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After @Moso 's kind words on Donna and my song "Coyote" I simply have to respond to his request to talk about how the vocals and bridge were done. I don't pretend to be an expert in production (there are many with more knowledge than I on the Muse) but maybe others will get some ideas from my process and add them to their own.


First off you need to make a track with your background music, or at least enough of it to sing along to.
The arrangement should be decided before you track vox IMO.
I find you need instruments in the backing track that are close in frequency to your vocals - such as a piano or guitar. The surest way to sing out of tune is to sing to a bass track :) 


Use a decent mic that suits your voice.
I use an old Shure 545 dynamic cartridge mic. My vocal is naturally "tinny" and needs some bottom end which this mic provides.


Use a screen pop filter
Gets rid of explosives caused by puffs of air.
I find a screen filter works better than a "foam" one which I find changes the EQ of the mic.


Distance from mic
I sing about 4-6 in from the pop screen which is about 2 in from the mic.


Mic pre-amp
Use a mic preamp so that the input level is high enough that it doesn't clip, but has a high s/n (signal to noise) ratio so you don't get any hiss. Rather than spend $300, I use the mic preamp in my stereo audio system which is pretty clean.


Don't over-sing!
This is a mistake I kept making in the past - I'm trying to rid myself of it.
I worried about every phrase, pronouncing every word, making each note pitch-perfect.
Don't think about "impressing" anyone with your singing - serve the song - that's the only one you need to impress.


Do multiple takes
You can then pick and choose best tuning/phrasing etc. from each track.
Copy/paste together to get a final raw track.

I use Audacity for recording and editing mainly because I'm familiar with it.
Effects/plug-ins are done in my DAW - either Acid Pro or Reaper currently.


Amplify/reduce words/phrases that seem too low or too high in the mix
This is a pre-compressor process for the really low/high stuff.
I also amplify soft consonants like an "s" or "f" at the ending of words as these are sometimes lost at the compression stage.
Silence regions where there are no vocals.


Apply compression on the raw track. I use Isotope's 3-band vocal compression plug-in.
This levels out the vocal so everything is heard clearly.


Create a new track for wet only reverb and create it by applying a decent reverb plug-in to the compressed track. I like to bring reverb up or down depending on parts of the song. For parts where there is less instrumentation, the vox need less reverb and vise versa. Edit the reverb track to change these levels where needed.


I don't typically double-track a lead vocal. I have done this in the past, but it makes the vox seem unnatural to me. I sometimes sing a track an octave down or up, or both to strengthen the lead vox if I feel it needs it.


Harmony Vocals
The main thing I try to remember with harmonies is: Don't compete with the lead vox!
Sing these a bit further from mic
sing harmonies like a background singer would - don't compete!
EQ away from lead vox - sometimes I pull down low/mid freqs
compress 1st harm only - this keeps the level below lead vox consistent
space harms across stereo field - don't center them!
lower in mix than lead vox
avoid too many harmonies - you'll sound like a barbershop quartet!
use them to build the song - typically leave them out in the early stages.
don't put harms on every lead line - stay out of the barbershop!
give them more reverb than lead vox - makes them less distinct - less competitive
line up timing with lead vox


Greek chorus
This is what I call any oooo's/aaahhh's or falsetto bg vox
mix them extreme left/right in the stereo field
give them the most reverb of all vox - almost like the audience is singing them
lower level in mix than harm


I usually end up with six mixed-down stereo vocal tracks:
- compressed lead vox
- lead vox reverb (based on compressed lead vox)
- harm bus (all harms that are not greek chorus)
- harm bus reverb
- greek chorus
- greek chorus reverb

Then I mix the song down to a stereo unmastered track.

Remember: "Lead vocal rules!" "He is King for all to serve!" - every other vocal and instrument is there to support him.

And of course, mastering the track will help the sound of your vocals - I use Isotope again for this. Their "Country" preset was used on Coyote.


I'll add another entry for the bridge development.


Hope I haven't bored you!







Books? For listening? Right. haha

So yeah, music books... unless you have an incredible sight-"singing" inner ear, you'll have to either play examples in music books out or hope they come with a CD. 


That out of the way, I wanted to ask what books you guys may have gotten a lot out of over the years for music? We could make a thread for videos, too, or add it here maybe. I'm more of a book guy. Videos tend to go too slowly for me, but some are interesting. 


Here are my favorite music books on my shelves: 


Mel Bay's Complete Book of Harmony, Theory, and Voicing  <-- This book gets really deep. Over the years, I've barely scratched the surface.

Arranging Music for the Real World  <-- I LOVE this book. It teaches incredibly useful information, and it's easy to follow. 


