Thursday, April 28, 2016

Writing lyrics

It being Passover week, I've been at home most days. In order not to waste these days by sitting around and doing nothing, I set myself some modest goals:
  1. Try to do as much consulting work (both for the OP and other companies) as possible
  2. Work on my thesis
  3. Record vocals for at least one of the two songs whose music I have completed
The first two were accomplished without much difficulty, although I notice that I seem to be capable of working only in the mornings. Two days ago, we had a heatwave - 38 degrees - which made it almost impossible to do anything, even with air conditioning. But now it's at least ten degrees cooler, making life easier.

Yesterday's task was to record vocals for a song called 'Apogee'. After getting sorted with my new microphone, I recorded several takes of the song. Singing the chorus was problematic, as for 'fun', I had set them to a 5/4 rhythm, whereas the verses are in 4/4. Added to that, the range either very high for me (A above middle C to D, an octave above middle C) or very low (A below middle C is about the lowest I can reach comfortably). Once I figured out the rhythm, I sang a few takes in falsetto and a few as bass.

In the afternoon, I started work on cleaning the vocals and placing them on top of the tune. The new microphone makes very clean recordings; I didn't need to add any EQ in order to improve the sound, but on some takes I added a little for artistic purposes. After adding reverb, I pieced together a complete vocal track and mixed the song down to stereo.

I then took a break for the time-honoured tradition of taking the dog for a walk and thinking about what I had accomplished. Whilst the completed song sounds good,  there was something wrong.  I wrote this song 44 years ago (almost to the day); the lyrics weren't very good then, so by today's standards they are absolutely terrible. So while I was walking the dog, I tried to think of alternative lyrics.

What made this hard was the rhyming scheme which I had adopted: the syllable at the end of the first line rhymes with a syllable in the middle of the second line, and the syllable at the end of the second line rhymes with the syllable at the end of the fourth line. There is also a rhyme between the end of the third line and the middle of the fourth line. To make things clearer, here are the first two lines:

Come on, my friend, let's go down to the river
We'll take a sliver of fish

There aren't too many rhymes with 'river' so if I wanted to keep the first line (which I did), my options were limited. At first, I toyed with the word 'shiver', but couldn't find anything acceptable. Then I tried 'quiver' which seemed to have more options. Eventually I found a couplet, then another ... and before long, I had a complete lyric (which I am not going to quote here). These are somewhat Beatlesque lyrics: they sort of make sense, but they don't mean anything specifically.

In the evening, I recorded one take with the new lyrics (I kept all the original recordings of the chorus, as this hadn't changed) then created a new version of the song. Because I am using an external microphone, instead of one which is at a fixed distance from my mouth, there is less extraneous noise (such as breathing or even stomach rumbling), but the volume is not constant. I shall have to work on microphone technique and probably use more compression in order to even out the volume.

The point of the story, however, is that I can still write lyrics - and write them reasonably quickly - when I want to. Such was the case with 'Qualia', 'The road to Antibes' and one other song not referenced by name. Why can I rewrite lyrics without too much difficulty, yet struggle to write new lyrics? I have two songs - one with a completed arrangement and one which is only a sketch at the moment - waiting for lyrics; I even have the titles. 

I think that it probably is due to familiarity with the tunes: I wrote the new words yesterday whilst sitting on the balcony with my new mobile computer, singing the tune and writing the words into the computer. These new songs are not yet familiar; their tunes do not play in my head. Maybe I should revert to my old habits: pick up the guitar and play the songs until the words form themselves, then improve them. I shall try and work on this tomorrow. 

Tonight I'll try and record the vocals for the other completed song - this one has good lyrics, but I've improved the music.

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