Monday, 16 May 2016

Self-Producing an EP Pt.2: Rehearsals and Refining

Getting material to the point where it can be played and has some structure was followed by the obvious next step. Playing it. So we took 1 or 2 of the songs to a rehearsal room and started running through them to see if they worked or what they would sound like. We'd find out of the the demo track had too much of one particular instrument, or if it worked at all in the real world. The goal was to have something to perform live, which made this part important. We would come across issues that certainly needed fixing.
As there was no notation anywhere I would render mixes for each person that was particularly heavy on their instrument, and one with it completely missing, so that it was easier to hear the instrument as the focal point, and in context, and then have one to practise along to. This was also the point where other band members would take away my demo'd bass/drum parts and replace them with their own better ones. This could get messy quickly, so I kept mine as the master and requested stem/midi files back that I could drop into the master. In a previous iteration of the band we tried writing everything into Guitar Pro, but encountered the same problem with duplicate projects, and also nobody particularly wants to sit and write notation in midi for hours when they're trying to be creative.

Getting changes flying back and forth all the time was tricky to keep track of but kept momentum going. Progress is obvious when every couple of days there's a new version that has a new and improved bass part, or a better chorus, or a section removed entirely. Sometimes (rarely) the changes don't fit and you discuss it and it goes back to how it was or a new one comes in.

At this point I'll digress and state that this was is our first set of material, the egg in the chicken and egg situation of our goal of playing live. We're not a cover band, and to get gigs we need music, so we need to write and record some music to start playing. So it's not a band that's got material it can always reach for and can spend time meticulously crafting an album. The material should be good, but if we don't have a starting point, 2 years spent writing is 2 years wasted not playing. As result there was some blending between the recording and refining process.
In an ideal situation, in retrospect, we'd write the material and play it until we had no more changes, and then record it. But we opted for reality. In future, I suspect more time will be spent getting things right at this point rather than later.

Things that seemed important:

  • Getting into a regular practise schedule, especially when people have other commitments. If it becomes one of those commitments, then it's a lot easier to make progress.
  • Making it as easy as possible for everyone to know what they're supposed to be playing, and having the creative equality to make it their own.
  • Setting specific goals before heading into a practise session. eg. Make it all the way through 1 new demo.
  • Getting through the song in some form is better than not at all, we had no lyrics or vocals at this point and while it made it harder to keep track of the song progress in repetitive sections, having one less thing to worry about while playing them as instrumentals meant we got through them quicker.
  • Nobody remembers everything immediately, section charts with tempos and time signatures help keep everyone on the same page and help keep it together when it's still pretty rough.
  • Recording rehearsal session audio is a good idea for reflection and improvement but challenging in practise. Drums are loud, guitars that can be heard alongside drums are loud too. Everything is pointed in different directions, and finding the place to put a single microphone will take time. The other option is to go through the board and do something there. It's possible but will need some investigation.

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