Hey friends! How are you? Since my last post was from the summer, it’s about time I checked in with you about how my song is going. So what have I been up to with creating my first original song? In my last post, I left off where I had all my lyrics down, and I knew what I wanted for the melody and how the song should sound overall, so I was all ready to go to the studio. There was one thing that was bugging me though: I didn’t know what to expect at all from the recording process. I had always been in my comfort zone of bringing an instrumental I took off the internet to the studio and then singing to that, so I was left feeling confused about how I was supposed to have a high-quality instrumental for my own song. I thought the only way to get a piano track in my song was to have an actual piano inside the recording studio (if you didn’t know, the recording studio I use is on the second floor inside a building) and looking back now, this idea sounds really ridiculous, but it made sense to me at the time.
Piano or none, Jon and I were scheduled for the coming Friday, and I didn’t want to go to the studio empty handed, because I always like feeling prepared whenever I’m ready to do something. Before going to the recording studio, I went home and sat down at my piano, and played my song from start to finish a couple times to practice. When I felt ready, I opened the voice recorder on my phone to record myself playing the piano part, and decided I was satisfied with that one take. It wasn’t much, but I could bring it to the studio on Friday to at least have something to go off of. Come Friday, I met up with Jon at the recording studio like I always used to. We talked about what I had in mind to do that day, and I told him I wanted to first start with recording my vocals and the piano part—basic stuff. I couldn’t sing to a premade instrumental like I always did for covers because, well, it was my own song so there was none. What I didn’t realize was that there were several electronic keyboards inside the studio itself—ones I’d apparently never noticed or used!
Jon hooked up two keyboards and said that I could use those to record. The keyboard on the very bottom was a basic piano-sounding keyboard, and what was helpful was that the keys were pressure sensitive—if I pressed down harder on a key, it would be louder, and if I pressed down lighter, it would be softer. This was an extremely helpful feature that I was so grateful for, because that way not all my notes would sound the same, and I could really control the dynamics of the piano part and give it more life.
Jon let me warm up and do a couple of test runs on the keyboard, and when I was ready he opened up a new track for me to record to. He played the drum beat I’d been using since the beginning so I could play piano to that and keep a steady rhythm while recording. Rather than playing a piano in front of a mic like I thought I was going to do (since I’d always sang in front of a mic), the electric keyboard was connected to the computer, so everything I played on there recorded directly onto the ProTools program and I heard what I was playing from the speakers, not the keyboard itself.
The piano recording went a little better than I expected, because this entire time I’d been winging it. I wasn’t playing from pre-written sheet music, I just kind of went with the flow and played from memory. We did a couple takes, and when I had a take I was satisfied with, we moved on to the next part: vocals!
Recording vocals was definitely the part of this whole new-song-creating process that was most in my comfort zone. I’d done this many times before, just singing to an instrumental playing through my headphones into the mic. Despite my familiarity with recording and singing, I couldn’t get over the thought that the lyrics I was reading off my phone were all written by me, and the instrumental I was singing to was created by, well, me. It was still hard for me to grasp the idea of how at the end of all this, the song I was going to publish, to put out onto the internet for everyone to listen to, was going to be made by me, Jennifer Zhang, and it would be my first official original piece.
After doing a few takes of my vocals, I went behind the glass to join Jon in the control room. Now, this was where the real fun began, because this was when we really started to add layers onto the instrumental track in order for it to sound more “spiced up” and not so bland. Jon started off by using the keyboard above the basic piano one on the bottom—the synthesizer. This keyboard has countless sound banks that allows it simulate other instruments, including guitar, tambourine, triangle, and much more.
We started off simple and added a subtle ongoing maraca beat in the background, as well as some bass. The bass is a little harder to tell it’s there, but it makes the song sound much fuller and gives it depth. The funny thing about adding in the bass was that Jon said I was too proper about it, and rushing the beat slightly so I had to really “kick back in the chair, act like a lazy boss” and sluggishly play the keys. Eventually I got it down, and Jon just let me mess around on the synthesizer for a bit to see if there were any sound effects or instruments that stood out to me.
As I was scrolling through the options I had on the synthesizer, I passed one that immediately caught my attention as soon as I heard it. I went back and listened to it more closely, finding that it was the “Strings” effect. It sounded like an orchestra playing music and I felt like something just clicked in my brain—I had to use it in my song. I played some random keys and put the strings into the chorus, and couldn’t believe how incredibly satisfied I was with it; to this day it’s probably my favorite effect of the song (so when you listen to the final product and it gets to the last two choruses, keep your ears peeled for the strings!).
The following weeks were pretty much all used for adding more “shabang” and putting in some more “pow wow” into my backing instrumental. Jon and I added a couple more instruments, like triangles, trumpets, and I even got around to putting in some harmonies. A lot of time was spent on making every single part of the song sound perfect. I wanted the piano parts to sound smoother in between keys, the harmonies had to sound right, and a lot of the time I wasn’t satisfied with how my voice would sound in the recording so I would go back and re-record it (poor Jon, honestly, hearing me do the same lines over and over because there would be minor details I didn’t like). I remember the harmonies taking a super long time because I couldn’t get them right, even though I thought I was usually pretty good at harmonies, harmonizing with my song seemed really hard for some reason.
There was endless tweaking involved, but I think at the end it’ll all be worth it. I’m so so so close to finishing that I’m starting to feel so anxious, excited, and relieved. I’ve never worked on a song for so long (it’s been almost a year now) and I’m looking forward to publishing it, and then being able to continue composing and making more music that just keeps getting better and better. I’ve already started to think about ideas for future songs and gotten into the habit of making a note of everything that stands out to me, whether it be writing it down, typing it into my phone, or putting it in my music notebook for inspiration. I’ve started spending loads more time on my music now, and I can’t wait to share my first original creation with you all, so keep your eyes peeled. Until next time, peace!