to note. I actually have a general idea of how the full arrangements will be once I have a melody, harmony and rhythm concepts down. It explains why I take so damn long in making demos; I painstakingly notate almost everything sans melodies and solos on Sibelius note for note. I HATE notating drums, and didn't help that I forced myself to learn drum notation from scratch. Then I redo the guitars and bass and keep the the rest midi. I can't play drums well enough so that's all midi, as are synths but unless it needs a human touch (like piano or solos) then I'll play it.

    Writing these pop songs on the other hand... the biggest hurdle is the fact that I'm no longer responsible for the melody. Since that's now up to someone else, I've got to make sure I made as much room for the singer to come up with a lead line as comfortably as they could. Basically means I really had to tone down on the arrangement since I'm notorious with my band mates as an overdub hog. The backing of the first 3 songs are all 100% midi since I was in a transition of trying to get Pro Tools to work and still on the fence of upgrading to Logic from Garageband. Hell, these songs were mostly mad rush jobs on Sibelius, then just used a DAW to convert them to passable sounds, rough mix and pulled up stumps since I treated each song as a race against the clock and forced myself that they're finished before the day is out.

    If anything, I've become much faster at writing and recording demos. And certainly better and more tolerant about writing drum patters, I can at least make them sound like they can be played by an actual drummer.

    ---

    I'm purposely writing as if it was meant to be sung by a singer and trying as hard as I can to be conscious about it. I even tried singing some parts while writing. Though there's some moments that I just cut loose because I am a guitarist.

    In true tradition of high to over produced pop, I doubled and in some cases tripled the lead melodies. Some unison, some sub octave etc. The big choruses are always doubled in unison. And that was before adding harmonies. Speaking of which...

    I love writing, arranging and recording harmonies, regardless of the genre of music. But it's so damn arduous and painstakingly work intensive. Even worse is that I'm extremely peculiar about the harmonised notes that if I hear a "wrong" note it will bother me. This actually got me into trouble since I got into a friendly but heated argument with my drummer arranging vocal harmonies in my prog band. I was vetoed since nobody cared about the 'wrong note' (aka I'm a pretentious twat and they knew it [​IMG]) Still, the results are always extremely rewarding.

    Nowadays, pop music is written by more than 9 songwriters (or turns out from 2019 there's been as many as 30 songwriters just for one song. Rick Beato even touched on this on one of his vid. That's extremely over the top. I'm just a regular dude. [​IMG]

    A friend and I were discussing about the whole hiring multiple songwriters and he told be about writing toplines:



    Basically topline songwriters only focus on the melodies and harmonies. Get a rough draft recorded, then revise and refine to kingdom come right down to vocal tone, diction, and lyrical delivery, all meticulously written until done. Sort of what I'm already doing with these melodies, perhaps not as intensive. There's a hell of a lot to it and writing a topline is completely produced before even hitting the singer to record, right down to the double/triple tracking. I'm already incorporating these elements while writing for these 31 songs for that authentication. Of course I don't bother with lyrics or even auto-tuning (I just do multiple takes instead).
     
  3. Bloody_Inferno

    Bloody_Inferno Silence is Violence

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    Part 2:

    While it is an exercise in songwriting, arranging and recording on my end, I'm keeping this as experimental as I can and ventured through as many subgenres of pop music as I can listen to, or at least stomach. [​IMG]

    It must be said: I used the indictments of pop music (or modern music really) to my advantage when writing these songs. Which means lots of copying and pasting, lots of overdubbing, relying of software instruments and plugins. On average it took at least 4-6 hours to write, arrange, record, and produce a song... not including dinner breaks. I had family over during the Sunday of Song 14 and by the time I was ready to record it was already 8pm, hence why Song 14 is a sappy minimal piano ballad with strings. [​IMG]

    One thing I did not want to cop out on: there's so many songs out there that use the 1564 or 6415 chord progression and I refused to use it on any of these experiments. Short story long: it involved a band I saw who called themselves epic hard rock and all their songs used the 6415 chord progression. They made me vow never to use it basically. [​IMG] Still I managed to pull it off and none of the songs I wrote used these progressions. I like a lot of songs with them, so I guess that's just my silly pride.

    Being experimental: at least 12 of the 31 songs were rejected by the singer. Various reasons being either didn't suit their vocal style (song 15 was too epic and song 18 was too sultry etc) or grew out of (this is disposable pop), or just didn't care for. One particular song was flat out rejected from hate but we'll get to that once I record a melody for it. What's good about this is that it's made me really understand that rejection is also part of the process. Still, two thirds of the music is accepted, so that's a plus (and a lot more hard work).

