The initial step in any creative process is recognizing and realizing inspiration. I suppose it works differently for different individuals, but for me, inspiration ALWAYS sneaks up when I least expect it and rarely shows itself during moments when I’m actively trying to make it happen.
Although the level of technology that we work with today makes recording infinitely easier than it has ever been, there is STILL quite a bit that you have to go through with a typical multitrack recording setup just to get a basic musical idea down before you run the risk of losing it forever.
Think about it. To CAPTURE an idea using a stand-alone or computer-based Digital Audio Workstation you have to:
Set Up a Mic or Connect Your Instrument
Boot the Computer
Open Your Recording Software
Set Up a New Session
Create a Track
Set the Preamp and Recording Interface Gain
Record Enable the Track
…and THEN actually record the thing that might last ten seconds.
But…those ten seconds might be the jumping off point for a great song. Often, by the time you go through all the aforementioned steps, the thing has crawled back into whatever recesses of your mind that it came from and you might never hear from it again.
- I realized a long time ago that it was pointless to have all the expertise and expensive, elaborate microphones, preamps, recording interfaces, computers and monitors if I did not have a quick and dirty way of capturing ideas.
- The best thing that I have found to do this is one of those little moderately inexpensive pocket digital dictation gizmos made by Olympus or Panasonic or…whoever. I generally use the digital ones that don’t record with tape -but tape based ones work really well and they’re cheaper.
NOW…I apologize to those of you out there who have already discovered this idea and may find this information redundant, but you would not believe how many professional musicians I have encountered that have not made one of these devices a part of their musical arsenal.
- If you are an active songwriter and you sing or play any kind of instrument, one of these dictation things should be as much a part of your essential equipment list as a guitar pick, a tuner or an instrument cable. In my case, I carry one in my car, and I have one in my project studio to make sure that I’m never stuck without one.
- When you record these ideas, don’t worry about the sound quality, or how dumb the idea sounds. The point is to just get it down in a tangible form that you can use later to remind yourself of the inspiration.
- After you have recorded the vocal melody line, the bass or guitar part (or the drum beat that you sang to the recorder!) make sure to add any spoken notes that will jog your memory about what you were thinking at the time. This is really important, because often your ideas will not translate well over time without some other type of context. You might have been in the shower and have been thinking about some type of montage for a movie soundtrack or you might be thinking of writing a Violent Love Song that has kind of a Sleazy Burlesque Metal Feel to it. Make sure to dictate those little notes along with the part so that you remember the INTENT as well as the CONTENT.
- After you get in the habit of recording all your little ideas, you will end up with lots of unrelated snippets that are totally unorganized and not really useful. To make them more useful, normally what I do is I make an “Ideas Session” using my REAL recording equipment. About once every couple of weeks or once a month -depending on how prolific I’ve been – I play back the ideas in order to remember them - and if I feel they are REALLY worth keeping - I rerecord them one by one with my full guitar rig into separate little sections on a single track in my “Ideas Session.” Sometimes I’ll add a rudimentary drum track underneath to give the idea some additional context.
- After I have them recorded, I’ll go back and shuffle the ideas around and I’ll organize them into sections that seem to relate to one another or fit together somehow and then I add a marker or an index point to each little section and use a dumb but descriptive name to help me remember what I had in mind for each group of ideas – So one might be titled “Sci-Fi Chase and Kill Death Rock Stuff” and another might be “Mutant Breakbeat Neo-Punk Thangz.” (Provided your program gives you that much room in your marker titles)
- If you do this, you will have an ever-growing index of ideas that you constantly add to and draw from when you are creating music. Even if you end up never using an idea, recording, organizing and cataloging the musical dialog that goes on inside your head is a really good way to expedite the development of your own style. It shows you where your strengths lay, and sometimes more importantly, it shows you when you are rehashing the same types of ideas and not moving forward.