Second places would go to: 

Polyrhythms: The Musician's Guide   <-- Still haven't used everything here, but cool to come back to time to time. 

Hearing and Writing Music   <--- I got a few very useful things from this one, but you have to wade through some fluff. 

The Art of Writing Music   <-- A old TV composer basically takes you through the process as he writes a piece. 


And also music scores. I have a small collection of music scores. Sometimes I follow them while listening to music. Sometime I open them up just to find out how a composer got a certain sound (lookin' at you, Stravinsky). There are four I have as actual bound books as opposed to PDFs: 


The Rite of Spring

Beethoven Symphonies Nos. 5, 6 and 7

Nutcracker Suite

Mozart Requiem K626


EDIT: I want to put a little more emphasis on scores. You can find just about anything online. If you hear something you like, and you want to know how it was done, look it up. Scores can be a treasure trove, a mine of fantastic approaches and ideas that will help you grow in new directions you may not have before. From Little Shop of Horrors, to Daphnis & Chloé, it's out there. 


And then there are other books lying around which I think are good, but I don't have any particular love for them: 

The Drummer's Bible

The Mixing Engineer's Handbook

Sound Reinforcement Handbook

Treatise on Instrumentation

This Business of MUSIC   <-- yeah, okay, I never opened this one, hahahaha


Truth be told, I never finished a lot of these books, but even in those I didn't finish, I learned some great stuff. If I had really worked the books, and worked harder on writing better, heck, that could have been really interesting. Anyway, those are my books/recommendations. You? 



PS~ Oh, and MANUALS for your gear/software. That cannot be stressed enough. 





There’s been a flurry of activity on the March Lyrics Contest thread. With occasional digressions, the discussion centred on 

1) whether the types of lyrics that win contests are formulaic, and

2) to what extent poetic devices (e.g. metaphors, etc.) play a role (or not). (For example, whether mainly poetic lyrics win the monthly contests.) 


A couple of posts from Neal K made me curious about the notion of a ‘winning’ formula, and whether, and to what extent and in which type of context – a particular 'formula' might appear to work optimally - in any kind of songwriting situation. With Neal’s permission, I’ve included excerpts below. Food for thought and discussion. 


I hope Musers will share here their own diverse approaches to writing lyrics.  

Any tips, tricks, or other magic you’d like us to know about?


Or any experiences of writing something you thought was brilliant but others disagreed? Or that you thought was utterly bleh, but people loved it?

For either situation, what do you think was the reason?


Over to you guys. :)




Neal wrote:

Having run a few of these contests over the years, I started to wonder just how easy it would be to win. So … I decided to enter each monthly contest with a lyric I wrote specifically for the contest.  That meant, lyrics without writing music at the same time.   None of those lyrics ever became songs... except for the one that came in dead last.  


…The year was 2014 and I entered 11 of the 12 contests.  I came in first five times, second four times, fourth one time, and dead last one time.  I'm not saying this to boast.  Goodness knows I'm hardly a great lyric writer.  The point is, it's not that hard to win this contest if you 1) can identify the formula; and 2) can write to the formula without worrying if the words will ever be set to music.


… trust me, none of those lyrics were poetic or flowery.  I don't have that in me.  Here's the formula I followed in my 2014 experiment to win/place in the lyric contest: 1) Each lyric was story driven; 2) the story was easy to understand and to relate to; 3) they used imagery (show, don't tell); 4) there were no wasted words or forced rhymes; 5) they contained sympathetic characters that people could relate to and that I cared about; 6) each and every line had to work on its own; 6) each story had a resolution that was designed to elicit an emotion, be that happiness, sadness, joy, depression, etc.


That, my friend, is the formula.  I'm so confident that this works that I bet you I could coach you into placing 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in a future lyric contest.



Alistair S

If you want to find some Sound Effects (a bird song, a baby crying, a police siren or whatever), you can always try https://freesound.org/browse/


These are free to use - Freesound is a collaborative database of Creative Commons Licensed sounds. Browse, download and share sounds. You need to register to download.


Some are better than others, but you can audition them in your browser!


I am sure there are other free sound libraries people can recommend!

Alistair S

Please don’t add comments this entry (it’s locked! :) ) –  just create a new entry (click “Add Blog Entry” above) and give it a title like “How I create harmonies”.


Each entry then acts a bit like a thread and people can comment on it. 

The purpose of this public blog (public means any member can add entries) is to provide a space where we can explain how to achieve something in a song/track. 

We sometimes talk about WHAT gear we use but this blog more about HOW it was used.


You can simply share a technique or you may have been asked to post here by an admiring listener! Or you can just ask a question!  


It’s all about sharing, so its success or failure as blog will be entirely down to whether people participate!