Man, oh, man did I enjoy making this video! Before I get into what a guide track is, I’d like to tell you a little bit about my own personal experience with creating guide tracks.
This might be a weird analogy but, you know when you go to the beach, and you are getting ready to dive into the sea? As you reach the part where the beach meets the water and you begin to think “oh, the water is a bit chilly...”. So you go ahead and spend about 5 hours (yes, I know, I’m exaggerating) - ok, you spend 15 minutes slowly walking into the sea letting the water reach only your knees. Well this is what I call the Guide Track phase.
For me, the guide track phase of producing a song is, basically, testing the waters. Along with the reasons why you should have them, which we’ll talk about later, the recording process of your guide tracks, is the best time to experiment and learn about your DAW and how to go about recording your ideas. Furthermore, its also a good opportunity to see whether the arrangement you’ve come up with works, and if not make any tweaks necessary.
This is how I learned a lot of recording techniques and mixing techniques - I hope you do to!
So, what is a guide track? To put it simply, its a demo recording of your song which can consist of vocals and a rhythmic instrument (if you a songwriter) or just a rhythmic instrument (if you are an instrumentalist). The reason why you would want a guide track is to have examples of your songs to send to musicians that will be playing with you and/or when you head into the studio to record your songs, your other bandmates can record over it. For this reason, you want your guide tracks to show case the three following things: Tempo, Song Form and Dynamics & Transitions.
Let’s break each one down...
The tempo of your song is measured in Beats Per Minute, mostly referred to with its acronyms BPM. You can set the BPM within your DAW when you create a new project. What this will do is adjust the grids in your works space that out line the measures, as well as, set your metronome to click at that specific tempo. Recording your guide track to a metronome will help the musician you’re are giving it to, to practice in time and get the over pace and groove of the song.
The song form is basically the map of your song. It’s the order in which your verses, choruses, bridge, intstrumental section etc are put in. As a result, you want to make sure that you record the exact amount of measures for each section as you would perform it live. This will help your musicians learn the structure of your song a lot faster and easier.
DYNAMICS AND TRANSITIONS
This may sound like a “DUH!?” Point put you want to make sure that the sections you want to be soft are recorded that why and the same goes for your louder parts of your song. Make sure the transitions between two dynamically different sections are smooth - wether it be a build up or a sudden change in dynamics. Basic right? But effective ;)
Good practices when recording:
Step 7 and 8 are not necessary at this point. Just make sure that the levels are balanced if you’ve got vocals and guitar so that one is not overpowering the other.
TIP: Try panning the guitar to the left or duplicate the guitar track and pan one all the way to the left and one all the way to the right, leaving the vocals dead centre. If you are recording piano instead, try using a spreader, this will allow you to "spread" your piano across the stereo spectrum, leaving your vocals to sit nicely in the centre.
Overall GUIDE TRACKS are AWESOME, and you will be even awesomer (???) if you have them available for rehearsals and recording sessions. Your musicians will love you cause you’ve saved them a lot of time learning songs.
D.A.W. = Digital Audio Workstation, sounds epic dunnit?
I was just 16, obsessed with playing guitar on my own, in my bedroom, when one evening my dad came to my room with a bright orange box with some blue logo and bold white letters.
It was my first recording software - SONAR by Cakewalk. I had no clue what it exactly was but my dad had told me that it would allow me to record my guitar. Needless to say the idea of being able to record my guitar and hear how awesome (I thought) I sounded, was very appealing. At this point, I wish there was YouTube or somebody who knew around that could explain to me what on earth I was looking at. I was completely baffled!
After a lot of trial and error, and after almost quitting a couple of times, I began to understand what the various buttons did and discovered a “workflow” that worked for what I was trying to do - hear how awesome I was at guitar. This is what lead me to want to make a video about DAW.
This episode of Music Production Tips Tuesday, is not for everyone, it’s for the complete beginner who has never seen what a DAW is and has never attempted to record music. I go on to show you the layout of the DAW in the most simplistic way I could. I wanted to explain the sections of the window that one would come across - the toolbar, the main editing section (where your audio tracks appear) and fader/plug-in section. Most DAW consist of these three elements, maybe in a different layout but they are still there.
It’s a very basic video but I hope you are able to take something from it. If you have any question, by all means leave a comment, drop me a message and I’ll do my best to answer.
We have all heard of the phrase “Knowledge is Power” and I cannot stress how true it is in the music industry. We are living in a day and age where we’ve got access to information at the tip of our fingers. So, if you are a musician who is eager to get their music out there but, you have no clue of how to do so - the answers are a search away.
This video is mainly aimed at songwriters/instrumentalists but to some extent can apply to someone who is an aspiring producer. These five tips will help you on your journey down the rabbit hole that is Music Production.
The first and most important tip is to have the material. If you are a songwriter, go finish writing your songs before you continue any further and, if you are an aspiring producer, find artists/bands with songs ready to be recorded. The reason being that without finished material, you’ll find yourself wasting time trying to do two things at the same time - writing and producing. If you are just getting into producing music, then you’ll be doing three things at the same time. So bottom line, work on your songs before producing.
The second tip is to know to play an instrument - at least the basics. Otherwise, find someone who can and is willing to work with you. This is a great skill to have for multiple reasons, first and foremost, you can accompany yourself when writing or performing and secondly you don’t have to rely or wait on someone else when you want to record an idea or even better, a whole song.
Tip number 3 could actually be a bullet point to Tip 2 and that is to spend some time learning about music theory. So key pieces of knowledge that would be helpful in your music career in general would be the ability to know what key a song is in, time signature, rhythms, intervals and chord progressions to name a few. As an artist and session musician myself, it makes my life and my bandmates’ lives a lot better when we are able to communicate about the song. In a way, we are speaking the same language. Understanding the music vocabulary will allow you to develop as a musician and as producer.
The second to last tip, and this is where we begin to get into music production, is have reference tracks for your songs. A lot of the times we try to think of who we sound like as artists and it may be that little voice in your head saying your unique, and you are but we all have influences and get inspired by songs and other artists. So make sure that for every song that you write you try to find at leat two released songs that may have influenced your song writing, that may have a synth patch that you can imagine on your song - anything that you can relate your song to. If you are starting out, and can’t spend hundreds of pounds on one track, it will probably be the case where your song might not sound like your reference tracks. However, the more you put yourself out there, the more likely it is that you meet a producer who has access to synth patches, instruments, studios etch - and this producer might want to produce your track. This is where you reference tracks come in handy - you can show the producer your vision for your song and that will give them a better idea of how to go about producing your song.
The fifth and final tip is to become acquainted with the music production vocabulary. Understanding terms like recording levels, gain structure, D.A.W., plug-ins, compression, EQ, mixing and mastering - again, to name a few - will make the process of learning a lot smoother and communication with other producers, mixers and mastering engineers better.
So in my opinion, researching and learning will give you the tools to move forward in your exploration of the music production world and will also provide you with the ability to save precious time just by being able to communicate better within the industry.
I hope you found this somewhat insightful and helpful - I don’t claim to be an expert - this is just an opinion that I have built from my personal experience so far as a session musician and recording artist.