In one of the more lucid moments when I was ill with pneumonia at the beginning of the month, I sat down at the piano and began improvising. After a while, I discovered that I had created the basis of a new song. I then rushed (as much as is possible with pneumonia; it would be more accurate to write that I dragged myself) to the computer in order to enter the song into the sequencer, but also decided to record myself playing the one verse on piano by means of my mobile phone. It's a rough recording but good enough to remind me of what I had written: another one of these serpentine-like tunes which go up and down the keyboard, accompanied by chords which don't necessarily belong to a key or mode. After thinking about it for some time, I realised that the song was basically in A minor, although there are a few bits which are out of this key.
Over the days, I developed the song whilst arranging it: a middle, instrumental, section appeared, followed by a bridge. At one stage, the instrumental section was repeated as a coda, but this got changed later on. I also created a minimal version of the song - just some chordal instrument along with the tune: this was a guide version intended to help me write the words. Whilst doing so, I saw that I needed a few bars of music between the first two verses; the link between the sung bridge and the third verse also needed a few extra bars. It was probably at this stage that I realised that the tune did not match my vocal range: either I would have to lower it a bit and sing at the top of my range, or raise the tune and sing at the bottom of my range. In the end, I raised the song by four semitones, to C# minor, making the lowest note B below middle C.
Once the arrangement was nearly complete, I could write the words. On a Friday two weeks ago, I wrote the opening verse (after discarding my original lyrical idea); the following day I wrote the next verse, and just over a week ago I wrote the rest of the words. Of course, I was very interested in adding vocals to the music as soon as possible, as this helps me hear the entire song better (as a producer).
I made a few attempts at recording the vocals as well as mixing: I knew that I would eventually be discarding these vocals. This initial version had tentative singing, which shows how new the tune was to me. I always wonder how the Beatles could record a song which had been written only a few days before with such confidence, sounding as if they had been playing the song for months or years. I'm thinking of the pre-Revolver days, possibly even pre-Rubber Soul, when a complete song was recorded in one or two sessions, with no room for reconsideration.
Yesterday I had the time and space to record new vocals. My usual strategy is to record me singing all the song through a few times then make a composite version. If one take was good all the way through, then this would be used, but sometimes I mess up the words (even though I'm reading from a lyric sheet) or the phrasing, so I could have one take with two good verses and another take with the other verses. From this composite version, I then do 'breath removal' and tuning: these are technical and painstaking, but they make a big difference to the final product. Breathing sounds especially bad after equalisation and reverb. From this master, I might then extract lines for further manipulation, either for emphasing a part or for creating harmonies. As it happens, after all this, I wasn't happy with the vocals for the middle bit, so instead of singing it again, I extracted the necessary bars from the original vocal from last week and gave it some treatment.
After all this technical material, one can see that I am more interested in the music and the final production; what about words? As opposed to my last few songs which seem to be interested in telling myself something, this one was a throw-back to the days of 1975/6, starting "Where are the autumnal backstreets where we used to walk? Where are the leafy bowers where we used to talk?". They're not bad lyrics, but they don't mean very much to me, at least, not now. Sometimes lyrics which seem to be written off the cuff later turn out to be very perceptive.