Tag Archives: audio applications

The Process: Song Sketches

"La Nature." Juin 23, 1888.
“La Nature.” No 786. Juin 23, 1888.

Anyone who has ever made a habit of writing music knows that song ideas almost never occur to you when you’re looking for them. My solution to this has been to carry a recording device with me at all times. Whenever I have an idea, I slip off somewhere quiet and sing it into the recorder.

When I first got started, I used to use a microcassette tape recorder to capture my ideas (it wasn’t all that ‘micro’ either). I have distinct memories of wandering the streets of Boston singing into this clunky box while trying not to make eye contact with strangers. Nowadays, smartphones are a much more convenient way to capture ideas. There are hundreds of apps for capturing voice memos; even the default iPhone Voice Memo app is a huge leap forward from the microcassette recorder days. Better still, free cloud-syncing storage services such as Dropbox or Evernote have revolutionized the way I work. Evernote is great because it allows you to record any number of song ideas right from its iPhone App and then sync them back to your desktop computer to continue work at home. With Dropbox, I use the Griffin iTalk or DropVox, both of which accomplish the same thing.

Here are some tips that I follow when making my song sketches:

  • Tip #1: Placeholder lyrics – If I don’t have a recording device available when inspiration strikes, I attach placeholder lyrics to my melody as soon as possible (I jot them down on a scrap of paper or in my phone). Lyrics are a great way to remember a tune, although (of course) nothing beats a recording.
  • Tip #2: Don’t be afraid to sound ridiculous – No one will hear my song sketches except me. If the melody is out of my vocal range, I keep it in whatever key occurs to me; I can always transpose it down to something I can sing comfortably later.
  • Tip #3: Record first without backing – Even if I’m near an instrument when inspiration strikes, I record sketches without any backing or chords first before attempting a version with the backing. The reason is this: attaching chords to a melody can actually substantially change an idea (listen to any of the Girl Talk records for intentional examples of this). Sometimes, it’s useful to have a version of a melody before the chords were added.

In the next blog post, I’ll be covering what to do with the ideas once you’ve gathered them.



Things We Love: 6/5/09

1. The Art of Blake Suarez


We only just discovered Blake’s work this week and already we love it. Not only has he done tons of projects (stuff for small magazines, t-shirts, screen prints, etc.) but he runs a great blog. Everything seems top notch but don’t just take our word for it. Check it out for yourself.

Look here: http://plaza.ufl.edu/bsuarez/
And the blog is here: http://blakesuarez.blogspot.com/

2. Bupp! for Mac/PC


This is an amazing audio App. Sort of midway between an old-timey arcade game à la Pong or Asteroids and…maybe some sort of sampling engine?  Totally weird. Basically, you construct a maze containing any number of obstacles. Balls are then dropped into it. The balls move around and ricochet off of obstacles, triggering vocal samples in the process. (There seems to be pretty much no way of predicting what sample will be produced by a given obstacle and position. You just have to experiment.) The graphics are simple and the motion of the balls is a little jerky but the whole thing is totally addictive. Seriously. We haven’t gotten hooked on anything this quickly since they opened up that breakfast burrito place down the street.

Check it out: http://www.mediascot.org/drift/foolme/bupp

3. George M.’s “Musical Episode” Podcast


Sometimes you just need some classic R&B in your life. Not just sometimes. Often. Maybe it’s because you’ve just lost the love of your life. Maybe it’s the end of the week and you’re tired; you need something to take your mind of work. Or maybe it’s because you’ve been driving for a really long time and you know this really good college radio station but you can’t seem to get it on your radio because their transmitter is so weak and also it’s your car’s fault and what the hell why didn’t you just replace the radio when you bought the car but now it’s too late because you’re probably not going to hold on to the car for that much longer anyway. We don’t know what it is that keeps us coming back but we know a good thing when I hear it.

Check it out: http://musicalepisode.podomatic.com/