March 6, 2017

February Album Writing Month, 2017 — “Dreary Day”

Category: Music — jerry @ 6:24 pm

After my first three experimental but sucky songs, I finally wrote one that wasn’t bad: “Dreary Day”.

Per the discussion in my previous post, I went to my spreadsheet, and my column 1 song–for chords and structure–was “California Dreamin'” by the Mamas and Papas. The column 2 song, which I intended to use for arrangement purposes, was The Who’s “My Generation”. The 3rd column song, the lyrics for which I would examine along with the previous 2 for title and theme ideas was “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers.

The Who’s song was no help to me and I ended up scrapping it entirely as an influence. However, the serendipity of the “California Dreamin'” lyrics beginning “All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray”, along with Wither’s bemoaning “Ain’t No Sunshine” gave me my title of “Dreary Day”. I jotted down some phrases and rhymes: “gray/day…walking home/all alone…no sensation/hibernation…the awful wind/my coat too thin…” along with some imagery “abandoned houses…empty playgrounds…empty parks…” some of which I ended up using in the eventual song–which would not be written for another several days.

So I input the chords and structure (song structure has to do with where the verses, choruses, and bridges end up) from “California Dreamin'” into Band In A Box–the miracle software that substituted for my studio musicians. As mentioned, I did not use The Who’s arrangement after all–didn’t seem to fit–so I kind of went with the more acoustic style of Withers’ and the Mamas and Papas’ arrangements. I’m not sure I had discovered this feature of Band In A Box (BIAB) yet, but it has a pretty good-sized database of songs (including, it seemed to me, most of those Rolling Stones 500 songs I was using myself) that you can input and BIAB will suggest some of its styles it believes to be most appropriate for the song. (There are well over a thousand, and over a thousand different instrument tracks–my studio musicians–to choose from). My modus operandi was to test several styles and make notes of which “musicians” I liked in the top several styles to be eventually incorporated into my own song. Frequently, I’d decide to use a dozen or more instruments.

I would then generate a full track–the entire song–for each individual “musician”, even though in the final version particular musicians might only play a handful of measures, the drummer being the only one who would likely play throughout the entire song.

Once generated, every single instrument playing the entire song was then imported into Cakewalk SONAR to be edited and eventually mixed and mastered after the vocal tracks were laid down in SONAR.

Since “California Dreamin'” determined chords and structure, I had to base my own lyrics on the phrase length and meter of that song–although I played it pretty fast and loose. I WOULD have a copy of the song’s lyrics in front of me while I wrote my own so that I did not stray too far from where I was supposed to be. I had decided early on not to try too hard for Pulitzer Prize-winning lyrics, and to keep it simple. (I remembered an old Beatles interview I’d seen–actually, I just now GOOGLED for it and got this quote from Paul: “Our early stuff is more simple than our later stuff, and that’s one of the great things about The Beatles,” says McCartney. “This was a very simple song that fell into the category of ‘fan songs.’ All our early songs contained ‘me’ or ‘you.’ We were completely direct and shameless to the fans: ‘Love Me Do’; ‘Please Please Me’; ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand.’ A lot of people are fond of ‘Love Me Do’ because it evokes a period — and hey, it was No. 1, so it’s OK by me.”)

So lyrics generally came pretty easily. I started these lyrics not knowing where I’d end up. I guess if you’re going to call your song “Dreary Day”, it’s probably not going to end well…

Recorded my vocal in one take (as I generally did) and did some pitch correction with Melodyne. Whenever I listen to my vocal on this song, it reminds me a little of Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat”. Anyway. I chopped out a lot of the music so you don’t have too much cacophony at one time. Instruments play and drop out from verse to verse. Effects that I use on instruments and vocals are different things from Toontrack’s EZMix 2, particularly on the bass and drums. For the vocals I have a chain consisting of WAVES Vocal Rider, which “rides the fader” automatically to account for volume changes in my singing, followed by Izotope’s new Neutron plug-in for EQ, and then Izotope’s Nectar2 for vocal effects and enhancement. I also–erroneously in most of my songs–“sent” vocal tracks to way too much Delay and Reverb, since I didn’t like how I sounded. I’m getting over that and will cut back on drenching everything in reverb next time around.

After things were all arranged and mixed, I mastered the song myself using Izotope’s Ozone and PSP Vintage Warmer, and voila (video made by importing the mp3 of the song into Magix Vegas–formerly Sony Vegas–adding the lyrics, and uploading to YouTube):

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