    Playing a fretless is hard enough, but harmonising on a fretless... bloody hell that took a lot out of me. [​IMG]

    ---

    Digging deep during the weeks, was where my creative state was going to odd places. Really pushed myself through to certain subgenres I would normally wouldn't even consider performing, though I did have some gospel background so a song like 22 was easy. That said, due to this experiment's um, experimental nature, I was bound to tank it on places. Songs 18 and (especially) 20 were my laziest entry of the lot. 18 is just a repetitive one chord Phrygian dance loop (kids seem to like that apparently) and 20... well there's a reason Facebook muted bits of it. [​IMG] Hell, Song 24 was me being audacious, making a pop punk affair with a bunch of 7 string riffs. But as I said, rejection and failure are parts of the experimental process, and me writing some crap during mad rushes in songwriting was a guarantee. And I stand by sharing those failures. All 3 songs were rejected by the singer, though we did have a great laugh over Song 24.

    From Song 9 onward, I started developing some confidence and used that bravado by writing and tracking backing vocal parts. Of course that bravado was often misguided since I stupidly didn't bother warming up and ended with multiple takes of the same line. Hence why Song 9 was entirely midi (sans 9 vocal overdubs). Adding actual backing vocals also restricted my 'topline' writing to just one main melody. I didn't bother with any harmonies with Song 22 because having 9-12 vocals oohing in the chorus made any harmonies redundant, freeing me to go full 'soul diva'. Songs 12 and 23 were happy compromises when my vocals were pure choral support and I added a harmony or 2 over the main topline melody.

    With Song 20 being a lazy brazen effort, I tried to write a melody to salvage it. I did an inprovised version during the live streams but it ended up being so strong that I just reused it. I improvised all over Songs 2 and 6 and ended up taking elements on it for the 'topline meldody' exercises. Shows that the 'David Gilmour' method really is effective. Then I added a ton of harmonies and unison lines. I tried to use a wah pedal with all the parts, but time constrains and sonic properties got me annoyed and ended up abandoning the whole thing. I do like the idea and may have to try it seriously on a song or so.

    Song 14 was where I tried to be completely different with harmonies and imagined what would think a trio would sing. So I wasn't overtly strict in following lines on that one. I did it again on Song 16 and they ended up being some of my favorite exercises and would love to to explore it further, definitely in a metal or shred context.

    Song 23 was the last time I used Garageband as a DAW before finally moving to Logic Pro on Song 24. Surprised it took me so damn long to make the transition honestly, especially since Song 23 made me push GB's capabilities as hard as I could. [​IMG] Though the session in Song 24 is messy as hell and shows that I was still trying to figure my way around. It's like when McDonalds opened their new menu and McCafe area. [​IMG]

    One thing's for sure, the topline melody exercise is definitely helping my lead playing. Replicating vocals to guitar is not easy and you fall into the Satch ripoff trap. Still, I'll take that over mindless forgettable spew of notes. If I can write a melody or solo that will get in the singer's head and make them hum and sing it all day, I'll be a happy man.

    ---

    When it comes to writing drums, the natural inclination is to 'phone in' when it comes to the electronic disco/techno beats. I definitely did that for the most part, but there are moments where I still think what would a drummer do, but not overdo things. Song 25 was where I was most conscious about it, even if not by much. The ones that could/should be played with a live band, I definitely think like a drummer, and write beats and fills with the notion of human limitations. Though in the electronica/trap beat side of things, I notice modern songs add so many hi hat patters, which after this experiment, I'm rather indifferent, or maybe defeatist acceptance. [​IMG]

    Turns out I'd rather ape a 12 bar blues song over write anything with a 1564, 6415 chord progression. And even then it took 25 weeks to cave in. [​IMG]


    Song 27 was the most controversial one between the singer and I. It was the one song that was straight up hated and rejected. I didn't mind and shelved it altogether, but admittedly it initially stung a touch at the time. Unlike the other 'brazen' attempts, this one I actually put an honest effort based on the singer's genre suggestion. Because of that,, I'm questioning what I thought when I wrote it in retrospect. Whether I was actually genuinely putting the effort, or maybe I was phoning it in, setting myself up to fail just to cross off a deadline. Either way, it's what it is and I'm throwing Song 27 in the archive bin.
     
