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Everyone writes songs in their own way. Some start with a melody or a beat, some start with a lyric. Whatever your starting point, you need to get your ideas down quickly, and then polish them into demos worth presenting to partners, producers, and record labels. Pro Tools can help. It's one of the programs professional musicians and songwriters turn to for writing, recording, and mixing songs. In this short course, David Franz takes you from an initial seed-idea to a great sounding demo song, showing you how to find the best tempo, meter, and key; add in vocals, drums, and hooks; and put together a dynamic mix using effects like EQ, compression, and reverb and delay. These 10 simple steps can guide anyone with an idea and a little musical ability through the process of capturing a song idea before the inspiration fades.
Look for more courses in our Songwriting series in 2014! We'll cover Logic, GarageBand, and other popular DAWs.
Before sharing your song with anyone, it's not a bad idea to put a little polish on it. Let's create a rough mix of the track. So, we'll start here at the top in the vocals. I've got the channel strip, and chose the male vocal preset, and then adjusted it a little bit myself. So, I've got dynamics and EQs. So, dynamics, we've got a compressor. And that's what I've adjusted here. I've adjusted the threshold and the gain, so that it works well with the vocal tract. Let me play just a little bit of it.
So, load, and you'll see, I've got this set so that the peaks are being compressed, but nothing below it is being compressed. And I've adjusted the gain, so that it gives it a little bit of a boost, so that on the lower parts of the verse here, it actually gets louder, and it's not being compressed. And then, when it gets louder here, and it does get compressed, then these volumes are actually more similar to each other. And that is reducing the dynamic range, which is exactly what a compressor does. So, I've got that going on the vocal.
I've also got autotune to help save your ears from my singing. I've got some EQ, some boost. Again, the male vocal on the backing vocals here. And then, I've routed all of these tracks through a bus. So, I have the vocal bus. And you can choose that by, I'm choosing bus here and I've set up a vocal bus, bus seven and eight which I've renamed as the vox bus. And to rename a bus, you simply right click on the name of the output and you can choose Rename and type in whatever you want here.
So, I've routed all three of these into this vox bus track. And I've chosen the input as the vox bus, which makes sense, so it completes the circuit and we have all three of these tracks going through this channel strip which is on the rock bus compression setting. And again, I've adjusted the threshold and the gain so that it is being compressed only when it really needs to be and we also get a little bit of boost from the gain here too. And it kind of glues all of the vocals together just a little bit by doing that.
On the intro guitar part, I again have added the channel strip and chosen the acoustic guitar folk setting. But then, adjusted the EQ the way that I felt it was necessary. If I go back to the default settings of acoustic guitar folk, you'll see that it has more of a boost in the low end, and a cut at the high end. Now, I actually want to little bit of boost in the high and not quite as much on the low. And so, that's how I've set it. And this also has dynamics on it, so the threshold and gain have been adjusted to give this a little bit more pop.
Another thing I've added to all three of these acoustic guitar hooks is I've bused them to another delay effect, which is down here, the acoustic guitar delay. And I've set this up using the comb filter two preset. And I just kind of checked out a bunch of different ones, and this one really helped to make the guitars pop out a little bit more. Let's take a listen. And let me take off the effect. Sounds much nicer to me, with that comb filter on there.
Now, if we listen to these two doubled versions of that, we're also going to hear that effect come into play. But it's also going to sound a lot bigger, because we've panned both of these out so we have a stereo effect. And I've put two different settings on the channel strips here, different EQs, different settings, so that these guitars, even though it's the same guitar that I recorded in the same part, they're going to sound a little different, which also adds to make the sound bigger. Here's what it sounds like without that.
So, you can hear, when I take the channel strips off and take this comb filter effect off. They actually sound a lot more distinct and it doesn't kind of glue together very well. But adding these back in, and changing these tones just a little bit makes this sound fuller, and another secret to this is that this track is panned to the right, however, I've panned the bus to the left.
Same here on this track, except in reverse. I panned the track to the left, but the effect to the right. So, the delayed signal is on the opposite side of the original track. And that thickens up this whole sound. Moving further down, we have this guitar chords track. Now, I haven't done anything to this guitar chords track yet. So, let's actually talk about setting some compression on here.
I'm going to go ahead and choose the rock bus compression setting, and we'll set this up. Solo this track. So, you can see that the compression isn't even happening yet. This threshold isn't being crossed. So, I'm going to drop the threshold down. Now you can hear that it's being compressed. So, we'll set it so you can actually hear the compression just a little bit and you'll turn up the gain just a little. We use this gain to make up any gain that's been lost by the compression once it starts being compressed here.
And the idea of this is really to just, kind of, rein in some of the more dynamic pieces, more of the rhythms that are kind of popping out. And plus, I just like the sound of this, it gives it a little bit more of a warmer feel to me. So, we'll just keep some light compression on there and we know we've already treated the base with the SansAmp. On the piano, I've also added the rock bus compression and used the same technique that I just showed you on the guitar chords to set up the threshold and gain here.
Lets hear what that sounds like with and without the effect. Bypass. With the effect on, you get a little bit more sustained, it sounds a little bit warmer and it's not quite as punchy. Some pianos can be a little bit too in your face sometimes, especially when it's a rhythmic piece like this one. I actually like the way that the drums sound and you'll notice I don't have any reverb set on this or any delay on the track.
However, within expand, there is actually some room reverb on here and you can adjust that here if you want. The effects send knob is here. That turns up or turns down the amount of room reverb that you have on here. You could even add some low-fi ping pong if you wanted but that effect is turned off. Turn it on just by clicking that, but we'll just leave that off, and then adjust the level here if you need it. But I like the sound of it, so we'll just keep it the same. Finally, we've got our maxim plugin down here.
So, we don't really know how much we want to have on this. Do we want to bring the threshold down a little bit to make this more punchy, to make it louder, to really maximize the level? Or, do we, kind of, keep it light like I have it here and not really push the levels. So, we can see when we play back, we've got some orange here which means that this is actually working just a little bit on the peaks. And I don't want bring this down too much so that we're actually adding any artifacts from compression or limiting.
We can keep this clean, it's just a demo. So, we'll just leave that as we are, and now I suppose we should take a listen to what we've got.
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