The purpose of this blog post is twofold.
1) To share a bit of the “behind the scenes” for my song Resurrect Your Heart. By the way, this song is dedicated to anyone who's ever experienced heartbreak. That's pretty much everyone, I think.
2) To inspire you with your creative projects and maybe share a few tips on how to complete them - or not.
I actually wrote this song in 2017 or so. I’ve even performed it live a couple of times. But I never rolled up my sleeves and properly recorded it.
Recording Is A Lot of Work
One of the reasons I’ve been putting it off is because to make a pro sounding recording is a lot of work.
I have a lot of other things I do in my life to including homelife. Being a tarot reader and a “spiritual awareness facilitator” is my main occupation - but I still have students coming to me who want to play better guitar.
I knew that recording my song Resurrect Your Heart would need to be done in the cracks of my life. And this would take away some of the space that I so appreciate and need.
I Framed It As A Sprint
The first thing I realized was that this song really wanted to be born into the world. This wasn’t a plan. It was a call.
I felt that even if it only connects with a handful of people, it was worth it. And who knows, it might connect with a few more than a handful. Either way, knowing that it will inspire at least a few people gives me a lot of energy to complete the work.
Another part of me realized that I’d regret it if I didn’t take advantage while I’m still at the height of my powers.
So what I did was tell myself that I could do this. It would just need to be a sprint. The word sprint is a bit misleading in that it doesn’t mean acting from a feeling of being rushed. Being present is the key throughout.
A sprint is something that you know has a definite beginning and a definite end. It could be anything from a few days to a few weeks. It involves deep focus/power.
Doing this helped me to relax internally and know that any extra intensity in my schedule was only for a short time.
This, combined with the fact that the song wasn’t something that I thought I “should” do, or for anyone’s approval, but that I was compelled from within, gave me all the energy I required to start and see it through.
I Was A Bit Nervous...
I felt a bit nervous because I hadn’t recorded anything in a couple of years and wasn’t in that “flow.”
But I soon found out it was like riding a bike. If anything, my skills had improved from all the recording I’d done in previous years.
I also needed to outsource some of the work. I required a good drummer and I wanted a pro mixing engineer. I’m a pretty decent mixer, but even if I was at a pro caliber (I’m not ) I would want input from someone else. Just to add a bit to the energy pattern of the project.
My usual tendency is to want to do everything myself. Partly because it’s cheaper in terms of money (but not time!) and partly because I’m a bit of a lone wolf with my projects. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing - I just want to have some other input in order to get the result I envision.
I’m grateful that I’m capable of doing the majority of the work myself because any costs are coming from my own pocket and I want to keep them as low as possible.
Here’s How Resurrect Your Heart Started Coming In To Form
Here are the steps I took to record the song. I didn’t count the hours it took me over a 3-4 week period, but probably about 40 to 60 hours of actual “work.” Keep in mind, writing the song itself was an earlier process and I'm not describing that here.
- First I recorded a rough demo of me singing the song along with my acoustic guitar.
- Reached out to the drummer I wanted to work on my song and see if he was available. He was!
- Recorded the acoustic guitar to a metronome (click track) and then overdubbed some “ghost” vocals. Ghost vocals are simply a guide as the song is built from the ground up. They won’t stay in the final version.
- Sent those tracks to Marcelo in Sao Paolo to record and perform his drums and percussion. As well as drums, he used a shaker, a tambourine and conga drums.
- When he was finished with that, I imported them into my computer to work on.
- I discovered there was a very slight push and pull with my acoustic guitar and the drums. So I re-recorded my acoustic guitar to Marcelo’s drums to make everything sit together better.
Note: When recording in a studio, every little flaw shows up. Something that would sound great live wouldn’t really sound as good in a step by step studio recording. Live recordings you’ve heard from your favourite artists are a very different case from most studio recordings.
The next step was to bring in my electric guitar. This is my "fun" paintbrush! This is where I can really get creative and use my imagination adding colors and flavours that add to the song’s structure.
With these types of guitar parts, I essentially listen within and improvise. I use a microphone to capture the sounds and compose guitar parts as I go.
It’s important that the parts support the main vocals and don’t overshadow them. That’s another reason for the guide or ghost vocals.
Once the electric guitar parts were done, I went on to bass guitar.
But I’m A Left Handed Guitarist!
I play guitar left handed. That’s not unheard of, but it’s rare. I don’t own as many guitars as my right handed compadres because of this - and I also don’t own a left handed bass guitar.
Note: My dad warned me about this when I started playing guitar and had flipped a right handed nylon string guitar around to lefty. “You might have trouble finding guitars” he said. He was right!
I’m a fairly good keyboardist. I have been playing piano since I was a small child and was very good at it until later teen years. And even though I made guitar my main instrument as a teenager, I’ve continued playing some piano my whole life.
I have a keyboard that inputs to my computer. In my computer are various sounds that my keyboard can access and play. Some of them are very accurate representations of bass guitars!
So I played bass in real time to the drums and guitar already recorded using my keyboard.
Now The Really Scary Part…Lead Vocals
Not really! The reason they were a bit more intense though, is because the microphone I use for vocals is very sensitive. And my room is not soundproof.
It picks up some environmental noise. A creak on the floor, a cat’s meow, a siren going by, children playing, etc.
So I needed the stars to align! They did. I had some quiet spaces in the day where I was able to lay down several takes that I was happy with.
I wanted to add a vocal harmony to the main line in the chorus.
I have a trained musical ear (students have been amazed over the years how I can almost instantly learn a song they want to play just by listening to it) so I’m a good harmony singer.
It wasn’t too hard. I tried several approaches. Some lower, some higher. I decided to stick with only one harmony that was a bit higher than the main melody in the lead vocal.
Preparing The Tracks For Mixing
I won’t go into much detail here because unless you’re a “producer” you won’t understand what I’m talking about.
Including drums and percussion there were 23 tracks total. Not too many. Many people use 40 or more these days.
But I wanted separation and definition in the instruments. Also, when you use more tracks, they fight each other for space. This means they sound smaller.
I wanted my parts to have their own sonic space, warmth and clarity. I listened closely to all the tracks one by one for any clicks or pops or weird noises. A couple were there so I got rid of them.
Then I uploaded the tracks one by one for the mixing engineer Rob and his assistant Kyle.
This is the stage that Resurrect Your Heart is beginning as I write this. Mixing is where they take all the tracks and blend them and balance them in terms of loudness. They also separate them by panning.
Think of your ear buds or speakers. This is a left ear sound and a right ear sound. This is called the stereo spectrum. Various instruments are panned left or right in the song to create separation and definition.
Other things are done such as EQ which is enhancing low, middle or high frequencies or lowering those same frequencies. Compression is added to smooth out the loudness and softness in the instruments and to “glue” things together. Reverb and delay(echo) add a sense of depth and space to the instruments.
Once the mixing is done, the song will be mastered. Mastering makes the song sound clear and loud enough when played or streamed on any device.
At that point, I’ll send Resurrect Your Heart out into the world and the rest is out of my hands. It no longer belongs to me in that sense. Not in exactly the same way, but similar to a child, it has it’s own life. I will nurture it along with whatever I can do and let the Flow do the rest.