  4. Bloody_Inferno

    Bloody_Inferno Silence is Violence

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    Part 3:

    You will never have the same enthusiasm with your project after starting it. Climbing the mid hump is always the hardest part since that's when the hesitation, crippling self doubt, mental fatigue and all the other crappy excuses start creeping in. Once you get over the hump, you're pretty much bolting towards the finish line just to get your project out of your system never wanting to think about it again. And by the time it's done you feel as much sense of anti climax as much as relief.

    I mention that since it always hits me in all my musical projects. This definitely happened in different stages here. I go on a hasty sprint when I start feeling I've spent too much time on a song. I did the same thing during the topline writing process too: I started feeling the dread of obligation during Monday and Tuesday evenings, forcing myself to finish 3 songs a night over a week (maybe one week where I did 6). Most obvious by Song 33 where I realised the next morning I more or less repeated myself and used a near identical verse melody to Song 28. Eventually I was going to stumble and fall over the rock of repetition so I may as well do it in the end.

    After being told to stop by the 31st week, a few weeks later the singer contacts me and asks for more music with specific styles in mind. So I did some (hence songs 32 and 33) though unlike the first 31, I decided not to put myself through stress and took my sweet ass time with them instead. [​IMG] I still managed to finish each song over the span of 6-8 hours minimum, just not madlib rushing the whole process in a day.

    Song 28 became my vengeful retort after the rejection of Song 27. As the latter song was inspired from what the singer wanted, I went back to basics with the former. I stopped listening to the kind of music the singer liked and just wrote whatever the hell I wanted... within reason based on the singer's tone and capability. 28 became a favorite and all was well.

    Funny enough, I felt some renewed vigor during the weeks between Song 28-31. I was more focused and not spastically jumping from genre to genre, hence why the songs (sans 31) were all acoustic ballads with minimum arrangement. Still has a decent amount of experimentation, just so I can make it fun for myself.

    That period was also the time I fell in love with the accordion sound. I used to hate it for numerous reasons: first experience was a cheap sound from my first instrument (the Organ), first time I picked one up, I thought it was the stupidest instrument in the world (play buttons and keyboards while pumping air), and the sound was usually associated with Ocktober fest and heavy drinking. But it sounds great for ballads and soft Parisian or Latin style folk. Programming an accordion sounds crap to me so I just performed it live via keyboard, and it ended up on 3 songs.

    I actually like the melody writing during Song 29, since it's the first time I tried using a syncopated melody style, which rubbed really well against the bossa rhythm.

    I reserved Song 30 for a rearrangement of Song 4 - AKA, the song that was actually co written with the singer. At one point I ended up lending songs 2 and 4 to a podcast at a fee, but also for promotional purposes. But I thought I'd try to give Song 4 another shot and rearranged everything based on the singer's piano parts. I was already a fan of video game music composers and they have multiple rearrangements of songs all the time so I wanted to give that a shot.

    Song 31 was the only song where I finally wised up and warmed up before doing vocal takes. I had to hit some obscenely high notes and there was no way I'd have hit them cold. It does help being a backing vocalist in a prog band with a singer that has a 3 octave range, so I needed to practice regardless. [​IMG] Speaking of which...

    Choosing keys for each song was something I frankly didn't give a damn about during writing. Basically did the song and gave to the singer to figure out. There were some jazz-esque chord progressions here and there but otherwise pretty straight forward for the most part. Though Song 23 has a few key change, and a real nasty one after first chorus. We did transpose Song 5 down one tone to suit the singer more, and I guess we'll be doing it with a few more (hopefully not).

    Not once in the 33 songs did I use the 1564/6415 chord progression. I'm rather proud of that. [​IMG]


    The singer asked me which of the 31 songs are my personal favorite, and I responded with "the ones that weren't rejected.", which happens to be the most Gene Simmons answer I ever gave. [​IMG] Though while there is truth to that, my favorites just happen to be the ones I had full intention to write, without any suggestions from the singer, and other close friends I shared this experiment process with. I'm surprised how much I think Song 2 still holds up. A lot of the accepted songs just happen to be the most fun to produce, which is surprisingly a lot of them (2 thirds of the batch). And while Song 6 was part of the rejected group, I might repurpose it for one of my solo songs, vocals or instrumental or whatever.

    TLDR / TLDL / TLDAnything

    What started as an exercise has helped me immensely in composing, arranging and producing. Every now and then it's best to just go ahead and do something anyway.
     

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