On Songwriting Part 6: A Voice In The Mix

(This is the sixth of a series of posts about writing songs. Read the first postsecond post,  third post, fourth post, and fifth post, if interested)

I’ve been tracking the writing and recording of a new song — Million Miles Away (From Finding Me) — as a way to reflect on my songwriting process. I’m not sure if too many other people are interested but if you are here: welcome.

In the week or so since my last post, I’ve been tinkering with layers on the music of the song, trying to wrestle it into some form of existence that I find satisfying. I’ve added instruments and taken them away. I’ve walked away from it more times than most just not all that satisfied, feeling (as I mentioned last post), that the production I have done is too contained, too restrained, as the foundation of drums and piano and bass were built mostly upon modified loops. That said, the layering of vocal “ahhs” at the opening and in the chorus sections, the distorted guitar on top of the bridge, and the simple percussive bell keyboard melody after the last verse all help offset the “in a box” feel, I hope.

Then there is my vocal track. I kept trying to find time in the house when no one was around, as I am pretty self-conscious about singing new songs, and I know my voice has many limitations (along with some interesting qualities, if I get it right, which is not all that often). Last night, I realized: no one else is in the house, and I rushed to get my microphone, headphones, computer and lyric sheets all set up, and then spent time recording the vocals (disrupted at times by the dog, barking at her tennis ball).

It came out OK, I guess, but I still feel like this produced version of the song is not the version I have in my head — it doesn’t have the intangible thing that led me write it in the first place and stay with it so long —  and interestingly, every time I practice the song on acoustic guitar, I think: THIS is the version of the song that seems most true to what I was writing.

So, with all that said, here is what I am calling the Production Version of Million Miles Away, with many layers of instruments. I like it OK. I don’t love it but I appreciate it for what it is: an final step in an experiment of bringing a song from start to finish in the open. At one point, I tried to add some higher backing vocals to some lines in the song that could use more texture, but that failed miserably and I lost patience so I abandoned that idea. I have some visions of recruiting a real singer to sing it, but that may be at some point down the road, when I am ready to let the song go.

My next, and maybe last step, interestingly enough, is going to be to do an acoustic version of the song — low production value — focused on guitar and voice, as I see if I can capture the heart of the song in the way I hear it in my head. That’s for another day.

Peace (produced in loops),

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