Monday, 9 May 2016

Self-Producing an EP Pt.1: Demos

To jump right in, I started working with a few friends on an EP for our band. Now that it's coming to a close, I thought it might be a useful for me to document the process involved from the beginning, and useful information I've gathered along the way to help me get through things quicker and better on my next attempt at something like this.

At the point where I started piecing a few demo tracks together, I'd been using Reaper for a while and I was using EZMix and EZDrummer as my primary plugin set while making a few acoustic tracks. I subscribed to and and for a few minutes a day would have a dig through for whatever information was new.

This was pretty straight forward, I sat and tried out a few riff ideas (being primarily a guitarist), when something sounded good I'd record it into Reaper and apply a guitar preset to it, of which there are some great ones that just sound good straight away. I'd then track it again and pan hard (100% left for one and 100% right for the other) and then do some fixing on timing issues quickly.
Looping the riff, EZDrummer would be the next stop to find and tweak a drum loop that fit and drop it into the track directly. I preferred this to using the timeline in EZDrummer so I could just grab entire sections and copy/paste/move/delete easily without having to open it up and fiddle.
Somewhere in the middle of the guitar and drums getting put down I'd add one of the EZMix mastering presets to the master FX in Reaper. Something stylistically approximate. Then it's a case of grabbing the bass guitar and putting some bass down too.

To start putting a song together, I'd use the project as a bit of a sketchbook, and spend a few hours listening to what's there and just move along the timeline a bit and put some more ideas in or variations of previous ones until it seems like all the pieces of something more complete are there. This can be a bit trickier if there are time signature or tempo changes but it just takes a bit more time.

Things that seemed to be important factors for me:
  • Getting as much down for a demo as possible at once made for more consistent demos. A couple of them I just sat down at 1pm on a Sunday and worked for a 3-4 hours and got the full thing demo'd ready for presenting.
  • Making sure there were presets effects chains that could be dropped straight onto instruments to get something that sounded good right away, instead of getting caught up fiddling. There are many free plugins for guitars/drums out there that sound good so it doesn't really matter what you use, as long as you can just apply a 'distorted guitar' preset and be happy and carry on. It also means that when you've finished the demo it just sounds good already and doesn't need any real mixing before you share it.
  • Not second guessing things. It's easy to get stuck in "maybe it doesn't fit", etc. just run with what's there, you can always save another version. Get version 1 to done.
  • Having a Reaper template ready to go, with tracks for all the instruments with the correct VSTs already loaded and a click track etc. is the way to go here to maximise the time spent writing and not fiddling with software. 
With other commitments it took me a month to get all 5 demos down into a form where I'd shared them and we'd started talking about them. There were no vocals present at this point as there was still some indecision about what we would do on that front. In the future I'd get something down as a starting point for development.